French jazz pianist Jérémie Ternoy has never quite managed the full 15 lengths with any of the records he’s sent us. In 2013 we heard You Can Dance (If You Want) where his band TOC (piano, guitar and drums) were trying very hard to pull off the jazz-rock fusion thing, with very patchy results. TOC have now joined up with The Compulsive Brass on the record Air Bump (CIRCUM DISC CIDI1601), kind of like when Elton Dean, Mark Charig and others joined the Soft Machine only nowhere near as good, so we have Christian Pruvost on trumpet, Sakina Abdou on alto and soprano saxes, baritone player Jean-Baptiste Rubin and the tuba player Maxime Morel. If you want untrammelled lively squawking which passes for a form of free jazz, then ‘Stomp Out From Jelly’ is the one for you, which I found to be a largely indigestible morass of very soggy pudding spread out over 18 minutes. But I grudgingly admire the way the musicians keep flailing away, hammering at the music until it’s flattened into submission. ‘No Rag For K.’ is slightly less frenetic in pace, but the musicians still can’t get around the overall haphazardness of their scattershot playing; barely a single note feels like it’s in the right place. Drummer Peter Orins keeps pushing the elephantine mass along with an insistent heavy thump; he’s more like the drummer on a slave ship. I think the most off-putting element on this record is the highly florid tootles of the assorted brass players (Abdou may be the worst offender), which are very distracting; these French jazzers can’t seem to leave a note to manage for itself without ladling on eight pounds of excessive embellishment, extra dollops of whipped cream and spun sugar which we didn’t order. The album may be making some references to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Kid Ory; and while early jazz is not my strong suit, I doubt that either Morton or Ory would have allowed this sort of flabby posturing in their bands. From 29th September 2016.
Very good acoustic improv trio work from Bertrand Denzler, Antonin Gerbal and Axel Dörner on Le Ring (CONFRONT CCS 65). The players are keen to point out their rapport has been hard-earned, and that this particular configuration represents years of work getting to know each other through means of brass, mallets, and perspiration. “Dörner and Denzler know each other for 15 years”, states the press note, while Dörner and Gerbal have been at it since 2011. Meanwhile Denzler and Gerbal, the French part of the act, have often played as a duo and appeared in many other projects, for example the record Heretofore which came out on this same label in 2015. Le Ring could I suppose refer to the tight inner circle which binds improvisers together, whether it’s the social milieu of concerts and touring, or the act of playing together which is (I would hope) not unlike creating a magic circle as used by John Dee, Simon Magus, or other well-known sorcerers. There’s also a “circle of life” thing implied in such a title, the slow rhythms of the artistic life, and the fact that these three players have been embroiled in the churn of playing together for so long means they are now as inter-twined as your clothes when they fall out of the tumble drier.
Not too long ago my life was ruined by hearing Sound Of Drums, the solo record by Antonin Gerbal which was so single-minded in its pursuit of a pure beat that you could have used it to construct a Roman road across Chichester. Fortunately he seems to have brought his fanatical approach down a notch or two for Le Ring, and contents himself with punctuating the general flow of the music with percussive shots inserted in unexpected places. However, when they other two give him five seconds of quiet, he’s straight back to his doomy funeral march antics, hammering out obsessive bonks and blams with the deathly precision of the grim reaper. As to Axel Dörner, I used to characterise this German trumpeter as one of the kings of the Berlin Reductionist School (or whatever they’re called) and his ultra-quiet work in Phosphor was enough to bring most strong men to their knees. He’s since become much more audible and less preoccupied with calling attention to his own breath, and his instrument is now a tube for releasing escaping gas into the room with a delicious light roaring noise. These two abstract-noise extremists tend to make Denzler – who actually hits recognisable notes now and again – the “conformist” of the group, which is really saying something in this context.
While Le Ring stops and starts and reorganises itself to head down side tangents on more than one occasion, it still presents a coherent argument in one continuous 41-minute spiel, which is more than most of us can do. Long tones are explored and tested and rubbed up against each other, like two dressmakers trying it on for size as they admire the heft of certain fabrics. Eventually, someone may or may not get an outfit to wear at the end of the process, but that’s not important. Throughout these lengthy ringing soundings, the drummer Gerbal is tapping impatiently at his rims and his skins, trying to bring the meeting to order. There’s such stillness and tension in the room that it’s amazing they get anywhere, yet forward movement of a lurching sort does take place. It’s likely though that we’ll end up at the same starting point in Le Ring, having circumscribed a circular shape right there on the floor, and come away enriched with mystical knowledge thereby. From 29th September 2016.
Indescribable double CD of improvised vocal noises along with non-musical sounds and eruptions…this is the combined talents of four international mavericks, i.e. Adam Bohman, the UK sound poet, performer, bricoleur and cassette diarist; Oliver Mayne, English musician living in Budapest; Jean-Michel van Schouwburg, described here as “the inimitable voice maestro”; and Zsolt Sőrés, the Hungarian musician. Budapest is the connecting zone, the area where these four met and climbed into a musical melting pot. Bohman and Jean-Michel were invited there in 2010 by the film-maker Peter Strickland, and once Zsolt S?rés got wind of this he quickly set up an improvising situation and asked Oliver Mayne to join in. What has supposed to be a fortuitous one-off occasion soon developed into a regular event, and in the years since the four have performed together many times, now working under the strange and awkward name of I Belong To The Band. The double CD we have before us documents four such occasions from 2010 and 2013, all of them happening in Budapest, and shows the foursome captured either live or in the studio. On one occasion, a live event at Fuga, they were joined by the vocalist Katalin Ladik. Ladik’s impressive vocal work may be known to some for her contributions to recordings of Ernő Király, the Yugoslavian modern composer.
This package, titled Bakers Of The Lost Future (INEXHAUSTIBLE EDITIONS ie-004-2), shows how the combo require a lot of space and time to spread out – some might unkindly call it a sprawl – to realise their need for self-expression. Musical instruments are involved, including vibes, synths, and stringed instruments, but I get the impression that amplified objects are much more the weapon of choice in the IBTTB stable. Bohman’s a past master of selecting and hitting strange objects in the service of sound production; Zsolt Sőrés has his own personal selections, and also brings circuit-bending and dictaphone tapes to the table in his quest for the ultimate in lo-fi distortion and mangled groink. Mayne too is no stranger to clipping a contact mic onto anything that stands still long enough. Together, these three weave a cluttered but intense din of rubbly and unfamiliar textures, producing a dense soup that makes no concessions whatsoever to “art music” or jazz-inflected improvisation, nor is it as opaque and mystifying as the inert over-processed murk that Das Synthetische Mischgewebe often creates using similar methods. I haven’t heard such a compelling layered and over-crowded racket since my last DDAA listen. Over this scrambly foundation, van Schouwburg yawps out his nightmarish vocalising, a bad dream of opera singing caused by a night of indigestion at the Magyar Állami Operaház. All the pieces have been assigned nonsensical titles, word-salad arrangements such as ‘Intergalactic Gulash vs Sneezawee Gaspacho’ and ‘Gastric Samba Honkers’, as if attempting to realise the same sense of mental indigestion through the channel of literary expression. The references to food and the stomach in these titles are most fitting.
I would also single out the uncanny escapades of Katalin Ladik on the track where she features, ‘Poets of the Absurd on Chalk’. She’s pretty much carrying on an unintelligible argument with van Schouwburg as if the two were actors / opera singers playing husband and wife in a grotesque marriage, or perhaps simply play-acting a garbled version of Punch and Judy. It’s by turns comedic and ugly, yet still infused with moments of mysterious and terrifying beauty. Both the vocalists here sound certifiably insane, but they deliver their loopy barks with great assurance and confidence. We could say the same about the music, which is pretty much fragmented and bonkers in the extreme, but played with gravitas and conviction. There is no doubt in my mind that this is down to the personalities involved (very strong personalities); you could never train a classical musician to play this way in a million years, even if they had been raised on John Cage since birth. It’s an instinctive thing, and a very personal thing. The effect here is intensified because these are four like-minded souls, who have nothing to prove to the world…the music is as much a product of that bond as anything else, the sound of an amazing conversation, on which we are lucky enough to eavesdrop.
Peter Strickland, though he doesn’t play a note, is also pivotal to the record. He also happens to have been part of the Sonic Catering Band in a former life, and the strange formless non-musical performances he was responsible for are could be seen as one of the many tributaries that have flowed into Bakers Of The Lost Future. He also directed the movie Berberian Sound Studio, which used the talents of Katalin Ladik for its soundtrack, and which briefly featured the Bohman Brothers making a cameo appearance. Another gem from the Slovenian label Inexhaustible Editions, arrived 28th October 2016.
We’ve been enjoying the playing of Portuguese viola player João Camões for many years now, mostly heard through his work with the undersung Algerian synth player Jean-Marc Foussat, but his appearance in the trio earnear was also worthy of mention. Today’s offering is all-acoustic however, and the five-piece Nuova Camerata perform pretty much as a classical string quartet, with the addition of a marimba. Besides Camões with his hard-working instrument, there’s the violin of Carlos Zingaro, who may just be the veteran of the group – he’s been improvising since the early 1990s, and in fact there’s an early-ish record from 1988 which he made with the great Richard Teitelbaum which I’d love to hear. Zingaro has appeared on some big labels (FMP, Hatology, For4Ears) and worked with some big names – Evan Parker, Joëlle Léandre, and Paul Lovens. The cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff is German-born, but he’s made his home in Portugal now, and played with many local musicians including the Lisbon Improvisation Players. There’s also Pedro Carneiro, classically trained marimba player, who once made the gaffe of releasing a record with the unfortunate title of Crazy Mallets, and the bass player Miguel Leiria Pereira, a sometime member of Variable Geometry Orchestra.
The group’s debut record Chant (IMPROVISING BEINGS ib50) arrives as seven separate improvisations, simply titled Chant I-VII; it reflects their shared interest in free improvisation as well as “contemporary erudite music”, as they would have it. What this means is a vaguely solemn tone to the day’s listen, and a slightly cold and slightly stiff way of playing, which doesn’t appear to have much of a jazz feel behind it, and suggests the players are more likely to get their kicks from a dissonant evening of Schoenberg and Alban Berg than from Mingus or Ornette. But this comparative lack of warmth is more than compensated by the assurance and precision of the playing – each dissonant collision is delivered with confidence and bravado, and the music does not want for drama and incident. There’s also a certain amount of “acoustic noise” in the mix for those of you listeners who can’t help hearing a little bit of Merzbow in everything; by “noise”, I mean the high-pitched whines of the violin and viola when they suddenly swoop up into the stratosphere, the rattling low scrapes from the double bass, and the vaguely percussive attacks that result from desiccated vulture-like claws clutching at wood and strings in a predatory fashion.
When you experience all of these elements swirling together in the high-quality recording stream that’s been pressed onto this disc, you’ll certainly be glad you checked in to this Nuova Camerata. While at times it feels like Carneiro is slightly out of step with the team with his stilted marimba playing, he does provide an interesting spine to the music, and an additional musical flavour without which the record might start to appear samey. When the other players run up and down their scales in a crazy free-form fashion, he will be there making a sympathetic scuttling sound like a large centipede running over the rocks. Lastly, note the cover photo; usually when I write about acoustic stringed music I dig out my well-worn metaphor of bare twigs and branches, but this time the visuals are already doing it for me. Very good!. From 18th October 2016.
14th June update: a correction received today from Pedro Carneiro.
“Thank you very much for your review and congratulations for your beautiful artwork!
“Is the only a small detail, but please allow me to clarify: the unfortunate title you mention on a very old disc of mine (Crazy Mallets) is not mine, but simply the title of one the compositions by one – so it seems in this case – unfortunate composer.
“With thanks once again, all good wishes,
“(message dictated due to shoulder injury. Apologies for typos and other possible mistakes)”
The lovely Richard Sanderson is here with A Thousand Concreted Perils (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDS LOR081). It’s been three years since he last turned in a solo concertina record (Air Buttons), and now here are a further 11 experiments where he applies a mixture of methods to change the sound of the instrument, open up new avenues for exploration, and generally push at the three corners of the envelope. Technically speaking, he does it with FX pedals and feedback, and even the use of computer software to manipulate sound, but it’s also clear from the enclosed notes that his mind is in a thousand diverse locations as he negotiates these thousand concreted perils. In a few terse sentences, he speculates on the joys of note-bending, he likens his bellows to a pair of lungs, he relishes the bad behaviour of broken equipment; and he alludes to musical personalities as diverse as Pauline Oliveros (natch!), John Kirkpatrick (also natch), and Jasper Smith 1, whose singing was the foundation for the track ‘Down In The Meadow’. Evidently, the tributaries of avant-garde and folk musics flow freely into Sanderson’s palate fine and find a welcome meeting point under his enquiring fingertips. Most endearing of all is the phrase “staring at an astronomical chart to empty mind whilst working out a sound”, and if that isn’t a gorgeous insight into the creative process of this man, then I’ll sell my copy of Lot 74 by Derek Bailey. The close-up photos of the concertina on the cover are a further index to his intimate engagement with the minutiae of sound, the physicalities of the instrument, evidence of which abounds on the disc. Seems to me that Sanderson has quietly evolved his own personal take (very DIY, very modest, very English) on the whole electro-acoustic improv thing. From 7th October 2016.
- For the singing of Jasper Smith – which I have never heard – try and locate a copy of The Travelling Songster on Topic Records 12TS304, released in 1977. ↩
Christoph Erb / Frantz Loriot
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.
As the quiet crow flies (FARPOINT RECORDINGS fp058) is a team-up between two Irish improvising duos – The Quiet Club, and crOw. As far as I can make out these four guys know each other quite well and the record came about after the four of them were forced indoors during a terrible storm in 2015. The notes stress the warmth and friendliness of the situation, “an unexpectedly free evening in each other’s good company”, failing only to mention the possible presence of a bottle of Jameson’s hard by. It is this warmth which emerges on the record, a continual piece of improvised music some 33 minutes long. All four of them play in the so-called “electro acoustic improv” mode, by which I mean there is use of amplification, e-bows, effects pedals, loops, and live electronics, taking place alongside the acoustic elements which include stones, objects, toys, and the alto saxophone of Cathal Roche. If you were expecting a portrait of the 2015 storm – most likely they are referring to “Storm Frank”, which caused horrendous damage sweeping cars into the sea and leaving many homes without electricity – you may be slightly disappointed by the quiet and understated music in these grooves, which is a slow and thoughtful exploration of sonic interplays and long tones. However, the packaging is extensively decorated with evocative photographs (by Doreen Kennedy) of landscapes, grey clouds, and skies, and the listener can’t help but hear echoes of weather and oceans (and the cries of seagulls) in these abstract sounds. This may indicate that these players, unlike some more recondite EAI players, have not lost sight of some basic truths which help to root their work in the real world, and they’re not afraid to tell stories in their music. This is refreshing; one gets tired of all that non-associative music, which often ends up blank and empty, and As the quiet crow flies is bound to connect to any human being who has travelled overseas, gone for a solitary walk on the hills, or even simply gone outside. Limited to 500 copies, from 19th September 2016.
On Zashomon (HYBRIDA 06), we’ve got an exciting team-up between Miguel A. García and Japanese player Seijiro Murayama. Seijiro used to be the drummer in Absolut Null Punkt (or A.N.P.) in the 1980s, performing with the ferocious guitar monster K.K. Null, to produce some memorable LPs of experimental rock noise. He’s also performed with Keiji Haino, Fred Frith, and Tom Cora, and more recently teamed up with contemporary French improvisers and composers, including Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa, Stéphane Rives, and Eric Cordier. Zashomon plays as a continuous 40-minute piece, although the track titles indicate a four-part structure to the work, including the intriguing third episode ‘One Perjury’…both players credit themselves with “electro acoustic composition”, and in places it does feel quite pre-arranged; the work is full of carefully managed changes and shifts in tone, allowing for quieter events to contrast with the continual stretched of rich electric drone-noise.
Early on there’s a fantastic piece of interplay between drums, synths quietly pulsating and buzzing, and what may be an electric guitar plucking occasional notes; the dynamics here are astounding, real moments of tension and vast gaps of white space in the puzzling music. After the duo settle for a slightly less bold exploration of textures and drones, but there’s still a lot of air and space in the music (especially compared with García’s default position which is to try and occupy as much space as possible), and there’s a taut mystery in the air. Murayama shows his mettle; he has that iron discipline that allows a musician to create a stern, unwavering sound, and keep the emotional register carefully in check. Consequently, his minimal percussion stabs ring out like hailstones on a wintry day, and his alien voice – a bullfrog’s murmur slowed down to the rate of a creeping snail – add a terrifying dimension to the record. At times, García is almost relegated to the position of an admiring acolyte kneeling before the feet of this high priest of minimal improvisation.
The bulk of the record presents a close-up and intimate study of…something, perhaps the craggy face of a lost tribesman or the details of an ancient monument, but it ends with about ten minutes of glorious release which creates a near-epiphany; off-centred drumming, an eerie but uplifting layered noise which may be erupting from the clouds like mutated thunder, and twisted vocal whoops from the Japanese half of the act. A very strong combination and collaboration, packed with strikingly original sounds and bold playing. Limited to 99 copies. From 19th September 2016.
CANADA atrito-afeito 006 CDR (2016)
This arrived with a hand-written note on a very nice piece of marbled paper. Perhaps the marbling is the work of Karoline Leblanc as well, perhaps not. The design of the cd sleeve is also very striking. A warm-yellow sleeve; a single fold-over piece of card, but professionally printed in full colour; the yellow on the outside augmented with a four bar graphic – three turquoise bars and one red on its face. Upon opening, on the inside the background is red with the same graphic but with one red and three white bars. There is no written information on the inside apart from the indication that these are nineteen individual pieces of piano improvisation. This description is included on the back cover as a helpful subtitle for the casual observer. The longest piece of music is just under four minutes while the shortest is very brief at only 58 seconds. I use the term “music” deliberately; these are very “musical” improvisations; no extended technique, Cageian preparation or augmentation with everyday objects here. These nineteen tracks actually work very well if listened to straight through in one sitting and perceived as a whole piece, or a whole movement. Leblanc demonstrates some very technical playing and clearly she is a very accomplished pianist – I think she plays instruments other than piano as well, namely violin, harpsichord, organ, and most interestingly, the Ondes Martenot: an early electronic orchestral instrument. If you are not familiar with the Ondes Martenot, imagine something not unlike a scaled-up Stylophone. And go and source a copy of Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony and be amazed. I’d be very interested to hear her tackle the Ondes with a similar approach to this.
She appears to be involved with an improvising scene in Montreal; I think her initial entry-point some time ago being through free-jazz. She runs the atrito-afeito label with another musician, the improvising drummer, Paulo J Ferreira Lopes. I think Velvet Oddities is a very impressive piece of work with a good flow throughout the course of the album. Indeed, with this many short pieces, I’m sure a lot of thought would have gone into the sequencing of tracks, which benefits the material greatly. It works very well; is very dynamic, and because of the high level of technique, a lot of it is leaning towards – or revealing the influence of – classical piano music more than it is Electro Acoustic Improvisation. But that’s no bad thing. Yeah, I like it. Edition of 100.
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.