Saturday, 28 August 2010

JOHN KING – 10 Mysteries

Tzadik

“What I’m seeking to discover”, writes composer and violist John King, “is the unity of, rather than the distinction between, determinate, indeterminate and improvised music”. He refers to this as “trilogic unity”, employing any necessary means to reach a satisfactory interaction of the separate components. 10 Mysteries – performed by King as a member of his Crucible String Quartet (the other names being violinists Cornelius Dufallo and Mark Feldman, and cellist Alex Waterman) – offers an interesting portrayal of the essential concept. These are sounds that cooperate with the mind, exclusive of unwarranted laissez-faire despite the partial randomness of the events.

The three works comprised by the program were in fact written by following directives dictated by “chance and improvisation”, the scores strongly informed by the results of an I Ching-based symbol generator furnishing the musicians with a series of indications to follow, the interpretation rendered according to each one’s sensibility and intuition. The nine movements of the title track are, as a result, most significant. Their place changes constantly amidst momentous amassments of nervously deployed clusters and whirlwinds, and more propitious tendencies to consonance that, in any case, are too short for actual respite, unsystematic proliferations of phrases overwhelming the listener after brief pauses of relative stillness.

Both the remaining pieces – “Rivers Of Fire” and “Winds Of Blood” – apply the same logic to a system consisting of acoustic tones and live electronics. The former juxtaposes seagull-like glissando, anxious climaxes and deceptive falls of tension in a fairly intelligible mixture of involving realism and inextricable meta-phraseology. The latter is presented in two versions - the outcome again deriving by underlying principles linked to possibility – that magnify the effectiveness of King’s methods, the gathering of apparently conflicting suggestions under the umbrella of harmonically advanced congeniality.

Friday, 27 August 2010

PETER WRIGHT – Bright Failing Star

Release The Bats

Two sides (yes, it is a vinyl) of chiming-and-droning grace, a modicum of found sounds and voices from the street – a matter of minutes, really – and even fewer piano notes in the closing stages of the first half. A sinisterly gentler side of Wright, already perceived on his previous An Angel Fell Where The Kestrels Hover (on Spekk), which in any case will put lovers of guitar-driven blissful ecstasy in a pre-orgasmic state as usual.

The music unfolds deliberately, either via a reiterative pulse (Reichian echoes at the very beginning…) or with minor variations, plus a few milligrams of essential melody. The rest is complete inertia, nearing lethargy. What changes is the thickness of the sound, progressively emphasized or decreased by different kinds of equalizations and superimpositions. Feedback is always lurking there, ready to jump on the somnolent tranquillity and transform it into utter misery. It’s all so beautifully planned and constructed, so visibly liquefied, that one’s willing to accept whatever consequence the initial immobility might threat of bringing on. But it basically ends as violence unexpressed (apart from the glare of acrid chords appearing towards the end of the album), leaving us prepared for the next round of ringing harmonics, desolate jangle, tormented rapture. This lexicographer of six-stringed beatitude has grown his followers used to these gifts over the years, and we’ve become addicts by now.

The limited edition in my possession contains an additional CD comprising a live performance from Paris, recorded in 2007, which starts with the same preaching drunkard heard in the Snow Blind album and continues with one of the most gorgeous pieces of recent remembrance, halfway through divine quintessence and stoned imperturbability, until thorny shards of jarring clangour gradually annihilate any propensity to contemplation. Yet the set is sealed by birds and flies in between the country’s silence, before a polite applause by the meagre audience concludes the whole. Latecomers, get your eBay search alerts going.

OREN AMBARCHI / JIM O’ROURKE / KEIJI HAINO – Tima Formosa

Black Truffle

In this concert, recorded at the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre in 2009, three distinct and very strong personalities construct a sonic edifice derived by a combination of experimentation, intensity and desire to abandon any inclination to affirm a status or define a genre. Ambarchi manipulates the guitar according to his renown, amassing imposing subsonic throbs and quaking bumps, generating a sense of profound vastness which reminds of human impotence in front of certain phenomena. O’Rourke plays the piano in all its components, eliciting clattering sounds, drones, percussiveness and atonal twinkle depending on the circumstance, seemingly content of remaining in the mid-background and simply contribute to the formation of the vibrational tissue.

On the other side, Haino utilizes electronics, a flute and a drum machine; needless to say, he’s better recognizable when the voice is a part of the equation. He delivers the goods impressively – scarily at times – through vocalizations that may start as invocations but, in “Tima Formosa 3”, end sounding like a desperate attempt to push back some sort of ferocious demon trying to steal the good vibrations that the music had generated until then. It is in those moments, where the full force of the collective vibe becomes substantial, that an expert listener realizes how this mixture of beguilement and violence involves artistic backgrounds and spiritual implications that the hundreds of wretched imitators can only dream of, despite glowing praise by bandwagon-jumping reviewers who acclaim stuff that has no actual grounding, similarly to their listening experience.

THANOS CHRYSAKIS / WADE MATTHEWS / DARIO BERNAL-VILLEGAS – Enantio_Dromia

Aural Terrains

By disregarding any potential concern for manifestations that might be loosely associated to a notion of “tonality” (or just consonance), Chrysakis (laptop, electronics, rototom), Matthews (digital synthesis, field recordings) and Bernal-Villegas (percussion) gave origin to six very interesting and uniquely sounding improvisations. The kind of interaction that one gladly listens to, immediately appreciating hues, noises and impressions elicited, without finding words to pigeonhole the result. Which, of course, is great.

The shapes generated by the instrumentation are heterodox and with a tendency to the disintegration of compactness; all are characterized by timbral qualities that make them aurally attractive under many points of view. The mixture of computerized and synthesized emissions works perfectly, remaining halfway through piercing-and-stinging, sweltering and steamily chaotic; unpredictable discharges that replenish vacuums and suggest combustibility. The percussive designs - which, in a way, dominate some of the hypermodern vistas offered by the trio – are informed by a welcome non-invasiveness despite an obvious fractal temperament. It’s beautiful to hear the sound of a real drum skin amidst bubbles, sizzles and hisses, and also noteworthy is the musicians’ ability of letting decipherable human echoes (aircrafts, old records) mix seamlessly with the most erratic electronic activities. The resulting concoction, as heard in “II”, represents the ideal fusion of diverse sonic universes, revealing both the artists’ sensibility in manipulating machines differently and their finely tuned ears towards what surrounds them.

A satisfying release, defined by atypically stimulating sonorities, which deserves the worn-out compliment: “rewards repeated spins”.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

ASHER / FOURM – Selected Passages / Set.Grey

Nonvisualobjects

Asher’s “Selected Passages” is fashioned after the ultimate residues of a research on acoustic materials gathered in 2008 (partially heard in the Intervals album). Following the investigation of field recordings, radio snippets and the sounds of a piano found in a room of his Vermont residency at that time, he focused himself on the latter. The five movements included in this CD consist of a choice of simple chords, extremely thoughtful and melancholic and dirtied by a patina of static dustiness and distortion that alters the essential qualities, highlighting the traits of the composer’s renowned perceptive intensity. Generated from a sheer instrument, they’re transformed in a classic late-autumn soundtrack of dejected recollection, slowly deteriorating as the minutes flow.

Fourm is interested in erasing the typical structural elements of what’s commonly intended as “music”, to leave us with something that is as intangible as a ghost. The question – given the unfeasibility of listening to these asymmetrical subterranean murmurs if not in a completely silent setting or in an installation – is: how many people will be able to actually grasp the logic of this representation? An iPod, or the regular noise of a familial environment, are going to utterly suffocate this work. And it would be a shame: the amorphously nebulous manifestations detectable by raising the volume in absolute muteness – vaguely recalling some of Asmus Tietchens’ most abstract conceptions at times – are frequently riveting in their subsonic constituents, complementing the stillness (both inside and, eventually, outside) quite powerfully.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

MOSTLY OTHER PEOPLE DO THE KILLING – Forty Fort

Hot Cup

If “smooth” jazz (by the way, what the hell does that mean?) is comparable to a classic seduction in lingerie frequently ending in a "sorry-darling-it-was-not-my-night" failure, Mostly Other People Do The Killing are the big-bosom freckled girl that plops on your pelvis and proceeds to teach you everything in a single lesson. Arrived at the fourth release, this quartet stuffs such a number of influences, quotes, ideas and parallel dimensions in the hour of Forty Fort that following its totality might become an arduous task if the concentration is not on ten. That’s right, a brain can absorb only that much; yet the difficulty of assimilation is compensated by the amazing musicianship of the members, all recognized masters of their trade. The old commonplace according to which “the improvisation is so well executed that it sounds composed” is here totally subverted: Moppa Elliott’s scores (he wrote eight of the nine tunes) are a concoction of bent normalcy and unexpected incidents where even the notated parts sound unrehearsed. Maybe they are, who knows.

Stax, Weather Report, Albert Ayler, Brazilian Bossa, Sheena Easton, Spike Jones. These are names – some of them suggested by the press sheet, others by my own fantasies and associations – that flash in the mind while listening. The guys are enthusiastic in their proposals but not exactly attached to anything. Peter Evans, the greatest trumpeter around independently of the genre, has the chance to show both his scary technical command and the capacity of exchanging lines, noises and paradoxes with the fellow unprincipled virtuoso who goes under the name of (tenor and alto saxophonist) Jon Irabagon, the latter’s motley visions of contrapuntal partnership symbolizing the mutilation of the conventional role of a reedist in a combo. Indignation and joy advance on matching terms, often generating veritable sparkles of dissolution, ultimately returning to an easy theme in the flick of a switch. The couple meshes grippingly with Elliott’s arco too, the frenzy crescendo at the end of “Blue Ball” a typical example of cantankerous discharge flowing into an abrupt, or plain absurd conclusion (which the record definitely doesn’t lack). Kevin Shea’s torrential drumming is perfect for the scope: the man’s categorical antipathy against whatever resembles an ordinary fragmentation of a pulse corresponds to a fundamental engine for the music’s bouncy mocking of idioms. Not to mention the preposterous “drum solo” before the finish of the closing track, Neal Hefti’s “Cute”.

Elliott – a teacher by day, an excellent bassist and composer by night – achieved what not many artists are entitled to brag about: writing complex and humorous music that occasionally throws us in mild puzzlement, nonetheless energized by the infectious joie de vivre of these instrumentals. MOPDTK confirm themselves among the cream of multi-nourished musicians whose disapproval of fossilization is expressed without reticence, politeness be damned. This is a great CD that deserves recurring spins, and the liner notes (written by “Leonardo Featherweight” – pure genius!) are another curve ball to unsuspecting consumers.

Friday, 6 August 2010

GARETH ROBERTS QUINTET – Go Stop Go

Killer Penguin

After four years from the great Attack Of The Killer Penguins, Welsh trombonist Gareth Roberts and his comrades – trumpeter Gethin Liddington, pianist Paul Jones, bassist Chris O’Connor and drummer Mark O’Connor – come back to help us forgetting the hard times in which we live, at least for 53 minutes. The fusion of constructive melancholy and detailed vibrancy characterizing these pieces – entirely penned by Roberts – is especially influenced by Charles Mingus and the Blue Note albums of the 60s. This retro mood is probably the winning card of Go Stop Go, a solid outing under every aspect.

The quintet’s mastery in maintaining the fluidity of the swinging energy even upon composed meters – the guys like to express themselves in seven, thirteen and the likes – is a thing to respect. Composing stuff whose pulse is not necessarily suitable for idiotically nodding with the head – jazz club style - is a rare feature these days, and there’s plenty here to rejoice for in that sense. Cock-a-hoop enthusiasm and profound eloquence are alternated in technically grounded, yet absolutely unsophisticated and unpretentious fashion. Singling out the musicians and what they do throughout the album is practically useless, for this is a record in which the collective orchestration and the overall instrumental yield are the features to admire. The playing is brilliant all over the place, be it enthusiastic or meditative. It’s human, for lack of a better adjective.

Any given track is convincing, but – should this writer be forced to choose only one – “Unlucky-Lee” would maybe win the contest: a frisky tune where each member has a chance to excel – either as a soloist or by becoming a fundamental element of the counterpoint - while the piece’s structure remains totally cohesive and engaging. The piano solo at the end of the last chapter - “Cwyn Mam-Yng-Nghyfraith” - is another favourite. In essence, this is a fine release by a self-propelling group led by an artist who, born as an engineer and math teacher, decided instead to leave cold numbers aside and let someone’s world spin slightly differently by managing to make those people smile, or just ponder about beautiful memories through his music. You have to be appreciative of this.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

CREMASTER - Noranta Graus A L'Esquerra

Monotype

Turbulently logical as always, Ferran Fages and Alfredo Costa Monteiro organize a palette of noises generated by “feedback mixing board, pickups and objects on electric guitar” brilliantly, the resulting concoction qualifying more as composition than improvisation given the level of intricacy of its spontaneous design. The “interplay” has reached a point of reciprocal perceptiveness and instant reaction, warranting a rational temperament that’s often lacking in the work of other exponents of the extreme manipulation party. Fages and Costa Monteiro have been playing together for a very long time, and this bond is clearly perceptible. The music they present in Noranta Graus A L’Esquerra (Catalan for “Ninety Degrees To The Left”) definitely corresponds to the most mature that Cremaster have released to date, gifted with the same animated zest driving their research for new types of acoustic disintegration, yet devoid of that ear-torturing magniloquence exalted by the avant-garde (ha!) regime hyping theoretically radical “creative” phenomena.

The work is complex, sharp and hard-hitting, following a dynamic arc of events that starts at the extremities of auditory tolerance (careful with these frequencies when wearing headphones) and gradually shifts the mass towards places where the skilled monster even enjoys some moment of tranquillity. It’s there that one (barely) notices the existence of tiny purrs and infinitesimal hisses, realizing that the calmness is just momentary before the action resumes. The duo constructs a whole network of interconnected idioms, staying in the realms of lucidity without sounding domesticated. The crunchy discharges that might appear as excruciating at the beginning become a warmly greeted presence with subsequent listens, and trained brains will receive the following dispatches without problems, fusing crackles, rustles, munches and hums in a kinship with the physical equipment they manage. There’s nothing aberrant in this smartly dissentient record, terminated by the artists via the squeezing of the last droplets of the thinnest micro-feedback you can imagine, until silence falls. The lingering buzzing is now coming from the insides of your head.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

ORGANUM - Sorow

Siren

In keeping with the unlimited consistency that has characterized his craft over the decades (regretfully overlooked by certain specialized press when they reviewed the Sanctus / Amen / Omega trilogy: alter your course of action against a critic’s expectations and a bad reaction is guaranteed) David Jackman continues to exercise a deep interest in new forms of droning superimposition, having abandoned – for the moment, at least – the harmonious brutality of the earlier works in favour of scores that exploit a different kind of acoustic power, that coming from the layering of richer, if somewhat simpler qualities of instrumental resonance. This recent concern derives from studies on early sacred music, mostly evidenced by the extraordinary male choir singing in the above mentioned Amen, among the artist’s supreme masterpieces.

Although it’s not meant to “expand the trilogy still farther, but opens a new chapter in Organum’s career”, a vaguely comparable architecture characterizes the 41 minutes of Sorow, dedicated to Daisuke Suzuki. A static ground of organ and Indian tanpura is interspersed with brass-ish stabs (organ again? A harmonium, perhaps?) and compelling gongs and/or Japanese temple bells, maintaining a strong influence throughout. There are just minor variations on this essential score: loops seem - and I stress seem - to have been utilized (especially in regard to the tanpura parts), thus attributing an even more entrancing aura to the whole, the movement of an inner slow rhythm caused by the pulse itself. For all these reasons, you have to give room to this combination of frequencies by listening to it at significant volume: only then one realizes about the composition’s authority, established in a mounting wall of slight contrasts between placid sea-like chords, massive vibrations and imposing tolls.

After a mere couple of listens we’re already set to define the record as the logical continuation of a research that’s interestingly becoming analogous to an emblematic ascension: a substance born from amassed sonic detritus, transformed into ear-challenging infected wholesomeness, ultimately sublimated in an immaculate vision. When Jackman decides that the time is right for releasing a statement, preconceptions and agendas should be left aside, in the (perhaps pathetic) hope that those sounds are able to locate a small font of responsiveness in cold-hearted “professionals”. This, though, is a problem concerning other kinds of people; I’m comfortable on the opposite side, laid out by the glory of another hymn to the might of stillness.