Monday, July 02, 2007

HurdAudio Rotation: Wassermonde, Li Po and Braxton on the Ivories

Gunda Gottschalk: Wassermonde. 2002. Free Elephant Records: 002.

Gunda Gottschalk: violin, viola

There's something eerily human about the utterances GundaGottschalk conjures up from horsehair and string. Some of the fragile, quiet sounds that she achieves from varying the amount of bow pressure take the form of cries and near-spoken gestures that speak of the human condition without the hindrance of words and language. At other times, when the sounding tone from her violin is strong, she'll add her own wordless vocalizations to reinforce the overall sound. This is intense, focused free improvisation with a strong sense of formal structure.

Harry Partch: 17 Lyrics of Li Po. Composed between 1931 and 1933. Recorded in 1995. Tzadik: TZ 7012.

Stephen Kalm: intoning voice
Ted Mook: tenor violin

It's almost unnerving how much Stephen Kalm's voice resembles Harry Partch's own intoning voice. This definitive recording of these earliest of Partch's surviving compositions is an ear opening experience into the "Genesis" of Partch's musical vision. With the rhythm of spoken text preserved and reinforced with these arrangements, the beauty of the poetry itself takes on a ringing clarity. These troubadour compositions are some of the most impressive "songs" of the 20th century - filled with humor and unexpected turns.

Anthony Braxton: Piano Quartet, Yoshi's 1994 [disc 1]. 1994. Music and Arts: CD 849.

Anthony Braxton: piano
Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet
Joe Fonda: bass
Arthur Fuller: percussion

The rough sound of Braxton's piano playing troubled me when I first listened to this collection and I haven't returned to it since. And yet his music and ideas are so deeply compelling that I decided to bring fresh ears to this difficult listening. Ehrlich, Fonda and Fuller are great musicians and they follow Braxton's lead beautifully and turn in several great solos of their own in this set of jazz standards. But the center of the sound remains Braxton's thorny piano playing and solos. The frustrating thing is that Braxton's musical ideas are solid and adventurous. But his limited piano chops confine him to a narrow dynamic range as he plods through the full set. The other challenge, as a listener, is that these familiar standards serve as launching pads for the rich creative universe that Braxton has devised and he wastes no time shedding most traces of the original melodic and harmonic framework attached to these pieces. If one listens to these pieces as modular entities - in the same manner that Braxton's original compositions are - then things begin to sound cohesive. And there are some brilliant moments on this disc. By the end of this set I was even starting to "get" Braxton's solo on "Cherokee." It just takes a full hour to get acclimated to his piano sound and hear the ideas behind his playing. Even so, his piano sound is the first real challenge to my normally sympathetic ears.

No comments: