Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Four releases involving Ilia Belorukov.

Wozzeck - Fact I (Intonema)

Wozzeck is a power trio, kind of, with Belorukov on synth and computer, Mikhail Ershov on bass guitar and Konstantin Samolovov on drums. 'Fact I' is a vinyl release comprising one 36 minute piece. It bolts from the gate with a hard-driving, lurching mass of music that strikes me as a blend of aggressive prog and late 80s thrash bands--mid-70s Crimson funneled through Pantera. The music is pounding and bracing, a disturbing siren-like whine circulating within the onslaught. Then an odd thing happens. About nine minutes in, the storm begins to fragment, the rhythms becoming blockier, the whine accompanied by others--things get (intentionally) confused. From here, the music sublimates, traveling from the initial "solid" state to an  increasingly gaseous one, all vague, quiet tones and blips, isolated bass plucks, distant, obscure voices. Some songs, a hymn. Eventually almost nothing but the  quietest of cymbal taps. A good idea, finely executed--nice job.

Phicus & Ilia Belorukov - k(nó)t (Intonema)

Here, Belorukov, on alto saxophone, teams up with the Spanish trio Phicus (Ferran Fages, guitar; Alex Reviriego, double bass; and Vasco Trilla, drums). The four pieces, improvisations' are pensive and groping, nicely subdued and investigatory. Occasionally, one of the musicians comes a bit to the fore, as Reviriego does on 'Gordian Knot', where he's brilliant and dark in a manner that recalls primo Haden. Trilla also has a fine way with vibrating bell-like tones, judiciously applied. The whole album has an aura of somberness about it but also a strong sense of curiosity, of quiet excursions into uncertain territory. Not  much else I can say except that I found it very satisfying and would recommend it highly.

Ilia Belorukov - Arzed-one (Albertineeditions)

KickGuitarSinRun - There & Back (Intonema)

Two releases, the second a DVDr with links to an online video, that showcase another very different facet of Belorukov's music: beats. 'Arzed-one' uses a 1986 Casio RZ-I drum machine and only six factory-installed sounds at that: kick, snare, open/closed hi-hat, clap and cowbell. The track titles,--for example, '170-160'--indicated the bpm range as, if I understand correctly, Belorukov slides gradually from one to the other. He writes that at high beat rates, he experiences the resultant sound more as a drone than as beats and that the gradual shifts create "unexpected relationships between sounds". Admittedly, this is a hard sell for me as I find the essential sounds and the associations with them that have built up over the years, to be more or less uncompelling. Then again, the almost entirely hidden hums that manifest (perhaps as a sonic artifact) can indeed be heard to fluctuate as the beat rate rises or falls, providing at least something of non-superficial interest (probably best experienced via headphones). More science experiment than deep sounds? You can be the judge.

'There & Back' takes the same basic idea--shifts in bpm--but a) re-locates the sounds to a distorted electric guitar (Pavel Medvedev) in addition to (lighter) computerized beats and b) adds video of a dancer (Daria Plohova in 'There' and Anna Antipova in 'Back'). They're filmed head on, in black and white, running in place in rhythm to the beats. They're intriguing exercises (also impressive physical ones as each runs about 43 minutes) and it's borderline fascinating to watch the variation in, especially, arm movements as they go from crisper at higher beat rates to more languid and, in context, almost carefree swaying during the slower periods. An odd kind of near-minimalism, somewhat hypnotic. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Lance Austin Olsen - Plato's Cave (Infrequency Editions)

Jamie Drouin - Paysage (Infrequency Editions)

Way back when, I received a 3-disc set on Mattin's label, W.M.O/r that consisted of a performance by Keith Rowe and Seymour Wright that had been recorded from three vantage points. At the time, I happened to have three devices on which to play CDs (stereo, computer, Xbox) so I listened to them simultaneously, not worrying much about the slight but inevitable time discrepancies involved in turning on the machines. It was great fun and, in some ways, revelatory. The idea of a more active way of listening, even at home, was an intriguing one.

For some reason, this came to mind when listening to these two fine releases, though of course they're individual, isolated sessions and don't even share anything close to a common duration. Plus I have only a single means of playing the discs at this time. But Olsen and Drouin have worked and recorded with each other often in recent years and, even as these two samples show very different approaches, there's an affinity in play that make me think that synchronous listening might not be a bad idea. Well, maybe one  of these days...

Olsen's album strikes me as surprisingly programmatic, especially in this neck of the woods. Credited (on the bandcamp site, not on the CDr sleeve) with "guitar, field recordings, amplified copper plates, stones, and assorted objects", Olsen produces sounds that indeed sound as though their source might be within a cave. The guitar is often played low and echoey and various objects that might range from ping pong balls to billiards in addition to the stones, are dropped onto dryly resonant surfaces. The sounds are vivid but spatially distinct; as in his visual works, Olsen seems to take great care with a combination of placement and texture. Seeing flickers and shadows on the wall--Plato's cave, indeed. The voices which intrude, twice--"You ready?", a grunted reply--add to the disembodied mystery, the sounds liquifying toward the work's conclusion, retaining several loud clacks. Wonderfully constructed, of perfect length (some 26 minutes) and entirely engaging--might be my favorite music I've heard so far from Olsen.

'Paysage' was recorded between 2005-2009 on a "Moog-style 5U modular synthesizer system" and occupies a pulsing, blurred world, steady-state in a sense but constantly shifting within that condition. There are several "chapters" with varying characters, some carrying eerily vocal connotations, others with brief, empty digital spaces interpolated, some where the hums are steady, others where the pitch shifts subtly, causing a small sense of queasiness. I'm tempted, given the Olsen release, to take this disc's title at its word and conjure up programmatic content here as well, particularly when, as occurs some 16 minutes in, a sounds that could be interpreted as rainfall suddenly appears; somehow, a sun shower is evoked. But the pervasive mode is the drone--always very rich, sometimes fluttering, sometimes melting into droplets, here anxious, there relentless. It's a solid, engrossing set, entirely fine and absorbing on its own, even if I still have a slight hankering to hear it mixed in with 'Plato's Cave'. 

Infrequency Editions

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mike Westbrook - In Memory of Lou Gare (Westbrook Records)

Lou Gare died last fall at the age of 78. He, along with Keith Rowe, Eddie Prévost and Lawrence Sheaff, were founding members of the improvising ensemble AMM in 1965. Prior to that,  Gare, Rowe and Sheaff were also members of Mike Westbrook's group, Rowe since about 1958. This ensemble usually had between eight and eleven members (including John Surman, Mike Osborne and others) and,  in the context of British jazz of the time, was fairly forward-looking, Westbrook being quite partial to the denser, more complex arrangements of Ellington, Basie and Mingus as well as encouraging the musicians in his band to experiment with their own incorporations of newer music as well as that from non-Western influences. Unlike other AMM members, Gare never quite lost his attachment to jazz, particularly to the work of Sonny Rollins, Paul Gonsalves and others, forming a free jazz-ish duo with Prévost after AMM's initial split in 1972 and subsequent recordings of his own.

This disc selects performances by Westbrook's Uncommon Orchestra from 2010-2015 that featured Gare's tenor playing, sometimes complete tracks, sometimes excerpts. 'D.T.T.M.', Westbrook's lovely and moody homage to Ellington, opens with an unaccompanied solo by Gare and it's gorgeous--burred, warm, unhurried and bubbling with ideas, essentially soloing for the entirety of the track's twelve minutes; a superb performance. There's a fragment of Gare sparring with poetics from Marcus Vergette, several of him riding atop the ensemble, an excerpt from Westbrook/Rossini, improvising "his own overture to the Overture to The Barber of Seville' and much more. I especially enjoyed the two Strayhorn pieces, 'Johnny Come Lately' on which Gare stretches and pulls over some delightful arrangements from Westbrook and 'Lush Life', featuring Gare on his own, carving, once again, an extraordinarily inventive set of variations on the theme, never falling into cliché, remaining true to the source while ushering it just a bit outside its comfort zone. A second take on 'D.T.T.M.' ensues, every bit as enjoyable as the first before the disc closes with an extract from an early (1979) composition of Westbrook's, 'Graffiti', in which Gare's liquid phrasing heats up and begins to sizzle over some delightfully punchy band arrangements, recalling, to me, something of Sam Rivers.

A fine collection, ably showcasing Gare in this context. Required listening for AMM completists and simply a robust, throughly satisfying musical experience on its own merits.

Available via Westbrook Jazz

Musæum Clausum - Musæum Clausum (Umlaut Records)

This arcanely named trio (Wiki article on the source here) consists of Louis Laurain on cornet, Hannes Lingens on drums and Sébastian Beliah on bass. Laurain and Lingens were (are?) members of the intriguing ensemble, Die Hochstapler, which took compositions by Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman, rendering them with both astonishing precision and imaginative expansiveness. Here, the reference point seems to be Bill Dixon.

Three tracks. The first, 'A la ventura part 1 & 2', is a sprawling, pleasantly meandering piece, I assume an improvisation, with Laurain's burnished, almost woody-sounding cornet tracing considered and discursive paths over Beliah's gently probing bass and Lingens' brushes. There's an implied structure, but a loose, breathing one, fabric-like, that allows for a seemingly wide range of options. Laurain chooses an area then mines it, leaving much untouched but always locating value. 'Rarities in Pictures: a large submarine landscape/a night piece' begins with the bass leading the way, very forthright and blunt, reminding me a little of Ronnie Boykins with Sun Ra, Lingens switching to sticks on toms, the pair pushing . the music forward, leaving space in the furrows for Laurain to quietly investigate. The second half of the 20-minute track returns partially to the area explored in the first cut, but with a more regular, insistent bass, limning a firm line from which to drape the cornet explorations, lines iterated and expanded on by the drums toward the work's conclusion. 'Remarquable [sic] Books' kind of skirts the area between these two approaches. It's fine, but for me didn't add to much to what had already been presented; I think the album would have been served better by just the two first performances.

As is, Musæum Clausum is a strong, flowing and enjoyable disc, well worth checking out, especially by those unfamiliar with these musicians. I'm curious to hear what comes next

Umlaut Records

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Antoine Beuger/Dante Boon/Taylan Susam - beuger.boon.susam (Edition Wandelweiser)

I've had the very good fortune, twice, to attend solo piano recitals by Dante Boon, once several years ago in Amsterdam and more recently in Brooklyn. Each occasion was and extremely special, highly rewarding event, Boon playing works from Wandelweiser composers, transforming the space into a ind of temple. After the Amsterdam concert, I wondered if ever two hours of music had contained so few notes, yet so much beauty.

This recording is very similar to a Boon recital, consisting of a long work from Antoine Beuger, two shorter ones by Boon himself and a piece by Taylan Susam, each just so impressive, so thoughtful, so human. How to describe Beuger's 'pour être seul(e), sans réserve' (2009)? The softest of notes, high on the keyboard, individual, barely struck, more like caressed, open the work, isolated, glimmering. Some eight minutes in, simple chords, slightly bitter, more "aware", occur in sets of three, high-low-high, again hanging in small clusters, their beads reflecting something of the confusion of the earth below. It expands from there, shifting patterns, seemingly based purely on intuition rather than any system, always maintaining that ineffable delicacy that somehow remains grounded in the world. The music returns to single notes, eventually shading somewhat lower, slowly wafting to ground. Such deep, probing work, both in conception and execution.

Boon's 'years, numbers' (2012) uses a set of four tones, structured A-B-B-A where one note is constant, while another is added (or not), the duration of each varied with immense subtlety throughout (and interrupted midway through by a sequence of two-chord patterns). The combination of simplicity and slight variation works wonderfully as do the pitch choices made, imparting a melancholic, perhaps nostalgic air, as if the composer is thinking of a past bittersweet event, playing it back in his head, subjecting it to different possibilities, ways things might have gone. The brief 'nov. (piano)' (2011) contains calm sets of chords, a gentle promenade, ambling downhill, very lovely.

Susam's 'tombeau' (2014) begins with sets of four descending chords and, similar to the first Boon piece, retains the basic chord while augmenting the surrounding tones, then varies that a little, allowing the sounds to blossom like slow motion footage of a blooming flower, the pattern of petals offering regularity while the time sequence of their unfurling flows from regular to slightly less so. The basic downward trajectory is maintained for the most part, as befits a tombeau. Glints of other alternatives appear momentarily before the descent continues, no enhanced with lusher swaddling, some chords so lovely they cause one to shiver. A superb piece.

And a superb album altogether, as rewarding as those recitals I've witnessed. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Edition Wandelweiser

I wanted to also mention three other releases in the current batch from EW, which I just don't have the time to write about at length (apologies!), but which all deserve to be heard:

Marianne Schuppe - nosongs; a set of works for voice and lute (the latter enhanced with uber-bows) that dwell in the territory explored by Morton Feldman in his extraordinary composition, "Only".

Toshi Ichiyanagi - sapporo; The 1963 piece performed here by eleven Seattle-area musicians (including our old buddy Robert J. Kirkpatrick) in 2010. Very quiet and filled with eerie, enchanting glissandi and rousing percussion.

Sergio Merce - three dimensions of the spirit; Further delving into his microtonal saxophone as well as a prepared tenor, all of them probing and fascinating. Some of the most intriguing saxophonics I've heard in years.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Johan Lindvall - giraffe (Edition Wandelweiser)

An enchanting set of fourteen pieces for guitar and occasional voice, performed by Fredrik Rasten.

It's always difficult, for me, to write about music "like" this, work that's at once spare, seemingly simple and very affecting. The choices made to arrive at that apparent simplicity are hard to determine, easy to appreciate. Apart from a set of five short works for voice and guitar, utilizing words from Marianne Moore, the music by and large consists of single notes or small, tonal chords suspended in space, allowed to glisten there momentarily, followed by another, forming a thin, transparent sheet which air surrounds and light permeates. Calling it calm or contemplative, while accurate, doesn't do the music justice; as with much of Antoine Beuger's music, there's an intimacy that's almost uncomfortable. One almost feels as though intruding on a private session, though it's plenty warm and welcoming enough to dispel the notion. It's all lovingly played by Rasten, whose approach almost necessarily recalls that of Cristián Alvear; if you've enjoyed the recordings from Alvear, you'll enjoy this.

The song suite stands apart, haunting and riveting. Softly sung, with sparse accompaniment, I was reminded a little bit of David Grubbs with the Gastr del Sol of some 20 years ago, a similar hesitant delicacy. As much as I enjoy the entire release, these five works are my favorite--a wonderful approach to song-form, a direction I'd love to hear pursued.

Very fine work overall, highly recommended.

Edition Wandelweiser

Monday, July 09, 2018

Cyril Bondi/d'Incise - kirari-kirari (Edition Wandelweiser)

Two works, each almost 20 minutes long, co-composed by Bondi and d'Incise (who are often, though not here, known as Diatribes, for a sextet made up of Bondi (vibraphone), d'Incise (metallic objects), Magnus Granberg (piano), Anna Lindal (Baroque violin), Anna-Kaisa Meklin (viola de gamba) and Christoph Schiller (spinet).

Each work is similarly structured: single notes in a regular rhythm, played roughly every four seconds. Some have rapid decays, others linger. They go in and out of strict unison, forming slightly staggered figures which coalesce now and then. Some instruments, I think, disappear for a few measures then resurface. I believe that a single pitch is maintained throughout each work, though there may be minor fluctuations and there are certainly differing techniques employed.

That's it--very little, in a sense, but it kept this listener rapt and enthralled. By isolating each set of tones within that four-second space, they're able to be "examined", sort of rolled around in one's palm, considered in and of themselves and in relation to what preceded and ensued. The combination of these particular instruments is quite...delectable. I sometimes have the impression of a string of beads, not jewels but rougher, only partially polished bits of stone and shell. The mix of contemplativeness and periodicity is very appealing, very thoughtful and thought-provoking. Another fine work from this pair.

Edition Wandelweiser

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Matt Sargent - Ghost Music (Weighter Recordings) 

'Ghost Music' is a work for solo percussion, lasting about an hour, performed by Bill Solomon. Though not listed on the release or elsewhere that I could find, for the first half of the work, Solomon is playing an instrument that gives forth high, metallic sounds--I take it a celesta or glockenspiel, something in that family. It's largely struck (with what sounds like thin rods or sticks) but there's also sustained tones that sometimes sound bowed.

That first 30-odd minutes is comprised of sets of struck tones, often in small groups, with patterns like 3-3-5-5 or 2-2-6-5, later in short melodic sequences. I've no idea whether it's score or intuitive. The tonality at the start reminds me very much of that used  by Karl Berger (on vibes) on Don Cherry's 'Eternal Rhythm', which I believe was based on Balinese or Javanese intervals. Whatever, it's dreamlike, unearthly and gorgeous, the tones themselves silvery and ephemeral, their lingering hums...well, ghostly. There's something of a Feldmanesque irregularity in play, patterns that seem to form only to dissolve before apprehension. I also get a time-stretch effect; I think I've been listening an hour and it's only 20 minutes. This is a good thing.

About halfway through the work the sound-world shifts rather abruptly, announced by a steady rhythm of slightly deeper-pitched metals augmented by the odd single strike. Whereas earlier, the arrangement of patterns occupied a reasonably defined area, Sargent (or Solomon? not sure how much, if any, leeway is provided) now presents multiple episodes of varied approaches and attacks, often using metals of a less precisely defined pitch, perhaps bells of different types. There's more open space, more tone range, many different attacks in general, though everything remains embedded in that large space of the contemplative and observant. It'd every bit as fascinating as the first half even if (or because) the listener's footing is less assured. 'Ghost Music' closes with a return to the original instrument, now heard in a steady rhythm with accent strikes here and there and ultimately a quicker, lighter beat atop.

A wonderful work and one of the more substantive pieces for solo percussion I've heard in ages.

Prune Bécheau - Stries ton, tripes et poils (Weighter Recordings)

Like the above, also a solo recording, this time on Baroque violin, an instrument which differs from a standard violin in certain ways far over my pay grade to comprehend (but see here to understand more), played by the French violinist Prune Bécheau. Admittedly, coming into this recording (as with many solo ventures on "classic" instruments), I was hoping for any innovation, should it occur, to be more structural than having to do with extended techniques. Well, there's a bit of both here.

There are eight pieces and each demonstrates a different instrumental attack. The first, "introduction", probably carries the greatest allusion to a "traditional" sound, as a kind of melody--very lovely--circles around some grainy overtones. I should mention that the disc's title translates into "tone streaks, guts and hair, so you have a good picture of what's coming. In 'tlelel etl', Bécheau circles, arco, around a high pitch, generating a mosquito-like whine which she rapidly elaborates on within fairly narrow parameters, forming an impressive web that retains a plaintive air. Sometimes, as in "geqze tulilu", she manages to elicit a breathy sound more saxophonic than violin; if heard "blindfolded" I might have guess Michel Doneda. As mentioned earlier, part of me would like to hear this kind of approach used in service of a larger form, a more overall idea, but it's quite impressive on its own. Four shorter pieces investigate overtone manipulation that reminds me of some forms of Central African singing, a jaunty venture on a (near) single tone, a harsher, rubbery melodic line put through the wringer and a finely worried low string summoning images of North Africa. Bécheau concludes with the most complex work, 'zzffk zzffk', a swirling piece with buzzes, clicks, a certain rubbed attack that almost sounds like a chicken cluck and much more. It's an intense work, one I'd love to see performed live. As is, there's an abundance of fine material and deep, concentrated thought on display here. It's my first time hearing her work and eagerly look forward to more.

Weighter Recordings