Monday, January 31, 2011

Manfred Werder - stück 1998 seiten 624-626 (skiti)

Manfred Werder's music presents many an obstacle for both performer and listener. Most recently (via Will Montgomery's realization on Cathnor and Werder's own "2007 (1)" on futow) my exposure to his work has involved field recordings. Not so this one.

"stück 1998", as intrepid Wandelweiserians are aware, consists, in toto, of 4,000 pages of score, each page inscribed with 40 actions, making for 160,000 of these actions and scheduled to last, should one perform it in its entirety, for 533 hours and 20 minutes. For some reason, the trio of Jürg Frey (clarinet), Stefan Thut (cello) and Taku Unami (laptop) chose only to play three pages. These pages are included in the handsome packaging and bear evenly spaced, small type-size notations like (reading across the top row of p. 624), h2 F #A1 c4 d2

These are all notes (in German notation) and are held for six seconds, with six seconds of silence between. Very orderly, very controlled. How the sequences of notes were created, whether intentional or by chance, or some combination thereof, I've no idea. The dynamics stay in the same medium range through this rendition's 32 minutes. The static nature of the instruction obviates the sensuousness one hears in, say, late Feldman, where notes are also laid horizontally next to each other but with infinitely subtle variety in volume, touch, etc. As has been remarked elsewhere, it's very difficult, if not impossible to parse out Unami's contribution from the others; it sounds for all the world like only clarinet and cello. Toward the end, one hears voices, perhaps children, from what sounds like an adjacent room.

And that's that. I find it very hard to say much of anything about this particular recording. Given the score, I find myself thinking of it almost spatially, as one of thousands of performances of the piece, occurring spread out over space and time. This is one small nodule, one matrix of note-points, which can be imagined in a 3 & 4 dimensional array of such nodules, the white pages flitting out from the imposing stack, wafting to this or that ensemble or individual, being read and played, then migrating back to its home. It's rather like a molecule, rigid and disciplined on its own, held in check by strong forces, but when combined with its siblings, possibly part of some wondrous thing, if all but imperceptible by those of us isolated with this one shard.


Toshiya Tsunoda's blog site (skiti is his label)

Available from erstdist

Saturday, January 29, 2011

New heap o' Cathnors, actually issued last year but, via snowstruck post, only arriving at chez Olewnick recently. Four 3" discs (the first four below) and two full-lengths

Cremaster - Igneo

Alfredo Costa Monteiro (objects on electric guitar electronics) and Ferran Fages (feedback mixing board, electromagnetic devices, radios, pick-ups) provide 20 minutes of fine, erm, sizzle. For much of the set, there's something of dialogue between pinging, high, near consonant tones (presumably guitar-sourced) and skittering explosions of harsh noise. Those tones cast something of a romantic shimmer over the music, almost Gothic; there are moments when one could easily see this being used as a (very effective) horror film soundtrack. Focus is held right along this line throughout, which is a fine strategy, allowing the listener to construct a relatively stable framework from which to appreciate the subtler elements that unspool minute by minute, the wavering timbres of the ringing tones, the odd subsonic throb, bird-like twitters, the juicy textural contrast between the general output of the two musicians, etc. Fages' (I'm assuming it's he) burst of noise strike me as very Roweian in character, possessing the proper degree of harshness to offset the plaintive aspect of Costa Monteiro's guitar. That yin/yang is present throughout makes for a good, substantial listen though it might also be said to provide something of a safety night. In this case, I think it works very well though, ideally, I might have liked an additional 20 minutes where they went for broke.

Manfred Werder - 2009 5 (realised by Will Montgomery)

(If there's a way to render that 5 in superscript, I'm not aware of it, sorry)

Werder's work has been the object of a certain amount of controversy in eai circles recently, especially pieces like this one where the score consists of a line of text, often extracted from a fictional work. Here, the author chosen is Francis Ponge and the text, in its English translation (from the French), reads:

There is, in a house I know well, an interior courtyard, and another, at Le Grau du Roi, each one {inhabited / , adorned} by one of two fig trees.

Taking the notion of two places, Montgomery recorded near "the northern and southern stretches of the M25 motorway", a road that runs the perimeter of London. Montgomery elaborates his thoughts on the piece and its recording in posts dated January 22 on this IHM thread--well worth reading.

I've gone on a bit before, trying to quantify why I like this field recording and not that one, to no real good effect, I'm afraid but, dammit, I like these very much! The larger part of what one hears is traffic, dense and aroar, no horns just engines and wheels on asphalt. It's thick, viscous, detail-rich, replete with hidden hums (boat horns?) that act as pedal points. The sole "adornment", on the first track, is the sound of birds, twinkling facets on this writhing mass. Really, just marvelous sound, especially when played at volume.

I'd love to hear this piece (or others like it) realized (or realised) by dozens of different people, curious to see if a common thread could possibly be discerned.

As is, a beautiful recording.

Daniel Jones - when off and on collide

A difficult 15 minutes this, and rewarding. Largely quiet but skittish, with the odd abrupt and loud accent, compiled via electronics of an unspecified kind. Near the beginning, it sounds like small motors activating scraps of metal, segueing into a lightly buzzing hum. By this point, some five minutes in, one expects something of a dronish nature to pervade. But then, sharp, highly abrasive pops and scrapes flutter into being, not all that far away from the sound-world limned by Rowe and Sachiko M on "contact". On colliding with off, perhaps. The music resides in this unsettling, prickly territory for the duration, the rattling motors beneath the dark, intense crackling. It's a tough, chewy little nugget, kind of tumbles by and is gone before you know it but worth a lick or two, probably more.

Neil Davidson - Do not send to Tweed

I'd thought I hadn't heard Davidson before but a tiny bit of research showed his membership in the Glasgow Improviser's Orchestra, whose disc on Creative Sources, iirc, I didn't enjoy at all. This solo acoustic guitar outing is perhaps busier than the norm around here but has its attractions. Davidson concentrates on the lower end of the scale, attacking what sound like loosened strings with objects I can only imagine, some maybe containing motors?, that generate sustained, very rough and growling drones. The strings often sound as though they're vibrating directly against the wood of the guitar. The assault is pretty much non-stop, with little concern for space or quiet and the attacks are varied. I think, as is my inclination, I'd have preferred a more concentrated approach, limiting the range of techniques and searching within those limits. I'd like to hear more obsession, in a word. As is, it's not bad but not so memorable for me. Great disc title, though...

Toc Sine - Drawings

Toc Sine (I can't help thinking of Tone Loc!) being Pascal Battus and Jean-Luc Guionnet, here both deploying "electric devices". And it's a very good one. Not that it's so easy to describe...eight tracks, tending toward the quiet, though there's a lot of activity. But there's always a feeling of consideration, of quasi-intentional choice, where a decision is made carefully even if the outcome is unsure. So, on the opening track, there are strata of hums, very delicate and delicious, over which sandier washes, deeper thrums and harsh crackles are laid; nothing earthshaking but the flavors chosen, the timing of their release, their dynamics and duration all work perfectly. It's also without over listener accommodation--there's nothing easy about this, few handholds offered, yet the pieces flow naturally and are extremely full. While I'm not certain what devices were actually used, the results fall into the "cracked electronics" area of, say, the Bonnie Jones type. As such, this is one of the better examples I've heard. Forgive my inability to further elucidate, just listen to the music.

Looper - dying sun

(This is in fact a co-release between Cathnor and Another Timbre)

The deep, rich drone as purveyed by Nikos Veliotis (cello), Martin Küchen and Ingar Zach (percussion). Not only drones but an overt ritualistic feel imparted shortly into the first of three tracks by the low, double beat on a large drum. The whole seems to me to be about breathing--deep, raspy rales at that. This has been a major part of Küchen's work recently, a very visceral, organic approach that delights in bodily sounds. That first track burbles along, largely below the surface, oozing through the soil now and again, echoing hollowly, the low tones shaking one's speakers; clearly something one would like to experience live in an appropriately resonant space. It's a purely sensual piece and, after a while, begins to cloy like an overdose of creamy chocolate. The next cut, "Hazy Dawn" (yes, the titles don't help)is made up of gongs and skittering strings but again, resides in a similar drone-y area, though its relative concision (9 minutes as opposed to the preceding 29) helps. Finally, "Near Eternity" takes things out on a high, shimmering drone, very pleasant but, again, as with the recording on the whole, I don't find enough to really dig into.

Of this half-dozen, Toc Sine, the Werder and, to a reasonable extent, Cremaster and Daniel Jones are the ones with staying power for me.

Another Timbre
Available from erstdist

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I went to the opera last night.

I can't say I went entirely willingly. I've been before, twice to the Met (Turandot and Tosca, both over ten years ago), once to SUNY Purchase for a Peter Sellars production of Don Giovanni, once to the delightful Amato Opera Theatre on the Bowery--I forget which opera. I think that might be it as far as "traditional" opera (not counting Glass' "Einstein", Ashley, etc.). I'm not the hugest fan of the form, though I've enjoyed the Wagner I've seen on TV, wouldn't mind seeing "Salome" as well.

Anyway, the distaff side expressed a desire to go so, $500 poorer, we went.

The current production is under the direction of Willy Decker with set design by Wolfgang Gussmann and I think that made all the difference for me. Those who attended "Einstein" (at least the '84 production at BAM that I saw) will remember that the performance is already in progress when the theater doors open, the two readers present at either side of the stage reciting numbers, text, etc. I was reminded of that when entering the Met last night as the stage is already in full view and, sitting stage right, there was the motionless figure, clad in black trench-coat, of Dr. Grenvil. In a standard production, if I'm not mistaken, that character doesn't enter the action until about 3/4 of the way through. Here, he's an almost constant presence, observing the goings-on very somberly, a pervading reminder that Violetta isn't going to escape her fate.

As well, the stage set is what one might term "abstract timeless", a concave parabola with minimal props, the palette going from white to gray to black with mostly bright red highlights (like Violetta's party dress), everything on the spare side which served quite well to accentuate the drama. A mass of Victorian clutter and taffeta would have swiftly had me yawning.

The soprano, Marina Poplavskaya was outstanding to even my untutored ears, both in subtly of voice (in the pianissimo sections) and projection, as well as doing a wonderful job of inhabiting the character, saucy and distraught as necessary with much in between. She far outshone her Alfredo, Matthew Polenzani, whose voice was no match. Baritone Andrzej Dobber was also very fine as Germont.

These factors made for a far more engaging evening than I thought I might have, going in. The music itself I knew well enough from having heard it around the house for 32 or so years; it's seeped in through osmosis, slithering past my aural defense. There are passages I like, passages that strike me as fluff, but in the context of this staging, nothing seemed particularly offensive and several moments were quite moving. In any case, nice to find out that I can, possibly, enjoy the form.

At those insane ticket prices though, it won't be a routine occurrence. But one of theses years, I wouldn't mind returning for some Wagner or, perhaps, "Salomé"....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

So, I have a good deal of ambivalence about last evening's concert at Issue Project Room, with Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet. It was a fairly lengthy set, divided into two sections (separated, humorously, by a vinyl recording of a darkly Romantic piano/violin duet; I've no idea of the source--Schumann?) designed as a kind of "record release" performance for "Air Supply" on Erstwhile. Jason, before it began, said it would contain referents to the album but not, of course, any wholesale pieces from same.

Lambkin had a Kurzweil keyboard, a small, "toy" turntable and other devices while Lescalleet maneuvered between four tape decks, a computer, several mini-cassette recorders and a mixing board. They began with jungle field recordings, replete with squawking avian fauna and rushing streams, an oddly "routinely exotic" kind of choice, though this was followed by, I'm guessing, altered recordings of Asian (perhaps Korean?) solo drums with lovely, irregular cadences, rather like a stone tumbling down some resonant stairwell. So far, so good. They then settled into a deep--often very deep, enough to dislocate blood clots and send them scurrying brain-ward--electronic drone. While fine for a while, it didn't, for me, carry much in the way of inherent interest and, as it turned out, it was returned to again and again for much of the evening.

When it served as an underlying element and had added grain and noise, the result was absorbing; indeed, my favorite musical moments in the set were just those portions, when a seriously complex and rich throbbing, dirty, gnarly drone filled the space. I say "musical' as the other highlight was simply watching Lambkin during the performance. Perhaps not the most comfortable stage presence, he would set something in motion then amble about, beer in hand, off to the side areas out of view or sit himself on a chair, face the right-side wall and stare at it for five or so minutes. He also, apparently without foreknowledge on Lescalleet's part, came over to Jason's set-up several times and manipulated the very device (mixing board , tape deck, mini-cassette) that Jason was working on at that moment. It was rather charming to see them huddled together, twirling knobs, lifting tape, side by side, like two young boys experimenting in the basement.

That damned drone seemed to be acting as an irresistible attractor though, continually drawing them back from some other interesting, if only briefly explored area, something I found frustrating. Despite having been "warned" about the evening's set bearing some relationship to "Air Supply", I was admittedly unprepared for the (I suppose inevitable) blast of fucking enormous and sudden noise that Lescalleet let loose toward the end. Like being smacked in the face with a 2 x 4. Jason was smiling wickedly...

Ultimately, I found the entire event unsatisfying though there were certainly enough glimmers to make me want to hear them again (this was the third time I've seen this duo). I'm sure I was in the minority, though; IPR was full, maybe 120 or so in attendance. They're playing Philly and Wesleyan next month, I believe. We'll see.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jon Mueller - Halves (Notice Recordings)

Continuing down the path taken in other recent recordings of his, one that more or less parallels that trodden in recent years by Jason Kahn, Mueller works with steady rhythms, building dense layers of cymbals (played with either soft mallets or fingers) and drums (generally heard in roll patterns). The obsessive nature can yield handsome dividends when the elements lose their individuality and fuse into a storm of near-chaotic but always forward-propelled sound as is the case on the second and fourth tracks of this cassette release. More with this kind of release than many, one really would like to experience this music in a live setting so as to be immersed in the shimmering waves and beats. Still and all, very enjoyable at home.

Notice Recordings

Colin Andrew Sheffield - slowly (Mystery Sea)

Sourced from "various commercially available recordings", this set of four pieces has a strong tonal underpinning, though the source material is transmuted enough to render it (to me, anyway) unrecognizable. One might hazard a guess at some string music or other ambient work, tough to say. Whatever the case, the result is a thick mass of sound, pulsing slowly (as, given the tile of the record, it should), entirely pleasant but blurred to a point where the kind of granularity I like hearing at this end of the spectrum is largely lost. Nice enough post-Eno sounds but lacking the grit and sense of danger to vault it out of the routine.

Philip Sulidae - Banish (Mystery Sea)

In some ways, not dissimilar from the above. Though Sulidae (a name new to me, out of Australia) uses far more in the way of found sounds and, thereby, provides the listener with more irregularity, grain, etc. these elements are embedded into a drone-y flow, a sluggish stream that flows slowly past. It's darker than Sheffield vision, the resonances providing a glimmer of dread now and then but still...that sense of pushing oneself, of being uncertain as to the outcome of a given mix of sounds, of surprising or the listener and compiler, is largely absent. Again, not an unenjoyable listen by any means, but not a particularly challenging one either.

Mystery Sea

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Nice having an extended opportunity to play through a bunch of vinyl this weekend, but I don't feel the major urge to write about it a lot (hey! I heard that sigh of relief!). Suffice it to say that Jarman's "Song For" holds up wonderfully, as do portions of "Black Paladins" but only a tiny bit of "Earth Passage-Density".

Which brings me to the Keith Jarrett portion of my collection, somewhat down from its most voluminous point (the ECM solo sets have long since been jettisoned). But, at the moment, I have "Expectations" on the turntable and it's sounding pretty good. I think this was the second jazz album I ever purchased, in the spring of '72, entirely due to the presence of Redman and Haden in the band, having just encountered their work with Ornette on "Science Fiction". "Common Mama" is such a great tune, though, my favorite thing ever by Jarrett, such a beautiful melodic line, wonderfully paced, unusually structured.

We'll see how far I can get through his stuff. The only solo improv thing I retained was "Facing You" which, I'm pretty sure, holds up well as does the duo with Jack DeJohnette, "Ruta & Daitya". And I imagine that series of mid-70s quartet releases on Impulse! still have some power. Just checked and the last two albums I have are the strange Gurdjieff solo one and "Changes", with Peacock and DeJohnette from '83, the latter doubtless a gift.

But credit where credit is due, he was a prime source for my early jazz immersion. Saw him once, at Harvard, in 1974-75, on a bill that opened with the Gary Burton Quartet (another album I got rid of, his first under his own name on ECM). Jarrett was solo and, true to form, was pretty much an asshole. Had issues with the tuning, took stage after letting the audience sit for an hour or so, said not a word by way of apology, stopped playing when people coughed, etc. I think in recent years, my favorite encounters with him have been in Miles' band, wrenching ungodly sounds from his Fender Rhodes back around '71.

(Listening to Haden on 'Nomads' right now--such a deep, rich sound.)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Not surprisingly, I guess, aside from Abdullah Ibrahim, the "I" portion of my LP collection is mighty scanty. In fact, there are only two other residents. One is a recent addition, Giuseppe Ielasi's "(another) stunt" which I reviewed early last year. Just replayed it and, I should say, enjoyed more than I did at first blush. Nice recording, check it out.

The other, filed here for no better reason than the beginning letter of its title, is "Island of Sanity", a double-LP compilation put together by Elliott Sharp in 1987, featuring downtown NYCers in various groupings. Thought I should give a spin if only because three Record Club guests appear here in (Chris Cochrane, Rick Brown and Zeena Parkins. Record Club tonight, btw and Zeena's coming!) You also get oddities like Voice foodie Robert Sietsema playing bass with Mofungo (the Beefheartian, "Slimeball Necktie") and Martin Bisi's classic (?) version of "Kaw-Liga". Odd time and place, 1987, Loisaida.

Good Skeleton Crew track (Frith, Cora, Parkins), "Sparrow Song"--brief and harsh: "Got a brain/Got a brain/Like a peanut on plate". Huh, forgot that Mark Dery is here too--a not bad, Giorno-esque track called, "Banging Khruschev's Shoe". Perhaps the highlight of the set is the Ordinaire's take on "She's a Rainbow" (always liked the Stones' brief psychedelic phase--someone needs to cover "2,000 Light Years from Home"....), full on, rich and fun. Bosho's "Boy Yaca" is easily the best thing I ever heard from them though, in retrospect, it reads as rather timid for all the cross-rhythms.

Lot of so-so to awful stuff as well, the latter including Previte's vocal work that closes out the collection.

Intriguing snapshot of a time and place though, were this representative of everything going on in NYC at the time, one wouldn't hold out great hopes for future music from this neck of the woods. Hmmm....


Addendum: no new CDs in sight, I continued on into the J's, first encountering Ronald Shannon Jackson. I have seven LPs, beginning with Eye on You (About Time) which I played through and found seriously lacking, very thin sounding. Went on to "Mandance" which, when it appeared around '83 I was very high on, and had trouble getting through Side A. Think I'll skip the rest... ("Barbecue Dog", "Pulse", "Decode Yourself" and "Live at the Caravan of Dreams")

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

When I was in school in Boston, the main record store was the Harvard Coop. They used to rotate the PA among the various departments and the guy who ran the jazz section (I wish I could remember his name--this was '74-'75) used to derive great pleasure by spinning the Art ensemble, Braxton etc., driving everyone else nuts. I think the first time I heard Abdullah Ibrahim (then still known as Dollar Brand) was in that store when Dave (that was his name!) played 'African Space Program', the big band recording on Enja. Knocked me out. I swiftly picked up whatever I could by the guy, lucking into things like the early Japo LPs ("African Piano", "Ancient Africa"), and "African Sketchbook" on Enja. The Japo releases are especially amazing--beautifully, richly recorded solo piano from '60 and '72, Brand linking theme after gorgeous theme, hammering them relentlessly, almost brutally.

He used repetition in a way very distinct from the Reich, Glass, etc. I was discovering around the same time. I'd later read that in South African music, repetition equaled importance--the more important a series of notes, the more it was repeated, an interesting idea, implying a kind of animist spirit attached to musical phrases. I could listen to the loping bass line of "Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro" forever, now and then. I'd learn later that he had gone to Europe in the early 60s under the aegis of Duke Ellington and began to pick up the Ellington in his playing, a fascinating thing in its own right reflecting back on Ellington's protean mastery of the piano.

The two solo Sackville LPs, "Sangoma" and "African Portraits", form February 1973, continue this trend, powerful, roiling medleys, though with the increasing inclusion of Monk, Waller or Ellington covers and perhaps a tinge of softening. Still marvelous, though. A piece like "Mumsy Weh" (an all-time favorite title!) is just so beguiling in its childlike sense of play.

"Good News from Africa", his first duo recording with Johnny Dyani remains one of my very favorite jazz recordings period, just incredibly heartfelt and rich. I wrote it up for All Music Guide and stand by that assessment. Just a wonderful, wonderful work.

A couple of other enjoyable, if less intense, solo outings recorded around that time but issued several years later: "Memories" on West 54 and "Ode to Duke Ellington" on Inner City. Both include jazz standards while the former also has a couple of pieces by South African cohort Todd Matshikiza. Ibrahim's versions of "A Single Petal of a Rose" and "Drop Me Off in Harlem" are outstanding here. There's also an attractive trio recording on Enja with McBee and Roy Brooks, "The Children of Africa", from early '76, though I think it gives just an inkling of his group projects from upcoming years when the music would smooth out a bit. It also marks, I think, the first appearance of "Ishmael" on record, one of Ibrahim's more beguiling pieces, with melodic lines that slither right up one's spine.

Sometime in '77, we had a benefit concert for Environ. Dave Brubeck played, among others (his kids lived in the apartment section of the loft) and we made enough money for a new piano (It was certainly our most popular event--we were turning people away and had to lock the staircase door as people were climbing the eleven floors trying to get in). The piano was probably the best one among the various lofts and we soon had pianists very desirous to perform there, including the recently emigrated Ibrahim. He played several times, solo and (I think) with a trio that included Cecil McBee and John Betsch. The most memorable, by far, was a solo show one sweltering evening in the summer of '77 where the in-loft temperature had to be around 120. He played, non-stop, for three hours, sweat rolling off his forearms in rivulets--unbelievable. We used to have apple cider and wine available on the side, selling it to make a little extra money. We'd swiftly gone through all the cider and, at concert's end, had only a little wine left. When Ibrahim finished and dragged himself over to that end of the room, he asked for some cider. Told there was only wine available, the devout Muslim hesitated, squirmed and said, "OK, give me some of that poison!"

I remember Betsch remarking on his amazing ability to play just about anything, once, during a recording session, being unhappy with Betsch's work and sitting himself at the drum-set, showing him what he wanted, playing as well as most drummers. I asked Ibrahim once how he was able to play so many instruments (piano, flute, saxophone, cello, drums) so well. He shrugged and said, "They're all instruments." I remarked about the length of the set in such conditions and he replied that, in South Africa, they used to play for three days straight so this was no big deal. An exaggeration, surely, but still, fun to hear.

The photo on the front of "Ode to Duke Ellington" was taken by Ray Ross that tropical night. Ray was circumnavigating his bulk around the piano during the performance and Ibrahim was getting more and more pissed off at his as he snapped away, eventually angrily waving him off. This sent Ray into a snit, of course, muttering how musicians wanted photos but didn't want anyone to take them...Ah, Ray Ross, quite the character...

I guess just before he moved to NYC, he did some sessions in South Africa with some of the key local musicians there, like Basil "Manenberg" Coetzee and Kippie Moeketsi--would love to hear some other work by those fellows. The two LPs, "Black Lightning" and "Soweto", both on Chiaroscuro, are great fun and, I suppose, provide a hint of what the music was like there in the 60s and 70s. I really should hear more township jazz--recs appreciated.

1979 brought the inspired pairing of Ibrahim with Archie Shepp for a lovely recording on Denon as well as his quartet album on Inner City, "Africa--Tears and Laughter". This latter kind of served as a template for his group music for the rest of the decade (perhaps more--I gave up around '86). It's solid and slick and has a conservative tinge that, I think, served him will, commercially speaking, at the time. I liked it a lot back then, recall playing it often and it still has appeal even through the growing sheen. When Ibrahim gets into the guttural grunts during "Ishmael" it's still surprising and welcome. Ibrahim and Dyani reunited for "Echoes from Africa" (Inner City--at the same studio, Tonstudio Bauer)) which, while enjoyable, lacks the intense passion of its predecessor. Still, it has its pleasures, like the deep, pendulum bass line on "Namhanje" and the closing "Zikr" comes close.

A larger band deal on Elektra, "African Marketplace" (December, 1979), brought in electric piano, sounding not very good and again edged toward over-smoothness. Although, I think this was my first hearing of Craig Harris, who did indeed stand out. First appearance, to my knowledge, of "The Wedding" which seemed to show up on every subsequent release. Nice tune, fine Carlos Ward in the lead, generally, but it wore thin after a while. The 80s brought a few more dates that basically recapitulated that recording ("At Montreux" on Inner City) also sprinkling in some Ellington ("Duke's Memories" on String) and ok solo efforts like "South African Sunshine" (Plane), but the sound, as a while, was becoming a bit flaccid to these ears.

He formed Ekaya, generally a septet, in the mid 80s, a popular move, fitting into similar sized bands in NYC like those of Murray and Threadgill, essentially conservative but with the South African melodies providing some uniqueness. I caught them at Sweet Basil's once around that time and my main recollection is enjoying Dick Griffin greatly but being a bit bored by everything else. People liked it though and, in the twilight of the apartheid regime in SA, he became something of a cultural ambassador, though I'm afraid the music suffered for it. Somewhere around this time, I saw him at Carnegie Recital Hall--pretty big time for a fellow who was playing for the door at lofts ten years earlier and all props to him, but the music had mellowed to a point where crowds who would've never ventured below 14th St. back then could sit and enjoy it in suits and furs.

But, for a while, Ibrahim created some incredibly powerful work, so thanks to him. Allah-O-Akbar.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Been a while since I accessed some old vinyl and, in truth, wasn't sure whether it would be worth giving the four LPs I have filed under Wayne Horvitz a shot. His music, at least in the mid-80s, which is what I have, has such a sheen to it, a kind of sweet gloppiness, that can be both offputting and, admittedly, ickily enticing, like a candy apple.

His melodies tend to be just this side of potential use as TV show themes but, I have to give him credit, they're catchy. If one can, with some difficulty, carve out the drum machine sounds, much of "Dinner at Eight" is reasonably attractive, lent just enough edge by the presence of Elliott Sharp (still interesting then). And Doug Wieselman (clarinet and tenor) fits this sort of thing perfectly. Horvitz mixes these more straightforward, rock-based pieces with ones where fairly free noise-improv overlies a smooth base. The former are better, honeyed though they are. It goes down smoothly but provides minimal nutrition.

I guess this was Zorn's first recording (November, 1985) covering bop standards? Prefiguring the News for Lulu trio and other like stuff. The interesting thing, i guess, is how straight ahead they play it, with only the odd, slight nod to free improv. Given that, it's perfectly fine and the Clark pieces are small gems in and of themselves, but it's not hard to imagine any number of folk getting more out of the music. Zorn in particular, while entirely competent, kind of uses up his range of approaches quickly and becomes a bit tiresome. Still, not bad.

Probably the most interesting of this bunch, the least contrived anyway, from January, 1986. Morris certainly makes a big difference, imparting depth and grit, leavening the drum "maschines". Generally more abstract which works especially well when moments of lovely melody, like at the ends of "Glory" (written by Robin Holcomb) and "If Only", intervene.

Kind of an updating of "Dinner at Eight" (1987), with Frisell on board and a more rockish cast to the music but also a nod to C&W. I recall being paticularly enthralled, at the time, by the hardest rocking piece here, "Short of Breath" which does indeed retain some of its propulsiveness though, like the earlier album, it wouldn't sound entirely out of place as the intro theme to a jaunty network cop show today....

Hey, only one more LP to close out the H's and it's better than all the Horvitz'...

July '73, just before a bunch of the BAG guys would make it to NYC--Bowie, Lake, Shaw, Ehrlich, JD Parran. Two side-long pieces, "A Lover's Desire" (transcribed from and Afghan folk melody--should try to find that...(ah, still around here--one of these days, I need to hear as many Smithsonian Folkways recordings as I can...) Side B, "Hazrat, the Sufi", is a wonderful springboard for the solos, the bass line (Butch Smith) opened up to endless variations, JD Parran excellent on harmonica. Odd that there's a sticker on the Arista releases announcing "C. Bobo Shaw"'s presence. Baffling as he was never remotely a big name, but so it goes. Maybe he was set to record on some big pop record that fell through...

And so go the H's....on to Ibrahim!