Thursday, 25 June 2009

JOHN BUTCHER / TORSTEN MULLER / DYLAN VAN DER SCHYFF – Way Out Northwest

Drip Audio

Recorded in June 2007 at Vancouver’s Western Front thanks to the organizational acumen of the Coastal Jazz And Blues Society, this act compares the different fantasies and the compatible extravagances of three respected improvisers, captured in six tracks that - although not constituting “one of the most important and satisfying recordings of the early 21st century” (ah, the inimitable excitement of a press-release…) - are without a doubt a fulgent example of lucidity and, why not, clever sense of humour put at the service of instantaneous diversification resulting in excitingly unsullied, literally liberated surges – which, naturally, we’re always in need of.

The performance offered by the trio is authoritative in each of its aspects. As a collective, the music flows with a multitude of dimensions: chirpy fluttering, unconfined exuberance, tight propinquity, scarce obsequiousness. The single instrumentalists shine for their productive impenitency, Butcher alternating brashness and perspicacious intuition through a (customary) total control of the dynamics of overtones, his machine overheating at times, regurgitating remnants of pitch elsewhere. Muller’s bass tone might sound hirsute or preternatural, but not for a moment he appears like a blusterer, playing lines whose cultivated immediateness makes for swift confutation of the instrument’s habitual pleonasms. Van Der Schyff belongs to the group of those percussionists who tend to fragment and partition the basic notion of tempo, altering the natural tendency of an average human organism to follow a regular pulse, euphoria and hypersensitive breeziness materializing from a libertarian despoliation of percussive mendacity. This is the kind of beauty which derives from the poetry of unsuspected occurrence, and – for a change – the often extreme condensation of events is felt as relieving.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

JEAN-LUC GUIONNET / ERNESTO RODRIGUES / GUILHERME RODRIGUES / SEIJIRO MURAYAMA - Noite

Creative Sources

Bizarrely, it seems that improvising in presence of metropolitan-tinged sonic circumstances can cause factors such as mental strain and edginess to be taken out of the equation, perhaps due to a strange counter-reaction: the noise of a neighbouring street, which ideally should not correspond to a practical background for playing, regularly inspires introspective examinations of space and shapes to certain breeds of musicians. This quartet, whose instrumentation comprises alto sax, viola, cello and percussion, seizes the shadows of a nocturnal view in a neighbourhood by superimposing a collective being to that particular scenario, the outcome captured in an album where active listening is required more than ever.

Both tracks start with the above mentioned inner-city reverberations, as to set the definite context from the beginning. Evidently, the distant air currents generated by the passing vehicles - and the silences between - represent a major inspiration for the players, all of them tending to circumspection and limited motion with just a slight raspy edge in the infrequent percussive implications of the improvisations. The instruments appear in near-spirit, singularly or in different combinations, seldom emerging as a true ensemble. In that sense, a magnificent if too short droning section materializes in the first few minutes of the initial track “Story Board” in one of the record’s most emotionally charged moments, and another – dissonant, yet utterly breathtaking - towards the very end of the disc. Only rarely their voice needs to cry to be heard and, when that occurs, it’s via a series of rapid signals, without a real necessity of “affirmation of personality”. Essentially, the artists succeed in camouflaging themselves in darkness, as marvellously demonstrated by the whispered motionlessness characterizing a long part of “Drama-Like” which starts around the 12th minute.

Throughout Noite we become aware of close relationships and compatibilities springing from the attraction between opposites: instrumental and human, sound and silence, full notes and frail overtones. It takes special ears to individuate the peripheral connections and the invisible-yet-efficient mechanism that allows these artist to relinquish individuality in favour of a hazy picture of rigorousness. Once the mood is established and everything but the nutritious quintessence of this music has been erased from the mind, the first lights of a new day – typically a symbol of recovery after sleeplessness and apprehension - suddenly look undesirable.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

FRANK GRATKOWSKI / CHRIS BROWN / WILLIAM WINANT – Wake

Red Toucan

Unjustly, Canadian imprint Red Toucan does not receive excessive accolades, most probably due to a low rate of recurrence in their releases, the large part positioned well over the average standards of artistic reliability. It only takes a peep at the label’s catalogue to realize that many stalwarts of modern-day improvisation – Marilyn Crispell to John Butcher, Joëlle Léandre to Vinny Golia – have been recording for Michel Passaretti’s ever-consistent label.

Looking at the participants in Wake is enough to comprehend that this is one of those albums in which there’s no need of sticking tags on something that - borrowing the name of Alfred Harth’s earliest ensemble - is definable as “just music”, executed with commendable balance of fervour and wisdom in unconditional technical superiority. The careers of Gratkowski (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax), Winant (vibraphone, percussion) and Brown (piano, live electronics) feature a sort of Gotha in regard to collaborations and commissions, all three having performed works by worldwide known composers and played with the very best in the areas of free music, jazz and contemporary classical. Without throwing hundreds of names, a quick check of the artists’ respective websites tells everything: we’re in presence of jack of all trades and masters of each one of them.

The five tracks of this CD – a rare occasion in which a duration of circa 73 minutes is not perceived as a yoke – enclose a whole host of complicated techniques and instant answers which, if utilized by lesser instrumentalists, would almost resemble a gallery of technically advanced trickery. In “Scrabble”, for example, the trio exploits the toneless sides of their apparatuses marvellously, gradually transforming a jungle of wet pops, lingual abstruseness, light hits and general inharmonic insidiousness into a phraseology bursting with astute superimpositions of concise fragments and diligent anti-embellishments, resembling a downgraded orchestra losing its pieces bit by bit in sublime decadence as the time elapses. In the subsequent piece, the gorgeous “Parallax”, the tension generated by the reticent call-and-response between Winant’s quivering vibes and metals, Gratkowski’s precisely sensitive undertones and Brown’s slightly misshapen perturbations is substantial, the musicians not laying to rest on a defined tonal centre in favour of an irresistible predisposition to well-dressed discomposure.

What separates the contenders from the pretenders is the sense of “on-the-spot composition” that underscores the entire disc. The threesome utilize a “full-acuity” approach, intuitions placed right in the heart of a continuously blossoming interaction where divergent moods, lyrical hesitations and conscious probing symbolize a fusion of purposes which, in the end, sounds like a studied ceremony. The electronic factor is often crucial in gathering the timbres under an umbrella of tactful morphing, the character of the instruments altered exactly as necessary; an ideal measure of pragmatism, which prevents the playing from taking the “gone astray” road to improvisational blankness. The ears get appreciative both for the single voices and the deriving composite textures, a spectacular tidiness constantly visible down to the minute particulars of blowouts that might appear as specialist gibberish at first yet, contrariwise, correspond to rites of passage towards an acoustically balanced, literally enlightened even-handedness.

A thoroughly recommended set worthy of scrupulous investigations: additional qualities will be materializing with every new spin.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

NIKOLAUS GERSZEWSKI – Ordinary Music Vol.3 For String Trio And Double Bass

Creative Sources

Totally mysterious to this purple prose etcher until this morning, the sounds imagined by Nikolaus Gerszewski possess the qualities typical of those produced by time-honoured composers, despite the fact that he started his music-writing activity – as an autodidact - only in 2003, after having worked as a visual artist and writer in previous years. The impulse for this new expressive method, influenced both by the aforesaid experiences and the studying of opuses by John Cage, Cornelius Cardew and Christian Wolff, came in the exact moment in which Gerszewski concentrated on the theory of “ordinary music”, the term implying a continuation of the non-representational features of figurative art in the sonic realm and the participation of trained and untrained musicians to the execution of materials mainly built on the superimposition of “layers, surfaces and objects”, thus privileging the spatial dimension as opposed to the temporal.

The scores are in essence diagrams in which the performers are instructed about what to do, without excessive concern for practice-related aspects – indeed, this piece was not rehearsed at all before its premiere, at Lisbon’s Goethe Institut in the February of 2008. The severe focus and committed empathy shown by the quartet – the composer on violin, Ernesto Rodrigues on viola and metronome, Guilherme Rodrigues on cello and Hernâni Faustino on double bass - makes for over 38 minutes of superbly synchronized improvisation, completely devoid of axioms and clichés yet somehow affirmative in regard to a logical chain of events and ideal meshing of the instrumental tints. Call-and-response phrases are interchanged with instinctively well-placed successions of awe-inspiring glissandos, percussive knocks and scraped tremolos blending in far-from-comfortable counterpoints that, however, emphasize the aura of wholeness that surrounds the players.

The depth of this respect, for the partners and the underlying concept alike, is such that there’s not a note or gesture that appears inconsiderate or, worse, selfish. In virtue of the basic premises, what ‘s heard in this album definitely borders on the extraordinary, Gerszewski’s essential notion notwithstanding.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

PAPER WINGS – Ash Field

Black Petal / Pseudoarcana

New Zealand is the land where droning guitars seem to burgeon better than anywhere else in the world, as demonstrated by overlords such as Peter Wright and Rosy Parlane. Another man from that country – Anthony Milton, curator of Pseudoarcana – confirms his advanced position in this sector thanks to this artefact realized in 2005 with fellow guitarist Anthony Guerra (from Australia – the air currents are the same) under the Paper Wings logo. The material was “recorded in a small room on a winter’s day”, yet it launches blazing darts of long-reverb howling distortion with which the men in question inflame and exasperate the notion of nearly motionless wailing, titillating disjointed chords and barely conceivable overtones until they’re transformed in divine violins played with a chainsaw.

If one listens to the record via headphones, the sharp richness deriving from the conflicting upper partials (also enhanced by a slight detuning of some of the strings, supposedly deliberate) will be probably lost, not to mention your hearing. This is music that necessitates to be enjoyed with considerable help from the walls and corners of a large space in order to let tonal butterflies spotted with hundreds of strange colours start fluttering around, overdriven feedback or not. The temperament of the album is informed by a feel of reclusive shyness, in turn symbolized by its harmonic content: saturation a go-go, cleaner arpeggios, nervous strumming, everything Guerra and Milton decide to utilize expresses moods placed halfway through desperate helplessness and celestial providence. It takes a while to acknowledge the unpolished beauty of Ash Field, but once you get to the point it offers plenty of affecting exhalations.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

MEMORIZE THE SKY – In Former Times

Clean Feed

A stunning surprise coming from the Portuguese label in the second half of 2008 is this superb album, interpreted by the trio of Matt Bauder (tenor sax, clarinet), Zach Wallace (double bass) and Aaron Siegel (snare drum, bass drum, vibraphone). Memorize The Sky - a gorgeous name for starters - embody that kind of expressive research halfway through jazz, EAI and minimalism which doesn’t stand in a precise spot yet appears extremely firm in its intentions, not to mention aesthetic implications which, in this particular case, are central enough to place the record in the pantheon of private pleasures for different varieties of listener. What I actually mean is that this substance is addictive in a deeper sense, symbolizing a wisdom that comes from within, on both sides of the performer/audience bond. The artists sound genuinely involved, instinctively linked to something higher; the addressees become active witnesses in the gradual progress of a rite where sounds spring from the intuitive nucleus of being more than the machines which produce them.

When instrumentalists manage to catch splinters of infinity without sounding overly distressed or ambiguously abstruse, that’s already an encouraging sign. With In Former Times three individual entities have reached the ideal balance between an ecstatic vision and the earthly qualities of their tools, privileging the droning aspects of fairly static improvisations which nevertheless are alimented by a continuous, literally incessant movement. Bauder’s reeds sing for the naked spirit of overtone heavenliness, comforting in shuddering instability, searching for bygone energies that are still there to retrieve. Wallace’s arco is often utilized with the tremolo technique, generating an ominous steadiness which will finally unveil the most beautiful reward if only one is trustful of those growling frequencies. Siegel delivers a combination of shamanic intensity and masterful control of the dynamics, never lost in indulgent patterns or equivocal trickery, the trio’s real engine in terms of evocative drive. Inexplicable, thoroughly connecting music which we enjoyed time and again in blissful contentment.