Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Joëlle Léandre
Wols Circus
Galerie Hus 112

“Wols” was the pseudonym of Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze, a German-born violinist, photographer, and visual artist with ties to the Surrealists, who died in 1951 at the age of 38 from ptomaine poisoning, although alcoholism had aged him greatly before his time. Joëlle Léandre encountered his work at a small Parisian art gallery near her home and immediately recognized how the spontaneous-appearing needle-thin lines and concentrated blotches of his abstract etchings resembled some of the graphic scores she had performed in the past. So she began planning a solo bass recital to perform her selection of twelve of his works. What she responded to was the musical inference of the visual composition and the transference of shapes and figuration to instrumental techniques and gestures – the same impetus that prompted the composer Roman Haubenstock-Ramati to claim in 1965, “I am personally astounded that today one does not play Kandinsky or Mirò [like a musical score], even though it would be so simple and easy to do so.” In point of fact, many musicians, composers, and interested others have done just that with the work of these and other visual artists.

But what distinguishes Léandre’s approach to Wols’ art as music is not just the combination of her predetermined compositionally-oriented details and spontaneous-sounding instrumental gestures, but the close relationship of the specific sounds she creates to the haunting visual images. (It’s a shame that a small catalogue of the artworks could not have accompanied the CD.) For example, the friction of her bow on the strings loudly outlines the thick, clotted scribbles in the center and then quietly fades down to the sparser lines towards the edges of “Grosse Tache” (Large Blot). In “Herz” (Heart), fragile wood-on-wood sounds gradually reach the strings (a pun on tugging at the heart strings?) and evolve into a folkish bowed melody, before she bursts into song. For “Stadtzentrum” (Town Center), the geometric shapes and angles are echoed in her varied attacks and sharp-edged intervals, with the suggestion of a warning siren and the whistling of a solitary person in an abandoned landscape. Then, the almost clinical acuity of “Ohr” (Ear) receives the homage of a Bach-like hymn; “Baumhaftes” (Treelike) evokes the branches and bristles of a skeletal tree; while “Gesicht” (Face) is a frightening account of the aggression of aging, a face attacked by time, wrinkled, weathered, as the bass moans and clatters, interrupted only by a symbolic, insistent, yet pained, heartbeat. Digging into the cracks and sinews of Wols’ stark, harsh, biting imagery, Léandre has discovered a depth of feeling and vision that suggests life is a sometimes grim, sometimes ecstatic circus indeed.
Art Lange


Sebastian Lexer + Christoph Schiller
Matchless MRCD84

If you are keeping a careful eye on new approaches to improvisation coming out of Europe, you’ve probably come across Sebastian Lexer and Christoph Schiller. Lexer, a mainstay in Eddie Prévost’s Workshop, has been charting out the interactions of acoustic piano and real-time electronics processing with his piano+, working with musicians like Seymour Wright, John Tilbury, Steve Noble, and Grundik Kasyansky. (If you haven’t yet done so, make sure to check out his solo recording on Matchless and a stellar duo recording with Wright on Another Timbre.) Schiller has been exploring the transformation of the spinet through the use of preparations and an approach influenced by inside piano techniques, working with improvisers like violinist Harald Kimmig, tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch, trumpet player Birgit Ulher, and as part of a killer trio with Michel Doneda, and accordionist Jonas Kocher (who also have a strong release on Another Timbre.) What the two pianists share is a fascination with the mechanical/acoustic properties of their instruments along with an astute understanding of the possibilities for timbral extensions. This recording captures the two in performance at the 2011 As Alike As Trees Festival in London.

The 42-minute improvisation begins with rustling, scraped, and bowed gestures which gradually build in overlapping layers. Plinks of strings, the delicate clatter of objects, and quavering resonances amass, and it is only at about the four-minute mark that any notion of either keyboard instruments are revealed. Both Lexer and Schiller are willing to pick an area of density and color and sit on it for a while, letting the sounds blend and resonate against each other. The two balance volume and velocity of sounds, mounting arcs of tension which then drop out to reveal pools of resonance and decay; sections of bristling, pointillistic detail; crescendos of muscular, hammered intensity; and sections of dark, echoing, thundering rumbles. Lexer’s electronic treatments subtly shade the sound of his piano, stretching decay or abrading the harmonic overtones, contrasting effectively with Schiller’s more brittle, metallic voicings. Rather than settle in to predictable arcs, the two continually push the development with dynamic twists and turns. This is music shaped through deep listening and a startling empathy as the two weave together the collective sound.
–Michael Rosenstein


Sebastiano Meloni + Paul Dunmall +Sebastiano Dessanay + Mark Sanders
Pictures of a Quartet

It’s hard to imagine a more finely balanced improvising quartet than this one. Pianist Sebastiano Meloni, saxophonist Paul Dunmall, bassist Sebastiano Dessanay, and drummer Mark Sanders play with terrific empathy and coherence throughout this bright blast of free improvisation. Everyone is exactly where the music needs them to be from one moment to the next and the quality of listening and response among them never flags. This makes these quartet, duo, and trio improvisations, each lasting a pithy three-to-six minutes, open yet logical, unstructured but orderly, expressive but without over indulgence. The exceptional coherence of “Nocturne,” a slow, quiet piece with the subdued anxiousness of a Bartok andante, owes much to their collective ability to merge personal ideas into the construction of a group statement. Without drawing attention to him, Dessanay is especially sly in threading the group together on this track. On “Four Phases,” they sustain that high level of creative unity even at the improvisation’s NASCAR tempo. It’s especially satisfying to hear how willing each member is to go against the grain occasionally and make it work, to add contrasting material that throws each part of the music into high relief. On “Moments No. 1” for instance, as Meloni, Dessanay, and Sanders rush along together in a cascading flow, Dunmall inserts short, clipped phrases separated by generous amounts of space into the roiling trio. This is a fully realized little gem of nuanced and assured spontaneous music making.
–Ed Hazell


Gianni Mimmo + Daniel Levin
Turbulent Flow
Teriyaki TRK3/Amirani AMRN032

The Italian soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo and the Boston cellist Daniel Levin are improvisers of a very high order, both empathetic musicians who bring willing ears to an encounter, an agreement to meet one another’s particular opening gambits. What is most striking about this first meeting in the Church of S. Maria Gualtieri in Pavia, Italy, is the momentum that the two find, a willingness to match directionality and pace, whether in sudden spurts of energy or more measured exchanges, attuned to one another’s tempos, both articulated and internal. There’s an uncanny sense in which their very different instruments match up, their individual languages finding complementary dimensions. “Sculpted,” for example, has a passage of high-speed, percussive pad slaps matched to bluesy bent-tone pizzicato, mutual invitation to an extended sequence which seems to reach to the roots of jazz as well as a fundamental lyricism. Opposition, too, has its rewards here, as Mimmo launches a puckish dancing line and Levin counters with an unlikely sombre sojourn in his lowest register. There’s no reason to think it will fit, but it does ... perfectly. “Direct Speech” is another highlight, its title suggesting a quality of the best improvisation: that rhetoric, an accumulated body of gestures, exists only to initiate momentum. What will maintain it is the evolving connection between two musical lines moving into new territory. This is a charmed meeting of two musicians who would be unlikely to occur together on anyone’s map of improvised music. The results seem to demand the rich analogue of turbulence and its unlikely symmetries and poetics.
–Stuart Broomer

Perpetual Frontier - The Properties of Free Music by Joe Morris

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