Thursday, January 17, 2019

Chris Dadge - close enough for comfort (self-released)

A concise, finely-focussed and smart set of four pieces, played by Dadge and Samantha Savage Smith, wielding some combination of guitars, various drums, banjo, cymbals, zither and bells. One might guess this array could engender a kind of kaleidoscopic, chaotic plucked/percussive storm and well it might--but it doesn't. Instead the atmosphere is crystalline and spare. From a Western perspective, it's easy to over-simplify and think of some relation to Noh or Gagaku and that may well be there; there is a kind of ritualistic tinge to the music, metal struck or picked and allowed to hang in the air briefly, though never surrendering a vague sense of pulse or elastic rhythm. While all akin, the pieces vary their timbre slightly, more than enough, in this context, to maintain interest and, having a duration between about seven and ten minutes, they're of the perfect length. A very enjoyable effort, well worth hearing.

Dadge's bandcamp site

Die Hochstapler - The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog (Umlaut)

When last we heard from Die Hochstapler (Pierre Borel, saxophones; Louis Laurain, trumpet; Antonio Borghini, bass; Hannes Lingens, drums), they were serving up a tasty take on the musical stylings, if not the actual compositions, of Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, under the fictive character, Alvin P. Buckley. Well, they're publicly jettisoning that personage on this release and at least attempting to depart from the path set by those two luminaries. If nothing else, this quartet is extraordinarily clean and precise (especially Laurain), but their pieces are also inventive in a way that, yes, recalls some of the pathways investigated by Braxton, especially int he early 70s. The opening track, 'Dear Margherita', for instance, sounds like a possible out-take from the Sackville 'Trio and Duet' release. (He wasn't on that one, but I should mention that I find Lingens' playing preferable to that of Althschul from the period). Four short, jaunty tracks surround the two long ones, 'Prima' and 'Di Prima'. These are looser, more expansive affairs; here, I might pick up remnants and reconfigurations of the long forms Roscoe Mitchell and the AEC were working with in the late 60s, pieces like 'The Spiritual', wherein a fine sense of space and varied timbres jostle without cloying. The music is by no means backward looking, though. This quartet is mining the past, certainly, but molding intriguing, jewel-like constructions that are far more interesting and rewarding than that created by you average free jazz ensemble. Hihgly recommended for listeners who miss the Braxton/Wheeler quartet, with or without Mr. Buckley.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Áine O'Dwyer/Graham Lambkin - Green Ways (Erstwhile)

Graham Lambkin doesn't make things easy for your hapless reviewer. More than most practitioners in this general area of music, Lambkin, both on record and live, can appear almost artless, haphazard, indulgent. He's not the one you'd take your skeptical friend to see perform. The thing is, most of the time what he does works and often enough works fantastically. There's the old line about Thelonious Monk, "He even walks musical." It's a subjective thing, to be sure, but there are certain musicians who, to my ears, have such an inherent and deep musicality that almost anything they produce sounds good. Monk would be a fine example; Don Cherry, for me, is another. In visual art, it's something I think about when viewing Rauschenberg or Twombly: everything just, at the very least, looks good. Lambkin has something of this as well.

I'd only previously heard bits and pieces of O'Dwyer's work, organ-oriented music dealing with extended tones and shifting environments. I may well have missed other aspects of her music but the current release certainly fits comfortably within parameters established by Lambkin, which is to say "casual" field recordings with often woolly sound sourced from the mundane. It's difficult for me to separate out O'Dwyer's contributions from Lambkin's, though likely not so important. But even from someone who released a double LP of prog CDs playing in his car, this one pushes things. For me, it succeeds wonderfully, but be forewarned.

It's a double CD, divided into tracks (17 of them) and seems to be thematically based upon Lambkin's move to O'Dwyer's home country of Ireland. It opens with vague hums, shifting to forceful blowing sounds, back and forth, the humming morphing to primal, almost-grunts, an odd proto-language. Slaps, skin on skin, hardcore patty-cake, extremely sharp. These slaps transform disconcertingly into applause from a smallish but enthusiastic crowd--was the preceding a live performance? I don't know...Slaps reappear, this time hitting water and lead to notes on a muted, possibly ancient piano, struck metal (all in a blurred haze) and then a recurring theme--a conversation with a farmer (?) discussing plants. It sounds like the microphone is regularly brushing against rough material--denim or corduroy--in a rhythm that implies walking; an amazing sound-field between that and the voices (O'Dwyer and an older man). The (more or less) title track. 'Greenways', perhaps comes closest to an electro-acoustic composition, with subtle squeaks and bleeps mixed into a variety of overlaid field recordings featuring running engines, quite strong. A spare musical interlude, oddly titled, 'Laughter, Laughing' is heard, a low string--guitar? harp?--is plucked repeatedly, quickly. A public gathering that seems to be a memorial of sorts, super-immersive as if the listener is nestled in the front pocket of Lambkin's shirt. The disc closes with a man discussing old Irish history, knives, Vikings and metal to appreciative murmurs from our pair, pouring drinks, banging about--very intimate--the man breaking into song, 'Carrickfergus' if my research is correct.

Disc Two continues in the same scene, Lambkin and O'Dwyer joining in. An accordion--or squeezebox of some kind--surfaces on 'The Old Brigado, accompanied by jangling metal, in a sort of fractured jig, again with the harsh hand claps. Things remain suspiciously musical with the soft, gracious piano introduction to 'Down by the Sally Gardens', albeit paired with snuffling, cows and other woozy ambience. Singing cows (somewhat echoing those hums from the first track on the other disc), dripping water, abruptly interrupted by a shrill dog. Another Irish tune on a whistle amidst an outdoor crowd, discussion in a field between O'Dwyer and, I think, the same fellow who talked about plants, discussing capstones and tombs, bats and swallows. A small child singing, a plane overhead, a squeaky swing-set (?), cars, this focussed, curiously chosen eddy of sounds. Our singer returns on 'Beeaf for the Craic', pausing and commenting, struck matches heard; very moving and, again, intimate to an almost uncomfortable degree. 'Night Music' is the longest track at some eleven minutes and, for me, the most impressive, a mysterious layering of dark sounds, notably some roughly rubbed metal, as though someone is bowing a large piece of corrugated steel, motor engines, unnameable scratchings and scrabblings and much, much more. A piece of great power and presence and all the more inscrutable for that. We end at a table, friends toasting each other over drinks, alien buzzes flitting about, talking relaxedly about tobacco and catkin, the recording clipped and repeated at a point or two. It ends mid-sentence.

A unique work, part found poetry, part found sounds, a large part magical/musical choices.


Saturday, January 05, 2019

Philip Samartzis - Antarctica-An Absent Presence (Thames & Hudson)

I think I first heard Philip Samartzis' work back in 2002 on his collaboration with Sachiko M, 'Artefact' and have greatly enjoyed his work many times since. A few years ago, in Paris, I was fortunate to hear his work performed at INA-GRM--along with music from Giuseppe Ielasi it stood out markedly from the over-produced, over-synthesized sounds produced by the other festival participants; it sounded real and lived. If I'm not mistaken some of those sources were recorded on the trip documented in this book. In 2010, Samartzis voyaged to Antarctica, recording sounds of the ship as well as the enormous sound-world he discovered on the continent. It's an exceedingly handsome book with tons of photographs (all refreshingly workaday, none shooting for glamor or easy beauty) and texts chronicling his experience, again largely dealing with the day-to-day realities and rigors of living in that part of the world. Two CDs are also included, the first from the boat, the second on land and among icebergs. Each is fascinating, immersive and, like the photos and texts, concerned more about precision and accuracy than effect, very unusual for sound artists plying the field recording trade.

Samartzis, possibly in part due to his residing in Melbourne, doesn't seem to get his due in the US, which is unfortunate as he's one of the more consistent, intelligent and incisive people I'm aware of in the music.

Thames & Hudson (Australia)

Friday, January 04, 2019

Derek Baron - Recollects (Reading Group)

Back in 2006, Jason Lescalleet released 'The Pilgrim'. It was, at least in my experience, a unique and beautiful thing in this area of music, a work that was unabashed personal, nostalgic and emotional. I love it. That approach remains rare and maybe that's a good thing as the potential for morasses of indulgence certainly exists, in many regards but in this neck of the woods especially. On 'Recollects', Baron negotiates this ground with a very fine balance of emotional attachment and sonic appreciation. Side A of this LP opens with the sound of water being paddled, muffled conversation (I presume between Baron and his father), then the sound of a fire (I think) and the clinking of metallic objects--perhaps pots and pans, maybe the digging for tent poles. It's all thick and immersive, everyday matter-of-fact but evocative. The side continues in this manner, conversation emerging from the vast darkness of the pair's outing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the border of Minnesota and Ontario province. An overhead plane engine mixes wonderfully with running water, the water remaining to end the side. Side B begins with a mundane conversation between Baron's grandfather Austin and an elderly female neighbor before heading back into the outdoors, from which point the scene goes back and forth, the elders emerging into the wilderness, edging toward less mundane topics, like death. We hear the call of a barred owl and the awed responses of father and son. A lovely recording, heartfelt without overdoing the sentiment. 

Marcin Barski - Wanda's Dream (Reading Group)

'Wanda's Dream' is constructed from cassette tapes Barski found in Polish flea markets. The tapes, originally privately made, date from the early 80s. In his informative and detailed notes, Barski mentions the importance and activity of the cassette scene in Poland and, as an outsider, one can only imagine the resonances in effect for a native. Still, something of that leaks in, even if filtered through the images of life behind the Iron Curtain that we in the West had always received. These tapes were made by one Jan, whose wife, Wanda, was a businesswoman in Vienna. The first track is essentially (through the fine static) a recording of Wanda snoring, harshly interrupted by feedback and more static that turns out to be from a recording of a soprano that seeps in and out; at the end some radio dial scanning. 'Jammed by the Soviets' features wonderfully garbled, underwater-sounding voices in Polish (Russian?), the Bach Toccata and Fugue and eventually a pop song to which someone, presumably Jan, first attempts to whistle then seems to yell angrily at in a disturbing manner--very disquieting. Side B commences mysteriously (the snoring reappears, often quietly, throughout, befitting the album's title) with distant orchestral music, a hollow whistling as of wind through a small aperture. The music bursts into prominence, a man's voice speaks as if orating, shuffling around, more rock songs from afar--you get the picture. Bleak, sad, tinges of desperation. Excellent.

Fergus Kelly - Trembling Embers (Room Temperature)

Quite possibly it's the cover image or even the track title, but a sense of urban grime and darkness permeates this strong collection of sounds from Kelly. Wielding 4 & 6 string devices, zither, field recordings, metal percussion, bass, samples and electronics, Kelly fashions ten rather dystopic pieces although there's a certain roundness about the sounds, a kind of cushion that ameliorates the potential acidity just enough to provide the listener an amount of edgy comfort. But there's also a strong sense of aloneness, of wandering through neighborhoods where the streets are empty but activity, possibly mechanical, is occurring behind the blank walls--sometimes hi tech, often low. If the palette is muted, the range of colors is still quite wide--I'm seeing umbers and siennas with the odd flash of electric blue/white--and easily holds one's attention, very much a case of wanting to see around the next corner. Very enjoyable and evocative, as has been much I've heard from Mr. Kelly.

Room Temperature

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Bitsy Knox/Roger 3000 - om cold blood (Tanuki)

A very enjoyable set, somewhat outside my normal ambit. Three works with text spoken/sung by Knox, music provided by Roger 3000 (Julien Meert). The texts read pretty much as poems, Knox rendering them so that the teeter on the edge of music, occasionally going over that line. 'Om Digestion' begins with an etymology of "decant", traveling into gustatory realms and into the pervasiveness of plastic in the ocean, in fish and into our digestive systems. The words are always intriguing, blending mundane observations with dreamy ones, Knox' speech doing the same tonally. I pick up hints, in the drawn out syllables, mordancy and matter-of-fact hipness, of Annette Peacock, the words maybe a suggestion of Nicole Blackman (though I'm far, far less knowledgeable in that area). Meert accompanies with gentle, folkish guitar, then flute and tablas; think Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Knox will sometimes pick up on the musicality of a certain phrase and run with it, like "errant arms" at the end of this piece. The title track hazily evokes Kevin Costner and drain-clogging hair before entering a small maelstrom of whirring, echoey metallics, then surfacing for a declaration of intent to live beneath the sea. 'Om over you/Walking' might be my favorite here, more overtly song-oriented, Knox speak-singing about hair after death and its uses. The song's second half is especially moving, the delicate guitar and soft chorus underneath Knox' repeated, melancholic/purposeful iteration of the word, "walking" which I was hearing off and on as "one cake", somehow also very stirring. Very good work, looking forward to hearing more.

ergod (Richard Scott/Tapiwa Svosve) - Macrotonality (Physical Correlate)

Two tracks on this cassette featuring Scott on viola and Svosve on alto saxophone. This first is a kind of dronish piece, with Scott playing sandy, rasping, midrange arco lines, combining them with deeper, hollow swoops while Svovse begins with airy huffs and the clicking of keys before gradually moving into softly blown lines that, for me, somehow recall Marion Brown. It's a familiar approach but well handled, showing fine patience. The second piece, recorded some six months after the first, shows a subtle but significant advance. The initial sounds are more fragmented--brief strokes and plucks, clicks and shuffling (and instrument rubbing), but everything well chosen to gently fill the space. The activity thickens, the sounds slowly lengthen and cohere, coalescing into a semi-solid, near-whole by the piece's conclusion. Very satisfying.

Ergod site

Ian Vine - still pieces (self-released)

Of this set, Vine writes: "In this work there are twenty-four pieces for flute(s), accordion, acoustic guitar(s), piano, electronics, which combine to form an hour-long work. The pieces can be played in any order." The flutes are played by Jennifer George while Vine handles the rest. The pieces are between two and three minutes long, all pulsating drones that vary in fairly minute but significant degrees from one to another. From the instrumentation, you can gather their general tonality, a nice, thick hum with enough "air" circulating so that things never become cloying. Perhaps the strangest thing is each section's abrupt truncation; just as one is settling into the hum, it's cut off. I actually think this is a good thing, a set of counter-examples for how music "like" this is often presented. Listening closely, as one should, you hear various subtle activity taking place amidst the dronage--a piano note here, a hint of hidden melodic action there. The overall sound has a tinge of old Riley in it--you might even think you hear vestiges of his soprano sax. But its concentration and the shifts make generate interest in a different manner. Very absorbing/startling, would love to hear it performed live. 

Vine's bandcamp page