Tagged: saxophone

Embassy Suite

ambassador-cover-photo-06

Phillip Schulze
Ambassador Duos
GERMANY APPARENT EXTENT AE024 2 x LP (2015)

One improviser for whom time is but a servant is Deutsch electronics whiz Phillip Schulze, who is known for wielding oak-barreled, 15-year vintage algorithm tools in improvisations for over a decade now; his electroacoustic stylings unmoored from any compositional context. As well as providing extensive written documentation for each of the following four ‘trans-idiomatic’ duo recordings, Schulze converses via gravel-skinned and elegantly contoured sound fields that do more than simply upholster the counterpart’s performance, being quite up to the task of heavy excavation as and when necessary; the resulting open-border spaces instigating some intensive paired explorations.

The first session was a bit of a coup, starring none other than Schulze’s former college professor Anthony Braxton. The pair had played together on six occasions in 2005 (of which I believe this to be the last), during which time Braxton went through numerous instruments, settling on this occasion for soprano and contrabass saxophones. He flutters through like a tai chi butterfly, unsheathing muscle in the central section, prompting a correspondingly corrosive turn from Schulze, whose moods and movements mirror his senior’s with uncanny dexterity. The mood and detail of this ‘early’ event (just two years into Schulze’s recording career) reflect both a nascent talent for complex textures as well as the mutually assured rapport the pair had settled into after just a handful of extra-curricular encounters. One can only imagine the pedagogical savour Braxton must enjoy when working with such similarly-minded students. It must thrash the living hell out of getting through an evening of test-marking.

Recording resumes in 2009, with ‘sound and action artist’ Christian Jendreiko on pedal steel guitar; atmosphere generally more streamlined, with just the odd, caustic outburst and echoes of Bill Frisell’s lonesome, Western laments amid twinkling electronics. Schulze relishes in writing the ambience that resulted from the pair’s split-channel approach, which culminated in an unexpected accompaniment by a blackbird perched outside the window.

By the time of the duo with the second saxophonist, Andrew Raffo Dewar in 2011, the pair were well-established collaborators, having pooled their musical expertise as far back as university. No surprise then that their strident ambient tonality effectively camouflages their ’microtonally shifted octaves, oscillations and phase shifts’ and the resulting, tectonic high drama.

The last and most ‘antagonistic’ pairing is with Kreidler’s Detlef Weinrich (2014), whose characteristic quasi-motorik rhythms find playful counterpoint (or plain collision) in such off-kilter rhythms as those post-club mutations with which Schulze began his recording career, lending this set a pleasing symmetry: that of Schulze’s club music reminiscence via intensive academic studies in Indonesian and African percussion.

Stark as it appears on paper, the four sessions are gratifyingly accessible, differentiated and more than worthy of their heavy vinyl presentation. At first glance, Phillip Schulze is a composer who picks his moments as well as his partners, and the rumblings from the unfathomed depths of these deep trenches indicate further pleasures.

Long Overdue Part 8

loup-the-opening-cover

Very good record of lively sax-drums-electronic music from the French group Loup. Their The Opening (GAFFER RECORDS GR036) is very inventive and varied, showing multiple ways in which the combinations of instrumentations and styles of playing can produce entertaining and strange noise – free jazz freaks, mysterious puzzled drones, melancholy howls, and other instances of unsettling human emotions. All done through judicious and sparing use of echo effects and electronics, which are used to enhance the core truths of each performance. Clement Edouard is the sax player who has also played with Lunatic Toys, Polymorphie, Snap, Kofi, and IrèNE…where with some sax players I usually start off by admiring their tone or their style, with Edouard what I like is his directness. He gets stuck in. Not a single tune here where he doesn’t get straight the point and sticks to it, discoursing with enthusiasm on a particular point until he gets it all talked out. Your man Sheik Anorak is also known as Frank Garcia, is the owner of Gaffer Records, and has been noted on these pages playing with Colin Webster and Mark Holub at the Vortex. Well, Sheik is more of a noise man than a conventional jazzer, though has appeared with the saxman Mario Rechtern in a trio along with the lunatic American percussionist, Weasel Walter. I’d also be interested to hear his experimental Black Metal project, Neige Morte. What Sheik is doing here is impressive, keeping each piece wide-awake with his off-beat percussion assaults and his wackoid electronic interventions. From the sizzling heat of each short track here, you’ve gotta believe the recording sessions were a barrel of laughs. Unkempt, playful, noisy, extremely entertaining; The Opening is a right-on blast of joy. From 3rd July 2012.

Grand Bassin

biki

Another great piece from Jean-Luc Guionnet, the French fellow who first crossed our pathway with his church organ experiments, but is also a saxophone improviser and a very good sound artist. On Quelque Chose Au Milieu (CIRCUM-DISC LX008 / BECOQ RECORDS 25), we have a strong collaboration with the alto saxophone duo Bi-Ki?, who are Sakina Abdou and Jean-Baptiste Rubin. The duo played in various very specific locations around Lomme in France, and Guionnet recorded them – here credited with the very precise French term “prise de son”, and he also did the editing and mixing. The locations are one half of the pleasure to listening to this record, mostly chosen for their sonority and possibility of natural echo, I suppose, but it’s also nice to hear background sounds becoming part of the music too. Said locations include a municipal swimming pool, a church, a hotel, a market, and a bridge near the motorway.

As I write these lines, it seems I’m making out that Quelque Chose Au Milieu is merely an “interesting” process piece, but somehow I find there is more substance to it which I can’t readily account for. It might be the photographs in the insert, which although they’re documenting the actions of the recordings, are both strangely evocative and seem to be documenting something else altogether. I like the way that the figures of the artists are, in a couple of images, rendered as mysterious while silhouettes, as if they were missing persons. And the lovely blue colour of the printing may also be adding to my delusional rhapsody. There’s also an explanatory line or two describing the genesis of the works, printed in French, but I think the gist of it is that Bi-Ki? have always been preoccupied with “la question de lieu”, the question of a place or location, and how to express it in recorded sound. This collaboration with Guionnet is their response to the problem.

In short: very enjoyable long slow saxophone drones arising from pure improvisation, and tied to their locations through a combination of preparation, selection, good recording techniques, sensitivity to the environment, and strong ideas. All of this means that Quelque Chose Au Milieu is not simply nice music with field recordings added on, which anyone could do (and these days, everyone and his brother does precisely that). From 11 April 2016.

Out of Twenty-Four

GRUEN-156_Invading_Pleasures

Intensive exploration of the possibilities of the saxophone in modern music on Infinite Jest (GRUENREKORDER Gruen 156). The duo Mark Lorenz Kysela and Nikola Lutz, calling themselves Invading Pleasures, are consummate players dedicating to pushing envelopes and expanding the boundaries of what is considered possible to play on the saxophone. To that end, here are six compositions and situations set up to test their mettle, including works by Uwe Rasch, Malte Giesen, Remmy Canedo, Joseph Michaels, and Lutz herself. They treat the sounds of their instruments extensively with live electronics, play multiple instruments at the same time, and draw no lines between composition and improvisation. The works here are heavily annotated, but these notes mostly describe the elaborate processes involved in their creation; one of them uses graphics scores derived from photographs, another piece doubles up the instrument pitches with “Midi sounds and meaningless speech”. Still another boasts that it is “about sound meta-annihilation, abstract violence, broken lines and tempo shifts” and goes on to quote Georges Bataille. In short, I know when I’m outsmarted; this release is far too intellectualised and hyper-musical for me to derive much enjoyment from it, and while one can admire the skills on offer and the unusual sounds created, the operation feels far too poised and contrived, and the music emerges as something cold and clinical in its perfection. The work doesn’t appear to be about anything, other than the process by which it was created, and the musicians’ ability to play it. From 26 January 2016.

How High The Moon

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Impressive free jazz team-up on Wood Moon (JVTLANDT JVT0016 / TOZTIZOK ZOUNDZ TOZ017) – it was a one-off meeting between the Dutch drummer Rogier Smal and the Japanese saxophonist, Ryoko Ono. Ryoko Ono is a new name to me but I’m very impressed by her fluent playing and uncluttered style; she gets on with the job at hand and makes “high energy” music seem like something she could do without breaking into a sweat, executing complex moves with ease. Her press points to her interest in several forms of music outside of jazz, including free improvisation and avant-garde noise, which is the kind of claim made on behalf of many a cultural omnivore these days. But Ryoko Ono, I learn to my advantage, has a history of adding her sax work to LPs by Acid Mothers Temple, and other unusual latterday Jap-psych records, such as releases by Atsushi Tsuyama, the zaniest member of Kawabata Makoto’s ever-changing collective. I’m now intrigued enough to start looking for records by Psyche Bugyou, whose output has strangely enough passed me by. Experimental skittery brush-work drummer Smal is also new to me, but anyone who makes a record with Dylan Carlson and has played alongside Eugene Chadbourne is welcome in this humble abode.

Wood Moon for the most part resembles John Coltrane for me, particularly some of the cuts on 1960’s all-time classic Giant Steps, except that Ono does the overblowing and sax-screaming thing with an incredible perfection – almost too perfect, in places making her performances verge on the synthetic, and I’m amazed at the way she can regain balance with such sangfroid after performing a series of near-impossible acrobatics with her horn. It’s kind of a samey sounding record too, most likely recorded at a single session, but for the presence of Track Four where we hear some of Ryoko’s charming vocalising, which she’s apparently able to do in between puffs on the sax. I’d have gladly paid double for an entire album of this surrealist jibber-jabber, where she appears to be possessed by a friendly Japanese demon. From 30 March 2016.

Cold Duck and Turkey

Cold Duck

S4
Cold Duck
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO096 CD (2015)

A choice of two fillings for your musical sandwich, both of a broadly improvised nature. First up, the frankly fearsome S4, who go the full free-improv route on nine, or rather IX, tracks of soprano sax exploration.

If, like me, you secretly think that the soprano sax is a fey, effete sort of instrument, this album will change your mind. It’s hard to believe that the noises on this disc are actually being produced by this instrument, or, for that matter, that human lungs can sustain these sort of tones. Safe to say that the quartet probably didn’t nip out for a Capstan Full Strength in the smoking sheds during breaks in recording.

Tunes you can whistle are in short supply, but there is a weird sort of melodiousness and harmony going on. The foursome unleash an astonishing assault of tones, drones, steam kettle whistles, tongue-popping, vaguely obscene bubblings and, on track V, a synchronised flurry of notes that you would swear are coming out of an electronic sequencer.

S4 are improv veterans John Butcher, Christian Kobi, Hans Koch and Urs Leimgruber. I found the whole thing cold, austere and yet somehow soothing.

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Tony Wilson 6Tet
A Day’s Life
CANADA DRIP AUDIO DA01107 CD (2015)

A Day’s Life is described as “avant jazz” on the press release, although it’s difficult to say what’s particularly “avant” about it, apart from some outbursts of fuzz and noise on a few tracks. This is just jazz as far as I can tell, and that’s A-OK by me.

The album is designed as a soundtrack to Tony Wilson’s novella of the same name, which chronicles 24 hours in the life of a crack-addict musician on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I haven’t read the novella, so I can’t comment on how well it fits the text, but the music certainly has a soundtrack feel to it, flowing together and establishing themes quite nicely.

The sextet swing like the Barry Island pirate ship ride throughout, and there’s some classy stuff going on in these funky, bluesy, occasionally rocking tunes. It’s very much an ensemble effort, so it seems a bit wrong to single out individual efforts. However, I’m very fond of Jesse Zubot’s violin on “The Morn’ In Blues”, and Peggy Lee’s funky cello on “Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be”. This particular track features a feedback freakout part of the way through, possibly meant to suggest a crack hit – which is as close to it as I ever want to get.

Expertly played, well-crafted, worth your time if you’re in the mood for some noir-tinged jazz.

The Raw and the Cooked

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Ulrich Krieger
/RAW:ReSpace/
USA XI RECORDS XI137 2 x CD (2015)

We have briefly noted Ulrich Krieger some time ago…he contributed the composition ‘Black Smoker’ to an album of modern pieces played by Lucia Mense, the avant-garde recorder player. I think I was about right to characterise this California-based musician as a “musical omnivore who composes, improvises, plays chamber music and electronic music, and draws no boundaries between free noise, heavy metal and ambient music.” This is borne out by the splendid double-CD we now have before us today, where we can enjoy several lengthy and very successful forays he has made into the world of feedback and saxophone-generated sounds. It’s called the “first-ever experimental noise-metal saxophone solo album”, a boast which is amply backed up by the music. Everything was recorded in 2013 in Acton, California.

Five pieces on the first disc are gathered under the heading RAW, and it’s intended as a set of musical portraits of Desert Towns of Southern California. Ulrich Krieger thinks big; these pieces are huge enough to get lost in, and feel close to conceptual Earth Art pieces of the 1960s and 1970s; they’re more like geography than music. You can’t really conceive these monstrous, over-sized events happening on a concert stage or at a music festival; nothing could really contain them, it’s not music that lends itself to user-friendly repackaging. All sounds are created with an “electric tenor saxophone”, and he also uses the sax to control feedback, plus foot pedals and delay effects…but Krieger is keen to stress there are “no purely electronic sounds” and that the saxophone persists at the heart of this gargantuan beast. Listeners who have turned up here looking for a harder, sterner version of Sunn O))) or heavy metal guitar drone are advised to check out ‘Needles’ and ‘California City’, which feature the lumbering drumming of guest player Joshua Carro (a composer in his own right, who has made records for Vent Sounds and Somehow Recordings). Both cuts destroy the opposition, and will flatten you as surely as a falling boulder flattens Wile E. Coyote. Krieger’s vocals on ‘Needles’ are especially alarming…an enraged Neanderthal grunting appears to be his only comment on this particular locale, famed in my mind as being the home of Snoopy’s cousin Spike.

The other cuts on CD1 are equally appealing, though; ‘Trona’ could be mistaken for an offering in the “harsh noise wall” genre at first glance, but when you get closer you can perceive the basic sound is still a man’s breath passing through a metal tube; it’s probably that the feedback makes it all seem so crazy, untamed. ‘Shoshone’ emphasizes the wild dynamics of Krieger’s approach, and keeps veering from near-empty bleak drones of death to alarming sheets of single-note noise-drone. One extreme to the other, to put it more plainly. Here’s one instance where it’s hard to believe there are no overdubs creating this complex array. Opening cut ‘Desert Center’ is bleakest of all, where some of the bleached-out quality appears to have been produced by a quarter-inch jack cable, demonstrating Krieger’s mastery of his process. The protracted breathing effects continue for nigh-on 13 minutes; it feels like he’s suffocating, drowning in desert sand and sun, and soon you will join him. Did I mention that RAW is “dedicated to the memory of Lou Reed”? A more fitting tribute to Metal Machine Music you won’t get in our lifetimes.

If RAW is the noisy audience-grabbing attention-seeking half of the set, ReSpace is the one for the cerebral half of the audience. 74 minutes of extremely quiet and understated minimalism, probably manifesting something of Krieger’s interest in Just Intonation; its meditational tones are not too far apart from what any La Monte Young disciple has concocted using sine waves or pulse generators. Krieger does it all with saxophone-controlled feedback and his delay setup. This is a piece of blank canvas conceptual art after the sprawling action-painting of RAW, and its serene calmness clearly hasn’t come from the same raging turmoil of emotion that created the angry and desolate tracks on CD 1. True to its title, the presentation – or re-presentation – of “space” feels like a remarkable feat of engineering, proposing a glimpse of infinite horizons, by very simple means; for some reason I am reminded of the work of James Turrell, whose work always managed to keep one foot in reality (based on natural phenomena of the earth, and the light) no matter how abstract it became.

Krieger’s credentials as an outlaw performer subsisting on the fringes of rock and avant-garde music are foregrounded by the press notes here, reminding us that he’s performed with Lou Reed in the Metal Machine Trio, Text Of Light, Faust, and Zbigniew Karkowski; we might add Zeitkratzer to that list, and he even has some connection to French art-rock veterans Art Zoyd. As to the heavy metal strand, there’s his own noise metal band Blood Oath, and the glowing endorsement by Ivar Bjornson of Enslaved printed in the enclosed booklet, which namechecks everyone from Swans, Sonic Youth and Merzbow to Lasse Marhaug. Similar effusions of delight have been supplied by Lee Ranaldo (he’s composed a beatnik poem in praise of Krieger’s horn), Jean-Hervé Péron, and Ignacio Julià, the jobbing Spanish rock writer, who is unequivocal about the value of Krieger’s music; he calls it “the search for the Absolute”. Superlatives abound in this booklet, but this is very good music indeed. From 1st February 2016.

Distressed Frequencies

Bryan Eubanks Stéphane Rives

Bryan Eubanks / Stéphane Rives
fq
FRANCE POTLATCH P215 CD (2014)

Here we have Bryan Eubanks with his trusty oscillators and feedback synthesiser; and Stéphane Rives on soprano saxophone. Eubanks has previously worked in collaboration with Catherine Lamb, Jason Kahn, Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura, while Rives was involved in the Propagations saxophone quartet album also on Potlatch and plays in duo with percussionist Seijiro Murayama. Of his own practice with the saxophone, Rives says: “…Once one adopts a way of thinking based on the sort of filtering any electronic musician does, one’s attention is drawn to the tiny micro-events that are barely audible in a traditional approach…” So based on this statement alone, a good match for Bryan Eubanks it would seem. This is from 2014 and as I’m a bit late getting my hands on it, you may be aware that it has been very well-received from certain quarters of the UK scene already.

Lots of high end frequency distress to begin with. Eubanks is not afraid to get his hands dirty with the synth feedback – some really brutal tones are being generated here. The feedback techniques Eubanks employs create explosions and glitch-chatter, fizzing emptiness and white-hot contusions rather than the high pitched drone effect that you might expect when the word “feedback” is bandied about. It does sound a bit like cheap-mic feedback at 15:20 though (one of my favourite noises – it may not be yours) before descending into utter madness/silence. Rives keeps his end of the bargain up; his sax multiphonics blend seamlessly into Eubanks’ output. An interesting characteristic of this music that I’ve noticed over repeated listens is that sounds occasionally appear to come from other parts of the room rather than from my hi-fi speakers. I’m not suggesting that some kind of surround or multi-channel processing is being used (there’s certainly no mention of such a thing happening anywhere that I can find), but perhaps there is some small level of perceptual disorientation at work by use of sounds extending outside of normal human hearing?

Amongst the crushing bouts of signal distortion, there are some interesting “beat” frequencies around 8-9 minutes and some tonally interesting work around 11 minutes, surrounded by flashes of squall and dither. At times, surprisingly similar results from the two different sources. Things move up and out of the range of human, or at least my, hearing around 24 minutes. It is impressive the way Rives can follow the electronics even into super-high frequency range. For fans of electronics in distress for sure. Alternately brutal but with a light touch.

As an interesting post-script to those of you of a train-spotterish nature, fq was recorded at Studio 8 in Berlin by Adam Asnan who you may know as one third of the excellent trio VA AA LR.

Sax Brutarian

Broetzmann

Peter Brötzmann
Münster Bern
SWITZERLAND CUBUS RECORDS CR 371 CD (2015)

In which we find a centuries-old gothic cathedral overwhelmed by a horde of one in the shape of sax brutarian Peter Brötzmann. Said disc was recorded at ‘The Festival for Improvised Music’ in October 2013 at Münster Cathedral in Bern, Switzerland, before what appears to be a smallish congregation who are unsure whether vociferous appreciation is the done thing in a place of worship. No such doubt over volume ever crossed the mind of Herr B., rest assured. In fact a building such as this offers the perfect setting for an experiment or two in sonics; not to completely shake the walls, but to occasionally bounce a series of roughly hewn notes off them. Especially so on the longest improv “Crack in the Sidewalks” in which his initially mournful cries build to a cluster of choking goose honks that rebound off the rafters as a form of call and response, between Brötzmann and ghost Brötzmann. This effect also comes to the fore on “Chaos of Human Affairs”, but these red-blooded tenor blasts, seemingly channeling the spirit of Albert Ayler, could never equal flautist Paul Horn’s experiments decades earlier, where his playing in the Taj Mahal yielded echoes with a ridiculous, almost impossible delay. Nice try though.

The bass clarinet is dusted off for “Move and Separate”, those breathy wingbeats little preparing the listener for a trail of ether-bound shrieks and screams. And remaining with the semi-exotic, on “Bushels and Bundles”, his playing of the tárogató (a soprano sax/english horn hybrid, with origins in fifteenth-century Hungary), appears to have a quote from the bewitching “Nature Boy” sewn into it; that hit from the dream state, penned by Eden Ahbez and sung to utmost perfection by Nat ‘King’ Cole.

This, Peter’s fifth ‘one man and his reeds’ project thankfully maintains his attack, attack, ATTACK! philosophy and offers a more confrontational and spikey counterpoint to the more considered nature of the Brit solo jazz pack (Watts, Coxhill, Parker et al).

The Yellow Maze

Got the first two releases from Earwash Records, a small record label based in Berlin offering downloads and physical copies produced in nice silk-screened packages. It’s run by two artists using it as a showcase for their own work.

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On Three Fate Tales (EARWASH RECORDS 02), the guitarist Ian Douglas-Moore presents three long pieces of process-based sound art. It’s something to do with “an investigation of space”, and the long tones created here manage in some way to inscribe the dimensions of an entire environment, as if we were hearing a blueprint for an urban sprawl being created in the air around us. There’s a diagrammatic quality, as if the sounds were being used for making measurements. Some of this sound has its origins in an electric guitar, but there are other recordings and electronics, and there’s some rough processing going on to create distortion, feedback, and very high-pitched sensations, so that very little of it is recognisable as guitar music. He’s interested in at least two things; creating changes, and concealing the source material throughout the work, until such time as he’s ready to reveal it. From this strategy, it’s not clear where the sounds are happening, nor what’s causing them; and the shifts in timbre thus generated are quite astonishingly dynamic, creating very physical surprises that are somewhat disorienting. The aural equivalent of pulling the rug out from under us.

This does feel like very radical process-based work, and I’m very much in favour of it. I’m reminded for some reason of structural-materialist film from the 1970s, where a film-maker might create a new film from refilming an old one, or treating a length of unexposed stock in the optical printer. The work might then be structured to begin with the processed sections, so that original source material would only be revealed much later on. I don’t have a specific film in mind, but that process is recognisable. This is a very good piece of noise, not empty drone for its own sake and certainly free from the tedium of tasteful ambient droning.

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Some of the same concerns and methods show up on Mediumcloud Noise Music for Saxophone/Guitar (EARWASH RECORDS 02), where Douglas-Moore teams up with sax player Paul N. Roth. Two very long pieces of performance / improvisation exhibit an amazing and intense blend of sounds, the guitar’s “sine tones, feedback, and a deliberate approach to sonic layering” mixed with what Roth describes as an “electronics-influenced approach” to playing the alto saxophone. Again, it’s about constant shifting, manipulation and changing of the aural environment, and both artists stay completely focussed on this task, never wavering from the path into distraction or error. Net result is a very strong episode of powerful, mesmerising drone music full of phase and colliding tones; one might almost say it has a magnetic pull, as the waves of sound tug back and forth like the tides of a sluggish, metallic ocean. Nothing clinical or conceptual about any of this; the scuzz and filth of amplified noise is just a heartbeat away, but what’s relevant here is the control that’s exercised by both players, rather than wallowing in the murk of excessive volume. I like the sleeve design too, a bold statement in red and yellow produced by Stefan Roigk. Both of these records are highly recommended. From 6th August 2015.