Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Lotte Anker + Fred Frith
Edge of the Light
Intakt CD 237

Fred Frith + Barry Guy
Backscatter Bright Blue
Intakt CD 236

Guitarist/composer Fred Frith loves to play in duos, testing the malleability of his own instrumental language as well as its adaptability to varied pairings and styles. It’s good to hear more of him in this format, both on the recent release with John Butcher and on these two fine documents from Intakt.

Saxophonist Anker plays in an assertive, tough-minded style that’s well suited to improvising with Frith. She digs in and wails as he cranks out chords and taps furiously on “Anchor Point,” and her assured rhythmic sensibility works quite well here and throughout the well-paced disc. While her sound doesn’t undergo as many outward transformations as Frith’s does, she’s smart, adaptable, and plays with good humor. Hear her range on “Run Don’t Hide”: its sweet drone wash cedes to one of Frith’s wonderfully obsessive tapping/arpeggiating cycles, to which Anker responds with first echolalia and then sour alto birdcalls. Frith plays with loops, layers of nasty distortion, metallic scrambles, and buzzing hives of noise, and amidst it all, Anker sounds like some kind of shaman attempting to communicate with the cosmic realities of his guitar (except for those times when she sounds like she’s trying to tame its beastliness, as on “Reasonably Available Control Measures”). But there’s considerable sonic and textural range here, from tart lyricism to relative calm to gentle lapping percussion, and in any case things are never merely noisy. Amidst its flinty, choked-off plucking and darting tenor, “The Mountain is as Quiet as the Eternal Past” manages to get quite folkish in places. There is drifting tonality, wafting electricity, singing feedback and circular breathing on tunes like “The Same Dirt” and “Hallucinating Angels,” great whorls of sound take shape around your head. And perhaps best of all is the unpredictable “Thief Breaks Into an Empty House,” with flute tones and electronics whizzing about, furtive and slashing at once.

Frith’s duo with Guy is another dazzlingly good match. It’s always a treat to hear Guy bring his sonic universe coursing through a wormhole into someone else’s. His array of rubbery notes, eldritch arco effects, and raw percussive sound resonates nicely with Frith. They’re in an especially scratchy mood on the 20-minute opener, “Where the Cities Gleam in Darkness.” It ranges from this deep engagement with the grain of strings into a fantasy for spring-loaded effects and rayguns, and from there into a lovely contrast between Guy’s deep melancholy fugue and Frith’s loop-generated canopies of stars. Even more than on Edge of the Light, this disc really takes shape amid such moments of resonant juxtaposition. Between bass double-stops and rubber depth charges, Frith applies razorblades to blown glass. A noisy gamelan and subway train erupt in “The Circus is a Song of Praise.” There are lathered-up grooves laced with spun-glass plectrism. Moody, almost textural miniatures like “Big Flowers” and “Breaking and Entering” frame long spirals into melancholy song (“A Single Street Stretched Tight by the Waters,” which even evokes Loren Connors), bustling string manipulation and radio voices (“Climbing the Ladder”), or guitar deconstruction channeling Early Music (“Dependence over the Abyss”). Often, as on the long closer “Moments Full of Many Lives,” you get the feeling of being shuttled forward and off-balance in some postmodern Gagaku machine. The whole disc feels like a dizzying rush of momentum, tailspins at its conclusion into a lovely drone section that spools out at length, with myriad changing details and swirling textures. Glorious.
–Jason Bivins


Worse for the Wear
Aerophonic 008

Wooley Rempis Niggenkemper Corsano
From Wolves to Whales
Aerophonic 007

Fine musicians improvise five pieces on From Wolves to Whales – Nate Wooley, trumpet; Pascal Niggenkemper, bass; Chris Corsano, drums – but Dave Rempis, playing alto sax, dominates the session. “Serpent’s Tooth” (not the Miles Davis song) is mostly Rempis. He ever so carefully repeats, incrementally varies, and develops a tense, riveting middle-register line in one long breath, then breathes and explodes all over his horn – marvelous. He’s a stone serious inventor who tends to obsessive evolution that stays close to small initiating motives; this approach often lends intrigue to his high-energy inventions. And while energy music remains close to his heart, he’s become a more varied, versatile player over the years. His is a tough, resilient, personal style in which sound variations and dynamics are recurringly crucial to his solo forms. He’s a senior among the 21st-century Chicago movement, he’s become a more rewarding artist as time has passed.

“Swingin’ Apocalypse” is an outside ballad with muted trumpet joining Rempis’ distant melodies; as long-toned, dissonant gloom emerges from the horns, quiet, spare bass tones accompany. These four are sensitive, responsive, smart players, they fit each other. They share fine instincts for shaping whole, complete group improvisations that include all sorts of materials from faint, spacy tones to swinging passages to ensemble freakouts. Wooley too is intense, sometimes obsessive, as in “Serpent’s Tooth.” He uses a lot of muted and Lester Bowie-inspired sound effects, so his busy lines suggest a breathless, many-noted Bowie. Corsano is a diplomatic drummer who plays an especially ingenious solo in “Stand Up for Bastard,” fast, faint brushes on snares and cymbals. This quartet’s versatility enveloped in its senses of form shows that the freest kind of Chicago jazz – early Art Ensemble, Braxton, Jenkins – lives on.

In Worse for the Wear Rempis also plays tenor and baritone. This trio sounds more evenly matched. In a sense, more unique, too, for there’s nothing like the sound of Rempis’ saxes with the amplified buzz-rasp of Fred Lonberg-Holm’s electric cello and guitar. Lonberg-Holm has a knack for inventing just the right kinds of counterpoint and/or accompaniment for his mates. So against Rempis’ contained improvising, Lonberg-Holm blares unbroken lines of many notes, bowing, plucking, picking, strumming – he’s a demon fiddler and git-fiddler. The three tracks are named for dim constellations, invisible from most of the US due to light pollution. “Fornax” hits Bang! with mostly high-energy wailing that breaks for two shapely drum solos by Paal Nilsson-Love. More energy in “Scutum,” which has Rempis playing passages of near-bop on alto. “Vulpecula” starts in space with bonks, blats, taps, tings, until they bug each other into long tones. Comparative calm rules here, including baritone sax and cello solos.

From Wolves to Whales is closer to perfect, but I prefer the rough edge of Worse for the Wear and the ways these three agitate each other.
–John Litweiler


Billy Bang + William Parker
Medicine Buddha
No Business NBCD 71

Nobody reading this needs any introduction to these two marvelous improvisers. The ubiquitous bassist William Parker and the sorely-missed violinist Billy Bang always had such instant, kinetic synergy when they got together. And this date – a May 2009 hit at NYC’s Rubin Museum of Art – confirms that and more. It’s filled with absolute magic leaping off the strings, propulsive plucks, whorls of overtones, and always a commitment to deep melody. The long title track opens with a fulsome Parker drone and plaintive, soaring melody from Bang. These dark folk sensibilities always served as a kind of foundation for Bang’s music, even when not directly articulated. But when melody moved front and center, as is the case here, Bang could simply soar. Maybe some key to the kinetic something this music audibly possesses can be traced to Parker’s notion that the best improvising happens when the players simply listen to the universe. Certainly this concert has a kind of emotional gravity that makes sense of that notion. For those of you disinclined to such thinking, the music is abundant enough on its own terms. Parker continually adjusts the music’s tonal center, and his attack, creating a kind of oscillating effect that’s often hypnotic. The two of them sometimes play in a direct, linear fashion; Bang often gets down and grinds in the lower register, whipping up a fine froth and then soaring as high as he can to a single singing note. After a spell, the musicians make some instrumental changeups that prove compelling. Parker shifts to shakuhachi on “Sky Song,” and with Bang’s high-strung pizzicato it almost has the feel of Korean court music or something similar. On the brief “Bronx Aborigines,” Parker arpeggiates with such rapidity that it’s like he’s double-stopping, as Bang spools out counterlines on thumb piano. And “Eternal Planet” is a headlong plunge into sheer propulsive momentum, Bang just going for it in this tribute to fellow violinist Leroy Jenkins. What’s so great about this music is Bang’s and Parker’s ability to create such veritable tapestries but to continually imbue them with fresh detail, whether a slice of deep funk or a suggestive, woody detail. Fine stuff.
–Jason Bivins


Jaap Blonk + Damon Smith
Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut-und Klanggedichte (Six Sound Poems), 1916
Balance Point Acoustics bpa-4

Magda Mayas + Damon Smith + Tony Buck
Spill Plus
Nuscope CD 1028

Houston improvising contrabassist Damon Smith is an “artist’s musician.” Initially known on the West Coast for his involvement in the Bay Area scene, working with players like drummer Weasel Walter, guitarist Henry Kaiser, vocalist Aurora Josephson and saxophonist Marco Eneidi, Smith has also made it a point of working to be in contact with numerous European heavyweights – such as bassist Peter Kowald, pianist/accordionist Fred Van Hove, reedist Wolfgang Fuchs and multi-instrumentalist Günter Christmann. His interest in postwar avant-garde art and music has also led to performances of work by Fluxus artist Ben Patterson, posthumous environmental collaboration with the paintings and sculptures of Cy Twombly, and his own visual art practice.

Presenting the Dada sound poetry of Hugo Ball (1886-1927) in concert with aggressively manhandled double bass seems like a logical endeavor for Smith, especially since Dutch voice artist Jaap Blonk is a somewhat regular visitor to Texas. In addition to being a highly theatrical free improviser, Blonk has performed and recorded the works of Ball, Tristan Tzara and Kurt Schwitters – including the latter’s elemental “Ursonate.” The six poems are bookended and split by three improvisations that, for the uninitiated, allow the sound poems to stand on their own. Despite their use of nonsense syllables, guttural noises, creaks and howls, the poems present as extremely specific work, even as an improvisation like “Interlude” feels comparable. Smith accompanies and goads in subtonal, brushy fiddling and hairy, stuttering masses with equal control, or plucks with grace and musculature as Blonk exhorts, cackles and ululates (the dusky “Caravan”). The presence of Smith’s detailed arco and explosive, physical harangues offsets the theatricality of the poems’ delivery to a degree, drilling their slate-cleansing absurdity into something romantic, concrete and immediate. Crisply recorded, the condensed textures of both wood and throat sound extraordinary, whether bashed about in “Dirge” or in more plaintive fragments. This set of poems and improvisations is truly a fantastic notch in both musicians’ already-deep catalogs.

Spill is the long-running duo of Berlin-based pianist Magda Mayas and drummer Tony Buck, with three discs to their credit since 2008. In 2010, Smith joined the pair for an Oakland concert and recording session, which is now seeing its first release as Spill Plus. Mayas and Buck are a tough pair with a focused language of light, metallic nattering between them, the pianist heaping onto the strings and soundboard with clattering implements and toothy plucks, supplanted by a tensile latticework of cymbals and gongs. Smith isn’t quite as brusque here as with Blonk (though that’s a more recent disc), nevertheless choosing his own manner in which to obsessively stump and shepherd the pointillist volleys between hyper-keyboard and drums. Buck’s approach is reminiscent of John Stevens, with steadily ringing impulsions from which Mayas’ resonant whorls and jagged, dimmed chords jut. In an environment of hushed, obstinate accent and sharp diagonals, there isn’t really space for “release” but the threesome’s agitated interplay and gradual subterfuge are a bit more than mere texture. Again, it’s a very specific architecture this group presents, but it yields an array of active, colorful layers.
–Clifford Allen


Anthony Braxton
Trio and Duet
Sackville 3007 CD

It’s understandable that reedist-composer Anthony Braxton’s music should both elicit and be built on a sense of optimism, and thus perfectly capture the interwoven streams of the post-Coltrane/Ayler jazz milieu. He relocated to New York early in the 1970s, coming from Chicago via Paris and Rome, and presented a music that transliterated improvisation, aleatoric/Darmstadt-related composition, and the jazz tradition. Braxton’s “book” included dedications to Cecil Taylor, Warne Marsh and David Tudor, and it was in this inclusive climate that he was signed to Arista Records for what would be a nine-album recording deal. In between waxing sessions for the first of his Arista LPs, New York, Fall 1974, Braxton recorded the aptly-titled Trio and Duet for the small Canadian Sackville label. The program features one trio piece for clarinets, brass, percussion, and synthesizer (Braxton, Leo Smith and Richard Teitelbaum, respectively) and five standards on bass and alto saxophone.

By 1974 the Creative Construction Company, a cooperative extant from 1968-70 featuring Braxton, Smith, violinist Leroy Jenkins and drummer Steve McCall, had ceased to exist and the participants went their separate ways. In this sense, the sidelong Op. 36 is a reunion of sorts between the reedist and trumpeter, and their dusky unification appears to pick up right where it left off. The CCC explored chance operations and free music with a profound lyrical weight and a wide range of shifting textures, usually without traditional harmonic underpinnings (though both pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and bassist Richard Davis participated). Here, texture is electrified and warped through the accents of Teitelbaum’s synthesizers; he and Braxton engaged in duet performances throughout the decade, not to mention the reedist’s work in Musica Elettronica Viva, which Teitelbaum co-founded.

Op. 36 asserts itself gradually, filtered wisps and torqued, glinting and synthesized waves creating a fundament as clarinet and pocket trumpet move through stately, pinched tone rows. The compositional lines are fairly clear within this decidedly open setting, holding to a tonal center and, if not chord changes, marked shifts in direction. Staccato passages containing Moog globules, taut bongos, chimes and bunched horns retain measurement even when delivered in bright, responsive salvos. Braxton and Smith, in their closely valued, somewhat dirge-like reserve, are reminiscent of the duets between John Carter and Bobby Bradford, delivering impenetrable weight with condensed, reedy solitude, especially when heard against Teitelbaum’s panned volatility and circuit-bent fuzz.

The trio is in stark contrast to the bulk of this reissue, which adds twenty minutes of previously unheard duo music to the original lengthy second side. Braxton and Dave Holland had been working together since 1970, first in Circle (with drummer Barry Altschul and pianist Chick Corea), then in a quartet with Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler or fellow AACM trombonist George Lewis as a front line partner. By 1974, their language was honed to the point of instantaneous response. Braxton and Holland rip through tunes like “The Song Is You” and “On Green Dolphin Street” with jaunty aplomb, and sketch gooey freedom on a strange “Embraceable You.” It would be a mistake to say that bebop fits either player like a glove – Braxton sometimes works stiffly through the changes, and Holland’s deep gusts appear as a parallel language, though he swings immensely and recombines harmonic inspirations in fascinating ways. The pair sometimes orchestrates the feel of a piano-less quartet, granting so much rhythmic and melodic force that the evidence of Altschul and Wheeler is drawn in palimpsest.

This welcome expansion of Trio and Duet shows Braxton, Holland, Smith and Teitelbaum to be lean and hungry participants in an environment where much was possible. While a huge body of work lay ahead for each musician, this session fits squarely within the curious and reflective open-mindedness that pervades improvised music and its historical present.
–Clifford Allen


Ted Daniel’s Energy Module
No Business NBCD 72-73

The valuable archival series from No Business offers up another gem from the 1970s. Trumpeter Ted Daniel’s robust small group is documented on a couple of sets from the apex of the loft jazz scene, here wailing at Sunrise Studio in November 1975. Joining Daniel (trumpet, flugelhorn, French hunting horn, and Moroccan bugle) is Daniel Carter on tenor sax, Oliver Lake (alto, soprano, flute, piccolo, and cowbell), bassist Richard Pierce, and drummer Tatsuya Nakamura. After the buoyant, lyrical miniature “Jiblet” opens the set, the 25-minute title track hears the group stretching out majestically. The key to this group’s character, unsurprisingly, is the horn interaction and the general contrapuntalism of most of these performances. The horns weave and chatter at length, buoyed by the creative churn of these under-heralded rhythm players. Daniel himself takes several striking turns on trumpet, and his incisive work on the opener is followed by an absolutely fierce soprano incision. Long pieces like this can ramble, but the Energy Module deftly weaves in compositional fragments, as with the smoldering Ornette-ish melodies that pop up regularly.

Pierce’s throbbing bass opens “The Probe” and Lake soon joins for a long, spacious alto meditation filled with intense dynamics (restrained overtones that flirt continually with heat). These reflective moments are heard throughout, as is the case often with Pierce (whose compelling solo opens the second disc, which consists of a single, half-hour medley) and Daniel himself (who sounds righteous on “Entering” and in a mournful trumpet trio that frames the texturally dense “Pagan Spain”). But it’s never too long to wait for the next sprint, as with the exuberant freebop that leads into a jubilant reading of Ayler’s “Ghosts” or the antic Ornette tune “Congeniality.” And all over this music is Carter, who continually generates just-so counterlines and complementary timbres (aside from his own hot improvising, as in a vivid duo where he’s paired with Nakamura on quarter drums). These kinds of sessions can get wearisome, the more of them you have in your collection, but this one is vital, organic, and bracing from the start. There’s real heat and chemistry here that makes it stand out.
–Jason Bivins

Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville May 14-17, 2015

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