Tagged: free jazz

Planet X will Destroy Earth

Sun Ra / Merzbow
Strange City
UK COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR228CD (2016)

A pretty overpowering blast here from Masami Akita as he applies his “remix” and noise skills to the music of Sun Ra. I’m really not sure if I like it or not. I’ve been enjoying the music of the Sun Ra Arkestra from a long time now, and it’s encouraging (though slightly bewildering) to find how his music has somehow become fashionable, especially with younger broad-minded listeners, after being despised or ignored by many jazz purists during the man’s lifetime. And of course we’ve also supported Merzbow as the supremo Rolls-Royce maestro of precision noise pretty much since we started this magazine, and Jennifer Hor is one who has enthusiastically stepped up to sing his praises in the noise arena. Today though we’re dealing with one of those post-modern hybrid experiments, informed by a reckless try-anything spirit that delights in forming melds and mergers between incompatible genres, perhaps in the name of breaking down barriers and broadening the taste horizons of a thousand young polymorphous listeners. Although since those same listeners now have such a glut of music to enjoy, perhaps this kind of excessive noise-jazz chimera is the only way we can get their attention, or just make ourselves feel anything.

It’s not exactly a collaboration between Merzbow and Sun Ra. When Merzbow collaborated with Richard Pinhas or Genesis P. Orridge, he teamed up with a living musician and they made sounds together, often live and in real time. This particular release is more like a collaboration with Irwin Chusid, who licensed tracks from the Sun Ra archive for Merzbow’s remixing purposes; Justin Mitchell of Cold Spring Records may have been involved in the negotiation process to get the tapes into Masima’s mitts. I may be splitting hairs, but Merzbow is working exclusively with recorded music for this one; members of the current Arkestra have not been personally involved, as far as I can make out. Were they even asked about the project? As to the provenance of the source materials, this isn’t crystal clear; some say it’s derived from Strange Strings and The Magic City, hence the album title which merges them into a single line. But the press release states “rare and unreleased tracks” were involved. Strange Strings and The Magic City may be rare records, but they were not unreleased.

On the CD I have in front of me, there are two long cuts over 30 mins each – ‘Livid Sun Loop’ and ‘Granular Jazz Part 2’ are fantastic titles, and remind us that Merzbow has kick-started (or put the boot in to) free jazz records before, such as on the groovy record Door Open At 8 AM from 1999, which sampled Tony Williams Lifetime and John Coltrane. ‘Livid Sun Loop’ could almost be a Sun Ra title, but it’s two-thirds Masami Akita; you know how much he loves to refer to his method (looping) and to the use of excessive adjectives to make the music even more threatening than it already is. ‘Livid Sun Loop’ sounds like something from outer space that would give you an incurable disease, an unstoppable cancer that changes the colour of your skin to a mottled grey. That may be the idea. The music he wreaks on this track has the same relentless quality of an invasive disease. I suppose you could say he’s captured the energy of the Arkestra, and perhaps hinted at the sheer weirdness of Sun Ra himself. But whatever free jazz has survived is buried in a thick wodge of noise, much like diamonds in clay. Admittedly, fragments of Arkestra music are recognisable in the few gaps of breathing space that are left us, but here again it’s two-thirds Masami Akita, as he occupies and colonises every available inch of the ether. Sun Ra Arkestra horns, strings, and piano fragments leak out in among modern, digitally-crunched, metallic harsh noise; the jazz parts feel like ancient archaeological fragments, barely daring to assert their significance in today’s uncaring world.

And yet, I found myself enjoying the futuristic electronic swoops that Merzbow belches out of his follicles so effortlessly, and wondering to myself if these noises didn’t count as an authentic update on the outer-space, space-travel, sci-fi themes that Sun Ra made his very own. In places, ‘Livid Sun Loop’ could take its place among the strangest recordings in the Ra discography, including Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy. I have no doubt that Merzbow has heard and loved every known Sun Ra recording, and more besides. On the other hand, he clearly has no desire to replicate the subtlety and ellipsis of the 1960s work, nor any interest in leaving gaps in the continuous tidal wave of noise. I also miss the percussion, which was one of the group’s strongest skill-sets; I think a few precious moments of Arkestra drumming may surface, but not much. However, Merzbow (who used to be a drummer) knows about rhythm, and it’s not too far-out to think he’s set Sun Ra music to a complex, intense and multi-layered beat, and it will take us several spins to truly get to the groove.

‘Granular Jazz Part 2’ is even more overwhelming, rushing past at such high speeds and overlaid with so much debris that eventually it becomes a blur; I’m unable to make out any Sun Ra presence in this tornado, but his serene figure may be sitting somewhere in the epicentre of the storm. It’s like Metal Machine Music on speed; buried melodies and pulsing rhythms thrashing it out against non-musical feedback and electronic swoops. The entire El Saturn catalogue overlaid with itself like some multiple-exposure movie. Masami Akita may see free jazz as an all-out explosion of wild, inchoate energy; that’s certainly what comes across on this spin.

If you enjoy this and find yourself hungry for more, you need to buy the vinyl edition as well as the CD; though the covers are the same, the contents are completely different, and only by buying the black or yellow vinyl edition will you hear the other three parts of ‘Granular Jazz’. Beautiful cover art is by Abby Helasdottir. From 17 October 2016.

Annoyed Hibernation

Christoph Erb / Frantz Loriot
Sceneries
PORTUGAL CREATIVE SOURCES CS356 CD (2016)

Creative Sources is a super-prolific label; due, possibly, to its founder, Ernesto Rodrigues’ curation policy of literally going into partnership with the artists on each release. It’s an interesting list of artists on their website, too. The names immediately popping out on the front page are Lawrence Casserley, Hannah Marshall and Axel Dörner and all in collaboration with other European players. Already there may be up to fifty further titles available since this item was published. This particular title is a cracking disc of free-playing, in which Messrs Erb and Loriot set up an environment of high anxiety, tension and disquiet. Sceneries is full of strident events, sudden dips in weight; as if the ground were suddenly falling away under your feet, cacophonic interludes, disconcerting melodic information appearing from the shadows like Victorian ectoplasm, only to mysteriously disappear again moments later. This is achieved with the most modest of means – Christoph Erb plays tenor and soprano saxophones, while Franz Loriot pushes himself to his limits on viola. Erb founded the Veto Records imprint, through which he has released his collaborations with other improvisors such as Fred Lonberg-Holm, Michael Zerang, Jason Roebke, Frank Rosaly, Jim Baker, Keefe Jackson, Tomeka Reid and Jason Adasiewicz. Frantz Loriot works with “acoustic &/or electric viola + preparations + fx set + tapes” in groupings such as Der Verboten, Notebook Large Ensemble and Systematic Distortion Orchestra, as well as in duos with percussionist Christian Wolfarth, and clarinettist Jeremiah Cymerman, plus other loose groupings involving Christian Weber, Christian Kobi, Theresa Wong, Pascal Niggenkemper and others.

There are five separate tracks, recorded by Daniel Wehrlin in May 2015 at a venue in what appears to be a housing co-operative in Kriens, Switzerland called Teigi Fabrik. Great interplay between the two musicians and along with moments of risk-taking there is that feeling that you only get when seasoned and experienced practitioners are in the room. What is immediately obvious is these two chaps have drilled so deep into their respective instruments that initially, it is hard to square what you’re hearing with the instrumentation they use. In an inspired move, on the second track, “Floating In A Tempest”, Christoph Erb physically moves away from the recording microphones and we hear the acoustic reverberation of the space they are using. At the end of “Annoyed Hibernation”, I imagine that Loriot’s viola is making a noise closer to that of the desperate swallows of someone drowning than any sound I’ve heard produced by that instrument before. Judging only by images on Loriot’s own website, I would suggest that he may amplify his viola as part of his technique, but this is not stated in the sleevenotes, so it may not be the case here.

To be more general, this is an area where, in the loosest sense of the terms perhaps, free jazz overlaps with electro-acoustic improvisation. The production is crisp and clear which affords us an unblinkered view of this sonic whole. The Alexander Calder-esque, or Pop Art-reminiscent sleeve design is by Carlos Santos. One of the best jazz/improv records I’ve heard in a long while – strongly recommended.

Library Of Liberties

Some Some Unicorn are a small army of free improvisers, and on Unicornucopia (CLUTTER MUSIC CM023) I counted at least 40 names before I ran out of fingers and had to buy a new abacus. It’s a pretty healthy gender balance, too; a lot of women musicians in the group. Shaun Blezard is the mover and shaker that’s mustered this army, a fellow whose background is electronica, samplers, laptop and dance music, so it’s interesting to find him masterminding this project involving real human beings instead of machines, and music that’s mostly produced by acoustic instruments. That said, there are a large number of players credited with electronics on this record too.

Some Some Unicorn started online as a collaborative thing; now they see themselves as a collective, or even a small community, of like-minded souls who value real experience over dwelling in the virtual realms of Facebook likes and Twitter responses. The music here was recorded in a number of venues through 2016, in Salford, London, Lancaster and Ulverston; Blezard did a lot of the recording, and mixed and mastered the release itself. I’m already daunted; I feel like these 40+ energised souls have a lot of material in the pipeline, and this diffuse and sprawling record represents only a smattering of the things they are capable of doing. It would be a bold man indeed who would try and categorise the music on offer, since it’s so diverse; although you may think you can recognise elements of “traditional” free improvised music here in the free sax and trumpet blowing, there’s also drone, choral music, percussive meditational tunes like some form of souped-up Tibetan bowl music, classical chamber music, and even a species of folk tunes. Quite often, three or four of these styles and genres are blended freely on the same track, the musicians doing so in an entirely unselfconscious manner. It’s not a forced mash-up, more a natural melding of forms and expressions.

Even though not everyone is present on each track, it’s still impressive to get this many people together and not end up with a muddy, shapeless cacophony. Indeed, the simple clarity and directness of the music is one of the hallmarks of Some Some Unicorn; without trying too hard or over-intellectualising the idea of “freedom”, they’ve ended up creating music that’s arguably more free than many well-known hardcore improvisers can manage. There’s a real open-endedness to this music which invites the listener to enter and join in, rather than shut them out; and the players themselves are clearly enjoying making their explorations, which take place in a very friendly and collaborative place. That’s rare. But real unicorns are rare too. One of the benchmarks we’re reminded of is the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, which is a very apt comparison, and in particular I would suggest those voice-choir experiments John Stevens conducted in the early 1970s, such as For You To Share (which featured untrained members of the audience joining in). I’m also reminded of Cornelius Cardew and The Great Learning, though thankfully this album Unicornucopia is entirely free from Marxist and Maoist dogma of any sort, nor does it follow the wearisome and stultifying trajectory of Cardew’s old warhorse of a piece.

While some of the wordless vocalising may seem a little “arty” in places, for the most part this beautiful record is a total delight, injecting new life into a genre which has lately seemed in danger of becoming stultified and crippled by its own history and baggage. Mr Blezard, and all the musicians named on this record, can feel proud of this achievement. From 23rd September 2016.

Ossuary Dub

Finding much to enjoy on this 2016 reissue of the third Painkiller album Execution Ground (KR025) from 1994, appearing as a double vinyl LP from Karlrecords in Germany. The trio of John Zorn, Bill Laswell and Mick Harris make a crazed and maximal noise full of things we tend to like, such as manic sax screams, heavy bass, remorseless rhythms, and plenty of lush studio effects such as reverb and echo. It’s much to my chagrin that I never bought their records at the time, but I intend to make good and investigate Guts of a Virgin and Buried Secrets as soon as possible. The structure of the original release was to pile on the crazy rock-friendly rhythmic stuff on the first disc, and then reserve disc two for the “ambient” mixes. Even so the second disc is every bit as menacing as the first, and the listener lives in fear for their life for most of the duration of Execution Ground.

I see the track titles make reference to Balachaturdasi and Pashupatinath, both of which terms are associated with Hindu and Buddhist rituals, a nod in the direction of esoterica which I tend to attribute to Zorn, especially with some of his later Tzadik releases when there appeared to be no gnostic subject at which he wouldn’t have a tilt, or at least profess an interest. This strain is conspicuously absent from the first two Painkiller records, which came out on the Earache label (a home to extreme speed metal, most notoriously Mick Harris’ original band Napalm Death) and whose track titles wallowed in gore, death, and other tasty taboo subjects. On the other hand, the image on the labels of a hanged man surrounded by a mod in a grisly fog will more than compensate and put the listener in a suitably morbid frame of mind.

While I’m not the world’s most loyal fan of John Zorn’s music, I find his crazy squeals make a tremendous amount of sense in this context, the studio effects improve his sound, and there may even be some edits which demonstrate he wasn’t wedded to the conventional jazz idea of recording a solo in its entirety. It wasn’t too long before this that he made the Spy Vs Spy LP, which drew musical connections between extreme hardcore and the free jazz of Ornette Coleman; clearly a stepping stone on the way to working with Harris. Laswell is probably known to most readers of these lines, and his profligacy in recorded and performed music since the 1980s is – erm – remarkable; as one example of his genre-straddling capabilities, the press notes remind us of his Last Exit project with Peter Brötzmann, Sonny Sharrock and Ronald Shannon Jackson. One of many melting-pots where improv, free jazz, rock noise and funk exchanged their sinewy vibes in a sweaty, punchy mix. The parallels with Painkiller are evident, and if you enjoy wild free-jazz skronks on top of ultra-heavy bass rhythms, this is indispensable listening.

That particular blend of sound, which we could reduce to the simple equation “rock noise with wild sax noise”, immediately made me think of Otomo’s Ground Zero. Both bands seem to have started about the same time, and the possibilities of cross-infection are interesting to speculate on, although Otomo’s band went much further down the road of layering in intense cut-ups and samples from pop culture, before the band imploded from sheer exhaustion. Also note that their Null & Void album came out on Tzadik in 1995. That same year, the year after Execution Ground came out, we had Techno Animal and the first Macro Dub Infection record, where Kevin Martin and his friends carved out a further niche down this road, laying more emphasis on the dub mixing technique, but not neglecting the fine juicy noise. I suppose Painkiller were one of the monumental milestones that opened up this route of musical experimentation. Very good. From 12th August 2016.

Packing Heat

Large Unit
Ana
NORWAY PNL RECORDS PNL033 CD (2016)

Naming your band ‘Large Unit’ invites so many opportunities for ribaldry – especially when it packs as much heat as this one does. However as one of Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s countless musical projects, it channels a fair amount of collective libido into a life-affirming orgy of self-immolating celebration – on this occasion at the collision point between Brötzmann-isch Fur-opean free jazz and loose-hipped Latinism; sparking new fires every time the Norse juggernaut spends its force in one direction. Between the Brazilian interludes, the ‘Unit’s brass and percussion loom large. The band is a disciplined, if somewhat autistic marching band given to fits of unbridled skronk just when everything seems to be coming together.

This recording took place as a serendipitous victory lap, following a particularly well-received performance at the Oslo Jazz Festival in 2015, at which point the 12-man line up absorbed two Brazilian musicians (percussionists Paulinho Bicolor and Celio de Carvalho) and took to the studio for a night of mayhem. The result is a set of three substantial servings of muscular, samba-flavoured phrases in jazz, assembled and dismantled in a gleeful, Ayler-esque manner and receding altogether at regular intervals while the guests to say their piece. The sudden recruitment works to mutual benefit: a kind of Eros-Thanatos dichotomy forming in the Euro-Latin alliance; the European monsters showing the balmy Brazilians due deference; ears cocked to their traditional sounds while they collect their energies.

Helter Skelter opener, ‘Ana’ wastes little time into shattering its structural confines: building steam in simple, tonal phrases raised to fever pitch; suddenly gushing forth in molten brass, disintegrating into quivering atoms and reassembling with greater resolve. The main motif is passed from musician to musician throughout and handled with no small interest; one no doubt facilitated by the smooth sounds of the Brazilians, whose playing is largely ring-fenced and assiduously attended to at break time. ‘Riofun’ is perhaps the most challenging of the three, reaching an exhausting thirty minutes, during which dammed energy seeps, surges and reaches undramatic hiatus with some regularity (a strategy reviewed in the final track), with meandering jazz solos taking up more space than slinky Brazilianisms.

However, even if inconsistently maintained, the dynamic is effectively framed by the berimbau opening – the kind of music used to fan the flames of combat during Capoeira matches, where the constantly moving martial artists circle one other in perpetual, pendular motion: feinting, surveying and dodging one another in acrobatic acts of parry and thrust. It’s hardly surprising then that the players like a little downtime here and there. ‘Circle In The Round’ takes perhaps the longest to stoke its fires, the heavy bass section moving the mass forward inch by inch while trumpets flutter above. But when it goes it absolutely surges forth like a river bursting its banks: locomotive rhythm section (including tuba) propelling rasping, burbling brass until – as if infused with the Latin spirit of cohesion – the band’s errant, destructive power is at once subsumed into an expression of collective harmony.

Listeners emboldened by claims that ‘Nilssen-Love’s connection to Brazil is strong… influenced by Brazilian music he’d hear on records’ and Miles-referencing titles like ‘Circle In The Round’ may be disappointed not to hear the more of the sort of tightly wound ethno-fusion-jazz compositions that Henry Threadgill and Davis have occasioned, though there’s no shortage of infectious mirth nor mayhem at any moment. The music is more of a dialogue between the respective styles – hardly surprising given the spontaneity of the meeting – but I would be interested in hearing the group(s) taking things a step further and actually integrating their respective sounds more deeply into the weft of the music, as well as having all hands on deck at all times.

The Road To Red

redsquare

Red Square
Rare And Lost 70s Recordings
SPAIN MENTAL EXPERIENCE MENT003 LP (2016)

Here’s another excellent item from Mental Experience, the sub-label of Guerssen who also brought us the two reissues of Circle, the lesser-known 1980s post-Krautrock band. Red Square were an English art-rock free-jazz combo who were first active in the 1970s, and had a serious political edge to boot. The name Red Square refers not to the plaza in Moscow, but to the work of the Constructivists painters (especially El Lissitzky), but I’m sure these Marxists found it was a good way to signal their intentions to promoters and organisers alike. Nothing like booking a commie pinko band to play to the radical young students of the day, who wanted some light relief after a hard day occupying the University faculty with their sit-ins and strikes. They also made a grand old racket, as is evidenced by Rare And Lost 70s Recordings, an album which salvages a studio session from 1978 where they played live to create four blistering cuts, and another three recordings from a gig at Lindisfarne Hall the same year.

It’s fairly clear Red Square had at least one foot planted in the rock music enclave, as the guitarist Ian Staples heaves out a delicious heavily-amped swirl of noise, proving he fears neither loud amplifiers nor feedback effects, and makes few concessions to conventions of free jazz (or rock, for that matter). In fine, by 1978 Staples had already evolved himself into an English Sonny Sharrock, which isn’t bad going if you consider that Monkie Pockie-Boo was only 8 years old at this time, and I sincerely doubt if many people in England had even heard that record. Then you’ve got the drummer Roger Telford, who has a fairly relentless attack…I usually don’t care for drumming that attempts to fill in every available space with unnecessary rattles, bangs and triple-notes, but for some reason this maximalism is just perfect here. Manic, excessive drumming appears to be a big part of the Red Square sound. One might even say it’s the lifeblood. If nothing else, Telford’s bass skins do give the band their “bottom end”.

Then there’s the woodwind player, Jon Seagroatt, also a member of Comus and sometime performer with Current 93, who plays bass clarinet and saxophone and may at times seem to be in danger of being wiped out by the guitar noise, but retaliates with everything he’s got in his lungs, heart and liver. While he too may have picked up some of hell-for-leather sensibilities of the all-out free blowing such as you find on the 1969 BYG records, Seagroatt has also somehow evolved his own English take on the genre. There may be anger and fury bubbling under the surface, but whereas Archie Shepp and Clifford Thornton directed their anger against white racism in America, here it’s channelled into an audible Marxist dialectic, laying out a sustained critical argument against the iniquities of society in 1970s UK. At any rate, that’s my take on the matter. I invite the listener to hear for themselves and see if they agree.

All of Red Square’s music carries this particular directed energy, so the music is not just an exercise in “free blowing” or “extended technique”; they were probably young idealists itching for change, and I would suggest they intended to pass on their restless state of mind to the listener, and thereby activate the brains of the audience towards critique, towards questioning. I have often expressed the same view regarding certain Post Punk bands, most notably This Heat. It’ll come as no surprise when you learn Red Square played with Henry Cow, and were part of a movement called Music For Socialism. On the other hand, while I can imagine Chris Cutler personally welcoming Red Square as fellow Marxists, I’m not sure how far they went with participating in the Rock In Opposition thing. For balance, we should also point out they shared bills with other jazz and jazz-rock combos with no discernible political agenda, such as National Health and Lol Coxhill. There’s also some vague allusion in the press notes here to general conflicts which arose in the band’s lifetime: “their extreme sound and attitude were too much for both audience and record companies”, an evasive remark if ever there was. “Too much”? What happened? Were there audience riots? And could you be more specific about why they didn’t get a record deal?

Even if you’ve no interest in politics, which can be a jolly boring subject, the music will energise and amaze you. At their best Red Square created a kind of fierce tidal wave of sound, which was absolutely untrammelled by any tedious conventions such as rhythm, metre, structure, chord changes, or any of that stuff that gets in the way and restricts movement. Yet they did not simply spew out a hideous, self-indulgent racket, and the internal dynamics of this trio must, I assume, be something that these three men alone were capable of creating together. The press notes blither on about how Red Square were pioneers of things that “have become common practice today”, and doing this before Sonic Youth, Last Exit, and contemporary noise combos like The Thing, as though these “common practices” were fixed values and fixed goals, and “getting there first” was the important thing. I take issue with such lazy thinking. Such thinking also assumes that all these bands and musicians are all trying to do the same thing, which might not be correct. I realise we all need these labels like “noise” and “avant jazz” to help us get our bearings, but we shouldn’t trust them to the extent that we fail to listen to the music itself, and appreciate the real differences between things. Music is a living culture, not a map pointing to things we already know. And while I’m prepared to grant pioneer status to any brave musician in history who took risks and followed their instincts, I don’t think it’s helpful to see musical evolution as some sort of race to the finish line or a competition to invent something “new” before everyone else. But there I am criticising the press release, which is a bad way to write.

Red Square existed from 1974 to 1978; apparently they created two private press cassettes at this time, probably for selling at gigs, and as far as we know no “official” records from this period exist until now. However, they reformed in 2008, and albums were released on FMR Records and Fo Fum from this date, including a document of s gig at the Vortex released in 2010. Very happy to hear these fragments of buried treasure from 1978 and this record is highly recommended. From 18th April 2016.

Swift Satellites

urs-leimgruber-alex-huber

Urs Leimgruber / Alex Huber
Lightnings
SWITZERLAND WIDE EAR RECORDS WER018 CD (2015)

This is probably a pretty exciting live recording for fans of saxophone and drums duos, which its press release posits as “A journey through natural tones and tribal music, mixed with free jazz…”. Off-kilter atmospheres hint at deviant electronics initially on the first piece “Swift” briefly, but then the free jazz hits you pretty much immediately with terminal force. As far as “tribal music” goes though, having listened to this album a lot over the past few weeks, I’m not sure I got that memo. Not that it’s important.

Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber has been active since 1983. He has recorded with many others including notable Brits Evan Parker on their 2010 duo long player, Twine, and with Roger Turner on 2012’s The Pancake Tour. Alex Huber is responsible for drums and percussion on Lightnings and is somewhat of a polymath as far as I can ascertain; as well as recording, producing, mixing and mastering this release himself, he also happens to be the co-founder of Wide Ear Records, and is a committee member of WIM Zurich; an organisation which provides a “working space” in the city for improvising musicians. Huber has had the privilege of performing with musicians such as Tristan Honsinger, Achim Kaufmann, Tobias Delius, Matthias Schubert and Christian Weber.

All the pieces presented here have a melodic component; some more than others. “Swift”, “Shaped” and “Resistant” all showcase’s Urs Leimgruber’s hard blowing style while “Resistant” and “Struck” get more into an eastern vibe possibly referencing John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders’ more “spiritual” output. You might see this as a parallel to the UK’s Nat Birchall perhaps, with split tone techniques from Leimgruber, piles of agitated percussion and beaters in place of sticks in Alex Huber’s hands. Birchall’s work is more faithful to the concept; Leimgruber and Huber may have the chops, but I don’t think they feel the music in quite the same way. Their approach on “Struck” is more abstract than “Resistant”; there’s less of the emotionally overblown sax; in fact it sounds like the saxophone is allowed to influence Hubers’ pile of percussion in an interesting way around four minutes in. When “Resistant” ends, it is with a melodic flourish rather than the resolved exploration promised by its beginning. Great as this sounds, after these casual nods to the type of sound-making that is more often found in EAI, by the end Leimgruber has predictably resorted back to a melodic approach and the album as a whole ends just as it began.

Overall, the sound and mood of Lightnings is fairly dry and I might even go as far as to speculate whether Huber’s almost total technical involvement was a good idea. I understand how easily one can become emotionally attached to a project, but sometimes, more than one pair of ears is helpful. Certainly, it is possible for a work to suffer under the stresses of control-freakery or egotism if one person is allowed to dominate too much. I’m not necessarily saying that this is the case here, but I wonder if a third party had been sought for the mastering job at least, the result might have sounded that bit tighter and more powerful.

Bad Uncle John

Dikeman Parker Drake

Dikeman / Parker / Drake
Live At La Resistenza
BELGIUM EL NEGOCITO RECORDS 041 CD (2015)

Cracking date at this venue in Ghent, Belgium; nicely recorded with every gesture and breath crisp and clear. A hard blowing man, that Dikeman, although without the sheer prolonged violence you might expect from the playing of someone like Mette Rasmussen who is my current favourite free jazz saxophonist. I’m being very specific about incuding the term “jazz” here when I talk about “free” playing. Personally I’m more of a “free” free-playing enthusiast; I prefer to listen to John Butcher over Ken Vandermark any day (although as I’m sure you know, Butcher cannily keeps one foot firmly in the jazz realm – a decision which presumably allows him to make an adequate living from performing).

John Butcher was famously quoted as saying he thought all “experimentation” should be kept contained in the rehearsal space rather than displayed for all to see and dissect on stage. I’m not sure that applies in this case. What really excites about this document is the sound of the three musicians trying anything; bouncing ideas off each other and playing in the moment. Having missed them (theirs was the final performance) at Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival in September of 2015, I’m very pleased to hear this and can confirm it is of the highest order as evinced by my friends who did witness them at BAJF. Perhaps not quite as overtly “spiritual” a performance here as the one in Brighton according to more than one report, but in no way lacking the sensitivity, cohesion and group understanding you would expect from practitioners of their standing.

Dikeman claims full ownership of the “compositions” presented here – according to the sleevenotes – which seems a little disingenuous to me, considering the nature of this type of music, but then, not being au fait with the methods necessary in the production of free jazz myself, I am forced to conclude that Dikeman must have brought the most to the table in terms of ideas at rehearsals, I guess. Drake and Parker both have long careers behind them and are historically important musicians, so it would come as a surprise to me to learn that they had minimal input into the material this trio presents. Putting all this detail aside, I would say that if you’re beginning to explore contemporary jazz I would recommend this as a great way in. If you are a part of the current jazz scene, you’ve most likely scored yourself a copy of this already.

Vinyl Seven Glom Part 1

DSC_0001

Three singles from Andy Pyne’s Foolproof Projects label from 18 August 2014. We’ve heard full-length recordings by all these acts…Pyne drums on all of them. Map 71 is Lisa Jayne’s poetry rap set to Pyne’s drumming and synth performances. One of the more unusual offerings from this label. Lisa Jayne usually injects a thrill somewhere between repulsion and alienation with her vaguely alarmist tones, and her sharp voice brooks no nonsense. She always sounds like she’s about to be turfed out of a council flat by the bailiffs, and is set to give ‘em Hell in return. It’s often bothered me how, on their records, Map 71 can’t always get the voice and noise and beats to match up harmoniously, but on PRJ033 it’s not too bad. ‘Standing’ works quite well – if you hear it as a competition between the two fighting for air space in the studio. It’s a thick and heavy noise and the vocalist has to resort to the vocal equivalent of shoving and punching her way to the front. On ‘Specimen’, there’s something more secretive and fragile at stake, and she has to whisper it.

DSC_0002

Aeolipile is a jazz trio featuring the sax blurt of Jason Williams and impolite bass playing of Tom Roberts. We’ve had Mapping The Diaphragms Of Drowning Cats thrown at us in 2015, a quite good energy burst thing. Today it feels like the formula isn’t quite cohering, and the music they play is neither rock nor jazz, even as it flounders about trying to claim the liveliest chunks they can snarf from both genres for their own use. Williams doesn’t have the articulation or subtlety that would mark him out as a notable jazz player, but if you like abrasive sax textures and rude honking smeared on your morning rolls, then this is the cafe for you. Roberts’ bass is amplified, and he comes across as more of an aspiring Hendrix sideman than a performer on Bitches Brew. Two tunes ‘Glut’ and ‘Paused Pregnancy’ manage to roll forwards like a cart with irregular wheels on PRJ035, but the playing feels disorganised and muddled.

DSC_0003

Kellar is the duo of Pyne with guitarist Dan Cross, whose full-length The Even Keel we noted in 2015. Kellar always disappoint me. The combination of FX-ed guitar noise with drumming should be a noise-rock delight, but Dan Cross lacks the stamina and chops to produce anything of value. ‘Sunrise City Flux’ on PRJ034 is a weedy effort, where the FX pedals do nothing to conceal the timid and unadventurous guitar playing, and the duo tread water in a pointless four minutes of tentative dribbling. ‘Exit Via Ocean’ is more acceptable for its chaotic elements and Cross is making a bit more of an effort to push himself over to the wilder side, but they still run out of time before they manage to achieve a healthy ejaculation of noisy spunk. For the real thing, tune in to Rudolph Grey / The Blue Humans, or Ascension.

The Hills Have Eyes

may2016269

Kosmose
Kosmic Music From The Black Country
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR394 2 x CD (2015)

This double-CD release rounds up all known private recordings of Kosmose, a lesser-known Belgian band who made their own form of free-improvised cosmic music in the 1970s. Some of its members may be known to you through later Belgian bands: for instance the keyboard player Alain Neffe and the drummer Guy-Marc Hinant went on to form Pseudo Code in the 1980s, whose work has crossed our path very tangentially; and Neffe went on to create the Insane Music cassette label, home to all sorts of unfathomably strange Belgian art music (often involving his own contributions), by I Scream, Human Flesh, Cortex, Bene Gesserit, and others – and at least 25 volumes of the series Insane Music for Insane People. But before that, there was a band called SIC founded in 1969, just at the dog-end of the hippy culture’s height, which was led by Kosmose’s bass guitarist, Francis Pourcel and the guitarist Daniel Malempré. SIC grew into Kosmose as more members joined, including Alain Neffe, and “attempts at home-made and experimental music” were made in 1971. However, what’s represented here is 11 tracks of free-form trippery from 1974 to 1978, made on an open-reel tape recorder; and most of the music is performed by the core trio of Pourcel, Hinant and Neffe, with occasional guitar solos from Malempré or Paul Kutzner when present; however, Kosmose want to stress they were a collective and had “no specific leader”.

The label proposes this music was consciously influenced by Kosmische Musik from Germany and evolved into “a purely improvised form of noisy free jazz”. I found it heavy going. Despite some moments where the combo manage to lift themselves off the ground, the music trudges and plods where we’d prefer it to soar in the air and glide through outer space. There are superficial resemblances to Gong, Pink Floyd, and Tangerine Dream, which unfortunately only serve to remind us how much better these commercially-successful bands did it. Kosmose’s improvisations are rather dull, staying in the same key for long stretches of time, and the lead instrumentalist generally struggles to find an original or unexpected statement that might lift the band out of their self-made quagmire. The sound of the band has few surprises, too; the guitars, bass and drums sound much the same as many other workaday third-division prog clumpers from the period, and Neffe’s unimaginative use of strings organ and synthesiser routinely fails to provide any excitement to the music. The comparisons to improvisation and free jazz don’t really stand up; there is little evidence that Kosmose understand extended technique, or were aware any of the adventurous ground-breaking work that was done in UK improvisation in the mid-1970s. Terms like “improvised” and “free jazz” are used carelessly these days. The most we can say for Kosmose is that they shared a collaborative form of playing open-ended rock music that didn’t depend on rehearsals or charts or 12-bar boogie.

The “Black Country” of the subtitle refers to Charleroi, a municipality of Belgium where the band originated, and from which they didn’t budge; the dozen or so concerts Kosmose played did not venture outside the Charleroi area. It used to be a thriving city of heavy industry, called the Black Country because of the coal basin, and the workers produced steel, metal and glass; but these industries were starting to fail in the 1970s, leading to economic depression, unemployment and crime in the 1980s and 1990s. The parallels with my own country’s coal industry (and that of others) are sadly all too apparent. However, if members of Kosmose felt any disaffection or political unrest, it’s certainly not reflected in their music, which is solipsistic to the point of being vacuous. None of the tunes have any titles, and they are pretty much vague abstractions, whose central purpose is about the band burrowing into themselves, taking comfort in the warmth of meaningless free noodling. I would say this attitude is clearly shown in the sleeve notes which contain many paragraphs of reminiscences by the band members; but what they talk about is how they rehearsed, played, interacted with each other, speaking of “a silent form of alchemy made its way through our music-playing bodies”, and similar guff. I’d like to learn more about how (if) they assimilated and learned from the music culture of the 1970s, but that is not discussed in much detail; they appear to have absorbed it all by osmosis, and then spent their musical career feeding off each other. They never signed with a label and never had a record released.

Not unpleasant to listen to, nor do I begrudge them two CDs of materials – they clearly needed 18-minute sprawling jam sessions just to get warmed up. But the stunted ambitions of this group don’t make for a rewarding spin. A rather disappointing set of flabby, introspective music by not very distinguished musicians. From 31 December 2015.