FEBRUARY News 2010 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Jason Bivins, Nate Dorward, Lawrence English, Stephen Griffith, Natasha Pickowicz, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton:

In Print: La Monte Young
David Sylvian
On and/OAR:
Richard Garet / Billy Gomberg / Tomoko Sauvage / Seattle Phonographers Union
Bill Dixon
Rhys Chatham / Gary War / Opéra Mort / peeesseye + Talibam! / Sudden Infant / Yellow Swans
VINYL SOLUTION: Antoine Chessex & Arnaud Rivière / Terry Fox / Government Alpha & Evil Moisture / Hell's Hills / Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar / Melee + Joe Morris / Charlie Nothing / Robert Piotrowicz / Taco Bells / Uton / Jozef van Wissem / Christian Wolfarth
Burkhard Beins / Chicago Underground Duo / Chrysakis, Matthews & Bernal-Villegas / Davies, Doneda, Martin, Minton & Patterson / Doneda, Toulemonde & Demarchelier / Grip, Lasserre & Barnö /Jean-Luc Guionnet / Ryu Hankil & Jason Kahn / Hautzinger, Okura & Akiyama / Choi Joonyong & Park Seungjun / Joëlle Léandre & Jean-Luc Cappozzo / Thomas Lehn, Gerry Hemingway & Urs Leimgruber / Loris / Lucky 7s / Wade Matthews & Stéphane Rives
Günter Müller / nmperign / Phosphor / Profound Sound Trio / Dana Reason / Relentless / Stanley Schumacher / The Sealed Knot / Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith / Gebhard Ullmann / Treader Duos
Morton Feldman / Kazuya Ishigami / Tom Johnson / Jason Kahn / Ingram Marshall / Earle Brown Contemporary Sound Series Vol.1 / Christian Wolff
Philip Brophy & Philip Samartzis / Angus Carlyle / Hong Chulki / Minamo / Carol Robinson / Mike Shiflet & Daniel Menche / Richard Skelton
Last issue


Welcome to the first PT of the new decade, and welcome aboard Jason Bivins, who's chipped in with a handful of fine reviews originally earmarked for Bagatellen. I saw that some of the albums he's reviewed have been out for some time now – i.e. more than six months – but they're all so good that they deserve a decent write-up here. That said, looks like the Sudden Infant disc that Nathasha Pickowicz has covered has been out longer than that.. but who cares? The best new music doesn't grow old – something well demonstrated by the splendid 4LP Sudden Infant retrospective set Natasha mentions in her review – even if it sometimes wears clothes that might look a bit odd to today's eyes.
The other subject of frequent confusion here (for me, at least) is where to file these reviews – I've said many times before the headings I use here are woefully inadequate, and that several albums could quite easily appear in two or more categories (several cases in point in this month's issue: the Jason Kahn Timelines, the Opéra Mort, the Rhys Chatham..). All the more reason for you to read the thing from cover to cover, as it were.
This month's feature interview is with Evan Parker, who, as I wrote in the introduction to the piece, needs no introduction. You may also be interested to learn that I'm gearing up for a rematch with Radu Malfatti, whose 2001 interview for PT is one of the site's most visited pages (and quotations from which have been annoying Evan for years – check out how he sets the record straight). Watch out for that interview – and others, who knows..? – in the next issue. Meanwhile, bonne lecture.-DW

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Joseph Ghosn
Editions Le Mot Et Le Reste 120pp
Words of warning: unless you're reasonably fluent in French, you won't understand much (this hasn't been translated into English yet, and the chances are it won't be in the near future), and if you're expecting a real biography – think Bob Gilmore's Harry Partch or John Tilbury's Cornelius Cardew – you'll be sorely disappointed. The biography, such as it is, takes up less than half of the slim volume, the rest of which consists of a La Monte Young discography and a "selective" (very selective) discography of minimalism, of which more later.

Of course, we shouldn't really expect much more: Ghosn's life story of Young fizzles out altogether after the composer meets Rhys Chatham at the end of the 60s - or rather after the author meets Rhys Chatham - and there's not a word on what he's been up to since. The early years of the Young's life are glossed over quickly (but nicely enough - Ghosn, until recently a journalist for the French rock mag Les Inrockuptibles, writes well and fluently, a kind of Gallic Phil Freeman without the hubris), recycling all the old stories we've heard a thousand times before: the wind whistling in the cracks of the Bern Idaho log cabin, the cowboy songs taught him by his father, beating Eric Dolphy into second place in the big band, the hum of the tortoise aquarium in his Downtown flat, etc. etc. For anyone discovering Young for the first time, it's a pleasantly informative read, but serious biography of arguably the most influential composer in the past half century (Ghosn seems to think so at least, and makes quite a good case for it), it most definitely is not. Not only does Ghosn admit at one point that he's never heard The Well-Tuned Piano in its entirety (that dull thud you hear is the sound of me falling off my chair: imagine writing a biography of Wagner without hearing The Ring), he makes not the slightest effort to explain the principles of just intonation which have been central to Young's music and thought since the mid 1960s – not that that's very difficult to do. Of course, apart from Chatham, nobody who was at college with Young either in California or in Darmstadt or who knew and worked with him after he moved to New York has been contacted, and the thorny question of authorship which has dogged the composer since the glory days of the Dream Syndicate is not explored in any detail. Nor does Ghosn attempt to explain why Young has become such a reclusive figure – very few interviews, even fewer releases and concerts – while his erstwhile playing partners have gone on to stardom and considerable wealth (a whole chapter on the composer's finances would have been most informative). Instead, we get potted biographies (that's putting it nicely) of Glass, Palestine, Radigue, Reich et al., and frequent assertions that Young is the éminence grise without whom not only the Velvet Underground but also Sonic Youth would never have come to pass. The fact that the book begins with an extended description of a Spacemen 3 album should put you on your guard for a start.

My trusty online dictionary gives two definitions of "vulgarisation", one positive ("the act of making something attractive to the general public"), one negative ("the act of rendering something coarse and unrefined"). The former certainly applies to the biography section of this book, providing you're prepared to lower the bar and forego any serious discussion of the man and the music (!); but the selective discography Ghosn provides to pad out his little sketch to book length is, unfortunately, best described by the latter. Quite apart from not providing a coherent definition of minimalism (not that you're expecting one by the time you reach the discographies – and in any case such a task would need a book itself), the inclusion of things like Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy for Lilith, Kevin Drumm's Imperial Distortion, Hermann Nitsch's Harmoniumwerk and – ugh – Franco Battiato's Battiato (we can just about excuse the inevitable Sinking Of The Titanic, Metal Machine Music, Disintegration Loops and Happy Days) is surprising to say the least. But, hey, it's only rock'n'roll, and Ghosn's a rocker at heart, and a record collector too, and freely admits it, namechecking fleamarkets, record stores and eBay as much as La Monte Young himself. It's a fun read, but then again so are (a few) customer reviews on Amazon, and neither do any great service to a musician who really deserves a comprehensive 1000-page biography and who, sadly, will probably not get one in his lifetime.–DW

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David Sylvian

So much was written on this album last year that I thought I'd wait until the dust settled before giving it a good half dozen careful listenings. In any case, readers will by now no doubt be familiar with the background story of what is probably David Sylvian's most significant offering since 2003's Blemish. Continuing his explorations at the interface of free improvisation and songwriting, Sylvian recruited and recorded an improv Dream Team in three different cities – a week at Amann Studios in Vienna with Werner Dafeldecker, Burkhard Stangl, Michael Moser, Christian Fennesz, Franz Hautzinger and Keith Rowe (Noël Akchoté also took part but didn't make it to the disc), a day in Tokyo with Toshimaru Nakamura, Tetuzi Akiyama, Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide, and another in London with John Tilbury, Evan Parker, Marcio Mattos and Joel Ryan – before adding his own contributions later, attempting to "improvise lyrics and melodies as I go, writing and recording all in a matter of hours. The basic tracks themselves undergo little or no editing as such. The structure pretty much remains as given from the original sessions."
Needless to say, with a line-up like that, there's some very impressive playing on Manafon – Tilbury's piano is particularly beautiful, and Sylvian makes heavy use of it, on six of the album's nine tracks – but the voice is mixed up so high that you have to turn the wick down if you don't want David breathing in your ear, and as a result anything other than his voice is relegated to the status of background. He couldn't get away with that with Derek Bailey on Blemish – indeed, the forced cohabitation of irreconcilable elements was what made that album work – but EAI is, unfortunately, slower, quieter and more easily browbeaten into submission. And despite the contributions from Evan Parker, which are pretty but slight, like his other guest star spots in the past for Scott Walker, Jah Wobble and Robert Wyatt, EAI is basically what you get here. While some of the Viennese participants' recent music functions quite well as musique d'ameublement (not that it's intended to be taken as such), the Japanese musicians' work definitely doesn't. There's much more to Sachiko M's music than the few odd clicks and beeps that grace "The Greatest Living Englishman", as anyone who's spent any time with contact, her Erstwhile duo with Keith Rowe, will testify. As for Rowe, well, he's practically impossible to spot.
I have no doubt whatsoever that David Sylvian's love for contemporary improvised music is genuine and heartfelt, but pushing it so far back in the mix is doing it a serious disservice. The result, at least the way I hear it, is far from the disturbing post 9/11 deflationary world-in-crisis statement that Marcus Boon raves about in his conversation with Sylvian on the singer's website – with its glitzy packaging (foxes, fauns and David emerging from the dark forest with a rabbit in hand.. climate of hunter, you might say) and various deluxe collectors editions (already sold out, you're too late), it smacks of the kind of commodity fetishism that Ben Watson loves to hate (I wonder what Ben thought of Blemish by the way.. did he ever review it anywhere?). This is safe, pretty music for comfortable middle age, and if the participants didn't live so far away from each other, you could easily imagine a lavishly sponsored Arse Council of Great Britain Manafon tour, complete with Chris Bigg lapel badges and posters and a merchandise stand doing a brisk trade in SamadhiSound CDs.
"It's the farthest place I've ever been / It's a new frontier for me / And you balance things / Like you wouldn't believe / When you should just let things be", sings Sylvian self-referentially on "Small Metal Gods". Well it's not the farthest place he's ever been musically – Blemish pushes the concept further – and he doesn't just let things be. Despite what he says above, there's some serious overdubbing going on here at times, especially with Tilbury's piano (yes, there's a gorgeous arpeggio flourish right after the first mention of "random acts of senseless violence" – ha! irony!). At times vocal lines and the harmony they imply take their cue from the pick-up band – Dafeldecker and Stangl give him the tonic on "Small Metal Gods" and Fennesz has the key to "Snow White In Appalachia" – but elsewhere he goes his own way with little apparent regard to what the musicians are doing. He specifically requested Otomo to bring along records of twentieth century chamber music to the session that yielded "The Greatest Living Englishman", but in the final version many of the tantalising snatches of old vinyl lurk behind Tilbury's overdubbed piano (and you can have too much of a good thing) or lie buried underneath Sylvian's melody, whose up a major third, down a tone, down a fourth, up a minor third and again a major third contour is, amusingly enough, exactly the same as Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why".
It's quite easy to hum along with Sylvian's tunes when the record's playing, but try singing them from memory later, and you'll find it quite difficult. And yet, with that oh-so-patient delivery, carefully articulated with the same slightly delayed tremulous vibrato throughout – every song a ballad, slow enough for the words to sink in, and if they don't you can always double your voice at the third or fourth – it seems like Sylvian's making a serious pitch for Great Album status here (mission accomplie.. Manafon made it to number six in The Wire's Records of the Year 2009, surprise). It's as if he wants the lyrics to be quotable, perhaps imagining a group of fans in thirty years' time sitting around singing "for the future will contain random acts of senseless violence" in the same way that old farts like me rap on in pubs about Sam Therapy and Hoops McCann. Except that in thirty years' time those who've declared Manafon to be the best thing since, umm, Scott Walker's The Drift? will probably be shuffling round on Zimmer frames in retirement homes themselves.–DW

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and / OAR
Richard Garet
A double CD featuring compositions dating between 2004 and 2009, Four Malleable is an excellent introduction to Richard Garet's strategies. One of the most noticeable traits of this artist's vision is the constant transition between different states, as, with a degree of analytical coldness, he designs platforms for sonic events to develop gradually yet unpredictably, giving the listener a chance to connect with a particular environment before becoming an active psychoacoustic participant in its progressive alteration. Several of these soundscapes tend towards instability only partially camouflaged by Garet's accurate placement of detail. 2005's "From Modified Tapes" explores settings that range from the accumulation of murmured pressure and reverberant vibration (substantial to the point of near-opacity) to the ever-puzzling seduction of remote metropolitan echoes. The processing filter lets emerge just a few identifiable factors – heavily equalized voices, in this case – from an unbearably dense fog hiding whatever meaning might lie behind. The composer declares to have been focussing on "materiality, malleability, process, and on the aural digital permutations resulted from computer synthesis". Yet the sharp nuances of certain frequencies, fused with the absence of physical weight typifying some of these pieces, dispel any doubt relative to concreteness, for in Garet's conception tactile matter seems to be a mere instrument for attempting an improved classification of our fundamental nature.–MR

Billy Gomberg
Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Gomberg works with "analog synthesis, digital treatments, acoustic recordings and custom programming" to generate a kind of semi-structured music which starts from improvisation and successively gets tailored into constantly changing shapes that could be attached to some form of inexpressible "song". Curiously the composer talks about "acoustics in love with their own abstraction", but the main sensation while listening to Comme is one of physicality, although a stylishly anarchic one. The fleshiness of a Roland synthesizer against the volatility of certain emissions, the harmonic kindness that renders several passages slightly more familiar to the ears versus the barely penetrable obscurity of a segment such as "Pair" (easily the best of the CD's eight tracks). This game of contrasts is ultimately what sustains our interest throughout this debut album, a collection that otherwise would risk being overlooked in that congested area of electronica which considers creative peaks undesirable, tending to even out different personalities across a medium-range sameness that does no justice to inquisitive minds like Gomberg's. There are seeds here that need to be carefully watered to grow into beautiful plants, and this young man is perceived to be a sensible gardener.–MR

Tomoko Sauvage
Difficult not to remain charmed, if not entirely mesmerized, by Tomoko Sauvage's music for water, porcelain bowls and hydrophones, delicately represented by the 40 minutes of Ombrophilia. This is a model case in which, rather than looking at the technical aspect of things, one should simply let the sound influence the spirit. There's both structure and rational process at work, yet they're not as significant as the warm luminescence that these soothingly resonant pieces irradiate. With the exception of "Mylapore", which uses metal wire to produce a growingly intricate ringing texture (imagine three or four superimposed gamelans amidst a hundred bicycle bells) and the minimal-yet-powerful "Jalatarangam Revisited", the tracks essentially exploit the ear-cuddling fluid shifts generated by the hydrophones, that typical wavering of moving waters within a pot that we've all experienced while helping mum to wash the dishes. The two chapters of "Amniotic Life" and "Raindrop Exercise" give the idea of different kinds of bell towers, the tolling modified by a morphing acoustic lattice quietly wrapping their quintessence. But the album's high point is "Making Of A Rainbow" – a touching, carillon-like wonder of a piece whose qualities are summed up in a single adjective: vulnerable.–MR

Seattle Phonographers Union
And/OAR / Mimeomeme
Until recently, improvisation and field recordings were two occasionally intersecting areas of sonic experimentalism. Seattle Phonographers Union – fourteen individuals including Dale Lloyd, Christopher DeLaurenti and Steve Peters – simply fuse the two concepts into one: field recording-based improvisation. A manifesto characterized by noble intents (notably "uncover what is foreign in the familiar and familiar about the foreign; to explore what we hear and relearn what we know" ) is actuated in five tracks in which the live dialogue between the collective's members is so seamless that the results resemble the work of a single composer. The many pros and (very few) cons typical of this sort of operation are evident: spectacular juxtapositions of environment and human urbanization are mixed with cyclical squeaking noises, a combination of pre-recorded tapes from different eras and the sound of water materializing after the sudden appearance of potent buzzing drones, with shepherds and muezzins making their presence heard from time to time. And those marvellous gliding aeroplane moans which I could die listening to. My personal way of evaluating a release constructed upon the surrounding sounds of life lies in its capacity of letting one feel "left behind", faced with distant events that can be merely guessed, conscious that other people are living that experience and willing to imagine their reaction while it's happening. According to that criterion, Seattle Phonographers Union largely succeeds, improvisation or not.–MR

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Bill Dixon
Firehouse 12 2CD + DVD
In Going to the Center, the documentary DVD included with Tapestries for Small Orchestra, trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon describes abstraction thus: "anything abstracted from something is the essence of that something. It's taking those things that shape and define it, [and] stripping away the filigree." Abstraction is a thorny subject – the "I could paint that" or "my kid could play that" rejoinder still exists in contemporary culture to a strong degree. In 1954, when Dixon was 29 and just beginning his playing career, the noted cultural critic Clement Greenberg defined abstraction as follows: "The spectator can no longer escape into it from the space in which he himself stands; on the contrary, the abstract or quasi-abstract picture returns him to that space in all its brute literalness… Not only does the abstract picture seem to offer a narrower, more physical, and less imaginative kind of experience than the representational picture, but the language itself of painting appears…to do without nouns and transitive verbs, so that often we cannot distinguish centers of interest within the abstract picture's field and have to take the whole of it as one single, continuous center of interest" ("Abstraction and Representation", in Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 3).
Such a description does offer a field of engagement comparable to improvised music. Dixon, a graduate of the Hartnett School of Music (1951) and contemporary of many in the fertile bebop ground of New York, discussed his commitment to abstraction (going back to the early 1960s) in a 2008 interview (available at http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=33956): "My work was all representational up until maybe 1960 – I had a complete utter disdain for abstraction until then. I think at the same time I stopped reading novels I also abandoned representation. I remember one day when I was working at the UN and I was reading a novel, AJ Cronin or something, and I'd just finished it and said 'I don't need a singular figure telling me how a group of characters behave.' That was the last novel that I read." It's probably also around this time that Dixon began to play only his own music, though covers of Bernstein's "Somewhere" and Coleman's "Peace" appear on the Shepp-Dixon quartet LP (Savoy, 1962). We often hear people describe improvisation as storytelling, which is to ignore what makes each art form – music and storytelling – unique.
Sound and its physicality are crucial in Dixon's approach to composition. Perhaps it's generational; Miles, Monk, Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor all share a certain preoccupation with sonic physicality and the definitiveness of both sound and silence. In the aforementioned interview, Dixon puts it this way: "I think of [sound] as a cube-like thing, that if it were possible I could walk into it and play in it like that. It goes someplace and is a collection of something – why wouldn't it have a width, height, while also having all the instruments on the same level? Let your ear select where it wants to go, toward points where there's something up top, something behind, and you [might] hear trumpets like they're inside the other thing. It holds another kind of responsibility on the ear; we draw out the soloist when we hear something." As Greenberg put it, sound becomes "a continuous center of interest".
Dixon states in Going to the Center that he convened this small orchestra – four trumpeters other than himself, along with bass, cello, percussion and contrabass/bass clarinet – as a forum of sorts, to show what the trumpet can do sonically, technically, and expressively. He chose a varied quartet – Stephen Haynes' poise, the taut, skittering approach of Taylor Ho Bynum, the atmospheric warmth of Rob Mazurek and fatness of Graham Haynes. The latter three are young players who, while certainly conceptually their own men, can also be seen as forming a lineage of post-Dixon trumpeters. Michel Côté is the lone reedman, filling out a textural rather than soloistic role; he and his brother, bassist Pierre, have worked extensively with Dixon. Cellist Glynis Lomon studied under him at Bennington; though she hasn't recorded much, she does also make an appearance on Dixon's 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur (AUM Fidelity, 2008). Bassist Ken Filiano and percussionist Warren Smith complete the ensemble. In December 2009, Dixon told me that "any instrumentation can be a reduction of other instrumentation [and be as effective as the larger ensemble], if you know what you want." In other words, he's created orchestra pieces without the principal "general" instruments, using the smallest number possible to replicate, in spacing, placement and organization, what 105 people could do with his directions.
The discs begin with earlier works, which is interesting considering the complex relationship that this music has with its own history, something that's both extremely valuable (because avant-garde art is rarely allowed enough validity to have a history) and at play in such a way as to often devalue what is contemporary. Very little of Dixon's pre-1980 music has been heard, so the inclusion of a revised version of "Motorcycle" (here subtitled "Reflections and Ruminations") is especially valuable. "Motorcycle" was a collaboration with the late choreographer Judith Dunn, with whom Dixon had a lengthy and informative creative relationship starting in 1966. One particular performance in July of that year featured cellist Joel Freedman, Marc Levin and Ric Colbeck on trumpets and Mark Weinstein on trombone; the brass players were placed at various locations throughout the performance hall of Judson Memorial Church. The musical component is a notated piece based on the repetition and inversion of a tone row with open rhythm and pitch. Here it begins with a low bass tone, Filiano slowly moving along the row with slight embellishments, a meaty and crisp poem that elaborates a drone without necessarily droning. Cello, contrabass clarinet and vibraphone enter two minutes in, adding graceful, gradual gestures to the evolving conversation. Stephen Haynes is the primary trumpet at first, but his bright exhortations are quickly joined by an advancing cavalry of punchy yelps and sublime brass chords. There's tension between the upward resolution of some of these brighter colors and the bass and tenor voices, a natural but conflicted movement through sonic space without a set rhythm. That's not to say "Motorcycle" is ambiguous; rather, its colors are very clear, whole and direct – it's just that the compositional shape is defined through the play between these painterly blocks.
The title track operates as an aesthetic midpoint between earlier works and later, in that there is a recurring written fragment, a torqued upward trill that stands in relief to a pedal point. One of the crucial differences between "Motorcycle" and current pieces is the amount of notation used. Dixon notated his 1960s works heavily, something he's far less interested in doing at this point. That's not to say that there isn't structure or composition that presents itself very clearly in the work – but as Dixon told Graham Lock, "any indication of ANYTHING to any musician that causes that musician to respond in any way other than what he would were it not so indicated, IS notation. And since I define composition as 'the assembling of musical materials, generally accessible to every musician, into a NEW order' and improvisation as the INSTANTANEOUS realization of composition without the benefit / or demerit / of being able to change or alter anything for ME, all music is both composed and improvised" (faxed communication from Dixon to Lock, April 22, 1996). Or as he responds to the rhythm section in Going to the Center, "you might, instead of playing metric time, instead of counting off 4/4 you might count off 15/4. You might do that." Suggestions – notations – like these are how a piece like "Tapestry" can sound both through-composed and extraordinarily "free."
"Slivers – Sand Dance for Sophia" is mostly a trio for vibes/marimba, bass/electronics and Dixon's trumpet (curiously, Dixon is as much a conductor on this set as he is a player). While he's no longer trying to "blow off the bell of the horn" as he did in pieces like "Shrike" and "Albert Ayler," Dixon's interest in exploring the instrument's full range is still an important part of his playing and composing. It's true that as the body physically ages, being able to force a huge amount of mass and sound through the trumpet becomes a more difficult proposition. Dixon's range is somewhat narrower now in terms of the highs, but there's an even more extraordinary attention to pacing, space and colour. Because Dixon "always works orchestrally" (as he says), the range of a single instrument and player can be used to fill out the extra orchestra seats. Whispers and fluffs are given bodily weight, sketchy lines and grim dots resoundingly present in stark relief to shimmering mallets and thick, delayed bass. "Allusions I" begins the second disc, an aggressive flurry of low to midrange pops, gritty strokes and gulps reverberating and reflecting back on one another; it's the only other piece to feature Dixon as the sole brass voice. Filiano and Smith counter with sharp attacks, throaty bass col legno and cymbal crash. Subtonal stutters advance and recede in alternately harsh and delicate prods, making space for a romp of gut singsong and Smith's airy marimba (Dixon's instruction was to visualize a drawing of a radiator with "heat lines," or squiggles).
Works like these – or the cello- and trapset-rooted "Phrygian II," which recalls moments of "Metamorphoses 1962-1966" (Intents and Purposes, 1967) – have clear links back to prior notches in the Dixon discography, while other pieces on Tapestries for Small Orchestra break new ground. "Adagio – Slow Mauve Scribblings" is one example of a piece completely unlike anything else he's released: its 17-minute span is more like an environment for sound than a composition in the traditional sense. It begins with Dixon unaccompanied, then fleshed out by fragments, as distant and mirroring sounds from the trumpet section create a sharp, swirling wash. Contrabass clarinet flutters and metallic vibraphone bundles loosely amplify the low and high ends, as teakettle kisses and electronic whirr coalesce into some kind of forward motion. The regularity with which large merged sound-spots appear (such as a tone-row or a walk) feels natural, almost impulsively dictated. It's a sort of static action—a convergent flow similar to the dynamics of thickness and gradation in a Clyfford Still painting—that has been hinted at in patches across Dixon's oeuvre, but this is probably the definitive example of an unhurried tone theatre in his work.
Tapestries for Small Orchestra is a powerful achievement, an acknowledgement of what has come before and a slate-wiping/opening-up for things to come. Though it glances back to Dixon's work with Judith Dunn as well as his multi-trumpet unit of the late 1970s/early 80s (with Stephen Haynes and Art Brooks), nothing like Tapestries could have been done in 1965, 1985 or even 1995. The caliber of players is extraordinarily high and their awareness is strong – the trumpet quartet on "Durations of Permanence" rises out of a puckering unison, with Bynum's crumpled explosive miniatures, Stephen Haynes' steely postbop, Mazurek's echoing flutter and Graham Haynes' taut jabs all in play against a backdrop of strings, percussion and electronic wail. It's a merger of multiple, craggy contrasts that gives the music its texture. Like all of Dixon's work, Tapestries is sound to be felt. –CA

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Rhys Chatham
To be perfectly frank, I have no idea what this review is doing in the Post Rock / Noise section of this issue, but then again Rhys Chatham's music has been gleefully riding roughshod over musical boundary lines since he discovered The Ramones in the mid 70s and booted a new lease of life into minimalism by cross-breeding it with punk in the now legendary Guitar Trio. This set of pieces recorded in Switzerland with a band consisting of Mago Flueck (bass), Julian Sartorius (drums), and Beat Unternährer (trombone), nicely engineered by Reto Mäder, is both a Chatham career retrospective, featuring the one-chord monster jams of "War In Heaven" and "Guitar Trio" (here entitled "Is There Life After Guitar Trio?" – to which the answer might be no, given the punishing volume levels Rhys has been playing it at for over three decades) and a nod to more recent influences on the composer, namely drone metal crossed with dirty funk ("Scrying in Smoke"), multitracked trumpets (Rhys is fond of namechecking Peter Evans but it's still Jon Hassell that comes to mind on "My Lady of the Loire") and rambling free improvisation on the closing "Under The Petals Of The Rose", which comes across as something of an odd afterthought after the binary bust-up of G3. But the audience clearly likes it, and I do too.–DW

Gary War
Sacred Bones
Enigmatic pop musician Gary War – real name Greg – made his solo debut in 2008, with the hypnotic psych-punk LP New Raethesport (SHDWPLY Records). The following year, the Brooklyn-based musician joined neighborhood imprint Sacred Bones, home to local bands like Blank Dogs, Amen Dunes, and Religious Knives. His second full-length album, Horribles Parade, which closely follows the release of the 7" single Zontag, marks his second release for the label. Even more confounding than his debut, it pulverizes pop into an incomprehensible, mask-like paste. The record's striking ambivalence towards accessibility is its defining quality, as a stern, almost aggressive defiance for typical song convention is made manifest within seconds of the album's opening laser beam squelch. Ghoulish, dense pop songs pass in a snap; 36 minutes, as it turns out, is just the right length to inhabit Gary War's warped alternate universe. (The CD version also contains Anhedonic Man, a one-sided single previously released on Hell Yes! Records, as well as the Galactic Citizens 12" EP, available on Captured Tracks). Comparisons to peers Ariel Pink and John Maus are justified – Gary War is an alumnus of Pink's Haunted Graffiti crew – but War has a singular elegance and nuance at the core of his maverick punk-rock prism. Elliptical, unpredictable arrangements and off-balanced analog synthesizers dart around minor chords in a staggered dance. In the album's brightest moments – especially "No Payoff" and "Highspeed Drift" – urgent hooks and sonic clutter are interwoven like hooked steel mesh, weighted equally, and reliant on each other. Most songs submit to War's preference for tense, clipped tempos ("Clean Up," "Orange Trails"), but when he slows it down to a lysergic, slug-like pace, especially on the sci-fi drone of "For Cobra" and the dark, Baroque trance of closer "Nothing Moving", the woozy results are pretty spectacular. Forget understanding his lyrics; forget even acknowledging that he's singing. While his elegant, honeyed vocals mostly dominated New Raethesport's proto-punk, on Horribles Parade, Gary War's trembling voice is all but cloaked in thick flange. In "What You Are," Gary War sounds like a serial killer gurgling through a telephone voice changer; he inhabits various disguises with a preternatural, controlled mania.
In an email to Ariel Pink written in 2006, John Maus praised the achievements of outsider pop savant R. Stevie Moore: "This pop song is too much a pop song." Like Moore, through sheer excess of ideas, Gary War is well on his way to redefining the meaning of "hook" in a pop music context. His melodies aren't just catchy; they have a subversive addictive quality, like narcotics. A hook lasts longer than a moment – it sculpts the entire song. Much in the footsteps of Moore, Chrome, Red Krayola and The Legendary Pink Dots, Gary War continues to plumb the depths of obscurity, reeling in some truly spectacular, dark psychedelia. His loner psych-noise sensibility willingly inhabits the margins of outer space and time, a place where unraveling VHS tapes and battered drum machines are sourced from a video arcade graveyard. But beyond the miasmic effect of his garbled, coiled vocals and tape hiss, Horribles Parade begs to be deciphered, and Gary War is its reigning sphinx. There's a worrying sense that a listener could actually get lost and consumed in this record's hypnotic riddle – it's a dangerous place to be.–NP

Opéra Mort
Opera might be dead, but noise is very much alive, and constantly mutating into other musical forms, either moving leftfield into EAI or MOR (well, nearly) as the outcast bastard child of punk and grunge. Jo Tanz and El-G, who also perform with Ghédalia Tazartès as Reines d'Angleterre (scout around the site with the search engine and you'll find a review of their work – I'm too busy enjoying this to be arsed to link it), have served up a real monster of an album here, a smörgåsbord of dizzy loops, gritty noise and wild, snarling vocals (Gibby Haynes, come back, all is forgiven), served on a bed of seething low end, sometimes drone, sometimes recognisable bass line, sometimes inchoate roar. Sing along ("1980" could be an aborted outtake from Low, if Throbbing Gristle and not Eno had been twiddling Bowie's knobs), dance ("3m88" is a head-on collision between Aphex Twin and Hair Police), or simply thrill to Tazartès's extraordinary three-octave voice – Yma Sumac turns in her grave – gracing "La secte d'Anaïs" and John Laux (Slicing Grandpa, Kount Fistula..) guesting on "Farneck" and "un kilomètre/heure". I haven't got the faintest idea what he's doing – and that goes for Jo and El-G too most of the time too – but it's fuckin' loud and fuckin' lovely.–DW

peeesseye + Talibam!
Talibam! (Kevin Shea on drums, Matt Mottel on keyboards) and peeesseye (Jaime Fennelly on electronics, Chris Forsyth on guitars and Fritz Welch on drums) have been pals and Evolving Ear labelmates for a while now, so it was only a matter of time before they all got together and let it rip. And rip this certainly does, driven on by the double-barrelled percussion attack, underpinned by Fennelly's drones and scribbled all over by Mottel and Forsyth, whose wild gonzo soloing is a happy and healthy reminder that one-chord jamming was part and parcel of American alt.rock before the word alt.rock even existed, back when Fugs roamed the Earth and Angus MacLise still turned up for rehearsals, back when these laddies were still twinkles in their daddies' eyes. Of course, it's not all one-chord rock – sometimes they dispense with chords altogether and dive headlong into the primeval murky soundpool, with scant regard for whatever sharp rocks and nasty beasties might be lurking under the surface. Loud, messy, dangerous and glorious. Watch out for a vinyl release shortly too on Smeraldina-Rima.–DW

Sudden Infant
Blossoming Noise
Swiss-born, Berlin-based sound artist Joke Lanz recently released a double LP My Life's a Gunshot, a 20-year retrospective of his work as Sudden Infant. Even though he works within a multitude of styles – including Viennese Actionism, neo-dada Fluxus, punk, Industrial, power electronics and harsh noise – Lanz's career has been remarkably cohesive, with releases as varied as they are distinguished. Recorded in 2007, Psychotic Einzelkind (Blossoming Noise, 2008) is a worthy addition to his oeuvre, and one of his most eclectic, joyous efforts yet. Joined by Zürich-based improv bassist Christian Weber and percussionist and frequent collaborator Bill Kouligas (Family Battle Snake), Lanz confidently combines electro and acoustic elements into a disorienting Technicolor chaos. The disc also includes three remixes by Z'EV, Lasse Marhaug and Thurston Moore.
The indigo Rorschach inkblot album art could be interpreted any number of ways, just as the album itself seems unfettered by stylistic boundaries. Aesthetically, the material is diverse and precise, from boogie swagger ("Dies Irae") to unsettling, muscular noise ("Head vs Wall," "Deep Cuts") to austere EAI ("Slomono") to distorted sound-poetry ("Trees Are My Friends," "Boy in a Wheelchair") and rhythmic Industrial clang ("Tandoori Chicken Scooter III," "Somniphobia"). Much like the mythological serpent Hydra, compositions often spring many heads at once, as they shape-shift from abrasive noise to musique concrète to repetitive grindcore and back.
Lanz recently concluded a West Coast tour of the United States, where he played mostly sparse, Actionist noise made from a small table of electronics and contact mics. His overriding emphasis on the bodily aspect of performance art, so renowned in a live setting, is necessarily played down on Psychotic Einzelkind, but his sense of self-awareness, confrontation and exploration is still sharp. Even on record, his characteristic vocal spasms, maniacal laughter, strangled screams, chirps and howls sound spontaneous and free. Influenced in part by Whitehouse, Einsturzende Neubauten, and Throbbing Gristle, Sudden Infant is an agile acrobat, freewheeling between white noise and Industrial rock, chaos and rhythm, high-concept performance art and gutter-level improvisation. But his approach also has – true to his Fluxus roots – a wonderful lightness and mania , especially on the vocal elasticity of "Bamblood", which sets him apart from some of the more ponderous musicians in the harsh noise and power electronics scene. "Zipper Ripper" playfully samples zipper sounds into a frenzied whir, and ends with gleeful laughter – and thankfully, we are all in on the Joke.–NP

Yellow Swans
"Warning! This won't play on any computer!" barks one of the reviews of this I've seen online (but I did manage to extract its four tracks as mp3s and take them out on the road), and the label stuck on the disc also makes it difficult to play in some CD players, so I'm told. Maybe that's part of the idea behind Pete Swanson and Gabriel Saloman's latest offering, which makes even Takashi Mizutani and Keiji Haino sound rather tame. If overloaded psych brainfuck guitar and gutwrenching distortion is your thing, you'll love it (you'll love the 3D packaging too – just make sure that little metal pin doesn't fall out of the middle, or the disc will slip out and burn a hole in your carpet). Don't expect any harmonic subtlety though – most of this stuff is pretty basic, minor mode one-note drone (goodness knows what these chaps played with Evan Parker in that Free Noise tour) – and don't expect to get anything out of it unless you can play it loud enough to thrill the neighbours. That said, the mp3s sounded just fine on the bike in rush hour traffic. But you really need a good pair of speakers to appreciate this music in all its dirty glory.–DW

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Antoine Chessex / Arnaud Rivière
Le Petit Mignon (Staalplaat)
Mounir Jatoum's splendid artwork depicts various naked creatures – half human (male and female), half canine (the top half) – eating each other alive, and the two tracks on the split seven-incher, by, respectively, Antoine Chessex ("tenor saxophone") and Arnaud Rivière ("electrophone, etc.") are indeed the aural equivalent of having your genitals ripped to shreds by a pit bull. Those instruments are in brackets and quotation marks above not just for form's sake, but also because you'd be hard pressed to identify them on listening to the music. Chessex's tenor is in there, but it sounds more like Tony Iommi guesting with Merzbow. In contrast to the relentless onslaught of Chessex's offering, entitled "Power, Stupidity & Ignorance", the raw squeals of Rivière's electronics on "Queen Queen Banda Drive" are interspersed with silence to devastating effect. I frequently complain about seven-inch singles not being long enough, but there's enough here in barely the length of a Motown single to kill you stone dead. Woof woof.–DW

Terry Fox
Visitors to the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Chartres, blown away by the sculptures of The Book of Revelation adorning the Royal Door at the West Front of the building and turning their attention to the extraordinary stained glass windows, can easily overlook the paved circular labyrinth on the floor of the nave, especially since it's often partially obscured by rows of wooden chairs used for services. But it's one of the cathedral's – and medieval Europe's – great mysteries, its original spiritual and symbolic significance the subject of much conjecture for hundreds of years. Seattle-born artist Terry Fox first visited Chartres in 1972 at the age of 29, and was struck by the labyrinth's geometry and numerology, noting that to reach the centre of its 11 concentric circles one has to take 552 steps, and turn 34 times. In 1977, he decided to use this mathematical information as the basis of a tape composition, but was at a loss as to what to use as a sound source, until a visit to one of his artist friend's gave him the idea. "[He] had a cat and I used to go and visit him, and the cat would always sit on my lap. I petted it and it would begin purring, and this deep purring, this in-and-out purr of a cat which everybody knows, reminded me of stepping, and I suddenly got the idea that the steps should be transformed into purrs, and so I decided to make a composition the purring of 11 different cats, one cat each representing one of the 11 rings of the labyrinth." The gatefold of this handsome vinyl release reproduces Fox's handwritten score in its entirety, but it's not always easy to follow on listening to the music, which is a shortened version realised by the composer in 2003 (the original idea was that each of the 552 steps should last ten seconds, giving the work an overall duration of 92 minutes, about twice the length of a normal LP).
Cute, eh? Well, yes, if you can stay awake. I'm reliably informed that the purring of a cat has a soothing, beneficial effect, so much so that folks suffering from depression are frequently advised to share their troubled lives with a feline companion, and I can see why. I've listened to this three times so far and have nodded off twice, to be rudely awakened by the repeating thud of the needle as it reaches the centre of the disc. If you're one of those people who believe cats are superior to human beings, maybe even in some way divine, you'll probably get more out of this than I did (I imagine David Tibet and Chris Marker would love it - seems Ian Penman didn't though), but I happen to be allergic to the beasts and tend to keep out their way as much as possible. Then again, in the same way that you don't have to be a believer to be moved to tears by a great medieval cathedral such as Notre-Dame de Chartres, I guess you don't have to love cats to enjoy Fox's music. It probably helps, though.–DW

Government Alpha / Evil Moisture
Le Petit Mignon (Staalplaat)
My ears had just stopped bleeding from listening to the Chessex / Rivière offering reviewed above when another delightfully colourful seven incher from Staalplaat's Le Petit Mignon label appeared in the mailbox. No rest for the wicked, as they say. This one is a joint venture between Yasutoshi Yoshida (Government Alpha) and Andy Bolus (Evil Moisture), and comes with a safety pin, ostensibly to stop the hot pink disc from falling out of the bright silkscreened zigzag package, but there's nothing to stop you sticking it through your earlobe and getting nostalgic for the glory days of punk. Assuming you've got an earlobe left to stick it through when you've got through listening, that is.–DW

Hell's Hills
Thinking about it, I guess it's no surprise that Wodger staple Christmas Decorations, who by the time you read this will have two limited-edition LPs out on the upstart New York micro-label, used to be on Kranky. The brand of free electro-acoustic madness practiced by that group and Hell's Hills (they share a member in Nick Forte) has a sort of twittering ambience to it, an apple rolling down the opposite hill from the sliced concrete aesthetic that's been trickling out of American sub-underground electronic improv in recent years. But whereas Christmas Decorations are shambolically folksy, Hell's Hills exhibit romantic snatches of DIY minimalism, kind of like what Windy & Carl took from Krautrock. A rickety pile of loops sets the foreground in motion on "The Wheel of Junior High," fleshed out by more syrupy electric pulses. The music isn't particularly hazy, but drifts warmly, whimsical and furrowed, yet it has its sinister moments, as in the regulated glitchy swathes and distant piano rattle of "Bad Ecstasy." Wodger extends its singular and admirable vision once more with a warm blanket of experimentalism.–CA

Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar
Thrill Jockey
It's telling that, in the modern "indie" world, well-known and larger labels like Thrill Jockey and Drag City are starting to go the way of vinyl/MP3 combinations, especially for artists who aren't going to shift as many units as Tortoise or Bill Callahan. Hence, this 750-copy limited edition vinyl by Robert A.A. Lowe (90 Day Men; Lichens..) and visual artist Rose Lazar, a follow-up to their collaborative book/CD art project called Gyromancy released in 2008. Of course, calling Lowe's music indie-rock is like calling Lol Coxhill's Fleas in Custard a jazz album, and maybe more blasphemous. If anything, Eclipses is like a grand, lost minimal synth record; instead of the Krautrock that's influenced other Chicago artists, Lowe namechecks American composer Laurie Spiegel. "Fantomoj de la Vitro Domo" (most of the titles are in Esperanto) combines a rumbling bass figure with glassy descending progressions, then a twirl of the knob to skimming color-arcs and a fuzzy, strangely metronomic wave. "Suno Vidis" is comparatively quaint, electro-folk (if there is such a thing). Its simplicity recalls "Blue" Gene Tyranny's Out of the Blue with some of the layers stripped away. There's an imagistic specificity to a piece like "Uyndham-a Horlogo," panning washes and dynamic sputter all neatly organized and resolute. With the exception of the lengthy opening "Crayon Gym," the pieces are concise and with only enough detail to ensure ideas are followed through. Eclipses is an excellent, no-bullshit record of modern computer music.–CA

Melee + Joe Morris
Trumpeter Nate Wooley's disc with the "Hammer Trio" of bassist Jason Roebke and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, Throw Down Your Hammer and Sing (Porter, 2009), might have appeared to come from nowhere to listeners/critics weaned on free jazz, but there's a precedent in Melee, his trio with cellist Hans Buetow and percussionist Ben Hall (Hell & Bunny, Graveyards..). Here, they're joined by guitarist Joe Morris on four untitled improvisations of insistent, flickering counterpoint. Whereas the panning of trumpet gulps and shrieks mating with bowed and scraped cymbals could be described as "noisy", their physical relationship to triple-stopped bowing and Morris' repeating flecks reveals a brittle musicality. Joe Morris is solidly entrenched as one of the most interesting free-bop players working, not to mention an intriguing composer, and hearing him in fluttering scrapes and cottony micro-clusters as a tense textural player is fascinating, occupying the middle ground between Hall's clatter and Wooley's muted cries at the end of the second piece. I'm still not convinced that Hall and Buetow are "noise artists" at all: Melee's music is an extremely graceful, moody and athletic thing. If that's "confrontation" then we're an aesthetically weaker species than previously imagined.–CA

Charlie Nothing
Nothing Records
It's hard to be sure what made Ed Denson and John Fahey release The Psychedelic Saxophone of Charlie Nothing as a Takoma LP back in 1967, because the label vision that we're presented with now is a narrow approximation of outsider Americana. Of course, most of that has to do with the mistreatment that beset the catalog after its purchase by Fantasy and the subsequent rolling of the archive into Concord Music Group. That bungling is the chief reason why this grey-area vinyl reissue of Nothing's first LP has hit the shelves. Psychedelic Saxophone isn't totally indicative of Charles Martin Simon's art – his obscure claims to fame were as a writer of vaguely conspiratorial counterculture fiction and self-help books and as the inventor of the Dingulators, guitar-like sculptures made from recycled auto parts. In 1967, shortly after the death of his wife, Simon (1941-2007) relocated from the East Village to San Francisco and, armed with an alto sax and accompanied by cymbals, tabla and metal ukulele (overdubbed? who knows?), produced this grail-like artifact. What's immediately striking is how lyrical his saxophone playing is – an autodidact, his laconic, squirrely alto recalls West Coast players like Byron Allen and Anthony Ortega, with the insularly verbose cadences of an Alan Sondheim. One of Simon's books was subtitled "Radiant Health in the Face of the Compounding Horrors of Modern Life" – indeed, sometimes the only medicine is the anachronism of Art.–CA

Robert Piotrowicz
This is a wonderfully strange little release, three all-too-brief pieces, each based (one assumes) on archive recordings of folk music, as their titles would seem to indicate: "Greek Catholic Stork Boy Choir Of Ozerki Village (Soldiers' Meeting, Autumn 1967)", "Molomotki Ocarina Orchestra (Open Air Show, Spring 1928)", "School Girl Band Of Gromovaya Balka (Performed On 10th Anniversary Of Death Of Emil Cioran)" – though you'll have quite a hard time trying to spot the originals in Piotrowicz's treatments. The disc is supposed to played at 45rpm, I read, but as usual I screwed up first time I played it and stuck it on at 33 (it's better at the faster speed, for sure, but has a certain torpid charm when played slower..). The two tracks on side one take tiny fragments and loop them hypnotically – one wishes they'd develop more, or at least go on a bit longer, but alas no. The B-side ("Funeral") is more leisurely, and a richer listening experience. It's a ghostly affair, vaguely reminiscent of Oren Ambarchi but replacing the warm glow of the Australian dusk by a hard frost on a winter morning in Poland. Cioran, you may recall, is Asmus Tietchens' favourite philosopher / poet, and there's something of Tietchens' inscrutability to this music. I seem to have missed out on Volume One – and hope there are further volumes to come, and maybe a full-length CD on Piotrowicz's splendid Musica Genera label at some stage? Live in hope.–DW

Taco Bells
It's hard to take a band seriously who call themselves Taco Bells ("Toxic Hell", as we used to call it, growing up in eastern Kansas), but this conglomeration of Finnish free improvisers from the ranks of Rauhan Orkesteri and Jookloo is about as raw as it gets. Sami Pekkola, also the founder of Tyyfus Records, plays early Brötzmann / Gustafsson-inspired tenor, aided by the ricocheting rawness of the lo-fi, in-the-red recording. Side one, recorded in 2007 on a cheap cassette deck (hence the fuzzy din), features his trio with Jaakka Tolvi on drums and Tero Kemppainen on bass, augmented by the upper-register squeal of violinist Pekka Käppi, a toothy gnat of possessed fiddle-playing. Marko Yliantilla's guitar on the B-side "Hawaii" (2009), is a little more buried in the mix, but it's a clearer recording. This is a companion of sorts to the Tyyfus release by Mohel, a larger outfit which also features Yliantilla and Pekkola, but Taco Bells are leaner and hungrier in their punkish enthusiasm. I didn't know they still made "free jazz" records like this. Bitchin'.–CA

Tampere-born Jani Hirvonen has, according to the entertaining press release (Marc Richter's work? is he really into Erich von Däniken?), "finally left planet earth completely and is now reaching out for outer space and alien communication" on this, his third LP on Dekorder. There's some kind of language being sung and spoken, Darth Vader-like, here, but I'll be damned if I can work out what it is (that said, Finnish is such a strange linguistic phenomenon that he could be reading out names and addresses from the Tampere phone book for all I know, though I somehow doubt it). Elsewhere, there are plenty of scratchy violins, squiggly organs, flurries of handheld percussion and all manner of twangs and gurgles from an array of homemade instruments, with electronic transformations to thicken the plot – but Hirvonen's genius (and I don't think the word is out of order) is in combining them in ways that never cease to amaze. His speciality is superimposing the easily identifiable and the utterly inscrutable, crystal clear synthesizers and mucky feedback, tantalising backbeat and amorphous noisy sludge. It's a source of endless delight and wonder, and easily my favourite Uton outing to date.–DW

Jozef van Wissem
Jozef van Wissem has found himself an intriguing niche in the world of new music – somewhere between neo-folk rock (the duo album with Brethren of the Free Spirit with James Blackshaw seems to have disappeared remarkably quickly) and lowercase improv (the two duo albums with Tetuzi Akiyama, Proletarian Drift on BVHaast and Hymn for a Fallen Angel on Incunabulum, are still around and well worth seeking out) – which is all the more surprising considering he plays a baroque lute and pens compositions parts of which could, with a slight stretch of the imagination, have been written several hundred years ago. Since he relocated to the US a year or so ago he's been remarkably active, playing with, amongst others, Smegma (that I would like to hear) and recording for the remarkably eclectic and perennially wonderful Important label.
Ex Patris contains four tracks (whose titles – "After The Fire Has Devoured All It Will Consume Himself" is my favourite here – would seem to indicate a future collaboration with Current 93 is not out of the question), beautifully recorded as always and once more exploring van Wissem's own brand of gentle minimalism, somewhere between Wim Mertens and John Dowland. Despite the de rigueur austere black and white photographs of a dark church interior gracing the back cover, this is colourful, accessible music, carefully crafted to showcase the 13 course swan neck lute specially built for van Wissem by Michael Schreiner last year. Fans of van Wissem will know what to expect by now and won't be disappointed, while any vinyl connoisseurs coming to his music for the first time will find much to enjoy.–DW

Christian Wolfarth
Here's the second volume of a projected series of four seven-inchers featuring Swiss improvising percussionist Christian Wolfarth, this time without the camel on the cover and pressed on marbled baby blue vinyl. Once more, it contains just two tracks, clocking in at 5'15" and 4'10" respectively (though you could try playing them at 33rpm if you like), and once more they're both discreet and attractive investigations of the world of lowercase percussion Wolfarth has chosen to inhabit over the past few years. I remain to be convinced, however, that the 7" format is really suitable for music like this: Wolfarth's music is patient and careful, and the sonorities he conjures forth from his instruments, whether sustained ("Elastic Stream") or fragmented ("Viril Vortex") are worth getting inside and living with, but having to jump up to turn the disc over just when it seems to have got going is, well, frustrating. If you feel like sitting down for a more extended listen to what Wolfarth can do, I'd recommend his For4Ears solo CD Wolfarth instead – I look forward to a future CD or LP release of the entire Acoustic Solo Percussion series, assuming of course that Vols. 3 and 4 are as good as this.–DW

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Burkhard Beins
Edition Künstlerhäuser Worpswede
After the wondrously open Disco Prova, Burkhard Beins' musical imagination has never been less indebted to percussion as conventionally understood. Structural Drift comprises three slices of sound, assembled at length using e-bowed and propelled zither (an instrumental link to Beins' work in Masiiki), analogue synthesizer, E.T. (a self-designed handheld oscillator with built-in speakers), looper, igniters, chimes, wood block, steel band, fire and stones. This all-sorts might suggest some sort of heavily electronic symphony of rattles, a contemporary piece for AACM-ish little instruments. Yet the sound is far more elemental, as the use of fire and stones suggests. While the thick drones of "drift 1" suggest chrome and metal (in a way that recalls early Radigue to me), there are no determinate sound sources for the most part. The music simply rolls forward, its thick fuzzy low end eventually birthing a seductive throb in the upper register. At length, tones stack up to form a big shimmering chord that settles into a churchy organ. "drift 2" is much more scratchy, a restless piece that could almost be heard as trying to claw its way out of its predecessor. Unlike the slowly morphing substratum of "drift 1", this sounds restless, with a manifest rustle that moves wave-like throughout and what sounds like a steady decay. But, unpredictably, Beins layers in tin whistles, a bunch of pick-up-sticks being tossed continually in a bathtub, and settles into the sound of a mutated harpsichord calling out to others. It’s lovely stuff, turning over and over as bits of it fall away to leave a single coiled tone. "drift 3" is less complex and less engaging, consisting mostly of a big booming bass rattle that fizzles, hisses, and crackles to a close. Overall the album is really quite fine. While it's clearly not as ambitious as Disco Prova, Beins has taken those disparate sound sources from the earlier record and fused them in ways that are more coherent and at times quite tonal in the way of Oren Ambarchi.–JB

Chicago Underground Duo
Thrill Jockey
Cornetist Rob Mazurek's Chicago Underground project has been active since the late 1990s, in combinations ranging from duos and trios to orchestra, all of which have also included drummer Chad Taylor (now based in New York). Boca Negra is the fifth disc from the Chicago Underground Duo (the eleventh for the Underground as a whole), and it's certainly their strongest showing to date.
"Green Ants" begins with Mazurek's bright cyclical flurries and upward fluffs, projecting over Taylor's taut tom flourishes. It's reminiscent of Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell, especially when brassy arrows yield to wooden flute three minutes in, but there's a distinctive toothiness, something almost brash, in this duo's playing. Mazurek's subtonal stomach-churning growls and delay-aided cubist sounds certainly owe something to Bill Dixon's influence (in April of 2007, I watched Dixon advise Mazurek on allowing sounds to come not only from embouchure, but from the pit of the stomach, in order to give even low, quiet sounds a strong physical presence; it's something that Mazurek has clearly taken to heart).
"Left Hand of Darkness" involves electronics, kalimba and low, panning notes, with reverbed pluck and fuzzy bounce appearing midway through (a skittering singsong reference to Mazurek's sub-Equatorial interests). "Broken Shadows" isn't the Ornette tune, though snatches of "Lonely Woman"-like melody creep into Mazurek's vibraphone playing, a spare and affecting counter to the cornet and drum thrash that fill the rest of the piece. What's most different about Boca Negra is how ethereality has been almost completely subjugated to weight. Mazurek's phrasing is much more concrete, especially in combination with the thick ricochets of Taylor's percussion, and this lends extra presence even to stretches of ambience or reliable grooves. The Isotope-like electric piano and layered backbeat of "Confliction" are tough and strongly foregrounded, while a streetwise, shuffling funk underpins Mazurek's expansive knitted shards in "Spy on the Floor." Sure, there's still a strong post-rock flavour to the Chicago Underground Duo, but these open/composed duets cast the net more widely. If thinness was a problem with Mazurek's work before, it's safe to say that it's been eradicated.–CA

Thanos Chrysakis / Wade Matthews / Dario Bernal-Villegas
Aural Terrains
Looks like I got lucky with that snazzy DVD box on Profession Reporter a couple of years ago, as it seems Thanos Chrysakis's Aural Terrains imprint has reverted to austere black digipaks since. But the music he's releasing on the label is just as colourful as it ever was, and this fine set of six improvisations recorded during a three-day stay in Madrid in March 2008 is no exception. In addition to his radio, analogue synth and laptop (Super_Collider and Max/MSP for you techheads out there), Chrysakis joins his frequent playing partner Dario Bernal-Villegas on percussion, with French-born Madrid-based American expat Wade Matthews providing "digital synthesis and field recordings", which include the kind of single engine aeroplane lonely drones that our own Massimo Ricci would apparently like to die listening to. Matthews' discography is small but consistently superb, whether he's featured on bass clarinet and alto flute or electronics – 2005's Absent Friends on Sillón is one of the best laptop outings of recent times in my book – and this is another fine addition to it. The title, which connects to the work of both Heraclitus and Jung, translates as "opposite course", which, according to Chrysakis, is "the route that this kind of music takes in terms of what prevails in the music-world" and, more specifically, this particular album's refusal to be neatly pigeonholed. As he puts it, "textural, contemplative, microscopic pieces alternate with a kind of 'playing our asses off' more energetic approach." Matthews' software synthesis works particularly well with percussion: Bernal-Villegas and Chrysakis are the latest Matthews percussion collaborators, following on from Ingar Zach (Mørke Lys), Andrew Drury (Eszent Hun) and Pedro Lopez (Fases), and the music they make together is rich, subtle, impeccably paced – constantly active but never cluttered and dense – and well worth seeking out.–DW

Rhodri Davies / Michel Doneda / Phil Minton / Louisa Martin / Lee Patterson
Another Timbre
Another Timbre's catalogue contains several documents of improvised activities in England circa January 2009. Among the finest I've heard is this meeting of Rhodri Davies (electric harp), Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone), Phil Minton (vocals), Louisa Martin (laptop), and Lee Patterson (sound, field recordings), recorded in the Church of St. James the Lesser in Midhopestones outside Sheffield. The ensemble feels its way into the music, exploring the resonance of the space with some billowing low-end oscillation framed by long scraping noises. With instrumentation of this sort, the music generally succeeds to the extent that performers can avoid the relatively well-worn paths of obvious contrast or excessive mimesis. Living in the space between these two approaches is the more difficult improvisational task, and one realized very effectively here. After the opening minutes, there is a lengthy section where the plucked metal from Davies' harp files down the serrated edges of Doneda's soprano and Minton's ragged exhalations (with laptop burbles from Martin and much mystery from Patterson). "Crow Edge" occupies the opposite end of the sonic spectrum: for much of its duration it’s a very spare environment, with dog whistles from Minton and Doneda, lots of rests and pauses, and faint crackle and tones. Then it's as if gravity gathers things together; the sounds land, suspended, in something grainy and murky, with Minton perfectly echoing some mid-range oscillation as the scrapes and spit rise again. The final "Wharncliffe Side" is equally enigmatic: the introduction sounds like it's modulated one and a half steps from the previous pieces, but after lingering in this quasi-tonal area for several minutes, the music seems to wheeze and break down, creaking and hissing. Occasional dull, rusty bells recall Alvin Curran's Maritime Rites field recordings, and the whole thing ends with a deep phlegmy rattle. Great stuff.–JB

Michel Doneda / Olivier Toulemonde / Nicolas Demarchelier
One of my favourite improv groups of recent years is the from:between trio with saxophonists Jack Wright and Michel Doneda and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani (about time we heard from them again, too: any news?). As saxophonists who cut their teeth more than a quarter of a century ago, when improv was rough and ready and still struggling with the demons of free jazz, before moving on to explore the quieter world of lowercase at the turn of the century, Doneda and Wright have much in common. Wright has frequently described himself as a "dirty" player – i.e. more interested in the fault lines and frayed edges of "extended" technique, unlike, say, John Butcher – and that applies equally well to Doneda's work on soprano and sopranino saxes on this latest outing with Olivier Toulemonde (amplified objects) and Nicolas Demarchelier (guitar). The predominantly low volume and focus on events at the micro level in Le Terrier have been hallmarks of latterday improv for more than a decade now, but the relatively high activity level here sets it apart from much recent EAI, looking back instead to the earlier generations of improvised music (think the back catalogues of Bead and Po Torch, and, of course, the SME). It's a beautifully recorded and remarkably mature album packed with rustling, bustling detail, and another fine offering from the Monotype label.–DW

Joel Grip / Didier Lasserre / Niklas Barnö
Jan Strom, founder of Ayler Records, always used to say that his favourite outings on his label were those recorded live at Stockholm's Glenn Miller Café. I imagine that Stéphane Berland, who's taken over the label since Jan retired and relocated it to France, might have liked to say the same thing about the recordings made in Marc Fèvre's Atelier Tampon-Ramier in Paris's XIe arrondissement, a gallery space upstairs and dingy cellar club downstairs full of rickety old chairs (recovered from an old cinema?) and hundreds of wine bottles covered in cobwebs (in addition to running the gallery, Marc does a brisk trade in – how shall I put it? – original organic wine). Alas, that won't be possible. At the end of last year Marc (who you can see arguing with Sunny Murray in front the gallery in Antoine Prum's excellent Sunny's Time Now, which I hope you'll get to see if you haven't done so already) finally lost a long-running battle with the powers that be and no longer has the right to put on concerts in his gallery. Shame, because if they were all as good as Snus, Berlaud would be on to a real winner.
There's still a Swedish connection here, in the form of bassist Joel Grip and trumpeter Niklas Barnö (co-organisers of both the Hagenfesten festival and the Umlaut label), who join forces with drummer Didier Lasserre in seven tracks of scorching free jazz recorded in Marc's basement in June last year. Grip and Barnö of course know each other's game pretty well, but Lasserre – who's been phenomenally active recently and making quite a name for himself as one of France's top free drummers – is very good at tripping them up. Grip does his best to steer clear of the flying snare drums and cymbals (Lasserre actually manages to sound like both Sunny Murray and Milford Graves at the same time – no mean feat) by sticking to the low end, but Barnö pulls him back into the fray with some excitingly dirty playing. Solid proof that free jazz is still alive and well, not only in the old folks' home of the Vision Festival, where these guys could easily hold their own against the local talent. We live in hope.–DW

Grosse Abfahrt
I'm sure that when trumpeter Tom Djll seized on the phrase "Grosse Abfahrt" for the name of this semi-regular group project, he was aware that English-speakers might regard the group name as an onomatopoeic representation of what your typical free-improv session sounds like, even if the phrase's actual meaning – "great departure" – is more representative of the highly disciplined way these players deal with the potentially chaotic prospect of large-ensemble improvisation. The modus operandi on Vanity, their third disc, is the same as on past releases: an unchanging core of five Bay Area players – Djll (trumpet, preparations, electronics), Matt Ingalls (clarinets), John Shiurba (guitar), Tim Perkis (electronics) and Gino Robair (one of the great instrumentation listings of all time: "energised surfaces & voltage made audible") – is augmented by the addition of a visiting duo with their own established language and agenda, the ensemble being completed by one or two local improvisers not part of the quintet, who serve as a kind of "bridge" between the two groups.
The central problematic (as they say in academe) in Grosse Abfahrt Mk III is the way the quintet's highly abstracted and often electronic group sound enters into dialogue with the much more unified and familiar sound of a string trio, what Djll calls the music's "molten core": visiting Europeans Mathieu Werchowski (viola, violin) and David Chiesa (bass), plus Bay Area cellist Theresa Wong. Though mostly this music's about wavering, cumulative textures and near-miss drones, my favourite moments are often when these tensions really come to the fore in explicit juxtaposition, like the gorgeous bass pizz that kicks off "Live Free or Die Delphi2" (track titles all derive from Djll's snaps of automobile vanity plates) with a little finger-tapping ostinato while twinkling electronics slowly twist the universe into a knot, until, after the ensemble lurches into a momentary silence, the string trio flares up on its own. The enigmatic nature of the music is accentuated by the excluded-middle approach to duration: a bunch of really short tracks (usually about a minute and change), plus four long ones, which are considerably easier to get a hold on. One of the longer pieces is actually a Chiesa / Werchowski duet: at first dominated by the bassist's incredibly elongated lyricism, the piece then undergoes an astonishing sea change as the violinist breaks in with enormous extended tremolos that create the illusion of an entire choir of voices – probably the most dramatic moment on the entire album.–ND

Jean-Luc Guionnet
Audiolab – Arteleku / ERTZ
The title, translated from Basque, means "a tendency to lie", a vague reference to the motivations behind this set, recorded at the Altzate Church of Bera (Nafarroa) during the 2008 edition of the ERTZ Other Music festival. Guionnet was supposed to perform a solo concert on the church organ but found a completely different situation waiting for him: instead of majestic lines of pipes spreading along the walls, he got a malfunctioning electric instrument and a PA. Making a virtue of necessity, he launched himself in an improvisation that exploited everything that wasn't working, and then some. At first, we're welcomed by seemingly interminable silence, broken only by the outside traffic noise ("oh no, here we go again" my initial reaction in anticipation of the umpteenth helping of reductionist imbecility), but then Guionnet starts kicking the beast quite effectively, producing a series of crusty noises and incoherent hammered changes - imagine trying to listen to Radio Vaticana in a sandstorm. When the derelict "organ" accepts that Guionnet is indeed the man to bring it back to life, the fun really begins. Earthquake-like vibrations in the low register stretched together with high-pitched codes get jumbled in massive superimpositions of disfigured harmonic stasis, ultimately collapsing into stylistic degeneration. Stabbing fixity and threatening emphasis overwhelm a quiet audience. Anyone remember Thomas Demenga and Heinz Reber's Cellorganics? Guionnet lands (involuntarily) in similar territory, the resulting music perhaps a little more dramatic, stripped bare without rounded corners or concessions to easiness. The warm applause saluting him at the conclusion is unquestionably deserved.–MR

Ryu Hankil
Jason Kahn / Ryu Hankil
The new music "star system", like any star system, goes in cycles: a young artist or group (or club, scene or city) emerges, is enthusiastically championed by Those Who Know – a particular magazine, bulletin board or label (whose popularity and influence also wax and wane, of course) – and subsequently becomes THE THING until a) THE NEXT THING comes along or b) it runs out of steam, evolves into something else and is eventually subsumed into the been-there-heard-that mainstream. For the past couple of years the music that has come from South Korea's small, tightly-knit EAI community (Hong Chulki, Choi Joonyong, Park Seungjun, Jin Sangtae, Ryu Hankil and their releases on the Balloon & Needle and Manual labels) has, it seems, been THE THING. A couple of years ago the time was ripe for an infusion of unruly noise into what at the time seemed to be a gently atrophying EAI scene (one which, in the meantime, has found a new lease of life on labels such as Cathnor, Another Timbre and Monotype), but I'm wondering how the Korean scene might develop after 2008's overhyped (for me) Sweet Cuts, Distant Curves.

Ryu Hankil's work with amplified clock mechanisms is certainly worth investigating, as an indication of the way to go – the sounds he produces are rich and fascinating for sure – and, perhaps, the way not to go. That being, in his case, solo performance: without another musician to put him in check or push him down a path he hadn't intended exploring, the music on Becoming Typewriter occasionally runs into a cul-de-sac and has to stop, figure out where it's going next and reverse out before moving on. This is fine if you subscribe to the "anything goes" idea of improvised music (i.e. it doesn't matter if you never practise or rehearse, because Keith Rowe said somewhere that he didn't, and in any case if the music you make falls flat as a pancake you can always dig out some hip quote from a trendy philosopher about "the death of the author" or "calling into question the work's very essence"), but if, like me, you still attach some value to outmoded notions such as formal coherence, development of musical ideas and (gulp) technique, it can be mighty frustrating.

Hankil's work is much more satisfying when he finds himself in the company of an improviser who's been quietly perfecting his craft for over a decade, namely Jason Kahn on Circle, which inaugurates Bill Ashline's splendid new Celadon imprint. There's a palpable tension throughout these two discs, the result of a clear contrast – conflict, even, at times – between Kahn's more measured approach to his material and the inherent volatility of Hankil's. Many EAI recordings are pretty easy to figure out after four or five concentrated listens, and some don't need as many as that (that's not a bad thing, either, nor is it a criticism of more easily accessible albums), but I've listened to Circle over a dozen times now and it never ceases to fascinate me. If more collaborations as rich and rewarding as this one are on the cards, I feel confident in predicting that Ryu Hankil is a name you're likely to be hearing more of in years to come.–DW

Franz Hautzinger / Masahiko Okura / Tetuzi Akiyama
A rebus is "a representation of a word or phrase by pictures or symbols", as you probably all know. Just wondering what the words might be then, on listening to this remarkably active (in its discreet lowercase way) trio outing from trumpeter Hautzinger, saxophonist Okura and guitarist Akiyama. EAI is, after all, supposed to be slow and spacious (think Hautzinger's forbidding Dachte Musik, Okura's contributions to the Hibari Chamber Music Concerts, or Akiyama's Relator) – if half of the gurgles, spits and scrapes that make up this album were replaced with "real" notes, even Martin Davidson might consider it for release. Then again, these musicians' interests have always gone way beyond strict EAI: Hautzinger can swing hard when he wants to, Akiyama can rock his hat off and there's no way in the world you could describe Okura's work in Gnu as user-unfriendly extended technique improvisation. Rebuses is a curious album, because its predominantly low volume level would seem to invite headphone listening, but it sounds unpleasantly obtrusive when you put the cans on. Akiyama's little Baileyesque flourishes and the rustle and flutter of the horns sound better on a normal stereo system, but finding the right playback level isn't always easy: turn it down too far and the music will disappear into the background domestic noise (just a couple of minutes ago I mistook the neighbour's loo flushing for Hautzinger – apologies, Franz!), pump it up too much and you'll feel uncomfortable. But it's well worth experimenting with.–DW

Choi Joonyong / Park Seungjun
Balloon & Needle
The slanting typeface in the top left corner indicates that we're talking Michael Jackson "homage" here – shame that Korean electonicians Choi Joonyong and Park Seungjun couldn't have gone the distance and mocked up a photo of themselves reclining in black shirts and white suits – but with these track titles ("Drill Into Your Eye", "Drill Into Your Heart", "Drill Into Your Throat" and "Drill Into Your Brain") Abel Ferrara is more likely to come to mind. But once you get beyond the cheap thrill sophomoronic gore (it's been my pleasure and privilege to meet several fine musicians who've appended such shock horror titles to their work, and without exception they've been perfectly normal, mild-mannered, friendly people – all men, I should add, allowing you to draw your own conclusions), you're left with the music, if that's the right word for it. If you're partial to the sound of pneumatic drills tearing up the street, you'll no doubt find it perfectly agreeable, but I have to admit I'd much rather spend 53 minutes listening to "Billie Jean" on repeat play.–DW

Joëlle Léandre / Jean-Luc Cappozzo
Kadima Collective

Unassumingly and efficiently, JC Jones' Kadima Collective imprint keeps publishing recordings documenting encounters between improvisers that might or might not be coming from the same musical background. Take, for example, this February 2009 set featuring Léandre and trumpeter Cappozzo: although the latter has worked with Paul Lovens and Axel Dörner and is currently a member of the Globe Unity Orchestra, his sound is firmly rooted in traditional jazz, as opposed to the "Scelsi / Cage / just everything" garden that the ever-amusing bassist has been cultivating throughout a fantastic career. Good musicians always strive to find a practical way for their ideas to flow and flourish, and, as expected, this couple works intelligently: real extremes are avoided for the most part, yet the paths trodden aren't always free from rocks and spikes. Cappozzo finds the correct mixture of intonation and litigiousness in ear-catching blasting surges, toneless junctures and – get this – a rendition of Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat". The usually uncontrollable lass from Aix-en-Provence behaves relatively well, her gorgeous tone frequently shaken by violent percussiveness, the snapping quality of the timbre a luxury for the ear. This doesn't mean that bad manners are excluded: the exchange of farts and pukes closing the fourth track is hilarious, and Léandre ends the seventh with some incomprehensible rambling about shit. I wouldn't say this CD is a veritable must, but one thing's for sure: if the "normal" production by these artists is at this level, then you can count on my subscription.-MR

Thomas Lehn / Gerry Hemingway

Thomas Lehn / Urs Leimgruber
The long-standing Tom & Gerry (Thomas Lehn on analogue synthesizer and Gerry Hemingway on percussion and electronics) is a real favorite of mine, a vibrant meeting of different idiomatic extensions of European free improvisation taking in worlds as apparently far flung as Braxtonian pulse track influences and gritty electronics. And yet they're never quite as far flung as they're made out to be, are they? Kinetics exemplifies how the designations don't matter a toss when the music is happening enough. "Patina" is a beautifully muted opening to this record, with soft gong sounds and analogue muffles. This pair can be riotous, so it's a treat to hear them go even softer, concentrating on the most minute of gestures, on "Verdigris." "Mould" takes things in a somewhat different direction: it's suffused with an ominous feel when Lehn creates a drill-bit whine whose insistence even at soft volume is pretty cutting, like the oscillations from bowed cymbals, which Hemingway largely avoids as he gently pushes at the edge of the sound. The tension only increases by the time we reach the brief crackle of "Bozzetto." And the half-hour "Maquette" builds from a low drone and heavy processional feel. About a third of the way through, Hemingway starts working his snare a bit more actively, with brushes for the most part, and Lehn is induced to let loose some bird calls and pulses. Then, after near total silence reigns for a few minutes, a freaky rumble rises fairly quickly, as Hemingway seems to be channeling Krupa! At last the thunder comes, its wall-shaking noise a sweet release.

Lehn's December 2006 meeting with saxophonist Urs Leimgruber documented on Lausanne works likewise at the intersection of the hushed and the clangorous. Leimgruber is better known for playing with folks like Marilyn Crispell and Christy Doran, but his command of both tenor and soprano, ranging from soft breathy sounds and clicks to big sheets of metallic noise, make him an excellent collaborator with the analogue synthesizer ace. "Un" works in a well defined area of oscillation, with Lehn sounding like a dull, rusty cymbal held on top of a snare, as Leimgruber moves from tiny burrs to ghost whistles. The squeak and thump of "Deux" sounds like a loosening of the shackles, its somewhat unfettered gestures coming across like the grumblings from the drunk in the corner. "Trois" is the concert's most raucous moment, each player modulating the other's instrument in a cascade of guttural noise. They emerge from these two serrated tracks to return to waves and oscillations on "Quatre," which features a stunning moment that sounds like the flutter of helicopter blades through water. And "Cinq" surprises once more, opening with a rumbling detuned section but riding out on sonar ping. Like the album has a whole, it's a bit unexpected and very suggestive.–JB

Another Timbre
Patrick Farmer, Sarah Hughes, and Daniel Jones are young London-based improvisers who are just starting to get some visibility. As with many releases like this, a look at the instrumentation (natural objects, e bow, tapes, chorded zither, piano, turntable, piezo discs, electronics) gives no clue as to what this music might sound like, though knowing that a loris is a slow-moving tree-dwelling primate might give you an idea. Farmer, Hughes, and Jones weave together collectively improvised striations of texture and activity that gather density and form with slow deliberation. The pieces unfold from a palette of hyper-amplified vibrating surfaces, electronic hum, and resonant strings. What's striking here is how each sound, each thread of activity, is placed within the context of the whole.
The improvisations have an almost sculptural presence, offsetting engulfing low-end rumble by sputtering crinkles, luminous sinewaves, and the judicious use of string vibrations from zither and piano. Semaphores of flickering activity float across fields of resonant drone. There's an organic warmth to the sound of electro-mechanical pulses and clicks melded together with the ringing tone of a hammered piano note or the rustle of amplified objects. Across the three collectively improvised pieces, the trio purposefully parse out pace and momentum, density of sound, and dynamic arc, creating a absorbing intensity. That sense of arc is acutely evident in the final piece, "Newts Under Concrete," where coursing loops of static emerge after a lead-in of 90 seconds of inky silence. The volume gradually mounts as crackles and squawks build into a forceful, enveloping wall of sound shot through with wafting details. With The Cat from Cat Hill, Another Timbre delivers yet another gem.–MRo

Lucky 7s
Clean Feed
One of the more inspiring, albeit lesser known, stories related to Hurricane Katrina is the formation of the Lucky 7s. The storm's devastation broke up trombonist Jeff Albert's quartet, as drummer Quin Kirchner relocated to Chicago (along with his frequent musical associate, bassist Matthew Golombisky). Although Jeff stood his water-soaked ground, gigs were still nonexistent in the ravaged city, so he contacted fellow trombonist Jeb Bishop about pulling together some kindred souls from Chicago along with Quin and Matt, resulting in rehearsals and subsequent performances at The Empty Bottle and The Hungry Brain. The final night at the latter venue made up six of the seven songs on Farragut, a rollicking disc that entertained the fortunate few that were able to find it on Lakefront Digital. For those afraid the 2006 disc was just a one-off release, Pluto Junkyard marks a considerable step forward, with more tightly arranged compositions and release on a higher exposure label.
The presence of Jason Adasiewicz's shimmery vibes and the hot tenor of Keefe Jackson gives the Lucky 7s the air of a Blue Note offering from back in the days when they were pairing fire-breathing saxophonists with Bobby Hutcherson. There's no diminution of energy from the first release: "Future Dog" transitions from one funk riff to another, and the sonic meltdown of "The Dan Hang" marks the welcome reappearance of Bishop's skronky guitar (and if this is truly representative of what is played at The Hungry Brain after-hours, please get some sound people there immediately). The most noticeable difference is that this release has no overtly N'Awlins-influenced music, in the manner of the second-line-ish drumming on the closing "Bucktown Special" on Farragut (the one exception, Bishop's "Afterwards", was actually written for the previous recording); in fact, the closing "Sunny's Bounce" is a clear nod to the Chicago sound, written by Albert after hearing a Sun Ra Delmark recording on an iTunes shuffle (hmmmm, on a release titled Pluto...).
But the real muse of this release seems to be Bishop's wife, Jaki Cellini: her reaction to Jeb's promise to get her a pet provided the title of Albert's "Future Dog," and Bishop's cool bopping "Jaki's Walk" was actually their wedding's recessional music. Here's to the bright future of the couple as well as the Lucky 7s.–SG

Wade Matthews / Stéphane Rives
Another Timbre
You could be excused for thinking Wade Matthews lives in Athens, not Madrid: what with this and the Chrysakis trio reviewed above, it looks like Greek titles are the rage this month. This is not the first time the French-born American reed player and laptopper (he leaves the horns in their cases on this outing, concentrating on software synthesis and manipulated field recordings) has recorded with soprano saxophonist Stéphane Rives – but their last outing together half a decade ago wasn't a duo, but a quartet also featuring Ingar Zach and Quentin Dubost (Dining Room Music, Creative Sources).
The tale of Arethusa, the Nereid nymph who turns into a brook while trying to escape the river god Alpheus and who, as a result, to quote Matthews' liner notes, "in her quest to remain herself [..] has become exactly what she fled", is for the musician "an object lesson in the dangers of non-acceptance [..]. The question is how to use change to maintain identity, rather than to destroy it." As far as identity goes, his playing partner here is pretty easy to spot. A decade or so ago, Stéphane Rives was just another improvising saxophonist searching for his voice. On the highly acclaimed 2003 solo album on Potlatch, Fibres, he found it: while other reed players were still busy exploring the flutters and splutters, Rives headed for the stratosphere and concentrated his attention on sustained high notes, the result sounding more like Sachiko M's empty sampler than a soprano sax. In the world of extreme solo wind instrument improv albums, Fibres takes some beating – but its sheer austerity has made it a hard act to follow. On last year's follow up solo on Al Maslakh, Much Remains To Be Heard, Rives tried to go further down the same road before realising he'd already reached the end of it on the earlier album; and on his collaborative ventures since the Potlatch debut, including a saxophone quartet on the same label and the CS release mentioned above, his playing partners have had agendas of their own, and haven't always seemed that eager to follow Rives to the ends of the earth.
Arethusa works better than the abovementioned discs, precisely because, instead of trying either to compete with or complement his playing partner (though he does give those high frequencies a thorough going over in the first of the album's four tracks), Matthews concentrates on his own laptop work, and it's impeccable, with its gloomy gongs, stochastic splattering marimbas and treated field recordings, strange windows opening inwards to dusty attics of sound in which Rives cheeps and peeps like a baby bird abandoned in a nest. The result is arresting and memorable, another fine addition to Matthews' small but excellent discography, and perhaps Rives' most successful outing since Fibres.–DW

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Günter Müller
Recorded on February 9 and 10, 2006 at Buenos Aires' Fundación Cultural Surdespierto, the two sets on this double CD present slightly different views of Günter Müller's ceaseless pursuit of variegated collaboration. Throughout his career the erstwhile improvising percussionist has never been afraid of a challenge, yet the iPod/electronics system he's been perfecting in recent years appears now as something of a trademark. In spite of this, we're seldom left wanting in terms of psychic reaction and aural fulfilment.
The concert with Alan Courtis (unstringed guitar, tapes) and Pablo Reche (sampler, minidisc, electronics) is perplexing, sounding either extremely restrained or mightily vibrant depending on the circumstance. Around the thirtieth minute and for a while after, it even gets tinged by mechanical emanations shifting the music towards an almost post-Industrial atmosphere, rhythmic insistence transmitting considerable stress to an organism that, until then, had mostly survived on subsonic excrescences at the limit of bearable (for the woofers). Frequent dynamic downturns – causing the musicians to sound as if they were in another room – add to the puzzlement, but the overall impression remains positive, with more than a moment of gossamer radiance.
The intentions are more clearly visible in the second disc, a trio with Sergio Merce (tapeless 4-track Portastudio) and Gabriel Paiuk, whose prepared piano, occasionally complemented by the processing of pre-taped snippets, is often at the forefront of the mix with an assortment of rasping and knocking activities, ostinati and chordal composites adding contrast to the network of interlocking pulses and invasive infiltrations generated by Müller and Merce. This combination of stifled throb and in-your-face gesture enhances the concentration, allowing us to evaluate attentively a somewhat uncharacteristic milieu for Müller's unremitting rubdown.–MR

Hard to believe that in more than a decade of being together, nmperign has only recorded as a duo a handful of times. This new studio recording captures a finely nuanced performance by Greg Kelley (trumpet) and Bhob Rainey (soprano saxophone) with striking, up-close fidelity. It's easy to tick off the litany of superlatives about the musicians' extended techniques, but that barely scratches the surface of their playing. What is far more salient is the language they've have developed, merging micro-detailed gestures, phrasing built from the resourceful manipulation of attack and sustain, and a subtle balance of density and duration. Listening to their music, it is as if they are parsing time through the minute shifts of timbre and poised sense of form and progression (that sense of the subdivision and morphing of time is a sensibility shared with frequent collaborator Jason Lescalleet).
What sets this release apart is the startling clarity of the recording, which is used as a device to hyper-magnify the sound space throughout the six pieces. Ommatidia are clusters of photoreceptor cells that make up the compound eye of insects (hence the album cover), each ommatidium (only 5 to 50 microns in size) capturing individual isolated picture elements which are assembled by the compound eye to construct an overall image. It's a perfect analogy for how Kelley and Rainey approach this recording. The close-miking picks up each isolated crackle, wheeze, pinched tone, glottal pop, and fricative flutter with concentrated focus. At times, there's almost a brutal intensity to the sound quality. But it's not the individual noises themselves that impress, but rather the compound sonic image that they produce. It makes for an essential addition to nmperign's already imposing discography.–MRo

Nine years after Phosphor's Potlatch debut, we finally have II (recorded over three nights in September 2006) from this Berlin-based troupe: Burkhard Beins (percussion, objects, zither, and "small electrics"), Axel Dörner (trumpet and electronics), Robin Hayward (tuba), Annette Krebs (guitar, objects, electronics, and tape), Andrea Neumann (inside piano and mixing board), Michael Renkel (prepared guitar via computer) and Ignaz Schick (turntable, objects, and bows). Even after multiple listens it still sounds surprising to me – given the refinements in this general area of music over the last half-decade (a cumulative effect that has led some fans to suggest that its high water mark is several years in the past), these half dozen tracks, titled numerically ("P7" to "P12") to suggest a continuation from the previous recording, are more raw, more unstable, and even more resistant to gesture than the six on the debut album. In some ways the earlier record, fine as it was, sounded heavily invested in certain kinds of technique – not in terms of flash (and certainly not in terms of conventional expression) but in terms of "this is what Dörner can do, this is Krebs" and so on. Here it's all muted, sublimated. The wood, bows, metal and other basic properties seem like they're captured between states, some massive geologic morphing or weird echo of background radiation played by automated sound-makers. Renkel and Krebs are absolutely essential to this effect (the latter much more restrained than in her Kravis Rhonn duo with Rhodri Davies, though I hear an actual effusive chord here and there). While you can certainly get a sense of the individuals regularly – Beins' whorl on his snare, the exhalations from Hayward's tuba – it's the expansive and heady collective effect that really comes across. Particularly impressive in this regard is the gentle whine of rubbed glass and windchimes on "P9," a lullaby with electronic surveillance passing through occasional metallic clanks and waves which never seem to break until a wonderfully unsettling mewl of metal friction spills out of the music's guts. On "P10," the assorted whines, zithers, and bows seem to take shape in a recurring interval that sounds like it's suspended in some sonic morass, a substance which over time gives the impression that it's eroding. The most distinctive track is "P11," which in places sounds like a miniature concerto for Beins, who masterfully adjusts the tuning of his floor tom to catalyze electronic copter blades and band saws. A terrific record.–JB

Profound Sound Trio
I'm afraid I can't really see the need for this release, a live recording from June 2008 at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center in New York featuring three big names of free jazz-related improvisation – Andrew Cyrille, Paul Dunmall and Henry Grimes – in what was their very first encounter. The bootleg quality of the large part of the audio content further undermines a performance which, despite Marc Medwin's passionately transcendent liners, mostly appears as a series of joint blowouts and often monotonous solos rather than a collective revelation or a ritualistic communion of spirits. Playing free doesn't necessarily imply that all the resulting products are or (worse) must be good enough to be brought to the attention of the aficionados, although some critics can't afford to write a negative review of anything involving certain cult figures, or the promos won't reach the mailbox anymore. Apart from an electrifying bagpipe/violin passage in "Call Paul" and the fervent interplay in the encore "Futurity", this music left me cold, my focus gradually dwindling amidst plenty of muddled bass plucking and untidy rolling-and-rumbling. Dunmall's immeasurable pulmonary force can't save the day, and the howling audience and the repeated "yeahs" are worn-out components of the routine – remember Frank Zappa's "Make A Jazz Noise Here"? Sure, being there would have been different, instead of listening at home to what sounds like a second-generation cassette copy of a fairly ordinary set.–MR

Dana Reason
Pianist Dana Reason's debut is encumbered with the most offputting cover on an otherwise decent jazz album since some imp whispered "Smurfs" in Chick Corea's ear – and the interior shots of her avec rose petals and parasol simply increase the "what were they thinking?" factor. But get past the packaging and you'll discover a thoughtful merger of the twin free jazz piano traditions of Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley – indeed, Reason and her drummer here, John Heward, hail from Bley's home town of Montreal, and the other half of the polarity gets a boost from the presence of frequent Taylor bassist Dominic Duval. The opener, "Transition", begins with an insistently repeated pianistic mudslide of the kind Marilyn Crispell used to favour for sparking off uptempo collective improvs, and Reason quickly demonstrates that she's both an energetic and cogent improviser, ruthlessly editing ideas together without a break, with her hands working together in jolting dialogue. She's also the most rhythmically interesting player here: at least Duval's skidding, overpacked lines work in enjoyably tumultuous rivalry/kinship with the piano, but Heward's drumming is disappointingly amorphous. The collectively improvised "Let's Talk" frequently gives the impression that both Reason and Duval are interested in exploring a fragmented swing feel, but the trio keeps sliding away from it, somewhat frustratingly one feels, though otherwise the track features some of their best work on the disc, the pianist repeatedly banging at melodies in the mid-register and making more stretched-out excursions into the treble. Aside from the burning "Moment's Notice" – an improv, not the Coltrane tune – the rest is all rubato ballads, and Reason develops a distinctive mood for each one, ranging from tranced sustain-pedalled repetitions (Duval's "Dance of the Bass, Part 2" and the vaguely Iberian "Front Street Blues") to more skittish and inturned work on "Open Spaces". Heward's brushwork largely sticks to the music's edges, but Duval's busyness, while occasionally overpowering, is more usually enlivening – check out the way his peppy syncopated groove pulls against the spacey piano on "Dance of the Bass" . I suspect Reason would be better served by a different rhythm section – neither Duval nor Heward is particularly concerned with the kinds of precisely fractured tempos and crossrhythms that give even "free" music a sense of swing – but they make intriguing music nonetheless, and it's clear that she has been developing her own very individual slant on free-jazz piano.–ND

I must admit I was confused by the name of this particular saxophone duo when I saw them in concert a couple of weeks ago as part of Pascal Marzan's R de Choc series of concerts at the Espace Jemappes here in Paris, "relentless" being an adjective I'd associate with Paul Flaherty or Hijokaidan rather than with Sébastien Branche and Artur Vidal's elegant, supple post-nmperign improvisation. But the two tracks on their self-produced debut CD (see URL above) live up to the name well, with plenty of circular breathing and extraneous objects – cups, metal plates – placed on and in the horns, often giving the illusion that we're listening to a trio or even a quartet. Neither of the two tracks, lasting respectively 18 and ten minutes, overstays its welcome, which is just as well: 40+ minutes of this stuff could probably try the patience. But I look forward to hearing more of the duo's more spacious, pared-down work on future releases.–DW

Stanley Schumacher And The Music Now Ensemble
JIVE AT 5:05
Musikmacher Productions
Once the jewel case is opened and the disc removed, Stanley Schumacher's glacial stare doesn't exactly remind you of a jazzbo, more a heartless surgeon ready to mutilate as soon as the anaesthetic kicks in. Active for years in an accurately demarcated area where free jazz, improvisation and theatrical vocalism meet, this American trombonist releases his music autonomously on the Musikmacher imprint, Jive At 5:05 being the label's fourth outing. This time he's helped by three fine practitioners of atonal hobnobbing: Sabir Mateen on saxophones, clarinets and flute, Evan Lipson on string bass and Lukas Ligeti on percussion. The record presents the usual pluses and minuses – happily more of the former – of every Musikmacher recording: the vocal improvisations aren't exactly the finest on the market (fortunately they appear on just two tracks, "Dogma Of Dogmas" and "Rhythmic Interplay") and the human-whistle-versus-flute of "Huff And Puff" soon becomes wearisome. But the musicianship is high-calibre, capable of tackling material ranging from elegant chamber music ("Low Grade Anxiety") to the amusingly chaotic blowout of the title track . The final "Force Field" distorts the instrumentalists' tones into disconcertingly fuzzy infamy, and on "The Real Deal" (which lasts 7'27") the leader manages to carry on by reiterating a lone note throughout, while the rest of the guys do their best to pair incongruity and cultivation. Overall, it's a witty enough album with several remarkable moments and a few bloopers, perfectly in line with Schumacher's typical output.–MR

The Sealed Knot
Another Timbre
The Sealed Knot, the trio of Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies, and Mark Wastell, may be one of the definitive groups of the generation of European-based improvisers working at the start of the last decade. (When the group did one of their first tours around 2000, it was billed as "New London Silence meets Berlin Reductionism", as Wastell recalls with a laugh in his interview elsewhere on this site.) Ten years on, and not only have those terms been debated out of existence, but the nascent vocabularies they were attempting to label have been absorbed and reworked by a new generation of musicians. Of the four previously released Sealed Knot recordings, two were ridiculously limited editions and all are long out-of-print. This live recording, from the 2007 Ear We Are Festival in Switzerland, is a consummate example of the refined, spontaneously composed forms the three have mastered, working with a concentrated range of elemental acoustic properties of bowed and scraped cymbals and drum heads, bowed and beaten bass, and harp harmonics and overtones. Beins, Davies, and Wastell construct a entrancing sound structure, and are so synched in to the collective development of the piece that, at times, it almost seems as if they're playing from a score. There's a coursing undercurrent that flows both from the timbral colors of their respective instruments and the way they balance and control attack and sustain. Overtones and harmonic partials cycle against each other to create quavering oscillations, and the use of implied pulse is floated through in mesmerizing shadow waves. They also work with dynamics and volume, building a palpable sonic presence and then exploding it to place discrete gestural events against each other. The trio reconvened in January to celebrate the release of this CD. Let's hope that it doesn't take three years for the results of their recent meetings to make their way out. And that maybe their previous releases will find their way back into print.–MRo

Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith
Those following the music of Wadada Leo Smith have been well served lately, between reissues of seminal early releases and new projects on a variety of labels. One of the somewhat overlooked releases from a few years back was Brooklyn Duos, a meeting between the trumpeter and John Coxon on acoustic and electric guitar and harmonica on the Treader label. Their loose improvisations evoked a feel of open, haunting free blues, bringing out the keening lyricism of Smith's trumpet. For the Abbey Road Quartet, Smith and Coxon are joined by Pat Thomas on piano and synthesizer and Mark Sanders on drums.
Unlike Smith's Golden Quartet, the music here is less about providing interlaced lines than it is about the layering of coloristic fields. Coxon and Thomas jump from jagged, hard-edged skronk to gauzy washes of free impressionism. They sometimes get bogged down in all the sounds they have to draw on, but Sanders' mercurial splashes of supple punctuation always cut through to keep the momentum going. It's Smith's trumpet playing that really sparks the session. His angular stabbing lines bristle with energy on the opening "For Johnny Dyani" and skitter across the more freely fractured textures of "For Mongezi Feza." The music has the indelible stamp of the trumpeter's musical vision, but there's also a nice sense of give and take, as he steps back to listen and respond to the direction of the group flow as often as he subtly shapes the improvisations.–MRo

Free Jazz Quartet
Invenio Ergo documents two sets that SUM – drummer Eddie Prévost, guitarist Ross Lambert, and alto saxophonist Seymour Wright – performed at London's Café Oto in February 2009. Lambert and Wright are long-time participants in the weekly workshop that Prévost has run over the last decade, and based on that and GAMUT, his duo with Wright from last year, listeners may come to this one expecting rigorous timbral abstractions. And that's how things seem to start out, with Wright's alto pecking across the drummer's restive patterns. Then Lambert's jazz inflections comes in, Prévost kicks in to a free shuffle, Wright starts introducing melodic kernels and slowly, an oblique take on the language of jazz begins to emerge.
Eddie Prévost is adamant about not buying in to non-idiomatic dogma when approaching his music, but there is an apparent bifurcation between his jazz-based work (the trio with Tom Chant and John Edwards, or the Free Jazz Quartet) and, to coin a term he used in his notes to GAMUT, his "experimental improvisation practice" (AMM, his solo work on rototoms and tam tam). SUM grapples with the intersection of these strategies head-on. Prévost's roots certainly go back to bebop, Lambert's resonant tone and clear attack align to jazz voicings, and Wright has happily acknowledged an allegiance to the vocabulary of jazz (though, based on what I've heard, you certainly wouldn't think of him as a strong jazz stylist). But we're not talking about Braxton's ongoing forays in to the jazz repertoire or Rova's reorchestrations of Coltrane's Ascension; the strategy here is about addressing not the forms of post bop and free jazz, but the contextualization of jazz language, a collective take on the patterns and rules of canonical playing.
Melodic threads are morphed through refractions of free bop phrasing, a connection driven home on "Invenio" when Wright floats in "Stella by Starlight" and "Giant Steps." He toys with melodic fragments, twisting and exploding them as he moves freely between gruff edginess and textural deconstruction, while Lambert cuts across his trajectory with warm chords and splayed lines and Prévost feints and weaves around both of them with a dazzling sense of abstracted swing. "Ergo," which takes up the entire second CD, is a study in the collective deconstruction of Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism." Over the course of 40 minutes, the theme is introduced, teased apart, dissolved, and reconstituted with gripping collective focus.
It's tempting to place the music of SUM in the same context as The Free Jazz Quartet, another ensemble Eddie Prévost has played in. Both groups reference jazz, but the FJQ is motivated by a different aesthetic and looks at the jazz tradition through an entirely different lens. Trombonist Paul Rutherford, reed player Harrison Smith, and cellist Tony Moore first got together in 1988 to engage in demonstratively conversational, polyphonic improvisations driven by Prévost's gregarious drumming. Their only previous release, Premonitions, came out on Matchless over ten years ago. Rutherford's jazz background is well-known, but Harrison Smith's is no less important. He's played with musicians like Mike Osbourne, Kenny Wheeler, Chris McGregor, and as part of the South African inspired group District Six. Moore's interests range beyond the strictly musical, and have included collaborations with dancers and visual artists in improvised settings.
The eight pieces on Memories for the Future, an animated set recorded live in Bristol in 1992, ride along on a relaxed sense of free swing. The trombonist provides his inimitable wry phrasing and blues bluster tinged with acrobatic smears, while Smith is more considered, less boisterous, and brings an open melodicism to the proceedings. The way that the two work off each other is a study in contrast and balance. Moore makes the most of the entire range of his cello, moving effortlessly between propulsive momentum and linear counterpoint, bringing out the complex rhythmic underpinning of Prévost's hyperactive playing. It's a great snapshot of the four in full flight and a vital reminder of what a great player Paul Rutherford was in a jazz-based setting.–MRo

Gebhard Ullmann
Not Two
Bass clarinettist / tenor saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann has released a pile of recordings from his 50th birthday celebration in 2007. Among the finest I've heard are the two volumes of Don't Touch My Music from the New Basement Research group, a reconfiguration of his long-standing repertory band. On these smoking live recordings, Ullmann is joined by Julian Arguelles (soprano and baritone), trombonist Steve Swell, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, and they prove to be Ullmann's best band in some time (though I'd love to hear Andreas Willers sit in with them too), the nimble rhythm section combining with the exuberant Swell to create a fine counterpoint to the somewhat more studied saxophonists.
From the first notes of Volume 1, the sound of the three horns is a delight. On "Dreierlei" they tumble through bluesy shouts, avant asides, and folk lines that open into the full-throated joy of the thematic material. It's hard for me not to focus on the interaction between Swell and the leader's galloping bass clarinet, but this tune – like so many of Ullmann's – succeeds because the players can conjure up the written as they move through open space. The band is more than up to it. The two-tenor sound is hot on "Don't Touch My Music," as the horns dig in and twist the notes around. Hebert sounds so crisp, and Cleaver rides the tune out press-rolling against Swell's boxy figures until a delicious slow groove pops up. "Kleine Figuren No. 2" has melodic shapes that remind me of Bill Frisell's "When We Go," rolling along on limber polyrhythms from Hebert and Cleaver until a churning Arguelles soprano feature ushers in the rhythmic adventure "Kleine Figuren No. 3." The first entry in this series pops up on Volume 2, which is a slightly more playful set. Cleaver's extended imagination, deeply in the pocket but superbly loose, is really quite something on the dirty blues of "Das Blaue Viertel," the urgent, AALY-ish "Kreuzberg Park East," or the magnificently reimagined (and funky) "New No Ness." What a killer band, expressive and continually playful with form. This is vivid, structurally adventurous free bop from a figure who's bizarrely overlooked.–JB

Various Artists
In February 2008, the Treader crew arranged for a concert at the St Giles-in-the-Fields church in the West End of London bringing together three reed and percussion duos. The choice of participants was inspired, drawing on multiple generations of improvisers, and Ashley Wales recorded the entire event, capturing the three 25 minute long improvisations with crystal clear detail.
First up was a duo with John Butcher and Mark Sanders. Butcher has recorded many duos with drummers over the years, including Gino Robair, Michael Zerang, Gerry Hemingway, Dylan Van Der Schyff, and Eddie Prévost, and it has been intriguing to track the differing approach to dialogue that has resulted from those various meetings. Sanders brings out a particularly garrulous edge to the saxophonist's playing. Switching between tenor and soprano, his burred foghorn blasts, clipped multiphonic flurries, and pinched skirls play off of the metallic sizzle and athletic patter of Sanders' drumming. The two lock in to each other, shifting the pace of the improvisation as they flow back and forth from tumultuous activity to delicate pools of pinprick texture. As always, one can hear Butcher using the resonance of the space to tune and modulate the sound of his horn, whether using triple-tongued torrents or circularly-breathed waves, and Sanders' vigorous energy and shrewdly controlled attack provides the perfect counterpoint.
Alex Ward and Roger Turner bring an entirely different energy to the proceedings. Turner is a more muscular, gestural drummer and his salvos bring out a forceful intensity to Ward's playing. But Ward is not merely following along here: his lithe, fluid phrasing dives against Turner's thunder and then breaks open with sinuous flutters that freely jump across the registers of his clarinet. Turner responds with scraped and crackled textures, clanging retort of cymbals and bells, and booming barrages of rimshots and bass drum retorts. There's a turbulent dynamism throughout that brings out a particularly spirited side of Ward's playing.
John Tchicai's duet with Tony Marsh has a celebratory feel, starting out with the reed player's vocal chants against the drummer's crashing percussion. Tchicai's tenor catches the cadences of his chants, slowly building intensity out of repeated melodic phrases. There's a sense of call-and-response in both the alternation of saxophone and vocals and in the way that he and Marsh construct rhythmic flow. As they gain momentum, Tchicai amps up the muscle in his playing, digging deep into the music's free jazz roots, before switching to bass clarinet to close things out on a warm, plaintive note. Each of these duos is a strong statement in its own right: taken together, they present a compelling study in synergy and contrast.–MRo

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Morton Feldman
The Trio (violin, cello and piano – but significantly the composer didn't call it "Piano Trio") was written in 1980, and is the second work, after the String Quartet of the previous year, in which Morton Feldman began exploring the long forms that occupied him for the rest of his life. Or, rather, large canvases, since, as he wrote elsewhere, "I work very much like a painter, insofar as I'm watching the phenomena and thickening and thinning." Traditionally notated in a 69-page score – whose pages contain either three or four systems, each divided into nine bars (though as many of these are to be repeated, sometimes up to 11 times, the work as a whole consists of more than 3000 measures) – it's always been one my favourite late Feldman pieces, but until now I've been used to the earlier (first) recording on hatART by Josje and Job Ter Haar and John Snijders. The appearance of this new reading by Marc Sabat, Rohan de Saram and Aki Takahashi is a welcome surprise – any new recording of Feldman is, providing it's good and done correctly and authoritatively – not least because it's nearly half an hour longer than the earlier version! I've yet to go through both side by side and check that both trios are repeating certain measures the same number of times, but I suspect they are. Oddly enough, the hatART version has never felt "fast" – in the way that Charles Curtis's reading of Patterns In A Chromatic Field (Tzadik) has always done – and this new Mode certainly doesn't drag (as de Saram's own version of Patterns, on hatART too, sometimes seems to do).. clearly, there's enough material here for an entire paper on the question of notation and perception of tempi in Feldman. Perhaps someone could persuade Sabine Feisst to undertake the enterprise, as once more her liner notes for this release are excellent. So is the performance. If you're coming to late Feldman for the first time, this may not be the best place to begin – go for something more "accessible" like For Samuel Beckett or the solo piano music – but Feldman nuts won't want to be without it. Also available on a Surround Sound DVD, which, I'm reliably informed, is superb too.–DW

Kazuya Ishigami
This album was released in May last year, but doesn't seem to have had much press so far. I guess Kazuya Ishigami's only got himself to blame for that by calling it what he did. Typical Japanese modesty (you know the kind of thing, you turn up to someone's house for a light snack, they serve you with an exquisite assortment of traditional delicacies and shrug it off with, "oh this isn't much, but..") or not, it's a dangerous album title, inviting some wag to give it a three-word review ("indeed they are"). But if Ishigami really thinks these ten pieces created between June 2004 and June 2006 are poor, I'd really like to hear something he considers to be good.
Websearching for the label name – which stands for "Noise Electronic Unknown Sounds" – dredges up a biography, and an impressive CV to boot: born in Osaka in 1972, Ishigami graduated from Osaka University Of Arts in 1994, with a B.A. in Music Engineering. His music was heard at the INA-GRM in August 1997, since when he's notched up an impressive list of residencies, commissions and collaborations, with, amongst others, Tomas Korber (2003's excellent Mistakes), Erdem Helvacioglu, Sunao Inami, Masayuki Akamatsu, and Government Alpha – and the Neus 318 site only seems to go as far as 2005.
In common with earlier Japanese musique concrète – think Toshiro Mayazumi, Toru Takemitsu, Joji Yuasa – Ishigami's music mixes the commonplace and the sublime, the obvious and the inscrutable, rarely attempting to disguise the origin of its source material – the voices of children (Otera de Banzai), dripping of water (God of a stone and God of dog) and chiming of a prayer bowl (Story of Assaji) are easily identifiable – but subtle in its post-production and use of reverb for depth and definition. Tracks five and six use what the composer calls Zarur, a "cheap feedback system" using Max/MSP to transform piezo pickup feedback. The cryptic liner notes are worth quoting here (punctuation and spacing his, not mine): "I think , Almost digital sounds(new wave electro-acoustic sounds) is no-passion, no-emotions. but, Zarur Feed-Back have passions and emotions. Zarur Feed-Back is like a life. Sounds grow up gradually."
Can't help feeling that there should be an "all" between the "almost" and the "digital" there, but the mistake is significant, perhaps, like the wonderful "mistakes" with Tomas Korber, intentional. It's clear that there's plenty of digital jiggerypokery going on in these pieces – the reversed soundfiles on Victim is attacked from assailant protection (another strange title – what does that "from" mean?), the cunning editing on fu-an-tei, cutting swathes through a rainforest of glistening high frequencies and bleeping electronic nightlife – but, as with the music of Jason Lescalleet, which often comes to mind here, you can feel the raw heat of analogue throughout. On Devadata's Childhood it's often hard to tell which sounds are human (vocal) in origin and which are electronic, so detailed is the investigation of the dirty cracks in which groans are pulverised into grit and drones squeezed into long strands of spit and squeak. Its queasy, uneasy montage is appropriately disturbing as an evocation of the life of the man who tried to kill Buddha – twice.–DW

Tom Johnson
New World
Explanations are sometimes "quite unnecessary, because the logic of the works often remains sufficiently simple to be perceived directly in listening," writes Gilbert Delor in a fine essay accompanying this latest offering from Tom Johnson, which is in fact the third time 21 Rational Melodies has appeared on disc (a solo flute reading by Eberhard Blum came out on hatART in 1993, and Roger Heaton's clarinet reading appeared on Ants four years ago). And it's true: in the time that it takes to write a description of what's happening in, say, VIII – begin with a descending four-note chromatic scale, insert the same scale between each of the four notes played twice as fast, repeat this process three times – the piece is nearly over and done with. Not all the processes Johnson applies to his material as are linear and easy to figure out at first listening, sure, but even the more involved melodies (only two of them go beyond the three-minute mark) soon yield up their secrets, thanks in no small part to the fact that they're orchestrated here for nine-piece ensemble. The forceful unison playing at times recalls earlier ensemble masterpieces of linear and block additive process minimalism, notably Frederic Rzewski's Coming Together and Louis Andriessen's Hoketus, but much of the music is light and playful. Of course, if you like your minimalism more static and monolithic, go for Niblock instead, and if you want something pleasant to chug along in the background while you serve petits fours salés to your trendy friends, you'd be better off with Koyaanisqatsi, but if you're prepared to sit down quietly and appreciate the simple beauty of mathematics, this'll do nicely.–DW

Jason Kahn
Creative Sources
Jason Kahn talks about his Timelines as frameworks which act as "social situations, bringing together a particular group dynamic within the parameters of a graphical score. The musicians are free to interpret the score as they wish. I only ask them to adhere to the dynamic ranges indicated and the timing of when to start and stop playing." The scores (available on Kahn's website at http://jasonkahn.net/scores/index.html) provide simple, time-boxed, sequence diagrams, using visual patterns as cues for density and duration with specific lanes of activity prescribed to each musician. Kahn first explored the idea back in 2005 in a release on his Cut label with Tomas Korber, Norbert Möslang, Günter Müller, Steinbrüchel, and Christian Weber. He returned to the strategy with a slightly different crew for Timelines_NY, performed at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn in 2007, and, while visiting Los Angeles (where he grew up) a year later, he contacted Mark Trayle about performing or lecturing at CalArts. Trayle suggested that he compose a piece with a group of his choosing.
Timelines Los Angeles' changes in instrumentation and personnel results in a very different feel than the previous two versions. Kahn, on percussion and analog synth, is joined here by Olivia Block on prepared piano, Ulrich Krieger on alto and sopranino sax and live electronics, and Trayle on laptop and guitar. While the long-form transitions of textures, dynamics, and densities remains, the use of piano and saxophone changes the elemental building blocks of the piece. Attack, sustain, and acoustic resonance play a significant role in the overall form and transitional signposts. Block's percussive attack and jangling string vibrations and Krieger's flutters, breathy hiss, and pad pops introduce the piece, slowly leading to looping, undulating waves of piano and burred, circularly-breathed currents of reeds. Kahn's sheets of analog synth and Trayle's crackling laptop textures play off the acoustic instruments, filling out the collective orchestration as the piece builds to a dense roar, finally subsiding in shifting layers of hushed atmospherics.–MRo

Ingram Marshall
New World
This fine disc brings together four pieces spanning over a quarter of a century, from 1976's The Fragility Cycles ("Gambuh") to the title track, a "lamentation" on the events of 9/11 commissioned and composed the following year, via 1981's gamelan work Woodstone and 1990's Peaceable Kingdom, for orchestra and tape. "The word 'beautiful' is hard to define," writes the composer, currently based at Yale but long associated with the West Coast scene, "but in some way it's always in the back of my mind when writing. I do go for some sense of the lovely or the beautiful or the gorgeous, the sensuous: something that grabs, that's palpable, and is not on the surface disagreeable," he admits. Lovely Music would have been an appropriate label to release it on, but instead many of Marshall's albums have appeared on New Albion. If you're one of those hard-boiled avant-gardists who believes New Albion is to new music what ECM is to jazz, reverb included (see Evan Parker's comments on this in this month's interview), you may already be crossing this one off your shopping list. But don't be in such a hurry to dismiss it out of hand. Sure, Marshall's Balinese flute (that's the gambuh of the title) and Serge synthesizer sound a little dated, but so does Poppy Nogood and I don't hear folks moaning about that. The gamelan piece is particularly intriguing, based as it is on a theme from Beethoven's Waldstein sonata – see if you can spot it – and Marshall's incorporation of field recordings (a Yugoslavian funeral procession, Italian church bells..) in Peaceable Kingdom is subtle and convincing. Maybe a bit more so than the orchestral writing, which is somewhat cloying in places. But the stand-out track is September Canons itself, performed with great sensitivity by my old Eastman School pal Todd "Ethel" Reynolds on violin, with electronic processing. Reynolds's intonation and articulation is exceptional, and he's careful to underplay the vibrato – the work's emotionally charged enough as it is. The incorporation of quotations from Bach's D minor Chaconne and In the Sweet Bye and Bye is touching and convincing. And for those who still think it's all a bit heavy on the reverb, well I guess you could say that the events of September 11th 2001 will continue to reverberate for years, maybe decades, to come.–DW

Various Artists
It's great to see the albums released as Earle Brown-curated Contemporary Sound Series coming back into circulation again after years gathering dust in the dark recesses of music school record libraries (where I first discovered them as an impressionable teenager in the late 1970s), with the original liner notes and cover art included but transferred to digital from the original vinyl and remastered and enhanced by Udo Wüstendörfer at Hessischer Rundfunk in Frankfurt. The series runs the gamut from "mainstream" 20th century classics like Ives's Concord sonata to nascent free improvisation, via Darmstadt total serialism and New York School open form, and has been rather cunningly packaged here in triple-CD sets to prevent "specialists" choosing just one kind of music and ignoring the others (unless they're available separately – seems not from what I can make out). The first volume – the first of six – brings together three wildly different albums, one featuring relatively "straight" works for percussion, one containing three classic readings of Kagel and Stockhausen, and one documenting the early years of European avant-garde improvisation by free music pioneers AMM and MEV.
The pieces on Concert Percussion for Orchestra, performed by the Manhattan Percussion Ensemble, sound great now they've been dusted off and dolled up for digital ears (if you're a hi fi nerd there's plenty of technical info at the back of the booklet), but they come across as relatively mainstream, even tame, nearly half a century on from their original release. Even John Cage's Amores (1943) sounds as remote and classical as Satie's Socrate (that's a compliment by the way). His First Construction in Metal and Varèse's Ionisation still pack a mighty modernist punch, but they're not part of this set. Still, they're easily available elsewhere, and there's nothing wrong with tapping your feet to Amadeo Roldán's Ritmica No. 6 (1930) ("Tiempo de Rhumba") or William Russell's Three Dance Movements (1933) instead.
Karlheinz Stockhausen's back catalogue these days is only available directly from the Stockhausen Verlag (and it doesn't come cheap either), so it's especially gratifying to see Zyklus (1959) for solo percussionist (Christoph Caskel) and Refrain (1959) for piano, celesta, vibraphone and percussion (Caskel, with Aloys and Bernhard Kontarsky) back in the racks again, along with Mauricio Kagel's Transición II (1958/59) for piano (David Tudor), percussion (Caskel again) and two magnetic tapes. Zyklus is a real treat, with its exuberant glissandi and tom tom flourishes, and it's wonderful to hear the crystalline beauty of Refrain again after many years struggling to make it out on a hissy old Memorex cassette (even if the composer's cryptic liner notes don't add much to the experience: "those who wish to understand what I have written for the three players in Refrain must read the score" – yeah, right, Karlheinz, thanks a bunch). The Kagel piece is one of the highpoints of the Darmstadt era, and Tudor's performance is simply stunning; the piece's spiky counterpoint sounds as weird and wonderful now as it must have done back in 1961.
The third disc, originally released in 1970, is another slab of outrageous modernity that hasn't aged a bit. This was a fascinating period for free music, when it was still closer in sound and spirit to contemporary avant-garde and experimental music, before it became cross-pollinated with the Dionysian excesses of free jazz. MEV's Spacecraft (recorded when? it doesn't say) is superb, all raw groaning feedback and stuttering distorted percussion, and the AMM offering is, if anything, even stranger. Hardcore AMM fans will spot it at once: it's the two-hour-long concert recorded at The Crypt on June 12th 1968 (later released in its entirety on Matchless of course), but here "edited and interspersed with silence in accordance with a random number programme", to quote Cornelius Cardew's liner notes. Unfortunately, when the original Mainstream album appeared, the labels were mixed up and the AMM track was billed as MEV and vice versa, a mistake sadly (and carelessly) replicated on this CD reissue. Slapped wrists to the people at Wergo, but hats off to them anyway for making this extraordinary music available once more. It looks like Volume 2 has already hit the streets, so it's time to raid the piggy bank once again.–DW

Christian Wolff
New World
The full title of this work, commissioned by pianist Thomas Schultz, who performs it here, is Long Piano (Peace March 11), which might lead those familiar with Christian Wolff's longstanding commitment to left-wing politics to expect something huge, heroic and user-(worker?-)friendly in the manner of Cardew's Thälmann Variations or Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated. It isn't. It's long, certainly (just under an hour), and falls into sections – or patches, as Wolff calls them (the term being a reference to the visual arts, particularly Jennifer Bartlett's huge Rhapsody, an arrangement of 988 foot-square plates, which the composer was taken with when he saw it just after finishing this piece) – rather than opting for the old(-fashioned?) variation form favoured by Cardew and Rzewski. Wolff's notation, often a kind of tablature which specifies rhythm but leaves the choice of pitch up to the performer, also makes the pursuit of melodic and harmonic cross-connections between the patches a difficult exercise. In short, this is music to engage with actively as a listener: politics in action. In an excellent essay accompanying the release, "Christian Wolff and the Politics of Music", John Tilbury writes: "Unlike his [Wolff's] close friend Cornelius Cardew, who sacrificed all on the altar of revolution, Wolff never loses his musical focus; he always writes good music. For Cardew music was the handmaiden of the revolution; it did what it was told and it suffered." One wonders what Cardew would have made of Wolff's recent music, had he lived long enough to hear it. Not a lot, I imagine – for this is often tough stuff, lean and contrapuntal, uncompromising and erudite, referencing amongst others Schumann (Kinderszenen) and Ives (Three-Page Sonata), and certainly not something you could imagine the comrades singing along to as they march along the street. Then again, Marxist theory isn't light, coffee table reading material – why should music not demand a similar effort on the part of the listener? Stick with it; it pays off.–DW

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Philip Brophy / Philip Samartzis
Sound Punch
I reckon my bank manager would like a few words with Philip Brophy. It was thanks in no small part to his insightful writing on sound in cinema in The Wire a few years back that I started taking films more seriously than I had done previously, leading eventually to the DVD bulimia that has now taken over not only my life, but my wife's as well. Little did I know back then, when I read his superb essay on Walter Murch's sound design for Coppola's The Conversation, that Brophy was also a filmmaker and musician in his own right. In fact I only found this out a few weeks ago when five CDs on his Sound Punch label appeared in the mailbox. All of them are worth checking out, especially if you like a sideways view of intelligent techno (Beautiful Cyborg) and distinctly strange post-post-rock covers of Bowie's "Heroes" (Aurevelateur), but the one that's been getting the airplay round here is his collaborative soundtrack with another mighty Philip from Down Under, Samartzis (who, incidentally, took over from Brophy at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology).
Northern Void is a soundtrack – as well you might expect – for a 50-minute film of the same name Brophy shot in a disaffected industrial estate north of Melbourne. From what I can work out, Samartzis provided field recordings, and Brophy stuck music on top of (behind, underneath..) them. It's curiously haunting at times, even if the keyboards sound very keyboardy (if you know what I mean..) and even if the ear is drawn more into the background of Samartzis's field recordings than it probably ought to be. Brophy's knowledge of popular and not so popular music, from Ash Ra Tempel to Aphex Twin (via Jon Hassell and lots of early 80s synth groups you'd probably not mention in polite company) is impressive, but – perhaps because I haven't seen it in the context of the film, perhaps because Samartzis's sounds are so intriguing – one longs for a little more surprise, more dirt, more danger. What would Walter Murch have done in a disaffected industrial estate north of Melbourne, I wonder?–DW

Angus Carlyle
These 13 splendid field recording-based soundscapes were recorded in 2008 in Kami-Katsura in the suburbs of Kyoto, Japan. "There is a special tranquillity here which is reflected in the acoustic atmospheres from before dawn until after dusk," writes Angus Carlyle in the handsome oversize (14x26cm) digipak, which also includes a 12-page booklet describing the circumstances surrounding each recording in detail. Too much detail, maybe – his anecdotes about eating too much green tea ice cream and meticulous descriptions of the people he encountered while recording, right down to details of behaviour and clothing, are well-written and entertaining, but the recordings tell their own stories too, of quiet cafés and lonely level crossings, riverbanks and trains, and should be listened to attentively before – and not while – reading the accompanying text (watch out if you do, though: "Bamboo Harvest" comes before "Walk Through" on the disc, but not in the booklet..). In terms of recording quality and editing, it's another impressive offering from the Gruenrekorder people – but, oddly enough, one of the most magical moments on the disc, the monks of the Jyoujyuji Temple beating drums and ringing bells at daybreak, was recorded with failing batteries, "as if an acoustic fog has descended to blur outlines and make distance unfathomable, a cloudiness that shadows the fortunes of memory and meaning," writes Carlyle. Just as well – sometimes we remember too much.–DW

Hong Chulki
Ghost & Son
It was with some fear and trepidation I pooped (sorry, typo) popped this into the CD player at 6am the other morning – well, you didn't expect me to inflict it on wife and child over dinner now, did you? – expecting all kinds of farts, splats and sploshes ("a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell"..), but happily it sounds remarkably similar to Hong Chulki's other improv outings (not that the wife and child would enjoy those much either, to be honest). Using tried and trusted feedback loop procedures developed over recent years, Chulki attached a piezo pickup to and an exposed audio cable under the ventilation duct in the men's room in the Nam June Paik Art Center in Yongin-Si, in an act of homage to Paik's own 1963 installation Prepared WC. The result, unedited and unprocessed, is 20 minutes of grainy, nasty, scratchy feedback, underpinned by menacing hum. Not the kind of sound environment I'd really enjoy spending any time in, to be honest, but, unless you're George Michael, you probably only visit such places when the old colon gives you the elbow, as Dr. Benway sez.–DW

When Minamo surfaced last it was in collaboration with Swedish melodic maestros Tape, in a collaboration that struck a restrained balance between hummable melody, sizzled electronics and modestly arranged instrumentalism. With Durée, however, they're subtly extending their locus of sonic operations. Inspired by Henri-Louis Bergson, the Tokyo-based ensemble uses his concept of "pure durée" – where consciousness is in perpetual flow – to chart movements and machinations throughout this measured session.
Unlike some past editions, which dwelled more solidly with signal based electronics, acoustic instrumentation plays a larger and more tonally dominant role here. The guitar, harmonica and other acoustic contributions on "Helical Scenery", for instance, overtly guide the development of the piece, the electronic components becoming a skeleton over which the track manifests itself. At no point though do the electronics lose shape or purpose – instead, their more restrained use of these elements creates a remarkably engaging balance. "First Breathing At Last" is perhaps the most representative offering in this respect, a finely pressed mesh of descending oscillation, melancholic piano, sparse guitar, minute electronic tweets and gradually warming organs growing across its length. The layers of pulse and spaced notes create a wholly absorbing journey, one which, while largely devoid of any drama or unexpected turns, captivates in a most unassuming and welcoming way.–LE

Carol Robinson
"I don't always know what it's going to do," admits basset horn / birbyne virtuoso Carol Robinson, talking about the Max/MSP application she and Carl Faia designed for an earlier work, an extract of which eventually formed the basis for Billows. Robinson's instruments – the birbyne, by the way, is a Lithuanian single or double reed instrument – are miked up and the signal routed into the computer, which adds voices of its own, whose pitches and intervals depend not only on those played live but also on the timbre of the instrument and the acoustic of the performance space itself. Such a bald description can hardly prepare you for the outstanding beauty and subtlety of the music contained in these twelve tracks (which Robinson recommends should be played in shuffle mode) – the accompanying booklet, with its references both to the South Dakota landscape Robinson grew up in and Milan Kundera's Slowness, might give you more of an idea of what to expect ("to relish, prolong and remember a moment, one moves and acts slowly"), but you won't want to read it while listening. Robinson's technical mastery – documented on numerous discs: check out her Feldman and Scelsi on Mode, while we wait for Radigue's Naldjorlak II and III – is evident throughout, but that doesn't explain why the hairs stand up. Of course, you never know why the hairs stand up – but if they do you know you're onto a winner. And this is one for sure: an essential release.–DW

Mike Shiflet / Daniel Menche
The landscape surrounding Lake Wahtum in Oregon looks like the surface of the moon in Daniel Menche's photographs adorning this fine collaborative venture with Mike "Gameboy" Shiflet, but there's apparently plenty of forest nearby, and strange things lurking in it (http://www.bigfootencounters.com/stories/whatum.htm). Both Menche and Shiflet have been alarmingly prolific in recent years, and I can't claim to have heard more than about ten per cent of the music they've released, but these three extended cuts for Hammond organs (they both played Hammonds? at the same time? we wanna live version!) and electronics are among the most impressive and well-constructed pieces I've heard for a while. Alan Courtis and Lasse Marhaug's North and South Neutrino (Antifrost) comes to mind – one knows what these musicians are capable of, in terms of sheer volume and brute strength (images of Menche on one of his punishing runs in the forest here), and it adds a sense of foreboding to the music. Events often feel as if they're ready to spiral out of control, but the distortion and grating metal ugliness is held in check, buried under layers of menacing drone. There's a terrific sense of tension throughout, maintained by both the musical material itself and the form it's forced to assume. Masterly work, check it out.–DW

Richard Skelton
Type Records
In a recent issue of the New Yorker, American poet Meghan O'Rourke wrote about the complexities of death-related grief (Feb. 1, "Good Grief"). In her article, psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes argues that the dominant feature of grief of a "restless searching," while Paul Maciejewski states that "the feeling that predominated in the bereaved subjects was not depression or disbelief or anger but yearning." A sense of searching and yearning pervades Richard Skelton's latest full-length album, the aching, evocative Landings, which, like Sustain-Release, the private press he founded in 2005, is dedicated to the memory of his wife, artist Louise Skelton. Along with Autumn Richardson, Skelton also runs Corbel Stone Press, which also releases limited-edition, hand-bound poetry chapbooks with a strong emphasis on a minimalist, folk-oriented design and packaging aesthetic.
After 2008's acclaimed debut on Type, Marking Time, Landings is only the second release under Skelton's name (he's also recorded as Clouwbeck, Carousell and A Broken Consort), and was completed after a four-year period spent exploring the Anglezarke, a civil parish in the West Pennines whose topography is characterized by both large expanses of barren moorland and reservoirs which supply water to neighboring towns. As a study of the mysterious pastoral landscape – the bulk of the album's material are Skelton's field recordings – Landings is evocative, a history and quiet voice for his native land's uncultivated geography. Yet Skelton's own psychological map of loss is tightly tied to his surrounding environs, and the album ultimately presents a narrative that is both impossibly intimate and grandly suggestive. Through strands of avant-garde experimentalism, modern classical, English folk and early music, it threads together folklore, natural history and personal recollection, creating an uncertain place for redemption, rebuilding, transformation and rebirth.
Similar to the polished production style of composers like Max Richter, Johann Johannson, or Hauschka, the 70-minute album feels as open and clean as the surrounding countryside. But the amount of dramatic texture and aural density reveals an affinity for delicate ambience and drone popular with Tim Hecker, Tape, Mountains, and Gas (particularly on "River Song" or "Voice of the Book"). With poise and clarity, Skelton weaves motifs from bowed and plucked instruments into a dense mist; field recordings are subtle additions, as in the keening bird cries of "Rapture" or the rush of water in "Greens Within Brook." Elusive, solemn melodies materialize from acoustic guitar, particularly on the repetitive, heavily looped pieces "Pariah" and "Scar Tissue," or album's second half centerpiece, "Remaindered." After the conclusion of "The Shape Leaves," Landings induces a strange phantom limb sensation. Its presence is still felt, sidling up to us like a ghostly whisper, a reminder that memory is elusive, that loss is intangible, that meaning evades us even as we try to grasp at answers.–NP

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