Saturday, 27 February 2010



If a successful improvisation is based on the listener’s impossibility of remembering details at the end of the program, having been left with a merely essential idea of what the music intended to investigate, then Vanity is one of the most significant albums released in recent times. Grosse Abfahrt’s core members - trumpeter Tom Djll, clarinettist Matt Ingalls, guitarist John Shiurba, energized-surface-and-voltage-made-audible manipulator Gino Robair and electronic wizard Tim Perkis - were joined by a string trio consisting of cellist Theresa Wong, bassist David Chiesa and violinist Matthieu Werchowski in this performance recorded in Oakland, April 2008. The latter two musicians are featured in a gorgeous duo – the only track which doesn’t feature the rest of the group – called “Hang Bat5 Over”; all the titles, in Djll’s words, derive from “vanity plates, the curious stamped-metal bumper-culture expressions of people who like to broadcast their character and proclivities via licence plates”. The curiosity resides in the harsh contrast between the multifaceted intelligence that transpires from the musical interaction in comparison with the sociological misery generated by the concept of calling people’s attention on oneself through such a stupid thing.

The kind of sonic tampering utilized by Grosse Abfahrt in this particular occasion lies well below the calamitous level, privileging temporary conjunctions of carefully sculpted timbres and deviations from typical instrumental colours to fuse the distinct instances into an “incompletely collective” aggregation that leaves the single parts always perfectly visible. A slightly outlandish diversion might be represented by the opening of “Zoundz – Yours To Discover”, a nearly human raucousness introducing a sort of regulated randomness that mixes reed-cum-electronics high register ramifications and the atonal elegance of Webern-reminding combinations of strings. “Live Free Or Die Delphi2” is perhaps the place in which semi-solid abstraction and elemental concentration are more effectively balanced, and also where ruptured silence becomes an important factor. Overall, the players maintain a degree of conscientiousness during repeated cross-examinations, applying a fine blend of ever-present awareness and recombined disorderliness, voluntarily restraining themselves in a power reduction that increases gestural gravity, ultimately leaving the appealing qualities of these small conglomerates in evidence, but not necessarily accessible to everybody. If you didn’t understand a word of what I just wrote, try this: a great record.

Friday, 26 February 2010

BEN FROST – By The Throat

Bedroom Community

Overwhelmed by a tidal wave of magna cum laude exaltations of Frost’s previous CD – 2007’s Theory Of Machines – this writer had managed to swim away from all that groundless hype (that was a well-masked lightweight record, if you ask me). Exactly for this reason, the immediately perceivable artistic disparity established with By The Throat is astonishing, the words from the press release summing it up perfectly: “Where Theory Of Machines came sterilized in fluorescent light, By The Throat is blood red and cloaked in shadow”. Essentially, the latter is a commanding statement exuding personality via a power that could be described as “charismatic”, its legitimacy verified (six spins in a lone day are indeed telling) and indisputable.

Aided by a few collaborators – Amiina, Jeremy Gara, Crowpath and “Midas Touch” Nico Muhly – Frost kidnaps the audience with awe-inspiring environments in flawlessly structured sequences of events and dramatic changes of scenario, mixing the harsh and the nostalgic, the spectacular and the manipulated, the (menacingly) pastoral and the sheer hellish. The alternance of acoustic melodies and computerized deconstructions of reality is the most prominent feature, typifying the whole album. In particular, episodes such as the superb “Hibakúsja” (its evolving circularity a clear hint to typical Ennio Morricone modulations, and I would be very surprised should Frost declare that it was involuntary) and the second half of “Peter Venkman” represent the manifestation of the high degree of theatrical effectiveness a composer can reach by allowing personal sensibility and responsive alertness to peripheral influences to come in.

There’s some discrepancy between the blurb’s descriptions and the track numbers of the promo copy in my possession, so the sureness about certain selections’ title is not literal. Anyway - the wolves moaning and yelping at the beginning of “The Carpathians” are fantastic, the sense of isolation and anxiety generated by the above mentioned “Hibakúsja” practically touchable. The minimal piano patterns and the marvellous strings defining “Leo Needs A New Pair Of Shoes” put the listener in a somewhat misleading condition of respite, but you have to remember that after every relieving circumstance there’s always something bad behind the corner, waiting for pathetic illusions to rape; the howling beasts are still there, at the end of the piece, to remind everybody. The crucial ominousness of the conclusive “Through The Mouth Of Your Eye” is a memento of the kind of punch in the stomach from which ordinary people struggle to recover. It’s 5:00 AM as I write, next to 24 hours completely dedicated to the thorough analysis of a disc that punishes the distrust derived from my disliking of the preceding one. Make no mistake: By The Throat is made of excellent stuff, no ifs and buts. This time, the massive raving finds a justification. Nevertheless, regional “experts” should take notice: not all crunchy emissions are necessarily relatable to or influenced by Pan Sonic. Find a useful name to quote, use it for decades. That’s how it goes in the age of counterfeit knowledge.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Creative Sources

The somewhat stable trio composed by the Rodrigueses (as usual, Ernesto on viola and Guilherme on cello) and electronic wizard Santos is joined by percussionist Drury in this recording dated October 2007. The first track “Street Food” begins with an almost silent interchange of plucking, scraping and clicking activities, soon evolving in a growingly powerful amassment of rattles, roars and growls that express a sort of extremely nervous joie de vivre. Initialy, “Good Dog, Cookie” – great title, by the way – privileges slightly perceivable string harmonics caressed by Drury’s bowed tuned instruments and pierced by Santos’ ultrasonic methods. The attractiveness of these intricacies is directly proportional to a degree of politeness, which informs the interplay even in the timbral extremities analyzed by the participants. The subsequent shift to mutable soundscapes characterized by unquiet stasis and involuntary mesmerism appears as a natural development.

“Adamant Distances” features a splendidly evocative juxtaposition of distantly fragile glissandos, a seesaw of perturbed melancholy and profanation of silence sounding like the scattered remnants of an orchestra whose members have been engaging in a battle for survival, this time won by the deepest, not by the smartest individuals. The “minimalist” pattern rising around the fourth minute onwards seems to mock Michael Nyman but is immediately replaced by a cross-pollination of droning arco and irrepressible uproar, the improvisation landing in the unfathomable enthralment generated by the chiselling of unusual tones. “Many Happy Returns” ends the display with a gathering of whispers, murmurs and infinitesimal pecking, forgetting pitch in favour of something more akin to rain drops in a quiet forest, subsequently substituted by handfuls of atomic tremolos and zippy cracklings, the whole secluded in rasping-and-whirring remoteness.

Once again, the art of unrehearsed spontaneity gives birth to a refined object for the merriment of ears that don’t grow tired of listening to musicians who, despite lots of unwarranted criticism (mostly aimed at the appropriation of the market chunk occupied by their releases), are still unafraid of showing what they’re made of, including weaknesses and - above all - strengths.



Enhancing the correlation linking illegitimate sonic excrescences and inquisitive craftsmanship seems to be the main objective of Robair and Ulher, who recorded this excellent music in the summer of 2008. Through variegated combinations of voltage-induced electroacoustic manifestations and incessantly morphing agglutinations generated by a trumpet with the aid of a radio and a speaker, the couple cogitates about the flexible possibilities of brilliant individualities in comparison, fusing the respective fields of research into a little world of exhalations, utterances and micro-transmissions perfectly defined – almost onomatopoeically, you might say – by the record’s title. The rendezvous between these minds is a productive one, the results thoroughly interesting, aurally enjoyable in their weird joviality and – especially – very distant from the heap of commonplace tricks and tedious attitudes that EAI has been showing in recent times.

The seven tracks comprised by Blips And Ifs are endowed with a biotic quality, the experience frequently equalling that of watching worms writhing in a bubbling liquid. The distinctive percussiveness and the tanginess of the acoustic gamut are, in a sense, balanced by the clever restraint that the musicians choose to privilege throughout these insidious misapplications of creative instinct. Unpremeditated spurts, juxtapositions of tiny obnoxious creatures and putrescent residues, elegant unkindness and pseudo-voices are all parts of an absurd omnium-gatherum that - seen from a distance - is not too dissimilar from the many facets of an ordinary meeting of diverse-minded people. With a big discrepancy: in this place, nobody wants to force a view on the other(s). On the contrary the cooperation to achieve the aim of intelligent impulsiveness is total, the outcome being an album that offers countless angles and alternatives, never failing to suck us up every time we have a new go at it.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Another Timbre

Releasing long-term opinions in relation to certain types of music is getting increasingly difficult, especially when dearth of events and undetermined scores are parts of the equation. On the one hand, there’s nothing but the utmost respect for the restricted core of musicians and composers who constitute the veritable spirit of a scene; and nobody more than this author appreciates – make that “needs” – peacefulness, an absolute rarity in a world where the noisiest or, at the very least, the most grandiloquent characters get followed (which, unfortunately, seems to be an ideal tactic for the feeble mind of easily influenced individuals). Yet it’s become obvious that canons and formulas have been quickly developing even in such a supposedly unpolluted area and that, amidst the few legitimate artists, nondescript bandwagon joiners find using a note (or two, or total inactivity) irresistible, not in response to a genuine instinct but because this Zen-ish attitude is cool (incidentally, is there anyone around who’s not an alleged Zen practitioner yet?) and, furthermore, saves a lot of time and mental exhaustion when the acts of composing, practicing and performing a piece are hypothesized. Not to mention costs. Numerous debates about names from this circle of sound art flourish in well-known forums and magazines, which is both positive and negative. The feel here is that a mere handful of significant entities (and recordings) are worthy of consideration.

As of now, Simon Reynell’s Another Timbre belongs, without hiding feelings, in the tiny pool of my favourite labels. The sonic aesthetics and the sheer quality of the published documents speak for themselves. This notwithstanding, after spinning Decentred for six times in resolute isolation, the rave reviews read everywhere didn’t receive a complete authentication under this roof. Not for defects of the instrumentalists, who behave splendidly throughout; and not due to excess of hush, for this disc is mainly made of concrete occurrences. The instrumentation (reeds, violin, objects, electronics, double bass) is practically perfect for the scope, juxtaposing the warmth of wood, the thin-skinned liveliness of fingers and the droning capacities of an arco on diverse string gauges, the strength and the suggestions of an instrumental/human air circulation system and the merciless chilliness of an electronic apparatus (which Benedict Drew manages to interleave in the ongoing acoustic conversation with appreciable intelligence ). The rendition of John Cage’s “Four 6” is a valid reason for owning the CD, a fantastic amalgam of dynamically fickle insertions and decisive, if respectful gestures underlining the magic of sympathetic interplay. The factual improvisations – “Activation” and “Decentring” – don’t represent a truly devastating affirmation of originality, nevertheless are an indication of the stability of the distinct voices and their collective connection, a symbol for the constant attempt of avoiding the musty aroma that systematically creeps through when even a single member of a group is not in full control of his/her lucidity in a specific creative frame.

That leaves us with the bitter root of the matter, directly linked with the “silent” issue in the opening paragraph: what lowers this record’s overall value is the trio of excerpts from Michael Pisaro’s Harmony Series. Episodes that, putting it mildly, do not stand at the same level of the rest of the program: excessively simplistic, almost insubstantial. I couldn’t manage to sense any sort of enlightenment in the placement of those notes into utter quietness, the outcome of basic combinations (three duos: violin + double bass, violin + bass clarinet and double bass + electronics). The care applied by the players struggling to attribute a minimal degree of weak grace to the (rare) succeeding pitches represents the lone commendable aspect of otherwise inconsequential music, destined to last in the memory exclusively for the limited duration of each track. That won’t prevent your reviewer from celebrating this composer’s materials in different occasions, when they will hopefully result better adjusted to the need of unspoken intensity that these scaled-down drawings absolutely failed to fulfil. I won’t forget, for example, that selected chapters from Harmony Series 11-16 on the Wandelweiser imprint are nothing short of breathtaking, much more satisfactory to these ears than the bulk of, say, Radu Malfatti’s reductionist output heard in the house. In spite of everything this particular instance - in conjunction with various exalting write-ups seen on the web - generated a classic case of “overhyping doubt” in this head-scratching complainer; conversely, my positive reaction to Pisaro’s sounds in the aforementioned circumstance is also a valid rationale for distrusting a review’s contingent judgement. Conclusion: following this set of substandard instalments, the jury is still out.

However, the musicianship is first-class; that alone is a good motivation for stamping Decentred with a good mark. It might not be a new Another Timbre’s milestone, but does feature a number of incontestably fascinating sections, enriched by the participants’ heartfelt concern. Fine enough, in the zone where pseudo-inventive mannerism remains a perilous common denominator, frequently overcoming our interest in listening to the tangible tones - or lack thereof.

Friday, 19 February 2010

THE REMOTE VIEWERS – Sinister Heights

Self Released

Apparently, The Remote Viewers need no less than two CDs to express their, um, views. This time we, as writers, got pretty lucky as the last messages from the band heard in this house were burnt across Control Room’s five (!) discs. Sinister Heights is a much appreciated demonstration of intelligence still existing on the planet of new music. It touches a number of issues with evident compositional competence, advanced musical taste and the right degree of technical difficulty; the result is a highly gratifying, truly brilliant album without weak points or “barely acceptable” stickers. Although the records are titled separately, this release sounds as an absolutely coherent whole.

The wealth of reeds characterizes the arrangements quite heavily: besides the project’s prime movers David Petts and Adrian Northover, Sue Lynch, Caroline Kraabel, Ken Butcher and Rachel Bartlett are also featured in different tracks. In Time Flats there’s a stronger rhythmic component at work, and drums – either real or programmed – characterize several exciting pieces such as “Terminal City” (which features Lou Ciccotelli’s percussion ensemble Eardrum) and my own favourite “Souls And Cities”, sort of a cross between Curlew and Muffins with a funky feel enhanced by Dave Tucker’s electric guitar. The majority of the scores calls for complex intersections of uneasy designs and clustery parallelisms in the higher registers, to the point that certain chords - in actuality formed by a multitude of saxophones - almost sound like synthetic presets. This should be intended as a compliment, a hint to the extreme rationality of compositions that do not admit unjustified poignancy while remaining perfectly decipherable and often remarkably vigorous. A darling track, “Villages Drowned By The Sea”, is distinctly RIO-tinged, anomalous angular figurations highlighting the closeness of the contrapuntal lines in total absence of unwarranted accoutrements and futile sonic bijoux. It is not only reed galore, though. The release’s second half, Mirror Meanings, includes “Headstone In Love”, a marvellous piece for four basses handled – as everywhere else – by John Edwards. Electronic contributions, when present, are provided both by Northover and Darren Tate, a peculiar presence in this Remote area. Another one is Adam Bohman, whose amplified objects define the otherwise "regular" sombreness of “Black Thoughts In A Black Mood”, the first disc's conclusion. But it’s always the stridency generated by the juxtaposition of bunches of saxes that gets noticed best, as shown in the brain affecting “Spring Flood”. And again: layered mbiras (“The Land Of The Blind”), entrancing vapours of darkness (“Personal Hour”, once more with a splendid Edwards in full low-frequency solemnity), incessant challenging of our sense of mental restfulness. These people won’t let you take a siesta when this thing is spinning.

A mix of mathematic exactitude, dappled swiftness and ingenious turns informed by artistic rigour and tight event management yet sounding completely natural, Sinister Heights belongs among the most satisfying albums I’ve met in recent months, confirming The Remote Viewers as the “logically odd” group to constantly keep an eye on when looking for auditory fulfilment.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

PETER EVANS – Nature / Culture


1) Peter Evans is an impenitent sonic animal, endowed with an inexhaustible physical force that allows him to maltreat his trumpets without excessive consideration of terms like “pause” or “silence”, even if completely aware of their implications. The kind of squeals, blasts and yelps (yes, he does use the voice) that we get to listen to along the two discs of Nature / Culture demonstrates the inner determination that ordinary men can only fantasize about, ungraceful hymns to the ungodly characteristics of a brute strength that blows away whoever tries to fight it. It’s portentously muscular, impulsive playing that will knock the shit out of reductionism’s pants, more akin to a natural phenomenon or a primeval energy than to the easy-to-read accents chosen by numerous jazz principals. Also, a landslide win over the spineless odes to coughing audiences and outside traffic released by those who leave a fundamental nature lying in a readily forgotten past to embrace the culture of à la mode inconsequentiality. The pun is definitely intended.

2) Peter Evans is a refined practitioner of the art of improvisation, regardless of the means of expression. The proprietor of an extraordinary technique, he’s capable of chewing up and spitting out the remnants of an impractically fast kerfuffle and, at once, maintaining the emitted pitches absolutely intelligible. That trumpet becomes, at the right moment, an outrageous broken mirror refracting every kind of tonal infringement, either sheer instrumental traits or related enhancements via perspicacious – yet never abused – utilization of extended techniques, besides a modicum of processing (through a guitar amplifier, of all things). The man pulses inside, screams remorselessly, narrates a hundred stories in the space of a minute. A maximalist minimalist focusing on the kernel of a single phrase for a long time until that very combination of notes is fed up with us, who keep waiting for it to explode in a thousand shards. Instead we reel as drugged, the skull entirely saturated, quivering from hundreds of impacting vibrations. Just fantastic.

3) Peter Evans is, purely and simply, one of the greatest free – and I mean free – musicians that I’ve heard in almost 46 years. Nature / Culture is merely a pretext, superb as it is, to invite everybody to understand the actual meaning of too lightly employed classifications such as “artist” and “musician”. In front of the mass of amazing sounds this gentleman inundated your humbled reporter with in this circumstance, a “hats off” is not enough. I’d rather kneel at the feet of infinite creativity, lowering my head in awe. Or, at least, what remains of the head. This music comes from the bare soul of a being, symbolizing its deepest aspirations while delineating a positive anger that goes well beyond words - which ultimately is what keeps our personal progress going. A chunky middle finger raised against the presumed equality professed by those unable to accept that there’s someone who’s at the forefront, barely having time to observe cheapness with paternal resignation but eventually establishing what’s best for everybody else, inclusive of the worthless ones. That "best" is located far away from enforced socialization.

Twenty stars for an epochal masterpiece.



This duo between pianist Wodrascka and percussionist Lopez follows their first recording Aux Portes Du Matin (also on Leo) of seven years. Theirs is a particularly stimulating combination, a form of musicality informed by a mix of slight aggressiveness and refinement. In many occasions the pairing of piano and percussion gives life to idioms tending to generate unconquerable, often unjustified complications for those who listen. On the contrary, there’s a definite will of letting people see what’s happening in Momentos, a natural exuberance rendering the knottier segments much lighter and, at the same time, an ever-present integrity – in fact underlining the entire work - characterizing the sections in which obstreperousness is left aside in favour of an intense investigation of the timbral gamut that constitutes the keystone of the artists’ acuity.

Wodrascka is indeed a clever analyst of the possibilities of her instrument. She delivers clearly decipherable outbreaks and tolerable incongruities, silver-tongued figurations that could be defined as a Cecil Taylor/Irene Schweizer hybrid, still maintaining a critical uniqueness. Once the insides of the piano are deemed useful for certain peculiar illustrations, the task is performed by leaving abundant space around the nutritive aural substance leaking from an attentive arrangement of scraped, plucked and hammered elucidations . Lopez listens carefully and responds accordingly, a never-invasive liberality explicated by the use of an extremely rich palette (including bizarre melodic sources such as xylophone and steel drums) that - at least in the 70% of the cases – is perfectly responding to his partner’s requests. The deriving music is an expression of reciprocal regulation, achieved through unambiguous gestures revealing recurrent cross-questioning in not-too-contradictory heteromorphy. The whole is summed up by the sense of curiosity lingering on after the program’s over, the playback restarting right away.

Monday, 8 February 2010


Fresh Sound New Talent

The music of Canadian saxophonist Peter Van Huffel does not ask to be loved at a first sight. On the contrary, the approach with the many-sided look typical of his compositions initially tends to throw the listener in a state of suspicion about the directions that might be investigated and, in due course, taken by its creator. But after a few listens the precise scope of Van Huffel’s creativity becomes evident, each of the ingredients meant to be there for a reason. The sum of these motivations is what attributes a specific individuality to the final outcome: Like The Rusted Key – recorded in the summer of 2009 at Cologne’s Loft Studios – appears as an interesting demonstration of the axiom according to which revolutions are not always necessary to make a statement worthy of consideration in nowadays’ jazz.

As previously hinted, the tracks span across an ample gamut of moods and intentions. Besides the leader’s alto sax - a voice that appears elegantly tantalizing more than impulsively edgy - the main presence is that of Jesse Stacken, whose pianism is acutely complementary to Van Huffel’s thematic sketches and, just occasionally, slightly biting improvisations. The mix of liquidness and synchronized dissection of otherwise reasonably regular materials – not infrequently tending to resemble certain pages of the ECM book, think Rainer Brüninghaus – is the factor that determines a rise in our level of interest. Elegiac paragraphs and nervous harmonic transactions are both faces of the same coin. Bassist Miles Perkin and drummer Samuel Rohrer seem to strengthen a kinship within the quartet, figuring as an accurate rhythm section when the moment is right but also actively contributing to the contrapuntal grain via expert splashing of percussive hues and lenitive arco passages that depict an unsuspected nonconforming romanticism.

Amidst all of this, the track that stands out is “Melancholic”: caressing silence in between rarefied single chords left to resonate for a while, giving time to the musicians to prepare their next move, allowing us to concentrate without a necessity of anticipating what will follow. The piece is emblematic of the quartet’s responsiveness, also visible in erratic episodes such as the dissonantly energetic “Enghavevej”. Ultimately, this ability in jumping queues, avoiding strict definitions and immediately defining the object of a particular tune is the winning card of this unpretentiously intelligent CD.