Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Maryanne Amacher
Blank Forms 005

The late, great composer Maryanne Amacher is mostly known for her experiments at the sonic extremes of electronics and tape manipulation. I can still remember vividly the feeling of a sound snaking through my brainpan at will when I first heard her music. So it was with a sense of surprise and curiosity that I learned that Amacher’s “Petra” was written for twin pianos.

The 1991 composition – recorded here by Marianne Schroeder and Stefan Tcherepnin – is spacious and resonant. While it sounds initially as if more indebted to Morton Feldman, Giacinto Scelsi, or Eva-Maria Houben than the aural wizardry more commonly associated with Amacher, careful listening reveals some of the constants of Amacher’s music. Her longstanding interest in playing sonic elements off one another and her attention to space and acoustic effects are on display in this vivid performance.

The opening is bright and percussive to the point of being somewhat jarring. But what follows takes in an impressive range of dynamics and ideas. There are long passages of hush, and elsewhere stuttering rhythms. The pianists make good use of the acoustic of New York’s St. Peter’s Episcopal, where this was recorded in 2017, letting the lyrical passages ring across the air, or easing into the ruminative chordal movement as if gently atop rippling water.

The music, though, is anything but static. As much as it returns, pendulum-like, to a space of introspection and faint mournfulness, Amacher is interested in the tension to be found in the space where different ideas encounter each other. So even in the most spacious and elegant moments, one piano will introduce harmonic clusters, or punchy chords. It has the interesting effect of emphasizing the lyricism rather than undercutting it. And during its final passages, filled with swells and drones and then a long cool-down with increasing space between the notes, it’s tempting to think of Petra as some sort of geologic system. Marvelous stuff, from a much-missed voice.
–Jason Bivins


Rodrigo Amado + Chris Corsano
No Place to Fall
Astral Spirits MF207/AS103

The Attic
Summer Bummer
NoBusiness NBCD 117

Rodrigo Amado continues his ascent on No Place to Fall and Summer Bummer. He can no longer be considered an emergent or promising tenor saxophonist, yoked by kneejerk references to the usual suspects. Sure: Amado has amalgamated the tradition, but in a broader, more nuanced manner than he is usually credited. Simply put, Amado is a leader, which, despite their cooperative contexts, these recordings confirm.

No Place to Fall is squarely in the muscular tradition of freely improvised tenor-drums duets. For most of the album, Chris Corsano establishes and maintains redlining intensity with clean-stroked efficiency. Using his tough-tenor sound to develop materials rapidly, but discernably, Amado creates the necessary third dimension to the proceedings. Although the album is a satisfying 15-round spar, the final, title track stands out; with Corsano switching to brushes, and Amado letting his lines glide a bit more, it ends the CD not with a thunderous exclamation point, but an unexpected ellipsis suggesting more to come.

Summer Bummer makes an even more persuasive case for Amado. Bassist Gonçalo Almeida and drummer Onno Govert really know when to give Amado space and when to spur him – hands down, this is the tandem’s best outing to date. Subsequently, Amado has greater latitude to soak a moment with his sound and pivot with a dash of swing, as well as bring an improvisation to full boil. There are tickling flashes of Rollins circa East Broadway Run Down scattered throughout the album, just enough to shift the music away from boilerplate neo New Thing. Summer Bummer is a well-contoured album that is more impressive with each spin.
–Bill Shoemaker


Suites and Seeds
Creative Sources 593

Kontrabassduo Studer-Frey with Jürg Frey and Alfred Zimmerlin
Leo 837

Daniel Studer
Extended for Strings & Piano
Hat Hut ezz-thetics 1007

Swiss bassist Daniel Studer has been keeping up a dizzying pace over the last four decades, with ongoing collaborations with musicians like fellow bassist Peter K. Frey, cellist Alfred Zimmerlin, trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini, violinist Harald Kimmig, and others, in addition to a broad-reaching array of ad hoc meetings. Three recent releases offer a glimpse at some of his current projects.

Kontrabassduo Studer-Frey, his project with Peter K. Frey utilizing bass and live electronics, has been active for twenty years now, recording and performing both as a duo and with various guest artists. Zeit weaves together studio recordings as a duo and live recordings as a quartet along with clarinetist Jürg Frey and cellist Alfred Zimmerlin into an evolving 52-minute collaborative suite. The liner notes outlines the setting for the live recordings from 2004, which bears mention as the musicians were distributed in four separate rooms where they utilized a detailed common score but were unable to hear each other play. In a fifth room, four speakers broadcast all four of the musicians, allowing the audience to wander through the sprawling performance space to listen to solos or the convergence of all four musicians. What could easily come off as a conceptually ambitious mess, instead coalesces into a holistic, purposefully unfolding collaboration.

The duo pieces have a measured focus, with each of the bassists extending their vast timbral palette with subtly burred and glitched electronic colorations. Each of the pieces zeros in on a specific area of attack, density, and dynamic range from the spare percussive shadings of the opening “Praeludium” to the contrapuntal muscularity of “Continuatio” to the burred and scraped arco of “Excursio” to “Interludium” with its shivering, glitched layers of electronics. The interleaved quartet pieces are more active, with Jürg Frey’s clarinet playing (in a far more vigorous mode than his playing on Wandelweiser-related work) keenly balanced by the string sonorities. The recording is mixed so that the shifts between duo and quartet are relatively seamless, creating a through-arc. Of the quartet pieces, the 14-minute “Pars Secunda” stands out in particular, building from short, repeated pizzicato bass and arco violin notes to a section which weaves in groaning electronics and an ambient undercurrent of low level conversations, rustles, and bangs leading to a closing section with the resonating low notes of Jürg Frey’s clarinet. The closing “Pars Tertia” bursts forth with flurries of notes that break into open sections for various sub-groupings with distinctive, skirling clarinet against the more placid pools of strings.

The Swiss group Anemochore consists of Studer on bass along with violist Frantz Loriot, drummer Benjamin Brodbeck, and Sebastian Strinning on bass clarinet and tenor sax. A quick search reveals that an anemochore is a plant that has adapted to have its fruits or seeds distributed by the wind. Over the course of their release Suites and Seeds, the quartet navigates their way through twelve collective free improvisations ranging from 2 to 8-mintes long. The mix of bass and viola anchor the sound of the group and both Strinning and Brodbeck temper their playing to create an even amalgamation of sound. Like the name of the group, the interactions of the quartet are lithe and mobile, with each member keenly picking up on the shifts of texture and density of the compact improvisations. Utilizing a relatively quiet volume level, they are able to work together to make the most of the nuanced scrubs, scrapes, flutters, pops, and shudders of their respective instruments. The almost deferential approach of the four players is also integral to their sound, with each member keenly aware of the collective balance of the group. Bass, viola, reeds, and drums are each equal members of the mix. The improvisations are full of restless activity and hair-trigger, conversational interplay with kernels of ideas picked up and refracted by each of the players. While there’s nothing ground-breaking here, the four have wholly immersed themselves in a cooperative group dynamic and the results are tight, unassumingly-voiced free playing.

For Extended for Strings & Piano, Studer composed a series of pieces for an ensemble consisting of himself on bass, violinist Harald Kimmig, violist Frantz Loriot, cellist Alfred Zimmerlin, and pianist Philip Zoubek. The quintet navigates the pieces in this live recording with an astute ear for the fractured counterpoint and timbral contrasts of the pieces. Spikey angularities, sputtering stopped strings, and strummed resonance fly by with precision and clarity of trajectory. Studer collaborates regularly with the other string players and the synergy of their approach to collective improvisation within the context of compositional forms is what makes this project work so well. Zoubek’s piano is woven into the mix with adroit subtlety, often utilizing various preparations of the strings to add bell-like reverberations, quiet percussive clanks, and abraded tremors.

Longer improvisations like the opening “Comprimere” or “Operandi” bookend shorter studies, like the three “Bagatelles” with each carving out a particular sonic attack, from the shredded arco of “1” to the muted, quavering overtones of “2” to the tonal abstractions of “3” with particularly strong interplay between bass, cello, and piano. The 14-minute “Operandi” works particularly well, with various sub-groupings pairing off to create pools of skittish textures, sliding glisses, and fissured timbres. This is followed by the three miniatures of “Verba” which starts with the restless, choppy “1” with strings sawing against fragmented piano clusters, moves the measured morphing tonalities of “2,” and finishing with the percussive, hocketed turbulence of “3.” “Motus” closes things out with the most densely packed playing of the session pitting fitful sheets of arco against the hammered constellation of piano notes ebbing to sections of calm and building with conversational exchange and ending with spare clatters.
–Michael Rosenstein


Derek Bailey + Han Bennink + Evan Parker
Topographie Parisienne
Fou Records 34-37

When Evan Parker convened a trio with Derek Bailey and Han Bennink in a London studio in the fall of 1970, they most likely had no idea as to the import of the session they were about to record. That session, The Topography of the Lungs, served to launch the Incus record label and has, in the intervening years, become amongst the definitive documents of the development of European free improvisation. Some of that aura may have been the result of its being out of print for a good many years. But the dynamic meeting of these three practitioners of spontaneous, collective invention still holds up all these years later. The three rarely performed as a trio after that and their only other recording is a short excerpt from Company 6 in 1977. Until now ...

Fou Records producer Jean-Marc Foussat has dug into his recorded archives and unearthed a treasure trove of recordings the three made at 25 Rue Dunois, on April 3, 1981. With four CDs running close to 3 hours and 40 minutes long, this boxed set would be a phenomenal find, if only for historical purposes. Yet, auspiciously, it is far more than that. While a bit sprawling at times, the recordings capture two long sets of the full trio, two by the Parker/Bailey duo, two by a duo with Parker and Bennink, one by Bailey and Bennink, and two Parker solos.

Back in 1970, the notion of “non-idiomatic” improvisation was nascent and Bailey, Parker, Bennink, and others were grappling with what that meant. By 1981, Parker had established regular working relationships with musicians like Alexander von Schlippenbach, Paul Lovens, Paul Lytton, and Barry Guy, and participated in groups lead by Chris McGregor and Kenny Wheeler, as well as Globe Unity Orchestra. Bennink, likewise, was working with Peter Brötzmann, Misha Mengelberg, and as a key instigator of Instant Composers Pool. Though Bailey certainly had regular collaborators, his notion of the revolving cast of Company was well developed and taking the fore in his thoughts about collaboration. While one might argue that even by 1981, the strategies these three deployed had begun to advance its own idiom, the music they created on this night was hell-bent on shaking things (and each other) up.

The first trio set opens with Bailey’s unamplified guitar, Bennink’s percussive snipping, and Parker’s muted soprano whorls, building force and then dropping back, only to feint back with prickly flurries. Even in the most active sections, there is an openness that is maintained. Bennink is particularly restive, moving between drums, trombone, piano, and skirling clarinet. (On the back panel of the box, Bennink is credited with “drums & all other instruments” which nicely sums up his shifts and jumps.) Parker’s circuitous soprano lines build and break with a whetted sense of thrust and pacing, particularly on a propulsive duo section with Bennink on roiling drums. Bailey sits back a bit on this one, often interjecting droll punctuation and craggy intrusions. But toward the end of the set, he bursts in for a particularly forceful duo section with Bennink. From the opening salvos of the second trio set, the three subvert expectations. Bennink opens things up, but with burbles and blats of trombone that get increasingly distressed with buzzing vocalizations added in. First Parker, and then Bailey dive in and sparks quickly ensue. By 10 minutes in, Parker’s vigorous, stabbing tenor, Bennink’s caterwauling barrage of drums, and Bailey’s spiky shards of guitar prod and parry against each other in forceful torrents. This then breaks apart into rustling pops and sputters, sections of Bennink’s comedic antics, and various sub-groupings only to dive back into the collective fray again. Of the many notable elements of these two collaborations, the way that the three circle together to nail the endings is revelatory.

Parker and Bailey didn’t record much as a duo and, of those, only London Concert is still available, so the two duo sets included here are particularly welcome. The first is relatively compact at 12 minutes and the two unfurl lines that spring across each other in parallel trajectories with potent aplomb. Bailey’s steely angularities and Parker’s eddying flights are in total synch throughout. Their second duo, at 28 minutes, allows the two to expand on these strategies and hits a more active mode out of the gate. Bailey deploys his amplified resonance more on this set, letting clusters ring out and hang against Parker’s chopped and fragmented snaking gusts. In both sets, the steadfast composure of both players, each carving their own tracks while eschewing conversational tactics, rings through.

Parker’s two duos with Bennink are far more volatile, with Bennink’s provocative, actionist tendencies as a central factor in the course of the improvisations. Not to say that Parker shies away from his partner. The opening section of the initial duo, pits Parker’s nuanced tenor control against Bennink’s raw clarinet playing which explodes into lashing energy as Bennink jumps to thundering kit. One revels at how Bennink can balance playing trombone and drums at the same time, but he does so with brash flair, sounding like two musicians at once as Parker dips and dives against the coordinated clamor. The laughter of the audience is proof of the boisterous theatricality of the proceedings. Their shorter second meeting starts with the chirruping tumult of soprano, harmonica, crashing cymbals, scrabbled scrapes, and whistles, and again, the audience’s laughter is proof of the jocular mayhem. Here, impulsive instability leads the day as the improvisation staggers and swerves, coming to a lurching halt.

Bailey and Bennink worked more often as a duo and their 40 minute set is brimming with barbed, unruly interplay as Bailey holds his tack while Bennink clatters, rumbles, and bashes with tempestuous glee. This is by far the most tumultuous, and at times rambling set of the night, but of course that is by design and one always hears the two as full, equal coconspirators right up to their clangorous conclusion. One wonders why only Parker performed solo but his two pieces, each around 10 minutes long, provide a study in minutely interconnected laser focus. In each, his serpentine logic is on full display as he probes and scrutinizes the nuanced multiphonics of wind through conical bore.

With releases on the Fou label like this one, a Bailey/Parker/Joëlle Léandre/George Lewis quartet, a Willem Breuker Kollektief session from 1980, and others, Foussat continues to dig into his cache of recordings. One certainly hopes there are more treasures on the way. Even if that’s not the case, this set is true gold and an invaluable and rare document of three masterful players.
–Michael Rosenstein


Greetje Bijma + Mary Oliver + Nora Mulder
ICP 061

Dutch singer Greetje Bijma is a special talent, a pyrotechnician with a virtuoso command of vocal timbres, Exorcist growl to Tibetan throat-singing to theremin high notes, possibly all in one breath. She can function as a human sampler, grabbing a syllable or short phrase (her own, or a bandmate’s) and subjecting it to timbral permutations as she loops it around, as if twiddling dials. Her range is intimidating, and she can get intense, but she leavens the intensity with playfulness and humor. Bijma has a phonographic memory, seems to have soaked up everything she’s ever heard, from songs everyone else has forgotten to a barely audible comment some drunk in the second row just made. She mostly avoids the dead ends and amateur gaffes that parroting leads to in open improvising.

Her talents are so particular, it can be hard to get her into a proper setting that works on record. She set a high standard with Tales of a Voice (Enja), with her longtime ally Alan Laurillard, which brought her attention in the early 1990s; on “Haden,” she acts out the Spanish Civil War. In that decade she also had a wide open free-associative duo with composer Louis Andriessen. Their improvised sets had zigzag energy and rolling momentum. He’d try to lead her from the piano, she’d resist, he’d move on to something else, she’d go back to his first idea: Bijma wouldn’t be led, but might follow. But their sole disc Nadir & Zenit (BVHaast) – more formal, working from texts – didn’t do the sportive duo justice.

Picatrix puts her in a very congenial setting, with two women who occupy other corners of Holland’s new music scene: Mary Oliver, with her long history of playing contemporary scores before getting rowdy in the ICP Orchestra; and pianist Nora Mulder, new-music interpreter and playful improviser who’s recorded with Cor Fuhler’s springy Corkestra (on cimbalom) and in the freewheeling trio Trolleybus. Oliver and Mulder can go for big gestures, or little ones: pieces range from a 10-minute, wide-ranging collective improvisation to a 20-second epigram. Oliver and Mulder may follow Bijma out on a limb, or hold the limb steady.

That leaves Greetje plenty of room to move. She brings high-art vibrato and commitment to “Donaudampfschiff”; juggles a triplety phrase on “Get ’em up”; ‘samples’ a pulsing beat from Oliver’s line on “South Pole” and then spins it like a top. Greetje starts the boisterous “Frigus Mundi” evoking late Billie Holiday and ends the same passage in a Hazel Dickens mountain holler – that’s smart dial-twirling. That one’s admirably short too, the album in a nutshell. Seven pieces are under two minutes, keeping everyone on point.

The trio is also a splendid vehicle for Oliver. Her technique is superclean – she can saw some precisely alarming minor seconds – but her resourceful choices are personal. After a couple decades roaming the Dutch landscape, she has many and varied and specific violin birdcalls under her fingers, as demonstrated by her avian obbligati (often in deliberately far keys) throughout “Birds,” which turns out to be Bijma’s surprisingly tender and straight reading of “Caged Bird” – Abbey Lincoln’s adaptation of a Maya Angelou poem inspired by a line from poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. So we get Oliver riffing on Bijma riffing on Lincoln on Angelou on Dunbar. Oral traditions are a beautiful thing. (I’d bet Bijma references other ‘found’ melodies/lyrics I don’t recognize.)

The oldest tune is the Cecil Sharp chestnut “The Water Is Wide,” appearing as “Wally Wally,” where Bijma comes close to channeling Joan Baez, and where Mulder and Oliver walk a very fine line, playing it straight but in their own voices, Mary on hardanger fiddle with its sympathetic drone strings, Nora strumming autoharp chords inside piano, and lightly outlining a slow bass (drum) line in prepared low harmonics. At least that’s what they all do before and after the free interlude the trio ease into and out of without wrecking the mood or breaking character. Oliver’s counterline on the last chorus is a beaut.

Nora Mulder has her own wild side, can take the lead, drop a depth charge or churn up the river bottom. But she approaches every situation like a member of an ensemble, or maybe comedy-team straight woman: Fletcher Henderson to her mates’ Bessie Smith and Joe Smith if you will. Like any self-respecting pianist who plays new music (and who’s friends with Cor Fuhler), she knows impacted harmony and a whole lot of procedures for treating/distorting piano sound in real time, junk shop to gamelan. She also knows such timbral devices are often most effective when the focus is elsewhere. Mulder can deftly underpin action already in progress without riffling the surface: jabbing bass tones on the airy kids-song “Le Petit Prince” where Greetje ghosts an owl.

It’s real selfless collective musicmaking, one for all. There is, in some Dutch-scene improvising, even today, a lingering, almost quaint macho quality notably absent here. You can hear this smart trio now, or (if there’s any justice) next summer, when they’re hailed as “the surprise hit of the festival.”
–Kevin Whitehead


New World Records

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