Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings
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Kidd Jordan + Alvin Fielder + Peter Kowald
Trio And Duo In New Orleans
NoBusiness NBCD 64-65

“There are few left playing to whom the term ‘master’ can be applied without reservation,” proclaims Marc Medwin at the outset of his booklet note for the 2-CD Trio And Duo In New Orleans. By “master,” Medwin is not referencing craft, style or technique like others who bandy the dime word. If anything, there’s a surplus of such craftpersons in jazz, measurable through the dozens of CDs issued each month that are tightly joined, well sanded and inert. Instead, Medwin means elders, venerated teachers of life as well as music; but therein is the assumption of an insufficient number of middle-aged artists surviving to the ripe age of tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan and drummer Alvin Fielder – the jury will be out on that count for some years. Still, “masters” is the right instinctual response to Jordan and Fielder’s duos and their trios with gone-way-too-soon bassist Peter Kowald. Long before it is is heard as the development of motives, the confluence of traditions, or any number of constructs that account for the intangibles inherent in improvisation, their music is a sheer, enlivening, superlatives-prompting force.

The nuts and bolts: The trio concert occurred in 2002; except for the concluding track, which is taken from a 2012 Houston gig, the duets are from a studio session that took place a few months before Katrina. The concert sound is solid; the small details of Kowald’s agile solo being whisked by Fielder’s brushes are as vividly captured as the trio’s most robust passages. The studio session pays similar attention to detail; there are moments when Jordan seems to time his breathier phrases with the decay of Fielder’s drums, and Fielder is just a nano-second in following Jordan’s frequent, unforeseen change of attack, register and tone. The consistency in Jordan and Fielder’s resourcefulness and hand-in-glove rapport is particularly remarkable, given that the collection spans almost a decade. Their welcoming of Kowald is palpable – a joy to behold. Having seen Jordan and Fielder at after-fest sessions at Constellation in Chicago over Labor Day 2013, it is obvious that they love to play; constantly shifting and mulling each note from each musician, their total engagement and focus was inspiring. That’s what you hear on Trio and Duo in New Orleans.
–Bill Shoemaker

 

Allen Lowe
Field Recordings: 1-4 (or: A Jew at Large in the Minstrel Diaspora)
Constant Sorrow 001

Saxophonist Allen Lowe has long been an engaged, active historian of American vernacular music as well as a compelling instrumentalist. But he’s no mere curator, and is keen to let his personality shape his orientation to older materials instead of merely revering them. This sprawling release, the first on his Constant Sorrow label, has him assembling a vast array of talented instrumentalists (from Kalaparush to Ken Peplowski, from Matthew Shipp to Ursula Oppens!) to hurl down a kind of musical gauntlet, the combination of multiple musical scenes itself a kind of commentary. In a conversation still lamentably dominated by the likes of Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis, Lowe wants to explode the dominant (and limiting) packagings of early jazz and its reception (relying heavily on racialized stereotypes of sweaty enthusiasms in music-making).

A praiseworthy goal, and there’s much good music over these four lengthy discs (approaching five hours in duration). Employing shifting instrumentation and loads of extended soloing (much of it compelling), Lowe trains his ear on several different musical territories that he revisits on each disc. There are several key presences here, not least of which is Lewis Porter’s piano. He is best known for his estimable scholarship, but he’s quite a deft improviser in his interpellations of multiple streams of “jazz” playing. Lowe puts him into a group context often, as with the set’s opening “Brickyard Blues,” where his barrelhouse playing meshes well with Christopher Meeder’s buoyant tuba and Ray Suhy’s sprightly banjo (Suhy, too, is all over this release, especially with his angular, fleet guitar playing). Porter also contributes a number of solo piano performances, heavy with idiomatic signification: he’s stalking and intervallic on “Post Mortem (Chinese Food Killed the Pianist),” in a Monk-like mood on “Promise Me” and “Promise Me (Again),” playing slightly buttoned-down stride style on “Blind Piano,” and mashing up the whole on “If I Can’t Be With You.” I single out Porter because this range of approaches, with its hits and misses, is more or less emblematic of the release as a whole: things can be emotionally enthusiastic but also a bit by-the-numbers, depending on the track in question.

The po-mo collage and challenges to expectation constitute much of the aesthetic here. It isn’t quite the piss-taking sendup of MOPDtK’s Red Hot or an oh-so-serious documentarian effort. Rather, it’s a sometimes lazy, sometimes antic sojourn through idiomatic materials, with fine moments from the players throughout. Special mention goes to Randy Sandke’s trumpet (fabulous on “Haitian Vacation,” which has an early Threadgill feel, and the harmonically dizzy “Cakewalk in No Man’s Land”), clarinetist Peplowski (quite tasty on “The Bunk Johnson Suite: Devil’s Dream (Circus Blues)” and “Ernest Hogan’s America: When Dahomey Sings”), Shipp (whose polytonal keyboards on “Jim Crow Variations 1 & 2” make for quite the changeup), and Suhy (he’s all over the place, and pairs especially well with Lowe’s tart alto).

Lowe also lays out a decent array of settings for his troupe to explore. Many pieces strut along with a sense of almost drunken fun (“You and Me [Variations on a Thought of Monk]” and “The Bunk Johnson Suite: Lay Me Down and Let Me Sleep” being prime examples). There’s a load of fairly groaning and droning blues vamps (as with “Dead Bird on the Ground,” with ace Dean Bowman vocals, and “Death’s Holding Hand”). Several pieces (like “Emancipation Rag” and “For the Non-Confederate Dead”) morph quickly into skittering, bustling free-sounding revisionism, with blues sauce and swirling polytonality. In a few instances, they take in galumphing, tuba-heavy, almost Braxtonian materials – check out “Experiments in Post Modern Music,” “Hiding from a Riff,” and “Naked Dancer: The Rite.” And there are a few significant changeups here and there, as with the balladic “Pete Daily’s Blues,” the stirring “I’m An Old Regular Baptist” (where the tart saxophones and shifting tonal center at times nod to Mingus), and especially the Rick Moody recitation on “Melancholy”: set against crackling vinyl playbacks from the early twentieth century, this is the release’s most emphatic commentary on revisionism.

The problem is that the release suffers from a severe lack of editing. Many of the individual pieces ramble a bit too much, without enough compositional personality and with inconsistent improvisational results. But even more than this, the above paragraph makes things sound far more varied than is actually the case, since a vast number of these pieces return to the same tart, mid-tempo feel and simply chug along. And with regular returns to same territories over these four well-stuffed discs, this sometimes engaging music tries the patience quite a bit. Somewhere in here is a terse, effective fifty-minute release screaming to be liberated.
–Jason Bivins

 

Otomo Yoshihide
Piano Solo
Otoroku ROKU008 LP

Otomo Yoshihide + Sachiko M + Evan Parker + John Edwards + Tony Marsh + John Butcher
Quintet/Sextet
Otoroku ROKU009 LP



From the mid-90s on, Otomo Yoshihide burst on to listeners’ radar with an abundance of releases displaying a startlingly catholic approach to music-making: explorations in transformative approaches to samples; the deconstruction of the turntable as an electro-mechanical sound-making instrument; the slash-noise stomp of his group Ground Zero; the spare, laser-focused timbral constructions of I.S.O. and Filament; a take on free jazz with his New Jazz ensembles; collective improvisation with seminal recordings like Metal Tastes Like Orange with Masahiko Okura, Günter Müller, and Taku Sugimoto. Things ran full steam for a decade with recordings which seemed to pop up every month and a busy, global touring schedule.

Toward the end of the 2000s, the outpouring of releases seemed to slow down, but these two releases on Otoroku, the label started by the London venue Café Oto, provide ample evidence that Yoshihide’s restless, omnivorous sensibility was hardly subsiding. The two LPs celebrate a three-day residency at Club OTO in March 2009, by Yoshihide and his long-time collaborator Sachiko M. The first night featured solos by both as well as a trio with Eddie Prévost; the second, a performance by Filament (Yoshihide and Sachiko M) along with a trio with Christian Marclay; and for the final night, duos with John Butcher and what was advertised as a quintet with Evan Parker, John Edwards, and Tony Marsh. Piano Solo documents Yoshihide’s solo set from the first night while Quintet/Sextet captures an improvisation by the quintet along with another with the addition of Butcher. Duos between Butcher and both Yoshihide and Sachiko M are available as bonus digital files.

The deluxe LP, Piano Solo, pressed at 45rpm for optimal fidelity, captures a 25-minute exploration of the piano as resonant feedback actuator. There is a long lineage of musicians who utilized close miking and amplification of a piano to drive and control feedback loops, including David Tudor, who worked with this set-up to perform Cage’s “Variations II” in 1961, David Behrman, with “Wave Train,” or Alvin Lucier, who explored similar ground with “Music for Piano with Magnetic Strings” which utilizes five EBows to control and modulate the resonance of the strings. Yoshihide has worked extensively with guitar as a feedback generator, and his use of piano builds off of that practice. Put this on for a blindfold test, and one would be hard-pressed, at first, to identify a piano as the source of the engulfing waves of palpable sonic force.

Things kick off with a burred tone that slowly swells, getting filled in by what sounds like the bowed, low-end strings colored by buzzing textures. Waves start to build, interrupted by intermittent breaks only to crash forward again. Yoshihide toys with layers of harmonics and resonant decay of the dark groaning shimmers of string overtones, and the way they beat and flutter against the coursing and engulfing curtains of electronic feedback. Half-way in and the momentum is broken with sharply struck, crashing textures which is the first introduction of the percussive hammered action of the instrument in the piece. This acts as a focal point as things build again to rumbling drones shot through with surges of low-end grit, clashing, metallic crashes, and shuddering oscillations from the beating differences of acoustic and electronic frequencies. 20 minutes in and Yoshihide brings down the dynamics, letting the waves of sound swell and gather, slowly subsiding against low pulsations of feedback and the resonant scrape of strings.

Quintet/Sextet shows a different side to Yoshihide’s sensibility, both in his use of electric guitar, and in a focus on the traditions of collective, free improvisation. Yoshihide has often referenced the music of reed player Kaoru Abe and guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi as seminal influences and one can hear Takayanagi’s fractured abstractions of the jazz guitar tradition as central to his approach. The first side of the LP features the guitarist and Sachiko M’s spare sine tones interacting with the working trio of Evan Parker, John Edwards, and Tony Marsh. From the outset, Parker’s voluble, hoary tenor parries against hanging, resonant guitar chords, scrabbling arco bass, and the gestural sputter of Marsh’s drums. Yoshihide slyly begins to stretch his phrasing, letting chords hang and slowly decay against the dynamic layers of the other players, then arcs off into angular shreds. The improvisation builds in fits and starts of layered ebbs and flows of activity, shot through with subtle stabs of sine tones that peak in and out. A third of the way through, the piece opens up and sine waves shimmer over splashes of cymbals, providing a striking ground for quietly chiming guitar chords, and breathy tenor, providing a pool of calm for the quintet to build from. For the final third of the improvisation, there is an ongoing fracture of the ensemble as various sub-sections emerge and then morph, most notably a section for Parker’s microtones quavering against piercing sine tones and one where jangling guitar plays off of low pulsing bass.

John Butcher joins in for “Sextet” on side 2 of the LP and the piece begins with clicks, pops, and abraded textures. Butcher and Parker, both on soprano, spray percussive spatters and Sachiko M’s glitched pops of electronics play a more active role against the shifting ground. Here, the ensemble sounds more crystallized with mercurial realignments between various subdivisions of the group which progress with an organic sense of flow. The two reed players shift to tenor for the concluding section, and it is particularly intriguing to hear them play off of each other against the mutable ground of the ensemble.

The two bonus digital downloads with the Quintet/Sextet release are no mere add-ons. These two pieces provide an illuminating bridge between the ensemble improvisations and the feedback solo. On the 13-minute duo between Butcher and Yoshihide, the guitarist bends and controls feedback and resonant tones with impeccable control. Butcher’s feedback saxophone complements perfectly, as pad pops, reed overtones, and shudders of reverberation become intertwined. The two ride the edge of electronics and resonance, shot through with anchoring traces of acoustic instrumental tones with a lithe give-and-take. Butcher’s duo with Sachiko M is more austere yet also reveals more timbral complexities as the intersections of electronic pops, crackles, hums, and buzz shade Butcher’s flutters and reed semaphores. The masterful pacing moves with a measured tension and release, never rushing, letting the interactions of the sounds accrue and guiding things with a collective sense of considered poise. An entire session between these two would be welcome.
–Michael Rosenstein

 

Polwechsel
Traces of Wood
hatOLOGY 712

I still have distinct memories of hearing the first release by Polwechsel when it first came out in 1995. I knew Radu Malfatti’s playing from his many sessions as part of the London free improv scene. I was also familiar with Michael Moser, Werner Dafeldecker, and Burkhard Stangl from the group Ton-Art as well as Stangl’s participation in groups led by Franz Koglmann. But that first Polwechsel release, along with Stangl’s Loose Music marked a startling sign-post in changes in listening and sonic interaction; eschewing conversational interplay and gestural activity, instead focusing in on the intersection of a Cagean sense of sound and silence with a collective approach to form and structure. Over the course of two decades and seven releases, the collective ensemble has stuck to this strategy, even as the membership of the group evolved. Probably the biggest shift came in 2005, with the addition of percussionists Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr, who brought an extended timbral palette along with a more propulsive (though certainly open) sense of trajectory. Traces of Wood is the group’s first release in four years and brings with it two significant changes. First is the membership of the group, now a quartet with Dafeldecker, Moser, Beins, and Brandlmayr. This intrinsically focusses the sonics with bass and cello accentuating the low-end octaves of strings coupled with the dramatic range of percussion. Secondly, each of the members of the ensemble contribute a compositional form, offering a structural multiplicity to the recording.

First up is Beins’ “Adapt/Oppose” which defines an open framework for collective interaction, providing parameters for combinations, trajectories, and order for interplay, but leaving the decisions open for the group. Listening to the way that they navigate these signposts, it is evident that the deep-rooted experience the four have playing together is integral to the arc of the music, as rich timbres and textures flow in mutable layers. Moser’s “Grain bending #1” utilizes patterns and abstracted melodic contours to shape the piece, further influenced through the dissemination of pure tones and percussion samples to transducers mounted to the instruments, turning them into both sources and transmitters of sound. The sonic breadth of the quartet becomes orchestral as sections are plied against each other, massed into dense walls and then opened up for more transparency. Again, it is the intrinsic empathy of the members of the group that allows them to navigate the twists and junctures. In groups like Trapist and Radian, Brandlmayr incorporates pulse-based material into open-form pieces so it is natural that refracted pulse is used as an element in “Nia Rain Circuit.” Here, recordings of live performances are edited into sampled patterns which are introduced. Mirror reflections of real-time improvisation and processed materials are interleaved, creating a shifting focus of foreground and field as taped fragments disintegrate into the presence of the acoustic instruments, making optimal use of the contrast of the ring of metallic percussion and mallet instruments and the hanging dark string resonances.

The recording finishes off with Dafeldecker’s “S 64º14" W 56º37"” which refers to the degrees of longitude and latitude that specify the location in Antarctica where he captured the sound of a blizzard when conducting field recording sessions for the radio piece “The Cold Monolith.” Start, duration, dynamics, and density of the instrumental components are derived using chance operations while leaving room for improvisational sections. The quartet seamlessly integrates the field recordings, defined structural parameters, and open interaction as the piece unfolds, fusing the components into a dynamically coalesced whole. This recording shows new facets to this constantly evolving ensemble and it will be intriguing to see where they take things next.
–Michael Rosenstein

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