Friday, February 15, 2019

Mark R. Taylor - Aftermaths (Another Timbre)

I might normally start off this review by noting that it's the first time I've encountered Taylor's music. This is, in fact, true but I'm guessing it's pretty much the case for everyone who hasn't personally encountered him as, to the extent one can rely on Discogs, this is his first recorded appearance in any guise, despite not being a newcomer (b. 1961). We have here a selection of 21 tracks--three "suites" of three, three and eight pieces and seven individual works, all performed by pianist Teodora Stepančić.

In the interview with Taylor on the label's website, he mentions the early influence of Howard Skempton and Hugh Shrapnel. I have to say that when I first heard 'For Alex Schady I', which opens the album, my only thought was, "Skempton!". Its slow, lovely, cautious chords, steadily played in the manner of a processional, strongly evoked certain piano works of the older composer. Now, this is no bad thing as far as I'm concerned, as I love Skempton's work. But it set the stage for the remainder of the program, which doesn't stray too far away from this model, mostly doing so with regard to variations in tempi from extremely slow (e.g., 'Lijn') to relatively spritely ('Aftermath Set Two'). As with other composers navigating this general area, I hear strong references to Satie's more "medieval" pieces, the Ogives and others, that sense of calmly walking inside an ancient church or other old structure, soft light entering, dust motes gently falling. It's, for me, a very attractive and alluring image and Taylor expands on it very ably, played with great touch and sensitivity by Stepančić. Each work is jewel-like, warm, somber but approachable and beguiling. If I have a quibble, it's that there's kind of too much of a good thing, too little variety in approach for so many pieces. Perhaps that's simply Taylor's comfort zone, though the interview hints at different tacks taken in the past. Perhaps Another Timbre will explore these in the future, providing a more rounded view of this composer. For now, this set is here to enjoy and it's eminently delectable.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ferran Fages - Un lloc entre dos records (Another Timbre)

I've been listening to Fage's work pretty much since his first recordings (as part of Cremaster with Alfredo Costa Monteiro in 2002). His output ranges widely; I'm often surprised but have generally enjoyed the results. This piece, whose title translates to "a place between two memories", was conceived as part of a trilogy of works, one of which, 'Detuning series for guitar' was recently issued on Edition Wandelweiser. The third, 'What Might Occur' is based on re-readings of Feldman's 'Triadic Memories' and has not, to the best of my knowledge, been recorded. I had ambiguous feelings about the Wandelweiser, but will revisit it in light of this release and with reference to the fascinating interview with Fages on the Another Timbre site.

'Un lloc...' is a single piece, running almost 54 minutes. It begins with a plucked, six-note pattern on acoustic guitar, resonant and pensive, slightly reminiscent of a given stretch of Feldman piano music. Fages takes it through several subtle variations but after only a couple of minutes, the music begins to fragment and dissolve, reforming for a while, disintegrating again, reappearing in more isolated, fragmented form, splintered into high, muted pings now and then--all quite thoughtful, attractive and finely placed. Some twelve minutes in, all overt guitarisms evaporate and we're in a world of sine tones, soft, high-pitched, overlaid and quietly vibrant. This state of affairs lasts about twelve minutes more and is enchanting, otherworldly. For a bit over the final half of the work, Fages reverts to the guitar, at first overlapping with the sine tones, but occupying a somewhat less quasi-tonal area than was the case at the beginning. The notes, sometimes chords, sometimes single tones, are allowed to suspend and resonate, to float freely. One of the mental images I have, in fact, is of...things--dust motes, leaves, insects--floating in random fashion. Some passages again seem to refer to Feldman. The first time I listened, my sense was that this section went on too long, that it established what it wanted to do within the first few minutes and didn't elaborate enough on those findings to warrant the extra 20-25 minutes. Having listened several times more and having read Fages' thoughts on this release, I'm gradually mitigating that response; not entirely, perhaps, but little by little. I go back and forth. I hate to fall back on any kind of "mood" qualification, but can only honestly say that there are times when the music works fine, flows with its own logic and doesn't overstay its welcome and there are other times when I grow impatient. Maybe that's ok. In any event, I love hearing Fages' explorations, am heartened at the ideas he's tackling and look forward to following with him further down that odd path.

Another Timbre

Monday, February 11, 2019

Catherine Lamb/Johnny Chang - Viola Torros (Another Timbre)

When I first glanced at this 2-disc set, I thought, "Ah, excellent! A composer of whom I've never heard, Viola Torros." A second look told me this was the title of the recording, not a composer. Ok, fine, especially considering how much I've enjoyed the work of both Lamb and Chang (who, let it be noted, play violas). The interview with the pair on the Another Timbre website, however, indicated that there was indeed such a composer as Torros and that fragments of her work were the seeds for the two pieces on Disc One here. Intrigued, I googled Torros and found nothing but references to this album, even when discounting words like "timbre", "lamb" and "chang". So, I'm guessing this is something of a charade, a fiction serving as an idea generator, a very attractive idea (obviously, I could be wrong).

Whatever the case, the result is about 150 minutes of stunning, deep and intelligent music. It's possible I'm being overly influenced by the wonderful cover image, but I find myself hearing the two pieces on Disc One, 'V.T. Augmentations II' and 'V.T. Augmentations III', as related to alap, the slow, improvised introductory sections of North Indian ragas. In addition to the violas, Bryan Eubanks provides "resonances" and each includes a trio of voices: Antoine Beuger, Yannick Guedon and Deborah Walker in the first, Rebecca Lane, Annie Garlid and Margareth Kammerer in the second. In 'II', the viola lines are rich, entwining each other, deeply melodic in a microtonal manner and consistently present, though one will drop out briefly now and then. Often, one is playing a lengthy line, the other a thoughtful, perhaps slightly mournful melody around that stem. The voices become apparent around midway through, softly accompanying the violas, very much a tinge in the space at first, before the strings drop out entirely (?) for a short moment. When they resume, the music drifts further into microtonality, becomes hazier--a thick, complex haze that, towards the piece's final few minutes, solidifies into a deep meditative sound with echoes of early music--fantastic. 'III' has many things in common with 'II' but plenty of differences as well. The general tonality strikes me as more overtly Indian, for one thing and there are many brief stoppages along the way, during which one can hear ambient sounds, including birds. It's just ravishing. Again, the voices emerge a bit after the halfway point, and fulfill a similar role though this time they carry, to these ears, more of an "angelic" aspect, light and high. It concludes on a very moving, long-held, tremulous note...with birds.

This would be more than enough, but Disc Two offers up two additional works, one each by Chang and Lamb, both spectacular. Chang's 'Citaric Melodies III'  is performed by the Suidobashi Chamber Ensemble (Wakana Ikeda, flute; Yoko Ikeda, violin; Masahika Okura, clarinet; Taku Sugimoto, electric guitar; Aya Tanaka, bassoon; Chang, viola; Samuel Dunscombe, bass clarinet; Michiko Ogawa, clarinet). Its core is a six note sequence (later morphed into four), a wistful, melancholy one that vaguely reminds me of Anthony Braxton's 'HM 421 (RTS) 47 (Composition No. 36)' as heard on 'Trio and Duet' (Sackville, 1974). This melody is iterated over and over but in blurred fashion, the instruments approximating both pitch and point of entry (I'm sure there's more to it than that, but that's a start). It's always close but distinct enough to create a shifting aura around the ensemble. Additionally, a certain kind of drama emerges, especially when lower tones seep in. The variations are imaginative, extremely well considered and endlessly fascinating--a great work.

Lamb's 'Prima Interius VI (for v.t.) is played by Chang (viola), Andrea Neumann (secondary rainbow synthesizer), Lamb (viola) and Derek Shirley (cello). A secondary rainbow synthesizer, I discovered, is a device developed by Eubanks "that spectrally filters a live sound input of the outer atmosphere to the listening space within which the the performance piece is situated." I take it that this is responsible for imbuing atmosphere of the recording with such a solid, plastic sense of air and space, within which the strings unspool languid, low keens, bracing and heartfelt. It begins sparsely enough, the strings limning clear lines with slightly gritty timbre, pausing now and then to appreciate the initially low level of ambiance. Gradually, the exterior makes itself known, first via vehicle engines, footsteps and barely heard conversations. More elements are introduced: a wavy, organ-like layer, more intense engine and vocal (loudspeaker?) sounds, an echoey ringing; all the while, the strings continue, resolute, tinged with mourning, beautiful. There's an ebb and flow between sources, the swaying lines always embedded in the larger room, the exterior sounds always allowing room for the strings. Each of the works on the second disc establish a setting and parameters and engage with them for a healthy duration, maintaining a certain constancy but always able to conjure forth wave after wave of exciting and moving music. 

A wonderful way to conclude an extraordinary recording. Very highly recommended.

Another Timbre

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Joe Morris/Doyeon Kim - Macrocosm (Glacial Erratic)

A set of five improvisations with Morris on unamplified electric guitar and Kim on gayageum, a traditional Korean stringed instrument somewhat analogous to the Japanese koto or Chinese guzheng. Not to compare either Morris' style or to conflate Asian stringed instruments, but the almost inevitable point of reference one has coming in is the 'Viper' project of Derek Bailey and pipa player Min Xiao-Fen (Avant, 1998). There are certain broad similarities, but two essential differences: 1) Morris is far more willing than Bailey to bend toward the tendencies of his partner and 2) Kim seems to be (as near as I can tell from this recording which, at least per Discogs, is her only one thus far) somewhat less committed than Xiao-Fen to a traditionalist approach.

The pieces range from fairly active and intense, as in the opening 'Animate', to more contemplative and connected, however tenuously, to traditional forms of Korean music. 'Animate' probably comes closest to that Bailey/Xiao Fen feel, with hard-scrabbled, spidery, rapidly played lines. Morris' choice to go with the unamplified electric, here and elsewhere, serves him extremely well, its semi-hollow sound meshing quite  nicely with the gayageum. 'Expanse' indeed expands the palette via bowing, the pair generating fine, grainy, rasping waves, combined with dully booming tones from the instruments struck with bowstrings. Later in the piece, there's some lovely rolling, cascading action, watery and engaging, and it ends with some wonderful, slightly astringent strums--a fine track. The following work, 'Parsec Story', is more scattered and pointillistic, though again very active. I'd sometimes liked to have heard more space, more pauses to consider where to drop a note, but that's not typically Morris' way and, I take it, not Kim's either. Still, the decisions made are generally apt and not overly busy or cloying. In this third piece, they arrive at a surprising and welcome placid area that evokes an idyllic and general (Asian and otherwise) sense of "folk music", very tasty. The relatively brief and spiky 'Crystallinity' is the only track here where I detect more busy activity than considered thought; bristling but lacking some substance. 'Orchard', which concludes the album and is its longest cut at almost 20 minutes, uses duration to create a large, varied landscape, jam-packed with detail, yes, but also with enough "air" to suggest a breathing, vibrant space. Again, the interwoven plucked sounds, their compatible though differing tonalities, are a delight, as is the way they fall into delicate, quasi-rhythmic patterns, as enjoyable as they are unexpected. Fine work and I'm hoping to hear more from this duo.

Glacial Erratic/bandcamp

As of this posting, 'Macrocosm has yet to be posted there, but you can find copies at Catalytic Sound and Squidco

Jacques Demierre/Axel Dörner/Jonas Kocher - Cone of Confusion (Bruit)

A thoughtful, enjoyable set of improvisations from Demierre (piano), Dörner (trumpet) and Kocher (accordion). My limited prior exposure to Demierre's work led me to expect something different, not sure in what way, maybe somewhat more frenetic. Not the case, happily. To an extent, the music here fits in comfortably with the improvisational lineage established by Dörner and many others, especially in Europe, over the last 20+ years: pensive, tending toward quiet, interested in superficially conflicting, overlapping and interacting textures and, here especially, some allusions to AMM, not so much in the actual sound-world portrayed, but in terms of general approach. Each musician spends about as much time in extended technique territory--Demierre inside the piano, Dörner sputtering, gurgling and gasping, Kocher drawing any number of non-accordion-like sounds from his squeezebox--as they do generating standard sounds. The tone of the music ranges from the dark, brooding and vaguely uncomfortable 'There are small observable differences', in which brief, sharp points splinter out of the (excellent) murk to the gravelly scatterings, skitterings and deep accordionic breaths of 'Position of the head'. Also, as in a piece like 'The errors introduced by such an exchange are within the errors', there's a really solid and gripping balance of smooth flow and fragmentation, as well as a bracing dynamic range. The trio returns to a contemplative darkness on the final track, Dörner evoking, to these ears, a smidgen of Leo Smith. A strong outing overall, worth investigating.


Saturday, February 02, 2019

Rutger Zuydervelt - sileen II (Edition Wandelweiser)

'sileen II' is essentially a long (50-minute), fluctuating drone sourced from Gareth Davis' bass clarinet with sculpting and other modifications made by Zuydervelt. One of the first things I noticed is that while some aspects of the sound--its range, hollowness, etc.--are bass clarinet-y, other characteristics, like any sense of woodiness, seem to have disappeared, so I'm left with a more organ-like impression, albeit enveloped in thin, by no means overbearing wisps of electronics. The sounds appear in slow, slow pulsating waves, structures that seem simple initially but reveal many layers of depth when listened to closely (headphones recommended). Slight variations in pulse frequency, pitch and tone combinations are introduced over the piece's course. Near the beginning, the waves are fairly continuous; little by little they become more discreet, almost to the point of admitting the briefest of silences between events. There's a somewhat more pronounced than usual pitch shift around the 42-minute mark but things flow apace from there. It's hard to say too much else about it, only that what at first might sound impenetrable and self-similar offers much more upon concentrated listening--very satisfying.

John McCowen - Mundanas  I - V (Edition Wandelweiser)

Five pieces for clarinets of various types performed by McCowen and Madison Greenstone. It's hard not to think of the pre-eminent contemporary clarinet duo (in this neck of the woods, at least), The International Nothing (Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke) but while there are similarities here and there, McCowen's mini-ensemble is a unique voice. The first three works, concise at five to six minutes in duration, are for b-flat clarinets and  deal with tones close enough in pitch to cause pulsations as well as overlapping and intermeshing  fingering patterns. Each is a fine document, engagingly straddling the line between acoustic experiment and deeply felt music, in addition providing the listener with a wonderful experience of the clarinet as such. The demi-clarinets in play on the fourth track are, I take their description at face value, clarinets which have had about half of their bodies removed. They sound rather like ocarinas, albeit with a woody tinge. The resultant whoops and watery gurgles are sometimes birdlike, sometimes far more guttural. The final piece, the longest is for paired contrabass clarinets, obviously fertile ground for sonic richness. It's kind of a revisiting of the first track for lower range, two fluctuating lines traveling more or less in parallel but with many small but important divergencies along the way. It seems like there's some electronic processing involved, some very regular, sine-like flutters, though none is indicated on the disc sleeve--maybe amazing technique? Whatever the case, the work is absorbing, beautifully controlled and entirely enjoyable to hear. Looking forward to much more.

Erik Satie - Socrate (Edition Wandelweiser)

In recent years, Wandelweiser has done an extra-commendable job in expanding their musical world beyond the kind of sounds that, for a while, typified the label. This, in a way, might be the most extreme example yet. Had I heard that Wandelweiser was issuing a recording of Satie's music, I would automatically assume it was from the piano repertoire. Well, only partially so with 'Socrate' for soprano and piano (though there is a version for voice and orchestra). It's extra interesting to this listener as, although I've known Satie's piano works inside and out since the early 70s, I think I'd only heard 'Socrate' a handful of times, not for a long while, and had no distinct impression of it. Well, the rendition here from Olalla Alemán (soprano) and Guy Vandromme (piano) goes the distance in remedying that and does so superbly. The wiki page on 'Socrate' can tell you far more about it than I can and I'm reluctant to assess very much given my unfamiliarity with the material, much less with evaluating the singing in any meaningful way. I will say that I find fascinating to hear snippets of almost intact music from the piano works popping up here and there (played with great sensitivity by Vandromme) and that, on the whole, the music fits in snugly with his better known repertoire. I find it entirely enchanting, love Alemán's voice, love listening to the disc and hope that it finds an audience beyond the normal Wandelweiser clientele. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

John Cage - number pieces (piano) (Edition Wandelweiser)

Two versions of Cage's 'One' and one of his 'One5' performed by pianist Guy Vandromme. 'One' was written in 1987, a ten-minute long piece for solo piano. Per the Cage Works page, the commentary is: "This work comprises 10 systems of piano chords, varying in dynamics, selected by chance. Each system is roughly 1 minute long, and all but one is flexible. Each system contains 2 sets of chords. The order of each set is maintained, but the relationship between the two sets of chords is free." The two readings here are fascinating for, among other things, a kind of similarity/difference aspect, kind of like looking at two photographs of, say, adjacent patches of ground.  In the first, the notes and chords are more or less low-pitched, almost but not quite spaced regularly, patiently, allowed to hang. The second version is generally pitched somewhat higher, a different tinge, but otherwise paced similarly and bearing a decided structural relationship to the first--it's the same piece, after all, just examined from another angle. The notes for 'One5' are more complex: "As in Cage’s One4, the left and right hands here have separate time brackets: the left hand 21, and the right hand 24. The time span for the beginning and endings of systems is between 0'15" and 1'15"; thus, there are overlaps within and between time brackets. The number of notes contained within each time bracket is one, two, or three, with a total of 97 for the entire composition. Dynamics are free. The use of the sostenuto pedal is recommended (although not obligatory), in order to maintain the sonorities of the piano as long as possible." As fine as the two readings of 'One' are, it's 'One5' that really stands out for me, just a fabulous recording. As ever, it's about choices made, many, many of them in such a restrained, contemplative setting. Vandromme applied enormous consideration, really letting the notes speak, allowing them to acquire an identity removed from him, to slowly rotate in space. Somber, nocturnal, softly glowing, with finely calibrated silences. A fantastic recording, highly recommended.

Tom Johnson - spaces . an hour for piano (Edition Wandelweiser)

Pianist Keiko Shichijo offers \readings of two early compositions by Tom Johnson. The first, 'spaces' (1969) might in fact be Johnson's very first, at least the earliest one that begins his "mature" phase. He documents the work's genesis in a set of notes, written in 1994, included in the release. It's mildly humorous, accomplished while he was a student of Morton Feldman's, but the concentration on a handful of chords presages, in at least one way, the direction Johnson would come to take. As he puts it, "I could also say that this was the beginning of my life as a real composer." 

'spaces' begins with eight ringing chords, then settles into softer, lower ones, reminiscent of darkly tilling bells. He offsets these more somber chords with lightly skipping, almost nursery rhyme refrain-like patterns in an upper register, the two approaches creating subtle tension. There's a tinge of minimalism in the air, but also consistent variation, a quietly enchanting piece. My first exposure to Johnson's music was with what I believe to be the first recording of his work, "An Hour for Piano", issued on Lovely Music Ltd. in 1979, with Frederic Rzewski at the keyboard. It won me over quickly and has remained a favorite, so I was intrigued to hear a new take on it. The two are quite similar in fact. Each takes about the same time, some 55 minutes.  While Rzewski isn't known for his pianistic delicacy, he reins himself in somewhat on the now 40-year old version; Shichijo's touch seems more naturally graceful and also very precise and jewel-like which befits Johnson's writing here. As melodic and "catchy" as the piece is, it takes some concentration not to get bogged down in the rather sing-songy lines and the cute little trills that appear now and then. I find that listening to it as a kind of drone piece, oddly enough, helps a great deal, removes any lingering over-sweetness. Shichijo's very crystalline playing helps a great deal, balancing between the rigor and the prettiness. 

A fine recording and an excellent one for those seeking an "in" to Johnson's work before plunging into his more scientific and overtly pattern-oriented subsequent music.

Ferran Fages - detuning series for guitar (Edition Wandelweiser)

Five pieces by Fages performed by the composer and Didier Aschour on electric guitars. Single notes, clearly played and sustained, often with microtonal relationships and, I take it, subtly "detuned" during their duration. If the latter is the case, it's minimal enough to my ears that I can't honestly say whether it's happening or not. One interesting  thing  is that although the music is spare enough that, conceivably, one guitar might have handled the load, having two, even as their basic sound is quite similar, provides a subtle kind of shimmer, a shadowy sort of sensation, difficult to describe. The five pieces also vary only slightly--higher pitches here, lower there, more overlapping of tones on one than another, in unison (I think) on the last piece. While I tended to enjoy the structures, the relationship between the notes hanging there and the silences, something about the tones themselves, their "purity", kept me at a distance. An intriguing experiment even so, one worth contemplating

Edition Wandelweiser

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Alan Courtis - Buchla Gtr (Fireworks Edition Records)

Without getting all gear-wonky (which I'm incapable of anyway), suffice it to say that Courtis, perhaps still best known as a member of Reynols, channeled the sounds of his Spirit electric guitar into the Buchla 200 modular synthesizer that resides in the Elektronmusikstudion in Stockholm, then fiddled with the resultant output and constructed the four tracks that make up this 2-LP set. The sounds, drone-like and spacey (in a good sense) do bear the vestiges of guitar-sourced attacks but hyper-filtered into adjacent timbres and sonorities. Sometimes, as in the second track, you have the impression of an elaborated tambura part, the background of a raga that contains swirling worlds on its own, but that subsequently morphs into a harsh, buzzing landscape, stretched and rubbed in a dour (refreshing) manner. The third side continues this darker trend, layer after layer of sizzling drone, atonal mixed with a dash of tonal, forbidding and dystopian. The last piece gets smoothly icy, loopy in a distant way, impressively impersonal.

Solid work, a great time for Buchla-ista synth-heads.

Firework Edition Records

Czarny Latawiec - In a Wild Sanctuary of Imaginary Landscapes  (Mik Musik)

Czarny Latawiec (a nom de musique for Daniel Brożek, translating as Black Kite) constructs an intricate, precise web of unusual sounds, largely (if not entirely) sourced from recordings in the field, deploying them in surprisingly dramatic fashion including building to a clear, even emotional climax, followed by a brief period of exhalation and introspection. The initial sounds bespeak of the jungle--birds, insects, possibly small mammals--though clearly artificial. Matters become denser, more chaotic, perhaps an intrusion of industrialization, though there remains a fine separation in the mix, numerous easily discernible strands making up the matrix. The pace slows somewhat toward he middle of the half-hour work, but the density remains constant, perhaps bearing even more of a threatening, imposing aspect. Rain on pavement mixes into the dark, blurred scene, all wildlife eradicated. Theres a sequence of intense fuzziness, as though one is enveloped by a severe blizzard, out of which emerges a powerful and surprisingly tonal drone that has a plaintive, tortured quality. This then opens out into the air, a relief even as the atmosphere is urban and mundane, desolate with wind.

Excellent work, imaginative and engaging. And, oh yes, that cover.

Mik Musik

Reinhold Friedl - Music for Piano (Holotype Editions)

Four pieces by Friedl, largely using the interior of the piano augmented with numerous items as indicated in the works' titles, some "standard" (cymbals, springs, screws and other metal) some much less so (flowers, crackers, stream--not sure what the latter means...). The first tracks begins quite beautifully, like something out of AMM, single, spare notes played against small gong-like sounds from inside the piano. It turns more agitated with harsher plucked and bowed strings as well as an odd squeezebox-y sound--again, had I been presented with this piece with no prior knowledge, I may well have guessed AMM, Prévost bowing some metal, Rowe scrabbling intently at his guitar. The second track, the one incorporating a flower, is all high bowed drones, remote and complex, very lovely. The third (with crackers), following a delicate, koto-like introduction, alternates between that and an all-out assault on the piano's guts, a construct I found more perfunctory and obvious than rewarding. The final work, however, with e-bow as well as that elusive stream, is a fine meditation, softly buzzing, clearly arrayed layers drifting, settling, stirring again--extremely satisfying.

Holotype Editions

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Christoph Schiller/Anouck Genthon - zeitweise leichter Schneefall (A New Wave of Jazz)

A fine and delicate set of seven pieces, I assume improvised from Schiller (spinet, voice) and Genthon (violin). Almost like a series of lines, varying in length, thickness and timbre, suspended in space, not infrequent but not overcrowded either as natural as birds or, in consideration of the title, of sparse snowflakes. In addition to the spinet (admittedly, I'm getting more and more inured to its basic sound), Schiller gives forth calm but steady hums now and then, a surprisingly welcome addition tot he sound-field. Genthon emits strokes of more or less pure tone, tending to be held for a second or two, spare but glowing. Each piece is subtly apart from the others, though all akin. The release is short, some 27-minutes, but that's just about perfect length here. Excellent, sensitive, probing work from this pair--it's my first exposure to Genthon, looking forward to hearing more. 

Benedict Taylor/Dirk Serries - Puncture Cycle (A New Wave of Jazz)

Nine spiky, medium-length improvs from Taylor (viola) and Serries (acoustic guitar), very much out of the free string tradition as established by Bailey, Wachsmann, Honsinger and others. Enough so that it's hard to say much about it other than to offer descriptives--bowed tones, bent and warped with much rubbery flexion, scrabbled guitar attacks with little sustain, dry and sere, packed into tight, gnarly, bristling balls. The general character moves from tight and frenetic to somewhat more spacious, with lower dynamics, even touching on some quasi-tonality when we reach 'VII' before veering back to the original territory. Still, the activity level is pretty consistent (which is to say, always present) with limited consideration given to placement, silence, etc. Not exactly my cuppa but listeners more in the (so-called) Euro-free improvisation stream will find much to enjoy, Serries and Taylor commanding their axes quite ably.

TONUS - Ear Duration (A New Wave of Jazz)

TONUS' 'Ear Duration' lies somewhere between the above two releases, though with a decided leaning toward the Schiller/Genthon. A quintet made up of Graham Dunning (snare drum, objects), Dirk Serries (accordion, acoustic guitar), Benedict Taylor (viola), Martina Verhoeven (piano) and Colin Webster (flute, alto sax) creates three longish works, about 12, 15 and 35 minutes, that retain some of the harsher, drier aspects of the Serries/Taylor duo--not too surprising, considering their presence--but placed within expansive, more fluid spaces. 'Set 2', heard here first, is of the gnarlier bent but 'Set 3' opens up some wonderful spaces, bringing to mind an image of several people moving quietly about in a large room, interacting here, going off on their own there. 'Set 1', though is the most satisfying, a generous space with a fine variety of fairly long held tones overlapping in irregular, semi-random patterns. The extended time is put to excellent, even necessary use, allowing plenty of room to breath; the choices made are on point. The sound is consistent, almost always present, never crowded--serene but alive with thought and ideas. Great work.

You can hear all of this for yourself at the label's bandcamp page

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

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Birgit Ulher/Christoph Schiller  - tulpe schict brille (Inexhaustible Editions)

My ongoing, absurd struggle to come to grips with the sound of the harpsichord in all its guises (including the spinet that's Schiller's instrument of choice) continues, but I'm slowly making ground. Here, Schiller (also utilizing electronics and objects) is joined by the fine trumpeter Birgit Ulher who herself adds radio, speaker and objects to her always imaginatively played and manipulated horn (it's their second recording together, I believe, after 2012's 'Kolk' on Another Timbre). The five improvised tracks are sober and investigative, sometimes--given the enhanced brass and the metallic sound of the spinet--evoking vague, mysterious mechanical operations, an imaginary steam-punk contraption. There's a fine feeling of intense focus here, no throwaway moments, as well as a very good balance between response and independence. Often, the listener has the initial impression of an answer to a sound posed by the other, but then the respondee goes off on his/her own tangent, unrelated enough to cause that listener to doubt their first thoughts. And yes, the basic spinet sound is subjugated more than enough to quell any visceral reactions I might have--sometimes the strings are plucked to an astringent guitar-like effect. Ulher's trumpet, as ever, is a fount of unusual sonorities, buzzing, clacking and dripping away but always with precision. Thoughtful, intelligent improvisation of a high order--recommended.

Inexhaustible Editions

Michael Foster/Katherine Young/Michael Zerang - Bind the hand)s) That Feed (Relative Pitch)

A strong, gutsy set of six improvs from Foster (tenor and soprano saxophones, microphones), Young (bassoon, electronics) and Zerang (drums, percussion) that sits on the edge of free jazz and less idiomatic approaches. It's an interesting contrast to the above-mentioned release. Here, I have the feeling (I could be wrong) that there's a far greater plunging in, an abandoning to the moment rather than careful consideration. Both approaches, and others, are of course entirely valid and if I tend to find the latter mode more generally rewarding these days, there are still plenty of treasures to be found in this strategy. Zerang, to be sure, is an old pro at this and acquits himself quite well. Young is fairly new to me, though I guess I've heard her in other contexts such as the Dropp Ensemble--she's also worked with Braxton. She's very engaging here, encompassing, as near as I can tell given its fine way of melding with adjacent sounds, a vast range on the bassoon, from airiness and delicate rubbing to furious, guttural growls. Foster, who I was fortunate enough to catch in performance a couple months back, has a similarly wide range of attacks, making excellent use of dynamics balanced with extended techniques; Michel Doneda came to mind more than once. The trio searches for a while, almost a given with this approach, but they find wonderfully rough and irregular grooves and concentrated eruptions often enough, areas where the enthusiasm merges with a great sense of drive, to make the journey more than worthwhile. A good, tough outing. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Antoine Beuger - to the memory of (Inexhaustible Editions)

Beuger wrote this piece in 2016 for this ensemble, Conceptual Soundproductions, founded by Nikolaus Gerszewski in Budapest. The score, as described by Gerszewski in his detailed liner notes, simply consists of the terms "sounds", "words" and "silence". Any realization of the piece becomes, obviously, highly dependent on the choices made by the performers involved as well as the largely subjective evaluations of same made by the listener. I'm inevitably reminded of the wonder, if likely apocryphal, story of Morton Feldman who, when conducting a rehearsal of one of his graphic score works, brought things to an abrupt halt and stared angrily at a member of the ensemble (a violist, purportedly) who innocently pointed to the section in play, and said, "But it just says, 'Play three notes.'" To which Feldman replied, "Not those notes."

Here, the ensemble is nine members strong with Gerszewski (piano, objects), Lenke Kovács (vocals), Ferene Getto (vocals, objects), László Németh (trumpet), Dorottya Poór (violin), Nóra Lajkó (guitar), Julien Baillod (guitar, feedback), Andor Erazmus Illés (electronics) and Erik Benjámin Rafael (percussion, objects). In his notes, Gerszewski expresses surprise at finding no indications of "soft" or "very soft" as one might expect from Beuger and queried him about it, receiving the assurance that Beuger "simply did not want to exclude any sounds". Given that, it's up to the listener, should he or she so desire, to determine whether or not the particular realization somehow "succeeds" or not (leaving open the question, also partially broached by Gerszewski--something I've thought about a lot re: many of Manfred Werder's works--whether or not there needed to be a performance at all, much less a recording). To my ears there's something missing, or perhaps too much in play. The "silence" of the score, while of course present, is not on equal footing with the word and other sounds. Put simply, there's not enough of it for me. More to the point, there's too much regularity in the lengths and pacing of the silences. In fact, that's my main problem overall: a general level of uniformity in sequencing and dynamics that strikes me as overly bland, not so much like any carefully observed aspect of life (or a tiny slice of same), too much the sense of a "list". I'd also have to leave open the probability that I'm missing something from my failure to understand the words spoken in Hungarian.

Given this, Gerszewski reports that the composer, upon hearing the recording, said, "I am totally inspired". While I wouldn't go that far, I'm happy enough to have this addition to the ever-growing library of Beuger compositions/realization and if I prefer many of the others, some listeners may find this approach more to their liking. It's fine and, to be sure, evokes the score, just doesn't quite sync up with my own sensibilities.

Santiago Astaburuaga - la perpetuidad del esbozo #3 (Inexhaustible Editions)

'la perpetuidad del esbozo #3' (2016) is also based on a score that leaves open a wide range of possible realizations, but this one's on an entirely other level. Each of the three musicians here (Cristián Alvear, Makoto Oshiro and Hiroyuki Ura)--the work is written for between two and fourteen performers--wields three sound sources. One is an instrument--guitar, eletromagnetic relays and speakers, and snare drum and cymbals, respectively. The second is a selection of sine tones. The third is a combination of field recordings and archival sounds. For this last, Alvear chose field recordings from Japan and excerpts from Nick Hoffman's 'Bermuda' (which I've not heard), Oshiro opted for sounds from the Hamamatsu Kamoe Art Center and portions of Dawang Yingfan Huang's 'Tourette's Songbook' and Ura went with recordings from Gunma Prefecture and parts of Uchu Hakase's 'Drum Solo at'.

Ok. These are then deployed over various time sequences. For a recording of 40-minutes, like the one at hand, each musician "elaborates" on 4, 5 or 6 of each kind of sound. There's more but you, perhaps, get the picture. The result is a very unusual and, to say the least, unique mosaic of sound bearing jump-cut and collage characteristics but having, to these ears, an odd and unexpected kind of coherence despite the extremely disparate elements, partially due to the sine tones, I imagine, which while varied, provide something of a unifying factor. Certain sounds recur--there's an orchestral passage that rings a bell but one I can't pinpoint--a movie or TV theme, perhaps--that pokes its head up several times, on organ piece and a goofy-sounding guy (Huang?) who "sings"--seriously annoying in and of itself but as an element in the landscape, strangely appropriate. That can be said of the piece as a whole--I'ver no idea why it works (though, naturally, I suspect the judgment of the musicians involved), but it does. Everything I've heard so far from Astaburuaga has held some large degree of fascination and ungainly beauty; I'm greatly looking forward to hearing more.

Inexhaustible Editions

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A while ago, I received a message from the illustrious Kurt Liedwart noting that he hadn't sent me any Mikrotons in a while and wanted to remedy that fact. In due course, a package arrived from Russia bearing....23 CDs. Five of them had already been sent my way from the musicians involved and had been duly reviewed, but still, eighteen was way more than I'll ever get around to writing about (some were released a year or two ago). So, I'm just going to offer brief summaries of a few of these that made a special impression and merely list the others. Sorry, time!! Thanks, Kurt.

Kurt Liedvart, Julien Ottavi, Keith Rowe - L'Or (Mikroton)

An improv performance from August, 2017 while all three musicians were attending the wonderful Sanitorium of Sound Festival in Sokołowsko, Poland. Both Liedwart (here on modular synth and "cracked everyday and homemade electronics) and Ottavi (computer) are know for tending toward the rough 'n' noisy sector of improv while Rowe, often enough in recent years, has grown increasingly reticent. Not that it's ever going to be easy deciphering who's doing what during an event like this, one can pick out Rowe, now and again, when the heavy and generally delicious glaze set down by the two younger musicians lifts momentarily--there he'll be, rubbing something quietly, scratching with delicacy at some piece of metal, etc. There are some especially juicy moments otherwise, such as the sliding, loopy electronics that occupy much of the last half of the first of two tracks, 'Aurum' and the general spectrum of drips, hums and oscillations that make up 'Золото". Fine work from Liedwart and Ottavi and good to hear Rowe negotiating these territories.

Kurt Liedwart/Andrey Popovskiy/Martin Taxt - hjem (Mikroton)

An exceptionally satisfying (if brief, at 28 minutes) improv session from Liedwart (ppooll), Popovskiy (viola, electronics, objects) and Taxt (tuba). Nothing so unusual, just the trio staying in fairly rough drone territory with some outside sounds intruding, but handled so well, with a fine combination of confidence and restraint. Various elements are introduced over the piece's span, nothing quite as one expects, everything working to up the complexity level without overwhelming the listener with extraneous effects. For instance, the dryly squeaking viola that emerges about halfway through works perfectly with the deep tuba drones and hasher breaths as well as the ringing electronics from Liedwart. There are always more level sin play than is immediately apparent. A wonderfully full and realized performance and, as it turns out, one of perfect length.

The Elks - This Is Not the Ant (Mikroton)

A number of the releases listed below involve musicians like Günter Müller, Norbert Möslang, Jérôme Noetinger, label-owner Liedwart himself and others who ply the more noisy/electronic area of improv. They do this quite ably and listeners interested in that sector would do well to check them out, but my own tastes often desire some acoustic element. The Elks straddle that line quite nicely, offering a set as satisfying and imaginative as "hjem" but spiced with different flavors, including those of a plugged-in nature. Liz Albee (trumpet, preparations) and Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet) tend to the analog while Billy Roisz (electronics, e-bass) and Marta Zapparelli (tapes, reel-to-reel machine, devices) engage the nether side. The balance is fine, the improvs adventurous, fluttering through waves of winds and swirls of e-effluvia. Among other choice moves, the quartet closes with the aptly titled, 'Scuba Diving Elephants', an investigation of depth and slowness that feels sometimes threatening, other times humorous. An excellent ensemble, hope to hear more from them.

Thomas Lehn/Marcus Schmickler - Neue Bilder (Mikroton)

I was fortunate to see Lehn and Schmickler at Instants Chavirés a few years ago, a long while since I'd seen and heard them prior. I was very pleased to hear that they'd by no means stood pat (I don't know why I feared that might be the case) but had moved along from the rapid-fire, hyper-noisy approach I was more familiar with, producing a very intense though very quiet set. Here, the focus on the first of two cuts, recorded in 2016, is more along a kind of INA GRM line of plasticity and depth but far more engaging than I tend to find music from that school. Jam-packed and explosive but with a commanding sense of presence, of material realness. Great track. The second piece, from 2016, is a bit loopier, even playful, but all the more endearing for that, merrily bleeping, blooping and buzzing its way along.

The Pitch & Splitter Orchester - Frozen Orchestra (Splitter) (Mikroton)

The Pitch (Koen Nutters, double bass; Boris Baltschun, electric pump organ; Morten J. Olsen, vibraphone, percussion; Michael Thieke, clarinet) released a disc on Sofa in 2015 title 'Frozen Orchestra (Amsterdam)' which seems to have the same concept as presented here, that is the quartet with various other musicians navigating a drone-y landscape. I wasn't too crazy about that one but here, with the 19-strong Splitter Orchester (which I had the pleasure to see a few time in Paris and Huddersfield) the approach is more or less the same and, to my ears, it works just fine. It's one big thing, the constant swirling drone, with hundreds of small things emerging and receding, poking their heads up, making a single-note comment, quieting for a while, The larger mass mutates as well over the hour of the disc, softening, melting a bit, acquiring a whistling texture offset by deep rumbling. The piano a bass and some chimes (glockenspiel?) become clearer toward the finish, very beautifully establishing their own weight vis à vis the drone. Excellent.

Chesterfield - Consuelo (Mikroton)

Chesterfield is Angélica Castelló (paetzold, recorders, tapes, electronics, cello, viola) and Burkhard Stangl (guitars, piano). This is a gem, my favorite of the bunch. As implied by the title, the pair cast a Spanish tinge over the proceedings, seven tracks that meld tapes, allusions to song forms, field recordings, flutes, guitars and much else with a great combination of delicacy and precision. That balance between song and soundscape incorporates a certain amount of nostalgic referents but they never feel forced or placed as an easy handhold for the listener; they always ring true. You hear the instrumental contributions of both Castelló and Stangl, but they're so perfectly integrated into the overall sound that it's only in retrospect you realize they were there. The pair also make any number of surprising and rewarding decisions along the way, like the deep, brooding, subtly romantic 'Recaliente'. 'Consuelo' is a real joy--I hope this duo continues on, looking very much forward.

Also received:

The Holy Quintet (Johnny Chang, Jamie Drouin, Dominic Lash, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, David Ryan) - Borough

Kurt Liedwart - Tonen

Cilantro (Angélica Castelló/Billy Roisz) - Borderland

Ease (Klaus Filip/Noid) - no no no, no

MKM (Günter Müller/Jason Kahn/Norbert Möslang) - instants//paris

MKM (Günter Müller/Jason Kahn/Norbert Möslang) - teplo_dom

Angélica Castelló/Jérôme Noetinger - Disturbio

Yui Onodera/Stephen Vitiello - Quiver

Norbert Möslang/Kurt Liedvart/Günter Müller -  Ground

Kurt Liedwart/Petr Vrba - Punkt

Jérôme Noetinger & SEC - La cave des Étenards