Monday, January 31, 2005
The esteemed Eddie Prevost.
Today I completed my Laminal listening experience by putting on disc 3 and sending my ears back to May 3, 1994 at Context Studios, New York City.
Much of the AMM approach to free improvisation has remained constant from 1969 to 1994. But the recording technology used to document their output has improved a great deal over those years. Each player is heard distinctly and well-balanced in sharp contrast to the less-defined quality of the 1969 recording.
By 1994 AMM has settled into a trio of John Tilbury on piano, Keith Rowe on guitar/prepared guitar and Eddie Prevost on drums. They are seasoned, expert improvising artists. Prevost's drumming (already impressive on discs 1 & 2) catches my ears on this one. He has a good sense of contrast in his playing as he varies the density of sound proportionally to the sonic canvas of the moment.
AMM retains the tension of working with quiet volumes while they roam freely through an urban range of textures. Where disc 1 was the sound of a human cry disc 3 is the sound of neurons firing under steady, unspoken stimulation. The expressive range has moved from the confines of angst toward a more introspective composite of complex feelings.
The evolution of the AMM sound is fascinating and Laminal presents a chance to hear a sampling of the growth that happens when players work together on a long collaborative endeavor such as this.
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Mark Feldman: Book of Tells.
Mark Feldman is a fantastic violinist and improviser. He's been a session player and side man for many projects from John Zorn to Jimmy Swaggart to the Arcado String Trio. Book of Tells is a great way to experience his compositions with his own group that happens to be the venerable chamber medium of string quartet. He adds five new pieces to the literature that draw upon his experience and talent as an improvising virtuoso.
Anchoring this particular ensemble is fellow New York "downtowner" Erik Friedlander on cello. His sound and approach is unmistakable and adds a great deal to the success of this project. This quartet grooves with confidence and plays with aggressive verve. It's a cohesive ensemble rather than a vehicle for showcasing Feldman. Which is why Book of Tells transcends mere genre-mixing. There's no self-conscious mixing of jazz and classical here.
In the end it's the quality of the compositions that make this a compelling listen. "Windsor Quartet" is particularly well done. It opens with a great violin cadenza before moving into some fluidly melodic material for quartet. Mark Feldman put some serious creative energy into this project and the end result is deeply satisfying.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Carter Scholz: 8 Pieces.
This music exists in a peculiar cerebral cavity that is filled with ideas that resonate with many of my own regarding intonation and algorithmic structure. Carter Scholz has carefully crafted eight electronic gems that sparkle with austere beauty.
My personal favorite is the opening work: "Lattice," which begins with unison tones and then expands the harmonic content to include just intervals of increasing and decreasing complexity before working back to unisons again. It's a great idea for exploring harmonic territory using the lattice-based conceptual model of just intonation. The clarity of the execution of this formal idea allows one to perceive exactly how these interval classes sound as they are sonically exposed.
"Rhythmicon" is another example of a clean formal study featuring the first seventeen partials of the overtone series mapped to meters from 1/8 to 17/8. Again, the end result is a sonic offering for the perceptive and curious mind to experience some fundamental qualities of harmony and time.
8 Pieces makes for great headphone music. It's more than a little startling to hear someone else working with ideas that are so native to my own sensibilities and obsessions. This is one disc that I'll have to come back to time and again.
I understand that Carter Scholz is also a Hugo and Nebula nominated science fiction author. I'll have to check his writings out as well. He clearly has a knack for working through some interesting ideas that could have some great cross-application for speculative fiction.
Friday, January 28, 2005
The F Sharp Octave Subdivided: 2 equal/ 2 equal, 2 equal Scale. Which happens to resemble the F Sharp full diminished chord on any conventionally tuned equal tempered instrument.
Albert Ayler makes an appearance in Cleveland.
Tonight it was disc 4 of Revenant's excellent box set. This one continues with the same quintet as Disc 3 and presents one long set from their April 1966 appearance in Cleveland. The sound quality is really rough on this one and once again the quality of the ideas is strong enough to distract from the technical failings.
A good dose of spirited improvisation on this one. I remain enchanted by the violin/sax/trumpet combination with this rhythm section. "Zion Hill" in particular has a fantastic energy to it. These players are tuned in to each other as they continually respond to and give way for one another.
Albert Ayler is a significant figure in the history of creative improvised/free improvisation. Holy Ghost is a great documentation of why his unique voice and approach are so enduring and influential. This instrumentation and sound reminds me of the group New and Used with Mark Feldman on the violin, Dave Douglas on trumpet and Andy Laster on sax. Clearly there's a lineage between the two ensembles. It's a great tradition to be a part of.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Holy Ghost, thy name is Albert Ayler.
Today I returned to my exploration of the fantastic Revenant Records box set: Holy Ghost with disc 3. After all the international settings and various personel of the opening two discs this one settles in for three sets from April 16 and 17, 1966 in Cleveland, OH with the Albert Ayler Quintet. The recording quality is a bit rough compared to the first two discs, but the joyful sound and ideas on it make it well worth the restoration effort.
This incarnation of the Ayler Quintet features sibling Donald Ayler on trumpet and Michel Sampson on violin and right away the interplay between sax, trumpet and violin is striking. Albert Ayler's unique voice is well served by such sympathetic company. This group is especially exciting as the players give each other such latitude to ebb and enter the fray while maintaining incredible rhythmic momentum. Much of the improvisation found here (particularly on "Ghosts") reaches a transcendent level. Ayler is in full stride, he has a great band and they're definitely "on" for this gig.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
The esteemed John Tilbury.
Today I continued on to disc 2 of Laminal by AMM. This time I'm transported to Goldsmiths College in London on February 20, 1982. Cornelius Cardew is sadly absent. But now we have John Tilbury at the piano and he is a welcome addition to the group dynamic.
The spirit found in the 1969 performance of disc 1 is perceptible. But now there's a different take on texture and a willingness to allow more variation over time. It is still a co-operative sound. The texture is devoid of hierarchy. There's still no "soloist" or "accompaniment" role being played out. This is a texture that fluctuates organically with each performer playing as an equal contributer. I hear it as raw creativity rich with ideas and a beautiful extended balance between players.
The long, sublimated improvisation draws my attention toward Tilbury's piano (as it is my instrument). The spareness of his approach and the care in which he adds to the texture is exquisite.
The AMM aesthetic calls for a quiet intensity. The long durations and restricted volume draw my perceptions into a taut, encompassing environment. I find myself observing rich details in an otherwise featureless landscape. A welcome excursion for the ears.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Laminal is a 3-disc set of three live performances of the free improvisation group AMM from three different decades. The longevity of AMM is a testament to the endurance of their approach toward improvisation.
Today I put on disc 1 and was transported to Denmark on December 16, 1969 (another reason to love the technology that preserves documentation of such performances is the chance to experience events prior to my own existence).
The initial draw of the AMM experience of this era is Cornelius Cardew on cello. Cardew should be getting the "hall of heroes" treatment shortly as I hold so much of his music, politics and ideas in high esteem. AMM is one way to hear a portion of his creative output.
The AMM Music experience is unique. Each member of the group contributes as an equal toward a prevailing texture. There's no "solo" or "head" or "changes" or many other trappings of other improvisation traditions. What comes out of AMM is often long, quiet and intense. For this particular 1969 experience the group delivers three "movements" of texture that is at once delicate and aggressive. The sounds emanating from these instruments are so unusual that it's hard to pin down the precise instrumentation at any given moment. The percussion bubbles and quakes quietly under a heavy layer of sustained, harmonically ambiguous sound that periodically recedes to expose microcosms of similar textures operating just below the surface.
It sounds like angst. It sounds like a human scream that is held within as it reverberates toward madness. It's the sound of a slow, steady release of pent-up anxieties. At the same time, the sound takes on a near-zen tone of indifference toward unresolved tension. A sense of beauty within the "darkness" emerges without overt changes to the sonic texture. The time scale involved gently nudges the listener into finding stasis in the face of uncertainty. Finding tranquility in the unsettled details of a magnificently sustained texture. It must have been a great concert to behold.
Monday, January 24, 2005
Elliott Sharp: Loop pooL.
I've returned to listening to vintage Elliott Sharp as I drink in the abrasive sound that has infected me for so long. Loop pooL is another early Sharp release that I've had to locate via eBay and it was well worth the effort of tracking this 1988 treasure.
Loop pooL is a great sampling of Sharp's personal sonic vocabulary with plenty of guitar work, drum machine programming and processed sound. There's even a couple of tracks of guitar accompanied by a pitch-to-MIDI converter patched into a simple piano patch that works in spite of its transparency. There's something satisfying about the aggressive, noise-heavy textures and rhythmic intensity of "PKD" (presumably a reference to the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick) or "Two Faces Stare." This is Sharp's sonic world and it's rendered convincingly here. From this point his sound matures while retaining much of the forceful, creative drive found here.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Friday, January 21, 2005
Marilyn Crispell/Georg Graewe: Piano Duets (for Tuned and Detuned Pianos)
Today I put on the second disc of the Piano Duets to hear two of my great music passions collide: alternative intonation and free improvisation (especially as practiced by Marilyn Crispell). This disc hangs a fantastic aural painting in the air. Time becomes a canvas to be filled in with the density and controlled explosive expressiveness of a Jackson Pollock creation. These creative improvisers dribble sonic paint lines and aggressively splash thick layers of gestalt separated by barely controlled and unpredictable variations in texture density. Material exploring the high registers of the instruments would often steer a controlled line cascading toward rich bursts of harmonic color. The range of color was rendered more vividly through the "diagonal tuning" of the instruments as startling shades of dissonance and consonance applied a rich smear to the familiar timbre of two pianos.
The resulting sound is tantalizing. It leaves me longing to hear creative improvisers of this caliber exploring other tuning systems. It is, after all, only a single work hinting at ideas that could fill museums and galleries.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
The Jazz Passengers: Implement Yourself
I've been enjoying this particular gem from 1990. The Jazz Passengers have always had it going on and it seems like their discs always knock me out whenever I hear these great arrangements and solid groove. Implement Yourself is a favorite one I come back to time and again. It's great to hear Marc Ribot's guitar work within this large, swinging jazz context. The drum work by E.J. Rodriguez is also a treat to hear in this lineup. Most of all this disc delivers with the variety of material and the consistency of delivery.