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Reviews of Recent Recordings
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Derek Bailey + Greg Goodman
Extracting Fish-Bones from the Back of the Despoiler
Beak Doctor BD 10

This is one of two LPs marking the return of Beak Doctor, the San Francisco-based label that was in the vanguard of recording free improvisation in America from 1978 on. Founded by pianist Greg Goodman, the label initially released his duets with Evan Parker, as well as a Parker solo recording and 1980 studio and concert performances that included Goodman, Derek Bailey, Parker, Henry Kaiser, Toshinori Kondo and ROVA. This duet with Bailey on electric guitar and Goodman on “objets d’interieur” (piano interior with lots of plucking and sweeping that suggest a giant zither and finger picks, among other things) was recorded in Eugene, Oregon during a 1992 tour.

Goodman is a latter-day surrealist. The name and image of the label refer to a medieval plague doctor whose bird-like mask contained medicinal herbs (to benefit the doctor). The artwork and titles (a consistent feature of Beak Doctor releases) come from a single book from 1920, The City Curious by writer and illustrator Jean de Bosschère, a proto-surrealist whose work somehow bridges Hieronymus Bosch, Comte de Lautréamont, art nouveau and the best pages of early Mad magazine.

The spirit also informs the music here. Each side of the LP is devoted to a 20-minute improvisation which has a certain canny self-awareness combined with genuinely dream-like qualities. The first side, “The Mother of the Crow,” begins in spiky dissonant guitar clusters with what sounds like brushes on the piano. Before long the plucked piano strings are engaged in a rhythmic dance with the guitar, with a remarkable similarity in quality of musical thought, Goodman’s plucking and strumming in ideal synch with Bailey’s vestigial rhythm guitar, the two musicians’ lines combining, their instrumental approaches conceptually indistinguishable, notions of strings, percussion and resonance merged.

The second side, briskly entitled “A Band of our Rats Will Each Morning Copiously Water our Fleet (Take this Umbrella)” is more of the same, but with certain suggestions and the mysterious synchrony carried further. It opens with a kind of thematic statement by Bailey, his clusters simultaneously mining the edges of his timbral resources from harmonics that sing out to muffled undertones. Goodman’s entry with high-speed, high-pitched strings combines with Bailey’s figures to suggest, somehow, a kind of maddened baroque, a strange recollection of a harpsichord (or maybe HPSCHD). At times this work is as stately as church music and as pretty as a music box, though radically refigured by sonic imaginations as unlikely as de Bosschère’s.

This is among the most revelatory archival issues of recent years, a brief partnership in which two musical minds are so closely synched they hardly seem to be improvising at all, simply performing pieces that had no prior existence.
–Stuart Broomer

 

John Cage
Two2
Another Timbre AT124x2

In addition to its mission of championing living composers, Another Timbre has issued several insightful and inspiring recordings of the music of John Cage. The catalog includes two separate recordings of “Four6 for mixed ensemble, along with recordings of “Four4 for four percussionists and “Three2” for three percussionists, and a septet realization of “Cartridge Music.” Two particular favorites focus in on Cage’s music for piano with John Tilbury’s realization of “Electronic Music for Piano, 1964,” and more recently, a resplendent four-piano realization of “Winter Music.” Key to the success of these projects has been the considered choice of participants since it is incumbent upon them to immerse themselves into Cage’s compositional framework, absorb the composer’s instructions, come to a common perception and approach along with their collaborators, prepare their parts within those parameters, and perform the piece within the overall agreed-upon context. Choosing one’s colleagues wisely is paramount. This recording of “Two2” reunites Philip Thomas and Mark Knoop, both of whom participated in “Winter Music,” and both with rich experience in Cage’s music. And they are the perfect pairing.

Much has been written about Cage’s Number Pieces, a series of compositions written during the last six years of his life. Rob Haskins’ “Anarchism and the Everyday: John Cage’s Number Pieces” is a particularly good place to start. In particular, he homes in on the composer’s concern for “the place of the artist within society and his concern for society in general ... In the Number Pieces Cage made his final statement on this social problem: how to create a musical metaphor for an ‘enlightened’ anarchy, a society of individuals who live together in harmony without having to sacrifice their freedom as individuals to a central governing authority.” This gets to the crux of the process of preparing a recording or performance of Cage’s music. Here, composition serves in Cage’s words, to define a process rather than a structure. Haskins quotes an interview with Cage where he talks about an ensemble as a microcosm of an anarchist society. “That they would have no common idea, they would be following no common law. The one thing that they would be in agreement about would be something that everyone is in agreement about … and that is, what time it is.”

That common agreement on time is central to
“Two2.” The basic structure is built around 36 sections based on a “renga,” a Japanese form of collaborative poetry, with five events per section. Cage structured notes and chords across the two piano parts and the rule is that each pianist is free to pace their part however they like. But neither can move to the next event until both have finished their sounds for that bar. In Cage’s other Number pieces, each musician operates independently, with an eye toward a stopwatch and the time brackets of their part. But here, Cage instructs the performers to rely on their “inner clock.” This process and freedom toward marking the passage of time as a collective endeavor is what sets “Two2” apart.

In an interview on Another Timbre’s site, Thomas explains how this invested freedom led him to reevaluate “Two
2.” Thomas’ exposure to the piece was through a recording by the piano duo Double Edge (for whom the piece was written) which clocks in at 35 minutes, and a few performances that stretched the piece to around an hour. His impression was that “there were just too many notes, too much material in the piece such that I quickly lost interest.” But upon looking at the piece and the instructions, he realized that there was something there he wanted to explore further. He notes that as opposed to Cage’s other number pieces, you don’t have a stopwatch and you need to be fully aware of the other player’s music as that collective agreement that a bar is over is what determines when it is ready to move to the next section. Listening becomes paramount as each player needs to account for where each other is for the piece to work. With this in mind, he started thinking about what that might mean in performing the piece with a more expansive pace. Taking this notion of the pacing to Mark Knoop, the two began work on a performance which resulted in extending the overall duration to just over two hours.

Thomas and Knoop make the music breathe in new ways. Time and duration function here in a much more malleable way than the way they function in a piece like “Winter Music” or in the other Number Pieces. Cage references a pace-setting “inner clock” in his performance instructions. In a correspondence, Thomas explains that “time and duration … is very much negotiated between the two players to a much greater extent than is necessary in, say, “Winter Music.” For the latter piece we assigned each other a number of pages and a duration for pages and then that was it, but we could have been much more free with that or indeed much more specific... But essentially performers work independently through the piece. With “Two
2,the total duration of each line is entirely free, but the rules are such that one has to listen to the other, and work with them in the performance. And whilst that doesn’t particularly necessitate communication (such as looking or cueing) it does require attentive listening.”

Slowed down and opened up, the relationship of the two piano parts accrue with a measured stillness. Cage instructs the performers to play “quietly but equally, no tones inaudible, damper pedals down throughout.” This serves to reveal the mercurial interrelatedness of the harmonic structure. Haskins, in his notes for his own recording of “Two
2” (which clocks in at 74 minutes), elucidates that the sonorities within the piece are myriad and complex, determined by chance procedures. But those chance procedures are tempered by Cage’s decision to repeat chords and successions of chords throughout the piece. Haskins observes that “The manner of their overall succession, of course, is determined by chance procedures and performance, which guarantee a nebulous ordering that offers a modicum of coherence without any predictability whatsoever. And so, the logic of recurrence resembles the way that our different friends and acquaintances pass in and out of our lives—a continuity that doesn’t make conventional sense but is meaningful nevertheless.”

From the very first notes of the first event, Knoop and Thomas are guided by an organically attuned collective sensibility as to “what time it is” within the progression of the piece. Notes and chords are sounded and resonate within the events and pauses between each renga leave open spaces. And that patience and attentiveness to resonance and decay take on a fundamental role in the recording. In a correspondence, Mark Knoop explained that “[s]omething that struck me when first reading through “Two
2was that the material seems to highlight one of my favourite qualities of the piano. This is the continuous evolution of the instrument's resonance with the pedal held. Each string of each pitch of a new chord decays and changes at a different rate and is in turn affected by the decay of the previous chord and the resonance of the other piano. Cage’s use of repetition in this piece is doubly enhanced: the repeated chord is ‘new’ precisely because we have heard it before, but [now] it exists in a resonance which has since evolved. For me these differences are enhanced in the ear by greater temporal separation; the piece exists between the chordal attacks, rather than being the chords themselves.”

Listening to the piece unfold over the course of 128 minutes, it is easy to suspend any notion of the passage of time. Cage intentionally eschews any sense of linear development, setting up an unhampered framework where notes are sounded and left to hang without any specified notion of defined linearity or harmonic connections. Start and end become immaterial, as if one happens in to the piece in progress and leaves midstream of an infinite flow. Memory flickers as successions of chords rematerialize but not in any readily identifiable way. Notable in the recording is the decision to meld the two piano’s together rather than panning them spatially, allowing the two to unify into a collective voice.

Thomas lays it out nicely when comparing the piece to Morton Feldman’s late piano music (which he and Knoop each play superbly.) “Each sound seems to have its own centre, as Cage might say, and stands by itself. The sense of relationships with other material, and the harmonic connections appear to be things that one reads into the music, whereas Feldman is projecting them out from the music towards you. Feldman is playing very consciously with those connections in a composerly way, whereas here the sounds are left standing on their own and listening becomes more of a performative act because you trace the connections between the sounds in your own way, if you wish to. Feldman still creates a kind of narrative with old-fashioned composer shapes and gestures, but there’s no narrative in this. There’s just 36 renga.”
–Michael Rosenstein

 

Eugene Chadbourne
The Lost Eddie Chatterbox Session
Corbett vs. Dempsey CvsD CD041

The first time I heard Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues I was immediately swept into a completely new and unique sonic world. It was more than what he was playing and singing, more than the timbre of his voice and guitar, more than the recording quality, more than the singularity of his genius; it was a combination of all those things. Listening to Eugene Chadbourne’s The Lost Eddie Chatterbox Session elicits a similar feeling: it conveys me into an intimate aural and creative space that exists apart and beyond my everyday soundscape.

Recorded in San Francisco on Christmas Day, 1977, and released on cassette in 1988, The Lost Eddie Chatterbox Session features the enigmatic and inimitable Chadbourne serving up unique solo acoustic guitar takes on a dozen Monk tunes, a handful of Bird’s, a few standards, and several originals. His performances run the gamut from fairly conventional interpretations to full-on deconstructions. He sticks close to the melody on “As Time Goes By,” yet on the next cut, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” he thrashes the familiar tune to bits before reassembling it into something more lyrical. Some performances are exercises in brevity, as on the 73 second slash and dash through “Criss-Cross,” while others like “You Go to My Head” exhibit a more measured and worked-out approach. Throughout the album’s 30 cuts he mixes fleet, yet slightly-askew bebop phrasing (“Dewey Square”) with Delta bottleneck swoops, quiver, and cries (“I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”); plaintive lyricism (“Central Park West”) with furious assaults on the tune’s very identity (“Brilliant Corners”); or sometimes, all of those within a minute or two.

From start to finish, the album exudes charm, from its DIY-recorded-in-a-bedroom audio quality and Chadbourne’s announcements of several of the song titles to his unabashed and youthfully earnest approach. With the addition of four previously unreleased tracks, the album is nearly 80 minutes, which in one sitting is quite a lot to take in. But no matter, sit back and let Chadbourne take you through the looking glass to a musical place that’s eerily familiar yet wholly unknown.
—Chris Robinson

 

Jeff Cosgrove + Scott Robinson + Ken Filiano
Hunters and Scavengers
Grizzley Music (no catalog #)

Hunters and Scavengers, from Jeff Cosgrove, Scott Robinson, and Ken Filiano, is what happens when three very talented and highly accomplished musicians come together and record without seemingly having developed a group vocabulary and concept. The date has a kind of nervous, dark, and unsettled feeling where the trio’s members don’t quite seem comfortable together. Robinson, who can just about do anything on a reed instrument, sticks to tenor throughout. Considering the immense vocabulary and stylistic range he can draw on at will, strangely enough, one gets the feeling that his playing at times falls into a kind of “guess and check” mode; at others he seems to offer up place holders and hoping for inspiration. Cosgrove and Filiano are more than worthy interlocutors, and it’s obvious each member of the trio is listening hard. Yet, for some reason, the performances generally lack assertiveness and a confidence in which direction the music should go. It makes for a somewhat frustrating listen that feels longer than the album’s tidy forty-four minute length would suggest.

The group does hit its stride on the penultimate cut, “Song of the Cuddlefish.” Whereas previous tracks hesitated in going far out, Cuddlefish dives for the deep sea. Gone are Robinson’s obligatory Trane-ish invocations and brief sheets of sound. These are instead replaced by multiphonic provocations, brief screeching decrees, and even a few chicken clucks. It sounds as if Filiano put his bass through effects, which adds an extra dimension to the sonic space—one almost hears a hint of arco whale song. Cosgrove slowly builds his activity level to add complexity and momentum, shaping the piece more so than earlier tracks. The cut revels in its weirdness. The trio’s every gesture sounds more assured, more confidently executed, and more like the product of a group that has something to say and knows how to say it. The album concludes with a stirring cover of Ornette’s “Lonely Woman.” Perhaps this performance is more rewarding because the composition provided the group with a common foundation from which to proceed. Hunters and Scavengers would have benefitted from a whole lot more of that.
—Chris Robinson

 

Vinny Golia Wind Quartet
Live at the Century City Playhouse, Los Angeles, 1979
Dark Tree DT (RS) 08

The Vinny Golia Sextet
Trajectory
Nine Winds/Orenda Records NWCD0343/Orenda0050



Two superb albums, recorded nearly 40 years apart, open windows into two periods in composer-woodwind player Vinny Golia’s evolving creativity, revealing both continuity and contrast.

The French Dark Tree label gives the previously unavailable wind quartet concert the deluxe historic release treatment with a booklet containing a detailed Mark Weber essay and period photographs and ephemera. The well recorded and mastered session features Golia, clarinetist John Carter, cornetist Bobby Bradford, and trombonist Glenn Ferris – all in tip-top form. Carter is especially irrepressible, pouring out torrents of notes with a fleetness and ease that’s breathtaking. But the whole band is deeply engaged with the music. Bradford is lyrical and sly; Ferris plays from a whisper to a shout, riffing or uncorking long intricate lines as the occasion calls for; Golia’s multi-instrumental prowess adds varied tone color and emotional heat.

The quartet is the sort of Band Not Normally Heard in Jazz that grew to artistic importance in the 1970s. There’s no drummer, so the ensemble highlights the rhythmic function of horn players; each member is a drum in his own right. The intensity of sound production and the tension and release generated by layered voices improvising or interpreting a score create swing. It’s these characteristics – and improvisation – that place the music squarely in the African American tradition, despite the classical instrumentation.

In the compositions “#2” and “Views,” Golia is concerned with blurring the borders between written and improvised, implying the equal legitimacy of both. The writing generally uses either short phrases strung out in a series of variations or longer more involved lines with a continuous flow. Both approaches (often within the same composition) provide inspiration for spontaneous development. Few were better at making seamless transitions between music on paper and music invented on the spot than these players. When they improvise on “#2,” for instance, they create structural elements, patterns, and repetitions that help order the spontaneous creativity. Their interpretations of the score are relaxed and spontaneous sounding, with improvised embellishments that help to further disguise the differences between composed and individually created. Every moment, written or improvised, sounds vivid, supple, and confident.

The line between improvised and composed parts in “Chronos I” and “Chronos II” are more defined, as the writing provides clear signposts or anchors between unaccompanied soloing. The soloing is uniformly excellent and the ensemble jumps on the compositions with an urgency and relish that’s a joy to hear. There is nothing else like this in the early Golia discography and that makes the disc, along with the quality of the playing, a valuable addition to his catalog.

Forward to the present day to the sharply contrasting Trajectory, featuring a more conventional sextet, with three horns and three rhythm. If the wind quartet tapped into the ‘70s chamber-jazz zeitgeist, the sextet is in sync with more recent jazz hybrids incorporating rock and odd meters. Despite the surface stylistic differences, however, Golia’s personal voice remains strong and clear.

Over the years Golia has developed as a composer. His melodies have grown long and intricate and their momentum carries them through fluid passages as well as rocky, disjointed ones. “Gift of the Nile” consists of a long, maze-like, post-bop melody picking its way over a slamming rock beat. “Sparks or Dare” is a carefully coordinated tangle of several lines. “Well, it’s a valuable appendage ...” derives its title from a ridiculous story Kramer tells in a Seinfeld episode about reuniting a woman with her severed toe, and is just as outlandishly complicated as the anecdote. Most of the titles on this double album reference pop culture, comic books, or science fiction and horror movies. “Doctor Loomis, Welcome Back to the Hospital” name checks Donald Pleasance’s character in the Halloween movies; “Ugly Bags of Mostly Water” is how an alien race describes humans in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Golia’s sense of humor and absurdity play a larger role here than the more sober titles on Live at Century City Playhouse.

Golia’s sextet arrangements, like the wind quartet arrangements, highlight instrumental colors, different pairings of horns, and harmonies that shade and weight the lines in rapid, ever-changing succession. “Ts’emekwe” (another name for Sasquatch) passes notes and short phrases among two saxophones and trumpet for a kaleidoscopic effect. The aggressive “OK Doctor Xavier, I guess only women have ... them” (Doctor Xavier: founder/leader of Marvel’s X Men) lobs explosive horn riffs, simultaneous soloing, and hot, noisy guitar at you as it charges ahead. All the compositions have a breathless, what’s around the corner excitement to them, a sense of brio and adventure that’s contagious.

And the band tears into them. Their execution is tight and precise with martial-arts intensity and power matched by balletic grace. The soloists shoot out of the gate. On “By The End Of The Day” alto saxophonist Gavin Templeton bears down on his phrases, subjecting them to unexpected variations and developments and creating a delicious tension and release. His oddly placed staccato notes trip over each other then give way to galloping melody as he plays. Trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom builds ascending, cresting waves broken up by discrete notes during his solo on “AnanakI.” Guitarist Alexander Noice, a powerhouse throughout the album, engulfs the band in a burning hot cloud as he solos on “OK Doctor Xavier.”

Strong as they are, it’s Golia who frequently makes the deepest impression. His fast and furious baritone wrangles urgent lines into ever more baroque contours as he charges through “By the end of the day ...”. In contrast, his solo on “The Penebus” seems deeply integrated with the band, making use of space that lets Miller Wrenn’s thick arco bass and drummer Andrew Lessman’s steady pulse shine through, then he spins lines that deliberately thread their way through Noice’s dense weave of guitar effects.

Where once Golia was the young firebrand in a band with his elders (he and Ferris were the youngsters in the wind quartet), now he’s the elder statesman leading a band of his former students. And it’s to his credit that he is still in an exploratory mode, even after more than 40 years.
–Ed Hazell

New World Records

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