Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings
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Robert Dick
Our Cells Know
Tzadik 4015

Robert Dick has written the book on new music flute playing – several actually, covering extended techniques and circular breathing – and with his exceptional skill, knowledge, and imagination has fashioned an amazing career composing, improvising, and offering his own slant on repertoire ranging from Telemann to Hendrix. Given the breadth of his ability and an uninhibited desire to explore new sonic territory, it’s surprising to note that this is his first recording devoted solely to the contrabass flute. But rather than limit himself to the instrument’s characteristic dark timbres and haunting atmosphere, he chose to use it as his vessel on a “voyage of discovery,” employing intuitive strategies, conceptual references, and an expanded format of techniques, so that each of the six pieces is a distinct experience.

The front and back cover paintings, by the flutist’s daughter Leonie Schlicht – abstract swirls and integrated fluxes of colors – represent the music vividly. Dick’s breath initiates varied textures, like audible brushstrokes, which establish the formal properties of each piece, sometimes airy and transparent, other times husky and hoarse. Rapid flurries and flutters, along with rhythmic fingering, create percussive episodes, as with the opening of “Afterimage, Before,” dedicated to Ginger Baker (is it just me, or is there a similarity to Cream’s “Traintime” intended here?) On “Efflorescence” the large flute’s rich tone resembles a shakuhachi, and the melody is only gradually found and not forced. The quick flickers of sound – alternately implied and articulated notes – that energize ”Mitochondrial Ballet” contrast dramatically with the fluid, mysterious pastorale “Aura Aurora.” The concluding “Our Cells Know,” dedicated to the passing of a great friend of new music (and many musicians), Stephanie Stone, is not an elegy, but a slowly emerging celebratory dance, reinforced by the title’s suggestion that Nature has an awareness that affects and informs our existence, and provides a deeper meaning to music as engaging and evocative as this.
Art Lange

 

Fred Frith Trio
Another Day in Fucking Paradise
Intakt Records Intakt CD 267

Evocative and disturbing, the Fred Frith Trio’s Another Day in Fucking Paradise may just be one of the weirder and most arresting albums of the year. Joining Frith are bassist Jason Hoopes – who alternates between electric and acoustic – and drummer Jordan Glenn, whose kit wonderfully sounds as if half of it is built from toys and found objects. This album is all about sound, mood, texture, ideas, and atmosphere: demented church bells over distant guitar wails; tumbling kit and static guitar crunch punctuated by acoustic bass interjections; arco bass alongside Frith’s piercing Morton Subotnik impersonations; fuzzy slabs; his spoken nonsense syllables; long echoes reverberating across anxious and restless drums; quiet squeals and clacks behind long guitar swells mirroring the shape and direction of whale song. It is a sonic and affective world with the power to raise goosebumps.

To create this surreal soundscape the trio often returns to many of the same devices and vocabulary, but they twists and reconfigure them in new ways to fashion something fresh each time. Several tracks segue together (tracks two through six form a kind of mini-suite) and the group shifts gears quite quickly, which makes for a very quick and engaging listen. When Frith et al decide to change direction there is no hedging or tip-toeing – transitions are made assertively and roles are settled into at once, allowing for immediate discovery and invention.

Frith, Hoopes, and Glenn’s take on paradise is dark, and sounds akin to a seedy underworld out of a China Miéville novel, or perhaps the soundtrack to deleted Blade Runner scenes that were too twisted to use. Regardless of the inspiration, it’s nowhere I’d like to visit in person. But I will gladly take my ears there any time.
—Chris Robinson

 

Gunwale
Polynya
Aerophonic Records AR-011

Rempis/Abrams/Ra + Baker
Perihelion
Aerophonic Records AR-012



The latest releases from David Rempis’ Aerophonic Records find the veteran Chicago saxophonist in the company of two of his working trios. Polynya is the debut album from Gunwale, on which Rempis is joined by Albert Wildeman on bass and Ryan Packard on percussion and electronics. The trio hits right out of the gate on the opener “Wire.” Packard’s brief opening electronic salvo sets the tone for Rempis, who jumps straightaway into a late-Trane romp that’s undergirded by Wildeman’s full, sturdy, and clean bass and Packard’s vigorous use of his entire kit. The trio goes on to make great use of textural, dynamic, and timbral contrast, moving from moments of great intensity to passages where space and silence become equal partners. After a long stretch of quiet bass and drum solos Rempis emerges on baritone, and quickly works himself into a lather. It’s at these moments, when Rempis is at full throat, when the rhythm section seems a bit outmanned and outgunned. The second cut, “Bevel,” shifts gears considerably. The track’s first half is quite soft, acting as a nice counterpoint to the fire-breathing conclusion to “Wire.” Beginning with short high pitched descending electronic swoops, the piece features Packard and Wildeman’s sparse and subdued clinks, knocks, plucks, and clanks played under a piercing dog whistle Tinnitus electronic tone. Rempis primes his entry – this time on bari – with a series of long tones before working with a three note motive which he subsequently manipulates and shapes into melodic lines. He only very briefly reaches a full boil before things quiet off again and the piece ends with long tones from Rempis and Wildeman and electronic chirps and squeals. The album concludes with the alto blowout “Liner” on which Rempis mixes wild runs, trills, and screams with fluid bebop lines and the occasional funk line laid over Packard’s backbeat. His electronics are in part what distinguishes Gunwale from other like-minded sax/bass/drums avant-garde units, and its absence from “Liner’s” eighteen and a half minutes is noticeable. Not quite an afterthought, not quite an equal partner, the electronics could add even more character, complexity, and interest to a group well on its way to a unique vision.

Where Gunwale’s group aesthetic seems as if it is yet to be completely defined, Rempis’ trio with bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Avreeayl Ra exudes a singular voice and approach to long form improvisation. Following their 2014 debut album Aphelion (Aerophonic Records), Perihelion is a two-disc set recorded live at Elastic Arts and The Owl in Chicago. The first disc contains the forty-three-minute capacious epic “Enceladus.” Rempis’ opening alto lament moves to incorporate shades of bebop, with brief distant echoes of Art Pepper. As is his tendency, Rempis methodically builds into screams, shouts, and chortles. Abrams takes over, with his slow, pensive solo taking things in a new direction. The track’s centerpiece is a twelve-minute episode grounded on a simple bass ostinato that the trio sits on and rides. The group’s willingness to let the groove provide the energy and to see where it takes them, as opposed to forcing it elsewhere, reflects their patient and self-assured approach. Following a tenor solo from Rempis that he plays over a new, but more elastic and elusive groove, Abrams and Ra pick up their clarinet and wooden flute, unexpectedly closing out the piece with a soft woodwind trio.

Keyboardist Jim Baker, who shares a trio with Abrams and Ra and who has worked with Rempis since the 1990s, joins the trio on disc two. While the quartet maintains the trio’s core characteristics as displayed on “Enceladus,” the addition of Baker results in a group sound that is a little less open and a sense that the narrative is a little less sure in its direction. Like “Enceladus,” the first track “Cassini Division” is over a half hour in length and features a series of episodes with their own character, evolution, and feel that give the players space to stretch out and opportunity to work alone or in duos and trios. It opens with Rempis’ declarative statement on his bright, buzzsaw baritone, after which he slowly ratchets up the intensity. Rempis can be a little relentless, so Baker’s subsequent solo on keyboard provides a nice contrast. From there it’s a series of transitions between solos from Rempis on tenor, Abrams, and Baker and a final build up and climax from Rempis. The final cut “Pan and Daphnis,” featuring Baker on electronics, serves as a brief coda to this expansive set.
—Chris Robinson

 

I.P.A.
I Just Did Say Something
Cuneiform Rune 422

I.P.A. is a Scandinavian quintet; they’ve said they were inspired by their sometime fellow Scandinavian Don Cherry, and this colorful album recalls Cherry along with his fellow mid-‘60s Blue Noters like Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Chambers, and Andrew Hill. Like Cherry, trumpeter Magnus Broo is a wholehearted melodist with a subtle sense of solo form. Tenor saxophonist Atle Nymo’s screams and hollers may sound reckless but he too shapes solos. Vibist Mattias Stahl is startling. His strange harmonies and angular phrases, and his sudden changes of mood and rhythmic character recall the promise that the early Hutcherson quickly abandoned. It’s great to hear Stahl revive that style. Ingebrikt Håker Flaten plays bass with irresistible on-the-beat spring and swing. Hakon Mjåset Johansen, is a true ensemble drummer. He’s hyperactive, with drum thunder in the most volatile pieces and much lighter (often brushes on snares), more nuanced sounds elsewhere.

You might call I.P.A. a 21st-century development of freebop. Mainly, this music radiates intelligence and the kind of extroverted intensity that’s an antidote to decades of dark-cloud pastoral introversion in, for example, ECM’s Nordic jazz. Colorful settings – a near-1938-Ellington theme (“Majken”); a fast half-gamelan piece (“Sayembara”); the calm yet swinging “Barbro Violet”; the closing title song with its “Around the World in 80 Days” lick, for example. Flaten and Broo are in another fine aggressive quintet, the more ferocious Atomic. I.P.A. can create fast and violently too, as in the opener, “Kort Hilsen,” and the closing collective improvisation. The in-between tracks show I.P.A.’s idiom is a different – slightly older? newer? – step on same path as Atomic.

The rhythm section is under-recorded – especially in the many duets we don’t hear the closeness of the interplay that the players must have felt. The interplay and dynamics of Johansen’s drums, especially, lose effect. Almost all solos are by Stahl and the two hornists. Broo and Nymo compose as they play. Broo likes to develop motives, he’s both serene and intense as he plays slow or fast, many-noted lines and some sonic variations with half-valves or hand-over-bell. The sound and force of Nymo’s tenor may suggest kinship with the likes of Shorter, Rivers, Joe Henderson, Tyrone Washington, but there’s far less Coltrane in Nymo. He’s all over his horn. He invents liberating passages, some almost incongruous, with a sure sense of just the right contrasts to sustain tension. I.P.A. is quite a rewarding quintet, and especially Broo and Nymo are climax developments in today’s outside jazz.
–John Litweiler

 

Peter Kuhn
No Coming, No Going: The Music of Peter Kuhn, 1978–79
No Business NBCD 89-90

Peter Kuhn Trio
The Other Shore
No Business NBCD 88



Upon the urging of Anthony Braxton, clarinetist and saxophonist Peter Kuhn left his native California in 1977 to pursue a playing career in New York. Over the next four years Kuhn was active in the loft scene, playing and recording with the likes of Frank Lowe, William Parker, Billy Bang, and Lester Bowie. In 1981 Kuhn decided to move back to California with the hopes of kicking his heroin addiction. That year he recorded the stirring album The Kill on Soul Note, which featured Wayne Horvitz, William Parker, and Denis Charles. The Kill turned out to be the last album he would record under his own name until this year’s The Other Shore. (He did appear this year with Dave Sewelson, Gerald Cleaver, and Larry Roland on Our Earth/Our World, which John Litweiler reviewed in the June issue of PoD.) In the intervening thirty-five years Kuhn got clean, started a rare reptile business, was ordained by Zen Master Tich Nhat Hahn, and has worked as a Zen Buddhist counselor for recovering addicts and prison inmates. The two-disc set No Coming, No Going presents a significant collection of Kuhn’s work while he lived in New York.

The first disc is a reissue of Kuhn’s 1978 debut album, Livin’ Right, which was recorded during a live broadcast on Columbia University Radio. Featuring Kuhn on Bb clarinet and bass clarinet, trumpeters Toshinori Kondo and Arthur Williams, bassist William Parker, and drummer Denis Charles, Livin’ Right is an outstanding record that deserves a place in the canon alongside classics by people like Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

The album starts with “Chi.” It’s brief, playful tune bookends an inspired solo from Charles that serves as the appetizer for Livin’ Right’s main course: the just shy of thirty minutes long “Manteca, Long Gone, Axistential.” Following the jaunty, broken swing head, Parker and Charles settle into an up-tempo pseudo-bop groove that spurs the interweaving horns forward. The horns take brief turns up front, recede, and bubble up again. A dark, brooding middle section features Kuhn’s forlorn bass clarinet, Parker joining the horns for a homophonic dirge-like chorale, and a solo from the bassist augmented by chirps and bird calls from the brass. Things begin to pick up, driven in part by a squeaky toy, shakers, Williams, and Charles. Following a series of shorter solos from the front line the group winds things down and closes with the head. The album concludes with “Red Tape,” which compared to the previous track is more of a vehicle for the horn players to churn out burning individual solos over the sprinting rhythm section. It serves as a kind of aural and emotional palate cleanser after the meaty work that proceeded it. It is a shame that Livin’ Right has been unavailable for so long.

Disc two is a live duo recording Kuhn made with Denis Charles in September of ‘79 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Over the course of four lengthy freewheeling pieces, Kuhn and Charles demonstrate their impressive hookup, huge ears, and fearlessness while exuding a sense of joy and creative urgency. Kuhn splits time fairly evenly between clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor, and demonstrates a remarkably uniform individual sound on each horn. His playing can range from a raucous wild abandon of growls, shrieks, and furious runs to a more methodical and measured approach that develops motivic ideas into longer statements. But Kuhn can also be quiet, introspective, and solemn. All of these characters and approaches often appear together in the same song, as they do on “Axistential.” Kuhn opens on bass clarinet with melancholy phrases, and as he develops them they begin to tumble into lengthy runs. Before long the runs have devolved into growls and multiphonics, chilling cackles and Kuhn’s brief vocalizations. The journey ends as it started, with a somber, lonely bass clarinet.

One of this set’s highlights is Charles’ incredible imagination and chops. The melody on “Stigma” is based on a short repeated descending and ascending figure that is somewhat reminiscent of Trane’s “Sun Ship.” Just as Kuhn incorporated, quoted, and reworked the tune during his solo, so too does Charles on his, which grounds the piece and keeps the tune in the listener’s mind. Later, on “Drum Dharma,” he backs Kuhn with a medium-up 4/4 groove featuring a quasi-clave. As the piece progresses through Kuhn’s and Charles’ solo the drums get ever more complicated: the clave pattern evolves in structure and shifts from snare to kick, while Charles’ hands and feet diverge into different meters. Heavy. Together, Charles and Kuhn prove to be each other’s perfect foil: Charles helps keep Kuhn grounded while Kuhn gives his drummer endless amounts of fire and passion.

Thirty-one years after the Worcester recording with Charles, Kuhn began playing again in earnest, which eventually led to forming a trio with bassist Kyle Motl and drummer Nathan Hubbard and recording the freely improvised The Other Shore. In the liner notes Kuhn explains that the trio approaches “the music conversationally, so it moves in a lot of directions spontaneously most of the time. It is deep listening from the first note and adjusting.” This dynamic is apparent throughout, as Motl and Hubbard’s nimble and flexible approach allow them to respond to Kuhn and each other quickly. It’s astonishing how a subtle change in Kuhn’s tone color, Hubbard moving to another cymbal, or Motl deciding to put more space between notes can lead to a significant shift in the group’s direction. This high level of interaction and the music it creates is special, and a treat to behold.

Listening to The Other Shore one would never know that Kuhn was away from the music for so long, as he has lost none of his creativity, fire, or ability. The vocabulary he established decades ago remains, although his playing may be a bit more tempered. One could ask a whole series of “what ifs” about Kuhn’s career. That’s a fine exercise, but it misses the point. The important thing is that he is making vital music again and that his earlier work is being made available to new generations of listeners.
—Chris Robinson

New World Records

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