INTUITIVE MUSIC CD REVIEWS
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Ganglia. VocColours + Andrei Razin. VocColours: Norbert Zajac, Brigitte Küpper, Gala Hummel, Iouri Grankin. Andrei Razin (piano, voice). Also featuring King Imagine (bells, singing bowls). Creative Sources Recordings 548 CD.
VocColours come close to minimalism on this CD with its textures ranging from the fastest gibberish nonsense imaginable to stuff so slow you can hear the grass grow - and yet with fantastic intuitive shifts. Some short verbal agreements have come into play here, but they don't appear to prevent the fun at all.
Compassion & Evidence. Dominic Cramp (Lyra) - Mike Khoury (viola) - Phillip Greenlief (ts, BB clarinet) - Gino Robair (electronics). CD Entropy Stereo Music. Creative Sources CS 632 CD. http://www.entropystereo.com/distribution.html
All the music here is dripping. Short impulses and figures, discrete ostinatos or long sounds may come and go. Pointillistic, ambient, spacious. Endlessly organically present and captivating. Four tracks of different duration, total duration 49 minutes.
Randi Pontoppidan: Rooms. CD, LP, streaming and Bandcamp. Chant Records, CR1901TO. Randi Pontoppidan (DK) solo: voice, sampling, various live electronic processing.
Solo voice - which also generates a variety of sounds which are caught by sampling, transformed and layered together - everything is live. While such procedures may sometimes result in a heavy and clumsy entourage compared to the rapid moves of instrumental and voice action, everything here is part of an utterly sensitive playing - a polyphonic universe filled with fascinating details and yet sounding like simply an improvised whole. In other words, everything moves intuitively. This appears also to be the case with the "tracks" that sound like they were just bookmarks in an unbroken process, even though selections were in fact made for the release. But both individual selections and their sequence convey the improvised spirit excellently.
Voccolours - Alexey Kruglov - Roman Stolyar - Oleg Yudanov - Andrei Razin: Russian Affair. Artbeat club edition, Art-Beat Music (Leo Records), AB-CD-09-2016-108. Sales: firstname.lastname@example.org - See below for previous releases.
Voccolours are doing it again... with new Russian guests who also understand well both to play along and to make space for the voices. The ensemble, in a matured state, performs its characteristic sounds and textures with great clarity.
Sven Dam Meinild: Grafiske mutationer / Graphic Mutations. Cassette released by Infinite Waves, DK. Sold by the composer here (110 DKK incl. pp to Denmark) and www.hhv.de. The scores are presented on the composers' homepage: http://svenmeinild.com/?page_id=88. Music can also be heard on Spotify and downloaded on Itunes (search for Meinild). A short interview and music on video here.
Played by: Elguitar Quartet: Peter Albrechtsen, Lars Bech Pilgaard, Jeppe Brix Sørensen, Claus Haxholm. Syvende & Sidst (vocals): Deidre J.Humphreys, Maria la Cour, Birgitte Lundtoft, Mia L.Edelgart, Anna Wærum Hansen. DQ Octet: Anders Filipsen, Rasmus Kjær (keys), Henrik Olsson, Claus Haxholm (gt), Asger Thomsen, Jonathan Aardestrup (bass), Morten Skøtte, Jens Lopes (dr). Wind Octet: Erik Kimestad, Tomasz Dabrowski (tr), Sven Meinild, Henrik Pultz Melbye, Mads Egetoft (sax), Kristian Tangvik, Rasmus Kjærsgård Lund (tuba).
This release is of a rare kind: a cardboard box with graphic scores and cassette tapes. The scores allow you to enjoy the music both from looking and from listening. There are two takes of each with different musicians, which all perform with inspiration and freshness. The release does not cost much and is to be recommended if you like beautiful objects on a record shelf.
At the homepage there are some informations not included in the release. Scores have just a minimum of explanations, but they have some and also appear to have been created with playing in mind. Personally I think that in the first piece, Map No.1, some visual elements are reflected in both versions, but listen for yourself...
Spent 10 Minutes Looking at Trees which has a time-line is the next. Interpreting this piece, the same ensembles sound differently - evidently as a result of the score's focus on long and short durations of tones.
In Slow Zones both ensembles take the notated ostinatos to funny and creative uses, and the division into a first lively part and a more simple and spacy one recurs.
Finally, Grafik 2B is a collage to be played from different starting-points simultaneously, and it produces dense and complex patterns accordingly. What is on the opposite side of the paper is not a part of this piece, as was the case with Map No.1, but one which is not played at all in this collection, one can infer from the homepage.
While one can play from any picture with no agreements beforehand, these scores are a bit more structured towards defining the music, but not to a very high degree. Slightly more info than on the homepage has probably been added verbally from the composer during rehearsals and maybe some common discussion made. Such details seem to remain an enigma for us who try to follow, though tracing correspondences can be enjoyable. But the improvised sensitivity with the musicians cannot be mistaken.
CARSTEN DAHL COPENHAGEN AARHUS. Carsten Dahl, solo piano. 2 CD set. Edge Music 4763025. Cop. 2005 (recorded 2004). Deutsche Grammophon. I discovered its existence only now, even though I was present at one of the concerts.
Don't tell me one cannot make long solo piano improvisations after Keith Jarrett. Both pianos and improvisations and solos have come to stay, and this is a music form capable of both challenging the musician and of revealing a lot of what music form is about: when the music endures through a long time, both artist and listener have to deal intensively with the "story" as the big whole it becomes. The listener must invest some patience and may be rewarded by glimpses of transparency which extend the magic of single moments.
One should not be mistaken by the outer appearance of the CD set. There is no mention that this is free improvisation, maybe due to the German copyright organisation not acknowledging this music form yet - Deutsche Grammophon is behind this release. On the cover, Dahl is portrayed as a lonesome artist in a gloomy former factory environment, while the concerts took place in halls with enthousiastic audiences. Highly recommended!
ZVUKLANG. VOCCOLOURS & ALEXEY LAPIN. Norbert Zajac, Brigitte Küpper, Gala Hummel, Iouri Grankin (voice), Alexey Lapin (pno). Leo Records, CD LR 690, 2013.
LUXATIO. VOCCOLOURS & EBERHARD KRANEMANN. Norbert Zajac, Brigitte Küpper, Gala Hummel, Iouri Grankin (voice), Eberhard Kranemann (double bass, electronics). Leo Records, CD LR 720, 2015.
VocColours is a 4 person improvising German vocal ensemble having Phil Minton as a common inspiration background.
There is much drive and many interesting sounds in these CDs. "Mouth sounds", many varieties of call-response, sometimes solo with accompaniment, sometimes very mixed and a stunning polyphony of extremely individual timbres and characters. Such polyphony might be what we need after the harmonic age: recognising individuality instead of conforming and yet having fun together - what else! Some rare moments with long and intense quiet tones. Not to forget the many kinds of funny "ostinato machines".
The instrumental guests - piano for the first CD, contrabass for the second - perform wonders of really being a part of the ensemble, adding to both sound and interaction while never being obtrusive.
Both CDs feature long and dynamic improvisations and are live recordings. There were no previous agreements I have been told, and this is so even if the second CD has a very clear sound and features electronic processing of sounds and a rhythm box in track 6. At the beginning of track 4 they speak of written notes, but do not believe it: it's a joke.
RECALL. Gilbert Isbin, lute, Scott Walton, cb. pfMENTUM CD 073. 2012.
Unusual instrument combination, but there is a good balance on this recording and, it seems, in playing. Pieces by Isbin, inspired by classical lute music, alternate with improvisations. Even if this is just a duo, they are full of sound, variety and interaction.
ZEITKRATZER: KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN. AUS DEN SIEBEN TAGEN. Old School series. zkr 0012. Unbegrentzt, Verbindung, Nachtmusik, Intensität, Setz die Segel zur Sonne. Burkhard Schlothauer, Anton Lukoszevieze, Uli Phillipp, Reinhold Friedl, Marc Weiser, Christain Lillinger, Frank Gratkowski, Hold Sofie Tafjord, Hilary Jeffery, Martin Wurmnest.
Well, what to say! Musicians are well-informed about the pieces, as the booklet's good descriptions shows, and Verbindung (Connection) I can recommend for listening. The developing polyphony demanded by the playing instructions and described in the booklet becomes reasonably clear. Nachtmusik has a structure being similiar in principle but the result here seems less clear. Unbegrentzt and Intensität are pieces that do not demand such a structure, they may become much simpler and take more immediate shape from what the improvising musicians do with them. So it seems to happen here with a sound that sounds like noise-music to me. Coloured noise often appears as a cloudy mass around everything, even throughout the long version of Setz die Segel zur Sonne - however not in the short version of Intensität which is more pointillistic. Nothing is wrong, but I miss more differentiation.
This is so despite the fact that Friedl, Lukoszevieze and Gratkowski are also known from BBC's different, great Hear and Now Aus den Sieben Tagen Concerts in November 2008.
It should be added that Friedl's statement to the effect that Aus den Sieben Tagen is "a kind of monolith" in Stockhausen's work could be misunderstood. While it is of course true that he often worked with other notational means including the quite traditional ones, one should not forget there is one more collection of prose pieces published in 1976, Für kommende Zeiten (For Times to Come).
GRAMPUS. Louis Lopez (tr, voice, lap), Mike Lockwood (dr perc), Daniel Eaton (trb, synth, lap) Onserud, Dan Osterman and Mark Trayle. pfMENTUM CD 068. 2011.
The peculiar mix again! The static and massiveness of noise/ambient - and the uneasyness of jazz and experimental and scratching sounds. Maybe minimalistic touches. Done in a number of ways...
NOT FAR FROM HERE. Dick Wood with Dan Clucas, Chuck Manning, Marty Mansour, Hal Onserud, Dan Osterman and Mark Trayle. pfMENTUM CD 065. 2011.
Here are some peculiar and funny mixtures. Solos may sound far more avantgardistic than the arrangements - and they may be duos instead. And boundaries between solo and ensemble may blur. Whilst this might recall Coleman, the free way of soloing might also in some far-out way be compared to the hilarious New Orleans spirit. Both receive mention as inspirations in the notes.
www.alg-label.com has already 57 releases. I found two recent ones with free improvisations - the reader might browse on...
Montée des eaux. Diatribes: Cyril Bondi (dr, objects), D'Incise (laptop, objects) & Rafat Mazur (acoustic bgt) & Dragos Tara (one string bass, laptop), alg-057, 2011.
Saturated sound comprising a large pitch space, very gradual changes throughout but going different sounding places.
El ojo del huracán. Chefa Alonso (ss) Albert Klaus (pno) alg-055, 2010.
A very differently sounding recording - more melody-oriented at times, but also with textures, in any case the simplicity of two acoustic instruments together.
FINE TUNING. The Gradisca concert. Lol Coxhill (ss) - Enzo Rocco (gt). Amirani 024. www.amiranirecords.com
Just having done a similar intimate duo collaboration I wonder what is taking place in such a situation. From Cage we have learned that we can be independent, each doing his or her own thing, and this could seem the soundest point of departure. But there is togetherness also, building on mutual respect and awareness. Had we been quite alone each of us, some of it would not have happened that way. There seems to be a certain taking shape of each other, without being controlled by it, not having been installed by will. And maybe some good ideas and fun together do arise from the other one.
This recording seems to be so. Musicians play along, like taking a walk together. Subtle similarities and counterpoints in their pacing, in the lengths of their utterances and pauses occur all the time. The landscape seems to shift, the ground under their feet too, pauses may become longer, their statements different. Musical material consists mostly of motifs too short to really be called motifs, scale bits, repetitions, and little utterances coloured and twisted in special ways by the instrument use. Far from the music being fragmented, this entails flexibility, and there is an organic flow being carried on all along, a keeping awake all of the 33 minutes of this long improvised piece. - After twelve minutes the sax takes a two and a half minutes solo, a refreshing contrast. The guitar has much lesser time for that later, despite the sax performing occasional pauses and gentlemanly accompanying behaviour some of the time. Is it the star quality attatched to the sax instrument intruding here? Back to the duo collaboration, everything is subtly dialoguing and commonly building again, now eventually with more long texture-like sounds towards the conclusion.
www.zeromoon.com is one more netlabel place where improvised music can be found.
Third Object Orchestra has a release there based on a graphic score by Daniel Barbiero from 2010. He plays along himself with Paolo Vallodolid (viola), Doug Stailey (cello), Daniel Barbiero (cb), Gary Rouzer (NS bass-cello, electronics, toys), Doug Kallmeyer (NS bass, electronics), and T.A. Zook (NS bass-cello). There is a conductor, Chris Videll. Se the score here !
Live recording, continous sound with some clear changes without leaving the dark, dense, noise-like way.
Visteclaro – 12 helices (2005). Leandro barzabal (electric gt, PU, steel pipe, contact mic, voc, motor1), Yagui Quintero (corno, tr, flutes, quena, harmonics, contact mic, bucket). www.zeromoon.com
This duo claims they can avoid 'the cliches that hinder improvised music'. Well, the highest human beings can reach in this respect is to accept their own point of departure, vary it and reflect on it by confronting it with other ways, it seems to me ;-) I am sure these musicians do indeed some of all this. Basically, this 45 minutes piece sounds to my ears as an adagio with sound sources like the corno and later recitation in the foreground, with a steady middle length phrasing soloing on the background of textures, taking its time also for pauses between phrases too. Albeit with a fine variation in how textures sound and with an almost more than monumental variation in loudness. A noise approach is apparent, but without the exclusive focus on textures and their unchanging density.
modisti.com is one more place to look for net-releases. You can choose "netlabel" and then click on one of the categories in the animation to the right - for instance, "free improvisation". Both streaming and download should be possible, although some technical errors seem to exist.
Included here is Hurta Cordel 97 with Hans Reichel (gt daxophon, vl) and Rüdiger Carl (acc concertina cl). As with previous music with Rüdiger Carl, there is often a touch of parody (as the jazz melody in no.3). Else, this is non-jazz improvisation behaving seemingly innocently, but there are developments...
From outside the free improvisation tag, I could mention Emmanuel Witzthum : chamber music - I'm thinking of the first piece. This is a composition being played by four pianists in slightly different tempos. So it's heterophony in pure cultivation - parts are variations over the same. Funny rhythmic structures arise out of this. - Saxophonist El Elrington's Nearing is 'minimal' (I would call it reductionist, to distinguish it from classical minimallism) - the first very long piece consists entirely of long tones and, you know, this universe of whisteling/hissing/whispering/etc. sounds saxophones can produce.
Looking into insubordinations.net again, I notice no.31, BBLUNK 'O'bcal with DoM DuboisTaine (pno) abd Tiri Carreras (dr) starting out with sensitive noise processes in the first track and continuing with varied rhythmic structures cultivating each a definite register on the piano, or combinations thereof, and motivic repetitions.
It might appear long overdue that I finally come to writing about Jeff Kaiser and collaborators' releases on pfMENTUM from American West Coast. I hope that in return this could take some attention to music that deserves to be remembered despite years passing.
13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic. The Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet. Eric Barber (ss ts), Vinny Golia (sax cl fl), Emily Hay (fl), Lynn Johnston (sax cl), Jason Mears (as), Dan Clucas/Kris Tiner (t), Michael Vlatkovitchh (trb), Eric Sbar (euph, valve-trb), Mark Weaver (tuba), Kim Connolly/Hal Onserud (cb), Wayne Peet (organ, theremin, electronics), Brad Dutz (perc), Richie West (dr perc), Jeff Kaiser (conductor, tr). 2003. pfMENTUM PFMCD013
Updated bigband! This starts off with something sounding like a nostalgic church tune, massively brassy and excellently played, and followed directly by a section with obviously some improvised little funny snatches swirling around, with a counterpart of some deep steady tones - gradually developing into a different texture of more clear-cut high tones and figures, still with independent tempo, now going into an "um-pa" marchlike structure with anarchistically sounding high trumpet flurries high above. This, however, develops on into (etc! etc!)... Kaiser has no fear of juxtaposing quite different kinds of music material. Above all, he has a wonderful sense of how to make improvisation work together with set elements and set developments with a large ensemble, as if this were no problem at all. We are dealing with conducted improvisation, in which elements and their typical developments easily could tend towards something one-layered and predictable. How is this possible? Probably through historically founded know-how concerning use of polyphonic layers, through making elements clear-cut (maybe not least visually, see below...) so as to not leave performers into doubt and thereby also setting them free to be independently creative where they should, but also not least through congenial musicians. Among their names, I can discern a number having made themselves known in the American West Coast improv scene. This composer/orchester collaboration shows what is possible through collective creation. Study this recording!
From Kaisers' score, consisting of 13 modules for free combination. This is heard at the beginning of the recording, right after the chorale start. Red lines depict "light, overlapping glissandi" in the strings, yellow figures depict "Light grouped tone clusters, upper voices ascending, light crescendo" for brass, the green pattern is "light, rapid scattering of sound" for percussion, and blue figures are "light overlapping tongue pops and sustained notes" for woodwinds.
The Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet with The Ojai Camerata. The Alchemical Mass. Suite Solutio. Woodwinds: Vinny Golia, Eric Barber, Jason Mears - Trumpet/Flugelhorn: Kris Tiner - Trombone: Michael Vlatkovitch - Tuba: Mark Weaver - Bass: Jim Connolly - Prepared Acoustic Guitar: Ernesto Diaz-Infante - Acoustic Piano: Wayne Peet - Percussion: Brad Dutz - Drum set: Richie West - Conducted by Jeff Kaiser and Dr. Wyant Morton. Trombone in Kaiser/Diaz-Infante Sextet: Scot Ray. 2004. pfMENTUM PFMCD024
The Alchemical Mass was commissioned by a choir, which may account for this music's more conservative character. It is probably highly effective for many ears geared more towards classical and not-too-experimental modern music, but compared to the visionary play with open textures of the previous release "13 Themes...", the musical language is confined within a traditional, monotonous way of declamation and use of tonal material, despite occasional polyphonic glissandos and exclamations and despite Kaiserian elements in the instrumental layers. - Suite Solutio seems to a large part based on layers of soloing, with a "modern jazzy" sound due to the frequent use of bass and drum drive. From my "sonic universe"-perspective, it it tempting to see it as a forerunner of the following 3 releases which celebrate an universe of flowing sound...
THE CHOIR BOYS. Jeff Kaiser (trumpet, quarter-tone trumpet, flugelhorn, liveprocessing), Andrew Pask (clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano, alto and tenor sax, bass penny whistle, live processing). 2005.pfMENTUM PFMCD024
Here are short sounds, micro-figures and textures, trumpet flurries - tightly integrated with electronic sound which makes various delay and transformation of them, most of the time rather echoing and extending the laid-back feeding of instrumental sounds than taking it out of its way of being. At the end of track 7 instruments are heard "solo", just with reverberation, as the "naked" form of electronic processing.
THE CHOIR BOYS WITH STRINGS. Jeff Kaiser and Andrew Pask (see above) plus G.E. Stinson (electric guitars, electronics), Stueart Liebig (contrabass guitars, electronics). 2006. pfMENTUM PFMCD037.
Here the flowing process with more musicians becomes more dense and more water-like. There is a liberating quality to this flowing kind of music, no nailing down to motifs and fixed forms but a high degree of integration of elements and the unfolding form. Whereas in the previous release musicians consciously refrained from pre-recorded samples, a few sounds from "outside" may appear discretely here. Both are, however, recorded in real time - this from a live concert, the previous one in the studio.
ZUGZWANG. Jeff Kaiser (quarter-tone trumpet, electronics), Tom NcNally (electric guitar, electronics). 2006. pfMENTUM PFMCD038.
In this collaboration, some pieces become a bit more edgy and markedly more noise music-like.
Bruce Friedman: O.P.T.I.O.N.S. Optional Parameters To Improvise Nascent Sounds. Lynn Johnston (clarinets), Ellen Burr (flutes), Eric Shar (euphonium), Bruce Friedman (trumpet), Michael Intriere (cello), Andrea Liebherr (violin), Emily Beezhold (keyboard synthesizer), Jeremy Drake (electric guitar), Rich West (drums, percussion). pfMENTUM CD0054.
Beautyful score elements and conduction as basic for a music which is reductive, yet with fertile complexity. First track makes a very short introduction to this universe, and then how to go on? The main part of the CD is devoted to versions of the elements with solos and duos. This seemed at first a frightening idea to me, as I feared for boredom caused by soloistic dominance and the reduction of those interesting elements with so much happening inside to mere accompaniment. But something different happened: the ensemble could interact vividly with the soloist, so that mutual inspiration occurred, there were spaces in which the ensemble could gather up in peace, and, very importantly for the CD listener, the soloists were not given significantly more amplification than the others. This means one can listen to the overall sound and be free to enjoy everything in it, the soloists being solely those who do something else than the rest, which is a funny task to try to sort out listening. In other words, they add to the creative complexity instead of subtracting, and if there could exist such a thing as "democratic soloists", this would exemplify it.
The notated elements in themselves do not suggest much long-term development. It could be possible in a further step to develop some new ones that did... But here, the conductor counteracts the tendency towards the predictable by allowing long durations to some elements now and then.
For some strange reason the composer calls the elements "Monochromatic Textures". This means "one-coloured textures", and I completely disagree. To my ears, they are colourful. - Some elements can be seen on the illustration above, more at www.brucefriedmanmusic.com.
Le Car de Thon: Nos Meilleurs Stockhausen. Pieces from "Aus den Sieben Tagen" by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Yannick Barman: trompette, Brice Catherin: violoncelle et électronique, Vincent Daoud: saxophone (1-2-3), Jean Keraudren: spatialisation et effets (1-2-3), Christian Magnusson: trompette, Benoît Moreau: clarinette, Luc Müller: percussions, Cyril Regamey: percussions, Jocelyne Rudasigwa: contrebasse, Samira El Ghata: flûte à bec (4), Yuji Noguchi: clarinette (4), Sara Oswald: violoncelle (4), Jean Rochat: percussions (4). Insubordinations Netlabel [insub29], 2009
My first reaction to the first track, Aufwärts, was "oh, this is noise music!". A rather constant mass of sound, and where are the supposedly very different rhythms of "your smallest particles" and "the universe" the score demands... However, there is more and more internal life to the sound during this track. The next piece "Setz die Segel zur Sonne" is from the composers' hand, to be sure, about something almost static, slowly changing the intonation of long tones. This is not difficult to follow, and at the same time, this piece distinguishes itself clearly from the previous one. As was of course also meant by the composer, still something very different occurs in ES. This is the famous piece demanding to make pauses when you think and play only when you think nothing and are still inside. It seems it gives rise to a loosening of the heavy drone and "sound mass" approach, although "collective noisemaking" also is prominent here. Around 6 minutes from start the trumpet makes a series of repetitions of a figure, and I wonder whether this could really happen without thinking, with this memorizing, deciding to play it again, and such controlled action with lips and fingering?? And still, what happens connected to this indeed seems to have some of the characteristic "unconscious" character of the piece. Nachtmusik, the last piece, has again its quite own character, within a sound mass.
With the scores beeing so open as is the case here and dependent on the musicians' interpretation, it is clear we cannot always agree on everything. It is impressive the ensemble has been playing the pieces regularly for the past two years. There are, in any case, captivating processes and passages, although I would have liked to be able to connect what happens in the first and last piece more directly to the details of the texts.
In the style of this netlabel, there is even a cover picture. It shows primarily the old Stockhausen and, in the background, the young man. But these pieces was composed by a vigorous, mature man on his way to the age of forty.
BEACH CROSSING. Klaus Treuheit, cembalo, organ, prepared piano. KTMP 5308. www.klaustreuheit.de
It's obviously a good and funny idea to juxtapose these three keyboard instruments in different improvisations. The harpsichord "comes alive" with flowing textures, the organ inspires to sustained sounds, and the prepared piano produces both irregular and to some extent regular rhythmic playing, with vivid contrasts resulting between them. The compilation is a bit less effective, seemingly consisting of those recordings being at hand at the moment of compiling them - we get only two of the captivating organ recordings, and why just one recording of unprepared piano, when the instrumental contrast is supposed to be a main idea... But the qualities of the individual improvisations remain, of course, despite this problem of CD composing.
PROCESS & LISA ULLEN - LIVE IN KRAKOW. Rafal Mazur (cb) and Lisa Ullen (pno). Netlabel AudioTong (http://audiotong.net/cmsms/index.php?page=tng3013).
"Starting off with a low but intense sound the performance went into the area of unstoppable fury and passion", the notes say. This is quite correct. Maybe the fast-running, last part utilizes a texture typical of free jazz, reminiscent of walking bass. You may hear this division as a-bit-too-dictated-by-idiom or as producing order and variety; in any case, musicians play vividly all the way.
RED TOUCAN RECORDS is based in Quebec, Canada and has since around the middle of the nineties released jazz and improvised music - at present there are 35 of them.
amalgam (e) (2 CDs) RT 9325 is a compilation of tracks from the first ten years. In my perception, a bit less than half of the contents belong to "improvised music" (in varying degrees), rather than simply "modern jazz".
Joëlle Léandre is strongly represented with four selections showing extremely versatile and different improvisations. The CD No Comment (TR 9313, 1998) was already reviewed on this page. In "C'est ca # 7" (from c'est ca RT9315, 2000) she transforms swarms of sound into a fantastic machine in a trio together with Francois Houle (cl) and Hasse Poulsen (gt). In duo with pianist Masahiko Satoh (Signature # 4 from signature RT 9321, 2002, see also more below), a curious and beautiful "experimental chamber music" sound arises. With a different pianist Yuji Takahashi, a slightly more historical chamber music style comes about (signature # C, see also more below).
Arrears # 2 (arrears, RT 9320, 2002) goes from a peculiar mix of sax with shaky vibrato, high arpeggi in the piano and fast drumming to something more recoginzably "freejazzy" in fast tempo (Georg Graewe (pno), Frank Gratkowski (s), John Lindberg (b)).
And Rather Dour (wrack, RT9323, 2003) offer some hilarious moments of good ol' freejazz "anarchistic" tutti style with individual parts nevertheless making themselves heard through their rhythmic behaviour (Kyle Bruckmann (ob, engl.hr), Jeb Bishop (trbn), Tim Daisy (perc), Kurt Johnson (b), Jen Clare Paulson (viola). Compositionally interesting, perhaps the intensity of this stems from the tension with other structural elements - unisono intro (developing gradually into the tutti) and a viola solo followed by a sonic space with few quiet sounds and a unisono outro. How much space one should give to the various elements could be object of discussion - whether the intros and outros become too pompously long compared to the short tutti improv and why solo is taking up so much space compared to the tutti. Anyway, this is an intriguing composition, delivered in a high spirit. No composer is credited, but Red Toucan informs me it is Kyle Bruckmann.
Border Crossing Part I (border crossings RT9309, 1997) with Dana Reason (pno) and Peter Valsamis (dr, sampler) (is the latter really participating in this selection...) has wonderfully clear-cut structures of clusters, tone-repetion and glissando.
John Butcher on sax and Gerry Hemingway (dr, perc, sampler) make pointillistic music with fine inner dynamics (Shooters and bowlers, shooters and bowlers RT 9318, 2001).
And from the amalgam(e) jubilee compilation now on to a few more Red Toucan releases...
reg erg with Alberto Braida (pno) and Wilbert de Joode, RT 9332 (2007), (b) features what I hear as freejazz as a direct extension of modern jazz, with relatively fixed grooves, even if sounds growing out of silence has been added to the idiom. In track 6, however, the idiom "loosens" very much, it does not "rule" but becomes part of a highly inspired, innovating process.
houle leandre strid - 9 moments.It could seem that Houle and Strid have a more "solid", motoric approach to playing, compared to Léandre's chamber music-like sensitivity. In a few cases players let each other come into the foreground (the bass in track 5 and clarinet and percussion rushing along by themselves in track 8), but else a fine variety of clear, joint textures result, with varying degrees of silence, length of sounds and characters of impulses wowen together. Maybe this is exactly because they challenge each other, and I am reminded of Peter Niklas Wilson's statement which seems to apply here, that "there is only one freedom: that of the first tone" (he wrote that in the booklet to a different CD, Altri Suoni AS 041, with Eichenberger/Torre).
iro iro - Steve Cohn (pno and various instruments), Masahiko Kono (trb), Kevin Norton (perc), Tomas Ulrich (vcl)(2008). This CD features an ensemble set up by Steve Cohn with a view to making the ensemble a bit chamber music-like - this is what's behind the term "musical conception" stated on the inlaycard. Everything is freely improvised, I have been told in a conversation with Steve Cohn. This was an interesting surprise to me, as I formerly believed something had been aranged - in some cases building up sections around an initial solo (fourth piece), in other cases fixing the material (scratching and static sounds in the third piece), in still another case a gradual widening out of tempo layers (first piece). But as this is not the case, we have such clear contrasts and developments coming directly out of the improvised process. Players are used to step back and allow for solo things happening, says Steve Cohn. And, one might add, also to free, very polyphonic playing while still communicating well. Cohn describes an attitude behind like this: "Improvisors have the ability of basing their choice on what has already happened - like in your life, you don't want to repeat it in order to feel fresh, unless it has a developmental role". Wise words... Congratulations to this meeting of structure and fresh, intuitive playing from each and everyone!
Signature (RT9321, 2-CD) features duo sets with Joëlle Léandre and two Japanese pianists, Masahiko Satoh and Yuji Takahasi in live recordings (even if the sound approaches a studio one, maybe due to the intimate, small size of the concert space?). With Satoh, the music tends more towards the motoric and towards different, sustained characters. With Takahasi, more pauses provide some different opportunities for shifts and for creating tension and for playing long tones on the bass. A speciality of Takahasi is the reductionist/impressionistic use of tonal material.
wake. Gratkowski/Brown/Winant, RT9336. Frank Gratkowski (cl bcl sx), Chris Brown (pno, live electronics), William Winant (vibr perc). Live recording at Mills College, California, March 23, 2007. Improvisors work hard with responding to the needs of the moment, and a common danger is that this reacting in differentiated way for some reason ends up with an organic complexity in which improvisations resemble each other despite certain individualities, like trees in the wood. Can we also create overall structures encompassing really different landscapes - I mean, still as improvisors, without resorting to fixed arrangements? That would be an important virtue to strive for, and this trio seems to possess it. Sounds develop into relatively sustained structures that move and change for a long time while remaining themselves - the last 4 pieces do, in fact, appear exactly as "pieces" in this way. First track is a long one. It develops from pointillistic to conversating to something spun by longer "threads" - first aetherically light, then with interweaving moves of voices - to a rejoicing in high interferences eventually becoming clusters with fast interweawing movements finally becoming a sort of freejazz gymnastics. This last, rather predictable kind of sound is the only exception of its kind to all the other things happening.
Last but not least one more virtue must be mentioned: that of creating interesting and vivid interactions between live-electronics and instruments, a juxtaposition which so often produces debatable results. This record is an argument against those who think improvisation always sound the same.
PS Red Toucan is not always easy to find in Europe, but most titles are sold by vergemusic.com (please note that you need to do "advanced search" choosing "by label" and entering the label name).
APEIRON. NIGHT IN KRAKOW. Marzena Lis: grand piano Rafal Mazur: acoustic bass guitar. [insub21], 2007.Insubordinations Netlabel
Netlabels are something new. They (at least, this one) carry on the traditions of CD releases by providing cover artwork like before. But everything is for download. The policy of this record is that not "all rights" are reserved, but only "some rights reserved" under the so-called Creative Commons Licence which is a new proposal of standards in the world of copyright. There is more to read on the site following the link, here it may suffice to quote this: "copy, share, burn, P2P, offer, thank you for that, but please keep the whole record complete with all its elements".
Piano and contrabass collaborate in a fantastic music here, during one take of half an hour. There are flowing patterns, little cascades of sounds delivered with a wonderful, minute sense for the details. The secret of keeping this process so alive might lie in the pauses which are employed in what might be called a breath-like rhythm, but organically irregular. In a late stage the music gets slower and more exquisitely sparse - before finally there seems to be a deliberate turn to a pulsating, freejazzy texture, like a closing fanfare - still with sensitivity intact. Sensuous and fresh music.
JOËLLE LÉANDRE SOLO. BASS AND VOICE. Live at Vancouver Jazz Festival June 95 At the Waterfront Vancouver, Canada. IBLEO Jazz Festival October 94 Ragusa, Italy. Red Toucan Records RT 9313 [1997 acc. to booklet note]
The music on this solo CD is so alive. No hesitating but a lot of pure just-doing-things,no haste but many quasi-static sections and shifts at the right moments, rare competencies encompassing both new music and jazz worlds, humorous and beautiful combinations of singing and playing (one Verdi paraphrase at end of track 5), voice as directly supplementing the instrument, blues transforming into something else and coming strangely back in a wonderfully expanded form in track 7, simultaneous exclamations from voice and bass sounding as if they understand each other, opera-like and blueslike voices juxtaposing, both gradually and suddenly transforming of instrumental sound, sometimes taking good rest in very different sonic materials ...
Carl Ludwig Hübsch's Primordial Soup. Carl Ludvig Hübsch, tuba; Axel Dörner, trumpet; Frank Gratkowski, reeds; Michael Griener - drums, perc. Red Toucan TR 9331, 2007
On this CD, tightness of compositional structures and the spontaneous presence of improvised playing combine interestingly. Composed structures may be pointillistic with single tones presented subtly one after another, sudden insertions in a bop-like style, something sounding like it could rely on free imitations, jazz arangements with solos, aleatoric structures of ostinatos ... and there are several fantastic transitions gradually travelling from fixed towards more free, exhibiting the gradual emergence of individuality.
Musicians do a virtuoso playing job, not least Huebsch on his tuba that yields a refreshingly different bass sound.
Combining the "smartness" of bop style and long, meditative developments is not an easy task, but there is so much to experience here. The composer states in the booklet about his music generally that "While emphasis and plot are fragmented and given the freedom of a new point of departure, utmost care is given to awareness of musical flow and continuity of the play" ... interesting paradox...
This can be great listening for both those who like non-museum jazz and those coming from the classical experimental music scene, but there's still more to say.
Music is not just "good listening" but also, let's admit it, a kind of developing cultural icon, a mental notion or bundles of notions, a passionate being part of historic invention processes. Or, more modestly, a cultural "thing". This thing is something to be developed, handed down ultimately through generations, talking about the craft of composition, its ways and intricacies. It may result in great joy coming from the collectivity across different times and regions and from the heights of human invention it represents. Yes, preserving traditions may sometimes kill them, but this is about survival of know-how.
In other words, innovative composition like this should be documented for the inspiration and enjoyment of others, as we probably cannot sit back and wait for commercial publishers to do it for us. Let's use the internet to show each other what the structures are all about, the ingenuity and beauty of the scores. And let's also use the near-by opportunity to show what we can in the booklets of such CDs. Here I miss some more description of the composition and some score excerpts to satisfy my curiosity - score excerpts might well reduce the need for booklet artwork that serves a more abstract, decorative function. There is a whole page devoted to a nice photo portraying details of the tuba. Well, but we have seen that before more or less - please show some of the composition next time!
See more about the compositions of Carl Ludwig Hübsch here!
Mike Khoury - Brian Mackie (sax) - Michael Welch (dr). Live at the Stardust Cafe. Recorded 2003. Detroit Improvisation DetImp7.
Mike Khoury - Will Soderberg (electronics). For Teiji Ito. Recorded 2006. Detroit Improvisation DetImp8
Mike Khoury - Piotr Michalowski (sax). For Charlotte Moorman. Recorded 2003. HTML electronic sleeve and mp3 on 3½" diskette
Available from: Mike Khoury, http://myspace.com/michaelkhoury or PO Box 530511, Livonia, MT 48153-0511, USA.
Three limited edition releases from violinist Mike Khoury who also runs the label Entropy Stereo which some more people might have heard of. Khoury appears in various collaborations, and these releases are hommages to Sam Rivers (free jazz saxophonist), Teiji Ito (film and theater composer) and Charlotte Moorman (cellist working with Nam June Paik), respectively. The first features a great freejazz teamwork with wonderfully simple, reductionist phenomena like smallest diatonic motifs, coming together on one tone, little imitations etc - ever renewing because there is space and pauses enough in the dialogue of the melody instruments to let new possibilities appear. The second features many imaginative ways of violin and electronic sound in dialogue (rather than merged), vinyl-like click sounds being just one of the ingredients. The third is a duo playing with a high degree of common feeling. - Violin made to sound different in very different contexts!
Identity. Tom Nunn. Solo on self-made instruments. www.edgetonerecords.com, EDT4047
A solo record by Tom Nunn of San Fransisco who has for a long time manifested himself as an ensemble player, too (and as a theorecian on free improvisation, see here...). Instruments make often nice "plinkety-plonk" like sounds or scraping noises that may appear extremely simple, but they are treated with a sensitive, rhythmic feeling involving also many shades of fluctuation of tempo and creating captivating forms of gentle dynamism throughout. A virtuoso performance that makes me recall the late Hugh Davies. Good to hear this come alive.
Minatogawa Tunnel Concert. Shinji Okura, perc; Takahiro Kuramoto, viola da gamba; Shin'ichiro Tanaka, digital piano; Akira Toshimori, digital piano, Kumi Wakao, violin. Mesostics 0021.
This CD features half an hour of improvisations from a live concert in a large tunnel in Japan. The tunnel provides an extraordinary acoustical environment with long reverberation and many nice deep resonances, resulting in a kind of wawing overall sound, even if the details played can still be heard. The music was arranged with a chain of solos followed by a tutti, with some composed rules in the latter, providing some gradual parameter changes but without fixing time lengths.
Earle Brown: Folio and Four Systems. Earle Brown, Stephen Drury, Merzbow, Joan la Barbare, Alex Mincek, Sam Hillmer, Charlie Looker, Matt Hough, Brad Wentworth, Alex Hoskins, Ron Kuivila, Wadada Leo Smith, Ikue Mori, Sylvie Courvoisier, Ed Tomney, Christian Wolff, Daniel Goodie, Nora Jacobson, Larry Polansky, Morton Subotnick, Mark Feldman. 2006, Tzadik TZ 8028.
This is not the only Brown CD recently out, concentrating on the "graphic" pieces, but maybe the most varied, in terms of different interpretations. Most of the pieces are given more interpretations, which is a very good thing to do with such "open works" - the variability of which being so much part of their vital idea.
Joan la Barbara's rendition of "December 52" treats every sound as an individuality, with no fear of making pauses. Never was the focus on the individual sounds and their fascinating qualities so strong as it was in the fifthies - and the Brown graphic pieces permit us to remember and integrate this experience. The precision in shaping different durations suggested by November 52 and the other pieces is very present throughout - with one exception, Merzbow. It seems he is rather playing overall impressions of the graphics in a manner closer to the "statistical" perception of sound patterns of the sixties, although sensitively changing. Else, in the other interpretations, ounds stand out on the "canvas" of silence, sometimes exploding, sometimes splashing, sometimes tricling, sometimes gently falling like autumn leaves, sometimes just there like the stars in the sky.
One of my listenings to this CD took place one by one piece. That made each interpretation stand out clearly in my perception and after-perception - maybe an idea to be recommended for such concentrated music.
It's hard to describe (without using up a lot of time to analyze it) the intense feeling of how seemingly similar music changes at the same time very subtly and still brings about a refreshing feeling from one interpretation to the next. It seems credit must go to the editor, Micah Silver, for a fine selection of recordings. They were all produced for this CD around the year 2006, I have been informed. Recordings even includes a recording of unspecified "Spontaneous realizations of various pieces from Folio" (as the reel in the archive stated) by Brown himself.
There is also a fine booklet providing illustrations of several of the pieces in question and even including what might be previously unpublished material from the Brown Archive.
PS - the reader who would like to know more about what happened to Brown's December 52 from 1952 through later music history is invited to read the chapter about this work in my Experimental Improvisation Practise and Notation 1945-1999 - "G2.4. Earle Brown's December 52".
Barry Guy: Folio. For two solo violinists, improvising double-bassist and string orchestra. Maya Homburger, baroque violin; Muriel Cantoreggi, violin; Barry Guy, double-bass; Münchener Kammerorchester cond. by Christoph Poppen. 2005, ECM Records, ECM NEW SERIES 1931 476 3053
Traditionally written string orchestra music. But with interspersions of "Improvised commentarys" by the well-known improvisors Guy and Homburger which makes the whole arrangement come alive in a special way. Thus, this CD could be a good introduction to the qualities of improvisation for many contemporary classical listeners. This all the more as the musical language of the string orchestra parts will communicate to all those who could enjoy Berg's violin concerto or Ligeti's orchestral works of the sixties. And this all the even more as it's all done with both great skill, depth and focus of imagination.
In a wider context this, however, also reveals a dilemma. The arrangement goes half the way towards letting improvisation and note-composition talk together, which is good. So much other music does not even think of moving a millimeter in such direction. But it still makes me sad and wishing for more when listening to think of the unused ressources residing with all those disciplined and obeying orchestra members. It would yield more vitality and intensity for the listener, too and make the drama come out more real. Exactly Guy is famous for mixing composition with improvisation in clever ways for large ensembles. So go ahead, Guy and others!
Ellen Burr: Duos. pfMENTUM CD034 www.pfmentum.com
Ellen Burr (fl) with Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon) - Andrew Pask (clarinet) - Jeanette Kangas (dr perc) - Steuart Liebig (prep bass). 2006.
This starts out with music that much of time sounds repetetive, a bit like multilayer superimpositions, pleasantly pushing along in short staccato phrases with special irregular twists feeling a bit like delay and with windy attacks in the flute. According to the composer "improvisation is at least 50% of all tunes". With the drum kit in track 4, the jazz background makes itself heard. Track 5 is lyrical, slowing down, showing a different angle of the windy sensuality. Still new varieties in the last two tracks.
Lisa Ullén Quartet: Big Bang. DISORDER CD01 www.disorder.se Lisa Ullén (pno) - Mats Äleklint - (trb) - Ulf Åkerheim (bs) - Andreas Axelson (dr, perc) 
Swedish free music of the new generation - completely without the rule of swing and bass'n drums but coming out of the freejazz background in a remarkably open way. This CD is full of gentle call-and-response stuff, turntaking and solos. It's a wonder they can play so relaxed, giving so much space to each other, and yet with such a peaceful intensity.
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