April News 2001 New Releases
reviewed by Dan Warburton:
Pat Thomas: Nur
Jethro Odom tries Absinthe: "tastes like a strong peppermint.."
Ivo Perelman: Seven Energies
Giacinto Scelsi” The Orchestral Works
Norbert Möslang / Andy Guhl KNACK ON
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Pat Thomas
Emanem 4046
The problem with solo improv albums is that, like talking to yourself, there's nobody there to answer back. When the instrument concerned is the piano, there's an added problem, namely the historical and cultural baggage hidden in its heavy iron frame; play any chord in any register with one or both hands and it almost inevitably sounds like something already out there. The way round this is to avoid the keyboard as much as possible: some pianists (Denman Maroney, Sophie Agnel..) concentrate on the interior of the instrument, while others (Benoit Delbecq, Jacques Demierre..) follow Cage's example and turn the prepared piano into a multi-timbral percussion orchestra. In choosing to limit himself to the 88 keys and his ten fingers, British improviser Pat Thomas (born in 1960) joins a small, heroic band of pianists (Fred Van Hove, Misha Mengelberg..) who are prepared to confront the history of the instrument head on. Little surprise then that "Nur" - Arabic for "light" (but also "run" backwards!) - contains references to both the classical and jazz piano repertoires, sometimes explicit - Brahms's "Lullaby", Monk's "Misterioso" -, more often than not implicit, ranging from Chopin and Schumann through Debussy, Satie and Messiaen to Don Pullen and the aforementioned Van Hove. This should not be taken to mean that Thomas has deliberately set out to be pan-stylistically postmodern: it's just the way the music flows out of him. "Nur" is a very natural-sounding and honest album, though in his apparent desire to keep the music developing, Thomas can tend to get locked into repetitive call-and-response cycles - after all, knowing where to stop an ostinato before it becomes a mannerism is something composers (Schumann) and pianists (Jarrett) haven't always managed. Apart from the references implied by his chordal voicing, the rhythmic profile of the music is also at times alarmingly traditional: though Thomas may be inserting standard oom-pah-pah waltz rhythms into "The Analogy" with some conscious sense of irony, parts of "Mubarak" (not the Egyptian president, by the way) could easily have bass and drums overdubbed to become straight-ahead post-bop. As a result, improv purists familiar with Thomas's work with Derek Bailey may be taken aback by the distinctly idiomatic twists and turns of this album, though they would do well to remember his wild and woolly electronics on Eugene Chadbourne's "Insect and Western". Like Chadbourne, Pat Thomas's musical tastes are all-embracing and catholic, and, like Chadbourne, his solo performance does tend to go on a bit..

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Tested for our Readers
I did have the opportunity to try Absinthe in Barcelona. You pour it into a glass, and are given a sugar cube, a spoon and water. You take the cube up with your spoon and let it sit in the glass for a moment. You then take it out, set it aflame, and let the burning sugar drip into the glass. Once you’re done you fill up the rest with water as it is very, very strong. It tastes something like a strong peppermint. And no, I didn’t go mad or blind or any thing. Nor did I create Great Art like Van Gogh, either. Maybe next time.
- Jethro on tour.

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In our Spare Time...

If you take the letters in the names of the Brötzmann Tentet plus their
special guest William Parker at their recent Paris appearance, namely:


--Researched by Dan Warburton and James Baiye.

Re-branding here at the Paris offices of PTM

Soon to be a major motion picture...
Recently, Dan wrote in an internal inter-office memo: “ A number of esteemed site-visitors from the outside world have told me that while they enjoy the reviews, they don't like the name of the rubric "Dr Dan's Discorama". I happen to agree (it sounds a bit like My Own Personal Home Page from Billy Joe in Armpit Nebraska Aged 10: Billy Joe's Bitchin Discs This Week Include Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails etc etc. You get the picture..)”

In response to this and other updating issues, consistent with being a major player on the international new music market and grill, we have now re-branded the CD section, and Dr. Dan’s Discorama is no more. Please send angry letters to Billy Joe in Nebraska.
--Guy Livingston, publisher.

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Ivo Perelman
Leo CD LR 309

Early 1998 was indeed a fertile time for Brazilian-born tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman: in March he recorded "Siero" (Leo 271) and "The Hammer" (Leo 286), and barely one month later he was back at Hillside Studios in the company of pianist Joseph Scianni and drummer Jay Rosen for "The Seven Energies of the Universe". The fact that it's taken nearly three years to come out is, one supposes, due to the pressures on Leo Feigin's release schedule. What I'd like cleared up is the precise session dates of Perelman's "Brazilian Watercolour" (Leo 266) - released in 1999 but perhaps recorded earlier - since that album features five duets with pianist Matthew Shipp whose playing bears interesting comparison with Joseph Scianni's here (on balance I feel Scianni's dynamic pianism works better with Perelman's wild blowing than Shipp's studied and emotionally slightly detached chord voicings - what would be interesting to know is which set of duos was recorded first). The track titles (Passion, Fruition, Conversion, Living and Life, Maleness, Femaleness and Endlessness) invite inevitable comparison with Coltrane as well as with the titanic tenors of today's ecstatic jazz - against whom Perelman can hold his own any day, in terms of both lungpower and authentic musicianship - while the inclusion of some of Perelman's own abstract expressionist paintings fondly recalls the original Jackson Pollock gatefold of Ornette's "Free Jazz". Similarly the sax/piano/drums line-up brings to mind earlier mythic trio outfits -Taylor / Lyons / Murray, and Brötzmann / Bennink / Van Hove, and also a forgotten masterpiece on Leo from 1979, Keshavan Maslak's "Humanplexity", once more with Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg. More internally consistent than "Brazilian Watercolour", better recorded and more coherent than "The Hammer", "The Seven Energies of the Universe" is proof, if proof be needed, that for Ivo Perelman, free jazz is alive and well.

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Giacinto Scelsi

The Orchestral Works Vol.1
Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic
Juan-Pablo Izquierdo

Since, as Harry Halbreich pointed out, the twentieth century is now "unthinkable without Scelsi", it's perhaps surprising that his orchestral works have until now only been recorded once in their entirety, in 1988, by the chorus and orchestra of Polish Radio and TV in Krakow conducted by Jürg Wyttenbach. Though it's most welcome that Mode has now launched its own Scelsi series, I wonder if Izquierdo and the Carnegie Mellon Phil wouldn't have been better off going away to summer camp to rehearse before recording the complete orchestral works on one double-CD, rather than filling out this disc with the "Canti del Capricorno" (which perhaps ought to be released separately in their entirety). These songs, written between 1962 and 1972, with their invented phonetic language and occasional quasi-ethnic accompanying percussion, have to my mind always seemed slight, even superficial, in comparison with the majestic, earth-shattering orchestral music Scelsi was writing at the same time: "Hurqualia" (1960), "Hymnos" (1963) and "Konx-Om-Pax" (1968) for large orchestra (augmented by organ on "Hymnos" and chorus on "Konx") take their place alongside the major orchestral works of the decade by the likes of Ligeti, Xenakis, Penderecki and Zimmermann. "Hurqualia" is, by Scelsi's standards, pretty vicious: his characteristic exploration of single pitches through timbral inflection and occasional migration to adjacent microtonal neighbors becomes a screaming, smearing, seething mass of lines, accompanied by some thoroughly cathartic blasts of percussion worthy of Varèse. "Hymnos", as one might expect, is more cathedral-like, organ and orchestra combining to create the fabulous illusion of spectral choirs in the sky above, while "Konx-Om-Pax" (I agree with Riccardo Schulz's description of it as "Scelsi's crowning achievement") should be on every composer's work desk along with Stravinsky's "Sacre", Debussy's "Jeux" (and a handful of other pieces) as an example of truly spectacular orchestration. Though the details of Izquierdo's reading are perhaps clearer than the earlier Wyttenbach recording, there's something about the acoustic of that Polish church (Saint Catherine's in Krakow) that better lends itself to the great sonorous landscapes of Scelsi's orchestral writing, where both instruments and performing space must combine to form an immense - and truly awesome - meta-instrument. There are some significant differences in terms of tempi: Wyttenbach takes 7'26" to get through "Konx"'s first movement, while Izquierdo nails it in 5'41"! Wyttenbach's last movement is all over in 8'39", while Izquierdo drags his out to 9'59". This new disc sounds more "Romantic" as a result - remember Halbreich also claimed that this is the music Bruckner would be writing were he alive today - perhaps Wyttenbach, as an ultra-modern avant-garde composer himself, was less out to stress the music's spiritual breadth and more concerned with its tiny spectral details (shades of what they used to say about Boulez the conductor?). In any case, after "Konx" dies away, anything, especially the tiny "Canto No. 19" comes across as an irrelevant afterthought. That said, I'm looking forward to Volume 2 enormously.

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Norbert Möslang / Andy Guhl

Back to 1982. Defunkt ride the razor's edge, Haircut 100 have a fantastic day, Michael Nyman contracts for the draughtsman, Aretha Franklin jumps to it, Donald Fagen crosses the new frontier, the Violent Femmes add it up, and Blood Ulmer rocks black. Somewhere in the corridors of power they've heard of Mikhail Gorbachev, but Margaret Thatcher is too busy fighting for a rain-soaked rock off the coast of Argentina to pay him much attention. Meanwhile, in a clubspace called Komm in Innsbruck, Austria (a town with one of the highest depression/suicide rates in Europe, because, as one resident told me, "when the weather's bad, everything looks two-dimensional") two Swiss guys are making a hell of a racket with horns, oscillators, smashed up radios, Dictaphones, and apparently anything else they can lay their hands on. That this pair goes on to become Voice Crack, one of the last decade's most consistently innovative live-electronic improvising outfits, probably explains why John Corbett has produced the reissue of this album previously released on the Berlin label Uhlklang. It's a gloriously noisy 43 minutes, to be sure, but newcomers to the wild and woolly world of Möslang and Guhl are perhaps recommended to check out their 1990 "Earflash" before this one, though "Knack On" proves that Möslang's saxophone work deserved more attention than it got at the time.

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Umbrella 024
Out of My Face
Umbrella 025
Umbrella 027

Big band improv is a tricky thing to handle, yet as anyone who's experienced the full force of MIMEO or Butch Morris live, or who still treasures those old Alan Silva Celestrial Communication Orchestra albums will tell you, it's a goal worth aspiring to. There are a few rules to respect, however, to prevent the music turning into sonic sludge (improvisers are after all notorious for not being able to shut the hell up), and these necessarily involve some degree of composition, either by providing the musicians with a skeletal score to work from (maybe notated, but often graphic or textual: check out Chris Burn's Ensemble "Navigations" on Acta 12, or France's one-off Système Friche project on In Situ IS 169) or by bending the players' individual identities to the will of a conductor of sorts (Morris and his conductions, of course, but also Edward Perraud's Orchestre des Sons Traqués and Fred Frith's recent Ensemble Modern commission, "Traffic Continues").
The Micro-East collective is a group of musicians some fifteen to twenty strong based in Chadbourne country in North Carolina, and these three broadsides on Chris Stamey's Umbrella label provide solid evidence that percussionist Ian Davis and his troops have really come to terms with the problematics of large ensemble improvisation. "062099" is essentially one long brooding piece by the Collective's resident tuba virtuoso David Morris entitled "Exploring the Metal Sphere" (based on a kooky sci-fi scenario about a cartographic survey of a perfectly spherical metal planet 63 light-years from the sun.. well, I guess living in Jesse Helms land can produce unwelcome mental side-effects) which exploits the timbral richness of an ensemble which features shakuhachi, accordion and quarter-tone xylophone. "Out of My Face" transports our intrepid star-mappers to the East Village's favorite watering hole, Tonic, for a hastily-organized bash with Nick Didkovsky and Doctor Nerve. As Didkovsky admits in the notes, with barely fifteen minutes before showtime to discuss fifteen scores, the results are occasionally hit-and-miss (and the sound quality isn't always crystal clear), but the music is fresh and fleeting, and deftly sidesteps that sonic sludge every time. If, however, your Micro-East investment budget will only stretch to one of these three albums, "Fabric" is the one to go for. There's a varied menu on offer here (maybe they had a bit more time to work at those scores) from the st(r)eaming polyphony of "Untoward" to the cut'n'splatter of "Adrenaline", and a greater feeling of space: the collective occasionally splits up into smaller units - oboist Carrie Shull's trio with cellist Chris Eubank and guitarist Chuck Johnson is particularly delightful. With these albums and Scott Rosenberg's astounding recent solo album "V" in his catalogue, it's good to know Chris Stamey's still rocking.

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Copyright 2001 by Paris Transatlantic