Saturday, December 31, 2016

Favorite releases of 2016, allowing that I've heard far fewer this year than in years past. Thanks, as ever, to all the musicians and labels involved.

Keith Rowe – The Room Extended (Erstwhile)

75 Dollar Bill – Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock (Thin Wrist Recordings)
Ryoko Akama – Acceptance (Suppedaneum)
AMM – Spanish Fighters (Matchless)
Casey Anderson - Radios (A Wave Press)
Marc Baron – Un Salon Au Fond d’Un Lac (Potlatch)
Pascal Battus – Dafne Vicente-Sandoval – s/t (Potlatch)
Olivia Block – Dissolution (Glistening Examples)
Dante Boon – For Clarinet and Piano (Another Timbre)
Anthony Burr/Anthony Pateras – The Long Exhale (Immediata)
Lucio Capece – Awareness About (Another Timbre)
Scott Cazan – Ingress (A Wave Press)
D’Incise/Cristían Alvear – Appalachian Anatolia (Another Timbre)
Angharad Davies/Rhodri Davies/Michael Duch/Lina Lapelyte/John Lely/John Tilbury – Goldsmiths (Another Timbre)
Angharad Davies/Tisha Mukarji – Ffansïon (Another Timbre)
Costis Drygianakis - Wings of Wind (Granny)
Bryan Eubanks/Hong Chulki – Proper Motions (Celadon)
Morgan Evans-Weiler – Endless Overtones in Relational Space (Suppedaneum)
Morton Feldman/The Smith Quartet/John Tilbury – Music for Piano and Strings, Volume 3 (Matchless)
Jürg Frey/Quotuor Bozzini – String Quartet No. 3/Unhöbare Zeit (Edition Wandelweiser)
Jürg Frey/Cristían Alvear – Guitarist, Alone (Another Timbre/Cathnor)
Jean-Luc Guionnet /Dedalus – Distances Ouïes Dites (Potlatch)
Sarah Hennies - Gather & Release (category of manifestation)
Sarah Hennies/Cristían Alvear – Orienting Response (mappa)
Illogical Harmonies – Volume (Another Timbre)
A.F. Jones – Languor Yields (Rhizome.s)
Beat Keller/Tom Johnson/Joseph Kudirka – String Trios (Edition Wandelweiser)
Graham Lambkin – Community (ErstSolo)
Lance Austin Olsen – Maps, Battle Hymns: The Vast Field of Liberation (Suppedaneum)
Michael Pisaro/Cristían Alvear/d’Incise/Lo Wie/Angharad Davies/Manfred Werder – 3+3=3 (Melange Edition)
Michael Pisaro/Radu Malfatti – Invisible Landscapes (Willow St. Recordings)
Michael Pisaro/Reinier Van Houdt – The Earth and the Sky (ErstClass)
Michael Pisaro/Christian Wolff - Looking around (Erstwhile)
Matthew Revert/Vanessa Rossetto – Earnest Rubbish (Erstwhile)
Keith Rowe/Martin Küchen – The Bakery (Mikroton)
Marcus Schmickler/John Tilbury – Timekeepers (A-Musik)
Linda Caitlin Smith – Dirt Road (Another Timbre)
Linda Caitlin Smith/Eve Ehoyan – Thought and Desire (Maria de Alvear World Edition)
Suidobashi Chamber Ensemble – s/t (Meenna)
Marvin Tate/Joseph Clayton Mills – The Process (Every Contact Leaves a Trace)
Toshiya Tsunoda – Somashikiba (edition.t)
Taku Unami/Devin DiSanto – s/t (ErstLive)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Keith Rowe - The Room Extended (Erstwhile)

I first noticed the tremor in Keith's right hand on a visit to his home in Vallet in the summer of 2014. Presumably it had existed for some time although while I was in Paris (from February 2013) we saw Keith several times a year and I hadn't picked up anything before. When I returned to Vallet in November for two concerts in honor of Christian Wolff's 80th birthday, Wolff at one point asked him directly about the shaking and Keith replied that they were having examinations but it might well be Parkinson's which, in fact, it turned out to be. 'The Room Extended' was begun in 2013 and completed in 2016. Death had always been on his mind, often talked about very matter-of-factly, but, as clearly indicated by the cover image of his brain (a pre-Parkinson's diagnosis scan for a possible tumor), one assumes a permeation of this concern over most of the course of the construction of the present work.

As in 2007's 'The Room' (ErstSolo 001), this was put together at home, composed if you will, though the multitude of components themselves are largely improvised. One of the first things that hits you is the immense depth of much of the work; there always seems to be at least four or five layers of sound occurring, enough that on each subsequent listen (I've been through its four-plus hours five times so far), you pick up not only sounds you've not heard/noticed before but, more rewardingly, new relationships between them, both simultaneous ones and ones spanning the course of the piece. For a while, Rowe has been interested in revisiting sound areas he's investigated over the years, seeing if there might be aspects he'd previously missed or investigating new ways of deploying them and at several moments here, listeners familiar with his history may well recognize some signature sounds. There are plenty of new, even startling ones as well, such as the artificial sounding bird call that's looped for an almost unconscionable length at one point. More tellingly, the habit he first (as far as I know) used in his solo performance in Tokyo in 2008, that of the intentional inclusion of extracts from Western classical music, is a thread that winds through the entirety of 'The Room Extended'. In at least one sense, it's simply an honest evocation of his room, the main room of his home in Vallet, in which any visitor will hear over his stereo, not the latest release from the contemporary improvising world, but rather Wagner, Haydn, Brahms, Purcell, Mondonville and others. This is, in a circumscribed sense, his room. So certain themes that have preoccupied him in recent years--Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde' or the death scene from Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas', for instance--make their presence known quite strongly. It's an odd mix, I think, for those of us who know his work, on his own, with AMM or in collaboration with countless others. There's a difference between a random radio grab and an explicit implanting of material, one that I've struggled with but am coming around to. For Rowe, in addition to simply having a great appreciation for their beauty and probity, it's an overt acknowledgement of the tradition from which he arises.

Of course, Rowe's notion of The Room encompasses much more than the Western classical tradition and here one gradually encounters more from the East, including what seems to be Indian and Egyptian musics via the radio (the latter sounding like Mohamed Abdel Wahab, though that's a guess). But more than id'ing this or that source, the power in 'The Room Extended' derives from the way these and the far more prevalent electronic and guitar sounds (there are surprisingly many very recognizable instances of the latter) are filtered, layered and paced over its 246 minutes, the fact that, to these ears, intense interest is consistently maintained. Apart from 'The Room', Rowe's historic involvement with anything remotely compositional has been very limited, essentially confined to graphic scores (Cardew, Wolff, Brown, his own work like 'Pollock'), so you wonder how things might have evolved differently had he been working more often in this milieu, where things are carefully considered over a long period of time. Once when we visited, he played us a portion of music that he was considering using for 'The Room Extended', a thick sandwich of string sections from six or seven sources, layered atop one another. Sounded amazing and I think you hear a snatch of it (or something like it) at a couple of points, including toward the end of the present work. But more, the overall feeling I get from the piece is one man, sitting at his work space in his small loft in the converted cellier in Vallet, letting all the sounds, remembered and ongoing, filter in, mixing with his knowledge of what's occurring in the world (one is tempted to read an uncritical demographic observation in the increasing presence of Islamic music as the piece develops) and, always, with the acknowledgement of the certainty of death. His upcoming recording with Michael Pisaro deals with the Venerable Bede's analogy of life: a sparrow flying into a mead hall where a raucous feast is taking place and quickly flying out a window on the opposite side. Here, amidst a whirlpool of sound, from radios, news commentaries, orchestras, guitars and electronics, at the very last, an alarmed voice speaking in Spanish is abruptly cut off. Then nothing.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Sanatorium of Sound Festival, Sokołowsko, Poland, August 12-15, 2016

Last year, I was surprised to be invited to give a talk at this affair but it was just after our return to the US and too hectic a time to incorporate such a trip into our schedule so I was very pleased that the invitation was extended again. Not only for the chance to attend and participate in a fine looking festival but also to visit, for the first time in my life, each of my ancestral homelands, Poland and Germany.

Sokołowsko is a small village nestled near the Silesian and Sudetenland regions, which these days span areas of southwestern Poland, southeastern Germany and eastern Czech Republic. Getting there isn't so easy. For reasons known only to airline magnates, it's about twice as expensive to fly to the much nearer Wrocław (known as Breslau in German and Vratislava in Czech) as to Berlin, some 350 kilometers distant so we were asked to do the latter. Thanks to the extreme good graces of Lucio Capece, we were able to use his studio in Berlin after the festival and spend a few days there. It was a small comedy of errors actually making it from Berlin to Sokołowsko involving our lack of cellphones, a shared car (via BlaBlaCar) with a delightful young Polish couple who were under the impression that they were picking up attendees of an apparently adjacent festival centered around sado-masochism and other sexual expressions, the extraordinarily bumpy Polish highways, well-intentioned but clueless direction givers in small towns and more. But we arrived, a bit later than I hoped (unfortunately missing sets by Jonas Kocher/Gaudenz Badrutt and Illogical Harmonies (Johnny Chang/Mike Majkowski)). It's a lovely little town, nestled in among steep hills, very lush. Fatigue may have played a part, but the concert just starting at that point by Ensemble Phoenix, a ten-member chamber ensemble playing works by Antoine Chessex, Kasper Toeplitz and Robert Piotrowicz didn't do so much for me, though one of the two by the latter, "Grund" had its moments.

The main site of the festival was a sanatorium that was established in 1854. Per Wiki (in German, Sokołowsko is referred to as Görbersdorf):

Görbersdorf didn’t differentiate from neighbouring villages until it was visited in 1849 by Countess Maria von Colomb, a niece of Prussian General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. The countess, delighted by the scenery, persuaded her brother-in-law Hermann Brehmer to establish a health resort for consumptive patients. In 1854 she and Brehmer opened the world's first sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis at Görbersdorf. The care included the Priessnitz method of hydrotherapy and also a precursory method of climatic-dietetic treatment was applied. The treatment of consumption practised by Alexander Spengler at Davos, perpetuated by Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain, was modelled after Görbersdorf, which at times was called the "Silesian Davos", although it should be called Davos "Swiss Görbersdorf". The resort was relatively expensive, but well organised, and before 1888 it had both a post office and phone lines. At the same time the quantity of 730 curates well exceeded the number of inhabitants. Several further sanatoriums were established in the following years and until World War I, Görbersdorf had become popular with guests from all over Europe, who had numerous mansions and even a Russian Orthodox chapel erected. At the beginning of the 20th century Scandinavian guests introduced snow skiing and a ski jumping hill was opened in 1930.

The central building, an impressive one, has been only partially restored as an arts center and a few events took place in a room that retained very much an abandoned feel:

Others took place in the local movie theater, a modern "multimedia" room in the main campus and outside in the surrounding park.

Saturday's events began with an intriguing talk by Michał Libera and Daniel Muzyczuk titled "The Fall of Recording", positing that recorded music may eventually be understood as a temporary phenomenon, from the very first recorded sounds in 1860 (which, ironically, weren't intended to be heard, rather to be a visual representation of sound patterns) to sometime in the near future when it may "devolve" back into live performance only. We shall see. Next came a long-term project of Keith Rowe's called "Dry Mountain", one which I was unwittingly roped into. Last year at the same festival, Rowe and festival organizer Gerard Lebik created a five-minute piece of electronic music. It was given to four visual artists who "back-composed" graphic scores based on what they heard; I don't recall the artists' names (I wasn't taking notes for any of this) but from the program booklet, I'm guessing three of them might have been Alicja Bielawska, Bożenna Biskupska and Daniel Koniusz (Rowe was the fourth). The scores were a graphic one by Rowe, a large painting of black streaks on a white background, a set of perhaps two dozen "color sample" pieces (not unlike Richter's, in a way), each about 5 x 8 inches, arrayed high on a wall and a tabletop array of leaves, branches and various detritus. (The event took place in the room pictured above.) The original five-minute piece was played first. Then, eight musicians (Gaudenz Badrutt, electronics; Johnny Chang, violin; Bryan Eubanks, electronics; Emilio Gordoa, vibraphone, percussion; Jonas Kocher, accordion; Kurt Liedwart, electronics; Xavier Lopez, electronics; Mike Majkowski, double bass) in four configurations from solo to quintet, played sequential five minute readings of these scores. As they were doing so, four "artists" (myself, Michael Pisaro and two women whose names, I'm afraid, I didn't get) drew new scores based on what they were hearing from their assigned group (mine was Gordoa, Liedwart and Lopez, working from Rowe's score). These were passed to the musicians involved and the octet immediately performed them tutti. It was a strange event, not a little intimidating for myself (I wasn't aware of my participation until that morning) but oddly enchanting. Interestingly, I purposefully declined to look at Keith's score but my own, somehow based on what I was hearing, bore some fairly decided similarities to his. Pisaro, working with Chang and Majkowski, attempted to instantaneously score exactly what they were playing only to return it to them to play. In any case, the audience appeared to enjoy it.

General fatigue caused me to miss both Anna Zaradny's performance earlier in the day (by the time I arrived to the venue, I couldn't get in, but as it was rather loud, could get more than an inkling from outside) and very unfortunately, that of Alessandro Bosetti immediately after the "Dry Mountain" set. His was to be based on a fragment of notation from Leoš Janáček referenced in the earlier talk; I hope I can hear that one of these days. Along with the Bosetti work, Valerio Tricoli's concert that evening was part of the Fall of Recording idea, using excerpts from a diary of Pierre Schaeffer to construct a vast and dense wall of concrête-style electronics but with far more air and naturalness than I've normally encountered in this type of milieu--very impressive.

The evening ended with an outdoor performance by Lucio Capece using speakers suspended from three balloons (originally four, but one escaped) which were propelled to and fro while receiving and broadcasting sine wave signals from Capece's electronics. At one point, he played very soft and extremely beautiful tones on his slide saxophone, enhancing the ambient tones wonderfully. The setting was fine, the weather excellent and the sounds compelling.

Early Sunday afternoon, I gave my little talk outside in the park, happily bolstered by Keith Rowe and writer Daniel Brożek. The gist of it was the proposition that we're coming to the end of the "era", as it were, of truly free improvisation in the AMM-sense of the term, that younger musicians are (have been for a while) moving on to other grounds, conceptual, compositional and more and that this is neither good nor bad, simply the way it is, a function of history. I thought I performed rather feebly but the crowd seemed to enjoy it and, as said, it was fortunate to have Keith and Daniel on hand to rescue me from excessive plunging down various rabbit holes. (photo below by Artur Sawicki)

There followed one of the true highlights of the festival, realizations of two works by Michael Pisaro, "festhalten, loslassen" (Pisaro, electric guitar; Lucio Capece, bass clarinet; Johnny Chang, violin; Mike Majkowski, double bass) and "A single charm is doubtful (Harmony Series #14)" with the above quartet supplemented by Bryan Eubanks on soprano saxophone and Jonas Kocher on accordion. Performed in the same semi-ruined room as "Dry Mountain", both pieces were stunning in their combination of purity and fluctuation, individuation and overlapping, all played with superb control and sensitivity. The addition of two voices in the second work seemed almost impossibly sumptuous, really a gorgeous arrangement of timbres.

Early that evening, there were solid solo electronics sets from Kurt Leidwart and Olivia Block, the latter incorporating some of those dark knocking sounds I love throughout and ending it with a fantastically drawn out "coda" of similar dull percussive elements that was quite moving. Block also had an installation up through the weekend, situated in another of those abandoned rooms, this one with no exterior wall. She hung gossamer, parachute-like fabric around the space which contained several speakers that recorded outside sounds, including voices of passers-by, augmented them somehow and rebroadcast them at low volume in the space. Very effective, especially when passing breezes fluttered the temporary curtains, very ghostly. Stephen Cornford also had an installation in a gallery on the main street, an odd electronic aviary of sorts consisting of dozens of microchip boards hung in clusters on two walls, bearing metronome-like tails that twitched back and forth, the mechanisms emitting tweets and cackles in just-off semi-unisons. I would have liked to have seen them arrayed in the forest but so it goes...

Later on came the much anticipated duo of Pisaro and Rowe. The work, conceived by Rowe, was called, "Venerable Bede" and was based on a parable by the same which goes:

The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant.

Both independently composed scores that lasted two hours and twenty minutes; Rowe's was of a graphic nature, Pisaro's traditionally notated. They were in the main multimedia room which had forward and rear exits along the near side. Rowe had police tape installed, creating a space about eight feet wide along the wall farthest from the performers and had the festival print a page of, well, not instructions but recommendations to the effect that listeners enter at one end, stay for however long they liked, but not too long, exit the other end, go out, have a beer, talk with friends etc., and circle back in when they felt the urge to, repeating the cycle as many or few times as the liked. Well, almost needless to say, that didn't work so hot with very few choosing to do other than ensconce themselves in the space and listen. After scoping out the set-up, I chose to remain outside for much of it though as the doors were kept open, enough sound bled from within to get an idea of what was going on. Each night previously, at around 11PM, the venue played disco music of a sort from external loudspeakers for the dancing pleasure of the attendees (why people going to a festival featuring music like that heard here would want to dance to disco is a question I've been unable to resolve, but such is apparently the case). Earlier in the afternoon, Rowe had noticed that the Bede performance would overlap by a good 20-30 minutes with the disco but asked Gerard Lebik to please let it go on as normal. :-) A superb decision. I was outside at the point it came on and had momentarily forgotten that it would. As it happened, the first music was less like disco and more like an especially soupy version of Return to Forever circa 1975 and I thought, "What the hell are they playing?" having visions of Keith suddenly picking up a guitar and wailing away á la Bill Connors. I went inside then for the last half hour of the work and it was glorious, Pisaro playing guitar both cleanly as I've heard before and with severe distortion, Rowe engaging the almost overwhelming disco with, toward the conclusion, the overture from "Tristan und Isolde", an incredibly poignant apposition. Great stuff, hope it was recorded.

On Monday, I attended only two events, a kind of rough solo set by Emilio Gordoa who never quite got into the kind of cohesive groove I think he wanted (though producing some seriously intriguing sounds) and a distinctive and refreshing one from Bryan Eubanks (on soprano sax and claves) and Xavier Lopez (electronics). It was quite the palate cleanser from everything that had occurred prior, both in terms of its transparency and the insistent use of rhythms and patterns. Lopez' sounds were almost banal--basic synth tones--but arrayed in great phased patterns that expanded and contracted much like early Reich but with a nice looseness, shifting unexpectedly. Eubanks used claves extensively, tapping out simple, clear sequences, staying with them much longer than you though he would, achieving a mesmerizing, trancelike feeling. Hard to describe otherwise, but really bracing, a fine doorway "out" from the weekend's music, toward some other clime.

Just a fabulous few days overall--great people (so nice to meet so many folk I'd known electronically for years as well as many I encountered for the first time), some wonderful music, a super-beautiful place and excellent pierogis to boot! Huge thanks to Gerard Lebik for the invitation.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Just a few thoughts on Muhal Richard Abrams as I wend my way through my recordings.

I think the first time I heard him was as a guest artist on the wonderful Art Ensemble recording, "Fanfare for the Warriors" (recorded in 1973, released in 1974), though I'd seen references to him before. At that point only his first two records, "Levels and Degrees of Light" and "Young at Heart, Wise in Time" had been released and Delmark records were a bit tough to come by in Poughkeepsie. He stood out a good bit on that Art Ensemble session and perhaps even more on Marion Brown's beautiful "Sweet Earth Flying", which may still contain my favorite recorded example of his playing, his solo feature on "Part 5".

I saw him once prior to moving to NYC, as part of the incredible Braxton quintet I had the great fortune to see at the Tin Palace in the summer of 1976, with George Lewis, Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall (still my single favorite Braxton group, possibly a one-time only performance?) and may have heard "Sightsong", his wonderful duo with Malachi Favors, by then but I certainly saw him often once I was ensconced in New York. I can only recall one occasion when he played Environ (a solo concert), though I may well be forgetting something. He did often come around to concerts though and once in a while would simply hang out in the space. In a few such instances, I had the enormous good fortune to engage in several conversations with Muhal, events I cherish. He was always gracious but also very forthright in his opinions, including subjects such as white musicians playing jazz. "I could go to Ireland," he once said, "and study the Irish jig. I could stay there for twenty years and, eventually, become a really good Irish jig dancer. But I'd never be as good as an Irishman." I saw him perform elsewhere quite often in various other capacities as leader and sideman, including some AACM-organized events at the Center for Ethical Culture. It was always a joy to encounter him at such shows, whether he was on stage or in the audience. The respect accorded him by any musician in the house was always evident. You also got the strong impression of a real family guy, his wife and daughter often accompanying him and/or involved in the concert organization.

As with the great majority of musicians in this music, my taste runs strongly to his earlier work. Those first two Delmark recordings are wonderful as is much of the music on the rather grab bag "Things to Come from Those Now Gone", especially "March of the Transients", one of my favorite AACM-involved pieces ever ( "Afrisong", a solo recording originally issued on India Navigation (also on Why Not?, I think) is lush and beguiling and the aforementioned "Sightsong" is a long-time favorite, not the least for the incredible Favors solo, "Way Way Way Down Yonder". A few other duo releases have their merits as well, including the Arista session with Braxton (Duets 1976), "Duet" with Amina Claudine Myers (Black Saint, 1981) and the lesser known "Roots of Blue" with Cecil McBee (I believe the only record ever issued under Abrams' own label, RPR, in 1986). On the other hand, "Lifelong Ambitions", where he's paired with Leroy Jenkins, rarely gels. I'd also mention another great participatory work, issued under Roscoe Mitchell's name, "The Roscoe Mitchell Quartet" (Sackville, 1975).

Abrams seemed to have a kind of split personality with regard to musical "camps". On the one hand there was work like most of the above mentioned, steeped in jazz and blues, extended outward; for me, this is decidedly his strength. On the other, there was a tendency toward drier, more academic music, more "European" if you will, ironic in light of that statement on Irish culture. It's an interest shared with Mitchell, Braxton and Lewis among others and, I've no doubt, would be defended by them on various grounds among which would be the contention that any charge of academicism would be an over-simplification of the reality and I'm sure that's true to one extent or the other. Nonetheless, at day's end, that's the impression I'm left with. Beginning in the late 70s, Abrams released a number of albums (first on Arita Novus, then predominantly on Black Saint), often involving large ensembles, which fell into an oddly predictable pattern: several abstract pieces, "third stream", if you will and one bluesy/jazzy composition. Inevitably, I'd find the latter quite enjoyable, the former less so. I doggedly followed along for a good while, however, I think up until "One Line, Two Views" (New World, 1995) at which point I gave up. So I may well have missed some fine music subsequently.

Muhal is 85 years old now and I hope he sticks around for a good long time. It will be a sad, sad day when he passes. Via his music and his fundamental involvement in the formation of the AACM, he is, to my mind, one of the most important musicians of the 20th century, really still too little recognized. Thanks for all the beautiful music, Mr. Abrams.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Thinking about it over the last couple of days, I'm guessing that the last death of someone associated with rock, allowing as broad a definition as you wish, that will have had a great effect on me will turn out to be that of Don Van Vliet in 2010. Richie Havens in 2013 was also very sad but his music, as much as I enjoyed it, made a less lasting impression.

The recent run of passings, beginning with Lemmy and concluding (thus far) with David Bowie, which included the non-rockish figures of Paul Bley and Pierre Boulez, left me largely unmoved or, I should say, no more or less moved than my feelings for the 40 Iranians killed as a result of a suicide bombing mission on the same day as Bowie's death, the reporting of which on BBC America news had to wait until 15 minutes of Bowie coverage and commentary had ended. Because, you know, they're just Iranians. Of course, this is all a matter of personal taste and history but it was interesting to me that those rock musicians who had a very strong effect on me as a youngster seem to have pretty much disappeared. I could be missing someone, but thinking on it, the list of persons aged, say, 60 or more that I care about at all was pretty thinly populated. Eno? Sure, for his early work (including especially the pop albums) but if he's released anything since about 1980 that I go back to at all, I can't think of it. Robert Wyatt? Again, I appreciate and admire him enough, though not nearly as much as many. Actually, thinking of him and his tenure in Soft Machine (a very influential band on yours truly while in high school) caused me to look up Mike Ratledge a) to see if he was still alive and b) to learn what, if anything, he'd been up to recently; he is and the results weren't so encouraging. The Roche sisters? Sure, for the first album--that remains meaningful enough that I'd be a bit sad were one or more of them to pass. John Cale? Ginger Baker? Dylan and Joni Mitchell have been brought up recently and while the former's "Highway 61 Revisited" and the latter's "Blue" were each important recordings for my teenage self, it's been so long since I cared at all about their music that I think I'd just tip my cap and move on.

Even though I've also only listened to portions of their work over the past 15-20 years, I'll be far, far more greatly moved by the deaths of Cecil Taylor, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Joseph Jarman and others. They mattered so much more to me than any rock musician, no comparison. Again, just personal history and I don't mean to be snippish, but part of me was a bit ticked when (hardly unexpectedly) Bowie's death received massively greater coverage than, say, that of Ornette Coleman last year. To be expected in the major media, of course, a bit more disappointing to see similar proportions in my fb feed.

Old fart gripe over.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

I've told this story before but what the hell.

Some five years ago I went to see the Golden Palominos at Poisson Rouge in NYC (the only time I've been to the place, in fact). I hadn't listened to them in quite a while--I don't think they'd had any releases out since Dead Inside from 1996, a very underrated disc, imho, btw--and wasn't really expecting much but I'd been something of a fan since their first self-titled record from 1983 which I imagine I picked up because of the presence of Laswell, Zorn and, to be sure, an acquaintance of mine from Vassar, Roger Trilling (who went on to do some work with the Enemy label and also Herbie Hancock). Anyway, I enjoyed it quite a bit at the time (still do) but more surprising was how much I liked the follow-up, "Visions of Excess", given its explicitly rock-like atmosphere, which I had little time for then, more so with regard to Fier's drumming, the kind of pounding I'm normally not very fond of (I think the record was dedicated to John Bonham) but, you know, exception proves the rule and I really had no problem with his work. More, the record was really solid, ranging from fairly approachable pieces to more severe ones like 'Only One Party' and 'The Animal Speaks', the latter penned by one Robert Kidney about whom I knew nothing and, indeed, assumed to be a pseudonym.

Despite the horribleness of the next record, "Blast of Silence", I stuck with the Goldens. There'd occasionally be a semi-decent release (as said, I think there's a lot of good material on "Dead Inside", almost entirely courtesy Nicole Blackman) but by and large, I wasn't all that interested. Still, though the idea of a reunion concert piqued my interest somewhat, I likely wouldn't have attended were it not for the presence of the wonderful Wingdale Community Singers also on the bill, who were fantastic (thanks, Nina, David, Rick!)

So, my friend and I went to the venue, not my favorite kind of place to hear music and, luckily, poached two of the very few chairs at a tiny table to the right of the stage. At a point during one of the early sets, we noticed a stout, elderly gentleman standing, propped by a cane, near the side of the stage. He looked a bit shaky and my friend was about to offer him her seat when someone closer to him did so and we thought nothing further of it. The Palominos came on, the first five or six songs (iirc) featuring Syd Straw and the music was rather pedestrian, kinda what I expected, chugging along well enough but having no real reason for being there. Then, much to our surprise, we saw that stocky gentleman making his way, hesitantly, up the stairs to the stage where, once ensconced behind the mic, he strapped on a guitar. I think they broke into "The Animal Speaks". Well, it was Kidney, jowls flapping furiously, bellowing and roaring. "Force of nature" is an overused term, but he came pretty close. He did three or four pieces, I think, tearing through them all though, I have to say, the one available on You Tube doesn't quite capture the moment. Maybe my memory is faulty...

So I went home, did some research and soon picked up this recording, recorded live in 1975. And liked it bigly. Listening to it now, it still sounds pretty excellent. For me, they managed to retain the improvisatory nature of the better rock bands of the 60s (one key: Dave Robinson's non-clunky, supple drumming) while adding blunt, dark post-Velvets words (more about the nature of the delivery, perhaps, than the lyrical content). "Animal Speaks" here also incorporates some juicy soul-based horn lines; it's not as savage as the Palominos version, where John Lydon was the vocalist/burper, but chugs along sublimely. And, wonderfully considering this is a live gig, there's no let-up whatsoever as they transition into "About the Eye Game". Indeed, it sounds like an extension of the previous piece, amped up a notch or two. "Narrow Road" is almost as intense, with more of a shuffle feel, also introducing congas and harmonica to great effect. Not so punk in the sense of not eschewing solos; I sometimes think of a bluesier Velvets. The liner notes are by David Thomas and there *is* some adjacency to Pere Ubu but, maybe, a block or two over in the same grimy area of Cleveland. He cites Beefheart and Sun Ra, fair enough. I weirdly pick up vagrant Art Ensemble vibes don't ask me where, maybe the conga and saxophones, something vaguely Bap-Tizum-y going on. The centerpiece is still "Jimmy Bell", a slightly more relaxed, expansive lope with that simple, inevitable descending, five note theme, and the unspooling guitar work it allows. The constant repetition and intensification..."look at the sisters in the corner, look at the sisters in the corner..." all spat out by Kidney, the saxophones allowed free reign, not confined to rockish bursts, the rhythm unrelenting, the warped harmonics of the guitar. It's probably one of my favorite rock performances ever, if you can call it that.

I'm always surprised I don't hear 15 60 75 (often referred to as The Numbers Band) name-checked more often. Weird. On the other hand, I've never gone out and picked up any of their subsequent recordings figuring, perhaps wrongly, that they'd fail to live up to this one. Live videos I've seen from recent years are ok but not terribly inspiring. Recommendations are welcome.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Listing....get it? *ahem*

So, as previously mentioned on facebook, among the many, many fine releases I heard this past year, even though that amount was undoubtably shortened by my decision to cease regular publication mid-year, two stood out for me. Unsurprisingly, one was the magnificent 4-disc duo recording from Keith Rowe and John Tilbury (done to integrate with video work by Kjell Bjørgeengen) on Sofa. It seems to have engendered, as near as I can tell, less discussion and appreciation than I would have thought. Perhaps it has to do with the size/cost of the set but I also think it's actually a really difficult work as well, though hugely rewarding. There's a darkness in play that I think is profound. Keith has referred to in as "late work" which, grim as that title may be, is accurate.

The other release that really bowled me over (reviewed earlier) was Jürg Frey's "string quartet no. 3/unhörbare zeit (Edition Wandelweiser). Frey's music has been astonishing me for a number of years now and I was very pleased, in 2015, to meet him on a couple of occasions and to hear his music performed live for the first time (I think? Though perhaps I'm forgetting an earlier instance).

Following, in no particular order, are most of the other releases I managed to hear last year that I really, deeply enjoyed. Thanks to all the musicians and labels who steered things my way:

Marianne Schuppe - Slow Songs (Edition Wandelweiser)
Common Objects - Whitewashed with Lines (Another Timbre)
Michal Libera/Martin Küchen/Ralf Meinz - Tyto Alba (Bôłt)
Christopher DeLaurenti - To the Cooling Tower (GD Stereo)
Devin DiSanto/Nick Hoffman - Three Exercises (ErstAEU)
Justin Meyers/Jason Lescalleet - The White Page (Glistening Examples)
R. Schwarz - The Scale of Things (Gruenrekorder)
Eric La Casa - Soundtracks (Herbal International)
Rutger Zuydervelt - Sneeuwstorm (Glistening Examples)
Radu Malfatti - Shizuka Ni Furu Ame (B-Boim, with Cristián Alvear)
Kevin Parks/Vanessa Rossetto - Severe Liberties (ErstAEU)
Ryoko Akama - Senu Hima (Melange)
Graham Lambkin/Michael Pisaro - Schwarze Riesenfalter (Erstwhile)
Eric La Casa/Taku Unami - Parazoan Mapping (Erstwhile)
Radu Malfatti - One Man and a Fly (Cathnor)
Klaus Lang - Organ Works, vol. 2 (God)
Michael Pisaro/Cristián Alvear - melody, silence (Potlatch)
Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes - Matterings (Erstwhile)
Greg Stuart/Ryoko Akama - Kotoba Koukan (Lengua de Lava)
André O. Müller - In Memory of James Tenney (Edition Wandelweiser)
Jürg Frey - Grizzana (Another Timbre)
Diatribes - Great Stone/Blood Dunza (Aussemraum)
Bryan Eubanks/Stéphane Rives - fq (Potlatch)
Rie Nakajima - Four Forms (Consumer Waste)
Cem Güney - Five Compositions (Edition Wandelweiser)
Fraufraulein - Extinguishment (Another Timbre)
Lucio Capece - Epoché (Hideous Replica)
Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek) - Deining
Alvin Lucier - Dark Matter (God)
Jürg Frey - Circles and Landscapes (Another Timbre)
Chaz Underriner/Anastassis Philippakopoulos - ...reinterprets (Edition Wandelweiser)
Mike Majk(owski) - Bright Astonishment of the Night (Bocian)
Irene Kurka - Beten. Prayer (Edition Wandelweiser)
James Saunders/Apartment House - Assigned #15 (Another Timbre)
Jack Harris - And Neither of us.... (Cathnor)
Takahiro Kawaguchi/Utah Kawasaki - Amorphous Spores (Erstwhile)
Grisha Shakhnes - All This Trouble for Nothing (Glistening Examples)
Eva-Maria Houben - Air - Works for Flutes and Organ (Edition Wandelweiser)
Michael Pisaro - A Mist is a Collection of Points (New World)
Jürg Frey - 24 Wörter (Edition Wandelwesier)
John Cage - 108, 109, 110 (OgreOgress)
John Wall/Alex Rodgers - Work 2011-2014 (Entr'acte)
Marc Baron - Carnets (Glistening Examples)
Joseph Kudirka - Beauty and Industry (Another Timbre)