Tagged: improvised

Zo Del Ro: a curious and intriguing mix of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv

Mohammad, Zo Rel Do, Antifrost, CD AFRO 2064 (2014)

Mohammad is a Greek trio employing cello, contrabass and electronics to create a curious fusion of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv. “Zo Rel Do” is the first part of a trilogy exploring the music and sounds of the musicians’ homeland and immediate neighbouring areas in western Turkey and parts of Bulgaria and Romania.

We start off with some field recordings dominated by a solo flute melody and conversations that might have been recorded in a market-place. These are swept aside by low booming scrapey string instruments, deep and rhythmic, with a very minimalist melody loop: the music is a bit like an acoustic doom folk version of Sunn0))) at times. A scratchy spitting drone accompanies the raw and sonorous dirge-like march. The track seems very serious and solemn although there are moments when it appears not to be taking itself too seriously and almost parodies itself.

“Kabilar Mace” takes up the repetitive circular structure, applying it to a drunken seesaw melody and torments it with a nagging grinding string accompaniment. The two opposed melodies can be very amusing to listen to as one tune insists on going its own sedate way and the other buzzes around it like a jumpy pooch. The music steadily escalates to an extreme intense and quite deranged level with the odd pause or two to let off steam.

Subsequent tracks stick to the minimalist template of repetition (with variation), building up to an almost hysterical climax, and the sound lurches about clumsily as if in an empty and dark room feeling for the light-switch. One later track gives the impression of nearly falling over in a heap. “Samarina” in particular sounds a bit like the aforementioned hooded ones playing unplugged after having gone on one or two too many benders; this is probably the most memorable track in spite of it not sounding quite as accessible melodically as the others – it does have a certain mournful grace. The album concludes with what could be a barely audible recording of night crickets that might be overlooking a secret nature ritual.

While this is a fairly short recording, “Zo Rel Do” has a massive sound and a clear ambience that emphasises the rough-hewn texture of the music. The mood alternates from bleary-eyed somnambulist slouch to solemn and serious to something suggesting a wry sense of humour at work building up the music to a near-insane, mind-transforming level. Though the music does not vary a great deal, the mood and humour behind it keep this listener transfixed, wondering what surprises these Hellenes might pull out next from within their instruments.

The thought has just occurred to me that Mohammad’s objective is to bring listeners deep into their world of native folk and other influences and to take their audiences right to the edge of infinity by mixing serious solemnity and playful teasing in equal measures. Beyond that edge, we become merged with the fabric of the cosmos itself and are at one with it.

Contact: Antifrost,  Mohammad

Amulet: the deep and the commonplace in mystery ceremony revealed by iPhone recordings

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Oren Ambarchi, Amulet, The Tapeworm, cassette TTW 65 (2014)

Korean director Chanwook Park made a short movie not long ago using a cameraphone so it was only a matter of time before a musician made an album with an iPhone. The surprise is that of all people I can think of who might do it first, Oren Ambarchi should have been the one. (Though he may have been preceded by others and I just haven’t noticed.) This is a really intriguing effort from Ambarchi: it’s an ambient soundscape, sometimes industrial-sounding, that includes what field recordings, whirring cymbals and other percussion or intrusive background noises that he opted to leave in.

In spite of its fairly short length, the recording seems expansive and blackly cavernous. We start with sharp metallic drone and buzz rolling across a huge flat plain in pitch-dark atmosphere on Side A. A rhythm of sorts is established with a loop of mechanical dolly clicks and there are other little noise effects that tinkle and thrum. The work or parts thereof must have been done live as indicated by audience applause somewhere in the middle of Side A of the cassette.

On Side B, the fragments of delicate metallic bell, gong and chime along with a quiet background and the static nature of the music, suggestive of a soundscape snapshot, give the impression of an ongoing mysterious ritual. You end up concentrating so closely that your mind becomes completely entranced and for a brief while you become part of the scene. Whichever side is played, and depending perhaps on the frame of mind you’re in, whether you’re tired and need soothing or you are just curious, the atmosphere can be quite intense and your anticipation of what might come with the drones keeps you hooked. A motor stutter vibration helps to concentrate your mind as well.

Anyone who is familiar with Ambarchi’s activities and the musical company he’s been keeping over the years might see the two sides of the cassette as representing the polar opposites his music has often straddled - Side A is very black and sinister, and Side B is tranquil – and the cassette and vinyl 7″ formats certainly lend themselves to such an interpretation more so than if the music had been released as a mini-CD. So I’d caution TSP readers not to allow a little knowledge about Ambarchi’s history and the choice of music format to influence their listening experience too much.

I don’t know how familiar Ambarchi is with recording music on his iPhone, if this is something very novel for him and if he will continue recording in this way on occasion, so I’m prepared to give him some leeway with the loose free-form structure of the music. The editing in parts can be crude – that audience applause cuts out very sharply – and any beginnings and endings are determined by the cassette format and the length of the tape. Had the musician and the label thought of the idea at the time, this music might suit a Moebius-trip cassette format, to be played continuously according to the whim of the listener.

Savage Pencil provides the odd(eye)ball cover artwork which plays up the voyeuristic role that the listener is forced into, in listening to this music that might serve as accompaniment to a secret ritual or ceremony. Whether the ceremony is a long drawn-out process involving animal sacrifices or just one’s bed-time routine being read to by a preschooler eager to show off by making up stories about a moon-worshipping rabbit family s/he sees in the picture-book, “Amulet” will be an ideal mystery backdrop. There’s something of the profound and the commonplace in these recordings.

Contact: The Tapeworm 

The Loving Tongue

JULY191

Here’s the latest outburst of mean-spirited evil acoustic gittarring hoodoo from Bill Orcutt, the guitarist from Harry Pussy who caused such a stir when he resurfaced from a long silence armed with an acoustic guitar so fierce that you could hear the very grain of the wood when he played it in his angry, restless and atonal way. On A History Of Every One (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 173) the ferocity that I seem to recall from 2009′s A New Way To Pay Old Debts may have mollified by one or two degrees, allowing us better to concentrate on Orcutt’s curious approach where he mixes primitive blues/country idioms with a very strong bent on modernistic free improvisation, so that he continues to comes across as a more forceful and grumpier version of John Fahey inhabited by a ghostly variant of Sonny Sharrock with thin reedy fingers clutching the neck like a lifeline. The sensation of hearing many poltergeists channelled through a single physical entity is reinforced by Orcutt’s eerie vocalisings on this record, which aren’t really singing so much as the sort of weird wailing that most great jazz pianists use, in what I had always assumed was a sort of guide-track to keep their keys in tune with the melody and their body in time with the swing. If you scope the back cover of this release you’ll see a clutch of titles that reflect either an appreciation of primitive swamp blues (‘Black Snake Moan’, ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’, ‘Massa’s in the Cold Cold Ground’) or allude to standards from the American songbook of Grade-A schmaltz, including ‘White Christmas’, ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’ and ‘Zip A Dee Doo Dah’ 1. And ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ may be intended as another nod in Fahey’s direction, viz. Fare Forward Voyagers or any of his works which hinted at his love-hate relationship with the Christian faith. However, as you will hear when he plays these tunes, they are by no means cover versions that remain faithful to their sources, and that’s putting it mildly, nor do they dwell in any known blues modes for more than five seconds at a time. While we’re looking at the cover, note how stark and unadorned it be with its sans-serif fonts and no images. Orcutt’s White Album, without a doubt. From October 2013.

JULY192

Another strong record from the Norwegian trio Cakewalk who we last heard with their 2012 debut album Wired; they use synths, guitars, bass and drums to produce excellent improvised instrumental work, situated somewhere more or less in the area of avant-garde rock music, but enriched with plenty of ideas, innovation, and just sheer tough-mindedness driving every note, plus a great approach to making records that ensures clarity, depth, and a straight left to the jaw for every listener. Stephan Meidell, Øystein Skar and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad work hard to escape cliché and over-familiar sounds, and they can be quite indignant if ever challenged about their supposed “resemblance” to any given band or genre of music: “chances are we’ve never listened to them”, they assert, when presented with a music journalist’s review studded with lists of references. For the most part, Transfixed (HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2526) has a sombre and heavy approach in the performances which I would liken to holding a conversation with a troupe of heavy-set tattooed wrestlers who have somehow been awarded professorial chairs at a school of advanced study, and who now hold no truck with dissenters as they lecture from the podium on their chosen subjects with gravity and authority. This is especially true of the relentless chugging motion of ‘Ghosts’, a piece of music whose stern aspect is only slightly leavened by a surface of decorative electronic trills used about as sparingly as silver balls on a miser’s birthday cake; and the controlled hysteria of ‘Swarm’, which could be used to provoke a riot in any given crowded situation, for example the New York stock exchange floor. ‘Bells’ is trying a shade too hard to be more likeable, and in places could be mistaken for a media-friendly arthouse movie soundtrack, and ‘Dive’ is a misguided attempt to do the ‘bleak ambient’ thing, which this trio are not suited for; they’re just too loquacious for effective minimalism. But the remainder, ‘Dunes’ and especially the dour title track, deliver just the right tone of steely menace, all set to a thrilling rock beat. From 07 October 2013.

  1. That last title is its own double-edged sword; it famously appeared in Disney’s Song of the South, the kitschy 1946 movie which has since been frowned upon, for what are now perceived as racist themes.

Analogue Karma

Full marks to this gargantuan double CD set of remastered rare tracks from latterday industrial-mode doomoids Maeror Tri. I only ever heard them on a seven-inch split they made with Crawl Unit in 2000, which represents but the merest sliver of the back catalogue of these gloomy droning Germans who did everything with masses of diabolical guitars and effects pedals. Meditamentum (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 046-2 / NEW NIHILISM NN X) is itself a compilation of Meditamentum and Meditamentum II, released in 1994 and 1999 respectively, and it gives the listener a rich slew of material originally released on cassettes in the 1990s (mostly). Any clown who’s ever formed a “Cold Depressive Black Metal” tape in their bedroom in the last fifteen years pretty much owes everything to Maeror Tri, who prove themselves past masters of the atmospheric, oppressive and miserablist drone. More than that, they did it with real authority and the weight of conviction behind every flanged note they struck from their filthy black Telecasters, plus there’s a lot of variety and texture in their multiple approaches to music construction. I’d say there are enough “alternative sonic worlds” in this pack to keep you busily exploring for years. Only the artwork is a bit drab; it would have been nice if the band’s “monad”, composed of three sticks in a triangular form, could have been more prominent. From 03 October 2013.

Syrinx likewise have a tinge of darkness in their Landscapes (QUIET WORLD THIRTY), but it’s tempered with a respect for nature and an outdoorsness that Maeror Tri, locked in their unholy temples of Hermetic insanity, would not dream of. These three Northampton UK lads Baylis, Plenderneith and Saunders blend their instruments into a morass of pullulating frequencies until guitars and synth – if such devices were indeed involved in the making of this record – lose their voices in the collective tones, which ring like ghostly church bells of a gigantic size suspended over impossible landscapes. Solemn almost to the point of grimness, yet a terrifying beauty will emerge in time from these iron sounds.

Can’t get enough synth and drumming records…and some nice moments to savour on Astro Sonic’s Come Closer and I’ll Tell You (HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2530), a Norwegian trio of young men armed with vintage keyboards, percussion instruments, drum machines and a Fender Rhodes piano. They have their lively and playful moments in the middle of this album, with brief but energised tracks where exciting rock-beats joust with some insane and far-out electronic effects, which seem to evoke a spaceship landing in the ocean or some other space-travel event ending badly. Their other main mode is more contemplative, where sweet melodies and pleasant retro sounds noodle away harmlessly in a major key, such as on ‘Orbiter’ or ‘Shoal’. At such moments they might not reach Eno heights, but they come close to Galactic Explorers or one of those other Toby Robinson studio bands from the 1970s Pyramid label. From 07 October 2013.

I’m now a firm fan of Noteherder & McCloud, the English duo of Parfitt and Reader who do such naughty things with saxophone and electronics, often blamming it out in real time without any cissy stuff like retakes, overdubs or “processing”. All of that rawness can be thine on the exceedingly impolite South Coast Lines (EXOTIC PLYLON RECORDS EP14) mini-CD, the first thing we heard since their The Bottle Loose In The Drawer earlier this year. On this occasion it seems that traffic sound – specifically that of roaring cars and maybe even trains – is contributing to the overall din on record, and the duo have to work like demons to make themselves felt above the general clamour. As such the whole record breathes a city-dwelling urgency which appeals to me enormously. This is the way saxophone and electronics should be – dirty, inchoate, noisy. From October 2013.

Astonishing guitar work from Mike Cooper on Right (H)ear Side by Side (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR043), and we should expect no less from this English veteran prodigy of guitar manipulation who has played on a large number of records from the early 1970s onwards, not all of them “free improvisation” even, yet is rarely mentioned in same breath as Derek Bailey. He’s joined by Yan-Chiu Leung on the sheng and the music was recorded at a 2013 festival in Hong Kong. On ‘Hong Kong 1’ Cooper plays a variety of styles – atonal free improvisation into blues-based riffing and out again – before settling into an eerie textured drone with throbbing pulsations as if trying to recreate a slew of Tangerine Dream LPs with a single set-up, which includes a resophonic guitar, a sampler, a delay pedal, a fuzz box and something called the Kaos Pad. Further blues mannerisms surface on ‘Hong Kong 3’ along with a distressed harmonica, in a minimalist oriental-style portrait of bleakness where the bittersweet interplay with Leung’s sheng is enough to give a grown man a shivering fit. If that doesn’t satisfy you, the sheer inscrutable bizarreness of ‘Hong Kong 4’ will have you finishing your imported beer, asking the waiter to bring you your bill…and a straitjacket. What dissonant eruptions, what measured yet devastating manipulation of the strings into the X-dimension. An unassuming CDR which contains wild music fit to rank with any of Fred Frith’s 1980s noisier works. From 21 October 2013.

Raw Cello

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The exceptional cello work of Okkyung Lee is well represented on Ghil (IDEOLOGIC ORGAN SOMA012), an album of solo pieces recorded in Norway by Lasse Marhaug in 2012. Although we’ve had some of her earlier records pass this way before – for instance, her duet with Phil Minton Anicca (Dancing Wayang) and her contribution to the four-way improv-noise thing Cold/Burn – this particular release is the one that has really struck home with this listener. I feel we’re getting a raw dose of Okkyung Lee, her ideas and her performance as she would wish, beaming in with zero interference. She’s a well-respected collaborator with some of the Kings and Queens in the improvising world, but perhaps her skills are best appreciated in a solo setting, because she’s doing things on this record that few musicians could possibly keep up with. I don’t just mean the speed of her thinking and execution (although admittedly her fingers do work with the implacable precision of an industrial sewing machine on some tracks), but there’s something about the inventive, wild leaps of logic which her creative spirit has ordained. Down these strange paths a Korean must go, seems to be the motto driving her music, and without doubt she’s skilled enough to execute every command from her inner Colonel Kurtz, no matter how extreme or ludicrous. At one level, there’s just much to enjoy in her sound, which is completely unique – I can think of few acoustic players who have arrived at such a distinctive and out-there sound as Okkyung Lee, where she’s not afraid to stretch the instrument to the limits of possibilities and yet she still somehow remains true to the genuine voice of the cello. There used to be improvising guitarists who hated the guitar so much that they would set out in their playing to undermine the characteristics of what they regarded, in their ideological way, as a “loaded” instrument. Lee has no such agenda. The bold and wild sounds she’s reaching for are necessary, natural, and when heard can tend to show us new possibilities, and expand the mental horizons of the listener.

Then of course there’s her multiple techniques; it would be instructive, I’m sure, to see her playing in the room; conventional classical cellists would faint dead away at the sight, and conductors would be eating their own batons with cream cheese. What is Okkyung Lee doing with her fingers and hands to produce these crazy “tearing” sounds, as though the strings of her cello were like elasticated tendons embedded in the calves of a cadaver, and she’s the surgeon trying to extract them…how does she generate those gorgeous harmonics that vibrate in sympathy and provide subtle drone effects to accompany her intense sawing actions…how does she arrive at this unique twilight area between music and noise, as though she’s a spirit able to exist in the air and the water at the same time..? 1 It’s mightily impressive, but nowhere do I get the sense she’s showing off her advanced techniques for their own sake, and it’s all in the service of beautiful music, somewhat melancholy, complex to the point of neurosis and also utterly simple, blessed with poetic titles such as ‘The Space Beneath my Grey Heart’ or ‘Hollow Water’, alluding to mysterious states of mind and wonders of nature. It remains to mention the sound of the recording on this release, which is simultaneously intimate and vivid yet also slightly limited and with the occasional dying fall, as though the aural perspective were being flattened out. This is deliberate; Marhaug used a 1976 cassette recorder for the sessions, experimented with less-than-conventional microphone placement, and did it in a range of locations around Norway (including some outdoor sites). He explicitly states that he wished to record Okkyung Lee’s music “in an expressionistic way” and likens his decision to using black-and-white photography. Fellow NYC-dweller C. Spencer Yeh provided the cover photograph, and Stephen O’Malley overprinted this image with one of his characteristic grids printed in clear ink. A beautiful LP. Now I need to investigate her 2008 solo LP for Ecstatic Peace…

  1. This takes the cake for the most laboured sentence I’ve ever constructed. Sorry about that.

Tales of the Riverbank

Another very good fine art record from the German Corvo Records label. Corvo may not flood the market with dozens of releases in the style of the all-conquering Editions Mego, but everything touched by the hands of Wendelin Büchler is always immaculately presented and a well-considered and curated item, so that the listener is guaranteed a condensed slice of high-octane art (both music and visuals) in the manner of a good slice of roast beef. In the case of waterkil (CORE 004), a record concocted by the duo of Axel Dörner and Jassem Hindi, said roast beef may at first appear so transparent and wispy such that you wonder how the chef ever managed to carve the meat so thinly, but just the same it’s packed with solid nutriments. Yes, it’s another “quiet” record, the product of a situation where one of the performers Axel Dörner has spent many years refining and reducing his trumpet playing method in pursuit of an ever-more minimalist goal. It seems to me like only yesterday I was being floored by the audacity of Durch Und Durch, a single 40-minute improvisation of breathy and abstracted trumpet tones he recorded with Tony Buck – but that was ten years ago. On this record, which was recorded half at EMS at Stockholm and half in an art gallery in Berlin, we see Axel Dörner V2.0 at work – he’s now equipped his instrument with small microphones, a mixing desk, and a special interface designed according to his wishes and desires. With this very electro-acoustic mode of setup, he’s able to bring in feedback and live sampling of his own trumpet playing – which is to say nothing of his ultra-refined playing technique, which allows him to wring uncanny snake-like tones and hisses from the bell of his trumpet. With the exception of some recognisably trumpet-like parps I can remember hearing, his playing on waterkil is mostly about extremely abstracted and minimalist sound art; I can tell you’re already shocked by the rigour of his stern, unforgiving approach.

However Jassem Hindi leavens the equation somewhat, adding a requisite dose of who-knows-what to these recordings…I don’t say this lightly folks, as this Saudi-born fellow who studied at the Sorbonne has made a studied attempt on his own behalf to make sure he falls between the cracks of the pigeon-holes. He may have worked with samples of other music, he may have created installations in art galleries, and he may have worked with experimental dance troupes…all this is admitted…but he states, quite insistently, that he is not a musician, visual artist, or a dancer. On his performing table we may see contact mics, tapes, assorted broken objects, and machines that are being diverted for the purposes of sound art. He also carries non-artistic field recordings around in his pockets, by which we understand that they are not “aesthetic” field recordings inviting us to savour the joys of a waterfall or a night-scene in Africa, but are instead badly recorded and distorted views of incredibly banal domestic scenes, like families closing the kitchen door, or something. This approach I like; it’s already starting to make Chris Watson and his imitators look like old-fashioned landscape painters. Hindi steers all of these diverse sound sources through the ever-present mixing desk, and when these gobbly nubbets of his are performed together with whatever Axel Dörner is doing, the results have made it onto these two sides of clear-pressed vinyl in an unedited suite of perplexing art music. They’ve been working as a duo since 2008, even if they don’t have many published recordings to show for it. This may even end up as their definitive statement.

It’s suggested that we listen to waterkil as a series of “audible snapshots of a river course”; even a particular river, the Moldau, is proposed for such an exercise. We’re aided in this idea by the superb cover artworks, heavy pencil drawings by the artist Matthias Reinhold. The sleeve itself is triple-gatefold, beautifully printed on both sides of white card, has a die-cut hole in one panel, and given the size of the LP edition the sleeve has every right to be regarded as an art print. I like the interior side with its idiosyncratic little shapes placed judiciously on a white field (it comes close to illustrating the music we hear). But note how the front cover represents a river, possibly, lurking behind a thick growth of brambles and reeds. I like this river-course notion, but waterkil is a largely static piece of music; or to put it another way, its forward movement is very halting and constantly interrupted. No sooner has the river voyage started than Dörner and Hindi decide they’ve found a leak in the canoe, and we have to pause for ten minutes while they think what to do about it. Or they simply pause with no explanation given, and go and stand on the riverbank looking profound and lost. There are a few aural moments of real drama on the record, where the combination of sounds makes for highly effective listening, but for some reason the duo don’t care to sustain that mood, and abruptly break off into mysterious silence (a silence punctuated by odd hisses and creaks). However, we’ve got to admire the boldness of this statement, one which shows how Dörner is pushing his work away from the confines of the “improvised” and into a more thrilling zone of collaborative, electro-acoustic / experimental sound art. Hindi, meanwhile, continues to fall through the cracks. Received in 2012.

A Letter to Krohn

Krohn Jestram Lippok
Dear Mister Singing Club
GERMANY DISTILLERY STILL 22 CD (2013)

F.S. Blumm
Up Up And Astray
GERMANY PINGIPUNG 39 CD (2013)

Dan Melchior
The Backward Path
USA NORTHERN SPY RECORDS NSCD028 (2012)

Christian Meaas Svendsen / Christian Winther
W/W
NORWAY VA FONGOOL VAFCD006 2 x CD (2013)

Dear Mister Singing Club,

I don’t know what to do with another singer-songwriter proclaiming over acoustic guitar and muffled, boomy percussion. I mean, I like John Martyn and Nick Drake when I am in the mood, but that was the 70s, and I’m not sure we need any more confession and angst, especially with echoing backing vocals and tricksy sound effects in the mix. I almost laughed when the tuba and glockenspiel – or synthesized versions of them? I don’t know – arrived. The nearest comparison I could come up with was Peter Blegvad or Slapp Happy, but only on a really bad day. Your CD doesn’t come close.

I could recommend you listen to Dan Melchior’s CD, who has the grace to put some quirky and at times moving instrumentals, each titled as a numbered ‘S.P.’, around his songs, but I’d be kidding myself and you. Whilst he thankfully stays away from tubas and glockenspiels, those jokey musical arrangements you seem to like, when he gets to the actual songs, his doom-laden intonation and heavy-handed guitar chords are dull and lifeless. “I have known the emptiness and have tried to love it” he says. I’m sorry for him, but can only hope he learns to stay away from the attempted profundity and focus on the short, intriguing instrumentals.

If I knew where you lived, I might actually send you F.S. Blumm’s CD to listen to. It reminds me of Animals That Swim (without the vocals), or perhaps Tindersticks, both bands who use arrangement and composition to exquisite effect. I mentioned Slapp Happy earlier, and there are touches of them, as well as other European Rock in Opposition bands here. This is sunny, happy contemporary chamber music, which gently subverts itself with odd dynamics, instrumental combinations and careful use of sound and dynamics. I like it a lot.

You might also like W / M, a double CD by the two Christians, one of whom plays double bass, one guitar. I take the music to be improvised pieces, and although the sometimes noisy double bass explorations on M are intriguing, it is the exquisite guitar album W that deserves your attention. Winther moves from fingerpicked etudes to finger-thrumming abstraction to ruminative introversion, occasionally with Svendsen guesting on double bass. (He returns the favour on some of Svendsen’s tracks.)

I’d like to hear you forget about emoting and expressing yourself, and paying this kind of attention to your music, but then I guess you’d have to call your CD Dear Mister Guitar Club, which isn’t quite the same.

Best wishes

Rupert Loydell

A Horse with No Name

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On Asto Ilunno (IDEALSTATE RECORDINGS ISR1-13) we’ve got a single piece of improvised sound art which lasts some thirty teeth-grinding minutes, delivered by the capable mitts and shovels and Miguel A García, Tomas Gris and Lee Noyes, the latter of whom released the item on his own idealstate recordings label in Goteborg. I’m always drawn to anything where my favourite abrasive Spaniard García is involved, but Noyes is a new name to me, so I looked up his dossier. This Canadian-born fellow has spent a chunk of time in New Zealand before moving his base of operations to Sweden, and he’s a firm believer in the collaborative and co-operative ideals of improvisation, priding himself on his listening and communication skills, while exploring the sound potential of percussion, feedback, and the piano, which is what he plays here. Asto Illuno is one of those exploratory improvisations that seems to take a long time to get started – there are some eight minutes of barely-audible fizz and rattle before the players feel comfortable enough to commit themselves to anything more than stalking around each other like lions in a cage – but thereafter it’s a topnotch example of hypnotic, distilled free noise operating in a carefully-controlled, almost rigid environment. García belches out polite chunks of crackle from his electronics set up, Gris performs peculiar and nameless actions on his table of objects, while Noyes punctuates the floating atmosphere with well-judged blocks of minimal chords struck from his dampened keyboard. Indeed it’s Noyes’ piano trills and stabs which stand out for me on this record, occupying their space in the ether with a clarity and starkness that’s akin to the voice of a tall Presbyterian preacher delivering a sermon from the pulpit in stern and clipped tones. I never thought I’d hear anyone defeat the mighty García in an improv standoff, but Noyes succeeds here in putting all that undisciplined scrabbling and doodling in its place with just a few seconds of his coldly ethical piano work, damping down the Spanish fire with his jets of ice water. In all, a near-ceremonial trance experience emanates from this steely and grim session, an impression which is bolstered by the bizarre shrine drawing on the front cover decorated with skulls, zombie heads, snakes, and quasi-Masonic symbols. This was provided by our good friend Nick Hoffman of Pilgrim Talk. A real grower…from 10 October 2013.

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Linear Obsessional Recordings continues to produce CDRs of improv music produced in England which are quite often very extreme and testing in terms of their sound, and exist in very small editions with hand-made packaging. The three-track EP by The Horse Trio, Pesade to the Left (LOR039H), is in an edition of just 30 copies. Here the label boss Richard Sanderson plays his melodeon (a squeezebox related to the accordion family) with Hutch Demouilpied and Sue Lynch, for three decidedly modest workouts, all of them rather quiet and unobtrusive. I think I’m getting this impression mostly from the sound of this short album, which is very flat and dry, allowing for little in the way of natural resonance. Even the tiny photo of the trio inserted in my copy makes them appear somehow cramped, their music painted into a muffled corner, as though they were trying to defend the ideals of improvised music in a tiny school gym while the rest of the world has become one gigantic amphitheatre for manufactured pop bands. I assume this is a deliberate strategy and they’re aiming to present their work in as natural and untreated a light as possible, but it may be they’ve gone one step too far down the route of all-out honesty. However, the sustained tones of brass / woodwinds / melodeon do indeed work together in a most pleasing manner, guaranteeing a pleasant 20 minutes with no wild outbursts. One of the pieces, ‘Piaffe’, is their interpretation of a graphical score composed by Carl Bergstrom-Nielson, so presumably the other two are all-improvised. Trumpeter / flautist Hutch Demouilpied is a composer, songwriter, and sound artist from London, and a lot of her work has appeared as soundtracks for small independent films. Saxophonist Sue Lynch may be familiar to some as a member of The Remote Viewers with Adrian Northover, but she’s also worked a lot with Caroline Kraabel and has a pedigree in improv / free playing that goes back to 1983, when she was a member of the agitprop big band The Happy End, the jazz-song troupe who worked hard to oppose Thatcherism. The Horse Trio probably take their name from the Horse Music Improvised Club, which at time of writing meets up every month in a pub on Kennington Road in South London. There’s certainly nothing particularly “horsey” about their music, which is more like being transported on a slow canal barge to Richmond than riding a black stallion over Hampstead Heath. From 21 October 2013.

Dialogue and Discussion

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Keith Rowe / Ilia Belorukov / Kurt Liedwart
Tri
RUSSIA INTONEMA INT011 CD (2014)

As you might expect from Keith Rowe and anyone he plays with, tri is a carefully considered, improvised soundscape that mixes scrapes and scuffles with textural electronics, pauses and almost inaudible details.

As I listen through again this morning, my study window is open, and the birds outside, the distant sounds of the road and the window cleaner’s whistling, have changed the music again: the treated guitar sounds like distant thunder, contact-mic sounds like the wind pushing a storm away. Then something buzzcuts across, something rings like a distant phone, and the scene changes again.

Drones underpin much of this musical exploration, holding the noises together as a composition, one which ebbs and flows, regroups and splinters, time and time again. There is perhaps little unexpected going on here – musicians have been improvising this way for 40 or 50 years now, but Rowe and his colleagues on both long tracks here offer some of the best work in the field: tri is an enchanting, focussed example of abstract dialogue and discussion as composition in the moment.

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Ilia Belorukov
Tomsk, 2012 04 20 [Live]
RUSSIA INTONEMA INT005 / AKT-PRODUKT AP10 CD (2013)

Solo, Ilia Belorukov’s saxophone recorded live – the sleeve note says with ‘preparations’, whatever that means – is a noisier, looser affair. The first part sounds like wind in a tunnel, treated and amplified breathing made into endless cyclical wooshing drones, which the second’s sustained blown notes initially come as some relief from, although the slight shifts and repetition soon become tiresome. The third part is more textural to begin with, utilising more abstract sounds in the mix, before high skittering notes arrive, developing through a kind of electronic ping-pong section into a shriller solo with barking bass undertones. This lower end exploration gradually unfolds into a slower, more sonorous, Braxton-esque solo which, with its use of some kind of echo or delay, works as a stunning conclusion. The ghost of Evan Parker and other giants of improvisation can’t help but hover in the wings here, but Belorukov makes his own mark in a flurry of fragmented melodies and cascading tones.

Where Belorukov is perhaps most interesting is the way he moves from minimal, more abstract soundscape to solo saxophone improvisation within a more established field, musical genres which to some extent have diverged and separated over the years rather than engaged. As a CD, tri is more convincing, more focussed and engaged, but Tomsk… is perhaps more surprising and challenging, though I think Belorukov’s real strength is working with the saxophone rather than around it.

Intonema, a new label to me, produce exquisitely designed gatefold card CDs, with recording and artist information included on neat little card inserts housed in one half of the cover, the CD in the other. These are accessed by the neat trick of a shaped cutout across the inner card edges – perhaps in the shape of a person.

Lana For Sale

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Tune in to Lana Trio for a taste of hot and lively free jazz played in the Norwegian style by said trio on their self-titled album (VA FONGOOL VAFCD008). You recall of course that trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø was mentioned on the duty roster just recently as one third of As Deafness Increases, whose album was by coincidence released on same label – he’s playing a far less abstract mode of brassy mublement on this outing and where possible giving human / animal voice to that ungainly lump of metal with its obscene sliding component, thus joining the ranks of thousands of jazz players who transform trumpet, trombone or tuba into extension of their conversational language. Nørstebø’s parps and slobbers are pretty upfront on most cuts – so far, so engaging.

However secret weapon of this trio for me is Kjetil Jerve, the pianist, who’s clearly made such a close study of Cecil Taylor’s work that he practically breathes the DNA of that Afro-American titan through his own Nordic fingertips. You’d do the same if you took a copy of Indent between the sheets every night for your bedtime reading. Said Jerve is more knife than pianist; he weaves intricate and deft patterns in seemingly indefatigable style, his digital muscles never tiring for an instant, and while I’d be first in line at the record shop the day his solo piano album hits the racks, for time being I’ll make do with the second track here which showcases a complex thread of intelligent keyboard tickling that’s so intense that all Nørstebø can do is moan gently in appreciation. There’s also ingenious dynamics at play on track four ‘03.07’, where Jerve inserts short trills, runs and atonal fugues into a taut, wiry framework, with the skill of a vendetta-seeking Italian wielding his stiletto. I’m not enough of a musicologist to know, but I think Jerve is cunningly deconstructing chords according to his own rules, then drip-feeding the information back to us in reordered fragments.

Other standouts: track 5, ‘06:39’, which is more about atonal noise than free jazz and allows the players to get some serious improvised groaning out of their systems. Ditto Track 6, ‘04:16’, which strays into “prepared piano” territory by way of Keith Tippett’s experiments using jangly things inserted under the piano lid. Oh, and we mustn’t overlook the drummer Andreas Wildhagen, who is also well-schooled in the Andrew Cyrille / Sunny Murray mould with his free-ranging and agitated pulsations. Like their label-mates As Deafness Increases, Lana Trio have oodles of rapport and simpatico ESP as a group, enabling fruitful sessions. Extra bonus: note brevity of tracks which rein in excess of the type associated with BYG Actuel records, yet does not sacrifice on the high energy front. All round high scoring item. From September 2013.