Tagged: jazz

Five Uneasy Pieces

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Virgil Moorefield
No Business As Usual / Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound
SWITZERLAND HINTERZIMMER RECORDS HINT17 CD + DVD (2013)

Virgil Moorefield is a Zurich-based drummer, avantist composer and near polymath whose previous projects have found refuge with such highly revered institutions such as Innova, Tzadik and Cuneiform. As a ‘have drums, will travel’ freelancer, he’s collaborated with Bill Laswell, guitarist Elliott Sharp, and The Swans around the time of the Burning World l.p. He was also the sole panel-beater (and that’s no mean feat!) for John Cage’s favourite guitar slinger Glenn Branca, on his herculean “Hallucination City – 100 Guitars” tour which kicked up vast chunks of orchestrated metallic chordage over the heads of the N.Y. populace from 2006 to 2008.

Moorefield’s latest release on the Hinterzimmer imprint is the No Business as Usual c.d. which is coupled with the Five Ideas about the Relation of Sight and Sound d.v.d. No Business… is primarily a showcase for his Bicontinental Pocket Orchestra; a sixtet comprising Aleksander Gabrys on contrabass, baritone saxist Jürg Wickihalder, Taylor Levine on guitar, percussionist Martin Lorenz, pianist Vicky Chow and Ian Ding on vibes and drums. They and their bandleader can all be observed very much following a cerebral/muscular mindset on the title track; a five part commissioned by New Music Detroit and Detroit Per Se. Both of these experiments in post-minimalism edge towards a certain jazz noir in the Naked City feel, purveying in the main an appointment in unease, plotted on graph paper with slide rule, compass and protractor, where the contents, under extreme pressure, are seemingly fit to burst at any moment. Some passages resemble a debut album era Lounge Lizards under the batonship of Steve Reich, while other fragments seem to refer to a more rigid version of Magma’s ever-building dynamics circa Kohntarkosz. The most prominent figures in this unwavering/take no prisoners script are the icily cool vibraphonics of Ian Ding and the high end (and beyond) keyboard attack of Ms. Chow, which appears to be an angry, fingerpointing pianist’s curt riposte to Bernard Hermann’s shower scene nerve shredder from Psycho.

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As to the visual side of events, the Five Ideas… shows a number of different takes on how moderne technology can affect the interchange between sound and the moving image (this includes a couple of sub-two minute interludes, possibly fulfilling a latterday testcard function). “River of Color” is the opener and explores/expands on the tonalities originating from the guts of a grand piano when struck and its innards plucked. This generates a series of everchanging vertical bands of colour issuing from a huge bank of screens that almost dwarf the two instrumentalists. “Grainy Film” is based on a sequence of simple guitar shapes which build to nightmarishly kozmik proportions and eventually shake themselves free of their wire on wood connotations completely. The closing “Trio” is a processing overload involving the measured thud of a drumming threesome, which is reconfigured into real-time visuals, while, simultaneously being tweaked into an all enveloping electronic soundscape. Wow.

Within the confines of a fairly understated packaging concept employing the joys of four-panel chipboard lies an undisputed treasure trove of left field thought for ear and eye. Highly recommended.

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Jazzers Frond

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Michael Vlatkovich Quartet
You’re Too Dimensional
USA PFMENTUM CD077 CD (2013)

Trombonist and pfMENTUM fixture Michael Vlatkovich maxes his track title word count credit card once more for his umpteenth recorded appearance on that productive, non-profit jazz label. Like the preceding trio recording, Pershing Woman, You’re Too Dimensional finds Michael and a new coterie of cohorts comfortably at sixes and sevens: gracefully stretching and flexing brass limbs across their play space, while avoiding collision at every turn. As stream-of-consciousness as Vlatkovich’s signature composition titles, the group’s regular decelerations to deconstruction speed allow us to examine in detail every ruddy-cheeked interaction. The resulting sky of strangely angled skywriting (and sometimes low-energy fizzle) may not always offer balm to weary souls, but by way of ballast it mostly moves in a rounded rhythmic manner to ensure finger pops remain close to hand. The pace is bouncy, for instance, where ‘Pershing’ left me out of breath. The successful blending of tempos is most successfully sustained through the ten minutes of ‘blue peepers’, which gifts each player with generous solo time, Jim Knodle’s warm trumpet-muting being the stand out element.

I’m not sure as to the extent of Vlatkovich’s role as ‘composer’ though, because notated ‘melody’ seems ever subordinated to melodic mannerism; the ever-reliable Knodle, Phil Sparks (bass) and Greg Campbell (drums, French horn) proceeding through their palette of earthy tones with apparent autonomy. It certainly works to his benefit though that Vlatkovich has kept instrumentation quite conventional, spurring as it does his seasoned players to maximise their performance potential. A violin would have jammed up the works something awful. So all seems well enough, though I’ve gotta say, the 5-minute Photoshop cover does favours for no one, even if it does seem appropriately redolent of west its coast jazz provenance. Pay that bit no mind.

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ReDiviDer
Meets I Dig Monk Tuned
IRELAND DIATRIBE DIACD016 CD (2014)

Like Vlatkovich, Dublin’s palindromic jazz combo ReDiviDer favour both the trombone and word play; the title of the present effort: meets I Dig Monk, Tuned (also from 2013) an anagram, I understand, of ‘United Kingdom’ (home to this record’s quartet of guest musicians). If this tingles my spider senses it’s because such intellectual fixations can sometimes accompany dry composition; an apprehension not entirely thwarted in this case. Indeed, as ‘blends (of) composed and free sections’ go, there’s a continuous and palpable sense of stage management that ever weighs on the group’s capacity for ‘free’ expression. As a result, for every second of polite squawking I sit through, I find myself longing for more of the tidier ‘spy jazz’ notation present in ‘Velvet Pouch’.

Such careful manoeuvring does pay off in tracks such as (the appropriately titled) ‘Bin Saved’, wherein earth and air elements cohere comfortably: Derek Whyte’s briwaxed bass playing providing notably snug berth for one and all. At such times I’m distantly reminded of the sardonic contrivances of the first Lounge Lizards LP, but with the comfort of central heating and interior decoration to soothe and smooth every jagged edge. The ‘Arto’ of this augmented quartet might be the bevy of guest musicians strewn sparingly across the six tracks – each of whom provides necessary condiment to their respective plate – but really it’s the subtle thread of (real time and post-production) electronics, which feature most prominently in the dense, slo-mo fug of ‘Animal Code’: the group mood-swinging into a mode of herd-animal brutishness during a slow phase, re-emerging in a fit of lumpy drumming, double weighted by bitumen-thick atmospherics. Interesting as they are, I’m unsure as to whether such details further date or distinguish these compositions.

Golden Spirits

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Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo
Ancestors
FINLAND TUM RECORDS TUM CD 029 (2012)

AACM, Creative Construction Company, Mbira, Golden Quartet, Organic, Silver Orchestra…The Blue Notes, Louis Moholo Unit, Culture Shock, Spirits Rejoice, Viva La Black, Brotherhood of Breath, Isipingo…I’m fairly sure that if you were to compile a no-stone-unturned list of the musical endeavours of American avant jazz trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith and fellow jazzer and South African master percussionist Louis Moholo-Moholo, it would girdle the earth with ease. After all, these two have been leading their own bands for nigh on fifty years apiece (!) But although the duo have occasionally played together since the nineteen-seventies, the Ancestors set on the Finnish Tum imprint marks their first ever recording together.

This c.d. takes in two scored works by Smith, one by Moholo-Moholo and two rather fascinating excursions into the realms of improv. Ancestors stacks up exceptionally well, even when using the Mu album by Don Cherry (w/ Ed Blackwell of course) as my benchmark in horn’n’drum. The duo’s expertise is as you’d surely expect; extensive and enclopaedic and can easily hold and captivate the armchaired listener for the duration. Immediate highpoints are the almost expected jagged splotches of jazz expressionism in “Jackson Pollock – Action” and the at times, stately themes of “Siholaro” with its rolling war drum rhythm bed. In fact, the time-keeping on show is a revelation. Louis’s stickwork and well considered sense of dynamics can range from powering along a track like “No Name in the Street” with the merest tick of Swiss watch precision, to the rolling thunderclouds undepinning “Moholo Moholo/Golden Spirit”. The improvised title track is the main focus of events, surely by dint of its twenty-five minute plus (!) duration. Snaking curlicues of brassy colour (the only modifications being a brief use of the mute…) are complemented by a busy gallery of drum techniques which are topped ‘n’ tailed by exotic chimes which finally come to a close with the the drummer’s recitation of a number of much loved jazz figures from jazz past.

There’s attractive packaging and ultra-copious sleeve notes which include a nice photo of the duo, both pictured with smiles on full beam – fit to crack their jaws if truth be told. But after producing the self-assured dialogue in thought and deed, who could expect otherwise? To sum up? …This is just so much more than breath control and supple wrists!!

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Buried Secrets

MARGREE534

Airchamber3
Peripheral
FRATTONOVE fratto023 CD (2013)

According its creators, the Italian improvising trio Airchamber3, this record was conceived as a soundtrack to an imaginary film. It is a fitting description for such viscous, textured music. The group’s creative process – improvising on various acoustic and electronic instruments augmented by comprehensive processing and editing – results in a set of layered and textured pieces that are somewhere between free improvisation, post-rock and an unheimlich ambient sound.

‘Dopamine Yuppie Dub’ is a great example of this approach in action. A burst of static ushers in a stealthily paced bass line. It’s gradually enveloped in layers of guitar, resonating and dampened, plucked strings and squalling chords. Squalling tones pile sound upon sound. Each instrument, loop or noise seems to exist in its own world yet is also part of the whole. Just as we’re getting into the post-rock vibe, a dark burst of noise covers everything, like a thunderstorm appearing out of nowhere on a summer’s day.

Unease continues on ‘The Buried Secret Inside My Ventricles’, Andrea Serrapiglio’s cello sawing ominously on a bed of queasy drones as brother Luca picks out equally disconcerting phrases on the bass clarinet. It’s all unresolved tension, a creeping shadow that vanishes as soon as you turn around.

Yet that’s just a dress rehearsal compared to the sheer daemonic horror of ‘Recollecting Pieces of Treasured Memories’. It’s a piece that resembles a nightmarishly time-stretched ballad, thanks to a fantastically eldritch vocal contribution from Vincenzo Vasi. His gothick declamations are a canticle of dread, bringing to mind Jocelyn Pook’s terrifying Masked Ball, deployed to such disturbing effect in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Fortunately for my sanity, it’s not all trippy darkness. ‘Tunnel Vision’ offers up a collage of guitar mayhem and Scanner-style found sound snatches. ‘Crippling Approach Anxiety’s naggingly insistent clockwork groove is a jerky marvel, nicely complemented by wriggling electronics and tin tack guitar.

There are more vocals on ‘A Body Is A Map Of Bruises’, this time a jazzy croon from Barbara De Dominicis. Over fuzzy clouds of digital mush, reedy moans and cello exotica she casts a haunting, nostalgic presence, her voice drifting in and out of audibility as if being conjured from the digital aether. It’s ghostly, melancholic, and full of pathos.

Peripheral is enigmatic and liquid sound. Not a set for listeners keen for jazzy display of virtuosity, the playing pared down and rarely strays from minimal phrases, augmented with noise and samples, building blocks for the trio’s musical welding. Yet it is an evocative wonder, a slow-motion carousel of sounds and images, a dream in which you are only half-awake.

Sad Big Band

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Kaze
Tornado
JAPAN CIRCUM-LIBRA RECORDS 202 CD (2013)

Kaze seem to me to be the Keystone Kops of jazz/improv. This album could be called avant-garde jazz for people who don’t like avant-garde jazz performed by over ambitious, over privileged, overly technical, overly clever musos; overall it is jazz that, to its credit, is aware of the existence of Otomo Yoshihide, but misguidedly and egotistically thinks it’s much better than him. Perhaps they think it’s easy.

The group, Christian Pruvost on trumpet, Natsuki Tamura also on trumpet, Satoko Fujii on piano and Peter Orins on drums, could be likened to a bunch of sprinters who, having entered a marathon, are desperately killing themselves trying to get to the finish line first. My wife agreed; “what a sad big band – like Bournemouth on a rainy Tuesday evening” she remarked over one evening’s carbonara. Final track, “Triangle” (oh dear, Bournemouth Triangle?), is particularly apt – nearly twenty whole minutes of abject humiliation in syncopated form. The musicians don’t even have the presence of mind to not resolve the piece in as trite a way as they can muster.

It is anaemic 21st-century bebop; clusters stolen from early Coltrane, Miles and Bird – track two, “Mechanique” (automated musicians, going through the motions), still thinks it’s 1958. The title track employs drum patterns which are nothing but a series of desperate empty gestures until some primal electronics make promises they can’t keep at 3:30, which in fairness did made me sit up and take notice, but then the following track, “Imokidesu”, is overblown, over indulgent and at around the five minute point the horns are playing an upward progression while the drummer comes over all unnecessary. And as for the pianist – playing with your fists is not big or clever, and it’s not always “avant-garde” either. In this case it’s just plain silly.

A word about the label(s): from the Libra Records website comes this: “Libra Records is an artist-owned record label founded in 1997 by pianist/composer Satoko Fujii and trumpeter/composer Natsuki Tamura. With 27 CDs so far, from solo, duo, trio and quartet to big band and orchestra formats, Libra is dedicated to the near limitless musical and creative vision of these two highly prolific and creative cutting-edge artists.” Sorry, cutting-edge how, exactly? And then, inexplicably; “…CDs feature beautiful original artwork on environmentally friendly paper covers.” It could be argued that whether you house your CDs in plastic or paper cases is irrelevant considering the amount of extra electricity we are all chewing through each year with all our electronic devices. Why don’t you think about how electricity is generated in the first place, before you sit there being so smug. What’s that? Plastic CD covers don’t biodegrade when you throw them away? You mean you want me to throw away your CDs??? Am I alone in thinking that all physical media – not just vinyl – is intended to be circulated from owner to owner and not just binned when you get bored of it. Oh dear, I’m back on to the BBC Radio 1’s concept of “indie-landfill” again, watch out. If you are interested, Kaze have released in conjunction with these two labels before their Rafale from 2011. Part of the reason for the current crisis/malaise in the jazz world is the aping of past styles instead of trying to push the form forward. It just don’t work. And unfortunately neither does this album in my view.

Heavily funded cultural experiments with throwing half-baked ideas at the “experimental” wall of commerce to see what will stick is not everyone’s favourite biscuit perhaps.

Circum Discs
Libra Records

Ordo ab Chao

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Carter / Chen / Wooley / Yeh
NCAT
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS monolp016 LP

Vast, cosmogonic explosions jump-start another galaxy thanks to this crew of hardy improvisers who ceremoniously ‘blur the line between electronic and acoustic music’ (it still exists?). Consisting of the ubiquitous C. Spencer Yeh, saxophonist Nate Wooley, cellist Audrey Chen and audio engineer Todd Carter, the string-centric sessions were recorded by Yeh, Chen and Wooley during a residency in Amsterdam then shipped to Carter for extensive editing in NY. While those recording sessions appear to have been a galactic free-for-all: all amplified, scraped strings, thrumming electronics, groaning drones and fathomless feedback (a prohibitively pricey proposition were it the analogue tape days), there’s ample evidence of the musicians applying the best of their respective crafts to ensuring the listener endures nothing too exhausting or tedious.

In this respect, Carter is clearly our hero of the hour: he spent a week sifting through the recordings (whether alongside his other work I know not), startling the trio soon afterwards with this taut and tidy electroacoustic suite. Considerate are his track times, ranging from two to fourteen minutes (depending on the content), which effectively render side A into a sound collage, somewhere between Tony Conrad and early Faust. Accompanying and accentuating the studio antics are fleets of distant sirens alongside all manner of mysterious sounds and transformations Carter saw fit to add, resulting in a dripping tunnel vision of a mechanised dystopia, in which electricity is the inhabitants’ lifeblood.

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Yong Yandsen
Disillusion
FRANCE DOUBTFUL SOUNDS DOUBT10 LP (2013)

Seven servings of industrial-lunged, post-Ayler/Kaoru Abe screeches and bellows from Malaysian sax warrior Yong Yandsen, who is one quarter of doom jazz unit, Klangmutationen, and one of a putative handful of new music exponents comprising the ‘Experimental Musicians & Artists Co-operative Malaysia’, situated ‘on the fringes’ of Kuala Lumpur.

It would certainly seem that he’s the first of them to issue a solo recording, and quite a debut it is: nearly three quarters of an attack-happy hour with the tenor sax, which find Yandsen indefatigably wrestling new sounds out of the thing. Of course, comparisons to Ayler and Abe are now de rigueur, though in this case they belong more appropriately to the latter, as Yandsen lacks the audacious melodic deconstructions that were Ayler’s bread and butter during those glory years. It’s abstraction all the way, and delightfully so, even if the style is one burningly familiar to free jazz fans. It does feel authentic to me though: I get the sense that every audible emission here represents the cathartic erasure of yet another hint of melody from Yandsen’s being, in a public exhibition of musical therapy.

The sessions on side A consist of shorter, sharper attacks, with lots of pauses in between as he gets his bearings. Side B revels in more masochistic breath stretches, which flow into gliding scale runs and through a punishing range of dynamic extremes. You know the deal. Over forty-five minutes, it is the listener who is ultimately put to the test, and I’m glad to say I’ve made it through in the rudest of health, spirit rejoicing.

Which Way Is Nowhere? (Part 2)

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Stephen Vitiello / Molly Berg
Between You and the Shapes You Take
USA 12K 12k1078 CD

Reflective, guitar-rooted atmospherics with an evident indifference towards definite statements, like a long stretch of fence wire singing sadly in the open country wind. The title and music suggest a threshold where form surrenders to a tentative state of being, while unnameable somethings fleet past in the hazy traces of dawn light.

Following on from the pair’s 2009 recording, The Gorilla Variations, Between You And The Shapes You Take was improvised in seemingly quiet surroundings by Vitiello (guitar and processing) and Berg (clarinet and vocals) – largely without prior discussion (the two have enough of a collaborative history to have a strong intuitive rapport) – then whittled and tweaked into these ten charming, melancholy miniatures. Along with maudlin mountain winds, twangs and picks, one catches snatches of radio noise, lilting sighs, organ, flutes and grainy oscillations, all of which elements are largely stripped of their defining features to conform with the music’s hazy wholeness. Instrumental contributions are delicate and minimal, occasionally punctuating the haze like small rocks jutting from the stream’s surface. It’s sometimes remote, sometimes warm in a Fennesz-y way, but ever shy of direct physical manifestation.

While each track offers sufficient variation from that previous, listeners who favour ‘event’ coverage are not advised to partake: your heavy hands will be thwarted by its illusiveness. Nor should it be played specifically for relaxation purposes, for Eno it ain’t. These pieces describe a dreamy netherworld lit by errant sparks from unearthed appliances and loosely defined by the stupor of forgotten selves ambling through the obtrusive undergrowth of one’s mental antipodes.

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Zoor
Volumes a + b
FRANCE UMLAUT RECORDS UMFR-CD08 CD (2013)

Just shy of seventy minutes, these two hefty servings of smouldering tension from oceanic jazz trio Zoor simmer as softly as The Necks being kettled by Her Majesty’s finest, their low register guitar and sax drifting back and forth in a foamy wash of cymbals, the trio patiently developing and manipulating a mildly threatening attitude over the course of each 30-odd minute piece. Unlike The Necks however, there’s little in the way of melody or trajectory, and for all their hubble, bubble and toil, there’s not an awful lot of trouble resulting from these extended expressions, even though every second is loaded with potential energy: Bertrand Denzler’s sax broods in measured exhalations with soft, palpable power, and guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage’s soft, barbed wire shredding reminds us that it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for, but its Antonin Gerbal’s tidal drumming that seem to be the magmatic driving force, tempered albeit by a modest lack of ostentation. While this album may not be the one to kick-start your party, it could well be the boon you’re after at the end of a tiring day.

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Slim Vic
Habrovink EP
SWEDEN LAMOUR LAMOURVIN001 VINYL 12″ (2013)

Two sizeable servings of slimmed-down ambient inaction: this spotless, white vinyl 12” – the extended parts one and two of an inaugural 3-track digital release for Swedish label, l’amour – consists of a freely-associative mural of woozy gestures more commonly found in the opening and closing of more expansive dance recordings. And what an appropriate opening statement it is: its propositional club space a womblike world of nascent audio experiences: slow and soft metallic grinds that fall in and out of sync; distant, muted thuds heard through a fleshy membrane in a semi-conscious haze before a 6AM stroll home in youthful sunlight. Assembled by Viktor Zeidner: one busy individual spreading himself thin as DJ, VJ, remixer, festival organiser and digital project manager, these two pieces are minimal in the extreme, and while not quite novel, do provide a genuinely soothing listening experience.

This is Hippo

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Barbacana
Barbacana
UK BABEL LABEL BDV13118 CD (2012)

“My brain feels Gong-like; Gong-like…” as an old friend of mine used to pun. If Gong had ever recorded with The Residents the results probably wouldn’t have sounded that much like this record, but in my mind I think even so this is an okay comparison. It gets us straight to the area Barbacana are exploring, hopefully. In places, track two, “Steam”, does sound like one of those brief little instrumental passages on Angels Egg, extended to a logical conclusion. Maybe it’s the clarinets that suggested that?

There’s quite a lot of talk currently, about the dire situation that contemporary jazz is in at the moment that I don’t particularly wish to contribute to here, but I will say this: unlike a lot of contemporary jazz albums, this is fun! “Adobes”, the third track, is a change of pace/mood. Interlocking modal playing with Fender Rhodes piano-ish sounds reminiscent – in atmosphere only – of TNT-era Tortoise. Track five, “For no raisin”, features country-ish guitar playing, but it is not incongruous stylistically – it blends nicely with the other instruments. At this point I actually forgot I was listening to a “jazz” album – the music has dropped refreshingly and completely out of its proscribed genre. Track six, “Migration – Big BIG Shop”, features some of the off-kilter jazz inflections that made some of the Duophonic roster so compelling; My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O’Ciosoig’s brief, psychotic Clear Spot project, for example. Here, Adrien Dennefeld’s Steve Hillage-styled guitar leads produce a beautiful implosion of angst and disorder. “Migration…” has Chicagoan shades of Bundy K Brown’s afro-lite projects and even Jamie Muir’s percussion improvisions on King Crimson’s Red. Another echo of Gong is that Barbacana also appear to be an Anglo-French agglomerate: Adrien Dennefeld is joined by James Allsopp on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Sylvain Darrifourq on drums, objects and toys and Kit Downes on organ, keys and prepared piano. Suffice to say; there’s quite a lot of blue-blowing by all concerned. The final track, “Outro”, says “the theme’s the thing!”

Overall, there are quite a few moments of introspection which makes the more overt sections more interesting and the album as a whole more balanced. It is prominently stated that Barbacana is a co-production between the band and the label, interestingly. Is this the shape of things to come in the world of record labels in the Twenty-First Century? I understand it is not unknown right now in the area of experimental music for artists to share production costs with their labels.

Crono Croons

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FUWAH
FUWAH
ITALY SETOLA DI MAIALE SM2450 CD (2013)

At the risk of making myself unpopular, I’m going to posit an old chestnut: classically trained musicians trying to “do” experimental music? Do they always have the tools necessary for the job? Are the tools they think they need the right ones? Now that it is suddenly okay to mention John Cage’s name in classical circles, should you? Is raw ability, great technique and a big dollop of ego enough? Discuss.

FUWAH is essentially a competent yet unremarkable double bass and vocal duo, Maddalena Ghezzi & Luca Pissavini. I’m all in favour of new combinations of divergent and contradictory genres and styles. Techno Doom Metal Cocktail Jazz is one I’d certainly love to hear. Embedded styles should be exploded. That is not to say even the cocktail jazz genre can’t be exploded. Here and there, this is what FUWAH appear to be trying to do, which in itself is commendable. Luca Pissavini plays it straight throughout. There’s no real experimentation, extended technique, pyrotechnics or attempt to break new ground. Simply a worrisome looseness and careless reference to established tropes. It made me think back to the UK’s experimental drone music explosion of ten or so years ago. I’m not saying that was all bad but I am saying there was a lot of it. And there’s a lot of improvising musicians about these days. A lot of very good ones. If you happen to be a fan of Dominic Lash or Klaus Janek or Guillaume Viltard’s playing (to name but three top-flight improvising double-bassists), beware – there’s not much to surprise or even entertain you here. For her part, Maddalena Ghezzi makes a lot of babbling vocalese noises seemingly just for the hell of it; I’m sorry, but for me this is not even as cutting edge as Cleo Laine going “boobedy-boodedy-boo” on BBC Pebble Mill At One in 1976. A more successful strategy might be to try to make the human voice sound unlike the human voice, as diverse proponents such as Diamanda Galas, Phil Minton and Jaap Blonk attest.

Track one, “Facets”, features alarming use of the minor pentatonic scale, or “The Blues Scale”, famous from a million hirsute teenagers in every guitar shop near you the world over. Not a great start for me. Hardly cutting edge. The only musicians I’m aware of who have used the “The Blues Scale” in new and interesting ways recently are Bill Orcutt or Tetuzi Akiyama and he has to risk RSI in his strumming arm to do it. This album, or rather Ghezzi in particular, is blessed/cursed with a rich seam of unmodulated vocal with the saccharine timbre of a singer in the afore-mentioned cocktail jazz style. Although she is not afraid of trying out new forms. Bizarrely, the third track, “Crono”, features what sounds like an ill-advised attempt at Tuvan throat singing. On “Sopravvissuto”, Ghezzi sounds more sinister – read also: interesting – briefly, reminding me vaguely of Madame P or PJ Harvey at her most dark and experimental. Disappointingly, “Malachia”, the fifth track, sounds like a nursery full of toddlers let loose in the music room at South London’s Hornimann Museum. My four year-old has made better recordings than this at home by himself. Seriously. But then, I am biased in his favour. Track seven, “Traveller”, attempts some word association in English with limited success.

I hate to be dismissive, but I’m being honest – I struggled with this disc overall. Although this disc may find favour with those with little experience of improvised music or those with cloth ears, or if you like your avant garde jazz with less emphasis on the “avant”, this might be for you. Everyone loves a chocolate digestive but this is more of a stale custard cream from under the sofa if you’re asking me.

Meaty, beaty, big and bouncy

MARGREE539

La Pieuvre et Circum Grand Orchestra
Feldspath
FRANCE CIRCUM-DISC CIDI1301 (2013)

Blimey, you wait for a large improvising ensemble to blast away the cobwebs and then two come along at once. The two outfits in question are La Pieuvre, an improvising orchestra and the Circum Grand Orchestra, an experimental jazz ensemble whose work ranges across improv, avant rock and free jazz, and they have been brought together by composer Olivier Benoit for this freewheeling large-scale work.

Benoit is no stranger to either of these bands. He is the conductor for La Pieuvre, coordinating their improvising activities, and he has composed works for the Circum Grand Orchestra. The aim with this new piece – created in three main parts, each broken down into several smaller movements and spread over two CDs – is to combine the differing approaches of the two ensembles, creating something that is neither wholly composed nor totally improvised, but which contains elements of each.

So, as Benoit says in his release notes, Circum Grand Orchestra plays music he has written, while La Pieuvre does its improvisational thing, conducted by Benoit. Sometimes the two ensembles play together, but usually they alternate. Occasionally, individuals from one or both of the ensembles play, a subset of the larger groups. Confused? Don’t be. The result is marvellous, fluid yet structured, with chunky rock-inflected grooves, airy free improv skitters and sinuous, solitary melodies. The best possible listening approach is to forget all the stuff about who does what and just go with the flow.

That said, you might want to skip the first movement of the first piece, Sanidine, a rather tedious vocal/noise workout, and head straight for the beautiful, mysterious clarinet and bass figure played by the Circum Grand Orchestra that ushers in the piece proper. As Sanidine progresses through its subsequent movements, we get a fragmented piano and bass mesh, woodwind and brass call and response, and several full-on eruptions of noise assault. It is dexterous stuff, capable of turning on a dime. And it is all the more impressive when you consider this is the work of over 30 musicians, playing live (the album is a recording of a live session in Lille).

There is a great sense of this dexterity two-thirds of the way through Sanidine, where an insistent, marching rhythm and massed chords slips suddenly into a loose jazzy jam, before widening out into a bludgeoning, off kilter wave of sound. Another striking moment comes towards the end of the piece, in movement 10. Benoit and the Circum Grand Orchestra summon up a precise and chilling woodwind and brass figure, its elegance highlighted by the seriously unhinged and abrasive experimental rock workout by the La Pieuvre crew following it.

This is dense, detailed music, capable of sudden changes of scale as well as tempo and style, with complex interplay between its constituent parts. In a flash the abstract noise rush at the start of Andesine – the second part of the overall piece, which kicks off CD2 – transforms into a propulsive, pulsing jam, the two ensembles playing together as horns weave around each other and a guitar carves a stuttering, curling line through the block of sound. Next thing you know, everyone has disappeared except for saxophonist Sakina Abdou and trumpeter Christophe Motury, who blow opaque, melancholic clouds, before the Circulum Grand Orchestra cruises in again, preceded by a wash of taped voices, for a modal jazz interlude.

As the second CD works its way through Bytownite – the final section of the piece – the players to cast off into a more light-footed realm. Movement 10 is measured, mathematical, a courtly dance, immediately followed by some cosmic vocal improvisations by Lune Grazilly, underpinned by staccato bass and brass laying down a creeping, prancing rhythm.

With Feldspath, Olivier Benoit and his players have created something that, even by the innovative standards of our cross pollinating, multidisciplinary, post everything times, is truly original. The dramatic shifts in scale and tempo, the interplay between the two ensembles and the talent of the individual musicians – not to mention Benoit’s own sense of space and rhythm – make this a thrilling ride.