FEBRUARY News 2006 Reviews by Clifford Allen, David Cotner, Stephen Griffith, Vid Jeraj, Massimo Ricci, Derek Taylor, Dan Warburton:

Julius Eastman
Kapotte Muziek
On Hopscotch:
Assif Tsahar / Cooper-Moore / Hamid Drake / Tatsuya Nakatani / KJLA Quartet / Agusti Fernandez / Peter Kowald
Essays on Radio: Can I Have 2 Minutes Of Your Time? / Rolex à la Plage
Reissued: Albert Ayler
Glen Hall, Lee Ranaldo, William Hooker / +minus / Michel Doneda / Alessandra Rombola / Exploding Customer / John McNeil / Stephen Riley /
Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra / Masen Kerbaj / Nakatani, Rawlings, Arias / Michel Lambert / Reuben Radding / Jack Wright, Andy Hayleck, Paul Neidhardt, Todd Whitman
Walter Zimmermann/ Alvin Lucier / John Wall / Steve Reich
Esther Venrooy / James Plotkin / Thomas Ankersmit / Jim O'Rourke / Francisco Lopez, Scott Arford / Organum / Windy and Carl / Z'ev, Duncan, Baker, Fear Falls Burning / Marc Wannabe / CM von Hausswolf
Last month


There's been a lot of discussion lately over at Bagatellen about the pros and cons of mp3 downloads and filesharing, and I'm grateful to Jeff Gburek for pointing me in the direction of Audacity, a cool piece of software you can download in a jiffy and convert just about everything to everything else with. To put it to the test I downloaded the seven or eight remaining items in Mattin's discography that I didn't have, whacked the Ogg Vorbis files into Audacity, converted them to .wav files and burned up a packet of discs in less than an hour. OK OK I know, hi fi purists will cringe, and I'm the first person to recognise that the sound quality is clearly inferior to a "real" disc, but in order to appreciate exactly what the difference is you have to be listening on a good system in optimum conditions. Optimum conditions meaning quiet – no ventilation units from a nearby restaurant humming, no washing machine upstairs in spin cycle mode, and certainly no workmen smashing the fuck out of the inner courtyard of the building and inadvertently leaving a ten inch hole in the toilet wall. The temperature in the smallest room on Saturday was a crisp -5°C. You could literally freeze your balls off. The only way to fight back, apart from a volley of angry phone calls to the company who employs these fearful pick-wielding brutes, is to slip the CDR of Mattin's Tinnitus into the old hi fi and give 'em hell. Which is what I did. Anyway, if you've missed out on Mattin's music so far, go Google him and you'll soon find it there waiting for you. I'm not going to get drawn into a discussion of the ethics of it all – there are pieces up for grabs there as free downloads which are still available as "real" records, and I'm not sure that I'd be all that happy to see them there if I'd put up the money to pay for the release myself, but that's something for Mattin to sort out – but I'm certainly enjoying the music. Real records are cool as well, though, and here's hoping that the reviews of the 48 discs below (I'm counting double CDs as two, btw) will whet your appetite. Bonne lecture – et bonne écoute!-DW

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Julius Eastman
Julius Eastman
New World
Until this triple CD appeared at the end of last year, Julius Eastman's principal claim to fame was probably his extraordinary portrayal of King George III on the old Nonesuch recording of Peter Maxwell Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King. His piano playing was just as strong and distinctive, but it's as a composer that his work has – finally – come to our attention here, 15 years after his death in total obscurity and abject poverty at the age of 49. The story of how one of the most talented performers and composers of his generation, a close associate of Lukas Foss, Morton Feldman, Yvar Mikhashoff, Meredith Monk and Petr Kotik, missed out in life and ended up as an alcoholic drug-addict sleeping rough in Tompkins Square Park is authentically tragic (as Eastman, for reasons best known to himself, declined several offers of teaching work on the grounds that they didn't pay what he thought he deserved), and it's told concisely and affectionately by Kyle Gann in the essay accompanying these seven hitherto unreleased compositions. Without dwelling too much on the biographical details, though, it's important to note that Julius Eastman was black – and openly, even aggressively, gay (his "interpretation" of John Cage's Songbooks at SUNY Buffalo in 1975, in which he spoke frankly about sex and publicly undressed another man provoked a furious reaction from the composer himself: "the freedom in my music does not mean the freedom to be irresponsible!" he stormed, actually banging a piano with his fist. So much for the smiling Zen sage with his little basket of mushrooms). "Sometimes he [Eastman] was just damned outrageous," commented a friend. Indeed, entitling two of his pieces Evil Nigger and Crazy Nigger managed to raise the hackles of both teachers and students (an African-American fraternity) at Northwestern University, where those works were performed in January 1980. The recording of that concert is included here in its entirety, along with Eastman's own from-the-hip spoken introduction: "What I mean by niggers is that thing which is fundamental [..] and eschews that which is superficial, or could we say, elegant... There are 99 names of Allah, and there are 52 niggers".

Sob stories apart, the claim that's being made here is quite simply that Eastman is one of the great forgotten minimalist composers of his generation. Kyle Gann, whose knowledge of the subject is extensive, makes a good case for the defence – certainly the inclusion of the 1973 premiere of Stay On It is a convincing opening move. This catchy, pop-inflected ensemble piece scored for voice, piano, violin, clarinet, two saxophones and two percussionists is indeed way ahead of its time – it sounds remarkably like the music of someone who hit post-minimalist paydirt a decade later, Michael Torke – breaking with the conventions of the minimalism of the time (Glass's linear additive processes, Reich's phasing and block additive methods – remember, as Gann points out, Stay On It predates both Einstein On The Beach and Music for 18 Musicians) by fragmenting and looping the material, changing the tempo and even introducing extraneous elements. It manages to get itself bogged down on a number of occasions, but it's certainly original, at times even inspired.

1977's If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? (you've got to love the track titles) is an even more extreme break with minimalism's present-the-material-and-get-on-with-it basic method. It begins with an ascending chromatic scale that gets immediately stuck on its top note (one can appreciate the difficulty of the music for the principal trumpeter but only lament the rather rough live recording from 1979) before descending step by step into a mudbath of turgid chromatic clusters that has more in common with the obsessive cellular minimalism of Feldman – the ugly stuff, think Turfan Fragments – and the nastiness of Branca (rescore this for electric guitars, up the tempo 40 bpm, add a "rock" drummer and see if you can spot the difference) than it does with Glass's bland I-IV-V-Is and Reich's melt-in-the-mouth ninths and elevenths. As an exploration of the idea of "nonhierarchical form", in which, as Gann notes, "every part was as important as every other part" (an idea Eastman derived from Cage, whether the older composer liked it or not), the piece is authentically problematic, even postmodern: its lack of structure becomes curiously significant, and its banal ugliness – the scratchy violin obbligatos, the monotonous plodding brass chords – almost admirable.

Eastman went on to develop the concept of "organic form", in which "every phrase contains the information of the phrase before it, with new material gradually added in and old material gradually removed." The idea resembles the "people process" of Terry Riley's In C, in which performers are given the basic material and invited to make their own way through it at their own pace. Eastman's scores frequently consist of little more than fragments of melodic and harmonic information accompanied by sketchy instructions ("this is one line, one melody".. "take this as a guide and continue in like manner.."), and orchestration is left open. In his spoken introduction to Crazy Nigger the composer mentions that one possible realisation of the work could be for as many as 18 instruments of the same family – for the concert at Northwestern, Eastman had four pianos at his disposal, and it's this line-up we hear in the versions of Gay Guerrilla (1980), Evil Nigger (1979) and Crazy Nigger (1980). (It seems the same working method is also being used in The Holy Presence of Joan D'Arc (1981), heard here in a spirited if stodgy version for ten cellos conducted by the composer, whose awesome baritone is also heard singing the Prelude: "Joan, speak boldly, when they question you.") The multiple piano pieces are certainly fascinating – imagine a bar or two of mid-period Stravinsky frozen and looped, or the last minute of Ligeti's Monument extended for over half an hour – but often frustrating: the listener has to travel through miles of barren and inhospitable desert before coming across an oasis. Gann – lucky lad – is apparently in possession of a photocopied score of Crazy Nigger, and calls for "some ambitious musicologist" to prepare a fully restored performing version. He could probably do the job very well himself, but I guess he's too busy. Fortunately, another fine Downtown composer is on the case, in the form of Mary Jane Leach, and her fine recent article on Eastman http://www.newmusicbox.org/article.nmbx?id=4411 provides further valuable information on the composer, and a comprehensive list of works. Comprehensive as far as we know, that is, since many of Eastman's scores probably ended up in the garbage when the composer was thrown out of his apartment in Downtown Manhattan in the mid 80s (we can only hope they weren't, and that copies survive – Leach is currently hunting down an Eastman Symphony – watch this space). There are, after all, some terrific new music ensembles around these days, and surely some enterprising soul could follow this project up and release more music by this sadly neglected composer: Unjust Malaise is not without its problems but deserves to be the first, not the last, word on Julius Eastman.–DW

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Kapotte Muziek

How many items are there in the Kapotte Muziek discography? I'm looking in awe at http://www.beequeen.nl/de_Waard/disc/kapotte_muziek_disc.htm and trying to add them all up. There are, correct me if I'm wrong, 143 "Kapot Product" cassettes starting with 1984's untitled track on a compilation called Katacombe 3 (I should explain that KP numbering goes from 1 to 50, then 00A to 00Z, then 0AA to 0AZ, 0BA to 0BZ, then 0CA to 0CI, a c45 called Murmel from 1992), after which the numbering system seems to have been abandoned (though it resumes briefly with "Kapotte Muziek on Record": 0RA, 0RB etc.). I'll take a guess at nearly 300 as a total number. Now, the next question is – how many people other than KM founder member Frans de Waard – and perhaps (though I seriously doubt it) the others who joined him later, Christian Nijs, Peter Duimelinks and Roel Meelkop – actually have them all? Does Frans have them all? He must have a motherfucker of a collection to start with, as he's been one of the most prolific and entertaining commentators on new music for years now, thanks to his indispensable Vital Weekly.
The Kapotte Muziek project is a fine example of how technology – beginning with home taping ("..is killing music!" remember those little stickers back in the 80s? Killing music my ass..) and ending up with the CDR and today's various other digital interfaces and filesharing possibilities – has completely revolutionized the world of music (music here meaning, of course, the weird shit we talk about on sites like this – though if you want to talk mainstream pop much of what follows also applies). It's no longer possible to talk about "classic" albums of new music in the way that we talk about classic albums of jazz, rock, and even punk, because such products only accede to "classic" status if they've reached a significantly large listening public. More often than not that means they've sold in huge numbers (Dark Side of the Moon etc etc), or comparatively huge numbers (Colossal Youth), but sometimes journalists, broadcasters and record company bosses can talk up an album into becoming a classic (I'd say Jon Abbey's done a particularly good job with Duos for Doris, which doesn't for one minute imply I think the music on that double CD set isn't absolutely sublime). It also helps if the artist in question does something noteworthy like falling out of a fourth floor window (Rock Bottom) or, better yet, dying in some unnatural and violent way. I like to think that Love Will Tear Us Apart or Unplugged In New York would still be as revered as they are today if Curtis and Cobain were still with us, though I'm not so sure.

I'm no crystal ball gazer but I often wonder which of the many new CDs (and the occasional LP, hooray!) now cluttering up my living space will "stand the test of time", i.e. be held up as examples to future generations of what music was like back at the turn of the 21st century. And who will decide what's a classic album and what isn't? That choice, whoever is unlucky enough to have to make it, will be a purely subjective one, for the simple reason that it's frankly impossible for one person to own – let alone listen to – every recording made by today's "big names": hands up who has the complete Keiji Haino discography, eh? And what about John Zorn? Otomo Yoshihide? Braxton? Brötzmann? And anyone who goes out and buys new albums on the recommendations of specialist publications like The Wire, for example, will end up with a somewhat skewed vision of what's going on out there too (are the albums that make it to the annual Rewind Best Of an accurate reflection of the scenes the magazine covers? I wouldn't say they always were, and I write for the mag myself). It seems to me it's even more dangerous – all right, not dangerous, let's say unbalanced – to put one's faith in one particular journalist's recommendations, myself definitely included (this by way of a big friendly hello to my pal in Stockholm, Henrik!). After all, the celebrated (?) NME journalist Paul Morley routinely used to describe just about anything he liked as "the greatest song ever written" or "the greatest album ever recorded"? I used to love reading Paul Morley reviews. Actually, I still do.

Anyway, for some reason, presumably because they think a review might help – I hope it does – the good people at Freaksendfuture have sent me a copy of (Not) Lost, a selection of previously unreleased Kapotte Muziek dating from about 1995 onwards and filling not one, not two, not three but FOUR CDs. Now, as my own collection of Kapot Products can be counted on the fingers of both hands (as long as I stick one of them in my ear), this splendid present represents not so much a career retrospective as a voyage of discovery. It comes in a tastefully packaged collection of austere grey (though not plain) covers, with a set of introductory notes provided by de Waard, and it's the goddamn bargain of the century at 20 Euros – go to http://www.freaksendfuture.com/shop/details.php?item_id=2797.
Kapotte Muziek in many respects is one of the most representative outfits to have appeared in new music over the past 20 years (see, I'm trying to get an early answer in to the question I asked above), as their music is a fine example of how the DIY aesthetic and self-consciously marginal attitude of post-punk / Industrial became cross-pollinated with "mainstream" electronic music, minimalism and techno and evolved along with the technology used to produce it. Not surprisingly it's music that falls neatly between the cracks – never trashed or scuzzy enough to get beyond the fringes of alt.rock, yet too well-structured and crafted to appeal to improv snobs (but too abrasive to cut it on the lowercase/EAI circuit). Too obtrusive to sneak into the Lopez / Günter / Behrens stable but not funky or beat-driven enough to hardstep onto techno's leftfield either. Loops and beats are to be found, but so are horrific yelps of feedback and screes of vicious noise, so, for better or worse, KM discs usually turn up in the "Noise" bin in my local record emporium. This is logical enough given the group's collaborative ventures with Merzbow, The Haters and Aube, but in terms of both attitude and decibels de Waard's music often seems to have little in common with the apocalyptic outings of Hijokaidan, Masonna, et al.

Frans de Waard's accompanying notes are as amusing as they are informative; in many cases he seems to have forgotten exactly how, why and when these pieces of music were made, or even which label they were intended for (the names of some of these imprints are as wild and wonderful as the music they presumably released: Clotted Meat Portioning, Gender Less Kibbutz, Minus Habens, Hush Hush..). Checking out the music, then, is the listening equivalent of stumbling across a collection of dusty tablets in an unmarked tomb somewhere in Egypt: the inscrutable hieroglyphics might not be as exciting as a Tutankhamun sarcophagus, but they contain a wealth of information. CD One contains 18 tracks (but de Waard's notes only mention 17 – so you'll have to do a bit of detective work for starters), including the magnificent "Infinity" (sound sources: two marbles, one tin can and a sampler), "Studie Voor Tas" (sound source: one plastic bag), "Sand" (sound source: erm, sand), "Cease to Exist – D.O.A.", on which de Waard does to Throbbing Gristle's "Cease to Exist" what TG did to their own "United" on D.O.A., i.e. speed it up by a factor of 15.18, and "The Body in Decay Part 2" (owners of Part 1 on the Anomalous compilation cassette Pathological Resonance will rejoice).
The first four tracks on CD Two were originally intended for release as a full-length album on RRRecords sub-label Pure – no explanation is given as to why it never appeared – and are based on studio improvisations de Waard and Duimelinks recorded with Randy Greif as well as a live jam with Illusion of Safety. It's quintessentially uncompromising stuff, underground music for underground people, after which the spaced out swoops of "Fla Mix", sourced from a recording of a KM concert in Herford in 1993 contrast wonderfully with the fucked up psychedelic sludge of "Autonomix", apparently a remix of a band called Wound (figures).
CD Three starts out more mainstream noise (mainstream noise? Did I say that?) with "Relapse" (#1 and 2), whose basic material is an earlier 1980s cassette Musik Ohne Ende "fed through an endless line of effects and feedback treatments." "Noise#1" and "Noise#2" are what they say they are too (though de Waard has no idea why and when they were recorded), while "Ruis Phase" and "Ruis Mix", which he notes are "among the few studio pieces by KM made on a laptop" are more surgically precise.
CD Four (my favourite, or at least the one I've listened too most often) is mainly sourced in recordings subsequently used in de Waard's Torn Tongue collaboration with Howard Stelzer on Absurd. On "Dissected Voices" fragments of speech (the piece started out with a tape of a woman's voice Stelzer sent de Waard in 1997) are combined with Morse code-like hissy beeps and oppressive sub-bass rumble in a tense and beautifully structured musical pyschodrama. De Waard is, like Ralf Wehowsky, someone whose work also stubbornly refuses to be pigeonholed (needless to say the two know each other's work well), a compulsive reworker of his own and other people's improvised material, hence the closing "KGM", cut from an extended improvisation with Meelkop and Duimelinks. "I still like [it], but Peter and Roel don't", de Waard admits in the liners, "so it wasn't released at the time." And that could be the motto for the whole (Not) Lost project. The greatest album ever recorded and never released at the time.–DW

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ENGLISH (full length CDR)
(double 3" CDR)
"Geographically, English is the most widespread language on Earth, second only to Mandarin Chinese in the number of people who speak it. It is the language of business, technology, sport and aviation. Incredibly enough, 75% of the world's mail and 60% of the world's telephone calls are in English. People who speak English fall into one of three groups: those who have learned it as their native language; those who have learned it as a second language in a society that is mainly bilingual; and those who are forced to use it for a practical purpose – administrative, professional or educational. One person in seven of the world's entire population belongs to one of these three groups." Well, doesn't that make you feel lucky, punk? English also happens to be the name of this improvising duo featuring Baltimore-based Bonnie Jones, who plays the exposed circuit boards of digital delay pedals, and Joe Foster, currently resident in South Korea though formerly from Portland, Oregon, on electronics, microphones and trumpet. The two got together when Jones was in Korea last year, and these two offerings on Foster's Copula imprint – one a "normal" CDR, the other a double three-incher – are the first results of that collaboration. The five-track CDR (whose track titles are as follows: "The Capturist", "The Moyle", "Senator Bustamente", "A Hair Found in an Old Book by a Bald Reader" and "Doubt") comes in a nifty cardboard pull-out box, almost unadorned except for a a spidery amoeba-like green fluorescent squiggle, while the double 3" set (one piece on each disc, the first entitled "No. Upon my soul, no. Upon my soul which belongs to you, no." the second "Oh" - !) features a captionless photo, apparently found on the Tokyo subway, of a bloke with fly open and dick hanging out. Sort of lo-budget Mapplethorpe. Well, needless to say you're unlikely to find either of these little treasures in your local Virgin Megastore, but if the outer limits of EAI are where you like to hang out, you'd be well advised to get hold of them both post-haste, because they're crackers.

The basic vocabulary of this kind of music is well-established now, thanks to the gradual assimilation of noise and electronic instruments – hi and lo-tech – into mainstream improv culture over the past decade or so, notably in the multifarious projects of Otomo Yoshihide and those who've been listening carefully to them (think Mattin, Joel Stern, Anthony Guerra, Will Guthrie, Ferran Fages, Jean-Philippe Gross, Alfredo Costa Monteiro, Alexandre Bellenger, Jaime Fennelly, Howard Stelzer, Jason Talbot, Vic Rawlings.. the list goes on): hum, buzz, glitch, screaming feedback, piercing sinewaves, all-out whitenoise apocalypse and inscrutable urban field recordings ("Doubt" combines the distant traffic noise of a huge city with the grainy drizzle of electronics and ominous microphone scrapings to form a truly arresting tone poem). In terms of actual moment-to-moment sonic information there's probably little on offer here that you haven't heard already, but what sets Foster and Jones' music apart is its splendid sense of structure and timing: sounds that are by themselves harsh, ugly, even physically painful (yep, there's plenty here to have the family dog barking with sheer delight.. you'd better plug its ears with wax and strap it to the mast, because here comes the Siren Song) are combined into coherent, arresting and ultimately highly enjoyable assemblages, all the while avoiding EAI's rather predictable slowmotion trawl. True, the pace is generally leisurely, but there's plenty of black ice and broken glass strewn across the highway. If Bar Sachiko is where you like to hang out and have a quiet cocktail (no puns intended, remembering the image that graces the cover), "No" is definitely something you'll want to stick on the jukebox. Just be careful you don't bite right through the glass and rip your gums to shreds at 16'33". "Oh" is an arresting duo of extended technique trumpet (Greg Kelley would be proud) and strategically placed electronic rips and squeals, lucid and elegant as a haiku but as deadly as one of those Hattori Hanzo swords David Carradine keeps rapping on about. If you feel like having a bit of fun by the way, try watching the House Of Blue Leaves massacre in Kill Bill 1 at half speed with the volume off and this as the alternative soundtrack. Damn, for once Tarantino missed out on the best music.

There is, alas, little chance that this stuff will be as widely umm appreciated as Quentin's movie, let alone the language that Jones and Foster have chosen as the name of their project, but, for what it's worth, I'm spreading the word: "A Hair Found in an Old Book by a Bald Reader" has the dubious distinction of being the first track played on the Paris Transatlantic Sound System in 2006 to have provoked an angry phone call from the neighbour downstairs. The poor bugger's still trying to sleep off a New Year hangover, it would seem. So no prizes for guessing who's going to receive an unmarked copy of English in their letterbox. That said, I'm rather tempted to stick on a photocopy the cover of the No / Oh disc instead, for obvious reasons. May it soon be hanging out in your record collection too.–DW

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On Hopscotch
Assif Tsahar / Cooper-Moore / Hamid Drake
Hopscotch HOP 33
If Assif Tsahar's earlier releases revealed the influence of Coltrane (inevitable, and nothing to apologise for either), a quick blast of Lost Brother's opener, "Breaking the Water" might lead you to conclude he's been checking out Ayler and Frank Wright recently. But Tsahar's never been all that easy to pin down stylistically, and his distinctly melodic and understated bass clarinet work points in other directions. There's a lot of open space in there too – the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble comes to mind on a number of occasions, but that's not surprising given Hamid Drake's mastery of percussion idioms from around the world. Throughout the album the roles are clearly defined: Tsahar can roam wherever he likes, and Drake, who can never resist a good groove, is encouraged to find one and stick with it, while Cooper-Moore finds himself playing bassist, his twanger and diddley-bow often downright dirty and funky. On "Breaking the Water" he sounds like Jaco Pastorius trying to play his way out of a barrel of tar, while Drake carries on blithely with his Tony Williams ca. "Shhh/Peaceful" and lets him writhe. It's catchy stuff, but the limitations of Cooper-Moore's self-made instruments are often felt: they sound great but don't exactly give him much room to play with in terms of pitch, hence the tendency to stick on one basic riff (drone, even). Though with Drake's tablas and frame drums bubbling so nicely away in the background, you're hardly likely to complain, and Tsahar's modal explorations are intelligent and well-structured. If there is any noodling going on, it's probably coming from Cooper-Moore, but the sounds he makes are so arresting you'll forgive that.
Assif Tsahar / Tatsuya Nakatani / KJLA String Quartet
Hopscotch HOP 36
Solitude marks a slight return to the Ellingtonian path Assif Tsahar began to tread with Tatsuya Nakatani on Come Sunday, and also adds his name to what's become a rather long list of saxophonists who have recorded with a string section, in this case a conventional quartet line-up featuring Katt Hernandez and Jean Cook on violins, Ljova (dunno if that's a first name or a surname but it's all we've got to go on) on viola and Audrey Chen on cello. The opening "Love Is" sets the tone for the whole affair, with Nakatani's bass drum thudding gently under a carpet of Scelsi-esque drone on which Tsahar unfolds long, melancholy lines. "Unmoving" is, curiously enough, rather busy (though maybe the title's supposed to refer to the emotional content, not the activity level), with the strings scattering, and bouncing and scratching merrily away in the foreground and Tsahar content to sketch in whatever fluffy melodic shapes result. But even when the temperature rises towards the end of the piece, he sounds strangely far back in the mix, as if he was trying somehow to abstract himself from the proceedings. This feeling of forlorn alienation continues in "Sand between a toe", in which the saxophone reverb is offset by the strings' dry pizzicato, and on "The Epistemology of Loss" and "Of Amazing Most Now", both of which are dedicated to the poets their titles quote from (respectively John Berryman – name misspelt on CD by the way – and e.e. cummings). By the end of "Blue Sun" Tsahar's sounding distinctly down in the mouth, and it takes Nakatani's Lovens-like fluster and a flurry of trills and glissandi on "Falling" and a more concerted four-girl attack in "By and by" to perk him up. To little avail, though – the Ellington cover finally arrives with the closing "Solitude", but as the strings are still stranded in the droneworld they began exploring on "Love Is", the only link to the original is the melody line itself. It's a shame that the quartet couldn't have found some way of incorporating Ellington's luscious harmony, but the result is at least coherent with the rest of the album's sense of loss.
Agustí Fernández / Peter Kowald
Hopscotch HOP 17
More than three years have passed by since bassist Peter Kowald passed away but there's been no shortage of new Kowald product (to coin a rather vulgar term) on the market since; Sea Of Lead is his third appearance on Hopscotch, after Deal, Ideas and Ideals (with Assif Tsahar and Rashied Ali) and Ma: Live at the Fundacio Juan Miro (with Tsahar and Sunny Murray). This time Tsahar isn't on the bill, and there's no drummer, but that doesn't mean there's no percussion. Agustí Fernández's work both on and inside the piano remind us that it's first and foremost a percussion instrument, and David Casamitjana's recording made at Barcelona's Estudi 84 on June 27th 2000 is quite superb. Goodness knows where he put his mics, but they certainly were at the heart of the action: Fernández's prepared piano shrieks and clangs sound dangerously close, and Kowald's pizzicato has rarely sounded so full and rich – Charlie Haden eat your heart out. Elsewhere, his low-register bowed work growls like a lion (though I'll admit I've never been much of a fan of the sub-bass Tuvan horror movie vocals). It's easy to forget that despite his reputation for monster solo sets of extraordinary stamina – the last time I saw him he played non-stop for 80 minutes – Kowald was also capable of great restraint and used space and silence to great effect, and in Fernández he found the ideal partner. Even so, the most impressive tracks are the ones where both men go nuts, especially "Rhizomes" (yeah, rhizomes were all the rage back in 2000, remember?), which pits Ligeti-like ostinati against Kowald's maniacal arco scrabbling, and "Tendrils", on which the bassist wisely sits on a low rolling groove and lets Fernández turn out the kind of solo pianists dream of. Shame it ends rather abruptly. But you could say that of Peter Kowald's life, too. However, given the man's enormous appetite for work, it's a fair bet that there are plenty of hours of unreleased Kowald languishing on hard drives across the world. If they're all as good as this, it looks as if the Kowald discography is set to go on increasing for quite a while to come.–DW

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Various Artists

Alexandre Bellenger / Clément Froissart
It didn't take long for the laptoppers to realise that concertgoers quickly get fed up of parting with hard-earned cash in return for having to stare intently at young men and women staring intently at their screens behind those annoyingly unavoidable luminous Apple logos. Unless, that is, you happen to enjoy watching Christian Fennesz smoke a cigarette or Christof Kurzmann swigging at a beer. Hence the frequent incorporation of live video in today's electronic music, for which the DVD format is especially appropriate. This companion DVD to the earlier CD compilation of the same name, Essays on Radio from the Portuguese Crónica label is a fine showcase of 28 two-minute videos – they call them "clips" in France, and that's a rather apt description of the short form works on offer here – ranging from grainy home movie footage (Nuno and Pedro Tudela's "Guandong Tuning Tone", Maximilien Jänicke and Random Industries' "Media Corrosion") via primitive animation (Júlio Dolbeth's "AM/FM", to music by Steinbrüchel, and Brigitte Bödenauer's video to the DVD's title track, with sound by Miguel Carvalhais) to more abstract visuals (Stefan Mathieu's "Radiance" is especially touching) and accomplished psychedelic / geometric mindfucks by Tina Frank (perfect for General Magic) and Erich Berger ("Free Radio Azimuth", music by Pure).
Needless to say, the whole project has the feel more of a collection of holiday snapshots, and eyes and ears are quickly saturated (but don't feel any compunction to watch the whole disc through from beginning to end – just dip in and out); accordingly, the tracks that work best are those where the correspondence between sound and image is clear. Marius Watz's "Int.15/35" with music by @c gives General Magic and Tina Frank a run for their money, and the filtered desert colours of Ran Slavin's "Golden Twilight Memories" are as haunting as his music. Slavin's work throughout is impressive and moving – his "Radiophonic Fairytale" (with The Beautiful Schizophrenic, whoever that may be) and "Radio" (with James Eck Rippie) are magnificent. Maybe the good people at Crónica could release a full length feature.
As digital technology becomes ever more widespread and affordable, we seem to be moving inexorably towards a culture where anyone can circulate their writings (in the blogosphere), music (via free downloads and file sharing) and home-made radio programmes (how long will it be before "podcast" appears in the dictionary?). While all this might have wide – and generally positive – implications for creativity, not to mention democracy, it also raises rather alarming questions about quality control. What quality control? An indication of where we might be heading is Rolex à la Plage (no, I don't understand the oblique reference to Eric Rohmer either), a totally improvised home movie conceived by and "starring" Alexandre Bellenger, enfant terrible of French improvised music. "I wanted to make a movie, improvised, also make the soundtrack at the same time, make it altogether at/only once, in a few hours, with no edit at all. And we did this," he states proudly, reaffirming the one-shot-deal-no-questions-asked-let's-release-it-NOW aesthetic that defines his own ARR CDR label.
While I'm all in favour of a few mistakes when it comes to improvised music – an unexpected wrong turn can after all often lead to an exciting detour into unexplored territory – I've never found the "warts and all" approach all that satisfying (to declare an interest, as they say in Parliament, perhaps I should inform you that I actually recorded a session of improvisations with Alexandre Bellenger myself last year which he wanted to release in its entirety but I didn't, preferring instead to edit, which he refused to.. stalemate!), and Rolex à la Plage is a perfect example of what the French disparagingly refer to as n'importe quoi.. CUT from a grainy and out-of-focus pan over traffic viewed from what seems to be an unfurnished apartment in a high-rise tower block on the outskirts of Paris (is this what the liners refer to as "Studio Motor"?) to Bellenger rolling around on the floor with an inflatable beach ball, before engaging in a kind of slowmotion Butoh dance with fellow "actor" Romaric Sobac, cavorting round the room tootling on a toy flute, stuffing his head into a plastic bag and getting into some strange mildly erotic cabaret routines in the bathroom before running out of energy and sprawling on the floor watching a Coke can revolve slowly on his turntable. The music to accompany this floor show is as just as wild, featuring Bellenger, Froissart, Sobac and someone who for reasons best known to him/herself prefers to be billed simply as "P", on assorted samplers and keyboards. You can consider the whole package as the unruly bastard child of Birgé and Gorgé's epic art movie La Nuit du Phoque, or as the video equivalent of the trash aesthetic so lovingly and hideously cultivated on wmo/r label boss Mattin's own recent Song Book, but I guarantee that once you've seen it, you'll never forget it, even if you never see it again.

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Albert Ayler
The number of commercially produced recordings of improvised music is, in the scheme of things, fairly small – and even fewer of those are particularly landmark. What is more important as a window into the workshop is what was captured live; students of the music are quite lucky to have as crucial a body of work as Coltrane’s 1961 Village Vanguard performances or, now Miles Davis’s 1970 Cellar Door gigs, commercially available and relatively complete – not to mention of excellent recording quality. For sure, there are literally tons of lesser-quality live recordings floating around, some of them semi-commercial and others traded amongst collectors and students, which give us a clearer picture of what artists were really up to – say, comparing Cecil Taylor’s “Conquistador” between the session recording (Blue Note, 1966) of the piece, and concert and club performances that are significantly different from around the same time.
While 1966 was the year that saw Albert Ayler move to Impulse from ESP-Disk’, at the height of his frenetic marching-band music, he was nevertheless continually refining the scope of that music from what seemed a slapdash mélange (à la Bells [ESP, 1965], and probably through a mutual influence with Don Cherry) to a tight and stately framework for improvisation. The central ensemble then featured his brother Don on trumpet and the dervish-like Dutch classical violinist Michel Samson, with a rotating cast of bassists and drummers. Captured on tape May 1, 1966 (exactly a year after the Town Hall gig that produced Bells) at Slugs’ Saloon in New York's Lower East Side, the workshop then featured bassist Lewis Worrell and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. These performances were slated for the ESP-Disk’ catalog, though they were actually issued shortly after the label folded by Base (and subsequently by ZYX, Get Back/Abraxas and now, finally in a restored version by the resurgent ESP).
Though, like the Dial recordings of Charlie Parker, these Ayler performances are not of high recording quality, they are nevertheless a crucial look at how the Aylers’ music took shape during this period. It is obvious that the military-band music, as it was fleshed out to include thicker ensemble voicings for reed, brass and strings, required a completely different percussive approach than the loose, chattering front-line framework Sunny Murray had lent to Bells and Spirits Rejoice (ESP M/S 1020, 1966). Beaver Harris was the eventual stalwart in the drum chair, a combination of the huge, polyrhythmic swing of Elvin Jones and Murray's conversant architecture, and his presence graced Ayler’s first “official” Impulse side, as well as recordings that same year later released on Hat Hut. Jackson’s interim position is fascinating because he was in the process of working out something rather different from the then-prevalent Murray and Milford Graves approaches, a hurtling field of top-heavy accents that worked well to propel altoist Charles Tyler’s groups (Charles Tyler Ensemble, ESP M/S 1029, 1966) and, later the Cecil Taylor Unit and his own Decoding Society. At this point, he hadn’t quite matched it to the level of precision that it would eventually attain – perhaps that was the reason he wasn’t with the Aylers that long – but one can hear from how much a juggernaut “Bells” is in the Slugs’ version, that Jackson is operating from a completely different, and possibly more successful standpoint than Murray in this sonic framework.
Despite the looseness that pervades the music here – “Truth is Marching In” maintains a lengthy, martial soliloquy as its theme, before Donald Ayler enters in a flurry of brass smears over Jackson’s thrashing percussive web. The trumpeter’s solos are characteristically brief and, despite their speed and searing intensity, are nearly unmodulated. A thematic rejoinder later, Albert Ayler’s screaming, bent altissimo is in throaty dialogue with the rhythm section, and though at a similar pace and register, a vast array of inflection is obvious from Ayler’s tenor. Rather than sonic smears, his playing offers notes – or at least the idea of notes – as a definitive tenet. After a year of working out these themes, which follow in segments as soloistic references introduce one element or another (and can probably be arranged in a few different ways – especially “Bells”), the music is, if not rote, at least somewhat more predictable in direction and significantly more cleanly assembled than it was in 1965. And there are the pastoral moments – Ayler may have never sounded as warm as he does on “Initiation,” in trio with Samson and Worrell, which almost equals his legendary “Summertime” in its pathos-laden beauty. For sure, clearly defined themes can (and do) lead into intense collective freedom – as in “Our Prayer” – but even searing and almost violent group improvisations like this seem couched in an air of programmatic deliberateness. There is no sense – as in Bells – that the music is on the verge of leaving the band’s control, even as thematic elements offer occasional signposts. For music that, in many ways is as ‘free’ as what was played at Slugs’ that night, this is a necessary revelation.–CA

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Glen Hall / Lee Ranaldo / William Hooker
Canadian reed virtuoso Glen Hall is one of those cats (Ned Rothenberg's another) who doesn't release a hell of a lot of albums, which is all the more reason to check them out when they do appear. With Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo bending the strings and the muscular William Hooker behind the kit, you wouldn't expect Oasis of Whispers, despite that delicate lowercase title, to be anything other than a powerhouse – and it doesn't disappoint. Recorded live in Buffalo NY (by another monster blower we should hear more from, Steve Baczkowski), these nine tracks find Hall playing tenor and soprano saxes (with and without a battery of electronic transformations), piccolo, flute, bass flute, bass clarinet and percussion. Though he's perfectly able to blast the horns into oblivion when necessary, it's worth bearing in mind that Hall has a solid jazz background – the fact that the set here includes an evil swinging take on Sonny Rollins' "Blue Seven" should come as no surprise – and there's a structural integrity to even his wildest solos ("View from Bellevue" in particular is a gem) that rewards repeated listening. And he's not averse to extending his work beyond the strict confines of pure music, whatever that is – remember his William Burroughs-inspired project Hallucinations on Leo a few years back. Hence the convincing interplay with the ever-inventive Hooker and his fellow member of that other multimedia improv collective, Text Of Light, Ranaldo, who, in addition to his coruscating guitar work, provides some of his beloved audio collages in the form of snatches of radio and answerphone messages ("Conference Call") and otherworldly electronic squiggles on the the title track, which is atmospheric and evocative while remaining tense and thrilling.–DW

One day I'm going to have dispense with these wretched categories ("Jazz / Improv", "Contemporary", "Electronica"..) altogether. Maybe organise the reviews in alphabetical order, or something. Any suggestions? Meanwhile, take a piece of paper and draw an equilateral triangle with J/I, C and E at each angle and a mark a cross right at its centre: that's where this particular release on the Portuguese Esquilo label – another great new music label from Portugal! hot damn! – is to be found. The +minus project, mixing live improvisation and pre-existent compositions as basis tracks, is now extending its reach beyond the music of its three founder members Bernhard Günter, Graham Halliwell and Mark Wastell – other projects in the pipeline will, I'm told, feature the shakuhachi of Clive Bell and the music of Steve Roden – but L'écoute libéré (I guess that should be "libérée", because listening, as John Gill will tell you, is feminine), the group's third release, "sticks to the original line-up. Three's the name of the game throughout: there are three pieces, credited respectively to Wastell, Günter and Halliwell. Mark Wastell's "Lone Star" mixes recordings he made on his trusty tam tam (see his various Vibra projects) with Halliwell's feedback saxophone during the sessions for the latter's Recorded Delivery and extracts from Günter's music (it isn't specified which Günter piece(s) are used) to create what Wastell wanted to be "a piece that could have been something we might have played naturally together, not a technically complex software driven remix." Mission accomplie. It's as rich and complex as it is conceptually straightforward, a beautifully paced exercise in virtuoso listening and composing. For his offering, "Metis", Günter takes a live recording of +minus' concert in Leeds on May 28th 2004 (for more information read Wastell's tour diary included with the second +minus album A Rainy Koran Verse) and adds Hohner Blues Harps (yeah!) and bamboo flute. The pitch play is, as one might expect, more evident in this piece, based as it is on a recording that also features Günter's cellotar, but the ear and the attention to detail is just as acute as in "Lone Star". And it gets better: Halliwell's offering, "L'écoute réduite", which uses Günter's Redshift (2001) as a basis track, is dedicated to the memory of Pierre Schaeffer, and though the late lamented Godfather of Musique Concrète probably wouldn't have liked it (given the rather unpleasant things he said about the music of Eliane Radigue, who also happens to be one of Graham Halliwell's heroines), he would have recognised a damn good ear at work. Not one damn good ear, but six, in fact. And soon, when Bell and Roden are on board, ten. Here's to the next great +minus release. Meanwhile, here's the next great +minus release.–DW

Michel Doneda
In recent years a number of French free improvisers have gone back to church, not out of any desire (heaven forbid) to abandon the cherished principle of laïcité established by the Revolution, but quite simply because the spacious acoustics of churches and chapels have proved very accommodating to post-lowercase improv's greater use of silence and attention to detail (also because, as Jean-Luc Guionnet will tell you, if you want to get your paws on a pipe organ, a church is about the only place you'll find one). This particular offering, the latest solo album by Michel Doneda on Sillón, Norwegian-based Sofa's new spin-off label – someone somewhere should write an essay charting Doneda's progress as a solo performer from his 1991 debut L'élémentaire sonore (In Situ) via Anatomie des Clefs (Potlatch, 1998) to 2003's Sopranino / Radio on Fringes, because it's a fascinating journey – is in fact the second album to be recorded in the Chapelle de Las Planques, in Tanus, near Albi, by recording engineer Pierre-Olivier Boulant. (The first was Bertrand Gauguet's Creative Sources release Etwa, other tracks on which were recorded in another chapel in Concoret, Brittany). Doneda knows when he's onto a good thing, too: this is Boulant's fourth recording with the saxophonist, after 2002's Placés dans l'air on Potlatch (with Alessandro Bosetti and Bhob Rainey), Sopranino / Radio and last year's Breath on the floor with Bosetti on Absinth (actually it would appear Solo Las Planques predates that, but it's taken time to find its way here), and I'm not sure it isn't his best yet. None of the spit and scrabble that characterised the Absinth here: just a patient, attentive and quite extraordinary exploration of the straight horn. There's been a tendency in solo saxophone albums of recent times to treat the recording process as a kind of laboratory experiment – Stéphane Rives' Fibres (also on Potlatch) is perhaps the most extreme and most successful example – and Doneda is well aware of the trend. Each of the seven pieces on this album takes a technical problem and gives it a thorough workout, in what could be considered an extension of the old 19th century tradition of the Etude. Michel Doneda has explored every square foot of the No Man's Land between pitched notes and breath noise, not to mention the nuances of fluttertonguing ("Vrilles" – awesome!), and takes us on a truly memorable tour here. I normally steer well clear of churches myself, but I can't keep out of this one.–DW

Alessandra Rombolá
Almost a year to the day after the session with Michel Doneda reviewed above, the Pierre-Olivier Boulant roadshow was in the Ermita de la Anunciada, Urueña, Spain (on July 19th / 20th 2005) where the roving recordist captured the flutes of Alessandra Rombolá. (If I've Googled this one correctly, you can see some photographs of the 10th century monastery at http://www.romanicozamorano.com/prov%20de%20Valladolid/Uruenna/anunciada/anunciada.htm) As is often the case with Boulant's recordings, there's as much going on in the air around the performer as in the music itself – here the distant groan of the outside world (traffic, presumably, though the building looks as if it's far away from any major roads, and tiny flecks of birdsong) is caught as wonderfully as it was on Mattin's Training Thoughts with Taku Sugimoto / Yasuo Totsuka. There are far fewer free improv flute players out there than saxophonists – and if like me you can't recall any offhand besides Jim Denley, Scott Rosenberg and Carlos Bechegas, here's another name to add to the list. Most people think of flutes as rather delicate little creatures, either light, darting, twinkling will-o'-the-wisp James Galway tootle, or languorous, sensual and silky Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune. But Rombolá starts out the second track sounding like a hippo taking a mudbath and ends up spitting in your face. More "conventional" flutery is on offer in "Dulcamara" (just in case you had any lingering doubts about her technical mastery), while on "Anapola" and "Quejigo" it sounds like she's taken the instrument to pieces and is using it to play assorted items of small percussion. It's a mysterious and thrilling set of pieces, and though Rombolá has been described out there on the www as "Italian new music's best kept secret" I doubt that'll be the case for much longer. I'm especially looking forward at some stage to a recording of her with Rhodri Davies and Ingar Zach in the trio Muta. Meanwhile here's another holy place for you to visit.–DW

Exploding Customer
Despite all the clutter on the Internet, it can occasionally perform a useful function: in January 2005, a solitary poster started a thread on a bulletin board titled “I want more Exploding Customer”, knowing that Jan Ström, the affable head of the Ayler label, was a frequent participant. Shortly afterwards, Ström replied that even though the sales of the 2002 Live at Glenn Miller Café (Ayler 030) were such a “catastrophe” that the recording of a 2003 concert was shelved, a November 2004 tour produced music that went “direct into the soul” and “must be released whatever it will cost us”. Would that were the prevailing attitude at all labels!
This music is as in-your-face as the group’s name implies, though it’s also capable of nuance and a slower burn. The sax/trumpet/bass/drums lineup and “break down the barriers” attitude bring Ornette’s original quartet to mind, and when the twining trumpet and alto sax play a Middle Eastern-flavoured theme there's also a strong hint of Zorn's Masada project. But the players in this group have a collective sound – call it “Scandinavian Soul” – that sets them apart from such models. Martin Küchen’s blaring tenor and alto sax work is in stark contrast to his work with the more introspective Unsolicited Music Ensemble, as he dispenses with sweet niceties and barges into the themes and solos. Trumpeter Tomas Hallonsten supplements his prodigious chops with impressive plunger work, and Kjell Nordeson comes with a full resumé, including work on drums and vibes with the AALY Trio and School Days – here he leaves his vibes behind to concentrate on dancing rhythms in conjunction with bassist Benjamin Quigley, adeptly navigating the twists and turns of Küchen’s compositions.
Live at Tampere Jazz Happening has more of a “rock” feel to it than the band's debut: faster tempos, shorter songs and more between-song patter by Küchen. The songs run the gamut of tempos and moods, but a playful spontaneous chaos is the underlying constant. Two pieces, “Quoting Frippe: (What’s The Name of The Bass Player?)” and “A Broken Glass”, are repeated from the earlier release, and it's hard to choose between the different versions, though here “Quoting Frippe” has a nifty surprise ending, fading out with a nice “Lonely Woman”-ish bit. Heartfelt madcap music like this makes me smile no matter how often I hear it. Both this album and Live at Glenn Miller Café are highly recommended.

John McNeil
Omnitone 15211
For trumpeter and composer John McNeil’s third Omnitone release, the modus operandi, at least according to the liner notes and press release, is one of applying post-Ornette tendencies (harmonic/rhythmic liberation vis-à-vis expanded or truncated song forms) to the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker quartet format. McNeil is joined by baritone saxophonist Allan Chase and the rhythm team of drummer Matt Wilson and bassist John Hebert for nine originals and three interpretations, including a snippet of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto. The funny thing is, as much of a statement it is to distance oneself from the Ornette lineage for something a bit "rounder" such as Mulligan and Baker, the music doesn’t really sound much like either. The "economy of expression" referred to in the liners seems to rub up against the terse, half-valve smears of Bill Dixon, and the quartet reminds this listener more of the Dixon-Shepp Quartet in its tense ambiguity and measured swing. One has merely to compare Ornette’s "Peace" to the Dixon-Shepp reading (Savoy MG-12178, 1962) to see how different their respective senses of kinetics are.
The quartet is at its best when it doesn’t appear to have a modus operandi. "Delusions" has a bubbly pan-tonal theme and seems to be running a Viennese keyboard study for all its worth, but it’s when Chase takes off in freely oblique thematic squall that deliberateness trumps finite schemata. “Deadline” is another one of the "early Dixon-esque" themes, especially in its tightly-wound second and third sections, the loose interplay between sharp, clearly delineated baritone and the gauzy swathes of McNeil’s trumpet breathing naturally as Hebert and Wilson pull time apart into isolated and elongated instances of swing. “A Time to Go” (nothing to do with James Spaulding's pensive homage to Martin Luther King, Jr.) is a jubilant-toned ballad in steadily cut time. “Brother Frank” recalls Dixon again (“Peace” as well as “Quartet”) in its easy but bent swing that appears ready to collapse at every turn, even briefly triple-timed before falling back to a (tightrope) walk. Unlike Shepp’s bit-chomping apparent throughout that date, however, Chase is far more subtle in his commentary. “Bernie’s Tune,” a theme familiar even to those not well-schooled in West Coast jazz, is a jagged free-time romp that spreads out and slows to a crawl as the group trades fours, turning inward from its own ebullience. East Coast Cool is far from merely a round peg in a square hole, and highly recommended.

Stephen Riley
If I'm not mistaken I have the honor of being the first writer to review Steeplechase titles in the pages of Paris Transatlantic. The Danish label has long been a stable for individualistic American saxophonists like Rich Perry, Ari Ambrose, Larry Schneider and host of others. If distinctively-rendered postbop is your bag you can add Stephen Riley to the list, and seriously consider seeking out this, his debut album. He sounds a bit like Rollins, if he’d chosen Lester Young as a principal influence instead of Coleman Hawkins: his tone on tenor sax is lissome and transparent, but his phrasing has a Newk-worthy rhythmic accuracy. He’s similarly lucid and devoid of brow-furrowing aggression when playing alto clarinet and soprano, the latter recalling Lucky Thompson's sweetness and salience on the straight horn. Riley names Paul Gonsalves as his earliest jazz infatuation and there's also a debt to Big Ben Webster in the honeyed rasp he sometimes shades his lines with. The disc's title is a convenient shorthand for the trio's approach, the emphasis falling on intrepid interior exploration rather than treks to the avantgarde hinterlands. Nine standards, ranging from well-trod to hardly tapped, spanning Strayhorn ("Chelsea Bridge") to Shorter (cleverly tweaked versions of "Ju Ju" and "Infant Eyes"), offer substantial opportunity to sample Riley's understated but inquisitive improvisational approach, and he signs off with the self-penned title piece, a loose retooling of Trane's "Giant Steps." There’s excellent work in support from bassist Neal Caine, who coaxes a full sound from his instrument without the aid of amplification, and drummer Greg Hutchinson, who favors supple brushwork and an airy touch. If you’re a free jazz fan who has temporarily overdosed on reed-splitters like Brötzmann and Flaherty, and are looking for mainstream jazz with real bite and intelligence, Riley’s the perfect antidote.–DT

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Barry Guy London Jazz Composers Orchestra
Bassist / composer Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra has been a force to be reckoned with in the world of large ensemble improvised / composed music since its debut release Ode way back in 1970 (originally on Incus, reissued by Intakt), and this latest package is also something of a retrospective, bringing together 1991's "Study II", which clocks in at just under 20 minutes, and the "Four Pieces for Orchestra" released as Stringer on Jost Gebers' FMP imprint in 1983 (and recorded three years prior to that for BBC Radio 3's Music In Our Time series at the Beeb's Maida Vale studios in London). As usual, the line-up is impeccable: saxophonists Trevor Watts and Evan Parker and trombonist Alan Tomlinson appear on both sessions, and the Stringer date also features (wait for it) Kenny Wheeler, Harry Beckett, Dave Spence, Paul Rutherford, Alan Tomlinson, Paul Nieman, Melvyn Poore, Peter Brötzmann, Larry Stabbins, Tony Coe, Phil Wachsmann, Howard Riley, Tony Oxley, John Stevens and Peter Kowald. Might as well run through the personnel on the later session while we're at it: Irène Schweizer, Henry Lowther, Marc Charig, Jon Corbett, Conrad Bauer, Radu Malfatti, Steve Wick, Simon Picard, Paul Dunmall, Peter McPhail, Paul Lytton and Barre Phillips. The booklet also includes some splendid photos of the Stringer band to remind us how old we've all got in the intervening years – but the music has aged magnificently.

I first came across Guy's work back in the – ahem – formative years when I was acquiring Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Xenakis and Penderecki vinyls at a ridiculous and irresponsible rate of knots (ask my bank manager if you don't believe me), and have always associated his large ensemble pieces more with mainstream European avant-garde as a result; the raw intensity of the surging brass clusters, spidery strings (complete with added electronics), Darmstadt freakout piano (courtesy Howard Riley) and double-headed percussion assault (Oxley and Stevens – talk about being spoilt) still have much in common with some of Penderecki's semi-graphic scores of the 60s and 70s, though the Polish composer would have had a hard time notating the extended technique pyrotechnics of Messrs Parker and Brötzmann. This is music of mass effect rather than note-to-note detail, in which pitches function more as black holes than suns, sucking in adjacent clusters and blusters; even the ostinato that underpins Stringer's second movement (there are twelve notes but not all twelve notes of the chromatic scale – it's not a series), which is gently displaced against itself in canon to form a backdrop to a spectacular solo feature for Kenny Wheeler, serves as a reservoir of intervals for the trumpeter to draw on rather than a blueprint for any kind of serial development as such.

Guy's liners astutely point out the differences between the two sessions, specifically the fact that Peter Pfister, recording "Study II" in Zürich in 1991, used individual close up mics as opposed to producer Stephen Plaistow's "symphony orchestra perspective" on Stringer. Not that it makes a huge difference, but there are a few bright flashes of trumpet (Lowther?) and trombone (Bauer?) in the later recording that stand out rather more than they might have done at the Maida Vale session, in which even the apocalyptic splutters of Brötzmann are kept at a safe distance. It's a shame perhaps that the outstanding solo tuba and clarinet work in the third movement isn't a little more prominent, but let's not complain: this music has been out of print for far too long and it's great to see it out and about again.–DW

Mazen Kerbaj
Al Maslakh
Mazen Kerbaj and fellow Lebanese improviser Sharif Sehnaoui founded the Al Maslakh ("Slaughterhouse") label together and have been running the Irtijal festival in Beirut for five years now. If you're ever passing through the Lebanese capital, you'll also learn that Kerbaj is also a cartoonist and the son of the nation’s greatest film star. Not surprisingly then his work cross-references diverse artistic disciplines including installation, performance art and music theatre. His trumpet playing is certainly unorthodox: he sits down, holds it between his knees and even manages to play it simultaneously with assorted percussion instruments. Circular breathing, it goes without saying, comes naturally. Kerbaj extends the trumpet to the point of almost abandoning it completely, going way beyond Axel Dörner's steam engine huff and puff and the quarter-tone exhalations of Franz Hautzinger (with whom Kerbaj has released two albums: Abu Tarek, on Creative Sources, and Oriental Space with Sehnaoui and Helge Hinteregger on aRtonal). Every piece on this disc explores a different technique, and it sounds like Kerbaj has been developing them for a long time. The opening "Vrrrt" uses sounds from two different devices simultaneously, while on "Pshshsshsssshp" Kerbaj prepares the horn with assorted rubber tubes (the influence of Rajesh Mehta, or nargila?), ultimately deconstructing it altogether and even abandoning it in favour of assorted small instruments, as on "Cling Clang Clong (Krrrt)" – listening to the panoply of sounds he extracts from his kit I can imagine the concert promoter’s disbelieving grin upon receiving Kerbaj’s tech-rider.. Elsewhere, there's an almost Industrial feel to the draughty sewer of "Ssssff" and "Flooka Brooka Clooka" and the steam whistle of "Whoo Pf Wiz." And, in Julian Cowley’s recent feature on the trumpeter in The Wire, Kerbaj revealed that the Lebanese Civil War has influenced his playing as much as musique concrète. You can hear that well in pieces like "Piiii", whose high-pitch sounds like a siren, and rearing its ugly head on "Brrrt". But the closing "Brotz" is a dedication to Peter Brötzmann, and its rumbles and growls sound like a dinosaur trapped in the bell of his mighty tenor. And like Brötzmann, Kerbaj has little time for lowercase's beloved silence – for all its experimental rigour, this music really swings!–VJ

Tatsuya Nakatani / Vic Rawlings / Ricardo Arias
H&H Production
Knowing that Tatsuya Nakatani's last-but-one outing on his own H&H imprint was a delicious helping of Bronx bossa nova, and seeing Vic Rawlings' open circuit electronics and Ricardo Arias's balloons (or, as it says here, "bass balloon kit") in the same line-up you might be forgiven for expecting a fun-filled happy hour of red-nosed wacky toybox improv à la Steve Beresford / Martin Klapper, but, as Frankie Howerd used to say: don't titter. Your pre-teen kids might get a kick out of Beresford's antics (mine does), but this one should be played once they're safely tucked up in bed. It's uncompromising, often nasty, stuff, full of growls, screams and things that go bump in the night. Rawlings' work with his frequent playing partner Mike Bullock is just as austere, but more spacious – here his electronics are pitted against a formidable barrage of percussion and friction from Nakatani and Arias, and it forces him on several occasions to move into all out combat mode. All three musicians go out of their way to put themselves in dangerous situations, and the results are consistently compelling, sometimes downright thrilling. Check it out.–DW

Michel Lambert
Montreal-based percussionist and composer Michel Lambert has assembled an impressive line-up for this "confrontation between the worlds of through-composed music and free improvisation". In April 2004 he recorded with bassist Dominic Duval and violinist Malcolm Goldstein, following it up with a session with saxophonist Ellery Eskelin a month later. Extracts of these improvisations were then combined with Lambert's own music for 10-piece ensemble, itself a scaled-down version of an orchestral composition written during a hectic burst of creative activity back in 1992, and in a final overdubbing session in June 2004 Lambert added extra percussion. The resulting work (whose title is translated on the disc itself as "The Wanderer" but on Lambert's website as "The Vagrant" – interesting semantic shift there) is an ambitious 12-movement work – the first five tracks constituting "Le Passant" itself, the last seven collective improvisations based on it – which tackles the composition / improvisation question head on. Though there are passages where the classically-trained ensemble musicians let fly, there's usually little doubt as to what's composed and what's improvised – Goldstein of course sounds like no other violinist on the planet, and the extraordinary noises he conjures forth from the instrument contrast markedly with the ensemble writing – Lambert's patchwork approach is consistently thought-provoking, and at times frustrating. On several occasions one wishes that the improvisations had been allowed to run their course without being interrupted by or interleaved with the composed sections (and vice versa) – but that's precisely the point: Le Passant raises important questions about compositional structure and the identity of musical material used to articulate it, and leaves it to listener to find the answers. A challenging and rewarding listen.–DW

Reuben Radding
Pine Ear Music
This collection of nine pieces for clarinet (Oscar Noriega), vibraphone (Matt Moran) and bass (Reuben Radding), all Radding originals except for two group creations ("Siren" and "Marginal Way") and a savvy cover of Olivier Messiaen's "Danse de la fureur pour les sept trompettes", from his Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps (1941), is as classy and cool as its sleek blue / grey photo cover art. Radding's compositions are understated and angular, but the trio is crisp and sharp, exploring intervals and colours with extraordinary grace and clarity. Radding is on the record as saying he's "nuts about Jimmy Giuffre, and his drummerless trios" (aren't we all?), and it shows, but he's also been casting his gaze back across the pond towards Europe and investigating serial techniques in his compositions. He's certainly what Robin Holloway once called "a natural serialist", perfectly at home in a world of carefully organised intervallic and pitch relationships, but it's a shame in a way that he hasn't – yet – found some way to incorporate some of the rhythmic subtlety / complexity that characterised early Boulez, early Nono and late Wolpe. The cellular intricacy of the lines and motives in "Bellevue, Bellevue and Bellevue" is clean and elegant, but even without a drummer in the band one can feel the imaginary backbeat – Gunter Schuller would have been proud of this one. Radding's other projects, notably last year's The Branch Will Not Break with Carrie Shull and Tara Flandreau (Umbrella) and Blue Purge with Wally Shoup and Bob Rees show he can get himself in and out of rhythmically hairy situations without sacrificing that big beautiful bass sound. Still, these are minor quibbles – Intersections is a thoroughly satisfying and warmly recommended outing by three superb musicians.–DW

Jack Wright / Paul Neidhardt / Andy Hayleck

Jack Wright / Todd Whitman
Spring Garden Music
Fortunately, the work of pioneering American saxophonist Jack Wright has been well documented over recent years, but the alto and baritone playing of Todd Whitman has until now gone unrecorded. Whitman was an important influence on Wright himself, introducing him back in 1980 to the music of Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker, whose raw sounds, Wright recalls, "touched my emotions – I knew it was a door I had to open, a kind of loss of innocence." Wright kicked that door in with his 1982 debut Free Life, Singing, a collection of solos and duets with drummer Marv Frank that also inaugurated his Spring Garden Music imprint, and he and Whitman have played on and off ever since. Though the music on offer on Twist and Thrall was recorded relatively recently, in 1999, the same furious energy that characterised Wright's early work is still very much in evidence. Four of the fourteen tracks are solos, one by Wright and three by Whitman, including a spectacular and all too brief baritone outing, "Maul". It's bracing, muscular playing, full of strong ideas, forceful and dynamic but never crude or vulgar. And happily, more of Whitman's music is due out shortly on John Berndt's Recorded label.
Several of Jack Wright's most notable excursions in recent times have found him playing with youngsters more at home with what used to be called "reductionism" (which is, as Wright himself has stated, "now past its prime"). Whoosh teams him up with two active members of the incredibly fertile Baltimore improv scene, percussionist Paul Neidhardt – imagine a wonderful cross between Paul Lytton and Burkhard Beins – and Andy Hayleck, who, after miking up a frozen reservoir on Various Recordings Involving Ice (Heresee) and Bertoia sound sculptures on The Disappearing Floor (Recorded), turns his attention here to musical saw. There's plenty of draughty space for Wright's spitty furballs to roll around in these four low-volume medium-length but high-intensity workouts.

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Walter Zimmermann
The one thing you're likely to know about Walter Zimmermann from reading reviews of his work (mine included) is that he edited the writings of and has been a consistent champion of the music of Morton Feldman. But anyone expecting to hear any direct influence of Feldman in Zimmermann's own music will probably be disappointed; Richard Toop, in his splendid essay accompanying these four late 1980s works by the 56-year-old German composer (how many more wonderful pieces are there languishing in obscurity nearly two decades after their creation?!) also draws attention to the composer's wide reading – from Plato to Maeterlinck via St Augustine, Nietzsche, Beckett and Blake (hence the album title) – and his use of material derived from the folk music of his native Franconia. The transatlantic influence is harder to discern, but Zimmermann's rhythmic rigour and fondness for consonance – or rather his reluctance to fall back on the harsh chromaticism beloved of his elders – reveal a deep understanding of and affection for early Cage. There's something of the diaphanous lucidity of the 1950 Cage String Quartet in Four Parts (not to mention and the frozen pitches of early Wolff) in "Sala della Pazienzia", the second movement of Geduld und Gelegenheit ("Patience and opportunity"), for cello (Michael Bach, using his specially-designed Bachbogen, allowing him to play on all four strings of the instrument simultaneously) and piano (Hermann Kretzschmar), but the first movement's sustained exploration of B flat reveals a distinctly European aesthetic of fearsome complexity at work – even if it is dedicated to Feldman. Don't be fooled by the fact that Zimmermann was associated with the "New Simplicity" movement in the early 70s into thinking this music is simple, either to listen to or to perform. This is nowhere more apparent than in the furiously difficult Wüstenwanderung ("Wandering in the desert"), a 21-minute solo piano work whose seven superimposed tempo layers give Kretzschmar one hell of a run for his money. Lied im Wüstenvogelton ("Song in the Tone of a Desert Bird"), for bass flute (Dieter Wiesner) and piano (the indefatigable Kretzschmar) and The Echoing Green, for violin (Peter Rundel) and piano (guess who) belong to a series of works entitled Residua, after Samuel Beckett, which the author described as "what is left over from larger original text units as well as from the entirety of an earlier work." The "original text" in Zimmermann's case being folk material in the form of two children's songs, whose deceptive simplicity and strong melodic identity function as a structural springboard from which the composer launches himself into music of extraordinary subtlety – and virtuosity. The performances by all concerned are absolutely superb, and the disc makes a splendid companion to the earlier fine Zimmermann release on Mode, Schatten der Ideen. Let's hope a third instalment won't be long in coming.–DW

Alvin Lucier
Antiopic Sigma Editions
This fabulous double CD, lodged in an elegantly sober digipack complete with intriguing booklet, confirms what many people have been thinking for a while: Alvin Lucier is THE master of psychoacoustic minimalism, no question about it. And when the performers are as good as clarinettist Anthony Burr and cellist Charles Curtis, there's not even the slightest chance of failing to appreciate these explorations of vibrating particles and translucent matters. "In Memoriam John Higgins", for clarinet in A and slow sweep pure wave oscillator, rises from the marrow of the bones to the very centre of the eyes, dematerializing the burden of silence through its gradual evolution, as Burr picks the most luminescent spots to let his clarinet shine over the slowly ascending oscillator, finally setting it free to get lost in the ionosphere. "On the Carpet of Leaves Illuminated by the Moon" pits Curtis' plucked cello against the pure wave oscillator. It's like the leakage of mercury from a thermometer forgotten for decades in a drawer. The breathtaking mid-air floating that any sentient being experiences upon listening to "Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas" (a major breakthrough in Lucier's career) is best represented by "Part III Number 11", whose juxtaposition of slow arco movement murmuring against the equally effective presence of a more obscure oscillator really makes the nerves quiver. "Part I Number 1" is almost passionless, but no less interesting, an icy timbral microfibre in which the clarinet starts out looking for a better place to be and ends up remaining hidden behind the flow of the pure wave. Charles Curtis opens the second disc with the piece that bears his name, which is probably the high point of the whole set; against the will of the slow sweep (which itself causes an unbelievable sense of disequilibrium between the ears depending on the position of the listener's head), he layers plangent combinations of strings in excruciating suspension amidst non-existent tonalities, a wonderful emotional escalation often recalling Nikos Veliotis' rainy melancholy. On "In Memoriam Stuart Marshall" Burr's bass clarinet (great instrument for Lucier's impalpable structures) sounds like it's breathing life into the moribund engine of a distant aeroplane - the resulting powerful beating of frequencies is totally mesmerizing, its grip on the back of the head even stronger than the sorrowful memories the piece evokes. The closing "Music for Cello with One or More Amplified Vases" is a call to prayer in the backyard of an abandoned country church, with Curtis' cello responding to the slow ascending glissando with its own lamentation to the infinite. And while our eyes look for distant points of reference on the horizon, quiet finally returns to put an end to the kind of thought process that could almost become dangerous if you trusted it blindly.–MR

John Wall
Composition, as you know by now, is no longer simply a question of writing notes on manuscript paper. If you held a gun to my head and asked me to name the ten most important composers in today's new music (though I hope you never do), I'd definitely include a few people who probably can't even read music. I have no idea if John Wall can, by the way, but his name would certainly be on the list. Wall hasn't exactly flooded the market with product – you could quite easily listen to everything he's released in an afternoon, and a wonderful afternoon it would be – which is all the more reason to sit up and pay attention each time a new release slips out on his elegant and understated Utterpsalm label. Wall is normally described as a "sampling composer", which as statements go is true enough but has unfortunately led to his music being thrown in the "plunderphonics" bag, where it's conveniently overlooked in favour of wilder and wackier stuff by the likes of John Oswald, Vicki Bennett and Stock Hausen and Walkman. Just as well, too – because Wall's work is deadly serious, meticulously crafted and built to last. (Actually you could say the same of Oswald's stuff too, but you see what I mean. Well, I hope you do.) While his earlier work recontextualized samples of Xenakis, Birtwistle and Penderecki (the early good stuff, not the lousy cloth-eared post-Brahms sludge he writes these days), with more than a passing nod to the furious energy of free jazz and improvised music (bass bruiser John Edwards has been frequently sampled by Wall, but the list of musicians who have provided the composer with sonic raw material also includes Mark Wastell, Matt Davis and Axel Dörner), Cphon marks a further step along the path the composer started to explore with 2003's Hylic. Calling it lowercase is stretching it a bit, and risks unfortunate comparisons with the New London Silence brigade (there are none to be made), but it's certainly quieter, sparser and purer. Some of the samples for the 20-minute piece come from recordings Wall made at the piano, but you'd be hard pressed to spot many unadorned piano notes in the final piece. Each sound has been carefully processed and reworked with extraordinary attention to detail – it's taken three years to put this together – and slotted into an admirably tight, terse formal structure. I like to amuse / bemuse / annoy (delete where appropriate) people I invite round for dinner by playing pieces and asking them to guess whether they're improvised or composed (Stockhausen's Aus den Sieben Tagen usually stumps them): with John Wall's music there's not a shadow of a doubt. This is contemporary composition of the highest order.–DW

Steve Reich
In little more than 38 minutes we get two recent compositions by one of the big daddies of the M-word. You are, brilliantly performed by Los Angeles Master Chorale conducted by Grant Gershon, is a four-movement work setting short texts selected and adapted by Reich from the Talmud, the Psalms and the writings of Wittgenstein. According to the composer, he needed six months just to choose the texts, trying them out in a multitude of combinations while keeping their particular rhythm and meaning at the forefront of his mind to determine the overall development of the piece. What soon becomes evident in this work is the more varied harmonic palette; there are welcome return visits to well-known territory (frequent echoes of The Desert Music and Tehillim) but also more dissonant excursions, particularly the end of "You are wherever your thoughts are", whose piano parts suggest a monstrous cross between McCoy Tyner and Christian Vander, and in the fourth movement "Say little and do much", in which too many skipping changes result in a slight loss of focus. Even so, the composition as a whole is strong, and may even become a Reich classic. On the contrary, the final Cello Counterpoint is a difficult listen, while being just as impressive on a technical level. Cellist Maya Beiser plays each one of the eight lines of the score, an intricate contrapuntal interconnection characterized by a hurried drive which – particularly at the beginning – recalls some of Fred Frith's string quartets. Reich's been getting involved with denser and more variegated structures lately, and not surprisingly believes this piece to be the hardest among his "counterpoint" creations to date.–MR

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Esther Venrooy
The good people who've sent me music over the past twelve months will probably spit in rage when they read that I'm reviewing a disc here by Dutch composer Esther Venrooy that was released back at the dawn of time (i.e. 2003), but I'm making no excuses. To Shape Volumes, Repeat was one of a package of discs I got from Freaksendfuture a while back (have a scout round these pages and you'll find more) and a quick visit to their website reveals a list of no fewer than 984 currently available albums. Ever get the impression you're missing out on something? Anyway, back to the matter in hand.. Esther Venrooy's album is as classy as the 15x21cm packaging courtesy Roborecords. After conventional conservatory saxophone lessons in Arnhem, Venrooy switched over to (maybe that should read switched on to) DSP during a residency at the European Dance Development Center, and went on to do research at the Institute for Psychoacoustics and Electronic Music (IPEM) in Ghent, Belgium. It's psycho, all right – 13 of the 19 tracks on this CD clock in at under three minutes, but I'll wager a box of Belgian chocolates that even the shortest pieces on offer (my own favourite being "Skorpa", just 54 seconds long) took dozens of hours of patient work. Venrooy compares her compositional method to film editing ("juxtaposing aural images and snippets of noise into an overall impression"), but we're talking Hans Richter meets Spike Jonze meets Stan Brakhage here, not Andrei Tarkovsky. The information level is consistently high, even in more leisurely paced pieces (e.g. "Derbyshire", which I take to be a homage to Delia – of BBC Radiophonic Workshop fame – rather than a sonic postcard of the English county of the same name), but Venrooy's knack for finding just the right snippets of sound is as impressive as her feel for structure. One assumes that the "Morty" of the final track is a reference to the mighty Feldman, who, if he were still with us, would no doubt have something amusing to say about being namechecked alongside telepath Friedrich Jürgenson, psychopath Amando De Ossorio ("La Noche del Terror Ciego") and tittipath Russ Meyer (sad to report I haven't seen Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! since I was a sexually frustrated undergraduate so I can't for the life of me say for sure if the sample Venrooy mangles in her track of the same name comes from the soundtrack of that splendid movie). Meanwhile, "Gooseneck Hollow" seems to be a reference to Daniel Clowes, and there's certainly something of Clowes' disturbing, jumpcut nightmare thrills and spills to Venrooy's work. Information overload hasn't been as much fun since Eric Lyon's "Never Make Fun of a Man's Cooking" and Paul Steenhuisen's "Circumnavigating the Sea of Shit". Talking of circumnavigating, go to http://www.freaksendfuture.com/ and find yourself a copy of this before three more years go by.–DW

James Plotkin
Even if James Plotkin's two real masterpieces are his duo outings with Mark Spybey and Brent Gutzeit (you can't afford to be without a copy of Mosquito Dream on Kranky, one of the deepest low-frequency explorations ever released), we've been missing a solo Plotkin recording for some time. So Kurtlanmak, though recorded at New York's Tonic back in December 2003, marks a welcome return. This limited edition (200) little gem finds Jim armed with guitar, effects and laptop in an all too brief – less than 30 minutes – showcase of fierce angular repetition and impressively roaring subsonics mangled and spat out, sounding at times like shards of Adrian Belew reconfigured by Robert Hampson into a scarred image of terror-struck cybernetic seagulls. Elsewhere, Plotkin's gracefully trembling chords aren't as far away from David Torn as you might think, until, that is, the vibrational power of his disfigured guitar veers off into menace and surprise, shaking the ribcage with gravity-defying barriers of drones. Ultimately tranquillity returns with the final arpeggios before Plotkin signs off with a trademark blast of earth loop hum. Unique.–MR

Thomas Ankersmit / Jim O' Rourke
Tochnit Aleph
Not a collaboration but a split LP released last October featuring Berlin-based saxophonist / electronician Thomas Ankersmit and Jim O'Rourke, who Ankersmit first crossed paths with when he was an exchange student in New York in 1999 (though they have numerous friends / playing partners in common, including Kevin Drumm and Günter Müller). The cover photograph by Alexandra Leykauf shows a sailor staring at a tangle of ropes and cables dredged up on the deck of a ship, as if wondering how he'd ever unravel them, and it's a rather appropriate image for both the people behind the Tochnit Aleph label and Ankersmit himself, neither being exactly forthcoming with information. Ankersmit's "Weerzin" is 18'42" of superbly tense yet tensile electronic music (true, saxophone is credited in the instrumentation along with computer, Serge and EMS synthesizers, but Ankersmit's sax never sounded like a sax in the first place), a tingle of inscrutable but rather wonderful high frequency information gradually settling into a drone of mounting intensity. To complement it, the deckhands at Tochnit Aleph have landed another fine catch of hitherto unreleased O'Rourke back catalogue (seems there's still plenty to trawl in, and if it's all as good as this and the Headz CD reviewed here last month we're in for a treat) in the form of "Oscillators and Guitars", which dates from 1992. It's the kind of rock solid power drone plus guitar shimmer that made it to Alan Licht's fabled Minimalist Top Ten, and could sit happily on your shelves next to Licht's own Sink The Aging Process. Needless to say, it hasn't aged a bit, either. Excellent stuff, strongly recommended.–DW

Francisco López / Scott Arford
Low Impedance Recordings
One typically longish piece from López (would that Jem Finer had not settled upon the 1000-year recording first) recorded in Montréal in 2004, and seven shorter pieces from Arford recorded at the old 7Hz warehouse space in San Francisco in 2001 and 2002. The sound level on the López disc is slightly more aggressive, an immediate eardrumming rumble instead of the slow building, hissy fits of previous outings. Impossible to identify the sound source without press release or scorecard. It matures into what could be described as an electrical tickle, and when you close your eyes – as López recommends you do when listening to his records – all sorts of things pop out from beneath the soft spots. Heat waves rising from dusty dead lakebeds, the swishing of a gila monster’s tail in the shade of a lightning-struck cactus, and now a sandstorm, sudden dropoff and gentle wind pumping through the speakers from the sheer physical force of the volume information peeling off the CD. It continues like that for a little while, journeying into a valley made entirely of bees that grow and mutate into towering pylons marching across your hemispheres. When something vaguely resembling a series of musical tones appears, it’s a beautiful shock – like getting rear-ended on a California highway by a new Mustang when you’re driving an old pickup. It all bottoms out in the resonance of a rusty metal bucket before ascending again, more shortwave stations than there are stars in heaven. Arford’s disc begins with a drone not quite so forceful as López’s, but that changes once you realise that it's moving from speaker to speaker AND WE’RE OFF! THEY’RE RUNNING! Static Effect moving ahead of the pack in the second lane from the inside followed by Bolshevik Hum in lane three and Getmethefuckoutofhere Wisconsin in lane four it’s Static Effect leading the pack Static Effect in the lead… It races on like that for a bit. Each of the six tracks has its own identity and style of movement: mysterious whispers, cooking bacon in the nude, the purring of a robot cat, your daily grind, and YES it sounds like someone’s breaking into your house. Better run and check.–DC

Die Stadt
Once upon a time you had to fork out large denomination banknotes to get one of David Jackman's rare vinyls and tapes, so the fact that many of them can now be enjoyed in digital format is good news. Jackman's Organum has been and still is a huge influence on many contemporary sound/noise artists, and the almost ritualistic nature of his releases, enriched by his astute choice of sonic events, distances Organum's work from the surface-only gloss of second division imitators. Four majestic pieces are contained in this mini-CD, on which Jackman is joined by Alan Jones, Emma O'Bong and Michael Prime. "Die Kralle" is a short lo-fi manipulation of noisy tapes over a repetitive rhythm and makes for a perfect introduction to the title track, a ceremonial pastiche where broken objects, thundering metal and what sounds like Middle Eastern reed instruments carry us straight into a fogbank of emotional instability. On "Kazi" the rolling of unidentified objects over metal fuses with disturbing slams and rumbles, while "Maus" is classic Organum, a hell of distortion and droning fear before which any pretenders should prostrate themselves in adoration. Short duration notwithstanding, Die Hennen Zahne contains all the power necessary to wipe the brain clean.–MR

Windy and Carl
This is the review-proof record of last year. Not a perjorative statement in the slightest: it’s two CDs full of fairly unwavering guitar drones of the gentlest order, one of which is a field recording of doggie walks dedicated to Flea, their German shepherd / Alaskan malamute mix of over 14 years, the other concerning Windy’s late mom and her desire to somehow connect with her again. Both recordings are in the vein of Popol Vuh and The Durutti Column at their keenest and quietest; the dog pants and walks incessantly, clicki-clicking nails on pavement as traffic passes behind him and the guitar plays gracefully on. What, like this was going to be a bad review? Windy’s mom died and so did their dog. I feel like I’m on the payroll. There’s definitely a sense of a journey to both of the Flea-related tracks, from the dogs he passes who bark in either camaraderie or condemnation to the airliner passing overhead. This is one of the few records that justifies the existence of the infinite-repeat button on a CD player and is a "total package in and of itself": heartbreaking, bracing liner notes, beautiful, vaguely humming fuck music and a cute pup onna cover. Few are the things that everyone agrees on – Mozart, clouds, It’s a Wonderful Life The Dream House enters the pantheon.–DC

Z'ev/John Duncan/Aidan Baker/Fear Falls Burning
Die Stadt
On October 2nd 2005, the four above mentioned names performed at Bremen's Lagerhaus in a concert curated by Die Stadt's Jochen Schwarz who, in customary fashion, released a commemorative double 7-inch of the proceedings, one track for each artist. No surprises as to what we get: Z'ev's "Elementonal" is a crashing pandemonium of metal and irregular rhythm, John Duncan's "Offffffff" sounds like treated white noise (but it could be heavily processed breath or something), Aidan Baker's "Drone Four (Excerpt)" explores different approaches to guitar looping in what is the deepest music on offer, while the flat repetition of Fear Falls Burning (aka Vidna Obmana)'s "The Beautiful Decline (Excerpt)" is the shallowest. What counts more is the double CD that comes with the limited mail order edition, which finds the four manipulating and reworking each other's sounds in settings that allow the mind better to adapt to the sonic circumstances. Z'ev transforms a short field recording by Duncan into a violent grey uncertainty of haunting voices and concrete rumbles saturating the listening space with oppressive power. Duncan's response in "BKG" is to attack tweeters with nails and teeth and send the listener into a maze of intoxicating distorted sibilance. Disc 2 finds Fear Falls Burning and Aidan Baker at work on each other's trance-fusion: Baker's "Drone Four" is re-looped and progressively degraded with effects and slow beats into something curiously reminiscent of sections of Genesis' "White Mountain", while Baker's remix of "The Beautiful Decline" adds some much-needed inner movement, transforming it into a Frippertronic forest fire with hopelessly screaming guitars heard from every treetop.–MR

Marc Wannabe
Moloko Plus & 90% Wasser
…before they’re cut up and collaged in modern post-modernism, that is. Wannabe, aka Marek Wantzéck, plunges into the swamp formerly wallowed in by REVO and Dummy Run, coming back up with rhythmic slaps and sighs, little girls crank calling with screams and hang-ups, and plenty of amusing gruntiness. It’s as if Restless Leg Syndrome had its own one-man benefit compilation album. Fellow 90% Wasser labelmates Column One make an appearance on “Soft & Sweet”, the most aggressively musical track on the album – with more samples of bodily sounds than popculture samples from the usual plunderphonic suspects, this is a slightly more intense exercise in personal, difficult music. It's like measured and danceable sound poetry more than anything else, even as the 0s and 1s flit about the room, pushing all normal sounds out by firm negotiation rather than brutal bullying. The sleeve art is a deft metaphor – happy times in a life like wheat-pasted posters on a subway wall, some covered over, some peeling and faded into near-oblivion, barely recognized but somehow still there. What remains of those days blends into these days, speaking to the now from the tattered ruins of the past. Not for every dancefloor in Creation but specially for those moments you want to knock them off their feet and turn them on their heads. Yes, breakdancers, too.–DC

Carl Michael von Hausswolff
Swedish sound artist and installation builder CM Von Hausswolff recorded the material for this album in 2003, capturing "building vibrations, passing breezes and overheard speeches from tourists" at the top of Chicago's John Hancock Center, later adding repeated cycles of rotating feedback "to suggest crows encircling the conceptual tower". The resulting sound resembles the incessant throb of a giant mechanical heart being gradually eaten away by acidic humidity, but its inherent ferocity, masked by the pummeling vibration, never seems to reach real saturation, the sonic elements fusing instead into a single corpulent entity that sounds like a cross between an ocean wash and a distant train. Von Hausswolff has collaborated frequently with the likes of Leif Elggren and John Duncan, and this project corresponds well to their aesthetic of working around the thresholds of genres, since the disc comes along with Red Empty, a collection of photos by Von Hausswolf taken in various abandoned sites (churches, factories, even hot dog restaurants..) specially floodlit by 1000-watt red spotlights. These pictures are the only documentary evidence of a series of events that, to quote Anthony Elms, "search for the monochromatic that banishes purity as a senseless utopian drive". Gazing at them as the record ends, silence encroaching on the last sputters of feedback, one concludes that managing to lead a normal life is utopian enough itself.–MR

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