AUTUMN News 2009 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Marc Medwin, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton:

On Another Timbre: Mathias Forge / Phil Julian / David Papapostolou / Matt Milton / Léo Dumont / Paul Abbott / Ute Kanngiesser / Jamie Coleman / Grundig Kasyansky / Seymour Wright
Laurie Scott Baker
Jim O'Rourke
Tetuzi Akiyama
VINYL SOLUTION: Frederik Croene & Timo van Luijk / Curia / Will Guthrie / Hematic Sunsets / Micro_penis / The New Black / Fred Nipi / Nokalypse / Neil Rose / Christian Wolfarth
Sophie Agnel / Fred Anderson / Aporias Trio / Borah Bergman & Stefano Pastor / John Blum / John Butcher / Audrey Chen & Robert van Heumen / Marilyn Crispell / Ted Daniel / De Haan & Spruit / Die Enttäuschung / Hughes, Scherzeberg & Wiese / Max Kohane & Anthony Pateras / Darius Jones / Eyal Maoz & Asaf Sirkis / Harry Miller / Joe Morris
Andrea Neumann & Ivo Palacky / Tim Olive / Andrea Parkins / Keith Rowe & Sachiko M / SLW / Henry Threadgill / Turning Point / Thompson, Holdsworth & Stevens / Franck Vigroux / Weasel Walter / Wolter Wierbos / Wilkinson, Edwards & Noble / Jacob William / Wooley, Grubbs & Lytton
Tom Johnson / Kernel / Duane Pitre / Music from Stanford
Yves de Mey / Richard Garet & Brendan Murray / Jeff Gburek / Sam Hamilton / Jason Kahn / Leyland Kirby / Tu m'
Last issue

Very brief edito

Here at last is the Autumn 2009 issue of PT, in which we welcome aboard Marc Medwin and send out special thanks to Luke Harley for allowing us to use his interview with Larry Ochs, to Bob Gilmore for sending in his with Richard Barrett (and to Richard for editing it down), to all the photographers whose images have been used (hope I haven't forgotten to credit anybody) and to everyone who's sent music in for review over the past few months.
Instead of reading me rapping on about the usual stuff here , why not check out this link and read me rapping on about the usual stuff in someone else's zine, in this case Bill Shoemaker's excellent Point of Departure, where I was delighted and honoured to take part in a round table discussion with Bill Smith and Chris Kelsey. French readers may also be interested to learn that a two-part article by Jean-Michel van Schouwburg is scheduled for publication in Improjazz magazine in November and December. So that's enough of me. Now let's talk about someone else's music. Bonne lecture.-DW

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On Another Timbre
Mathias Forge / Phil Julian / David Papapostolou
Matt Milton / Léo Dumont
Paul Abbott / Léo Dumont / Ute Kanngiesser
Jamie Coleman / Grundik Kasyansky / Seymour Wright
Since the inception of the Another Timbre label a few years back, Simon Reynell has been producing consistently absorbing and challenging releases of European advanced improvisation with overlap into areas of contemporary composition. While he has looked toward France, Spain, Germany – and even the US for a recent recording by Kyle Bruckmann and Ernst Karel – he has resolutely focused on music being made in and around London. What makes London particularly intriguing at the moment is the commitment toward exploration and cross-fertilization of multiple generations of free improvisers, with the likes of Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost, Max Eastley, Clive Bell and John Butcher collaborating with Tom Chant, John Edwards, Rhodri and Angharad Davies, Mark Wastell, and Graham Halliwell. And increasingly, a new generation is starting to get some visibility. Seymour Wright, Jamie Coleman, Sebastian Lexer, and Ross Lambert, who’ve been documented on a handful of releases on Prévost’s Matchless label over the last decade, are being joined by a number of musicians who are settling around London. These musicians are finding an outlet at venues like Café Otó, and small DIY series presented at churches and store-fronts, as well as festivals like Freedom of the City and Reynell’s Unnamed Music Festival.
They have come to London from many different locations, and to improvisation from differing backgrounds. Phil Julian comments, “I think that there are some very strong younger improvising players in London at the moment and it's very interesting for me as someone slightly outside of the environment to step in and be welcomed immediately. There's no sense of 'well, who's this noisy laptop guy who's suddenly arrived? not sure we want him around' – it's a very open group open to new ideas, and that's exciting.”
For many of them, Eddie Prevost's improvisation workshop, which has been taking place in Southwark every Friday evening for over a decade, now provides a central laboratory. Some are regulars while others drift in and out. Grundik Kasyansky describes it nicely: “At the workshop we play a bit, but mostly we listen to other people playing (15 – 20 people playing mostly in duos and trios and we have only two hours for all that). Anybody can arrive – a rocker, a jazzman, a non-musician, a goofy “superstar”, a scholar, a drunken clochard, so you learn to accept anything, and deal with it. Slowly you learn to keep your mind open and concentration high. You learn to agree, to disagree, to hold, to continue, to stop, to wait, to listen, to push, to let things go and to bring them back. It is constant challenge, hard work and serious fun.”
Reynell has been a steadfast supporter of these musicians. He recollects that “when I started the Another Timbre label I was very much aware that a new generation of players was emerging within the UK, and they interested me a lot. The new players were hardly represented on disc and I was keen to present their work in two ways: either by linking them on CDs with more established players (as on discs such as Hum, Dun and Midhopestones) or simply playing with each other on CDRs (CDs would unfortunately be financial suicide). So the desire to profile the work of this new generation was fundamental to the label from the start. Representing the music was quite tricky because, firstly, the groupings are so fluid, and there are very few longer-term groups, and secondly the music of this generation is constantly changing and evolving in different ways. Over the course of 2008 I did several recordings with the Coleman-Kasyansky-Wright trio (one of the few long-term groupings), and each recording was very different from the next; the musicians felt that the recordings had become out of date within weeks. It happened that spring was a very slack time for work for me, so I decided to use it to do several recordings in London, and thought it could be interesting to issue a small series of discs that would, together, give a kind of snapshot of that generation's music at one particular moment.”
It is that notion of a snapshot that makes these CDRs so compelling. The series was meticulously curated by Reynell over the course of a few weeks in the Spring of 2009, selecting a handful of the London-based musicians he's been following, and taking advantage of the fact that French musicians Mathias Forge (photo) and Leo Dumont were passing through London on their way back to France from the IandE festival in Dublin to arrange a series of recording sessions over the course of a few weeks in the Spring of 2009. Carefully choosing churches around London that had favorable acoustics, he organised one concert with an audience as well as two separate recording sessions (with no audience present). Most of the groups were first-time meetings, pulling together musicians Reynell thought would click. What is common amongst the sets is a fascination of the timbral qualities of the intersection of acoustic and electronic sound sources. But most importantly, there is the notion that technique and vocabulary are not enough – one must use those foundational elements for the formulation of a personal and ensemble language.
The trio with Mathias Forge (trombone), Phil Julian (electronics) and David Papapostolou (cello) does a nice job of capturing the process of three musicians working out a collective sound. ”Floodlit Iron Tracery”, recorded at a concert at St. Marks Church, is preceded by “Long Nylon Oak,” which was recorded a few days later at a recording session at the Church of St. James the Great. The three had first played together the previous November when Forge was visiting London, and each brings a unique approach to the table. For Forge, the trombone mainly serves as a sound source. He's as likely to conjure up metallic scrapes and rattles from the horn as he is to use the slide and bore to amplify and modify his hisses, puffs, and exhalations. Papapostolou’s approach to the cello is an ideal complement. Using close miking, every nuanced scratch, popped string, and overtone is placed against Forge’s breathiness and percussive attack.
From this recording, you'd never guess that Julian has been playing harsh noise/drone electronic music for the last decade under the name Cheapmachines. Crossing paths with Papapostolou and Milton provided him with the impetus to begin exploring collaborative improvisation using contact miked surfaces and modular analog synths. His gestural percussive clicks and flutters, along with judicious introduction of sine waves, bridge the timbres of Forge and Papapostolou. One can hear the three intently listening to each other and the resonance of their collective sound in the two church acoustics. The live character of the room comes through particularly well on the piece recorded at St. Marks, with the musicians exploring the decay of the room as string abrasions explode against breathy blasts and electronic spatters. If these two improvisations are but snapshots of work in progress, one looks forward to hearing how the three might grow together over time.
Where the trio on Meshes is formed around process and density the meeting between percussionist Léo Dumont and violinist Matt Milton is hyper-focused on timbral nuance and activity. Reynell reports that “they played incredibly quietly at the concert and were pretty much inaudible to anyone in the audience sitting further back than the first two rows.” Throughout their thirty-minute improvisation, there's a restless energy constructed from finely abraded textures. While the dynamics may be restrained, the level of detailed motion is anything but: Milton’s dry arco moves from scuffed and sawed overtones to pattering, percussive drizzle to splintered harmonics. Leveraging the vibrational qualities of snare drum, floor tom, and cymbal, Dumont coaxes out flutters, groans, crinkles, and pops from the bowed, rubbed, and scratched surfaces. The two immediately sync into an arc of galvanized action. Avoiding broad gestures, they drive each other with constantly shifting currents of meticulously constructed detail. The two build a tensile energy broken by carefully placed pools of stasis. Their careful listening is exemplified by the way the piece finally resolves in waves of breath-like whooshes and looped scrapes that drift in to silence.
Listening to the trio of Dumont, Paul Abbott (electronics) and Ute Kanngiesser (cello) it is hard to believe this was a first encounter. Though Abbott and Kanngiesser are based in London, the two had only played together as part of the weekly Workshop, and neither of them knew Dumont’s music before they sat down together at the private recording session at the Church of St. James the Great. The three musicians develop an inextricable sense of ensemble at once: Dumont’s ruffled sputters mesh so convincingly with the warm, woody resonance of Kanngiesser’s cello and Abbott’s amplified fricatives and quavering sine waves that it's hard to believe this isn’t a regularly-working unit. The music has a charged dynamism combining pointillistic attack and electrifying areas of dense agitation. Kanngiesser doesn’t shy away from swooping bowed work and cascading arpeggios, playing off of Dumont’s tuned, bent, and chafed textures and Abbott’s spryly acrobatic electronics to great effect. Balancing intrepid focus and energetic abandon, the trio spontaneously navigates their way through a collective flow in a set bristling with discovery from the first probing moments through to its explosive conclusion. The intimate recording captures every detail with an even, spatial balance.
The trio recording with Seymour Wright (saxophone), Jamie Coleman (trumpet), and Grundik Kasyansky (electronics) stands apart from the other releases discussed above, in several ways. Firstly, this is the only group that is an ongoing concern – the three have been working together since 2007. Secondly, there is the sheer length of this performance. At 80 minutes, the long-form nature of the improvisation elicits a different type of listening and interaction. Wright’s singular sound continues to reveal one of the most striking approaches to the saxophone in recent memory. Here, his language of masterful control and astonishing range of inflection is in good company. Coleman’s burred breathiness and pinched tones provide coloristic counter to the saxophonist’s harder-edged attack and articulation, and Kasyansky’s often strident electronics and mechanical activities fit in like the final piece to a puzzle. Wright also weaves in wafts of radio snippets which he controls with his horn, adding yet another layer, as the piece unfolds across a linked series of events. As it progresses, the listener becomes aware of how the three break up any sense of immersive flow, weaving together skeins of active gesture, striations of pulsating overtones and electronic whine, allowing momentum and density to build before breaking off and allowing the ambience of the room and sounds from outside to encroach (on one of the earlier recordings Reynell made with the trio in a busy part of South London, they insisted that they play with the windows wide open and microphones pointing outside). It's demanding listening, but well worth the attention required.
Considering this series of recordings as a group, it's tempting to jump to neat conclusions about a new "thing": a new scene, a new sound, a new community. That is particularly true for those listening to this music geographically removed from London. But Seymour Wright responds cautiously when asked about whether these musicians, are part of a particularly musical community. “Actually [there are] many different communities – social, musical, moral… real, and probably mostly, imagined, in London. The workshop is a nexus for some of them, as is Café Otó at present. Yes, of course there is a very warm social group around these two different fulcra, but it is far more complexly knit and limber in its unity than may be thought and imagined. There are, more helpfully, also what I think of as schools of musical operation and it may be the case that any three people playing together in one of these settings are engaged in fundamentally different, albeit simultaneous, activities. I am tempted to go as far as to suggest that the number of communities and perhaps schools is a factor of the number of individuals involved, but I am not sure.”
So those looking for a harbinger of the next "new thing" can keep searching, then. Everyone involved in these recordings cautions about the codification and / or commoditization that can come from documents which, by their very nature are a snapshot of a particular point in time. A glimpse at the websites of any of these musicians reveals that they've been playing in a broad variety of contexts with increasing regularity, and haven't been particularly interested in documenting their work. Many of them see the process of exploration and discovery as more central to their music making than recording. Even so, these four CDRs provide an essential dispatch from the front line, from a group of musicians who are worth keeping on your radar.–MRo [photos courtesy Fergus Kelly]

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Laurie Scott Baker

Bassist Laurie Scott Baker sounds like the kind of bloke you'd love to hang out with over a few pints down at the local – not many people can boast a CV that includes stints with Robert Wyatt, Manfred Mann, Alex Harvey and the Scratch Orchestra, not to mention its later political spin-off ensembles, notably the Progressive Cultural Association. Hailing originally from Australia, he had the good fortune to be around in London at a particularly fertile time for British new music – the late 60s / early 70s – and the appearance of Gracility, four hitherto unavailable archive recordings dating from between 1969 and 1975 featuring the Scratch Orchestra, Derek Bailey, Keith Rowe, Gavin Bryars, Evan Parker, John Tilbury and Jamie Muir is certainly cause for some kind of celebration (though one wonders why it's taken so long to see the light of day). Wire head honcho Tony Herrington even gave it a two-page review back in May – and I can't remember the last time I saw one of those (that said, I don't share Tony's enthusiasm – actually he wasn't at all enthusiastic about one of the pieces on offer, Pibroch 1926, but more of that later – though I am happy to have a copy on my shelves).

There are two main reasons why getting hold of a copy of Gracility is something any self-respecting new music nut might want to do: the title track itself, which is to the best of my knowledge the only time Derek Bailey and Keith Rowe ever recorded together, and Circle Piece, an 18-minute (incomplete? apparently the tape recorder battery ran out) reading of a Baker graphic score performed by an eleven-piece incarnation of the Scratch Orchestra, whose discography is so small that any new recording is something to seek out and treasure. The two CD set also contains the aforementioned Pibroch 1926, for Evan Parker's soprano sax and tape delay, and Bass Chants & Cues, a ramshackle 51-minute jam for Baker (bass, synthesizer), Tilbury (Lowery T2 organ) and Muir (drums).

itself is a huge, sprawling piece – 71 minutes long, and divided on the disc into ten intriguingly-titled movements which follow on from each other without a break – scored for Rowe and Bailey's guitars, Bryars on Fender Jazz Bass and Baker himself on normal (?) double bass. It doesn't sound normal though – in fact nothing does, as the score calls for amps set on the verge of feedback, which leads to a few impressive spectral bumps and bruises, though nothing as spectacular as David Behrman's Wave Train and Robert Ashley's The Wolfman, which Herrington compares it to. The problem with Gracility is simply that it goes on far too long: there are plenty of exciting moments – "Port Of London Atmos" really takes off (more so than "747 at Keithrowe Airport", despite its title), and there's some sumptuous Scelsi-esque harmony in "Breathing Of The City" – but a lot of rather laid back twanging in between. Drop the needle anywhere in the first 20 minutes or so and you'd be forgiven for identifying it as something by Tetuzi Akiyama, or maybe Michel Henritzi. Anyone expecting a titanic clash of personalities between the two guitarists will be disappointed: both Bailey and Rowe stick to the score, and it's often hard to tell who's doing what (I'm fairly sure Rowe's on the right channel – a few give-away shudders here and there – but I wouldn't bet my life on it). Hugh Davies's recording ("distortion on the original tape", Baker helpfully informs us) of the event, which took place at his New Arts Lab in 1969, also ends suddenly, which is a bit of a shock.

Clocking in at just under six minutes, Evan Parker's faux-bagpiping on Pibroch 1926, extracted from a work composed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the General Strike, is mere fluff, and, along with his aimless twitterings on Michael Nyman's "Waltz", might just be the least consequential addition to the huge Parker discography. Bass Chants & Cues, recorded in concert at Goldsmiths in 1972 ("thankfully" notes Baker, but I'm not so sure about that) may be fun as a historical curiosity, an example of that letsgoforitwhatthefuckness that characterises times of great artistic ferment, but it's hardly great music. Tilbury's sub-Riley noodling is frankly embarrassing, and he can't build a solo to save his life, despite some heroic supporting drum breaks from Muir. Tony Herrington's description of it as "a juggernaut of malevolent energy" makes me wonder if he wasn't listening to a completely different piece. Not only does it take over 20 minutes to get going, but it soon loses momentum when it does and ends with a strange squawking coda, which one imagines is supposed to be some sort of cathartic primal scream therapy but sounds vaguely ridiculous, as if Muir was thrashing his floor tom with a seagull instead of a drumstick. Closing the set, Circle Piece is a less dramatic but more rewarding listen, and its value as a historical document unquestionable given the dearth of Scratch Orchestra recordings, but one is left with the distinct impression that this was something that had to be experienced live. And you could probably say that for all the music on this flawed but fascinating album.

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Jim O'Rourke

Drag City
From the mid 90s up to and including his (surprise?) move to join the ranks of Sonic Youth in 2000, Jim O'Rourke was arguably the hottest thing in new music, a veritable man for all seasons, touche-à-tout, equally at home as a performer in the worlds of what became known as post-rock – originally at the epicentre of the scene in the then most musically happening city on the planet, Chicago – and free improvisation, both on guitar and laptop, the latter notably with Peter Rehberg and Christian Fennesz in Fenn O'Berg. As a producer, label manager (Moikai and Dexter's Cigar, with David Grubbs, his erstwhile sparring partner in Gastr Del Sol) and all round catalyst of energy and enthusiasm for championing new names (Rafael Toral, Kevin Drumm and Thomas Lehn each owe him a pint or two) and reissuing older albums that had slipped off the radar too quickly, or which had never even been on there in the first place (Nuno Canavarro's Plux Quba, Folke Rabe's What??), Jim O'Rourke's been hard to beat. It's fitting that his own music was spotted fairly early on by John Zorn, who released Terminal Pharmacy on Tzadik back when that label was still a vibrant and essential force and not just a repository for substandard doodles by Jay Zee's ageing Downtown buddies, as it was O'Rourke who effectively took up the torch as poster boy for the avant garde when Zorn began to slip into comfortable Masada middle age in mid 90s. And unlike Zorn, whose attitude towards journalists has always been mistrustful if not downright hostile, O'Rourke was immensely forthcoming, radiating enormous and infectious enthusiasm for anything he came into contact with – check out that old 2001 Invisible Jukebox in The Wire. In retrospect, it doesn't seem so surprising he ended up with kindred spirits and all round new music nuts Sonic Youth.
That lasted until the middle of this decade when Jim relocated to Japan, supposedly to concentrate on his latest passion, filmmaking. I wondered whether O'R hadn't OD'ed on music (knowing only too well how the exhilaration of receiving the latest releases from all over the globe is tempered by feelings of frustration and inadequacy – how can you find time to listen to all this music and, more importantly, time to work on your own?) – in an email I got from him back then he said he was "only listening to Masami [Akita, aka Merzbow] and Derek [Bailey] these days." But old habits die hard, and he hasn't been able to resist promoting the work of unsung heroes such as veteran free jazz saxophonist Akira Sakata, and, most notably perhaps, producing Joanna Newsom's pretty but somewhat overhyped Ys.

That album's obsession with vintage analogue gear and studio perfectionism is still very much in evidence on The Visitor, a 38-minute purely instrumental album and the first O'Rourke release under his own name on Drag City since the so-called Roeg trilogy, Bad Timing, (1997) Eureka (1999) and Insignificance (2001). It's hard not to admire the skilful arrangement and production – acoustic and electric guitars, banjos, piano, Hammond organs and percussion are scored and mixed with breathtaking precision – not to mention the ear for harmony and feel for song structure (albeit without words – shame that, I rather like his singing voice), which reveal a deep understanding of and abiding affection for a whole generation of great songwriters. But I'm left with a nagging sense of déjà entendu – the deliberate faux stop / start just minutes into the piece looks back to Gastr Del Sol's self-conscious de(con)struction of pop aesthetics, and those cunning hemiolas and shuffling maracas reveal the same debt to Burt Bacharach that O'Rourke explicitly acknowledged with his delicious cover of "Something Big" on Eureka. Nothing wrong with that, you might argue – pop stars are expected (and most seem to be happy) to dish up their old chestnuts night after night, album after album to please punters and labels alike. The Scott Walkers and David Sylvians of this world, who are ready to strike out into more dangerous and experimental territory without knowing whether the fans will follow them – though more often than not they do – are few and far between. I see no reason why Jim O'Rourke shouldn't join them, and I guess that goes some way to explaining my being somewhat underwhelmed by The Visitor; I can't help thinking that, given his encyclopaedic knowledge of just about every significant development in new music that's taken place in his lifetime, he couldn't have come up with something more.. spectacular after so many years of patient work, a Wire Album Of The Year mega-melting pot extravaganza of improv, noise, laptop, rock and pop. Maybe that's still to come one day, who knows.

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Tetuzi Akiyama
Tetuzi Akiyama / Gul3
Monotype LP
Tetuzi Akiyama / Éden Carrasco / Leonel Kaplan
Kato Hideki / Tetuzi Akiyama / Toshimaru Nakamura
Guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama has never been easy to pigeonhole. Though he first came to our attention as part of the onkyo set, appearing on the hugely influential (and long overdue for deluxe reissue) Improvisation Meeting at Bar Aoyama (Reset, 1999), he's just as at home tearing up extremely noisy rock riffs (that 2003 Idea LP Don't Forget To Boogie has also been out of print too long) or attacking his instrument with a samurai sword, notably on 2002's A Bruit Secret release Résophonie. These three latest dispatches from the globetrotting captain, recorded in Stockholm in 2006 (Nero's Expedition), Córdoba (Argentina) in September 2008 (Moments of Falling Petals) and Tokyo two months later (Omni), are further proof of his glorious eclecticism.
GUL 3 is a Swedish trio consisting of Johan Arrias (saxophone, electronics), Leo Svensson (cello, organ) and Henrik Olsson (drums, piano and electronics), whose work, like Akiyama's, wanders freely around, as they put it, "the borderland between composition and improvisation, acoustic and electronic, melodic and noise." The six tracks on Nero's Expedition, with titles namechecking songs by Louis Thomas Hardin, aka Moondog (another lone traveller if ever there was one), run the gamut of contemporary improv, from the luminous bowed percussion and breathy sax of the title track via the gloomy throb of "Failed" to "The Water Hyacinths", which finds Akiyama back in Loren Connors mode. On side two's centrepiece, "Denying Nero's Vessels Passage", his dirty fuzz drone, electronically sandblasted by the Swedes, reminds me of some of Mazzacane's noisier outings with Alan Licht. The sound quality is better though – put that down perhaps to Giuseppe Ielasi and Daniel Karlsson's impeccable mixing and mastering – but what the music gains in clarity and volume as a result it seems to lose in intensity. As a result, the elegiac minimalism of the coda "Through The Sud of Nubia", with its delicate strands of feedback and inscrutable rustles and thuds, comes across more as afterthought than resolution; one feels the Swedes would have felt more at home if Akiyama had stuck to the noisy stuff.
If it's noisy stuff you're after, go no further than Omni. In the space of just three releases, Antoine Duluard's Presqu'île imprint seems to be setting new standards in hardcore EAI; after two kitten-torturing outings with Mitsuhiro Yoshimura, here comes Omni, two huge smouldering slag heaps of user-unfriendly music featuring Akiyama in the company of fellow compatriots, inputless mixing board pioneer Toshimaru Nakamura and bassist / bass synthesizer player Kato Hideki, best known perhaps for his Death Ambient trio with Ikue Mori and Fred Frith (but he also released a truly gnarly disc, Sieves, with James Fei on IMJ which nobody I know seems to like, except me). It's hard to say who's doing what here, but I'll hazard a guess that Nakamura is responsible for the clouds of vicious insects swarming above the fetid swamps of distorted low-end sludge and gritty feedback. Don't get me wrong here, folks: there's something truly admirable about this music, and about the musicians' total refusal to make the slightest concession either to each other or to anyone else within earshot ("we visualized the three of us on separate trains going through tunnels, rather than riding together on a linear time-table" notes Hideki), and it exerts a curious fascination, drawing me back for further listens. If, as Georges Braque once said, "Art disturbs us; Science reassures us", this could be the most artistic release to come my way in quite a while, but I'm not sure I want to spend the rest of the year listening to it to figure out exactly why that might be the case.
The good old, bad old conservatory-trained composer in me is more drawn, I'll admit, to Moments Of Falling Petals, which finds Captain Akiyama back on acoustic guitar in the world of recognisable, even singable (yes!) pitches for a delicate and elegantly understated three-way conversation with alto saxophonist Éden Carrasco and trumpeter Leonel Kaplan. This could be a clue as to why I happen to find Akiyama such an intriguing musician – returning once again to the less-is-more world of Bar Aoyama and Off Site where he first made a name for himself, I'm struck by what I once described elsewhere (referring to an Arthur Doyle album, of all things) as "relaxed intensity". There were only two ways out of Off Site: either by playing even less – the Taku Sugimoto solution – or by playing more, which was Akiyama's strategy. (Toshi Nakamura can't decide which way to go, which is fine by me too..). There's an extraordinary tension to Sugimoto's work, both improvised and composed – I well recall him sweating, physically suffering to place those oh so few notes in just the right place in a concert with Radu Malfatti here a while back – while Akiyama in concert has never seemed to me to be in the throes of such an existential crisis. Can music be intense without necessarily being tense? I'd say it can, and Akiyama is a good example. Pursuing the comparison for a while, that Connors / Licht duo once more comes to mind, with Taku playing Connors, agonising over each sound, while Akiyama sits back (Licht positively slumps back) and lets the notes come – not that there are many more of them here than there used to be on echt Akiyama outings like Relator, or his wonderful duos with Jozef van Wissem, Proletarian Drift and Hymn for a Fallen Angel. There's a real sense of tonal – not in the traditional sense of course – interplay in this 33-minute piece, with Akiyama's delicate chordal threads and micro-melodies drawing Carrasco and Kaplan back into real pitch play (rare these days, that), which counterpoints their more "extended" techniques to great effect. It's glorious stuff, and strongly recommended. Same goes for the other two too – but you may want to prepare a secret tunnel out of your apartment if you want to play Omni at the volume it deserves.–DW

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Frederik Croene / Timo Van Luijk
La Scie Dorée
As no information is provided on the (beautifully produced) jacket as to who's playing what on these four atmospheric and intriguingly evocative pieces from this Belgium-based duo, you'll just have to guess. Not that the instruments themselves are hard to identify: there's a piano that sounds like it's been left out in the rain for a month, plenty of percussion, from groaning rubbed drumheads to tiny pulsing triangle (appropriately on "Triangle du Diable"), assorted woodwinds, glistening organ, occasional dub-lite bass and much more, courtesy Frederik Croene – who's a pianist, as far as I've been able to discover – and Finnish-born Timo van Luijk. File under New Weird, if you like. Though there are no vocals (thank God – all you need to spoil this is some Tibet/Balance wannabe rabbiting on about Aleister Crowley or some other occult bore), these are songs of sorts, with recognisable repeating elements – bass lines, pulses – and will appeal to fans of Finnish free folk and Nurse With Wound-style surrealism alike. Gorgeous stuff.
Van Luijk also plays in Onde, along with fellow former Noise Maker's Fifes Greg Jacobs and Marc Wroblewski. On Purple, the trio's third album (the first, One, was an LP in 2007, the second was a limited edition CDR), he's credited as playing electric guitar, with Jacobs on violin and Wroblewski on metals, but there's enough studio jiggery pokery and heavy use of effects pedals and rhythm boxes to fool you into thinking there's a whole orchestra out there at times (I'll leave you to figure out the difference between the two sidelong tracks, "Vloed" and "Eb" for yourself – suffice it to say the photograph on the label of someone doing a handstand is a clue..). It's drone with attitude, midtempo ambient Doom, building impressively over simple pulsing rhythms (triple time, curiously – sounds like it could have been a heartbeat) which occasionally fade out to allow Jacobs' violin (think Tony Conrad – or is it Henry Flynt? – on bagpipes) to be heard to better advantage. Comes in a sturdy gatefold with classy cover layout courtesy Meeuw.–DW

This all-too-brief sequel to Curia's 2007 debut CD on Fire Museum was recorded live by Etienne Foyer at the Instants Chavirés outside Paris on the 15th of December that year, as part of a brief tour by the Portuguese free rock quartet – Alfonso Simões on drums, David Maranha on MIDI Hammond organ, Manuel Mota on electric guitar and Margarida Garcia on electric bass. The recipe is still the same: free floating, spacious, partially drone-based improvisation (it's a wonder The Wire hasn't gone overboard on this group, since its music, part improv, part New Weird, corresponds perfectly to what that noble organ has enthusiastically championed for over half a decade), beautifully paced and executed with consummate skill. Nobody pushes anyone else around; there's enough room in the Curia cosmos for Simões to flutter around his kit, Garcia to bow her bass with quiet concentration, Maranha to tweak and twiddle his faux-Leslie speaker patches with discreet glee and Mota to wah wah his way into guitar heaven. Only 100 copies of this divine platter out there – bom apetite.–DW

Will Guthrie
Pica Disk
Nantes-based Aussie expat percussionist / electronician Will Guthrie is usually filed away under EAI – put that down to his excellent solo outing on Cathnor, Body & Limbs Still Look To Light, and a forthcoming Erstwhile duo with Jérôme Noetinger, scheduled for next year – but, as anyone familiar with his Antboy distribution network will tell you, his tastes run far and wide (he did a great interview with Roscoe Mitchell for PT a couple of years ago, which for various reasons I still don't quite understand never saw the light of day, alas). The two tracks on this lamentably brief seven-incher – the same applies to the Wolfarth disc reviewed below – find him thrashing all hell out of the kit on one side and mashing all hell out of the same track on the other (there's apparently a sample of Breton folk tune in there somewhere.. must be André Breton). Great stuff, let's have some more.–DW

Hematic Sunsets
If you like anagrams, try and work who's hiding behind Hematic Sunsets, Achim Stutessen, Tussi Schemante, Assistent Meuch, Hans Tim Cessteu, Mischa Suttense and Tina Tuschemess. Figured it out? Yep, Asmus Tietchens, one of the great originals of German music in the past thirty years. Maybe you're lucky enough to have heard Musik aus dem Aroma Club, a 1998 Hematic Sunsets LP on Klang der Festung, maybe not (if not the good people at Mutant Sounds can help you out). But if you're familiar with Tietchens' old Sky albums, which have been lovingly reissued by Die Stadt over the past few years, you'll know what to expect. Though this dingy pale blue vinyl (I had a potty this colour when I was a baby) clearly belongs on the same shelves as your old Tangerine Dream and Neu! LPs, it's neither kosmiche or motorik. Listen to it on acid and you'll fuck your brain for real; record it on a good old C60 and stick it in the car stereo on the autobahn, Kraftwerk-style, and you'll end up on a life support system in hospital wondering how the hell you got there. Cheapo rhythm boxes tick merrily away, synths toot and wiggle, but something about the music never seems quite right – melodies don't go where you think they should, chord sequences don't resolve, and odd metrical twists and turns thwart any attempt to dance to it, not that you're likely to want to try. We're talking unpopular pop music here, uneasy easy listening, undanceable disco, annoyingly intrusive muzak. Not surprisingly, it's impossible to say whether I like it or not. A paradox all right.–DW

Unfortunate name for a group, you might think, until you remember that "micro" is the French abbreviation for "microphone".. not that that explains the penis bit. Based in Mulhouse, home to a very fine automobile museum, an excellent jazz festival and very little else worthy of mention, this a quartet consisting of Sébastien Borgo, Alexandre Kittel, François Heyer and Claude Spendelauer (whoever he is – the other three play in notable French alt.rock outfits), who take obvious delight in poking their tiny members into the dirty nooks and crannies of musique concrète, noise, horror movie soundtracks, with insane glee (the press release even goes so far as to state that these guys escaped from a mental hospital, but I'd take that with a pinch of salt if I were you). There's a lot of screaming, gargling, spluttering and groaning, liberally seasoned with free jazz skronk, no-fi electronics and found sounds, and despite the puerile gob-in-yer-eye attitude it's well crafted stuff, as much fun to listen to as it is to look at, with its cool silkscreened cover and free sticker and postcards.–DW

The New Black
The enigmatically named The New Black brings together two stalwarts of the San Francisco improvisation scene, percussionist Gino Robair and guitarist John Shiurba, with two of their counterparts from LA, analogue synth player David Rothbaum and guitarist Jeremy Drake. While Rothbaum and Drake may not be as well known as their Northern California collaborators, they share the same genre-agnostic approach to improvisation as well as a scrappy, DIY sensibility: this is raw, collective improvisation rooted back in practitioners like AMM and Company (whose influences the members readily namecheck), but shot through with elements of noise and glitch that the four musicians have picked up along the way.
The White Album (ironic title - the two LP set comes encased in jet-black album covers) documents three extended improvisations, captured live-to-disk, along with one side consisting of of two dozen locked grooves. The improvisations (untitled) are all about texture and timbre, attack and sustain, density and velocity of activity. The scrapes, whines, overtones and tinges of feedback of the two guitars sidle up against Rothbaum's gritty rattles and oscillations and the nuanced buzz and shimmer of Robair's percussion, not to mention his usual array of detritus. The four musicians construct the improvisations at a relaxed, intimate pace, approaching things more as the collective accumulation of resonance and sonic color than through more conversational methods of interaction. The music has a brooding character as it moves across a soundscape defined by shifting layers of groans, glitch, and clatter. Adding a bit of whimsy to the whole thing, each of the three side-long improvisations is manufactured without the usual fade cut; rather than end or drift off, the stylus butts up against the vinyl and loops endlessly in place, often mid-phrase. If you want more of that, simply flip to the locked groove side and drop the needle into an infinite loop of sonic scrabble. With a pressing of only 200, this one won't get around much so nab one if you're lucky enough to come across it.

Fred Nipi
Fred Nipi describes his music on his homepage as "Harsh Noise Old School from Paris" (another site styles him as the "grand old man of French Noise", but if you're a grand old man at age 39 I must be a fucking dinosaur.. how depressing!). Elsewhere, he describes a C.C.C.C. concert at the Instants Chavirés back in the early 90s as a "revelation" – so that might give you an idea of where he's coming from. If it doesn't, try this for size, and within a couple of minutes you'll know. It doesn't take long for the volume level to rise and the tasty low end gurgles from Nipi's analogue synth and homemade sound generator to get buried alive under layers of deadly distortion. There's plenty going on in there though, snarling loops scattering across the stereo space – wall noise this is not, even if Fred's pal Romain Perrot aka Vomir also has an album (sold out now) on the same label – so much so that when it's over you're rather looking forward to flipping the record over and checking out side two. Except that this is a single-sided LP. Ha! (Not that that should stop you playing the B side, which sounds rather cool for about three seconds until the stylus skids onto the label.) Don't worry, though: there's plenty and I mean PLENTY of great and I mean GREAT noise to check out here:–DW

Entr'acte / Absurd
Athens-based composer Themistoklis Pantelopoulos aka Nokalypse spent the summer of 2006 trying to "thrill himself without the use of any melodic elements, at a time when he was seeking non-emotional or gnostic stimulation" (right on!), creating a "vast body" of music which he revisited earlier this year, indulging in some heavy treatment and post-prod and ending up with what Brian Olewnick described rather nicely over at his Just Outside blog as a "messy lasagna" (though moussaka might be more appropriate, I think). The first of the two side-long tracks, "Everlasting Babylon Of Your Mind", is somewhere between Daniel Teruggi's glistening glitzy remix of Xenakis's Persepolis on that infamous and dreadful album that appeared on Asphodel a while back and one of Jean-Luc Guionnet's organ albums, a queasy stew of clusters and whirling glissandi. Side two's "Discerning Eye Of Mystics" is more tonally stable, sounding like a Mecha Orga drone left out in the rain to rust. Impressively crafted stuff, but a little heavy on the special effects nutmeg and béchamel. Have a glass of ice cold water and an Alka Seltzer (or a Howie Stelzer) standing by.–DW

Neil Rose
Handsomely produced in a limited run of 250 in a sturdy gatefold on Plymouth-based Onec records, this is the work of local "sonic artist, lecturer, film and trouble maker" Neil Rose. He describes it as a concept album based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, whose Necronomicon, a book namechecked in several of his short stories and novels, seems to have exerted a strange fascination over a whole generation of alt.musicians, John Zorn being among the latest. Though this mysterious tome was just another figment of Lovecraft's wonderfully fertile imagination, several notable scholars of the occult claim to have turned up copies of the real thing – according to the colourful liners of this album, Mr Rose came across one on a stall in Plymouth market. Well, they're odd folks down there in the West Country. Remember Straw Dogs. I'm willing to bet a dawn raid on Rose's pad would turn up, in addition to the usual suspects from the Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis, a pile of good old IDM records – because, in addition to the de rigueur doomy drone, dirty dub and strange, barely intelligible muttered incantations, there are plenty of good old common or garden beats. Don't forget Richard James came from that part of the world too.–DW

Christian Wolfarth
That "volume 1" leads us to suppose that volume two (four are projected, I understand) isn't far behind – hope so, because these two tracks, "Skyscraping" and "Zirr", clocking in respectively at 6'32" and 4'30", are fine as far as they go, but leave one wanting more (you can always cheat and play them at 33 if you like, though that's not what Wolfarth intended..), and make it rather hard to assess the Swiss percussionist's progress since his previous excellent full length outing on For4Ears appeared in 2003. "Skyscraping" is a luminous drone – imagine a rather beefed-up Sean Meehan – while "Zirr" is a more energetic workout for snare and cymbals, which sounds remarkably like some of Sunny Murray's late 60s stuff. I await the next instalment with interest. What's that camel doing on the cover?–DW

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Sophie Agnel
Pianist Sophie Agnel has been responsible for several fine recordings – notably Rouge Gris Bruit on Potlatch with Lionel Marchetti and Jérôme Noetinger, and Tasting, a duo with Phil Minton on Another Timbre – without quite becoming a known quantity to followers of free improvisation, who are more used to musicians releasing albums by the truckload. Capsizing Moments, a 50-minute solo performance from Paris's Instants Chavirés, finds her patiently infiltrating the piano's interior with styrofoam cups, balls, ashtrays, fishing-line, and a battery of other objects. Out of this pile of whimsical detritus emerges some genuinely dark and uncanny music, and throughout Agnel remains impressively in command of all these rattles, roars, buzzes, squeals and other less describable sounds (and sounds-within-sounds). These aren't panoramic "soundscapes" (that familiar cliché) but sound-terrains, across which the pianist's and listener's slow progress feels entirely physical. If the performance lacks that alarming stuck-in-someone's-head vibe of (say) a Fred Van Hove or Keith Tippett solo recital at its most intense and self-involved, it's nonetheless music that seems to gain in richness and detail every time you listen to it.
The piece is divided into three parts, and, like Dante, Agnel puts the inferno first: a deep subterranean cavern where shapeless vibrations, zithery strums and a more intense percussiveness melt into each other while various rattly dialogues take place on the top. The anvil-blows and mutely pummelled rhythms thin out after 15 minutes into a really lovely passage of bowed strings: again, the textures are lucid and controlled even though there's a lot going on, as Agnel conjures up a humming, singing choir of harmonics. Part 2 is a short Gothic nightmare interlude in three segments – a banshee wail introduction, a demented circular nursery-rhyme episode, and a passage involving dissonant swipes across the strings, which start piling up until Agnel's flailing around like a drowning swimmer. Part 3 is the longest, quietest and most mysterious, and it demonstrates the pianist's ability to create illusions of spatial and aural mediation: there were parts of the earlier Rouge Gris Bruit where I assumed the piano was being amplified through a tinny speaker or distorted by the other two musicians' electronics, but it's clear from this disc that she is producing such effects acoustically. Some of the most striking moments are the simplest and bleakest, often recalling AMM's minimalist expansiveness (though oddly enough Agnel's playing is actually more reminiscent of Eddie Prévost than John Tilbury): the moment when she zeros in on the buzzy, overextended jangle of a bell, or the gentle coda where a bowed string's weirdly altered attack and decay give the impression of time collapsing in on itself. Top-notch stuff.–ND

Fred Anderson
Neil Tesser's on the ball mentioning Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray's 1947 classic bop tenor battle The Chase – and the influence it had on the whole Beat generation – in his liner notes to 21st Century Chase. But it's still hard to believe that the two tenors slugging it out here, 62 years down the road, were among the kids who got their butt kicked by bebop first time round: Fred Anderson, as part of whose 80th birthday celebrations this was recorded in his Velvet Lounge in Chicago on March 22nd this year, and Edward "Kidd" Jordan, at 74 a mere youngster in comparison. Meanwhile, fresh out of kindergarten in the rhythm section are guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Chad Taylor, who on part one of the title track stir up wave after wave of groove – at times hard stomping R&B (back when that meant Rhythm & Blues, not the insipid flatulent post New Jack wack crap that goes by the same name these days), at times positively Afrobeat – for Anderson and Jordan to surf all the way home on for an astonishing 36 minutes. It doesn't take long for part two to get rolling either, after a typically impressive brooding bass intro from Bankhead, and Parker is soon pulled into the ring to go a few rounds with Kidd and Fred himself. For all the free jazz fireworks, the bop heritage isn't ever far away (spot the Coltrane quote in track two..) and there's the strong gravitational pull of key, or rather mode, in both Jordan and Anderson's soloing. Great Black Music: Ancient To The Future, runs the well-known Art Ensemble slogan – listen to this and you know exactly what that means.–DW

Aporias Trio
On the strength of this release, and the other fine outing that came my way in the same envelope from Iorram records (the GIO and George Lewis, Metamorphic Rock), the improv scene in Glasgow is really cooking at the moment. Scottish new music has been on a roll for a while actually, thanks to the energy of mavericks like George Burt and Bill Wells, who've always pursued a more eclectic agenda than they probably would have had they been forced to relocate to London (those Scottish accents tend to get flattened out when they head down south.. you just ask Tony Blair). And with local festivals like INSTAL now well-established events, it's no wonder that Glasgow's improvisers have taken advantage of available opportunities to play and record with visiting musicians. Saxophonist Raymond MacDonald and guitarist Neil Davidson are two of the hardest (net)working men in Scottish improv, and their trio with visiting percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani is a real treat. Those familiar with Nakatani's more lowercase work in the From Between trio with Jack Wright and Michel Doneda, or on the first nmperign album (wow, has it really been 11 years?), might be taken aback at the ferocity of his playing at times – Eddie Prévost makes those bowed cymbals sing, but Tatsuya makes 'em howl – but there's always been as much subtlety in his percussion work as there is raw power. MacDonald is a muscular player (closer perhaps to improv's origins in 60s free jazz than to what it's evolved into during the last decade or so – he can do the spits and fizzes as well as the next man, but seems more at home exploring the melodic potential of his saxes), but Davidson's grit and Nakatani's friction stop him from flying off the handle and turning it all into just another fiery blowout.–DW

Borah Bergman / Stefano Pastor
I've never been all that happy about duos where one person's name gets printed bigger than the other's, ever since I found out a few years ago that Max Roach once apparently got paid fifteen times as much as Randy Weston for a concert they gave together at a local festival (nor have I ever understood why two people doing the same job for the same company can earn wildly differing salaries – one of reasons I suppose why I never became a Wall Street trader, though I can think of plenty of others). OK, so pianist extraordinaire Borah Bergman is the better known of these two, but Stefano Pastor's muscular violin playing (normal strings aren't tough enough for him, so he uses guitar strings instead, which explains that thick, heavy sound) is just as impressive in these five tracks – three Bergman compositions, two free improvisations – recorded at the Jazz Fuori Tema festival in Tortona, Italy (the local church clock strikes from time to time, punctuating "The Mighty Oak" beautifully and rounding off "When Autumn Comes" in style).
Though he's often compared to Cecil Taylor – an occupational hazard for any free jazz pianist, I guess, but such comparisons are pointless, as nobody really sounds like Taylor – Bergman, to quote Chris Kelsey's bio of him over at AMG, cites Tristano, Monk and Powell as formative influences. But his playing has never been as overtly Monkish as Misha Mengelberg's, nor as boppy and linear as Powell and Tristano's. The one thing that invariably gets mentioned when discussing Bergman is his ferocious ambidexterity: freed from its tiresome traditional role as harmonic bookmark, the left hand goes ballistic, frequently crossing over the other one to action-paint the upper octaves, leaving the right hand to carry the tunes. And tunes they are, anchoring the music, no matter stormy it gets out in the harbour, to a clear tonal centre. Pastor is the perfect partner here: this music simply wouldn't work with a more, umm, avant garde fiddler. Like Leroy Jenkins and Michel Samson, he's a melodic player first and foremost, and one I hope to hear more of in the years to come – and see get equal billing with whoever he plays with. What a terrific album this is.

John Blum
Ecstatic Peace
It says "John Blum" (and In The Shadow Of Sun, not "Shade" - but it's Shade on the label website so we'll stick with that) on the spine of the CD, but on the back tray the two musicians the pianist is playing with get equal billing – hardly surprising, since the bassist happens to be William Parker and the drummer Sunny Murray. So, as David Gates writes in his liners, we're talking three generations of free jazz here. Neither Murray (born 1936) nor Parker, sixteen years his junior, need any introduction in these pages; as for John Blum, who was born in 1968 and studied at Bennington with Bill Dixon and Milford Graves.. well, he hasn't exactly flooded the market with discs to date (as if that really matters), but what I've heard so far has been well worth spending time with, from his tortured debut Naked Mirror on Drimala to the storming Astrogeny Quartet on Eremite. And hard on the heels of this trio comes another solo album, Who begat Eye on Konnex.
The problem with In The Shade Of Sun is – and I can hear the howls of indignation even as I type this – I honestly can't figure out how Parker's perennially muscular and undeniably impressive bass playing and Murray's thundering tom toms really interact with Blum's piano playing. Throughout the album the pianist explores a huge range of different techniques, from Pullenesque fisty cluster rolls to thumping low register block chords to – on several occasions – a kind of demented free stride piano, but behind it all the bassist and drummer plough on merrily, doing their own thing. I suppose this is what Sunny means by "freebop" – the bop idea that the rhythm section just keeps on trucking through the changes while soloists stretch out on top is still very much in evidence; either that or they consider it somehow beneath them to engage with the pianist at the harmonic or rhythmic level (not that they can't do it: witness Murray's epoch-defining work with Cecil Taylor or Parker's near telepathic interplay with Matthew Shipp in numerous groups). Whatever the reason, the relatively restricted timbral palette of both bass (what happened to Parker's awesome upper register bowed work? the arco introduction to "Misanthrope's Dream" sounds awfully tired) and drums (though to be fair, Murray's never really gone in for a whole arsenal of gear, preferring to worry one instrument to death at a time) seems to flatten this music out, steamrollering the pianist on from one climactic moment to the next like a prizefighter being pushed back into the ring between rounds. None of these pieces ever really ends satisfactorily – you can hear Parker and Murray heroically marching forward into the fadeout as if trying to have the last word. But they've had their say plenty of times over the years – and the history of jazz is so much the richer for it – now's the time to let John Blum have his. Maybe that billing on the spine makes sense after all.

John Butcher Group
Weight of Wax
John Butcher's music is inextricably linked to his unflagging dedication to spontaneous improvisation, from his exemplary solo work to various ad hoc and ongoing collaborations. But he's long been interested in composing frameworks for group improvisation: think of the pieces he wrote over the years for The Chris Burn Ensemble and Polwechsel. This recording captures the performance of a piece commissioned by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2008; providing a showcase for his approach toward constructing dynamic group frameworks. Butcher used notated sections and predefined sub-groupings which grew out of recordings he'd assembled, including voices left on old answering machine tapes as well as multi-tracked wine glasses. Equally as important is the ensemble he assembled, including long-time colleagues Chris Burn, John Edwards, Thomas Lehn and Gino Robair as well as more recent collaborators Clare Cooper, dieb13, and Adam Linson.
The ensemble makes the most of the open form structure. Whether working through full-on density or breaking things open for sub-groupings, each of the members maximizes the junctions and contrasts of the instrumental colors, extending the palette of acoustic instruments (piano, harp and guzheng, reeds, two basses, and percussion), electronics, analogue synth and turntables, through shrewd pairings and overlapped layers. The doubling of bass players and Cooper's harp and guzheng playing off of Burn's prepared piano gives a distinctive quality to the sound mix. While the music moves through sections of drone, burred textures, and jagged intensity, there are plenty of open, playful moments, particularly when the warped and processed tapes are woven in. While never taking the spotlight, Butcher's own playing stands out, most notably in duo sections with each of the bass players. There is also a surprising use of tonal material, particularly during a trio section toward the end with Butcher, Robair, and Lehn. The overall form holds things together without hampering a sense of collective energy.–MRo

Audrey Chen / Robert van Heumen
Evil Rabbit
Do a Google Images search for Audrey Chen and you'll find some very attractive photos of the young Baltimore-based cellist / vocalist looking very demure and elegant. But in the company of laptopper Robert van Heumen – who's turned in some impressive releases this year, including Whistle Pig Saloon (with John Ferguson), one of the strongest outings yet on the insanely fecund Creative Sources imprint – it seems she can turn into a veritable harpy, her yelps, gargles, growls and squeaks ripped apart with carnivorous glee by van Heumen's electronics. Yes, the album (and group) name gives you some idea of what to expect, I suppose, from these six tracks – it's tempting to listen to it as some kind of pro-vegan Meat Is Murder horror story, with Chen playing the poor cow; but that would be overlooking the extraordinary sensitivity of much of this music. Van Heumen's treatments are often raw, even vicious, but never rough and haphazard, and there's a great feel for structure and timing to Abbatoir's music. And if you only know one version of "Endless Summer" (Christian Fennesz's of course), you owe it to yourself to check out Chen and van Heumen's track of the same name without further ado.–DW

Marilyn Crispell
For those who think that Marilyn Crispell's recent playing has sacrificed fire for melody, here's the elixir: send her with Paal Nilssen-Love and other members of Atomic and friends to the Nya Perspektiv Festival at the Culturen in Vasteras and hear what happens. This disc is the result of that prescription, combining a quartet performance from October 23, 2004, with a return quintet appearance from March 9, 2007.
The quartet begins with Nilssen-Love on brushes and fellow Atomic member Fredrik Ljungkvist on clarinet before bassist Palle Danielsson and Marilyn join in. Things quickly fall in place with a probing piano-bass-drums interlude bristling with energy. Other combinations which stand out are a clarinet-piano face-off with each playing rapid lines that fill in all the available spaces, and a bass-drums section where Danielsson's gorgeous tone is offset by a delicately clattering barrage of percussion. The second half of "Aros" (a Danielsson composition) is lyrically rhapsodic, evoking Keith Jarrett's European quartet of the 1970s; but the first half (with Ljungkvist on tenor) stands out, the quartet building to a scorching intensity.
Crispell and Nilssen-Love remain in place for the 2007 festival. Another Atomic member, Magnus Broo, is on board on this occasion; his trumpet work is often blisteringly hot, though he and Nilssen-Love end “Quintet Collaboration 1” with a tender duet. Lars-Goran Ulander on alto sax and bassist Per Zanussi fill out the group and they both play strongly. The group interplay continues at a high level through two collective efforts and Crispell's "Silence Again" from her Amaryllis release (minus the "Again" appended to the title), the latter song enhanced by Ulander's yearning solo brimming with passionate sensitivity. The only disappointment with the 2007 set, really, is that the recording quality is much less impressive than the 2004 date (and it’s also annoying that the volume levels haven’t been EQ’d across the sessions, so you need to crank the volume halfway through the disc). Still the excellence of the first set by itself is enough to recommend this disc. Too bad Atomic already has the excellent Håvard Wiik on piano, because it would be fascinating to hear Crispell continue to work with them.–SG

Ted Daniel
The "loft jazz" scene of 1970s New York yielded a significant number of powerhouse saxophonists, and most of the trumpeters involved set themselves apart from Don Cherry through following the incisive model set by their reed-playing brethren. Though he was sparsely recorded at the time, Ted Daniel's steely tone and razor-sharp phrasing made him one of the brass heavies of the period. Recorded in 1975, The Loft Years Volume One is a stripped-down follow-up to his self-released 1970 sextet juggernaut with saxophonist Otis Harris. Here, playing multiple brass instruments, he's joined by bassist Richard Pierce and drummer Tatsuya Nakamura. The set features two original compositions culled from Sextet ("O.C." and "The Moor") in addition to Ornette's "Congeniality" and Sunny Murray's "Giblet."
It's a somewhat nervy proposition to present trumpet with bass and percussion as the only support, but that's is a testament to how confident Daniel was (is) in his approach to the instrument. These days he's still exploring the format in his as-yet-unrecorded International Brass and Membrane Corps. Though Cherry wasn't an influence, Coleman had a huge impact on Daniel in the way he introduced the blues into a non-chordal context; the heft of Coltrane and Ayler is also audible here, as it is in the work of Daniel's contemporaries Earl Cross and Raphé Malik.
The closing paean to Coleman, "O.C.," is recast here as a thrashing trio conflagration, Nakamura merging tom jabs and cymbal spatter like a taiko-inflected Sunny Murray. Daniel skitters atop poly-directional percussion to let fly with thick, cupped vocal blasts and throaty burrs. The final three minutes of the piece find him quoting the bright march of Ayler's "Ghosts," a blur of metallic whinnies and deep holler enmeshed in collective pitch and yaw. "Giblet" is a familiar tune from Murray's eponymous 1966 ESP session, a twisted nursery rhyme that Daniel would have been familiar with through working in the drummer's Swing Unit. But rather than wide-open bray, his improvisation is linear and probing, like a more unfettered Woody Shaw. Apparently further volumes of Daniel's Loft Years will soon be available, helping to further cement his vital place in the history of the period.–CA

De Haan / Spruit
Soul Shine Trough
Guitarist Michiel de Haan and turntablist Marc Spruit's MySpace page informs us that they're based in Alphen aan den Rijn, which looks like a sleepy town on the banks of the Rhine between Utrecht and Leiden. Not sleepy for long though, if these two have their way: this is fun, high speed, crunch'n'splatter improv, and fans of Martin Tétreault, Marcus Schmickler and Otomo Yoshihide (on turntables) will find much to enjoy. Hollands Licht contains no fewer than 28 tracks, the longest just under three and a half minutes, the shortest lasting a mere 11 seconds. It comes (as does Schoonhoven) in a snazzy pop-up folder with liners on onionskin vellum tucked away in a side pocket. These inform us that the title is a reference to the light that inspired generations of Dutch painters, and there are, I suppose, parallels to be drawn between the exquisite pinpricks of light in Vermeer and the music's intense concentration on tiny, hard sonorities. One wishes some of the pieces would go on a bit longer – some of these miniatures say all they have to say perfectly, others seem somewhat cursory – which makes Schoonhoven, the companion release on De Haan & Spruit's Soul Shine Trough imprint (should that be "through" instead of "trough", I wonder?) more satisfying. There's an artistic reference here, too: the title is a homage to Jan Schoonhoven, leading figure in the Dutch informel, Nul and ZERO movements (and postman by day – paging Michel Henritzi!). The regularly (and not so regularly) repeating motives of his geometric reliefs might seem to have little to do with de Haan and Spruit's explosive clatter, but, to quote the pair's notes, "that idea of creating art using rudimentary materials comes very close to the way we use sound as the material for our music." This is fine, strong, uncompromising work, and a great follow-up to 2007's self-produced Radical Improvisations.–DW

Die Enttäuschung
For those of you that still believe that a thorough grounding in traditional technique still matters, it's worth recalling that the three most highly acclaimed "extended technique" improv trumpeters of recent times, Axel Dörner, Greg Kelley and Franz Hautzinger, are just as good at playing straight (well, nearly straight) as they are at conjuring forth the kind of noises that would have you barred from polite society or send you racing to the phone to call the plumber. But of the three, it's Dörner whose legit work remains closest to jazz, most notably in the quartet Die Enttäuschung with bass clarinettist Rudi Mahall, bassist Jan Roder and drummer Uli Jennessen.
"The rhythm is so.. dumpety dump," Keith Rowe moaned on listening to a Mike Westbrook track in our Wire Invisible Jukebox a while back. "I just had to get away from it." One wonders if he discussed Dörner (and Hautzinger)'s ongoing love – the word is not too strong – for the jazz trumpet tradition when they recorded A View From The Window together in Vienna back in 2003. Not that Jennessen's drumming is ever dumpety dump, but much of it wouldn't be at all out of place on any of the hard bop albums Dörner evidently admires so much. That said, Jennessen's own compositions on this latest (and once more eponymous) outing on Intakt (he and Mahall each pen five of the 14 tracks, Dörner three and Roder one) go out of their way to put spokes in their own wheels. This is tight, angular modern jazz pure and simple, an enthusiastic and impressive display of individual and collective chops, clearly and unashamedly influenced by Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy (the latter inevitably comes to mind on listening to Mahall's insanely agile bass clarinet). Those who already in possession of one or more of the quartet's four preceding albums (if anyone's got an extra copy of their 1995 double LP debut, all Monk covers, let me know) might be wondering what this latest offering adds to the story so far; if "make it new" is your motto, then this might just be a disappointment, which, oddly enough, is what the group name translates as. But given the choice between "make it new" and "make it good" I'll go for the latter every time. And very good this is.

John Hughes / Lars Scherzberg / Nicolas Wiese
The title is a question asked by PhotoShop before one deletes unseen picture layers, but it refers here to the improvisational interactions of bassist Hughes and saxophonist Scherzberg with each other and with Wiese's electronic manipulations of their sounds. This is not the first group to combine free improvisation and real-time electronics, but this particular trio manages to maintain a high level of interest throughout without a hitch, although the results are still short of classic. The different experiences of the musicians – which include names such as Jeff Arnal and Wolfgang Fuchs – are triturated, chewed up and spit out in a concoction of difficult-to-handle realities, vivid acoustic images and replicated daydreams, parts of a cryptic lexicon where each meaning lasts for an instant prior to being entirely subverted by succeeding occurrences. All of the above might suggest this is a diverse record, and that's certainly the case, yet the music can be annoyingly awkward and tangled, lacking the necessary distinction between instrumental colours – which would be good to enjoy, as Hughes and Scherzberg are unquestionably talented players – and failing to reach a satisfying outcome. In a nutshell, this music is merely and dispassionately "experimental", never really taking off and flying, much less touching our heart.–MR

Max Kohane / Anthony Pateras
Anthony Pateras must have got fed up of lugging around a suitcase full of nuts, bolts, sticks, stones and whatever the fuck else he uses to prepare his piano with in the Pateras Baxter Brown trio – in this new duo with grindcore drummer Max "Agents of Abhorrence" Kohane the inside of the noble instrument remains unscathed: it's the keyboard that he smashes the living daylights out of. But as a fervent admirer of Pateras's compositions (2004's Mutant Theatre on Tzadik still packs a mighty punch), and having got used to the intricate tropical rainforest clatter of the earlier trio, Pivixki sounds.. well, tame. I guess it's not meant to sound tame, alternating slabs of binary ballbreaking rock, rare groove, thrash and splatter in decidedly composed structures (songs, if you like), but twenty years on from the first Naked City album, this cut'n'splice stuff sounds pretty weary. Kohane is no Joey Baron either. Nothing worse than rock drummers trying to play funk. And I've got enough albums of people fisting a piano as it is. But maybe it's just supposed to be a bit of fun, and I'm taking it all too seriously. You tell me.–DW

Darius Jones Trio
Aum Fidelity
Two generations of improvisation converge across the eight tracks of alto saxophonist Darius Jones' Man'ish Boy – a debut that draws on the playing and diverse experiences of drummer Rakalam Bob Moses and instrument-maker, pianist and storyteller Cooper-Moore, both thirty years the altoist's senior. As fellow Virginians, the nominal leader and Cooper-Moore have an immediate rapport, and while there's no sense in discounting Moses' contributions on the trap set, Man'ish Boy could easily be credited to the pair as a cooperative effort. Darius Jones' art has an incredible purity and directness – what Cooper-Moore has called a "yes, sir" quality. It's a quality he shares with Sonny Simmons, Marion Brown and Charles Tyler, but the real connection is the respect instilled through absorbing the tradition and living history of musicianship.
The set starts with an overture for diddley-bow, alto and mallets; by turns solemn procession and overwrought soul, it crams a lot into a minute. "Cry Out" begins with Jones unaccompanied, his measured, throaty pleas, split tones, and liquid dips eventually joined by chunky piano and Moses' dry, loose time. There's a similarly declarative quality to the ensuing piano solo, and its workmanlike, blocky reach is more gruff and grizzled than Jones' saccharine alto vocalizations. Cooper-Moore's diddley-bow, an electric monochord struck and bowed with a drumstick, gives a massive underpinning of slippery funk to "We Are Unicorns," which begins with grubby string shrieks and keening harmonics only to wheel and dive into fractured atomism amid earthy pummels. "Salty" is a scrabbly trio that wanders into kneaded circular breathing and Moses' concentrated chiaroscuro of gongs and snare. Curiously, Man'ish Boy closes with a ten-minute "hidden" track by the leader's regular trio (Adam Lane, bass and Jason Nazary, drums) following the gorgeous lullaby of "Forgive Me," a delicate ballad of equal parts honey and graphite.–CA

Eyal Maoz / Asaf Sirkis
Ayler Records Download
If you're planning to record a duet it's advisable to pair with someone you can depend on. Guitarist Eyal Maoz has wide-ranging musical associations including two Tzadik recordings leading the group Edom as well as sporadic appearances with John Zorn's Cobra; but for this January 2006 project he turned to his hometown friend from Israel, drummer Asaf Sirkis. Sirkis, who contributes the composition "Miniature", which he previously recorded on his trio album The Song Within, provides innovative rhythmic backing to complement Maoz's at times prodigiously raucous yet unfailingly tasteful technique.
The eleven compositions range from two to six minutes and never overstay their welcome. The disc initially captures the listener's interest with the deceptively easy-going "Reggae", which starts with a relaxed beat and infectious melody as a springboard for musical explosions that might be considered flashy if they weren't so effectively incorporated into the song. Maoz's other compositions are more intricate, such as the somber "Duo" (very Masada-inspired) and "Sparse", which features an underpinning jangly guitar drone rife with tension that separates rapid-fire flurries of release. Interestingly, Sirkis's "Miniature" is the most percussively understated selection, with brushes providing delicate touches. Although Maoz composed the remaining ten songs, they're very much collaborative performances. A most satisfying recording with significant cross-genre appeal that's easy to recommend.–SG

Harry Miller's Isipingo
Reel Recordings
A grab-bag of tracks dating from 1975 to 1977, Full Steam Ahead complements the group's only official release (Family Affair, Ogun, 1975) and the superb live set Which Way Now? that was unearthed a few years ago by Cuneiform. Hazel Miller's liner notes here give a useful account of her late husband's career and music but don't say anything specific about the recordings' provenance, which is a shame: since the five tracks come from three separate studio sessions and a live gig from the London ICA, it seems likely there would be further releasable material from these dates. In any case, it's wonderful to have another CD's worth of music from this group, especially since several tracks offer glimpses of previously undocumented permutations of the sextet's lineup (though Mike Osborne and Louis Moholo remain constant throughout). The 1975 sextet with Stan Tracey is a very different beast from the later versions with Keith Tippett or Frank Roberts, a freebop ensemble dominated by the pianist's distinctive jabbing clusters, which are emphatic and often downright confrontational. On the sunny midtempo swinger "Whey Hey!" the results are fascinating but off-balance, and even the normally incendiary Osborne sounds a little hemmed in (Tracey's solo is excellent, though). "Good Heavens Evans!", featuring the same group, develops from a sonorous fanfare/ballad into a tumultuous energy-music tussle – a bit of a rarity in Isipingo's book – and there's much less of a sense of colliding agendas. My problem with Tracey here is just that his efforts work against the headlong fury of the Isipingo rhythm section, but in any case the rest of the album offers three great instances of the group in full flight. "Family Affair" finds Tippett at his slipperiest, weaving in and out of Moholo's steamroller beats; Malcolm Griffiths' pointed trombone solo contrasts nicely with Osborne's heated alto sax playing, which often pushes at the bounds of articulacy. "Children at Play" (with Rogers on piano) is even better and more unhinged, especially when trumpeter Marc Charig's clipped, assymetric phrasing rubs up against the rhythm section. My favourite track, though, is the live version of "Dancing Damon" (Tippett again), taken at a reckless tempo that at times nearly escapes the musicians' grasp; Osborne's passionate solo completely overwrites the tune's intricate multipart structure.–ND

Joe Morris Quartet
Aum Fidelity
The remarkable heft that Joe Morris has provided as a bassist in recent years to the ensembles of Whit Dickey, Rob Brown, Matthew Shipp and Dennis Gonzalez, as well as his recordings on banjo, make it easy to lose sight of his work as a guitarist, composer and leader of a long-running quartet. Even his guitar work of late has just as often surfaced in netless improvisations with Anthony Braxton, Barre Phillips and trombonist Tom Plsek. Today on Earth is the second of two dates led by Morris this year for Aum Fidelity, and finds him in the familiar company of bassist Timo Shanko, drummer Luther Gray and altoist Jim Hobbs on seven tracks that offer perfect marriages of slinkiness and caterwaul.
 The Joe Morris Quartet plumbs the depths of postbop, building off the skewed rapport between Hobbs and Morris: the guitarist's flinty plucking and behind-the-beat chords are the left hand to the altoist's acrid right. But just as often it suggests other musical traditions: the ring-dance which opens “Embarrassment of Riches”, for instance, sounds like the frenetically phased percussion music of the Ivory Coast's Dan tribe, especially when mated with a pliant, yo-yoing rhythm section. There are shades of Ted Dunbar in Morris's improvisation, but his darts and flecks turn in on themselves and burrow into the spaces between Gray's Blackwellian skips. Hobbs is one of the most interesting alto saxophonists to emerge in the last few years; his tone is direct and emphatically giddy, the tart inner dialogues he constructs reminiscent of a young Carlos Ward. His phrase logics often trail off even as ideas continue to burble underneath the surface. By now Morris's longtime working group has established a language wholly its own, an ideal springboard for spindly inversions and lean fantasias.

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Andrea Neumann / Ivan Palacký
I don't know if the city authorities in Berlin go around putting up blue plaques British Heritage-style on walls to indicate where famous people once lived and worked in the German capital, but it looks as if Andrea Neumann is lobbying hard for one at Pappelallee 5, since this is the second album this year whose title refers specifically to her home address in Prenzlauer Berg. On Pappelallee 5 itself (Absinth), her neighbours, including trumpeter / partner Axel Dörner, make cameo appearances (well sort of – you hear them from a distance), but on Pappeltalks, originally recorded just over three years ago and mixed and mastered the following year, she's joined by Ivan Palacký, playing.. an amplified Dopleta 160 knitting machine. And very good it sounds too – though I'm not always 100% sure which sounds are being made by Palacký and which are coming from Neumann's customised inside piano – there's much to enjoy in these five spacious, attentive improvisations. I wonder though why they opted for the gimmicky packaging (be warned: you have to rip the disc open, revealing a small string, which, when pulled, bursts a pocket filled with of ink hidden inside the package, creating your very own personalised purple smudge on the otherwise white cover – make sure you aren't holding the damn thing too tightly when you do, as you might end up like I did with ink all over your hands.. damn, I wish I had another one) – maybe it's to deter people from trying to sell off used copies. No danger of that as far as I'm concerned: firstly because my own now looks a real bloody mess, and secondly because the music is too damn good. Check it out (with gloves on).–DW

Tim Olive
Canadian-born Tim Olive first came to my attention back in 2002 in a distinctly lowercase duo unit with Jeffrey Allport, since when he's paired up on a couple of notable releases with peeesseye's Fritz Welch (Sun Reverse The Foot Pedal, on Evolving Ear) and Bunsho Nishikawa, in the splendidly-titled Supernatural Hot Rug And Not Used. "Recorded in real time via magnetic pickups and analog preamp" between December 2008 and January 2009 in Olive's adopted homebase of Osaka, The Specialist is his first solo album. As a sampler of the sounds he can produce from, well, what is it? a guitar? it's impressive enough, but unfortunately it never really sounds like more than that – only two of the thirteen tracks on the disc get beyond the three-minute mark, leaving one distinctly underwhelmed. Sure, some of the noises he makes are absolutely intriguing (and remind me to check out Leonid Soybelman's Surfing In My Bed again, haven't given that one a spin for ages), but it would have been nice to hear him develop the material at greater length. After all, anyone can come up with crunchy new sounds – it's what you do with them that matters.–DW

Andrea Parkins
Originally a ten-channel installation for New York's Diapason gallery space, Faulty (Broken Orbit) explores what Mark Wastell used to call amplified textures (i.e. sticking contact mics onto and into everyday objects), feeding the results into what Andrea Parkins describes as "a shifting and settling field of electric accordion and instrumental processing" (that latter referring to Parkins' trusty laptop). If you're a fan of her accordion playing, you may just be a tad disappointed: it's there for sure in these six extended tracks, but remains half-buried under a steamy moss of hisses, clanks and growls, as well as heavily treated instrumental samples emanating from Laurent Buttin's clarinet and Dragos Tara's double bass. But then again Parkins has never made any attempt to compete with Guy Klucevsek – even in her long-running trio with Ellery Eskelin and Jim Black her accordion was always morphing into something (or someone) else. And she's getting to be a real whizkid on that laptop – witness the recent splendid duo with Jessica Constable, Cities and Eyes (Henceforth). This album is a real treat, exploring the margins of EAI, lo-fi noise and musique concrète with precision, curiosity and passion. If you're tempted to moan at me for not reviewing it earlier – it has after all been out for several months – well, sorry: I was too busy listening to it. Still am. Great stuff.–DW

Keith Rowe / Sachiko M
Innovators often reach a point when they dispel all traditions but the one they've created. That's overstating the case, perhaps, but listening to this new duo disc from improvisation pioneers Keith Rowe and Sachiko M drives the point home. Each gesture from these musicians is clear and stark, but completely individual as it serves the music's aesthetic.
On offer is the live recording made in Tokyo at the AMPLIFY 2008: light festival, when these two met for the first time as a duo, and three studio tracks, the results being remarkably consistent where timbre and environment are concerned. The music inhabits an even sparer region than does Rowe's solo performance from the same event, released as Erstlive 07, and is much quieter than his set with Taku Unami (Erstlive 06). Here, Rowe's near-silences interact beautifully with Sachiko's immediately recognizable style, long stripped of excess, in some of the most non-linear and reflective music each has made.
Even the denser moments in "Circle," where M forsakes sampler for contact microphone, are spare compared to other projects the two artists have featured in, such as the four-hour Erstlive 005 quartet with Toshimaru Nakamura and Otomo Yoshihide. From the opening of "Square," where Sachiko's sine wave pierces Rowe's rustlings and remains suspended above them for almost 20 minutes, there is a riveting sense of expectancy and discovery as each moment emerges from that pitched background to be engulfed again. When the volume of Sachiko's sine wave is brought down, reaching a plateau and almost disappearing at 19'26", the music opens onto another sonic plain, allowing full exposure to the tiny ticks and whirrs that had been a timbral substratum. Similarly, at 5'15" in "Circle," crystalline pluckings dialogue with transient sampler bursts in finely detailed stereo interplay, magical synchronicity defining overall progression.
Each infinitesimal occurrence proves monumental in the larger structure; each guitar string, each minute aural exploration of a mundane object assumes the importance of Emily Dickinson's fly, invading the moment of death – but here, there is no terror, only an increasing sense of quiet wonder.–MM

Organized Music From Thessaloniki
At first I thought this was a kind of cheapo remake of Alejandro González Iñárritu's dreadful melodrama 21 Grams (supposedly the weight of a human soul, according to some very dubious "experiments" carried out a century ago by one Duncan MacDougall), but it turns out 15.9g is the weight of a CD (does a soul CD weigh 36.9g, then?). Wow.. that means if I chuck all the jewel boxes and digipaks away, my entire CD collection would weigh 74.5551kg. Do the maths to work out how many discs that is. Following on from their debut on Formed a little over a year ago, this is the second release by EAI "supergroup" (not my words, the label's.. but I guess they're entitled to a little hard sell) SLW: Burkhard Beins on percussion, Lucio Capece on soprano sax and bass clarinet, Rhodri Davies on electric harp and "electro acoustic devices" (which could, I suppose, mean anything), and Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board. It's a 44-minute live recording made at the NPAI Festival in Parthenay, France, on July 19th 2007 (Cathnor head honcho and occasional PT chronicler Richard Pinnell was there, and goes into considerable detail about the concert and the album here:, which means, like almost all live improv albums, there are occasional dips and hollows. But not many. It's a strong, sometimes surprisingly loud, piece – far too many EAImprovisers in recent years have taken Uncle Radu at his word ("I want to know about the lull in the storm") and rarely get above pianissimo as a result, but SLW head right for the heart of the storm and sit there getting drenched. SLW, as you may recall, stands for Sound Like Water. There are some thrilling moments, many of them (I'm guessing here) coming from Nakamura, who was on a real roll that month: a week later he was tearing up the organ loft with Jean-Luc Guionnet (check out their Map outing on Potlatch). My CD collection now weighs 74.55669kg, by the way.–DW

Henry Threadgill / Zooid
At last an end to the eight-year wait since Threadgill's last pair of discs for Pi, and it's good to see the promise of more to come right in this CD's title, especially since this particular instalment is a mere 39 minutes long. The palette is softer and less outlandish than his 1980s/1990s work (no pipa, oud, or massed cellos and French horns), though the ear for colour is as acute as ever: sample the guitar/flute voicings on "To Undertake My Corners Open", for instance, which have the flavour of steel pans. And in any case the music's air of stealthy abandon is echt Threadgill. The album is bookended by two brief, deliberately unresolved tracks, of which the first, "White Wednesday Off the Wall", is the most striking, a splintered freeform ballad that dwindles into a beautifully hushed free improvisation announced by Liberty Ellman's guitar harmonics. The central four tracks, though, are quite zippy, benefiting enormously from the interplay between Elliot Humberto Kavee's streamlined drumming and the spindly, elastic guitar work of Ellman and (on acoustic bass guitar) Stomu Takeishi; trombonist/tubaist Jose Davila provides the most graspable thread in the weave, while the leader drops in and out at key moments to add splendidly vehement alto sax and (more often) flute to the mix. As so often with Threadgill compositions, the pieces circle around in ways that feel entirely different from jazz's usual rinse-and-repeat structure, nudging the listener step by step down elegantly twisted harmonic pathways that are virtually impossible to anticipate no matter how often you listen to them. Ellman is a particular joy throughout, grabbing phrases out of the air with the surprise of a Zen master chopsticking a fly; and Kavee is as wonderful here, smoothly galloping over this tricky rhythmic terrain, as he is making bumpier polyrhythmic going of it in his work with Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa. Maybe the disc isn't the out-and-out stunner we had reason to hope for after the long windup, but it's well up to Threadgill's impeccably high standards.–ND

Turning Point
Danny Thompson / Allan Holdsworth / John Stevens
Art of Life
Strange bedfellows as they might seem, it's rather difficult to separate jazz-rock fusion and free improvisation as cornerstones of progressive English music. A cursory listen to the Canterbury-cum-Weather Report noodles of Turning Point might seem anathema to ears weaned on Tony Oxley and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, but bassist Jeff Clyne – the UK's Charlie Haden in many respects – is a common voice to all three settings. Clyne formed Turning Point with keyboardist Brian Miller and vocalist Pepi Lemer (wife of sometime SME pianist Peter Lemer) in 1977 after leaving Gary Boyle's Isotope. A fivesome fleshed out by drummer Paul Robinson and saxophonist Dave Tidball, they recorded two LPs for the Gull label in their short existence while supporting Pip Pyle's National Health on tour.

The affinity for late-period Canterbury sounds is clear across Turning Point's wispy sidelong suites and the taut rhythm section's galloping inversions. "Better Days," the closer to Creatures of the Night, seems pulled from the archetypal rounded corners of post-Soft Machine/Gong fusion. Yet extracting such a tune from its fantasia-like surroundings is a disservice; Miller's "Princess Aura" pecks at a dreamlike stasis in its initial keyboard-voice harmonies, soon clambering an edgier trail as Robinson's stuttering rhythms erupt into thrash, toying with puckered synthesizer clang and nasal soprano. Silent Promise is comparable, but the arrangements are firmer, featuring explosive, hard-bitten reeds; the contrast between Miller's glitchy left hand and groovy right on "May Day Morn" makes for an intriguingly unsettled texture. When the rhythm section lets fly with a frantic, sweetly bombastic groove, it's a bit cloying – make no bones about it, this is incredibly tight fusion, but Turning Point is still profoundly of its era. If you've got a yen for backbeats and ethereal, Amanda Parsons-like vocals, this group will be just your cup of tea.

In 1978, the same year that Turning Point waxed Silent Promise, SME ringleader John Stevens entered London's Island studios with bassist Danny Thompson and guitarist Allan Holdsworth to record Propensity. Though it's easy to forget, Holdsworth was no stranger to unfettered contexts, appearing on two 1977 Stevens LPs (Touching On and Re-Touch, View/Konnex) before joining pianist Gordon Beck's Sunbird. "Jools Toon" is classic Stevens, the drummer's hum, patter and yelps a constantly-shifting carpet only occasionally catching on the bassist's pizzicato burrs. The SME was a unique outfit in that it could reel musicians of nearly any caliber into its collective orbit, whether schooled in post-bop or the unfettered freedoms of the 70s. Holdsworth acquits himself well, his crisp twelve-string flourishes giving way to pensive and contorted blocks that, while ornate, contain a vicious and flitting immediacy surely a product of SME openness. Holdsworth plugs in on "It Could Have Been Mono," a 15-minute piece rooted in freebop rhythms and gauzy semi-linear blues, the guitarist's rusty tone and convulsed pace responding to the rhythm section's dangerous clip. Though Derek Bailey and Roger Smith are the usual models for guitar playing in English free music, there's something to be said for the rapport Holdsworth's inventiveness and jazz-rock tendencies have with Stevens' freer approach.–CA

Franck Vigroux & Matthew Bourne
D’Autres Cordes
Hyperactive Vigroux has been collaborating with several heavyweights recently (Marc Ducret, Elliott Sharp, Joey Baron..), but I was a little surprised to see his name associated with Matthew Bourne, the young anti-virtuoso from Wiltshire who rescues abandoned pianos only to bang their keyboards remorselessly. The outcome of the encounter is equally surprising: if you had anticipated an archetypal improvising duo, think again. ---- Me Madame (the dashes cover the verb "call" on the sleeve) might at first blush seem an acousmatic mishmash, but closer attention reveals music that's captivatingly rocking, moderately inhuman, and frequently arresting in its deliberate lack of refinement. One of the best moments comes at the beginning of "Lièvre de Mars", where unintelligible resonances, smudged electronic pulses and looped records provide a disquieting background for ultra-quick evolutions by Bourne, who plays analogue synthesizers besides electric and acoustic piano while Vigroux is credited with "analogue synths, electroacoustic [sic], guitar, turntables". Avoidance of predictability seems to be the watchword throughout the record, which also contains less pleasing episodes ("Have a Champignon" is franckly terrible with its incoherently melismatic distortions) and substantial amounts of naiveté. But when the guys manage to catch the right segment to reduce to pulp, or juxtapose absurd drum patterns with incoherent vocal mutterings amidst reiterative orchestral samples ("Da King") or elongated soprano echoes bathed in digital crunch ("Welcome in Wonderland"), things get very funny. It may be ugly at times, but this music sounds genuinely warped, which means it gets additional points from this commentator.–MR

Weasel Walter
Even if you didn't know that Weasel Walter, the mad driving force behind the wonderfully vicious and perennially exciting (but currently on sabbatical?) Flying Luttenbachers, is a musician singularly dedicated to "speed, velocity and violence", you could probably guess as much by looking at him on the cover of Apocalyptik Paranoia, all decked out in studs and bullets. But pop the disc into the machine with trembling hands and you may be surprised by the delicate spiky acoustic guitar (Henry Kaiser, one of Weasel's most frequent playing partners since his move to California a while back) and skittery toms and woodblocks on the opening "Scintillations". Think Bailey and Bennink – and that's a compliment. But by the time track two – "Raging War" indeed – kicks in, you know you're back on WW's familiar battlefield. Kaiser's on this as well, but here he's gone electric and plugged himself into something simply monstrous. Sounds like cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm has too. Not that the fourth member of the quartet, trumpeter Forbes Graham, can't handle it all. It's a trumpeter's treat, this album: as well as Graham, Peter Evans (whose lips by rights should be insured for about as much as Jennifer Lopez's ass) and Greg Kelley (no slouch when it comes to blowing himself silly either) also make appearances. Nor is it all apocalyptik: on "Still Life" and "Threnody" - a nod to Penderecki there? - Weasel and Kaiser return to the acoustic intricacy of "Scintillations", while Kelley and Evans huff and puff each other's houses down. Of course, if it's too nice for you you can always skip forward to "Mass Erection" and burn your own house down – or crank it up loud enough and wait for the neighbours to come and do it for you.–DW

Wolter Wierbos
Dutch trombonist Wolter Wierbos has been a reliable source of pleasure in countless ensembles, whether jousting with Michael Moore in the best ever edition of Gerry Hemingway's group, or jumping into the swing-to-out big band stylings of the ICP and Bik Bent Braam. He's made few recordings under his own name, though, a situation he's begun to rectify with the creation of his own Dolfijn label. These days the trombonist and his companion Fieke Broekhuizen own a houseboat dubbed "De Drie Gebroeders", where they curate an occasional series of concerts, and the cover of 3 Trombone Solos shows the trombonist in his element: out on the water, a huge splotch of seaweed draped over his head. The disc's title may be generic but the music is superb from first to last, staking out Wierbos's place in the solo-bone pantheon alongside greats like Albert Mangelsdorff, George Lewis and Paul Rutherford, while sounding very little like any of them. The trombonist states that his playing has changed in recent years in response to his switch to a vintage 1933 Conn Vocabell: "It is hard to handle. That is what I wanted – to play with more resistant and stubborn material. What I lost in flexibility I gained in tone quality and projection." That depth of sound is readily apparent throughout two long pieces from a 2005 tour of the US – as well as Wierbos's ability to hold onto a given idea tenaciously but fluently, patiently turning new facets to the light and developing it at the exact length it calls for. He does extraordinary things with multiphonics (check out the opening of "Portland", where his soft droning overlays suggest a church choir humming a spiritual) but his control of articulation and timbre have so much expressive complexity that there's just as much contrapuntal activity going on in even the simplest passages – even in single held notes. The last track, from a later concert in Amsterdam, is actually two separate short pieces (so the disc's title is a bit of a misnomer) and features some of his nuttiest playing, like the gross Donald Duck outbursts in the first half, though it's also got one of his most inventive demonstrations of on-the-spot riffing. This is actually one of the most swinging solo horn discs I've heard, though that's precisely because Wierbos doesn't try too hard to be a one-man band: it's just that the entire disc is suffused with the kind of relaxed, soulful, utterly personal time feel that tells you you're listening to a great jazz musician.
The cover of Deining shows Wierbos pointing out the sights from the deck of his houseboat to a troupe of fellow musicians – Mary Oliver, Ab Baars, Franky Douglas, Han Bennink and Wilbert de Joode. It's a bit of a trick, since that's the only time they're all together on the disc, which is a set of duets (plus one trio) recorded on various occasions throughout July 2006. Inevitably it's an album of bits and pieces – the tracks are largely three minutes or under – though it does start off with an excellent encounter with de Joode, split into six tracks but in fact a continuous 19-minute improvisation. The pair's radical mood-changes are exhilaratingly whimsical and brutal, and there's some great open-form grooving near the beginning; in the slower bits the textural match between Wierbos's everywhichway trombone and de Joode's monstrous low bowing is perfect. The rest of the CD is unfortunately pretty inconsequential considering the fine players involved, though I always get a kick out of Bennink's freakish ability to play just about anything: on Misha Mengelberg's "Peer's Counting Song" (a ballad delivered with a lopsided grin) he joins Wierbos and Oliver on sopranino sax, giving it a Bechet touch before signing off with some nutty doodles.–ND

Alan Wilkinson / John Edwards / Steve Noble
A frequent complaint about live recordings is that they don't really capture the essence of being there. I'm not sure how appropriate that is for this one, because listening to it is an unrelieved joy for its 40 minutes. It's not like Alan Wilkinson is an unknown quantity, having blasted down the doors with his baritone sax in a variety of settings including the John Law Quartet, a trio with Paul Hession and Simon Fell, and meetings with Peter Brötzmann and Eddie Prévost. So hearing the opening baritone shriek on the 31-minute "Spellbound", you tend to batten down the listening hatches for a visceral experience along the lines of The Horrors of Darmstadt. But this is different – possessing a certain X factor that interests the listener in an unexpected way. A more exhilaratingly fun kind of way. Much of this is due to the superb contributions of bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble, creating a rhythmic playground for Wilkinson to scamper around in. There's nothing particularly extreme in anything they play in terms of innovative technique; it's more that it flows so naturally and organically that at some point the listener blinks and thinks, "How did they get from there to here?" Noble's rock background serves him well in this setting and Edwards plays as excellently here as, well, everything else he's ever been part of. When Wilkinson switches from baritone to alto (interspersed with some spirited scat-screaming which is oddly not irritating and even strangely fitting) the tempo initially increases markedly, seemingly in recognition of the smaller horn. The trio ebbs and flows through a series of motifs until Wilkinson drops out briefly before returning on the big horn to bring the song to a spirited conclusion. The eight-minute "Recoil" is more of the same only with Wilkinson on alto and screaming, a continuation of the trio's fluid motion through a range of themes that deservedly triggers that audience's wild applause at the end. Reviewing recordings requires multiple listens that can get cumbersome at times; this disc sounded as fresh after the last spin as when the shrink-wrap was first split.–SG

Jacob William Quartet
Ayler Records Download
There's an art to selecting a lead-off cut for an album, and "Welcome Steps" probably wasn't the best choice, but once the disjointed individual tempos have melded into a dog-chasing-its-tail frenzy, it gets a lot more appealing, culminating in guttural blasts from alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs and the braying trumpet of Forbes Graham. The other pieces here are much more convincing. Jacob William plays the syncopated bass line of "Palm Dance" with such insistence throughout its 13 minutes that when he finally drops out for a drum solo by Croix Galipault (who begins the track with woodblock and light cymbal taps, working gradually up to fevered press-rolls) you feel the absence. Hobbs and Graham's exchanges over this potent rhythmic brew are consistently inventive: Graham, in particular, has a Steve Lacy-like tendency to repeatedly deconstruct his own lines, though at other times his playing has a brashness recalling Lester Bowie. "Rishi Dance" is 22 minutes long yet keeps interest from flagging by varying its motifs constantly, and is anchored by William's two beautiful bass solos at its centre. "Upload Method" features harshly percussive playing by the altoist, while the rest of the group alternately works in tandem with him or in counterpoint. On the brief, sprinting "Repetition" the horns play near-parallel lines that converge sporadically on extended unisons, with the rhythm section clearing the way; it makes for a thrilling conclusion to the record.
So who do these guys sound like? An immediate point of comparison would be a contemporary group like the Empty Cage Quartet, but (though perhaps it's excessively high praise) I'm most consistently reminded of early Art Ensemble recordings collected in the Nessa box, way before they added "of Chicago" to their name. Plus, if the liners didn't indicate otherwise, I could believe this was recorded in somebody's basement.–SG

Nate Wooley / David Grubbs / Paul Lytton
Originally commissioned for Dave Douglas' FONT Festival in New York and based on the namesake book by Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain is a record whose layers, superimposed and stretched, disclose an underworld of unexpected revelations while also fulfilling Nate Wooley's intention of making "a piece that had a certain feel of the ecstatic to it". This is the first of what Wooley has planned as a seven-part project using this instrumentation, namely a trio plus taped sources (on this occasion an air conditioner, a piano and mostly unintelligible voices); yet it's anybody's guess if it will reach completion, given these artists' exceedingly busy schedule. What's truly impressive here is how "composed" this 38-minute performance sounds, despite the virtual nonexistence of rehearsals prior to the trio's debut performance, except for the soundcheck. The musicians worked with a few sketchy directives concerning Lytton's percussive drive (when applicable) and Grubbs' droning harmonium, but basically the music is a simple arc structure. It begins in extreme calm, as low vibrating hums emerge from bushes of humid whispers; movement gradually increases in the central section, first with sparse notes, delirious mutterings and sinister noises, then with Lytton swinging furiously over Grubbs' static chords, while Wooley brings a touch of madness to the situation, roughening the textures with his gargling hoarseness and abraded clumsiness. The finale brings everything back to (still charged) peace, giving us a chance to cauterize any bleeding wound with a relatively balmy ending. What about the aforementioned ecstasy? Not sure that my immediate desire to repeat the listening experience to better focus on the murkiest particulars qualifies as such, but what I do know is that any release which raises more doubts than it offers certainties is music to my ears.–MR

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Tom Johnson
Edition Wandelweiser
In case you're surprised to find a Tom Johnson album on Wandelweiser – after all, I reckon there are more actual notes on Counting Keys than on the rest of the albums released on the über-redux label put together – it's worth remembering that Tom Johnson and Wandelweiser prime mover Antoine Beuger know and greatly respect each other's work. This collection of four pieces spanning nearly three decades of Johnson's career is one of the composer's more accessible (though no less rigorous, mathematically) releases, and a good entry point into his oeuvre for those not familiar with it.
The title track is good, honest, Music As A Gradual Process minimalism, the pleasure of listening to it derived from simply figuring out and following what's going on. Once you've worked out what the process is, you know where the music's heading, and when it gets there, it stops, simple as that. But the mathematical procedures behind the later works on offer – Organ and Silence for Piano (2002) (it sounds better on piano than it did on organ, but then again you know what I think about organs), Tilework for Piano (2003) and Block Design for Piano – are more elusive, and it takes many patient and rewarding listens to work into the deep structure of the music. If you usually head to Wandelweiser for peace and quiet, you might find this all a little too busy, but if, as it should be, you're in search of craftsmanship, compositional rigour and exemplary performance (hats off to pianist John McAlpine), you'll find much to enjoy.

You might expect a review of Kasper T. Toeplitz's music to appear in the Electronica section of this ragzine, but, like last year's The Deep, these two latest dispatches from the laptop trio Kernel, – featuring, in addition to KTT himself, Eryck Abecassis and Wilfried Wendling – definitely count as compositions in my book. You can consult the scores over at Toeplitz's website, (I said that last time, too). The fact that Kasper also bills himself as playing "bass computer" in performance is significant: in Kernel the laptop is an instrument, no different from a trombone or a clarinet. Not that this is particularly new, of course (it's not as if laptops haven't been around in music for more than a decade, after all), but while the majority of musicians who perform with them still seem to see them as glorified samplers, vast memory banks full of great sounds to dip into and muck about with at the click of a mouse using snazzy software, Toeplitz, Abecassis and Wendling concentrate instead on the machine's unique capacity to effect extremely gradual changes of timbre and dynamics with the kind of precision even the most seasoned specialist performer would have difficulty emulating. This is musical geophysics, immense tectonic plates of sound slowly colliding and buckling upwards to produce peaks and plateaux of Himalayan grandeur.
Kernel #2 has appeared before on disc, on R.O.S.A. a couple of years ago, but Toeplitz presumably thought it had rushed by too quickly and decided to produce this longer version (that earlier album still rocks – the piece is revisited not because there's anything "wrong" with the 2007 version, but simply because the score has potential.. after all, you don't bitch if you find six different versions of the same Morton Feldman piano piece in your local record store, do you?). D.R. brings together Toeplitz's Dust Reconstruction, originally premiered at the GRM in 2007 by the composer, Ulrich Krieger and Stevie Wishart, and Abecassis's own Drowning Report (shame Wendling couldn't have chipped in with a D.R. of his own..), which explores the same austere, post-Xenakis frozen tundra with a little (a little) more alacrity. Kernel music is forbidding, even fierce, but consistently impressive and rewarding. Check it out.

Duane Pitre
Quiet Design
As you've probably realized by now, I'm a sucker for genuine drones (Niblock to Mirror to Organum, in decreasing order of orgasmic consequence) as opposed to workstation-fuelled, fake-guru dilettantism. Duane Pitre is a composer who deserves to be kept under close observation, since he's been developing a highly personal style even though one can recognize a number of influences in his work. The 40 minutes of this disc offer a realization of a so-called long-tone composition named "ED09", recorded on December 4, 2008 at New York’s Roulette by a group of 21 musicians (playing violins, violas, cellos, contrabasses, flute, clarinets, saxes and trombone) plus the leader himself conducting and occasionally applying an eBow to the strings of a guitar. The piece is partially composed, making use of fixed pitch classes, yet includes several unrehearsed decisions, often determined by "spontaneous conduction", hand gestures adjusting the overall flow in different directions. Niblock is evoked during static passages (though with less clashing of the upper partials and a higher degree of concordance), but this stuff also breathes slowly and crawls gracefully towards climaxes, where stirring clusters and overlaid suspended chords induce moments of temporary amnesia, a hundred white-winged Tony Conrads pointing fingers at an imprecise region of the sky above. Music to cause recurrent states of virtual enlightenment, conscious acceptance of otherwise unendurable events, it's the best I've heard from Pitre to date.–MR

Various Artists
Innova Recordings has released the third volume in its documentation of 541, a concert series highlighting new music from Stanford University students and faculty. The series has maintained a very high standard, which the present disc upholds. Three of the six compositions are performed by the excellent Los Angeles-based ensemble Inauthentica, whose deployment of multifarious textures and thorny temporal relationships is remarkable. Jason Federmeyer’s inward / echo (2007), Bruno Ruviaro’s three-movement Anomia (2007) and Per Bloland’s Negative Mirror II (2006, rev. 2007) all benefit from their understanding and virtuosity. Of these complex and often hectic works, Negative Mirror II is the most meditative, brief clusters of ensemble activity contrasted with the glassy drones of an acoustic piano from which sounds emerge via electronic means. In its use of sustain, it’s similar to inward/echo’s multitimbral iterations of the pitch D. Around, over and under the held and repeated tone, Federmeyer’s music ripples, leaps and scurries in keeping with the layered psychological implications of its title. Anomia’s writing may sound the most traditional on first hearing, especially in some nearly diatonic passages from its second movement. However, brass and pizzicato pointilism abounds in this miniature, radical tempo and dynamic shifts maintaining freshness and interest, not to mention some beautiful microtonal relationships in the last movement.
The three other works explore smaller ensemble and solo territory, but even Christopher Trebue Moore’s Anima, Limbus (2006) for solo violin gives the illusion of a soloist/ensemble juxtaposition through fully integrated electronics. Marisol Jiménez’s percussion/electronics soundscape Guijarros-Humaredas (2006) inhabits a similar sonic world, both partially indebted to Boulez’s …explosante fixe in the blurring of boundaries between electroacoustic and acoustic sound. Far from mimicry, these new works explore more forbidding terrain, in which they are joined by the multiphonically harsh Floors and Walls by Kristian Ireland. It’s an acoustic piece whose depiction of the various physical and psychological states engendered by a stone tower is given a riveting if somewhat disconcerting performance. The myriad extramusical concerns behind each work demand more study than I can provide here; suffice it to say that these are richly detailed compositions that reward repeated listening and reflection.–MM

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Yves De Mey
Belgian composer Yves De Mey, a former cinematography student, has mostly used his skills as sound engineer and designer in the areas of modern theatre and dance. Lichtung is the score for Antoine Effroy and Anne Rudelbach's dance of the same name, premiered in 2008 in Hamburg. This is one of those cases in which it would be helpful if the aural experience came with a visual component. The first minutes of the CD, for instance, introduce the listener to little more than a collection of adjacent planes, replete with electronic shadings (plus some Badalamenti-like guitar twangs), which do little to lodge themselves in the listener's memory. Yet as the flux continues, the energies become better channelled and the work gains in individuality, offering moments of exquisite internal vibrations and rumblings informed by a refreshingly sugar-free melodic fragmentariness, then travelling across lands of droning semi-stillness until the piece's termination. Not enough for a "must" status, but this is a record to evaluate attentively several times before selling it at $1.70 on eBay. Fans of KTL might welcome it, despite the lack of outpouring guitars.–MR

Richard Garet / Brendan Murray
Two apparently remote meteors collide in Of Distance. While Richard Garet is primarily renowned for understated spatial structures and rarefied soundtracks for installations released on labels such as Nonvisualobjects, Leerraum and Winds Measure, Brendan Murray stuck yours truly to his couch last year with the engrossing underworld of Commonwealth on 23Five. This joint effort blends all these different factors in cunning layerings of incisive frequencies and tape-derived echoes from the real world, for the most part successfully thanks to the composers' maturity and restraint. This is particularly manifest in the 27-minute "In Parallel", in which various disturbances attempt to sabotage a liquefied stupor, the whole ending in a combination of mute uproar and discernable pitches – stabilization is finally achieved but not without difficulty. The white noise discharges at the beginning of "The Tyranny of Objects" are just a minor variation before the piece starts an escalation developing out of static electronics and indistinct found sounds, including what sounds like a bit of shortwave radio. The results are like meditating in a downtown apartment with the windows open, the filthy soul of the city inexorably covering the purest thoughts with grime and smog, terminal beeps and blips serving as sinister reminders of hospital machinery. Not an encouraging prospect.–MR

Jeff Gburek
Aural Terrains
Over the past few years, Jeff Gburek has slowly but steadily been releasing an impressive body of work, either online, notably as streams on his own Orphan Sounds netlabel, or in limited editions on bijou imprints such as Absurd, Nur Nicht Nur and Triple Bath. This latest dispatch from the composer, who's currently based in Poznan, Poland, on Thanos Chrysakis's Aural Terrains label, is for my money his best yet: three carefully sculpted slabs of intriguing electronica collaging found sounds, snippets of radio broadcasts and classical music, and haunting original loops, all immaculately sequenced and impeccably mixed into one of the year's strongest and most satisfying releases. Gburek is a shrewd observer of the scene and an experienced space traveller in the new music cosmos, orbiting the dark star of EAI close enough to pick up and master the nuances of its vocabulary (as a guitarist he's performed with Keith Rowe, Tetuzi Akiyama, Annette Krebs and Pascal Battus) while remaining within the gravitational field of contemporary composition, which he's studied with Helmut Lachenmann. This fabulous little album is proof that you can have the best of both worlds.–DW

Sam Hamilton
Anybody reading this remember The Sooty Show, Harry Corbett's cult glove puppet show starring Sooty, smart ass magician yellow bear, Sweep, anarchic red welly-wearing bovver boy dog, kind of canine Mr Punch, and Soo, cute panda who gets a hard time from everyone, especially Sweep (and, if you remember the pre-1976 version of the show before Corbett retired and handed over the business to his son Matthew, there was also Butch, a tough little talking bulldog, and Ramsbottom, a snake with a heavy Lancashire accent)? I guess not. But my heart leapt when I saw the title of this album, with images of heavy duty academics discussing things like "Gender Issues In The Sooty / Sweep / Sue Infernal Love Triangle".. well, no. What we have instead is even better, a glorious collection of pieces from Auckland-based Hamilton, who seems to be able to play just about any instrument you care to mention (we've got Farfisa organs, guitars, tenor horns, accordions, all kinds of percussion instruments and electronic effects boxes and gismos too numerous to list), mixing them with field recordings from Peru, Colombia and Brazil to produce six tracks of splendid diversity, from fuzzy drone ("Epoch of Snares") to luminous, thrumming and strumming post-rock ("O0O0O0O" – hmm, had fun typing that in – and "Editions", both all too brief). Fans of David Grubbs, James Blackshaw, Jozef van Wissem, but also Skaters, Axolotl, Emeralds and Raglani sit up and take note. Shame Harry Corbett passed away in 1989 – maybe he'd have liked a copy. I've never forgiven Matthew for getting rid of Butch, so he can buy his own.–DW

Jason Kahn
Having released one myself, I have something of a soft spot for albums named after films – not that you need to have seen the movie concerned to appreciate the music (despite being an inveterate cinephile, I admit I still have to see Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing, Eureka and Insignificance but that certainly hasn't stopped me enjoying Jim O'Rourke's trilogy) – though I rather doubt Jason Kahn had Richard C. Sarafian's 1971 cult road movie in mind when he settled on Vanishing Point as the title for what might be his most accomplished and impressive work to date. Barry Newman's amphetamine-stoked mystery man Kowalski, racing westwards across the desert with a squad of cop cars in hot pursuit seems a long way from these exquisitely crafted, slowly evolving soundscapes – yet the sublime vastness of the landscapes through which his Dodge Challenger goes careering does seem to connect to Kahn's shimmering mirages of cymbals and electronics. And the Zürich-based American ex-pat steers his music forward with the same sure sense of timing and feel for his equipment that Kowalski would have appreciated, if he'd lived long enough to hear it (yes, happily the album doesn't end in the same way as the film does). If you don't know it, check it out – and that applies to the album as well as the movie.–DW

Leyland Kirby
History Always Favours The Winners
Check out some of these track titles, man: "when we parted, my heart wanted to die", "the beauty of the impending tragedy of my existence", "and as i sat beside you i felt the great sadness that day", "tonight is the last night of the world" – and this, from the press blather: "[it's] about the fragility of existence and about those times when we pace the streets for answers when the ground under our feet is not so stable, those times when we feel invisible to all those around us as we continue to walk, searching for signals and connections, at a loss to our situation and looking for a new pathway forward." Ow wow Rick man that's really heavy man.. this couldn't possibly be by the same bloke who said "everybody slags Elton but you get cunts like Merzbow and Autechre hiding behind bullshit and pretence, with Elton what you see is what you get, a fat twat with a wig making shit pop with no pretence or apology for his output", could it? Seems so. Leyland (sounds more "artistic" than his first name James, which he's dropped for this project) Kirby, also known as The Caretaker, has come a long way from that nasty smelly V/Vm pig farm, and seems to have spent a lot of time recently listening to Satie, Budd and Basinski before dishing up this, another triple CD / triple 2LP's worth of reverb-drenched spaced out muzak (he found his way into that ghostly ballroom in The Shining for sure, but has never managed to get out of it). Whether it's a heartfelt move into melancholy midlife crisis or just savvy marketing, Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Was (away with those old clichés! let's have some new clichés!) seems tailor-made to ride the wave of so-called hauntology (simple nostalgia for guilty childhood crushes on pretty punk singers cunningly repackaged as pretentious Derridian twaddle) to media glory. The Caretaker recipe was simple: rip cheap vinyl from local fleamarket, load into basic music software, pitchshift down a few semitones, sprinkle lightly with distortion or similar token "weird" effect and bathe in reverb until it all becomes the aural equivalent of a David Hamilton photo. It can be fun when the objet détourné is a dreadful Wurlitzer reading of the "Méditation" from Thaïs, but this dreary sub-Satie piano noodling plugged in to silky synths soon outstays its welcome. And three and a half hours of it really tries the patience.–DW

Tu m'
Over the past few years Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli, perched on their mountain top in Città Sant'Angelo, Pescara, Italy, have surveyed the landscape of contemporary electronica in all its diversity, swooping down like birds of prey into the fields of glitchy post-techno and dreamy J-pop to grab tasty morsels from the undergrowth. On Monochromes Vol.1 they stick to the sky above in four spacious, contemplative tracks, characteristically elegant and polished, content to let their sounds fly like kites instead of chopping them up into bits and stitching them back together into amazing technicolor dreamcoats. The disc comes with a quotation from Jean Cocteau ("a poet has too many words in his vocabulary, / a painter too many colors on his palette, / a musician too many notes on his keyboard"), which might lead some folk to expect a move into Sachiko M less-is-more territory on the part of our Italian adventurers. Not at all – the music is as rich and colourful (I wonder about the album title though) as anything Tu m' have released in their career so far: it's just more leisurely and serene. Looking forward to Vol.2, lads.–DW

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