Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Günter Christmann + Mats Gustafsson + Paul Lovens

This concert recording comes from 1994 and is arbitrarily divided into eight tracks; the first seven are all titled "Something More" and the last is "Enough is Not Enough." Which raises the question, what is too much? What we get is 55 minutes of at best faint, often barely audible sounds separated by silence. Listeners can absorb such quiet music in certain concert rooms, but the necessary concentrated attention is far more difficult at home, where a listener is likely to be surrounded by ongoing life.

Of course percussionist Paul Lovens, who opens the concert by bowing a cymbal, and cellist-trombonist Günter Christmann share a calm, most subtle sense of the possibilities for tension and development within the interaction of mysterious sound and silence. Unsubtle Mats Gustafsson's nervousness thwarts such development. On soprano and baritone saxes and what sounds like a clarinet – it must be what the liners call a fluteophone – he clicks keys and slap-tongues notes compulsively and toots splintered-note, sub-Evan Parker licks too. To a large extent he too seems to feel silence, but his twitching versus their cool, his busyness against their longer tones still make him the foreground figure. So instead of drawing Gustafsson into an evolving sense of ensemble movement, Lovens and Christmann sound secondary to his lack of purpose.

Two tracks break out of the faint sounds for awhile. Lovens strikes a drum in track six, a very long trombone note changes colors, there's a spaced-note duet of bullying baritone sax against soft trombone lines. There and in track seven are also passages of aggressive playing together, though nary a forte apart from a single drum crash in the midst of some clarinet? fluteophone? noodling. Did these three ever improvise full-volume sounds-in-space together? If they did, these two tracks suggest they sounded more like a creative trio than they do on most of this disc.
–John Litweiler


Lol Coxhill + Enzo Rocco
Fine Tunings: The Gradisca Concert
Amirani Records AMRN #024

Another exciting release from Amirani Records, recorded live at one of the most exciting Italian festivals:  All Frontiers Festival, in Gradisca d’Isonzo, on 15th November 2008. Coxhill & Rocco share the sense for the quirky melody, and the apparent limitation of resources – just soprano sax and a guitar – translates in a richness of invention, notes bent and colored, reed tones from the saxophones and muted passages on the guitar. The relatively short set – an undivided improvisation of 33 minutes – moves jauntily from one idea to the next, lines independently developing and suddenly finding a common point so precise and perfect that even advance planning could not produce such magic. None of the many ideas are worked to death, each voice gently prodding the other to go on, with determination that never creates frenzy. The music develop itself with its own rhythm, growing in space; each sound, cleanly enunciated, finds its place and meaning, against silence if need be. Coxhill is a master at this, his imagination linear but never obvious, while Rocco, who developed with Coxhill a special relation over the years, clearly stimulates him, suggesting ideas or quickly supporting the development of a line with deft touches and a clear, silvery tone. They clearly enjoy discovering each other's imagination, a split tone from the soprano or a quick chordal passage on the guitar branching out into new areas, surprisingly and yet logically, more often than not with a touch of light humor and self-deprecating irony – chirping and buzzing alternating with the occasional lyrical passage.

Check out Mauro Dazzara's fine companion video on It's a creative document: the elegant small town at night, its focused and diverse audience, a truly utopic community gathering there for the music and not for some other external reason. At the same time it allows the listener to associate the music with preparatory gestures and stage looks, as well as to realize how subtle and masterly are the technical resources involved in its creation. Precious signs of life.
–Francesco Martinelli


Marilyn Crispell + David Rothenberg
One Dark Night I Left My Silent House
ECM 2089

There’s a certain inevitable surprise when you hear a long-familiar musician improvising in company with one who is new to you. Such is the immediate case with pianist Marilyn Crispell’s meeting with clarinettist David Rothenberg, and what may be more unusual still here is that the surprises come principally from Crispell, whose innate musicality persists when she occasionally abandons her brilliant keyboard skills to take up out-of-tune piano harp and assorted percussion, including bells. Rothenberg is a lyrical improviser. You rarely get a reed player’s characteristic flurries, but instead deeply reflective lines, usually modal in character and often consonant. He’s apparently spent a good deal of his career thinking about the sounds of other species and interacting with them musically. He’s written a book about making music with birds called Why Birds Sing and another about playing with whales called Thousand Mile Song. Couple those with clarinet studies with Jimmy Giuffre and Joe Maneri and you have a player acutely sensitive to pitch and the weight of timbre with a warmly woody to liquid sound in the lower and middle register that makes his instruments sound like they’re still connected to the trees from which they were formed (much of what he plays on his standard clarinet could be reached in the upper register of his bass clarinet). Crispell plays with consistent grace and invention, whether launching her own melodies or framing Rothenberg’s, whether creating propulsive figures at the keyboard or strange dissonances with the piano soundboard. Her upper-register splashes on “What Birds Sing” are radiant.  There’s a certain mimesis afoot here, sometimes explicit, as in the opening “hoo” of “Owl Moon,” but other elements arise as well, as in the strong klezmer and village fair affinities of “Still Life with Woodpecker,” the aleatoric and kinetic Bley/Giuffre style dialogues  “Grosbeak” and “Motmot,” and the Celtic effusion of the concluding “ Evocation.” Along the way Rothenberg and Crispell are constantly evolving melodic, fully formed music.  This meeting never has the tentative or conversational feel of much duo improvising; instead it seems to achieve an organic flow, two musicians in synch. This may be the most melodic of improvised recordings to appear this year; it’s certainly among the most beautiful.
–Stuart Brommer


Kris Davis + Ingrid Laubrock + Tyshawn Sorey
Paradoxical Frog
Clean Feed CF 183

Tom Rainey Trio
Pool School
Clean Feed CF 185

Since 2001, Portugal's Clean Feed Records has ceaselessly documented new creative improvised music on both sides of the Atlantic. Their astonishingly prolific run continues, with two recent trio releases – Pool School and Paradoxical Frog – sharing similarities in approach and personnel, including up and coming German-born saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.

A former student of David Liebman, Laubrock's unorthodox soprano and tenor technique is refreshingly devoid of the clichéd mannerisms typically adopted by many post-Coltrane saxophonists. Her vocalized tone and predilection for expressive outbursts is balanced by a subdued lyricism and dynamic sensitivity, veering from spectral whispers to howling cries. Laubrock recently relocated to New York City from London following the release of her widely acclaimed 2008 trio album Sleepthief (Intakt), a collective effort with British pianist Liam Noble and American drummer Tom Rainey. A reunion of sorts, Pool School once again features Laubrock and Rainey in a trio setting, this time accompanied by the phenomenal Brooklyn-based guitarist Mary Halvorson. Rainey's long-awaited debut as a leader, Pool School is the first title issued under his own name after over two decades and countless records made as a sideman with artists as diverse as Tim Berne, Jane Ira Bloom and Carmen McRae.

Comprised of a dozen collectively improvised pieces running an average of four to five minutes, this date shares numerous conceptual similarities with Sleepthief. Both albums offer experimental narratives bolstered by considered interplay and impressively intuitive logic, with Halvorson's idiosyncratic electric guitar providing a far more assertive edge than Noble's crystalline piano. Whether worrying volume pedal-swelled riffs, finger picking unresolved arpeggios or pitch bending sampled loops into oscillating sine waves, she maintains a consistent flow of capricious ideas, providing surging momentum to the session's fluidly abstract demeanor.

Laubrock's embouchure and phrasing is well suited to these sketches, her breathy to guttural utterances readily embellished and exacerbated by Halvorson's oblique six string extrapolations. Rainey's pneumatic drive reinforces his trio-mates affinity for coarse textures and caustic expressionism, with spiky climactic interludes dominating cuts like "Three Bag Mary," and "Semi-Bozo." The aptly titled "Om on the Range" and the ghostly closer "Pacification" showcase the trio's sensitive side with intimate pointillist explorations that spotlight Rainey's knack for conjuring evocative moods and textures, rather than simply framing his abilities as a percussive powerhouse.

Laubrock is also on the front line for Paradoxical Frog, which treads comparable sonic territory to Rainey’s album while mirroring the instrumental line-up of her highly touted Sleepthief. For this date, the international pairing of Noble and Rainey has been replaced by the duo of pianist Kris Davis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. The key difference between Paradoxical Frog and both Pool School and Sleepthief is the equally divided authorship of pre-written material; each member contributes compositions, resulting in a somewhat more varied and structurally defined recording.

One of the most acclaimed new artists to emerge in the past decade, Sorey's persona has been split between the breakneck polyrhythms of his sideman gigs and his burgeoning abilities as a composer, one whose fascination with austere minimalism continues to manifest itself in interesting and occasionally frustrating ways; for all the empty silence of "Homograph" there is the burgeoning emotional fire at the heart of "Slow Burn" to counter it. Sorey's dynamic diversity is shared by his compatriots, whose interests are equally expansive; Davis' influences range from Gyorgi Ligeti to Paul Bley. Davis and Laubrock's contributions also tend to be more vibrant and engaging, with Davis' riotous, almost ritualistic opener, "Iron Spider" and the punchy "Ghost Machine" providing cathartic stabs of angularity to an otherwise austere session.

Despite the division of material, similarities in writing styles appear occasionally. Davis' closing "Feldman" follows an analogous trajectory to Sorey's "Slow Burn," gradually arcing from serene piano refrains to a taut collective climax and a somber coda. Though Laubrock only contributes two pieces, they are among the album’s highlights. Journeying episodically from lyrical introspection and hyperkinetic aggression to nervy quietude, the title track encapsulates all of the album's primary themes. "Canines" streamlines the same concepts, trading an extended bout of regal impressionism for a muscular, funky coda.

Following in the wake of Sleepthief, the simultaneous release of Pool School and Paradoxical Frog make a strong case for Ingrid Laubrock as a major new player worthy of extra attention, and is a testament to the creative diversity of the Downtown scene and Clean Feed's efforts to document it.
–Troy Collins


Charles Dodge
A Retrospective (1977-2000)
New World 80701-2

Charles Dodge’s music was never stunted by the limited sounds computers could generate in the 1970s, an inventory that lent itself more to the brusque than the beautiful. His innate sense of musicality extended to texts, as well. In Cascando, the early ‘60s Samuel Beckett radio play Dodge realized in ’77, the composer heard snippets of melody in lines that could easily be read in a flat monotone. The half-hour interpretation that opens this cross-section of Dodge’s work uses unprocessed and synthesized speech, as well as a battery of sounds that bear no resemblance to speech. While the bulk of Dodge’s sounds were coarse and blunt, there is a fugue-like quality to “Cascando,” a delicate weave of text-based rhythms. It’s also works as Beckett. While it is markedly less severe than expected, it is stentorian compared to “Fades, Dissolves .Fizzles.” Dodge’s palette is the opposite of the Beckett piece on this 1995 piece; the pianistic materials are conveyed with sounds that evoke music boxes, gamelans and warped cassettes of ice cream trucks. The sounds are a bit frothy, but not the material. The keyboarding presumably needed to realize the piece hints at Doidge’s ability to meld computer-generated sounds with acoustic instruments, which is fully developed on last year’s “Violin Variations” for violin and computer. The four variations have more distinctly American flavors than the retrospective’s other works, especially n the piece’s sparsest passages and in its dance rhythms. Violinist Baird Dodge (the composer’s son) has the right touch throughout out the piece, whether the issue at hand is making a long tone hover in space or making a pizzicato figure step lively. “Violin Variations” provides a strong end to an engaging, if somewhat cursory survey of Dodge’s music.
–Bill Shoemaker

Toon DIST - Dutch Creative and Improvised Music Promotion

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