AUTUMN 2010 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Jason Bivins, Nate Dorward, John Eyles, Stephen Griffith, Marc Medwin, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton, Matt Wuethrich:

Musica Improvvisa
Kevin Drumm
Keith Fullerton Whitman
Evan Parker
Billy Bang / Juhani Aaltonen / Kalle Kalima
VINYL SOLUTION: Joshua Abrams / Bill Baird / Marcia Bassett & Margarida Garcia / Antoine Chessex / Cutler, Frith & Dimuzio / Brunhild Ferrari / Sven-Ake Johansson / Locatelli & Braida / Charlemagne Palestine / peeesseye / Ignaz Schick / Thisquietarmy & Scott Cortez / Christian Wolfarth
Billy Bang / Berlin Buenos Aires Quintet / Tony Bevan / John Butcher & Claudia Ulla Binder / Convergence Quartet / Cranc / Axel Dörner & Diego Chamy / Peter Evans Quartet / Mostly Other People Do The Killing / Jean-Marc Foltz / Mathias Forge & Olivier Toulemonde / Gauci, Davis & Bisio / Tomaz Grom & Seijiro Murayama / Robin Hayward & Roberto Fabbriciani
Joe Morris & Nate Wooley / Ravalico, Marshall & Khroustaliov / Larry Ochs' Kihnoua / Kevin Parks & Joe Foster / Respect Sextet / Rivière Composers' Pool / Rollet, Sores & Toth / Sehnaoui & Mayas / Christoph Schiller & Carl Ludwig Hubsch / Stasis Duo
Catherine Christer Hennix / University of Illinois Experimental Music Studio / Earle Brown Contemporary Sound Series Vol 3 / Iannis Xenakis
Thomas Ankersmit / Cluster & Farnbauer / Lasse Marc Riek / Viva Negativa
Last issue


Double booking is quite popular these days in the world of air travel and hotel reservation, but this is the first time I can remember it happening in the pages of Paris Transatlantic. Sure, PT's Purple Prose Peddlers are like dogs circling the same lamp post when it comes to certain releases (this month both Jason Bivins and Michael Rosenstein were sniffing around that Thomas Ankersmit CD on Touch – Michael won by a nose), but I didn't think I'd end up with two reviews of – and rather different reactions to – Billy Bang's Prayer For Peace on the Finnish TUM imprint. One of these is by my Wire colleague Matthew Wuethrich, whose writing I've long admired in the pages of Dusted and All About Jazz, and whom I'm delighted to welcome aboard this month. Matt currently lives in Finland, and has been a source of valuable information on what's going on up there for a while now, so his pitch for the latest three TUM releases was enthusiastically accepted. I didn't realise until a couple of days ago that the Bang disc had also been pitched my way by Nate Dorward, but I enjoyed his review so much I decided to run it too. There was nearly another double booking this time round with Kevin Drumm's Necro Acoustic box, which Matt also suggested covering, but I decided to split the Drumm roundup between him and Michael. Not that I wouldn't have minded writing on it myself, as it's been getting pretty heavy airplay here at PTHQ too, and driving my wife and son mad in the process (well, you can't listen to KD on headphones now, can you?).
I was a little worried there wouldn't be a featured interview this time round, as the two I'm currently working on – with Radu Malfatti and John Tilbury – still need some fleshing out, but our Texan cowboy Clifford Allen came riding to the rescue at the last minute with a fascinating piece on expat Dutch pianist / clarinettist Kees Hazevoet. Great stuff, and well worth spending time with, as is Haazz's music. Check it out. Bonne lecture.-DW

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Musica Improvvisa

Various Artists
Die Schachtel
Musica Improvvisa, according to the blurb on the Die Schachtel website, is "a cutting-edge project of multi-sensorial improvisation, an open dialogue among different musical experiences, narratives and aesthetics that charters the unexplored soundscape of the telluric territory of the new Italian Improvised Music." Elsewhere, in the 24-page booklet accompanying the 10 CDs and one DVD, it states that "Musica Improvvisa is a project about electronic improvisation" – odd, then, that the first disc of the set is a predominantly acoustic affair featuring a quartet, Thau, three of whose members are in fact based in Switzerland (vocalist Sabina Meyer, saxophonist Hans Koch and bassist / clarinettist Paed Conca), the Italian odd man out being percussionist Fabrizio Spera.
Maybe it's because we're biologically programmed at birth to respond to the human voice, especially female, but vocalists in improv always stick out (the only example I can think of offhand of one who blends in so perfectly he's almost impossible to spot is, surprisingly, Phil Minton on last year's Midhopestones on Another Timbre); Koch, Conca and Spera are up to their usual interesting tricks here, but whatever they do still comes across as accompaniment of sorts – it's Meyer who retains our attention. Thankfully, she doesn't trot out the fake orgasms, gurgles and twitters usually associated with vocal improv, but actually sounds like she's singing – and it's not hysterical prima donna warbling either – yet one wonders whether she wouldn't be better off interpreting something fully composed and intricate from the back catalogue of Blast, Conca and Spera's other outfit with Dirk Bruinsma and Frank Crijns. As it is, her set with Thau is supple, reactive and often quite jazzy, but I'd hardly call it cutting-edge.
There's a similar feeling of been-there-done-that in the six tracks by Experiment In Navigation, in which Xabier Iriondo (who's half-Italian – his dad is Basque) plays a self-designed table guitar he calls a mahai metak with fellow guitarist Roberto Sassi, who's currently a mainstay of the London Improvisers Orchestra and part of the trio Vole with fellow LIO footsoldiers Roland Ramanan and Javier Carmona. The pair are clearly having a ball using whatever special effects they have at their disposal, and Giuseppe Ielasi's impeccable mastering makes whatever they do sound terrific, but one senses that the music could be filed away on several different shelves – Ambient, post-prog, drone (both static – "Tidal Resonance" and pulsed – "Wreckage in Gaddani") and even Noise – without ever really belonging on any one of them. Even when things get nasty on "Crustal Navigation" the violence feels somehow clean, contrived even, more a calling card display ("yes, we do Noise too!") than a spontaneous outpouring of raw emotion.
Rome-based Ossatura – Elio Martusciello on laptop, Fabrizio Spera on percussion and Luca Venitucci on piano and accordion – have been working together for well over a decade now (though their discography isn't exactly enormous: 1998's Dentro with Tim Hodgkinson on ReR Megacorp is the one to pick up next time you have some cash to spare) – and it shows. For their contribution to Musica Improvvisa they've invited more guests, in the form of Gene Coleman on bass clarinet and Marina Peterson on cello, and the resulting four-movement symphony (that's my term, not theirs) is the highlight of this box for me, and the one album I'd recommend above all others should Die Schachtel decide, at some stage, to issue them separately.
For Italian free improvisers, the ultimate historical point of reference, and the name that comes up every time the subject is discussed, is Il Gruppo di Improvisazione Nuova Consonanza. Odd that that should be the case, perhaps, especially since GINC founding father Franco Evangelisti described it as "the first group in the world made up totally of composers," but now that the difference between composition and improvisation has all but disappeared, we can let the remark slip. Or maybe not, since a familiarity with performing notated music, conventionally written or in the form of graphic scores, is becoming an increasingly attractive idea to today's improvisers, it seems. Venitucci was until recently a card-carrying member of the highly acclaimed Zeitkratzer ensemble, and that sensibility to the sonorities and structures of contemporary classical music (Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music excluded perhaps, though Venitucci was one of the musicians most closely involved with transcribing and orchestrating Reed's magnum opium) marks his playing. You only need to compare it to the work of another free improvising pianist / accordionist – Fred Van Hove – to hear the difference. What set Il Gruppo apart from other groundbreaking free music ensembles in the 60s was its fondness for and natural appropriation of the soundworld of European post-WWII serial and American experimental music. Similarly, Ossatura's music reveals a deep understanding of forms of new music beyond the range of "traditional" improv and free jazz, an influence fully absorbed and integrated into the group's praxis without the musicians having to go out of their way to cram their work full of obvious stylistic tics and tricks (which was the impression I got from Experiment in Navigation). Gene Coleman could well have been thinking of Martusciello, Spera and Venitucci when he said in his PT interview back in (gulp) 1996: "I think there are performers who come along regularly who have the ability to read music very accurately, and that at the same time, in other situations, can go beyond that situation, can play in different idioms and with a greater degree of relaxation, understood in a certain sense. I think this type of talent is especially important now: that, at least in some subtle ways, it can function as a bridge between the 'classical' realm and different forms of popular music and popular culture."
But building bridges between musical genres and idioms isn't enough, it seems. Xubuxue's Elliptical – Fotopartiture per tre improvvisatori is a collaborative venture between visual artist Pietro D'Agostino and improvisers Marco Ariano (percussion), Gianfranco Tedeschi (double bass) and, once more, Martusciello, which aims to "investigate contaminations and parallels between light and sound", as well as "test sound improvisation, corrupting it, leading it astray, away from any canons." As the visual element is of key importance, it's fitting that there's a DVD to accompany the CD, but quite how the images, shifting slowly both upwards and downwards into a central horizontal band of colour, or "skyline", are translated into sound is for you to figure out (I'm not sure I have yet, but then again I've been listening to as many versions as I can get my hands on of Cardew's Treatise for years and haven't made many connections there either). Oddly enough, the music seems busier, more chirpy and chattery, on the CD, as if the extra level of complexity provided by D'Agostino's video art seems to absorb, or render more neutral, some of the sonic information. Even so, Tedeschi's bass playing is somewhat intrusive at times – he's a good, strong player with a solid background in fiery free jazz as well as contemporary music and composition but I'd be happier if I could hear more of what Martusciello and Ariano are doing in the background.
Xabier Iriondo and his mahai metak, not to mention various objects and electronics, returns as part of Wintermute, a trio with Cristiano Calcagnile (percussion, objects, vocals) and Massimo Falascone (alto and baritone saxes, mouthorgan, electronics and tugombuto, whatever that is), joined by Marco Posocco on vocals on three of their album's six tracks. The name of the group derives from William Gibson's science fiction novel Neuromancer (via Philip K. Dick – Orval Wintermute, translator of the Nag Hammadi codices, was, apparently, a character in Dick's Valis), and extracts of Gibson's text are scattered throughout the disc. Like the Thau album mentioned above, this poses something of a problem: when the spoken word appears, it pushes the music into the background, and the whole affair becomes a rather cluttered, effects-heavy sci-fi hörspiel. Fine if you're a sci-fi fan, I suppose, but I'm not, and would have preferred hearing Falascone – an inventive musician I've had the pleasure of playing with myself – in a more exposed setting.
Amuleto is a duo project featuring Francesco Dillon from Turin and his cousin Riccardo Wanke, who was born in Genoa, grew up in Milan and now lives in Lisbon. Dillon is a classically trained new music cellist whose impressive CV lists collaborations with composers as diverse as Glass and Globokar, and you can hear it: the pitch and bow control are impeccable (don't be put off by the nasty scrapes of the opening moments). So are Wanke's guitar interventions and field recordings, but the 61-minute 11h15: Local Weather Forecast is never flashy. Its dark brown drones are discreet, introspective, gloomy even, and those familiar with Wanke's solo work on Sedimental and (wondering again whether at some stage Musica Improvvisa's ten albums will be available individually) fans of 3/4HadBeenEliminated and Giuseppe Ielasi will find much to enjoy. To what extent it's completely improvised is open to question – the field recordings from Guatemala, Morocco, Mexico and Portugal have obviously been carefully selected – but as the vast majority of improv albums these days (live recordings included) feature some kind of post-production jiggery pokery, who's complaining?
There's a hell of a lot of music to get your head round in this box, but it's not all difficult listening. Tumble, percussionist Andrea Belfi's duo with Attila Faravelli on turntable and computer, serves up seven dishes of very user-friendly, harmonically straightforward post-Tortoise EAI. If you like Trapist you'll probably enjoy this, but from where I'm sitting it does sound as if something's missing up front. Listening to For Tumbling is like taking photographs with a digital camera: the perceptual machine isn't quite sure what to focus on, and without something distinctive in the foreground – not necessarily a solo, but some kind of hook or motive, say – we're left with a choice of backgrounds, all of which are perfectly agreeable but few of which sustain the attention for long. Sort of like an aural screensaver. Belfi's a dab hand at that snare – our man in Italy, Maestro Ricci, who's a big fan of Rhys Chatham's Waterloo No.2 (I'm not, but never mind) will probably love the military patterns of "Gymnastic Apparatus" – and on "To A Metal Frame" gets.. funky (honest). It's very enjoyable, and could be the only album of improvised music I've heard all year that has me actually tapping my feet, but given the choice between Hamilton Bohannon and Chaka Khan, well, you know who I'm going to choose.
In stark contrast, the latest offering from the Neapolitan A Spirale – Massimo Spezzaferro (drums and objects), Maurizio Argenziano (electric guitar and feedback) and Mario Gabola (acoustic and feedback sax) – could be their most uncompromising outing to date. Not sure if Viande means anything in Italian, but I do know it's French for "meat". And we're not talking tournedos rossini here, more like a hunk of tough gristle from a street market in Secondigliano. A lot of improv these days plays it too safe, so it's nice to hear three guys who are prepared to get their feet dirty and their knuckles bloody. Even so, some of this stuff is decidedly nasty – it's probably just as well that none of the 12 tracks overstays its welcome (the longest clocks in at 4'51", the shortest at just 1'32").
Further south, and across the Straits of Messina, the Advanced Music & Media Pool Palermo, aka AMP2, is a collective featuring, on this particular release, Hopeful Monster, Gandolfo Pagano on prepared guitar and electronics, Dario Sanfilippo on laptop, live electronics, feedback network based nonlinear DSP system, Antonino Secchia on laptop, live electronics and percussion, Andrea Valle on Rumentarium (SuperCollider-driven electro-mechanical percussion set) and AMP founding father Domenico Sciajno on laptop, live electronics and Max/MSP. Not surprisingly, with all that gear, they can make quite a racket. The rough and tumble of the bookend tracks "Parent-Explains" and "Thousand" is fun, but exhausting; individual contributions can be more easily assessed and appreciated in the more spacious pieces (it's nice to be able to hear exactly how all these impressive-sounding gadgets transform basic sonic raw material). "Results" is my pick of the bunch, but even there the musicians can't resist thickening the plot by getting busy. It's well worth checking out though, as is the collective's earlier outing with Tim Hodgkinson (again), Hums, on Bowindo.
"Ponderously self-aware" is how Julian Cowley describes Ligatura in his Wire review of Musica Improvvisa. Well, I guess you could say that of a lot of improv these days, but I do see his point. The folder of Territori – the name they've chosen to give to the six pieces on their disc – lists the instrumentation of the group as prepared piano (Alessandro Giachero), prepared electric guitar (Maurizio Rinaldi), prepared drums and percussion (Fabrizio Saiu) and even prepared double bass (Andrea Lamacchia). Prepared piano I can deal with – more on that later – but won't a simple "electric guitar", "drums" and "double bass" do for the others? I mean, who doesn't play prepared drums these days (at least since the end of the 90s), and hasn't the venerable guitar been "prepared" ever since Keith Rowe laid it on its back nearly half a century ago? The overuse of the adjective seems to want to draw our attention to the extended (another pretty meaningless descriptor) techniques the musicians use, as if they're somehow new. They're not – and that's the problem I have with Ligatura's music. It's very well executed (though Lamacchia seems to get carried away a bit too easily.. what is it with these Italian bassists?) and superbly recorded and all that, but seems to be suffering from a kind of personality crisis. Central to the problem is Giachero's prepared piano, which inevitably recalls John Tilbury and AMM (and Cage, of course), but as there never was a bass in AMM, Lamacchia finds himself in a bit of a tight spot, unable to decide if he wants to be Werner Dafeldecker or Joëlle Léandre (or Barre Phillips, maybe). The result is clearly the work of four musicians who know their improv back catalogue well but who seem to be approaching it with too much respect and losing sight of their own identity in the process.
And that, in a way, sums up what I feel about Musica Improvvisa as a whole. Though I don't share the views of one my colleagues here who stated rather bluntly in a recent email that a lot of the music Die Schachtel releases isn't as good as the package it comes in (ouch!), I feel like I ought to like this box more than I actually do. It's all to easy to scoff, saying things like "there's no such thing as Italian free improvisation" (ha! as if anyone could give me a clear definition of English or German or Dutch free improvisation), but I would have appreciated an accompanying booklet essay providing some sort of overview (I don't suppose Francesco Martinelli is all that interested in this kind of stuff, but he does come to mind) instead of a collection of press release-style mission statements. That said, this huge, ambitious project has been getting steady airplay here in PTHQ since it arrived in July, and I'm far from through with it yet.–DW

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Kevin Drumm

Kevin Drumm
Thin Wrist 2LP
Kevin Drumm / John Wiese
Nihilist LP
Kevin Drumm
Pica Disk 5xCD

On the surface, Kevin Drumm's music is complex, and along with that complexity comes a need to respond to it and interpret it in ways that are equally as challenging and nuanced. But then here's how Drumm, in a rare interview from a few years back, describes how he came up with his table-top guitar style: "So I kept playing and kind of came up with a system or whatever you want to call it. It wasn't intellectual or anything, but I was into this 'fucking with expectations' business I just mentioned. I used the pickup on/off toggles on my Fender Mustang as my splicer (if you will) and would bang on the guitar, turn it off, place some piece of metal on the pickup and turn it back on. Voila! Different sound in a split second. Turn the pickup off again, jam the electric fan over the strings, turn the pick up on again and... holy crap, it's an ethereal drone. Turn the other pick up on that has the metal plate on it and now the drone sounds like shit."

What? You mean Kevin is just some dude making freaky sounds with a guitar? That's it? In a word, yes, and if Drumm had anything to say about it, there wouldn't even be that one word. There would just be the sounds – loud as well as soft but always tactile, filling the air and way inside your head. This is where the deluxe reissue of Drumm's 1997 recorded debut comes in. In a very physical, tangible way, it's how Drumm's music should be experienced. The sleeve is a sensory experience in itself: a high-gloss, embossed gatefold featuring close-ups of the body of his guitar. The LPs are heavy, cut for maximum dynamics and volume. In short, it's as close to having Kevin play in your living room as you're likely to get. At moments it erases the idea that what you're listening to is a recording of a guitar, so visceral is its impact: searing high frequencies, sizzling amp hum, raw metallic scraping, gear-like grinding, hovering distortion, ample silences that feel as dense as the moments of sonic action.

But the elaborate packaging and luxury pressing are not just about hi-fi fetish. They're more about high fidelity in its original sense: faithfulness to the source, or put another way, direct communication. Because this is what Drumm is all about. He bypasses intellectual channels for a rawer, more overpowering experience, and Self Titled is still one of his most direct statements ever. It's not really improvisation of any stripe, nor is it Noise or electronic music. It sidesteps all of these and comes out of your speakers as boldly sculptured electricity – a tribute almost, to the raw stuff of so much music and the basis for all recording.

While the packaging might not be as eye-popping as the Thin Wrist release, Drumm's collaboration with laptop in-situ processing virtuoso John Wiese is no less daunting. If possible, it's more so. Over five untitled pieces recorded in 2006, the duo churn out their take on the harsh noise wall. The pace is unrelenting and their concept of change microscopic, if not non-existent. They work with white noise, blunt sub-woofer rattling and passages of stuttering, cut-up feedback. Subtle this is not, but the message and effect is similar to that of Self Titled: clear away anything that gets between you and this big, glorious noise.-MW

Kevin Drumm is wildly prolific and frustratingly enigmatic at the same time. By rough count, he's released 30 recordings since his eponymous debut on Perdition Plastics back in 1997: they cover a huge range, from nuanced lowercase with Taku Sugimoto to the full-bore assault of his magnum opus Sheer Hellish Miasma. Many have been put out in limited micro-editions on cassette or vinyl, making it all but futile for anyone setting out to be a completist. This 5-CD set on Lasse Marhaug's Pica Disk label, a smoldering collection of recordings made over the last decade, offers a chance to catch up on some of Drumm's ephemera.

Things kick off with Lights Out, a collection of pieces from 2006-2008 (previously available as a download from Drumm's blog) that make use of pulse generators, feedback, filters, and computer. "Spraying the Weeds" starts out with a dark, groaning roar that quickly becomes a stuttering barrage as piercing tones whip across low-end whorls. "Blistering Statick" pretty much describes itself: crank it up and the hot hiss of static bounces around the shuddering bass (my windows rattled in their frames) as wafts of floating tones peek their way through. "Needleprick" is a tease, shooting the sound levels of the CD player into the red (though my aging ears couldn't pick up the ultrasonic bursts), and things are rounded out with the 18-minute "Idle Worship" which methodically surfs along on waves of buzzing drones shot through with high-end chirps, gradually gaining density and volume.

Disk 2 contains Drumm's double cassette release Malaise (Hospital Productions), recorded in 2005-2006, a slab of scabrous abrasiveness raked from guitar, oscillators and computers. The original release broke the piece across four sides, but here the whole thing is a single cascade of sound (though Drumm has added 11 index points). Textures are massed and juxtaposed – molten jet engine bellows and white-hot hisses of trashed static, as well as a few moments of relief such as an intermezzo of floating oscillations. There's also a 15-minute surge of oscillator drone on track 9, a cross between an amplified bees' nest and an overdriven organ (more about that later). By the time the final typewriter-gone-mad clatter cuts off, there's nothing left to do but sink back in your chair, overwhelmed. No one comes to this for subtlety, but the control of blast and release shows there's more at play here than just sheer brawn.

The third disk, Decrepit, is a grab bag of recordings made between 1998 and 2009, including material from two limited edition LPs. Most of its 13 tracks clock in at around three minutes, just enough to batter the ears with blast-beat detonations, squalls of feedback, and glitched torrents of analogue synth. These short studies detonate with unbridled intensity, charging along then ending with a hard edit that makes no attempt at resolution or transition; yet the tracks accumulate a certain overall flow. On a few longer pieces Drumm develops his electronic tempests more extensively, tweaking timbres and amplitudes: the drill-bit bluster of "Dilemma 2," the coursing fuzz of "Totemic Saturation," and the claustrophobic mounting clamor of "The Blurry Stupor".

Disk 4, No Edit, is a previously unreleased two-part recording laid down just last year, its duration this time allowing Drumm to develop the piece at length. Created with just prepared guitar, EQ, a few pedals, and a Marshall mini-amp, it is markedly more stripped-down than the rest of the box, concentrating on jump-cut activity rather than walls of sound. There's no mistaking who this is, as Drumm scrambles together static, mangled strings, overdriven buzz and feedback. Yet even when things get cranked up, there's a more intimate scale at play; you can imagine sitting in close quarters listening to him perform this live without getting blown out the back wall. There's also a more overt sense of guitar sound as strings reverberate and twang against sonic grit, seething hiss and razor-sharp breaks of silence. The second half in particular features spare, focused sections of fuzzed twiddles and percussive jangle.

Now, back to that drone-organ thing. Back in 2000, Drumm released Comedy, a CD beginning with 17 minutes of disquieting grunge titled "Organ." Turns out that was an edit of the full 55-minute blow-out included here on the final disk. Here Drumm blasts not one but two organs through guitar amps and screws with them using a Rat pedal, resulting in slowly creeping tectonic plates that shift between alternating chords while plumbing the depths of the sonic spectrum. This is either sheer tedium, sardonic high jinx, or a single-minded dive into the physicality of sound (or maybe a bit of all three). Listening to this I actually felt a breeze and couldn't figure out what it was until I realized it was the sound coming from the speakers. Don't let this blow past you – jump on it.–MRo

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Keith Fullerton Whitman

Keith Fullerton Whitman / Mike Shiftet
"070325" B/W "080409"
Amethyst Sunset 12"
Keith Fullerton Whitman
Protracted View 2MC
Root Strata MC/DL
In 2005, Keith Fullerton Whitman released the highly acclaimed Multiples, a fine-tuned blend of analogue synthesizers, live instrumentation and traditional studio techniques. Then came the EPs Lisbon and Track4(2waysuperimposed), live recordings of his laptop/guitar improvisations. Then...nothing, basically. Aside from a low-run tape, A Bogan Apocalypse, Whitman remained quiet on the recording front for nearly three years. Then, in 2009, the floodgates opened: 14 releases on various formats in the last year and a half, and more on the way.
Those live EPs, however, turned out to be prescient of what was to come, for Whitman's recent deluge of recordings are all based, in a way, on real-time analogue synthesis, trying to capitalize on what results from the tension between high-risk live processing and detailed planning. This approach, in its raunchiest, most feral form, can be heard on the series of split 12"s he's been contributing to, of which this pairing with Mike Shiflet is the second, following on from last year's No Fun release with Carlos Giffoni. Its two seemingly unedited live performances of about twenty minutes wouldn't be out of place on the Source compilation from Pogus that surfaced in 2009. Shiflet uses a guitar, and Whitman a set-up of hybrid digital/analogue synth and keyboard amplifier, but the similarities are, in places, remarkable. Loud, distorted tones rule the day, and the emphasis is on a tug-of-war between continual change and stasis. Shiflet settles more into a FM-sort of drone, while Whitman patches his way into and out of various corners, hitting on chugging, industrial banging then releasing for a more undulating flow and solitary tones with a swelling rise and steep decay.
If the 12"s represent Whitman slumming it almost improv-style, then the Generator series is him trying to achieve lift-off. To say the series evolved from the live synth dates is going a bit far, but they are surely connected. Generator is Whitman delving deep into process music and attempting to take a nearly hands-off approach with his elaborate synth patches. The Root Strata tape is the early prototype, with a few short pieces and one 25-minute realization of the system. Like the live pieces, Generator is about continual change, but it relies more on tonal sequences and patterns, albeit rapid ones, and a dizzying array of cross-pulses and stereo panning. The result is more rhythmic, closer to electronic dance music, but still a long way from the dance floor. Imagine if Conlon Nancarrow had composed for modular synth instead of player piano and you're getting close. The live versions of the piece are the focus of the double-cassette release, and they feature Whitman growing the system real-time. There are moments of droning stasis, new rhythmic wrinkles in the form of a more prominent click-track and odd outros. They are imperfect performances, full of moments both prosaic and exciting.
It's worth wondering why a musician of Whitman's stature – who could presumably get a more established label to release his recordings in a high-run, high-profile manner – would choose to go for such a below-the-radar, guerrilla-style release schedule? For one, it's obvious he has an abiding passion for the physical recording and all its trappings. But, more saliently, these recordings, based as they are on raw live performances and process-centered music, work best on odd formats. Putting "070325" on a CD with a couple other performances, while good for posterity, would rob it of its stubborn, up-front impact. The unfinished nature of the pieces would feel too closed on a full-length album, and the essence of the Generator series would disappear altogether. Generator is about evolution, detours, and moments of uncertainty, and any attempt to select a perfect specimen for an album might contain it too much. With such a diffuse nature, we as listeners have no choice but to try and keep up, which is really the point.–MW

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Evan Parker

Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton
Schlippenbach Trio
Evan Parker & Sten Sandell
Urs Leimgruber & Evan Parker
Clean Feed
When I first started listening to Evan Parker in the early 80s, a new release was cause for celebration, and tracking it down was a major quest. Nowadays Parker recordings come out on a regular basis (thanks in part to his Psi label) and the real challenge is keeping up with them. These four recent releases have kindled that joy of discovery all over again, featuring stellar live recordings by two of Parker's longest running ensembles and two inspired ad hoc duo encounters.
Parker has been working with Paul Lytton since the late 60s, expanding to a trio with Barry Guy in the early 80s, and their decades of working together always bring out a particular magic in performance. In January 2010 they were invited to perform six sets over two nights at the Sunset club in the heart of Paris – a rare extended residency and oddly, the first time they had played as a trio in the city. This recording captures the last two sets from the second night, and the arcane titles provide an apt description of the music. The first, "Cohobation" (the process of repeated distillation of the same matter), is a 40-minute exploration that starts with Guy's bowed overtones and groaning resonances and gradually adds Parker's tenor labyrinths and Lytton's shimmering percussive flurries. Lines intersect and bifurcate furiously, and the trio breaks into various duo combinations, the piece culminating when the trio distills Parker's whirling soprano down to a gripping resolution. The second, "Cupellation" (a process for separating precious from base metals using a blast furnace) builds to a suitably fiery intensity: these are rare metals indeed, emerging from collective music of the highest order.
The Schlippenbach/Parker/Lovens trio has been a going concern for four decades now, and Bauhaus Dessau captures their 2009 concert the recently renovated home to the Bauhaus school. It must have been quite an experience in the Gropius-designed concert hall, with its constructivist planes and floating curtain walls of glass and concrete. The musicians create architectures of their own from the pianist's refracted tone rows and cantilevered clusters, Parker's oblique vectors and melodic kernels, and the contrasting geometries, colors and textures of Lovens' stroked and hammered drums and percussion. The music has the muscular intensity of their seminal early work, but also a considered sense of structure that suggests links to the musicians' other activities (Schlippenbach's explorations of Monk's canon and twelve-tone studies; Parker's musings on fractal electronics and real-time processing; Lovens' work with musicians as diverse as Aki Takase, Eugene Chadbourne, and Thomas Lehn). The main improvisation's expansive ebbs and flows contrast with the two encores, which compress the transitions while losing none of the dramatic tension. Like Nightwork, this release proves these deep-seated musical relationships haven't lost vitality over the years.
About ten years ago, Parker began working with Swedish pianist Sten Sandell, notably in the quartet Townorchestrahouse, but Psalms still comes as a surprise – a duo for tenor and church organ recorded at St. Peter's, Whitstable. Despite the history of church organ improvisation, few free improvisers have specialized in the instrument – though Fred Van Hove (whose phenomenal Church Organ on SAJ deserves reissue) and Veryan Weston spring to mind. The recording on Psalms effectively captures the way that sax and organ hang in the church acoustics, their harmonics commingling, and the musicians are careful to leave a lot of space in the music. The measured pace of the six improvisations is indeed psalm-like, though there's also an overlay of filigree activity: Parker digs down to the bottom of his horn to respond to the organ's low end, and Sandell mirrors Parker's fillips with twittering high-end ornamentation, sometimes throwing in pinched, sputtered punctuations.
Parker's reed duo canon is small but includes memorable sessions with Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, and Joe McPhee. Urs Leimgruber proves a worthy match on Twine across three extended improvisations. As might be expected, the playing is conversational, Leimgruber's drier breathiness and more measured phrasing contrasting with Parker's husky grace and mercurial flow. The two plait together sinuous exchanges with a keen ear for balance: as labyrinthine as the duos get, there's no overplaying or mere showmanship. If anything, a certain sense of caution seeps in, as if the two are holding back a bit. While this CD may not be as gripping as the Sandell duo, it is still well worth the time of anyone interested in Parker's music.–MRo

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Billy Bang

Juhani Aaltonen Quartet
Kalle Kalima & K-18

TUM stands for "Todella Uusi Musiikki", which, loosely translated, means "real new music". But don't take new to mean cutting edge here. Instead, the new here stands more for freshness, (or, in some cases, simply refreshing) and over this Finnish label's seven year existence and twenty-some releases, that's what it has quietly provided the jazz and improvised music world. TUM's three latest albums are a good sampling of the label's range, both musically and personnel-wise: mostly acoustic, though not opposed to a guitar or two, and cross-generational, dipping decades back into the music's history as well as featuring a younger cast of lesser-known composers and players with an eye on the future.
One of the imprint's more endearing aspects is how it showcases veteran free music players who, while not exactly legends, are perhaps deserving of more recognition. Past releases have featured the likes of trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah and saxophonist John Tchicai in new contexts. Now it's violinist Billy Bang's turn. A product of civil rights radicalism and the loft scene of the 1970s, Bang has become something of an elder statesman of free jazz, a living connection to the some of the music's headiest days. That said, this date with his quintet mixing some veteran players with younger names comes off like one of the more modernist Blue Note albums, with a well-rehearsed band interpreting a hodge-podge of Bang originals as well running through a couple of standards. The emphasis is on rhythm and melody: swing and Latin for the former, clear and slightly melancholy for the latter. When the band stretches out, like it does on the extended title track or the harder-edge groove of "Dance of the Manakin", one catches glimpses of an exciting group. But there are also some head-scratching moments, like a kitschy rendition of a Stuff Smith tune and the Cuban piece, "Chan Chan", made famous by the Buena Vista Social Club. It's on pieces like these that you wonder where the fire went.
Showing a more understated way of maturing is the quartet date by the saxophonist and flutist, Juhani Aaltonen. Now 75 years old, Aaltonen has to be considered as one of the key players in the history of avant-garde jazz in Finland, and an undersung one in Europe. With a quietly burning tone that seems based on the more introspective moments of Coltrane's rubato ballad mode, he unwinds long, slow-building solos that move between stratospheric strafing and intimate, breathy whispers. Combine this style with a rhythm section that is as sensitive as it is mobile (Ufe Krokfors on bass, Iro Haarla on harp and piano and Reino Laine on drums), and you have what could be considered one of the better ECM releases of recent years. It's got the same placid atmosphere and dark brooding cut with moments of light of Manfred Eicher's best.
But if it's something new that you want, then guitarist Kalle Kalima's set of compositions inspired by settings from Stanley Kubrick films comes the closest. With such a starting point, this quartet moves well beyond the traditional jazz lineage; there are no drums, just bass, reeds and, most uniquely, quarter-tone accordion. The four find a wealth of strange, alien textures in that set-up, moving from diffuse soundscapes to taut rhythmic constructions in the course of a single piece (the 14-minute "Parris Island"), settling into a stomping version of what Kalima calls Balkan rock on "Korova Milk Bar" or working through winding, labyrinthine themes. There are enough engaging, unique ideas here to keep you coming back – and for TUM to earn that "newness" in its name.–MW

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Joshua Abrams
Bassist/multi-instrumentalist and improviser/composer Joshua Abrams is an extraordinarily busy and versatile figure in the Chicago creative music scene. Working with musicians like Fred Anderson, Matana Roberts, and Nicole Mitchell, he could simply stake his career on being a first-call bassist; however, improvised music only scratches the surface of what his fingers and mind are capable of. He's also in demand in post-rock and electro-acoustic settings, and has even put in a stint with the Roots. As a solo artist / bandleader, Abrams has run the gamut from field recordings and electronics to open improvisations with extended technicians like Axel Dörner and Guillermo Gregorio. But even that level of eclecticism doesn't prepare you for Natural Information, which contains wholly unclassifiable improvisations from two Abrams-fronted trios as well as meditative solo music.
The trios here involve guitarist Emmett Kelly and drummer Frank Rosaly, and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and drummer Nori Tanaka, respectively. Following the particulate waves of amplified dulcimer and harmonium (shades of Edward Larry Gordon) on the opening "Mysterious Delirious Fluke of the Beyond," the Abrams-Kelly-Rosaly faction strikes gold with the hypnotic West African-inspired psych of "Abide in Sunset." Here, Abrams is on guimbri, a four-stringed bass lute, hypnotically reconfiguring otherwise unadorned patterns in tandem with toms and the rattle of shakers and finger cymbals. One thinks of Malachi Favors or William Parker, though there's a starkly minimalist quality to Abrams' work. While the grit and twine of Kelly's electric guitar could be seen as foreground, his rural psychedelic echoes provide dusty counterpoint to an extraordinarily deep rhythmic canvas.
A different sort of minimalism pervades the AAT trio (Abrams, Adasiewicz, Tanaka): bass and vibes sustain a hovering dance with Tanaka's hand percussion on "Dolphin Cave Dazzling", while "In Ex or Able" is a light, clipped waltz merging flamenco strum with brushes and upper-register metallic bounce. An electronic wash folds over guimbri, guitar and percussion at the outset of "A Lucky Stone," droning underneath bright, new-day-dawning electric wrangle and the rhythm section's dry swagger. A merger of Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and minimalist percussion music is probably the last thing you'd expect from Joshua Abrams (or, for that matter, Eremite Records). Natural Information is not only marvellously unexpected, but also a damn fine record.–CA

Bill Baird
Silence! is an interesting notch in the work and career of Austin-based songwriter, composer and multi instrumentalist Bill Baird. It was recorded in parallel to the formation of Sunset, his krautrock- / Eno-inspired orchestral pop outfit, and first self-released in 2006 on 300-copy CD-R; this Autobus vinyl edition is its first appearance on any sort of commercial scale. Like most of Baird's work, Silence! follows a collagist aesthetic, in which audio snippets – some solo, some overdubbed, some produced collectively – are extracted from various rehearsal fragments and worked into a larger whole. Though Sunset's music draws on many sources, it usually has a propulsive groove; Silence! is decidedly different in approach, lacking significant forward motion, not to mention lyricism.
The opening "Slow Implosion" is an orchestral piece scored for guitar, bass, French horn, percussion and organ. An electric drone and distant string flecks create a cavernous pool, with enough depth for expansive brass reverberation and a sense of drift recalling early 1970s Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt. After the brief comedown lope of "Softly," layered cottony strums and whines merge into a bright, minimal wash. The mood changes sharply with "Surfing," which puts a battered upright piano through 24 stereo delays: it's not quite as aggressive in its use of feedback as David Behrman's "Wave Train", but it still creates some pretty bleak (if still lush) textures. Whatever the exact influences present in the music, what matters is that Baird's studio explorations of various minimalist music practices are strikingly personal and quite beautiful.–CA

Marcia Bassett / Margarida Garcia
Marcia Bassett (Hototogisu, Double Leopards, Purple Haze) handles guitar and keyboards and Margarida (Curia, Octante, Billy Bao) Garcia guitar and double bass on these four imposing slabs of psychedelic shoegazing free noise (let's call it floorcore) recorded – to four track cassette, yeah! – by Barry Weisblat in Brooklyn last year. Played loud it can be quite unsettling stuff, particularly halfway through side two, which sounds like the muffled cries of somebody rolled up inside a carpet and left for dead in an underground car park, but it works equally well at more ambient volume levels, when Garcia's grainy low end – think a sweaty, unshaven Werner Dafeldecker – blends well with Bassett's dreamy fuzz. How nice it is to see the worlds of New Weird No Fun noodling and lowercase improvisation coming together (one wonders what took them so long to get acquainted), even if it is at the bottom of a well, which is where the music often sounds like it was recorded.–DW

Antoine Chessex

Usually resolutely devoted to the generation of the most bastard kind of extreme blare, Antoine Chessex demonstrates with Fools that, if so desired, fine results can be achieved on a sort of compositional level too (though one doubts that something was pre-scored in the two pieces comprised by the LP, respectively titled "The Machine Is Awake" and "Illusions"). Sure, there are handfuls of "noise-monger's deli" ingredients to blow your socks and membranes off, but there's also the muscular dronage achieved by routing his tenor saxophone through an amplifier and various pedals, eliciting pictures of screaming fiends, autistic repetition, clustery unsettlement and wholesome distortion in the seductive breed of harmonic degeneration they used to call "controlled mayhem". It's a combination of barbarian instinct and finely tuned ears that evolves across several changes of scenarios, producing occasional moments of veritable bewilderment, but you'd be a fool not to trust Chessex: this may be his best outing to date.–MR

Chris Cutler / Fred Frith / Thomas Dimuzio
RēR Megacorp
Issued in 1969 copies, 500 of them on translucent ochre vinyl and 150 including a "Special Edition" certificate signed by the artists (apparently there's still a market for inanely maniac collectors – mine is number 54!), Golden State gathers live recordings spanning from 1999 to 2002, from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The four tracks – one occupies the entire first side – are given symbols as titles, not names, and the second segment on the B side also features Beth Custer on clarinets and voice. Truth be told, it's a rather confounding release: Dimuzio's sampling and electronics dominate for the large part of the course, essentially mixing sources from his own sonic database and splinters of Cutler and Frith's interfacing, recombining the whole in a real-time hodgepodge that offers a few interesting moments but plenty of dead spots, made worse by the not exceptional clarity of a mix cluttered by the trio's frequency amassment captured in medium-to-low fidelity. Frith inserts chordal shards and wildly fuzzy cries every once in a while, Cutler's "electricity" and "processing" managing to rework the listener's sense of balance even further during certain passages. A couple of tensely droning growths are definitely worth a serious listen, yet the lingering sensation is that of a record for completists only, a partially motivating document from a time and place you're hardly likely to return to.–MR

Brunhild Ferrari
Alga Marghen
Brunhild Ferrari, née Meyer, was Luc Ferrari's wife, muse and confidante for over four decades, and remains a tireless champion of his work five years after his death in 2005, but one wonders to what extent she (willingly) sacrificed her own career as a composer on the altar of her illustrious husband's. Even Tranquilles Impatiences, the first recording released under her own name, is inextricably linked to his oeuvre, being a remix of five of the seven backing tapes he used in his Et tournent les Sons dans la Garrigue and Exercises d'Improvisation, both originally composed in 1977. Back then, it probably wouldn't have occurred to Luc to produce a 20-minute slowly evolving shimmering dronescape – not that he wasn't profoundly inspired by both the sound and aesthetic of the American minimalists – but now that his music has reached out and grabbed the attention of a younger generation of composers and improvisers who are quite at home with the idea of things moving slowly and sometimes not at all ("I never suspected that one day people would be interested in music like this" – Eliane Radigue), one wonders whether he wouldn't have come up with something similar himself, were he still alive. But Brunhild has done the job for him, and very well too. If you've ever wished those rare moments of harmonic stasis in Luc Ferrari's music would go on and on, without the composer's cheeky chuckles and sexy sideshows to interrupt them, this should be right up your street. It's a shame there's just this piece on the disc (one sided vinyl seems to be in at the moment – see below) – let's hope that Brunhild goes back soon to the Atelier post-billig to make some more fine music of her own.–DW

Sven-Åke Johansson
Swedish-born percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Sven-Åke Johansson is one of the grandfather figures of European improvised music, having come onto the scene in the early 1960s in Berlin, where he began working with Peter Brötzmann, Manfred Schoof and Alexander von Schlippenbach. Though not as lionized as figures like Paul Lytton and Tony Oxley, Johansson is just as concerned with sound, space and colour – though the elemental way in which he approaches these interests borders on the reductive. His new solo percussion record Cymbals in the Night is quite different from his well-regarded unaccompanied debut, Schlingerland – Dynamische Schwingugen (SAJ, 1970), a close-miked exploration in resonance and spatial dynamics that seems like a formalist recasting of Sunny Murray swing.
The eleven movements of Cymbals aren't limited to Johansson's approach to gongs and metal percussion, but there is a continuity of bowed and brushed sound (as well as occasional vocals) occupying a midrange and upper-register sheen, serving as a reminder that weight isn't limited to the bass drum and floor tom. The set starts with simple brush patter, circling movements that gradually gain traction on both skin and metal, a flattened dynamic that promotes visual distance and a record of activity. A stick-end drawn across a cymbal accentuates its resonant edge and creates a deep, pit-of-the-stomach vibration in the second piece, while breath and brush combine in swift, agitated gestures on the third towards an almost obsessive whittling. Each piece implies a taut connection between sound, gesture, and physicality – Johansson's movements around the kit register as economical lines drawn in space, producing a lasting, cellular impact. It's as if he's asking rhetorically when a press roll can be more than just a press roll – the tools are that basic, but what he builds from them is both primal and far-reaching. There's a lot in the title, too, reflecting Johansson's love for the standard repertoire as well as the special combination of distance and embodiment in his approach to the kit.–CA

Giancarlo Locatelli & Alberto Braida
Pianist Alberto Braida and clarinettist Giancarlo Locatelli have been working as a duo since 1996, basing their research on intersections of composition and improvisation (instant composition). Thought they've regularly given performances and workshops in Lodi, Italy, their work on record remains relatively obscure. Of their five releases so far, beginning with diciannove calefazioni (Takla, 1999), The Big Margotta is their debut for an American label. As with most brokenresearch releases, it's a vinyl-only proposition in a fairly limited edition, and at a length that doesn't overstay its welcome (just a hair over 25 minutes). Braida's opening jabs and their attached ring suggest a Bill Evans / nachtmusik sensibility, in which elisions and inflections of peppery blues commingle with glassy erudition and Locatelli's torqued, lacy breath. To suggest that the music contains echoes of Art Hodes and Barney Bigard might be a reach, yet wry nods at older traditions repeatedly crop up in the shared conversation, only to be pummeled by contemporary freedoms. And that tension is what produces excitement throughout the two-sided suite – reference and obliteration, echoes of the past and sputtering, dangerous volleys of the "now." Sure, the weight of history is a lot to put on two pairs of shoulders, but improvisers of this caliber are up to the task.–CA

Osso Exótico
Forget "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and "Savoy Truffle" – this is the white album that's been getting the airplay round these parts recently. Not just a single-sided LP either, but also a DVD, which explains the curious instrumentation: André Maranha and Francisco Tropa "play" bottles and sand, Patrícia Machás is on copper pot, Manuel Mota is on electric guitar and OE founding father (has it really been 21 years?) David Maranha is organ. The strange haphazard creaks and cracks come from the bottles being rolled sideways across grains of sand on a hard (amplified?) surface – though unless you pop the DVD in and see how it's done you'd probably never guess – its austere friction recalls Raymond Dijkstra's work, but unlike his stuff this is eminently listenable. Asssuming, that is, you feel at home in the murky twilight of, say, Miles Davis's "He Loved Him Madly", or the numerous Loren Connors outings that particular piece inspired. Delicate, haunting, mysterious stuff.–DW

Charlemagne Palestine
Alga Marghen
What was that story about Charlemagne Palestine's cognac-fuelled trances, heavenly upper partials, huge carillons and summoning of teddy-bear spirits? If you're looking for more of the above, steer clear of these pieces from the late 60s, snapshots of uneven creativity far removed from the oscillator-induced hypnosis that opens and closes the masterpiece Four Manifestations On Six Elements, recently reissued by this same imprint. The first of the two studies, both realized with filtered white noise and sine-tones sourced from Buchla systems, is a sample of fast-paced anarchy endowed with an exhilarating pulse which allows the work to maintain a structural definition despite the thousands of globules, bubbles and shooting stars produced by the electronic jumble. The second is somewhat more restrained and limited to certain regions of the sonic spectrum, giving a little break (so to speak) to the brain until the final section, in which still-nervous particles generate successions of merciless accelerations and instant returns to the initial stage. It's certainly rewarding music, extremely fresh-sounding and exciting to this day, gobbling up for breakfast the pastiches of improperly hyped "icons" fiddling about in similar territory decades later.–MR

Evolving Ear
Apparently there are still people who think that, in 2010, a drawing depicting a male gay prototype (with horns) grappling at his manhood, a mixed couple having sexual intercourse and other similarly "stimulating" details is not fit to print. That's what's written in the press release with regard to Ronaldo Wright's cover picture, which was refused by "at least one printer". Unfortunately there's more than a whiff of the same adolescent transgression in certain parts of Pestilence & Joy, a mixture of studio and live segments recorded between 2006 and 2008. The former are still on the right side of the fence, slow mantras dipped in sickly molasses, inward spiralling guitars and voices that seem (are?) generated by tapes in contrary motion. But, alas, the live sections are to Peeesseye's higher standards what butchery remnants for stray cats are to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There's too much uneducated, futile clangour, a sort of "let's bash for a while and finish this boring gig", some clapping interaction with the audience that does not amuse and, towards the end of the first side, the kind of annoying primordial screaming utterly despised by yours truly since as long as I can remember. Messrs Fennelly, Forsyth and Welch should stick to what they do better, "playing with a purpose".–MR

Ignaz Schick
Edition Zangi / Künstlerhäuser Worpswede
The spartanly unadorned black box holds an LP with a white label containing four pieces for a single percussion instrument. The first is a cyclically massive resonance generated by a small splash whose resounding echoes are seemingly tailored with water, a sloping gurgle of sorts over an underlying reiterated pulse, perhaps looped. It's the perfect introduction to Butania Metallica, and from a "listening pleasure" point of view, its most readable chapter. The other three, using a little china (twice) and a temple gong, are more direct attacks on the ears, privileging the kind of piercing frequencies and metallic squeals that may excite aficionados of early David Jackman or seriously test a tenderfoot's resistance. Schick uses both motorized appliances and manual means to let his instruments roar, growl and wail. It's an idealistic approach, commendable in terms of artistic integrity – music for solo percussion is always a very tough challenge for any composer – but one that might entail a bit of suffering for those whose concentration is less than strong. No concessions here.–MR

Thisquietarmy / Scott Cortez
Three Four Records
I wish someone reading this would point me in the direction of some website that allows you to enter precise geographical coordinates in degrees, minutes and seconds and see on a map where you are at the click of a mouse. Yeah yeah I know I know, Google Earth probably does (at least it does the other way round) but for some reason every time I load that thing up my machine starts doing strange things and I veer off into outer space. Or maybe that's the music I'm listening to. Anyway, if you know how to do it, the two sides of this fine slab of stately guitar-sourced Ambient (not quite Dark Ambient but let's call it crepuscular) are entitled 41°52'50"N, 87°42'39"W and 45°30'4"N, 73°33'29"W respectively. Actually the second of these is Montreal, Quebec, home of guitarist Eric Quach aka thisquietarmy, and the other one seems to be somewhere near Chicago, where presumably you'll find Scott Cortez, fellow shoegazer and founder member of lovesliescrushing (what'sallthisrunningwordstogether?). Cortez and Quach decided on a "set of compositional parameters" and recorded simultaneously in their two respective cities on December 18th last year, and then sent each other their work for postproduction and overdubbing. Of course, it's impossible to work out who's doing what, or tell Quach's "glassine guitar solo" apart from Cortez's "static burst guitar solo", but that hardly matters. Needless to say there aren't any surprises – this is snowbound North America, not Rio in carnival week – but there's much to admire and enjoy. Chill out.–DW

Christian Wolfarth
Three down, one to go! Swiss percussionist Wolfarth's tetralogy of seven inch solos continues with "Crystal Alien" and "Amber", two more fine but frustratingly brief (said that before) slabs of austere but typically elegant work. The A side – well, E side actually – is for a couple of cymbals bowed together with a cello bow, and "Amber" uses the same instrumentation plus a snare drum rubbed with a ring of polystyrene. Burkhard Beins would be proud of him. I see, on perusing the pages of Frans de Waard's Vital Weekly, that I'm not alone in hoping that the complete series will one day be released as a single disc (said that before last time, too) – that is, if the fourth and final instalment is as good as the first three. And I don't see why it shouldn't be. Watch this space folks.–DW

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Billy Bang
There are folks who claim that getting masses of people together to meditate or offer up prayers to the Almighty can resolve conflicts halfway around the world, but I suspect that unless Michael Rennie turns up in a flying saucer and threatens to blow us piddling mortals up if we don't knock it off, there's not much chance of this world being a peaceful place while Homo sapiens is still in charge. If you're looking to promote a little peace and goodwill, though, I'd skip the mass devotionals and instead try to get people listening to Billy Bang's new CD, which offers pleasure and spiritual balm in abundance. It features the violinist's working quintet of the past five years, which contains one fellow musical veteran – the estimable Newman Taylor-Baker on drums – as well as three fine younger musicians: trumpeter James Zollar, pianist Andrew Bemkey and bassist Todd Nicholson. The addition of percussionists Milton Cardona and Joe Gonzalez for a couple of atmospheric latin numbers – Bang's own "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" and a truly haunting version of the Compay Segundo Buena Vista Social Club classic "Chan Chan" – is a lovely touch, too.
Bang bookends the disc with nods towards key figures in his pantheon. A cover of Stuff Smith's "Only Time Will Tell" pays homage to the prime source for Bang's flavoursome fiddle playing (sad to think that this kind of raw, bluesy fiddling is becoming rare these days in jazz/improv), while Bang's "Jupiter Rising" is a bumpy, hungry swinger in tribute to his former employer Sun Ra (who made a rare sideman appearance years ago on Bang's Homage to Stuff Smith). It's a pleasure to hear free-jazz-associated players approaching this material with flair and a real feel for it – god knows plenty of avantgardists have received inexplicable accolades for mangling older material – but the Smith track in particular is gorgeously textured and swinging. Bemkey is a real marvel on this track, too, planting spry, twinkle-in-the-eye commentaries beneath the soloists with Ellingtonian aplomb.
The undoubted centrepiece here, though, is the title-track, a 20-minute suite that goes from bass-heavy drone to triplety modal groove, in a manner very much in the tradition of Coltrane's long-form spiritual essays. Fortunately there's none of the humourless will-to-transcendence that can afflict the genre – Zollar in particular has too much of a sense of humour for that (he's a great growler and wah-wah surrealist, and he loves to throw in wry quotes), and Nicholson and Taylor-Baker are simply too down-to-earth and groovy to let things spiral into the aether. Bang's oriental-blues riffing is lovely as always here, but my favourite bit is when he scatters sweet and – yes – peaceful handfuls of pizzicato notes at the end of his solo. It's maybe not Bang's best moment on the disc (I'd single out "Chan Chan", his wail on "Dark Silhouette", and a brief a cappella spot on "Jupiter's Future" in this regard) but the track as a whole is nonetheless one of the most gently moving performances I've heard for a while.–ND

Berlin-Buenos Aires Quintet
Recorded six years ago at the Goethe Institute in Buenos Aires, this CD captures a meeting between two Berlin-based musicians (Andrea Neumann and Robin Hayward) and three Argentinians: Lucio Capece, Sergio Merce, and Gabriel Paiuk. (Time moves on: Capece has since relocated to Berlin, and Paiuk is in the Netherlands.) One could list the instruments here – inside piano, soprano sax and bass clarinet, tenor sax and electronics, tuba, and piano – but it's almost beside the point as they're rarely identifiable from the audio. There are hints of the low brassy breathiness of Hayward's tuba, moments where the sound of vibrating strings is evident, and points where the fricative pop of a reed jumps out, but these are musicians more concerned with egoless exploration of hushed texture and gesture. The 43-minute piece evolves slowly, the group gradually moving from silence to washes of buzzes, whispers, flutters, and subtle shadings of harmonics and resonance. The music demands patience from the listener, and at times its sense of reserve can be off-putting. While each of these musicians has gone on to develop stronger improvisational voices and improvisational strategies, this disc serves to document a particular point in their development and an intriguing early intersection of two regional scenes.–MRo

Tony Bevan / Paul Obermayer / Dominic Lash / Phil Marks
If you root around on the Net for "Tony Bevan", what mostly pops up is the work of a UK artist of that name who specializes in bleak, twisted drawings of people's heads, à la Bacon or Freud. All told, you'd probably have more fun with an album by Tony Bevan the saxophonist, one of the most tuneful and distinctive of free jazz hornplayers, who has a classic respect for eloquent diatonic improvisation (ultimately Lester Young-derived, though it's Marsh and Rollins he cites as influences) along with an obsession with darting, off-balance repetitions that means that even in free-form situations the music's got a gratifying bounce. This latest release on his Foghorn label adds extra sonic / rhythmic crosshatching to his favourite sax / bass / drums format via the live electronics work of Paul Obermayer. Obermayer is half of information-overload laptop improv duo FURT (with Richard Barrett) as well as a member of another equally full-bore, all-caps ensemble, BARK! His contributions here, though, are sparse and splintery, percussive but never overpowering the music. His palette is often surprising – I'm guessing that some of it derives from clunking around the innards of a piano – and even when he uses stereotypically computery noises such as R2D2 bleeps and twitters they sound fresh and entirely responsive to the moment.
The album is pleasingly varied, each track having its own distinctive profile. "Rock Me Baby", for instance, is like a Rollins trio coming under heavy fire; "Got You Sucker!" turns deep yawns and farmyard noises into loops of elasticized funk; "He's Spartacus" throws together free-jazz fisticuffs and appreciative pigeon coos. Most tracks are fairly short, and while they typically explore a small sonic area they can also throw in some good-natured dramatic reversals and hotly-contested climaxes: on "Heart of Stone", for instance, bassist Dom Lash wrestles with Obermayer's own wilting bassline while sonar pings attack Bevan's soprano, the saxophonist eventually achieving victory by nabbing the bassline for himself. It's a pleasure to hear Bevan employ a wider range of instruments than usual: in addition to his bruising tenor and bass sax, there's a good helping of soprano, and even a rare sighting of his flute on a gaspathon drolly titled "Giants of Jazz-Funk". The real discovery for me, though, was drummer Phil Marks: the longest piece, "One Punch and Out", is virtually a showcase for him, where he covers a huge range from toy-box rummaging to stinging cymbal attack to multidirectional splatter and rumble. All told, A Big Hand is about as far in mood and texture as you can imagine from Bevan's other electronics-inflected improv project, Bruise (where the melting soundscapes are provided by Ashley Wales), but the results are just as unusual and rewarding.–ND

John Butcher/Claudia Ulla Binder
On Under the Roof, John Butcher pairs up with Zurich-based pianist Claudia Ulla Binder for a series of 15 improvisations. By using preparations and e-bow, she transforms her instrument into a resonant sound-source that complements Butcher's own transformations of the tenor and soprano saxophone. In these short improvisations (most in the two- to four-minute range), the duo zero in on particular areas, pairing high piercing reed yelps with e-bowed strings, groaning tenor with percussive clangs, or exploring stuttering percussive interplay, while other pieces are anchored by pure acoustic tones. The range of sounds Butcher and Binder create is impressive, but it is how they use them to develop improvisations of rich, subtle sonic detail that makes this session well worth checking out.–MRo

The Convergence Quartet
Clean Feed
Perhaps the band-name refers to the convergence of two North American improvisers – cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and drummer Harris Eisenstadt – and two from the UK: pianist Alexander Hawkins and bassist Dominic Lash. Or perhaps it refers to their distinctive synthesis between composition and improvisation, arrangement and spontaneity. In any case, this fine CD is their second release, recorded in the studio during the course of a short UK tour in spring 2009. The nine tunes include originals by each member along with Leroy Jenkins' "Albert Ayler (His Life Was Too Short)" and "Kudala," a traditional South African song. Here's a band that truly understands how to ride the edge of inside/outside, at times dulcetly melodic, at other times quite prickly; they're always doing something unexpected, weaving their way through collective counterpoint, lyrical solos, and bracing free interludes, as well. Early Ellington is a strong influence, and you can hear that the bandmembers have learned much from ongoing work with musicians like Braxton, Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, and Joe McPhee, but they all have forged distinctive voices on their instruments. Let's hope this long-distance Trans-Atlantic relationship continues, as this is a group that deserves to be more than an occasional project.–MRo

Absurd / Organized Music from Thessaloniki
It's been over a decade years since violinist Angharad Davies, harpist brother Rhodri and cellist Nikos Veliotis released their first album All Angels, and the contrast between that and this latest outing couldn't be more striking. Where their debut still showed traces of the kind of improvisation Radu Malfatti (with whom all three went on to play) once described disparagingly as "gabby", Copper Fields is the epitome of post-reductionist laminal chiaroscuro – but the collective ear for pitch and feel for structure is as acute as ever. Veliotis has long since abandoned the Xenakis virtuosity of his early work with the likes of Fred Van Hove to concentrate on drones, thanks to a specially designed bow which allows him to play sustained triple and even quadruple stop chords. Angharad Davies follows him into the same territory in these brooding, spellbinding 55 minutes, violin and cello impossible to tell apart, a fine cloud of glistening upper partials from which tiny droplets of clear pitch form from time to time on the glowing, buzzing, fizzing moss of Rhodri's delicate electric harp underpinning. Gorgeous.–DW

Axel Dörner & Diego Chamy
This release consists of two tracks by trumpeter Axel Dörner and Argentinean percussionist Diego Chamy recorded in Berlin four years ago, the opening ten-minute "April 20th, 2006" at Dörner's house on the day before their album What Matters to Ali (C3R, 2007). As on that disc, Chamy also contributes barely intelligible spoken passages in Spanish, which seem to be throwaway remarks and observations rather than coherent narrative or verse, and which are often overlaid with Dörner's playing, further obscuring them. Chamy's percussion is far more successful, notably his resounding gran cassa (orchestral bass drum – best appreciated through large speakers not on an iPod). He keeps things simple, restricting the drumming to beats that quicken and slow, effectively replicating the changing pulse of a beating heart. Alongside, Dörner maintains a suitably organic breathy modulating drone. At its best, that combination is the musical equivalent of an adrenalin rush. The two combine in a more subdued mood when Chamy employs a prayer bowl to create ringing sounds with Dörner adding Harmon-muted trumpet – a sympathetic match.
The second track, "September 5th 2006", over 28 minutes long, was recorded live at Berlin's Electronic Church four and a half months later, by which time Chamy was clearly in a period of transition, having added dance to his percussion and spoken word. The percussion work is as good as it was in April, but there's just not enough of it. A pity. His spoken word is occasionally intelligible, notably when he repeats "te amo" over and over to the audience, but the dancing doesn't register on CD, leaving long periods when he contributes nothing audible (in drama, they'd call this "Pinteresque silence"), and a description of his dancing in the sleeve notes doesn't help much either. As what we do hear from him includes loud belching and the sound of him ripping his T-shirt to pieces (apparently, he continued bare-chested) there are grounds to doubt his credibility as an improvising musician.
Despite such stunts, Chamy's presence did help to shape the track. As he shifts between speech, percussion and silent dancing, he changes the mood of the piece, the silences acting as a vacuum into which Dörner is drawn. But it all sounds more like a Dörner solo with occasional noises off than a duo. I can't remember a more unbalanced improvising duo. Maybe compensating for his partner, Dörner gives a bravura performance, running through his repertoire. Most extraordinary of all is a period of several minutes after Chamy's belch during which the only sound is of controlled breath whistling through the tubing of the trumpet. Through such restraint, Dörner seems to be sharing and endorsing the audience's shock – "did he really just do that?" If the "super" tag of the album title is intended to be ironic, it's a misfire: Dörner more than justifies his superhero status. But the cover picture shows Chamy instead. Unjust.–JE

Peter Evans Quartet
Clean Feed
Mostly Other People Do The Killing
Hot Cup
One of the highlights of my summer was a brief trip to Mulhouse's Meteo Festival, where I had the great pleasure of catching bassist Moppa Elliott's quartet Mostly Other People Do The Killing live for the first time, after which I cornered trumpeter Peter Evans backstage and warned him that I was running out of superlatives to describe his playing. But until he gets involved in a project as unspeakably tacky as his drummer Kevin Shea's Puttin' On The Ritz (whose Bangin' Your Way Into The Future sets out to be so bad that it actually ends up being rather good), I guess I'm stuck.
In MOPDTK, Elliott, Shea and Evans are joined by alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon in a line-up that of course recalls the classic early Ornette Coleman quartet, hence the title and cover spoof of their last outing, This Is Our Moosic. For Forty Fort, it's the jacket of Roy Haynes's Out of the Afternoon that gets ripped off by Moppa and his boys, complete with moustaches (hilarious). The pastiche, both visually and musically, is merciless but affectionate – though the album contains only one "official" cover (Neal Hefti's "Cute"), it manages to reference just about the entire history of jazz, from swing to bossa to fusion to free, and beyond (is it my imagination or is there a Sheena Easton quotation in there?). After seven years' playing together, these guys know each other's moves almost too well – switching styles and changing tempo is as easy as ripping off one of those false moustaches – and the virtuosity is literally breathtaking. You'll need a large glass of something cold once you get to the end of the album.
As "legit" jazz musicians, Irabagon and Evans, if they so desired, could blow anyone they liked offstage at any prestigious jazz festival you care to mention, but instead they've chosen to throw their hand in with the manic Shea, whose hyperactive antics would make even Han Bennink break into a sweat. In the company of three such exuberant personalities, Elliott wisely plays it straight and sticks to the beat and the changes. If he didn't, things could all too easily end up in a bloody mess (I mean, Barry Guy is definitely not the kind of bassist you want in a crew like this): after all, somebody's got to stay sober enough to drive the boys home after their night on the town.
Talking of playing major festivals, that's exactly what Evans did last year when he took his own quartet – with pianist Ricardo Gallo, bassist Tom Blancarte and the irrepressible Shea – to Lisbon's Jazz em Agosto. Here, the references to jazz history are even more explicit, with the trumpeter deliberately setting out to work with (within and without) the changes of well-known standards, including Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are", Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life", Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love" and – my favourite – "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" by Charles Mingus. Mingus is very much the palimpsest (that's the title of Evans' cover version) here, having done the same thing to the Kern and Porter chestnuts on his own Presents Charles Mingus album half a century ago, and Evans' work with complex harmonic modulations, shifts of tempo and elaborate arrangements has more in common with Mingus than it does with 60s free jazz, which all but abandoned harmonic changes altogether.
It's all very impressive – almost too impressive, especially on the closing "For ICP", where the band insist on playing the frighteningly intricate rhythms of the cycling four-note theme in unison (tantamount to showing off, if you ask me – as anyone suspected for a moment they didn't know how to do it in their sleep), and the capacity crowd in the Gulbenkian Foundation no doubt lapped it all up. But, thankfully, the voluminous applause was edited out on the disc. Just as well – we wouldn't want all that praise to go to Mr Evans' head now, would we?–DW

Jean-Marc Foltz
On this little jewel from the good folks at Ayler, clarinettist Foltz meets up with pianist Bill Carrothers and cellist Matt Turner for an all-improvised session in the Twin Cities. Recorded on a bitter January day, it'd be tempting to characterize this limpid and often spare music as frosty, like ice packed in the deepest recess of winter, but such easy allusions can't capture the invitingly warm, reflective, often playful quality of the music. The basic trio sound is compelling, as Carrothers' simple and elegant patterns anchor the long cello lines and the at times Sclavis-like clarinet probing. After some early passages of atmospheric restraint, "Black Butterflies" is urgent and stalking, built atop wide shifts in bass clarinet register, with Foltz expertly dealing out moments of tension as he often lands on a single, buzzing, repeated note. There is delicacy and darkness on the piano/cello duo "A Pale Washerwoman," and an almost courtly processional feel to "Moondrunk" and "Crosses," both brimming with woody overtones. "Knitting Needles" is superb, with Turner playing elegantly with overtones as Carrothers explores modest preparations set against the low burble of bass clarinet, eventually creating a pulse track from his piano-cum-junktrap. The terpsichorean "Old Pantomimes" sounds like Foltz is playing two horns at once, his mass of overtones blending marvelously well with Turner's granulated sound and the snare effect from Carrother's preparations. In his liners, Foltz claims to hear echoes of Pierrot Lunaire in the background. The closing minutes of "Prayer" definitely hint at this source, but its harmonic world in some ways suggests Strauss's Four Last Songs too. One of the best chamber discs I've heard in quite some time.–JB

Mathias Forge/Olivier Toulemonde
Another Timbre
Pie 'n' Mash is a single 39-minute track recorded in January 2010 in Sheffield, "with and without audience," meaning presumably that there's some post-production involved, though the music retains an immediacy and, dare I say, an organic quality to it (apologies if you're one of those curmudgeons who finds the term dated – it's a compliment in my book). Trombonist Mathias Forge is fond of pointed gestures, kisses and slurs, and evidently enjoys the challenge of playing with the fascinating Toulemonde, whose "acoustic objects" circle and scrape, their subtle inflections and details at times flirting with tonality even as instrumentalism is nowhere to be heard. In the opening minutes, details spring to life as Forge patiently sends up signals – a small tone here, a whine there – as if seeking a way of communicating with Toulemonde's multi-layered froth. This duo favors sharp changes of direction, at one point interacting violently like angry steam radiators or hissing predators before moving suddenly into a lovely passage with a top spinning on a table and focused plosives from Forge. The musicians are continually reconsidering the distance between them, as if it were a surface across which sounds are sent, either to fall into oblivion or spill into each other.–JB

Stephan Gauci / Kris Davis / Michael Bisio
Clean Feed
Lyricism and spiderwebbed dissonance from the engaging Kris Davis open up "The End Must Always Come," and, for all its density and sheer sonic abundance, there's so much detail in terms of polytonality, registral shifts and rhythmic cross-cutting that her playing is jaw-dropping. When Gauci enters, ragged and antic, Bisio knows just how to wend through or bolt down this kind of playing – listen to his stellar recent duets with Connie Crothers if you need more evidence – as a beautiful bit of repetition seals the piece to a finish. They're spiky and contrapuntal again on "Like a Dream, a Phantom," which opens with a lovely duet with Davis and Bisio where the pianist is given stylistically to sudden turns away from dense layers of sound to whip up a sudden rhapsodic swell that sends her crashing back to crab-walk away from the tide in another complex direction. Gauci digs into the rhythmic fragments with great sympathy, riding, transforming and even slowing things down altogether for a lovely balladic space where the saxophonist is simply in the zone. Things change up a bit with the tasteful inside piano and bass-body rhythm on "Something from Nothing," where Davis' quicksilver repetitions and variations are almost like Borah Bergmann, via Vijay Iyer. There is dark spaciousness to open the appropriately titled "Groovin' for the Hell of It," which in time comes to exult with lower register piano, alto squawks, and shouts. For more groove, dig the nice threeway rhythm on "Still, So Beautiful," where Gauci sounds like he's having a blast tossing out curve balls, keeping folks on their toes and playfully fucking with the pulse, even halting altogether at times ."No Reason To or Not To" is the most abstract piece, with plenty of space everywhere, but the trio ends with a return to their sweet spot, the rhythmic race and overlapping lines of "Just to Be Heard." More deliciousness from the ever-impressive Clean Feed, and a real statement from Davis in particular.–JB

Tomaž Grom / Seijiro Murayama
A plain duo for acoustic bass and percussion can seem old-school these days with so many improvisers making use of electronic treatments, e-bows, and computer processing. But it's great to hear Slovenian bassist Tomaž Grom and Japanese percussionist Seijiro Murayama (now based in Paris) dive into this set of five thoughtful, well-balanced improvisations. Grom has a rich, resonant tone, whether dancing across the strings, sawing out rumbling arco, or scraping and tapping it to coax a gamut of sounds from his instrument. Murayama works with a stripped-down kit, using sticks, beaters, bows, and scrapers to control the tuned reverberations of drum head and cymbals. Both have mastered their instruments but use their technical wizardry sparingly, carving out specific areas of sound and comfortably moving between conversational interplay and textural explorations. Nothing groundbreaking here, but who cares? Before this release came my way, I hadn't heard of either of these two; but now they're sure to be on my radar.–MRo

Robin Hayward/Roberto Fabbriciani
Another Timbre
Roberto Fabbriciani's playing on bass, contrabass and hyperbassflute is widely loved in new music circles, where he's long been known for his late Nono. Indeed, it was while performing Nono that he first met microtonal tubaist Robin Hayward. This duo encounter – Fabbriciani's first improvised session – took place in the surprisingly dry acoustic of the Basilica di San Domenico in the Tuscan town Arezzo. With extensions and tubings galore, the two players play music that sounds like the building settling, which I somehow can't help hearing as an acoustic response to the creaking roof of Malfatti, Durrant and Lehn's dach. It's a superbly compelling recording, filled with manifold articulations of breath and metal, ranging from soft plinks, high vocalic cries, and beautiful rubbed bowl oscillations to long, unfurling flatulence, barely audible birdsong, and antic trilling that recalls New Winds. Fabbriciani sounds great, focused, restrained and consistently imaginative, not simply in terms of technique but in terms of giving the improvisations shape through a keypad click, a controlled overtone, or a sudden whorl of sound like Robert Dick or Matthias Ziegler. Things groan and coalesce intensely on "riflessione," which sounds like spirits awakening in the space, and drift like foghorns and soft lolling waves on "colori di cimabue." A lovely disc, the kind of thing you really wish you could have heard in person.–JB

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Joe Morris/Nate Wooley
Clean Feed
Tooth and Nail features Joe Morris on acoustic guitar and Nate Wooley on trumpet, whose playing on these eight tracks is less focused on immersion and intertwining than on contrast, feinting and exultation in sonic difference. After the lovely exchanges of "Metronorth," where wood and brass cage each other in the ring, Morris's fascinating flinty bridge work on "Gigantica" sets up lobs for Wooley to bat down with the force of his breath. But this is no mere recital of bitty, gestures. The two really relish the abstracted slices of bop language on "Steelhead" and "Terrific Snag," with Morris swinging hard. "Noble Reasoning" finds him fascinatingly reworking an ascending phrase, with a Braxtonian mini-hiccup at its heart, with Wooley a laughing bird crossed with Cootie Williams. If it's invention and outness you're after, don't worry. Check out the serrations and choked chords on "Forest Grove," along with Wooley's muffled squeaks and brassy whines, or the soft drones and koto sounds of "Barberchaired." It's a fascinatingly varied duo outing, the kind of thing to play to shut up that guy who says free improv has no roots. Kudos!–JB

Maurizio Ravalico / Oren Marshall / Isambard Khroustaliov
Recorded during the summer of 2007, In Thunder Rise features Oren Marshall's tuba and Maurizio Ravalico's congas captured in various locations in South East London by the roving microphones of Sam Britton, or, as he prefers to call himself here, Isambard Khroustaliov. Exactly where each of the 24 tracks (edited in two continuously running CD-length "journeys") was recorded isn't specified, but tell-tale photos in the gatefold sleeve show Isambard's mike stand set up in an alleyway, under a portico, on a railway station platform and a terrace overlooking the Thames and by a fence next to what looks like a building site with Tony Blair's ill-fated Millennium Dome in the background.
Environmental improv is an intriguing idea, but what should set it apart from simple field recording is some perceptible level of interaction between the music and the place where it's being created. Or at least that the music be good enough in its own right. Khroustaliov's recordings are pleasant enough – if you haven't had your fill of car alarms, sirens, birdsong and rain where you happen to live – but the music all too often fails to sustain interest. Marshall's work elsewhere has shown him to be a resourceful and impressive player, and there's still a lot that can be done with the tuba, as his fellow improvising tubists Melvyn Poore and Robin Hayward have proved (though it takes a good recording in quiet surroundings to appreciate the nuances), but Ravalico, despite being a hotshot conga player – the CV includes stints with Jamiroquai, the James Taylor Quartet and even Paul McCartney – is no great shakes as an improviser. Roger Turner would have been much more fun.
"Less fucking noise, I'm trying to go to sleep," yells a woman at one point, though it's not clear whether she's addressing the musicians or someone else. Probably the latter, I suspect, as there's no way you could describe In Thunder Rise as "fucking noise." But a little less of it wouldn't have been a bad idea – a single CD would have sufficed. After all, Sarf East Landan isn't exactly the world's most exciting place, as my sister-in-law, who lives in the godforsaken suburban hell of Welling, will happily confirm.–DW

Larry Ochs' Kihnoua
Not Two
Saxophonist Larry Ochs has been on a creative tear in the last few years, pursuing a bevy of extra-ROVA interests with, among others, Maybe Monday and his Sax & Drumming Core, a provocative unit with trumpeter Darren Johnston. His latest venture is Kihnoua, whose debut is built on the rhythmic partnership Ochs shares with drummer and electronics whiz Scott Amendola, also of the Core, with their block/cell-like exchanges forming a basic language. They're joined by the superb vocalist Dohee Lee, a specialist in p'ansori, the Korean "blues" (indeed, Ochs avers that a "blues" feel is at Kihnoua's heart), whose imaginative wordless incantations sit somewhere between Jen Shyu and the urgency of Diamanda Galas. On the howling barrage of "Slat," Amendola's electronics are supplemented by trumpeter Liz Albee, whose bright contributions – gifted with the technical immediacy of a bopper but with an out inclination that references Dorner, Kelley, and related imaginauts of the trumpet – never fail to compel. The music is paced very well, with sudden explosions and chirpy phrases, and plenty of disorienting, disoriented sound. When Lee and Albee start madly spinning atop Amendola's table, their joint rhythmic articulation is intense, like spirit possession at its height. "Nothing Stopped But a Future" adds frequent partners Fred Frith and Joan Jeanrenaud to the quartet, with a miasma of stuttering, slurring strings, animalistic and automated at once, diving as one into a glorious swirl of sound (there's some absolutely stunning work from Frith at the end). The record flows nicely, scaling back the dynamics for the hushed Ochs/Lee duet "DeeHyak," with squeaks and echolalia, and sidling up to the sentimental on the gorgeous trio "Weightless," which could almost be a lost folk song, filled with Ochs' exquisite sopranino quaver. Albee and Jeanrenaud are back on board for the closing "Less Than a Wind," with some perfect little self-sampling electronic growls from Albee. It's a terrific first statement from this band of equals. Pick it up and eagerly await the follow-up with bassist Wilbert de Joode.–JB

Kevin Parks / Joe Foster
available through Erstdist
There's been some discussion lately over at IHM about the State of Improvisation in 2010, particularly on the subject of recordings, and the relative dearth of releases on established EAI labels compared to previous years (though we're not exactly putting up Christmas trees yet, and many fine albums tend to sneak out at the end of the year, just in time to miss the Wire Best Of lists). It's perhaps significant then that one of the outings that's created the most buzz in recent times, at least in the community of 500 people who care about EAI (Nick Cain's line), is this self-produced double CD by two IHM regulars, Kevin Parks and Joe Foster. Why waste time shopping round for a label when, for a modest investment, you can put it out yourself, have total control over where it goes and what it looks like (super cover art by the way) and be sure that, with a bit of gentle marketing in the right places, including the two obligatory reviews by Messrs Olewnick and Pinnell, you'll be able to sell the lot.
There's much to listen to on Acts Have Consequences, and for once I don't regret the musicians' decision to release more than two hours' worth of music on a double CD, but it's not always as accessible as Parks and Foster's first duo outing Ipsi Sibi Somnia Fingunt in 2007 or their download only release Prince Rupert Drops on Homophoni last year. It's not that you ever feel overloaded with information – there's plenty of space here, and events unfold at the stately pace typical of the genre – but sometimes you ask yourself why the musicians respond to each other's sounds the way they do ("I wouldn't have done that.."), the answer coming only later in the piece. Or the next time you listen to the album. Or, better still, not at all. Why did Picasso, in Henri-Georges Clouzot's fabulous Le Mystère Picasso (1956) change that rooster to a fish only to ink over the whole space and end up with a face?
There are plenty of similar creative mysteries to investigate here, not least of which is trying to work out how many of these sounds are made in the first place. "Electronics" is about all you need to know, though there's plenty of guitar from Parks – more so than on earlier outings – which raises inevitable comparisons with Keith Rowe, Tetuzi Akiyama and Taku Sugimoto, all of whom Kevin admires. Not that that should give the impression that we're simply going over old ground here – Parks, unlike Rowe, often has a clear sense of what he's doing harmonically, but his feel for pitch and interval comes more from Feldman and Lucier than from Connors or Fahey, both of whom I've always felt were lurking in the shadows in Off Site. But wherever it comes from, and wherever it's going, Acts is a very fine release. Improvisation in 2010 is still doing very well, thank you.–DW

Respect Sextet
This digital-only collection of 8 original songs answers the question "How are these guys gonna follow up the success of Sirius Respect?" That disc's brilliant pairing of material by Sun Ra and Stockhausen got this hardworking band some much-deserved attention, but the sextet's own composing talents are just as satisfying, drawing on a typically deep well of influences. Drummer Ted Poor's "Stray Gator" carries over the Ra influence in an ominous blast-off featuring a brooding tenor saxophone solo by Josh Rutner and brash trumpet from Eli Asher. That's followed by trombonist James Hirshfield's "Tony I", a romp which veers between Dixieland and ragtime with assorted ritards and percussive is-the-needle-stuck interjections. Pianist Red Wierenga seems to be channeling Jerry Lee Lewis on parts of the intricate title cut, while the band adds to the fun with big Latin horns on "The Hinske Plow". Hirshfield's yearning trombone really shines on the introspective "Vermont", which conjures up echoes of the David Murray Octet, and the album ends perfectly with Rutner's bebop send-up "I Want to Be Asher", which sounds as fresh now as it would have on Savoy in 1945. As with previous releases you can't escape the feeling that not only are these guys very good at what they do, they seem to have a lot of fun doing it. –SG

Rivière Composers' Pool (Kent Carter, Theo Jörgensmann, Albrecht Maurer, Etienne Rolin)
As Dante put it (more or less), I'm currently midway on the path from enfant terrible to grumpy old fart, and less inclined these days to be patient with stuff that requires a big investment of time and stamina, so my eyebrows headed upwards when I saw that this four-way improv encounter was issued at luxuriant 3-CD length. But bassist Kent Carter is one of the least austere, most sheerly pleasurable of improvisers—his discs on Emanem are among the most approachable things in the label's catalogue, mingling chamber-improv with detailed compositional frameworks—and he's certainly not prolific. And the generous presentation here, it turns out, is entirely justified.
This meeting of four composer-improvisers—an unusual two-clarinet, two-strings lineup—took place at Carter's behest in August/September 2009. The set includes recordings made in the studio adjoining the bassist's home in Juillaguet (near Angoulême, in southwest France) and performances from a church in Sers. Each session has its own flavour. Disc A—a trio of Carter, violinist/violist Albrecht Maurer (mainstay of Carter's recent projects) and clarinettist Theo Jörgensmann—has a folk-jazz vibe very much in the tradition of Jimmy Giuffre. Maurer injects a sardonic lyricism, though, that Martin Davidson in his liners rightly suggests owes something to Stravinsky. Often it involves jumping into unexpected registers or outlandish timbres, as in the twittering baroque fiddling that ends "Suite of Actions". There's lots of wit and sprightly rhythmic play here—check out the simultaneous multiple tempos of "Pinwheel" and Jörgensmann's Benny Goodman-goes-nuts spree on "Dance to This", for instance—though my favourite piece is the sombrest, "Music for a Ghost Story".
Disc B begins with duets between Carter and Etienne Rolin (clarinet, basset horn and alto flute), the latter probably the least familiar musician here. Despite his Francophone name, he's American-born like Carter, though he has been resident in France for most of his life. He's easily distinguished from Jörgensmann, favouring sinuous, run-together lines full of contradictory gestures and expressive exaggerations—perhaps it's significant that Rolin's bio note indicates his specialty is "improvisation through soundpainting".
The remainder of Disc B and all of Disc C are by the full quartet—tracks recorded just before and during a public performance at the church in Sers. The live performance is especially magical: long, rich passages of droning counterpoint suggest a Renaissance consort of viols, but there are also rhythmic/melodic games with multi-speed canons and metrical overlays (at one point Maurer starts beating out a snappy 3-against-2 on his fiddle), as well as a few moments of slowly ascending conflagration. The lightness and translucency of the group's palette is appealing—especially when (as at the start of the second track) Rolin shifts to flute—and the musicians' preference for actually playing their instruments as God intended them to be played draws out a wider, more surprising range of timbres than I've heard in most improv that focuses narrowly on extended technique. Carter's firmly placed lines and occasional tendency to snap percussively at the other players' heels keep everything lively, too. All told, 3 hours of great music, which fly by with nary a dull or cluttered moment: chalk another one up to Emanem.–ND

Quentin Rollet / Zsolt Sőrés / Pál Tóth
Quentin Rollet is best known as one of the two founding fathers, along with Noël Akchoté, of the Rectangle label (which went into mothballs not long after Akchoté relocated to Vienna a few years back – those vinyls are now, I imagine sought after collectors' items), but as a saxophonist he's graced several fine releases, and has performed with David Grubbs, Akosh S. and Mayo Thompson's Red Krayola. On Paw Music he teams up with two Hungarian sound artists of note, Zsolt Sőrés and Pál Tóth (aka Én) for an intriguing genre-straddling outing, never quite nasty enough to call Noise but far more rowdy than your usual EAI. The Ronda website blurb tells us that Rollet spends his time trying to "un-learn" what he was taught in music school (noble strategy), and he's doing quite well. Though he originally took up the sax at the age of 11, he's certainly mastered that raw, untutored scream – Tamio Shiraishi would be proud of him – not to mention all manner of odd flutters and splutters. Or maybe that's the Hungarians' electronics. Hard to tell at times, but who cares? It all adds up to an enjoyable if slightly chaotic offering. Good stuff.–DW

Christine Abdelnour Sehnaoui & Magda Mayas
Olof Bright
The pairing of alto saxophonist Christine Abdelnour Sehnaoui and pianist Magda Mayas is very welcome as, separately, they've been responsible for two of 2010's finer releases – Sehnaoui's Ichnites (Potlatch) with Pascal Battus, and Mayas's Another Timbre solo Heartland. With Battus, the saxophonist adopted a range of embouchures and restrained blowing techniques to generate an impressive spectrum of sounds from her horn. Her subtle approach revealed the means of production of the sounds, emphasising the sound of tonguing and breath, and the end results were textbook lowercase. In contrast, Mayas produces sounds with a wider dynamic range, playing the whole piano, inside and out, including dramatic percussive effects from banging and scraping the frame of the instrument and the strings. Both women have styles that are idiosyncratic and distinctive, their sounds eloquently conveying the physicality of what they do – listening to their music conjures up images of them playing it.
Across the three extended improvisations of Teeming, the pair interact to create complex yet coherent soundscapes, within which it is usually possible to disentangle individual contributions. Mayas is noticeably the driving force, the more dominant player, and her garrulous approach has a clear effect on Sehnaoui. Drawn away from the laminal approach she adopted on Ichnites, she readily and rapidly responds to the stimuli sent out by Mayas, who clearly relishes the call-and-response approach to improvising. At times here the two are so locked into each other that is unclear who's calling and who's responding. As a thrilling back-and-forth synthesis of instruments, Teeming is well named.–JE

Christoph Schiller/Carl Ludwig Hubsch
Another Timbre
Simple contrast is often enough to fascinate in improvised music. Only on Giles U. it's not merely simple. Christoph Schiller does the kinds of things to his spinet that Rhodri Davies does to his harp, and he makes an engaging partner to the versatile Hubsch. They create vivid music, the kind of thing you might hear if a steampunk novel became sound, with high brass squeaks and cranky low metal strings combining fantastically. An affinity for contrast, and for knowing when the meaningful balance has been struck, is the key to the success of these seven pieces: you can hear it on "2," as subsonic deep bass drone and scraped twine size each other up, on the almost deconstructed slide guitar sound conjured up by Schiller on "7," bouncing nervously against the held low tones, and on the brilliantine ice sculpture "3," where Hubsch's scalar playing seems to send Schiller scrabbling to the rafters. For all this, though, my favorite track is "4," a hushed drone with an ever so slightly whining violin sound. Plaintive and heartfelt, my kind of improvisation.–JB

Stasis Duo
Australia's Matt Earle and Adam Sussmann have been making music together for a while now as Stasis Duo, but their releases, mostly self-released CD-Rs, are next-to-impossible to find. Better luck with this new one on the recently revived L'innomable label. The duo grab you here from the first explosive pop, which resolves into scumbled grit and churning drones. There's no info on the cover, but one presumes that as on past releases they're using empty samplers to create their striking sonic palette of pinpricks, sinewaves, crinkles of static, fan buzzes, bursts of feedback, and thrumming drones. The music is concise and admirably focused, flowing coherently from piece to piece, as when the volatile eruptions of the first piece descend into the infinitesimal hushed detail of the second before the duo methodically build things back up again. The last three cuts (of eight) make an especially nice package, starting out with a barely perceptible sinewave shaded with hiss; overtones are gradually layered in, creating shifting sympathetic waves of sound. Low frequency grumbles, spits and sparks become more pronounced as track six closes out, homing in on a stuttering click pulse that gets chopped and warped in track seven only to stretched further on track eight, a rustling soundscape shot through with calligraphic traces and spatters. It's excellent music – search it out before it, too, disappears.–MRo

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Catherine Christer Hennix
Die Schachtel
Performed – once and once only – at Stockholm's Moderna Museet on the afternoon of March 23rd 1976, Catherine Christer Hennix's Electric Harpsichord (actually it's the harpsichord patch of a Yamaha synth, along with her sinewave generators) is, to quote Glenn Branca on the back of this typically handsome Die Schachtel book + disc package, "a gigantic piece, a killer, a work which exists outside of style or genre."
You could, I suppose, take issue with that last bit (I wonder when Glenn made his remark), as there's certainly plenty of long, rich, big fat drone around these days, from Phill Niblock to Ellen Fullman to Paul Panhuysen to Eliane Radigue (though I know she hates the D word), but Hennix's piece is really spectacular, even if it only lasts 25 minutes and 24 seconds. In an ideal world it would have lasted much longer – the composer had argued passionately for an installation version of the work into which, like the Dream Houses of her friends and fellow Pandit Pran Nath disciples La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, members of the public could wander and stay as long as they wished. But the Swedish organisers didn't like the idea, and, according to Henry Flynt's 13-page essay, "blackballed" her ideas for future installations. The tape of the performance wasn't even broadcast on Swedish radio (one can only conclude that the promoters didn't attend the show), but, happily, the Dutch radio station De Concertzender did, and a three-hour survey of Hennix's music is available here: The Electric Harpsichord, in accordance with Ubuweb's scrupulous policy of not making music available for free if it's in print elsewhere, is currently offline. If you want to hear this piece, you've got to buy the album – and you'd be a damn fool to miss out on it. Giuseppe Ielasi's remastering is a hell of a sight better than the old mp3 download, after all.
In addition to Flynt's essay, which provides essential background on the composer and the work's reception history, the 56-page book contains two brief but touching poems by La Monte Young, who played the tape of the work as part of his Offering in Memoriam Pandit Pran Nath event at the MELA Foundation Dream House in New York in June 1998. It also includes Hennix's own copious notes on the composite sinewave drone over which the work is performed, which, I freely admit, are perfectly incomprehensible to me (so much for two years doctoral training in musical Set Theory), with their mixture of hardcore mathematics (arbitrary morphisms, and the like) and Youngian (or is that Jungian?) poetics.
Hennix once told Marcus Boon that to bring out the full range of overtones contained within the piece it should be played at about 100dB, which, though not quite as damaging as having a vuvuzela blown in your ear from three feet away (who writes these Wikipedia pages?), is still jet engine volume. She's certainly got a point – the louder it goes, the more you get out of it. I hope one day I might be lucky enough to spend a holiday in an isolated farmhouse equipped with a top-notch sound system – if so, you can bet your boules quies I'll be taking The Electric Harpsichord along with me. Simply awesome.–DW

Various Artists
When chemist and computer programmer Lejaren Hiller founded the experimental music studios at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaigne in 1958, he created an environment of rigorous exploration and discovery that continues to this day. This four-disc compilation presents a sampling of current and former faculty, alumnus and student works from that prestigious studio, currently run by Scott A. Wyatt, who has been at the helm for over thirty years. We are treated to some historical recordings and many newer pieces, and while there is no particular unity of aesthetic, the level of composition is remarkably high.
The faculty compositions afford a microcosmic view of the studio's various innovations. Of historical importance are early examples of sound synthesis. Hiller's Vocalise, from his Seven Electronic Studies for Two Channel Tape Recorder (1963) combines the then-novelty of synthesized vowel sounds with other textures in the cut-up style typical of musique concrète before the innovations of Luc Ferrari changed its face. Nearly 50 years later, Wyatt's Of Gray Twilight demonstrates how far the techniques have been taken; he contextualizes bursts of cinematographic cut-up, the sounds often familiar, with long passages of near silence that ultimately fade into the darkness implied by the title. By contrast, Herbert Brun's U-Turn-To (1980) anticipates the Ligetiesque drone works that David First would wax in the late 90s.
It was UIUC alumnus Paul Oehlers, a colleague of mine at American University, who informed me of this compilation's existence, and his Phreximus (2008) bristles with energy amidst crystalline textures and minute percussives that speed up and slow down in small arches, taking Stockhausen's study of tempo decrease in Telemusik in quite a different direction. Maggi Payne's Electric Ice inhabits similar territory, but her tiny pointillisms gradually converge into rivers of sound, pitched and otherwise, punctuated by the rattling of a steam radiator. Both pieces were commissioned especially for the 50th anniversary set.
Of the student works, Tsai-yun Huang's Circadian Rhythm has a unique flow that Hwang attributes to her experience as a Chinese lute player. Though her soundscapes don't conjure that world directly, her way of using silence amidst rich clouds of synthesized color sets her work apart. Jason Rundall's Silica, a musique concrète study of the myriad sounds of glass, stands out too, and is as musical as it is timbrally fascinating. There are many more excellent pieces in this set, each disc providing a miniature history of the endlessly engaging developments in technique and execution that made UIUC's experimental music studio the bastion of talent it continues to be. Each compositional voice is unique, and yet the traditions from which they emerge are discernible throughout. This is a worthy addition to any electroacoustic music collection.–MM

Various Artists
I haven't bagged Vol. 2 yet (I know it's out, and I'm hunting), but it's great to finally get my hands on this particular trilogy of long-awaited reissues from the series of 18 albums curated by Earle Brown between 1961 and 1973. Listening to Toshiro Mayuzumi's Nirvana Symphony or Cathy Berberian sing Berio's Circles or Yuji Takahashi play Xenakis's Herma is like watching an early Godard film, or re-reading Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49. They're all still fantastically fresh, but they make you realise how much the world has changed in the half century since they first appeared.
You've probably all heard of Toru Takemitsu by now, but he wasn't the only Japanese composer to be profoundly influenced by post-war French music – both instrumental and electronic – and work extensively for the cinema. Toshiro Mayuzumi, born just a year before Takemitsu, graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1951 and headed for Paris to study at the Conservatoire with Tony Aubin, where he inevitably fell under the spell of Messiaen and Boulez. Returning to Japan in 1953 he continued his explorations into all things new, producing arguably the first piece of Japanese musique concrète, X, Y, Z in 1955. But in Nehan kokyokyoku aka Nirvana Symphony he turned his gaze back towards to Buddhism – the sonorities of temple bells and chanting influenced him profoundly – and to Messiaen. In terms of orchestration and harmony, I reckon there's a case to be made for saying Messiaen's influence over subsequent generations (as a composer, not just a teacher) was as great as Varèse and Bartok's before him. You can certainly hear it in Takemitsu, not to mention the French spectralists (and we all know how influential they've been). What's particularly notable about this cantata for 12-part male chorus and orchestra is that it was written in 1958, when the pupils at Darmstadt School (the term was first coined by Nono in a lecture that year) were already looking for a way to make their maths homework more interesting, either by incorporating elements of chance, exploring instrumental spatialisation or turning resolutely towards electronic music. On the other side of the world, Mayuzumi and Takemitsu were opening up another way, not by turning back through 180° to the past but rather by looking sideways at it, finding and incorporating elements of serial thought outside the confines of post-Webernian dogma. It's high time more of Mayuzumi's work came back into circulation – until it does, anyone seriously interested in 20th century orchestral music who doesn't know this piece is strongly encouraged to check it out.
"The voice of Cathy Berberian", proclaims the cover of the 1962 disc containing her readings of husband Luciano Berio's Circles, Sylvano Bussotti's Frammento and John Cage's Aria with Fontana Mix. Simple "mezzo-soprano" just won't do to describe Berberian, who was, until her untimely death of a heart attack aged 57 in 1983, an authentic avant garde diva (and the only new music virtuoso to get a namecheck in a Steely Dan song). Circles (1960) is one of several works Berio composed specially for his wife and muse, a deliciously lyrical setting of three poems by e.e. cummings scored for harp, two percussionists and magnifiCathy, who, in addition to singing is also called upon to play crotales and claves, and move around the stage. I remember Berio's fragmented syllabary sounded so wild and way out to me when I first heard this piece – on an original vinyl copy of this album – at the tender age of 13 in the mid 70s. Nowadays it sounds as fresh and approachable as Mozart. It's her awful, stilted cover versions of Beatles songs that have aged really badly. The Bussotti piece – an extract from a larger work, Pièces de chair II (1959), arranged by the composer for piano and played by Berio – is another piece tailor-made for Berberian's steamy sensuality (who else ever made new music sound sexy?), but the real tour de force on this disc is her reading of Cage's Aria with Fontana Mix. To quote the Cage database (if you haven't bookmarked this page yet, do so now -, "the text employs vowels and consonants and words from Armenian, Russian, Italian, French and English. The notation consists basically of wavy lines in different colors and 16 black squares denoting 'non musical' vocal noises. The colors denote different singing styles, to be determined by the singer." Just get a load of Berberian's "Neapolitan fishwife" and rejoice.
The third record in this set was originally released in 1970, and features pianist Yuji Takahashi performing Xenakis's Herma, written for him in 1961, Roger Reynolds' Fantasy for Pianist and Earle Brown's Corroboree (both finished in 1964) and his own Metathesis, which dates from 1968. 40 years after it first appeared, there's still something almost scary about Takahashi's Herma, an angry snarl of pitch sets transformed by Boolean algebraic logic and hurled around the piano space like cluster bombs. Susan Bradshaw once described it as the most difficult piano piece ever written, and listening to this bravura performance, you're inclined to think she was right. Other pianists have tackled the piece since – Takahashi's namesake Aki delivered a fine version on Mode a few years ago – but there's still something rather special about this recording. Maybe the warm analogue sound ("the music was transferred to digital using only high-end turntables and analog-to-digital converters", trumpets the Wergo booklet) has something to do it.
Reynolds' Fantasy for Pianist, which was in fact first performed by John Tilbury at the Warsaw Autumn Festival, is another virtuoso thriller of a piece, but of a somewhat more conventional nature (it "lies under the fingers" better than the Xenakis, but it's still ferociously difficult). Once more, Takahashi's playing is a joy, not only articulating Reynolds' intricate pitch configurations with meticulous attention to detail, but also bringing a real Romantic sweep to the overall form. Unlike other thorny solo piano monsterpieces of postwar serialism – the Stockhausen Klavierstücken, the Boulez Sonatas – a line can be traced back from Reynolds' piece to an earlier florid, flamboyant piano repertoire; if Jean Barraque's mighty Sonata looks back to Schubert and Beethoven, the Fantasy for Pianist's stalks, vines and twigs belong to a family tree with Ravel and Debussy perched on the branches and Liszt and Schumann sitting in the shade underneath.
Earle Brown's Corroboree is a different kettle of fish altogether, a spiky, user-unfriendly assemblage of single notes, chords, clusters, muted inside piano and plucked tones scored for three pianos (it was originally written for the Kontarsky brothers, Alfons, Aloys and Bernhardt). Even the mighty Takahashi has to resort to overdubbing, but the rather crude stereo placing of the three pianos – hard left, centre and hard right – combined with the aggressive nature of much of the material (you end up feeling rather sorry for the pianos, which get a pretty good spanking), makes it a tough listen at times. The title of Takahashi's own Metathesis inevitably recalls Xenakis, and it's no surprise to learn that its temporal structures are stochastic. The composer also informs us that the work's structure is "based on the subgroups of a permutation group of degree 6 and order 24, which are applied to the various factors of the tone events for piano, such as the density, the duration, the dynamic form, [and] the tone form (all of them are extratemporal structures)." The music is, at times, as forbidding as the mathematics behind it, but at 5'34" it doesn't overstay its welcome.
None of these discs does, in fact – the Takahashi album is the longest, clocking in at just over 41 minutes – and I'm led to wonder, listening again to how much ground they each manage to cover, whether the 80-minute duration of a compact disc isn't a blessing or a curse. That said, my old vinyls are in such desperate condition that the reappearance of this music on CD is most definitely a blessing.–DW

Iannis Xenakis
Mode's Xenakis Edition reaches Volume 11 with the release of these four chamber works for piano and small ensembles spanning the composer's career from 1956, when he began work on Morsima-Amorsima, to 1992 (Paille in the wind), taking in the mighty Eonta (1963) and 1986's piano quintet Akea along the way. Pianist Aki Takahashi has a hard act to following tackling her namesake Yuji's legendary interpretation of Eonta, but she does so very well, ably assisted by the brass of the Callithumpian Consort under the baton of their Music Director Stephen Drury. The recording is top-notch, and the album comes with informative, well-written liner notes by Benôit Gibson. Par for the course for Mode.
By now, I imagine most readers of this rag will be familiar with Xenakis's oeuvre, and aware of the enormous difference between the early, computer-assisted stochastic and symbolic music and his later output, written after he made that memorable throwaway remark to Bernard Jacobson in the early 80s, "I don't need the calculations any more." You might argue that his later fascination with pitch, particularly a fondness for aperiodic scales, makes the music more accessible, or at least more emotionally engaging compared to those wild, spiky late 50s / early 60s works with their forbidding titles (how about ST-4/1,080262 for user-unfriendliness, eh?), but there's something thrillingly raw about the early stuff that makes it sound remarkably, dangerously fresh nearly half a century on. It's almost as if the later works are too musical, or at least too playable. And it's clear that at in later life, ill health was clearly taking its toll on the composer. The sober, Messiaen-like clanging four minutes of Paille in the wind ("paille" means straw, by the way, make of that what you will), are almost heartbreaking in their austere brevity. Akea is a more rewarding work, and receives sympathetic treatment from the JACK Quartet, but the rhythm plods and the string writing, despite studiously avoiding old-fashioned vibrato, often sounds claggy and tired, lightyears away from the vicious scything glissandi of Morsima. Takahashi's arpeggio flourishes have an almost Lisztian grandeur, but give me the extraordinary fisticuffs bravado of Eonta any day. Such piddling quibbles aside, this is a fine release, strongly recommended to all, not only Xenakis completists.–DW

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Thomas Ankersmit
Ash International
These days, between official releases, CDRs, cassettes, and download-only specials, it seems like even the newest and most obscure musicians can border on over-exposure. Yet after a decade of making music, this is only the fourth recording by Berlin-based Thomas Ankersmit and the only one currently in print – if only all musicians were as sagacious. Using alto sax, analog modular synthesizer, real-time computer processing, and pre-recorded tapes, Ankersmit has constructed a startlingly rich and complex piece. Starting out with a stutter of recognizable saxophone notes, it quickly builds density and momentum out of striations of drones, pulsating tones, shuddering washes of sine waves, scribbles of analog synth, and sputters of static, with reed harmonics and overtones peeking through. Ankersmit has always focused as much on sound installations as on real-time improvisation, and that notion of exploring the acoustic character of a specific space comes through here. Though it's a live performance, the piece is carefully structured: Ankersmit builds up layers, then lets them drop out mid-way through in order to start building them up again, culminating in a passage of long, buzzing tones. It's easy to sit back and float along with the music, but don't be fooled: this deserves a careful listen.–MRo

Cluster & Farnbauer
Now that kids these days seem to be gobbling up any old 70s / 80s synthpop stuff they can get their paws on, it's no surprise that one of the hippest labels in town, Important, has seen fit to reissue this live performance from June 1980 recorded at the Wiener Festwochen Alternativ, hitherto only available as a long sought-after cassette on York House Records. On this occasion Messrs Roedelius and Moebius were joined by percussionist Joshi Farnbauer (as far as I can tell, this is the only disc he's ever appeared on), and it's worth the price of admission alone for the opening "Service", a 32-minute improvisation whose weird atonal wanderings have more in common with Rodelius and Moebius's early work with Conrad Schnitzler (back when the band was called Kluster.. once you've got a good name, stick with it, even if it means changing that "k" for a "c" or vice versa – Mayo Thompson would no doubt agree). Here the three musicians head for the outer darkness – we're a long way from the pretty miniatures with Eno – and it's cold and chilly out there.
Unfortunately, the rest of the set can't (or won't) live up to the promise of the opening track. "Metalle" tries and fails, getting thoroughly bogged down in a rhythmic rut instead of taking off (and no amount of gong bashing can get it off the ground), the dreary noodling of "Piano" and "Ausgang" sounds like second division Wim Mertens, and Farnbauer's heavy-handed binary thumping on "Drums" probably explains why we haven't heard anything from him since. That said, it's nice to see this one finally out on CD, even if I'm not likely to get much further than CD 1 track 1 next time I listen.–DW

Lasse Marc Riek
Herbal International
"Unprocessed field recordings", the back of the six-panel digipak release announces proudly, though I wonder whether "unedited" wouldn't have been a better choice of adjective, as one assumes a little mastering was done to add relief and definition to these strange shrieks, squeaks and creaks recorded in harbours in Germany and Finland. The eight tracks are culled from two of Riek's recent projects, a stay in Finland in 2007 which also yielded the Habitats album released earlier this year on the Hungarian 3Leaves imprint (already sold out!), and an apparent fascination with the sounds of docks in Hamburg, which he recorded between 1999 and 2006. The contrast between the rather claustrophobic German recordings – the harsh metallic grating of track six at times recalls Iannis Xenakis's brass writing in his orchestral music – and the breezy buzz of the final track, from Österö on the southwestern coast of Finland, is striking, but rather than round off the disc, it sticks out like a sore thumb and seems to have been included only to bump up the total duration to 32 minutes, which isn't long either these days. Had Riek dispensed with a couple of other tracks – number seven, for instance, which lasts barely a minute and a half and doesn't add much of great import – it might have made a good, tightly packed 3" CD. Though maybe, like me, he doesn't like those pesky little things. As it is, the album feels uncomfortably short and rough round the edges. I suppose that's the "unprocessed" aspect of it – some sequencing and treatments wouldn't have gone amiss in my opinion, but that wouldn't fit with Riek's aesthetic.–DW

Various Artists
It's been nearly 30 years since the brothers Rupenus released Changez Les Blockeurs, complete with its cute typewritten Anti-Art manifesto, but there's obviously still something very seductive about the idea of Creators Who Destroy. Here's Kristian Olsson in a piece written for a collection of essays entitled Shocktilt, which was due out on Vinyl On Demand at the end of last year (if it has appeared, somebody let me know, I could do with a laugh): "TNB set the standards for generations to come and still today continue as undisputed masters of wrecking [sic] aural havoc. The Executioners of Tonality, the Assassins of Culture, the Murderers of the Past. The mutilated corpse of Tristan Tzara is left in the gutter for the vultures and maggots to feast upon. All 'isms' are nothing but a prison that holds you back from exploring the true potential of destructive force. The old Dada and Futurist manifestos are being used as toilet paper – taken notice of only in order to be avoided."
Ah yes, all the old teenage hardon buzzwords are there: executioners, assassins, murderers, mutilated corpses, maggots.. As Steve Martin once said, I remember my first beer too. You can also wipe your ass on a copy of the Blockaders' manifesto, Kristian. That said, the system is designed to deal with any response, positive or negative – if someone says your work is great, you can sneer at them, more fool you for considering it as Art, and if they say it's shit you can reply by saying of course it is, and was never meant to be anything else. Anti-Art is and always has been a total cop out.
Enough, already. After all, this isn't a Blockaders album, but a tribute – the third! – to the Rupenuses' pioneering, umm, attitude. It's a handsomely-produced double CD compilation mastered by Damion Romero complete with 16-page booklet with artwork by Richard Rupenus (nice to see Debussy and Stravinsky there – the man obviously has taste) and featuring contributions from all the usual suspects – Wolf Eyes, Daniel Menche, Z'EV, Emil Beaulieu, The Haters, Carlos Giffoni, Prurient, Thurston Moore, Jim O'Rourke, etc etc – and few surprise guests: interesting to see Jason Kahn and Michael Northam chipping in something noisy for a change. Personal favourites include Controlled Bleeding's "The Latest Hole in my Head", which (unless I'm confusing it for another track – am writing this from the A&E department of the local hospital where currently undergoing scans for a suspected brain tumour, and you bet your ass I'm going to sue Important Records) starts out all nice and twinkly and Oneohtrixy before putting the blade in in fine style, John Wiese's "Annul" (the adjective "funky" comes to mind, goodness knows why) and the Broken Penis Orchestra's "The Kill Lump", which is much more fun than the name of the band would have you think. For the rest, well, if you're a noise completist, you're either a) insane b) deaf c) penniless or d) all three, but you'll probably want to snag a copy anyway.–DW

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