Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Joe McPhee + Chris Corsano + Lol Coxhill + Evan Parker
Tree Dancing
Otoruku 021CD

Recorded in March of 2010, this captures an ad hoc summit from the early years of London’s Café Oto. It’s one of those meetings that could have turned out to be an uneasy alliance but instead gels throughout. While the four had never played together, their paths had crossed in various ways over the years. Joe McPhee and Evan Parker had played with each other a number of times previously to this, having recorded in trio with Daunik Lazro in 1995 as well as on their stellar tenor duo, Chicago Tenor Duets in 1998. Parker and Lol Coxhill’s collaborations go back to the ‘70s and the two were part of the soprano summit with Steve Lacy captured on the FMP recording Three Blokes. And while McPhee and Chris Corsano play regularly together as a duo, this looks to be the earliest recording of their collaboration. The CD is comprised of seven improvisations culled from two sets, with two by the McPhee/Corsano duo, one by the reed trio, three by the quartet, and a final excerpt of a quartet with Parker, McPhee and Corsano with bassist John Edwards as a guest.

“First Dance” blasts out of the gate, with McPhee’s throaty alto bounding over Corsano’s thundering torrents. McPhee dedicates the piece to Ornette Coleman, who was celebrating his 80th birthday at the time, and while there are nods to Coleman’s free melodicism, the two simply use that as a launching point, starting out with open lyricism and building quickly to ardent intensity. The four pieces that follow reveal complementary strategies to the three-horn lineup. “Second Dance,” a reed trio sans drums, starts with Parker’s rough-hewn tenor which Coxhill and McPhee spin countervailing lines against. Starting with a relaxed pace, the three gradually build momentum and density with Coxhill’s wry, stabbing lines and McPhee’s loose phrasing interlacing effortlessly with Parker’s husky ruminations. On “Third Dance” the three reed players dive in over the tempestuous shudders of Corsano’s drums. It is enthralling to hear how the four let the improvisation build a slow simmer, amped along a third of the way through by Parker’s labyrinthine tenor playing. The way they balance dynamism and tenacity is a study in collective listening.

“Fourth Dance” unwinds with a string of reed solos with Coxhill’s acerbic soprano playing being a standout, leading to a collective section at the end with the reed players buzzing around each other over Corsano’s slow rumble of toms. “Fifth Dance” starts with a roiling drum solo by Corsano showcasing his rollicking, skewed sense of time and momentum. This time in, McPhee switches to pocket trumpet and the quartet locks into a more boisterous, effervescing drive with the four darting and weaving around each other without ever crowding the proceedings. The contrasting timbre of McPhee’s brass playing works well here, particularly on the skittering closing section. The compact “Sixth Dance” revisits the Corsano and McPhee duo and the two are especially animated as they sprint through a give and take. The recording closes out with an excerpt of a quartet with bassist John Edwards in and Coxhill out. Edwards, Parker, and Corsano had played together as a trio previously, and the bass player and drummer lock in from the start, goading Parker and McPhee along with a propulsive verve. Listening to McPhee’s trumpet attacks parry with Parker’s tenor is a particular treat. A full CD of that quartet would be welcome. Kudos to Café Oto for their long run and their commitment to making gems from their archive like this one available.
–Michael Rosenstein


Chronic Shift
Digital Release: Ace ACE002 / Vinyl: Bohemian Drips BD010

There are unusual bands, and then there’s Microtub. Formed in 2010, it’s a trio of musicians playing microtonal tubas, an instrument developed by composer and tubist Robin Hayward, whose work has long included just intonation. Initially consisting of Hayward, Martin Taxt and Kristoffer Lo, Lo has since been replaced by Peder Simonsen. Each member is a master of the low-pitched brass instrument, but that mastery isn’t expressed in the kind of up-tempo brilliance that one traditionally associates with tuba virtuosity. Much of Microtub’s music is devoted to the blending of long, even tones, blending the subtle chords that just intonation facilitates. It’s carried to a point that suggests circular breathing, though the group avoids the practice, focussing on one another’s breathing so that two are almost always playing, while avoiding the specific sound associated with circular breathing.

Clearly, Microtub is a group that has been operating at musical thresholds – just intonation, low pitches, drone – but on Chronic Shift, they find new terrain. Using materials from two of Hayward’s compositions, the performance was recorded in a water tower in Berlin, adding the resonance of a large container to their already complex palette. Having created this complex performance experience, the work is further developed in editing, the rare physical space made more mysterious in the process, creating something akin to a myth of music.

What may be most striking about the resulting LP/download, however, is that even a first listen reveals a music of experiential depth as well as pitch, with Sorensen adding glassy synthesizer tones that interact with the resonating hum of the water tank. The title track, based on materials from Hayward’s Sonic Drift, almost eludes description. The sustained collective tuba tones sometimes shift cleanly and suddenly, while at other times there are edit clicks, their timing giving an impression of randomness, a kind of alienation device that prevents the overall sound from being too involving. A compound space develops in which tubas, echos, edit clicks and synthesizer tones pass into one another, at once elusive and hypnotic. Seemingly foregrounding the means of production, the ultimate work evades its own materiality.

The second side, “Star System Rework,” is smoother, the process bringing the humming enclosure more fully to life, enriching and enveloping the sounds of the tubas and the still, even tones of the synthesizer. There is an illusion of moving inside sound, in space as well as in time, resonance blurring identities. Towards the end, each fresh tuba tone feels like another world is coming into view, with the oscillations of close pitches resonating out of the tower and into the world.

The project might seem ambient or technological, but the result is a fresh sonic experience with its own architecture, form and depths of meaning, an orchestra compounded of tubas, synths, a water tower and, certainly, the individual listener’s own input. Ideas trigger ideas in Microtub’s work, new combinations, breaks and trajectories appearing in the process.
–Stuart Broomer


Elizabeth Millar/Tim Olive/Craig Pedersen
Charm Point
845 Audio

Sound of the Mountain with Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura
amplified clarinet and trumpet, guitars, nimb
Mystery & Wonder mw008

The Montreal-based duo Sound of the Mountain – Elizabeth Millar on amplified clarinet and Craig Pedersen on amplified trumpet – have been pursuing an amalgamation of acoustic and electronic sound sources with collaborators around the world, traveling across Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, and Southeast Asia since 2015. Two recent releases recorded during Japanese sojourns in 2017 and 2018 provide effective and differing glimpses into their working strategies with kindred musical allies.

amplified clarinet and trumpet, guitars, nimb on the duo’s Mystery & Wonder label, documents a collaboration with Japanese improv veterans Tetuzi Akiyama on guitars and Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board (nimb) from their first Japanese tour in the fall of 2017. Over the course of two extended pieces, the first 19 minutes long and the second 17 minutes long, the four dive into the improvisations. The first piece begins in a relatively subdued vein, with spatters and crinkles of electronics and wind flutters laid out against the ground of Akiyama’s flayed and throttled guitar resonance. The four easily settle into a dynamic sound field, letting things intersect, gather, and arc off in constantly shifting arrays.

One quickly gets lost as to what sound is coming from where, though the guitarist’s hung chords, often breaking to feedback, provide effective balance to the more frenetic activity of the other three. Millar and Pedersen have wholly integrated amplification into their respective playing techniques, so the blend of wind-initiated flurries and amplified colorations become indivisible entities within the ensemble. Nakamura’s scribbles, buzzes, and bursts from no-input mixing board prove an effective foil for the whirr of activity. The second piece works particularly well, with scumbled bursts of static and burred trumpet tones breaking up the dark reverberations, flits, and whispered textures of the ensemble. Toward the end, things open up to particularly fruitful effect, with clarinet quavers, pinched trumpet, nimb sputters and crackles. Leaving a bit more space for each other allows waves of tension to build and release in contrast to the headlong drive of the first piece.

On Charm Point, the two met up with Tim Olive in Kobe, Japan in October 2018. For this one, Millar is credited with amplified clarinet and self-made instruments, Pedersen is again on amplified trumpet, and Olive on magnetic pickups. The notes for the release describe the process as “Hand-made microphones thrust into metal and wooden tubes, consumer cast-offs transformed into home-made sound-generating/altering devices, electro-magnetism fed through simple analog circuits, sounds amplified and recorded. No overdubs, very minimal editing.” Over the course of two 7-minute pieces and one 16-minute piece, the three mine a much more restrained approach. Here, small details and timbral fragments sit against an open sound field. Sonic details tease their way into focus and then seem to evaporate into the subtly volatile flow.

Olive’s music is always imbued with the physical activities of sound-making and that carries through here as the three weave fragments of sonic detritus processed from radio grabs, stuttering motors, burred rumbles, whispered breath, fragile tones, and blurred oscillations. There’s an intimacy and immediacy that is captured in the recording. On the second piece Millar lays out fluttering and whorling tones shot through with cycling billows of breathy white noise and changeable timbral skeins. The extended length of the final piece allows them to stretch out their ideas and the patience displayed is particularly gripping. Subtle shifts in motion and inflection are allowed to gather and play out against insistent snippets of radio fragments of Japanese speakers, establishing a mutable sense of pulse. Things are slowed to a trembling crawl with abraded scrapes and bass-heavy rumbles which slowly gather momentum shot through with elusive threads of high-pitched buzzes. The three build back from the elements of all that had preceded, circling into a final stasis.
–Michael Rosenstein


Miles Okazaki
The Sky Below
Pi Recordings 184

Where do you go after releasing a six-album solo guitar performance of the complete works of Thelonious Monk? If you’re the outrageously talented Miles Okazaki, you dial up a concise quartet record in the company of pianist Matt Mitchell and Okazaki’s mates from Steve Coleman’s Five Elements: bassist Anthony Tidd and superhuman drummer Sean Rickman. The basic group sound is busy, overflowing with energy, and elegant despite its complexity.

The leader favors a dry, clean tone that nicely accents his emphatic attack, the sharp and almost percussive touch he brings to his tight, knotty runs. Occasionally he’ll stomp on the fuzz for maximum punch in a crazed unison with Mitchell (who is simply at the top of his game these days). And crazed unison might just be a winning subtitle for this album, as these tunes just scramble your brain with how many lines there are. Mitchell sounds as if he’s playing with six hands, snaking around the low end with Tidd or playing acoustic piano and keys with separate hands. And Rickman is just a continuous jolt of electricity, from the opening bars of “Rise and Shine” – it’s triple espresso in jazz form.

In just over forty minutes, the band gets to an awful lot of places. Fat funk from Tidd opens “Dog Star,” with some deliciously 1980s underwater synth from Mitchell, and it makes for a monster dance hit in the alternate universe I want to live in. Like most of the tunes on The Sky Below, this one is filled to bursting with so many counter lines, double-times, and overlapping rhythms that it just shouldn’t work. But it not only works, it grooves hard. The nervous ballad “Anthemoessa,” unfurls via luxuriant strums, filled with looming gaps and floating distortion, like pink contrails across the sky. It segues nicely into the urgent “Seven Sisters,” probably the album’s most intense experiment in manipulating time and phasing. Grounded in Okazaki’s insistent, repeating phrases, Rickman spins web after web outwards, until the piece sounds like a really pumped up Steve Reich miniature. The mind-fuck video game madness of “Monstropolous” gets close to these heights, so sheerly effervescent that I couldn’t even tell which tones were Mitchell’s and which Okazaki’s.

After the weird, descending gravity of “The Castaway,” “The Lighthouse” teases with some seemingly conventional swing, until it scrambles your brain with another crazed double-time unison that really should fall apart but fits like a glove. Okazaki’s stuttering solo is so funky, it’s like Jimmy Nolen, and the ensemble’s continuous interleaving of the theme is simply jaw-dropping. But this is all just preamble to the closing “To Dream Again.” Mitchell goes next-level bonkers, sounding one minute like he’s playing detuned koto and flute sounds, and the next minute tone-morphing and pitch-shifting like a Maneri microtonal jam. You’ll need a rest, and maybe some ambient music, after this one. Don’t try too hard to figure it out, though; just submit to the joyful creativity of Okazaki’s latest triumph.
–Jason Bivins


Evan Parker + Kinetics
Clean Feed CF 525

On the last Thursday of every month saxophone elder statesman Evan Parker invites a different set of collaborators to join him at north London’s Vortex jazz club, where part of this riveting album was recorded. His ongoing residency showcases regular partnerships as well as new encounters which preclude any hint of familiarity. Not all of them make it to disc. There’s still no sign of the fabulous quartets Parker helmed with fellow reedman Paul Dunmall for instance. So, when a collaboration does merit release, it’s worth paying attention.

On Chiasm, Parker links up with three younger Danes who go under the banner Kinetics (the other half of the album was recorded in the studio in the Danish capital). While the band was originally a vehicle for the exploration of pianist Jacob Anderskov’s compositions, since its 2015 debut it has developed into a free jazz outfit of the first rank. Although Kinetics has a separate existence, the addition of Parker to the front line does nothing to upset the balance, with as much interest residing below the surface as above it on the four collectively birthed tracks.

The empathy is clear from the start of “London Part I,” which takes up almost half of the album’s 38-minute playing time. Bassist Adam Pultz Melbye’s querulous arco, Anderskov’s rumbling piano innards and Anders Vestergaard’s crash and rattle hang in taut equilibrium, before the entry of Parker’s coolly askew tenor phrases propels them into a tumbling cascade of high-speed exchange. There’s an organic quality to the interaction, manifest in how the focus constantly shifts, first to a spellbinding tenor/arco duet, and later into an almost ballad like terrain. Indicative of the responsiveness is Parker’s guttural rejoinder to one passage of Vestergaard bristling clatter. But the unit’s strong suit remains the thickened staccato interplay that follows and which appears repeatedly throughout the program.

Circular breathing constitutes an integral part of Parker’s style and one of the challenges for any group is how to react to his forays, whether to mirror or contrast. Here they do both. On “Copenhagen Part II,” Anderskov initially intones an ominous rhythmic throb, matched by Vestergaard, before easing into a dizzying recurring pattern alongside Melbye which echoes Parker’s continuous multiphonics. On the concluding “London Part II,” the pianist opts for a thunderous sustain which persists as Parker breaks out into insistent lines, and drums and bass punctuate the storm. Once the saxophonist stops, a coda of pattering piano, clanking cymbals and pulsing bass forms a satisfying conclusion to a splendid affirmation that neither age or geography are barriers to vital music-making.
–John Sharpe


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