Hypernormal Curves in Weyl Space

Andrew Raffo Dewar, Ekphrasis Suite (RASTASCAN RECORDS BDR 075)
Modernist composition – jazz-ish – for a quartet, comprising Gino Robair, Kyle Bruckmann, and John Shiurba, all noted experimental musicians from the Bay Area. Dewar himself plays sax. Derived from visual artworks – by Pete Schulte – and taking cues from their structure. For those who wish to search for traces of what might a graphical-score type exercise, the Schulte artworks are reproduced on the CD panels. Poignantly, Ekphrasis is a Greek term, meaning describing one art form in terms of another. Influences to be found here from Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, and Alvin Lucier. Very pleasing combination of instruments in this chamber ensemble, with Robair’s vibraphone standing out in particular, although the atonal stabs and swipes of Shiurba’s guitar add many astringent moments. The precision and mastery of these unusual instrumental lines is remarkable, and indicators of the composer’s intellectual effort in making them surface in the elaborate titles, such as ‘Cellular notation embedded in the inspiring artwork is circumnavigated.’ Originally composed in 2013-14, and recorded in Berkeley late 2014. Very diverse and rewarding, with challenging complexities yet remaining quite accessible, this is an integrated artistic statement. (04/01/2022)

Jane Rigler, Curtis Bahn, Thomas Ciufo, ElectroResonance (NEUMA RECORDS NEUMA 152)
“Immersive electroacoustic music” by these three players, to do with creating a “space” in which human beings can interact, and inspired by the precepts of Oliveros and deep listening. May use computer processing to form a mesh with the electro-acoustic instrumentation; Rigler plays flutes, Bahn is pictured with a sitar, and Ciufo is pictured with gongs and percussion. They seem reluctant to say much more about themselves, but that’s fine; the delicate music they make evokes a great deal of compassion and inclusivity, besides its potent meditational qualities. A productive session they had, and we can all benefit. (07/01/2022)

Philippe Petit and Michael Schaffer, 2 (OPA LOKA RECORDS OL202102)
French electro-acoustic musician Petit duets with German ambient musician Schaffer, on their second collaboration. The plan is to blend the modular synth work of Petit with Schaffer’s stringed instruments, which I think means mostly Buchla synths versus heavily treated electric guitars. Moments of restrained subtlety and moodiness are followed by sudden stabs of great drama and import, and from the blurb on the back the musicians evidently hope to invoke and suggest forces of thunder and lighting, mountains rumbling, and thick clouds of smoke. The distorted visage on the front cover doesn’t exactly project an aura of happiness either, and his very head is being distended by unknown forces, much to his chagrin and pain. Plus his skin is changing colour, to match those of the alien invaders. Very “busy” surface on these six cuts, roughed up with microdots of synth burbling and restless six-string scratching, at times creating very alien and unfamiliar atmospheres; the pair achieve some unusual audio collisions. Yet still something refuses to cohere for me, and the overall impression is rather sketchy. (04/01/22)

Pless, Hypernormal (EVEREST RECORDS er_100)
Pless are the Swiss duo of Philipp Thoni and Leo Matkovic. Now doing electronica and beats with guitar lines, but they used to be in a Metal band called Unhold. For their LP, they’re clearly not troubled by any recent developments in minimal glitch or pared-down Techno, and on one track ‘La Cienaga’ they default to a species of over-cluttered playing that makes me wonder if they’re simply back-pedalling to more familiar turf, when drama and histrionics were sufficient to drive their audiences nuts. However, cuts such as ‘La Grenouille Volante’ and ‘Ante Finem’ show they are capable of reining in their passions, with semi-minimal results; these cuts have the “cinematic” and “atmospheric” vibes that they’re evidently hoping for, even if they’re still unable to compose a memorable or worthwhile melody with their uncertain and half-baked keyboard playing. Even their sound is rather dated, with synth settings that wouldn’t have felt out of place in the mid-1980s. In time and with more practice, they might eventually connect to a Cold Wave audience, if they could just project a more bleak or troubled vibe. (04/01/2022)

Curve is the second album by Australian pianist Alister Spence – we could probably locate it in the free jazz / free improvisation area, although as a pianist he’s not going for the all-out attack of a Cecil Taylor and indeed is capable of forming an entire piece from a series of well-played and thought-out chords, arranged in pleasing semi-melodic forms. The improvisatory side of the album is enhanced by the use of rough non-musical sounds – scraped percussion, jangly bells, weird sighs from the bowed bass, and even Spence himself plays a prepared piano to create memorable thunks. All these strategies remind me somewhat of what Keith Tippett did in the 1970s, opening the lid of the grand piano to insert any number of toys, rattlers, music boxes, and percussive instruments to jangle against the stringboard. Joined by the Canadian bassist Joe Williamson and the Swedish percussionist Christopher Cantillo. Quite listenable; compared to some recent examples of contemporary jazz which can be dry, minimal, and attenuated, Alister Spence favours a musical identity that is warm and humanistic. The recording here was made in Sweden in 2011, predating the group’s debut album from 2013. (02/12/2021)