Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed


Gustavo Aguilar
unsettled on an old sense of place
Henceforth 103

Gustavo Aguilar An old sense of place infers an old sense of history, which begs the questions: Whose place and whose history? For a Mexican American composer-percussionist like Gustavo Aguilar, they’re loaded. Anguilar sorts out the answers by triangulating Mexican mythos and the phantasmagoria of the US. It’s not a snug fit, but the resulting juxtapositions are bracing, even if they do suggest that the gap between the folkloric and the post-modern is generally vast. The capering harp, viola and flute of “Xochicaco,” a dedication to Mexican composer Julio Estrada, is a world away from the drum explosions and otherwise industrial sounds of “Suprachiasmatic Nuclei.” Still, Aguilar’s effervescent tapped electric guitar rhythms, his desultory plucked dulcimer, and – more pointedly, since it ends the album – the pairing of sparkling glockenspiel patterns and spoken word point to a profound intersection of sensibilities. For the bulk of the album, Aguilar performs with singer Nina Eidsheim and signal processor Phil Curtis; on “Xochicaco,” they are joined by harpist Anne LeBaron and violist Mary Oliver; on two other lengthy pieces, the three are joined by woodwind player Alan Lechusza. Wendell Berry’s poem is read by Steven Schick. The album is rounded out by two solo pieces – one builds upon the conceit of dropping a coin on a snare drum, which proves to be a surprisingly fertile premise. Aguilar’s history is in the making; unsettled on an old sense of place is a substantial chapter.
-Bill Shoemaker

 

Marshall Allen + Lou Grassi
Live at the Guelph Festival
Cadence Jazz Records CJR1192

Marshall Allen + Lou Grassi Undoubtedly, had Marshall Allen recorded even a single tour de force like Live at the Guelph Festival under his own name 20, 30 or 40 years ago, he would be prominent in every serious discussion about post-Parker alto saxophonists. It’s not like he hasn’t been around; it’s been a half century since he signed on with Sun Ra. Yet, Allen simply doesn’t exist in the standard avant-garde jazz narratives – at least John Gilmore gets an occasional nod for catching Coltrane’s ear during the Miles years. Yet, go back over his entire tenure with Sun Ra and the Arkestra – and his anomalous appearance on Paul Bley’s aptly titled 1966 ESP Disk, Barrage – and there’s a voluminous case for a dotted line off to the left of the alto genealogy, at a minimum. Certainly, Allen’s use of mid-century jazz, non-Western folk traditions, and emblematic noise is first and foremost a response to the demands of Ra’s music; but, more so than any previous recording, these 2001 duets with drummer Lou Grassi demonstrate how they flow together to become a compelling, if faceted voice over the course of a set. The big band lead alto tinge of “Prelude to a Kiss,” the deep ‘50s Chicago feel of “Blues for Two,” and the sentimental sweep of portions of “When You Wish Upon A Star” do not mesh seamlessly with his distinctive squalls of hollers, screams and growls, is which why. Grassi’s varied rhythmic feels and his knack for dovetailing Allen are crucial. Though Allen and Grassi have their own finely calibrated rapport, Allen’s trajectory still emanates from the Suniverse of Blutopias and cataclysms.
-Bill Shoemaker

 

Paul Bley
Solo in Mondsee
ECM B0008481-2

Paul Bley Paul Bley is as influential as any jazz pianist of the past half-century, and may be clearly the most influential in another quarter-century. The rationale for this prognosis is simple: The ongoing rise of European jazz. As unlikely and ironic it may be, the Montreal-born, US-based Bley is an archetype for a younger generation of pianists who firmly self-identify as Europeans and who are poised to be widely acclaimed voices for decades to come. Some of them also record for ECM, whose aesthetic crystallized with early Bley sessions like his first solo album, Open, To Love, recorded in 1972 at the suggestion of Manfred Eicher. The release of Solo in Mondsee on the eve of Bley’s 75th birthday has enough slowly wrung phrases and edgy silences to support comparisons to the classic album. Still, Bley’s frequent use of conventional ballad forms and tempi, blues phrases and momentary refractions of familiar melodies gives the album an aura that is more autumnal than austere. Additionally, there are grippingly visceral passages towards the end of the album that are virtually antithetical to the disembodied poetics of Open, To Love. Subsequently, the album gives the listener a full sense of Bley’s mercurial temperament, one that is open to the moment, no matter where it may lead.
-Bill Shoemaker

 

Earle Brown
Tracer
Mode

Though their respective musics proved radically dissimilar, at least for a time in the 1950s John Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, and Earle Brown were close friends and shared several attitude – among them, the necessity of notational experimentation, an increased role for the performer in the music’s ultimate realization, and the extramusical influences of visual art and social issues—which led them to be identified ever after as the “New York School” of composers. Five years after his passing Earle Brown is the one whose music is the least known, alas, even though it is in many ways closest to the post-Webern, Modernist tradition. He was a craftsman, whose scores reflected painstaking preparation and conceptualization, even at their most abstract, as in the graphic pages of “Folio.” The musicians which premiered many of Brown’s works did so under the watchful eye of the composer himself. However, there is now a second generation of interpreters with a broader sense of experience and perspective – in fact, Cornelius Dufallo, the violinist and conductor of this ensemble, Ne(x)tworks, is the son of clarinetist and conductor Richard Dufallo, who worked directly with Cage, Brown, Lukas Foss, and many others, and helped establish the performance precedents for works like these. The fact that the music presented on Tracer sounds so authoritative, so inevitable, and so engaging is due to the commitment of these new performers, but also to the structural integrity of Brown’s scores. Whether it is the aleatoric progress of “Tracer” for six instruments and the mysterious presence of a pre-recorded tape – a marvelous work from 1985 which receives its first recording here – or the seemingly spontaneous gestures of “Folio” or “Music for Violin, Cello & Piano” (1952), the music changes shape and character from moment to moment, yet retains a cohesive flow. Highly influenced by Calder’s kinetic mobiles, Pollock’s spontaneity, and the juxtaposed imagery of Rauschenberg’s assemblages, Brown’s music is a collage of intimate relationships and intricate proportions as unpredictable as it is rewarding.

Mode has issued this program, separately, in both CD and DVD formats. Frequently, the ability to watch performers as they create the music in question helps to “open up” a score and make complex sounds more accessible. But some of Mode’s DVD production choices get in the way. Rather than a straight, documentary-type filming of the performance, they have “jazzed-up” the presentation by adding slow-motion effects, awkward camera angles, and abstract images which distract from instead of enhance the music. There are annoying blackouts between sections of the brief “For Neil,” and, surprisingly, no images whatsoever during the tape piece “Octet I” – a missed opportunity for some kind of visual counterpoint, when there are no performers to watch. The bonus discussion between Dufallo, Brown’s widow Susan Sollins, and Micah Silver, administrator of the Earle Brown Foundation, is casual and informative, but would have benefited greatly from showing the scores which are being discussed. For my taste, I prefer the CD – to let the music speak for itself.
-Art Lange

 

John Cage
Complete Short Works for Prepared Piano
Mode 180/81

Anthony Pateras
chasms
Sirr 0030

John Cage Frequently conceived as accompaniments for dancers, John Cage’s prepared piano pieces of the early and mid 1940s have an overt rhythmic component that distinguishes them from the bulk of Cage’s piano music. Though Cage took increasing care almost from the outset of his initial discoveries to use his preparations to feather pulse, timbre and line to create implicit counterpoint and harmonies to diffusive effect, this collection of short works, expertly executed on this 2-CD collection by Philipp Vandré (who earlier recorded Sonatas & Interludes for prepared piano for Mode), conveys a quality of rhythmic engagement on Cage’s part that would dissipate altogether with his immersion into chance operations in the early 1950s. Cage explores several approaches to repetition, spanning the cascading flow of the breakthrough piece, “Bacchanale” (1940) and the use of chords to punctuate the meandering line of “Primitive” (1942). Several pieces contain fleeting moments where the synth-like timbres and repeated phrases have a proto-Minimalist feel. There is also an emotional charge to works like “In the Name of the Holocaust” (1942) and “The Perilous Night” (1944) that would later submerge in Zen-informed disinterest. All of these qualities give this body of work a satisfying arc of discovery, refinement and, with the chance-composed “Two Pastorales” (1951-2) that concludes the album, transition.

Though “residue,” the first of three pieces on Anthony Pateras’ chasms, initially has a similar exhilarating rattle to that of “Bacchanale,” it is the velocity of György Ligeti’s solo organ and harpsichord music that is the inspiration of the Australian composer/pianist (and Issue 12 What’s New? panelist) This becomes more evident as the piece takes shape; as Pateras’ scurrying lines traverse the preparations, morphing shrill, tuned cymbal clangor into a more dampened sound in the ballpark of a Bantu timbila. The title piece provides a short lull of clock-like chimes, choked strums and spatters of metallic sounds. Pateras’ interest in approximating electronic noise also comes to the foreground at the onset of “descent,” casting the materials in a decidedly post-modern direction. This is also the piece where Pateras’ skill set as a pianist is most compelling, as there repeated moments when it suddenly and somewhat shockingly becomes obvious that a maelstrom of sound is being produced by only one hand. In terms of temperament, Pateras seems to be the polar opposite of Cage; yet, listening to these discs in tandem, there are threads of continuity that connect the respective works, albeit tenuously.
-Bill Shoemaker

Blue Note Records

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