Thursday, February 28, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Octave divided into 2 Just Parts


The E Octave divided into 2 Just Parts Scale. Scales don't get much simpler than this. Two notes that happen to match the distance between the second and third partials of the harmonic series. With the octave, these three notes line up with the 2:3:4 of the overtone series. This is a profoundly consonant open fifth.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 1% narrow


The E Flat Lydian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 1% narrow Scale. The first "quarter-tone" scale to get the 1% compression treatment in this space.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 2% wide


The E Flat Lydian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 2% wide Scale. The additional 2 percent stretch on the intervals has an interesting effect on the "quarter-tones" in the latter half of this scale.

Monday, February 25, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts, Thoreau, Love, God, Murder and Scelsi

Henry Brant: The Henry Brant Collection, Volume 7: A Concord Symphony - Charles Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840-60 Orchestrated by Henry Brant. 2007. Innova: 414.

Henry Brant: arrangement
Charles Ives: composition
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Dennis Russell Davies: conductor

Wow! If there is any work than can truly be regarded as "sacred" the Charles Ives Concord Sonata could be that work. Hearing James Tenney performing that thorny, sprawling piano work from memory is one of the most profound experiences of my own music education. It seems fitting that Tenney's former teacher, Henry Brant, would take it upon himself to transcribe that juggernaut for orchestra. Hearing the density of this music smartly laid out along the expanded instrumental pallet coaxes a new, solidly Ives-esque orchestral experience into existence. It is stunning in its scope and incredibly beautiful. I could even pick out the optional flute part in the "Thoreau" movement that is part of the original work. This is a deeply rewarding piece of music cast in a new light and this recording delivers the experience flawlessly.

Johnny Cash: Love, God, Murder. 2000. Sony Music Entertainment: C3K 63809.

Triple CD compilation produced by Johnny Cash, Steve Berkowitz and Al Quaglieri.

The voice of Johnny Cash had a rare quality that pulled poetry from unlikely materials. There's the shock of recognition of the truth of human frailty so accurately and sympathetically expressed. There is the humble, personal expressions of faith that stand in sharp contrast to the intolerance and self-righteousness associated with the Bible belt. And there is the uncanny ability to give voice and sympathy to the downtrodden. All of this holds strong gravity and appreciation for ears willing to chart a wide course to include an unusual genre for this space. But that is the reach and transcendent quality of Johnny Cash's legacy. And with a compilation of tracks hand-selected over a long career, it's a pleasure to hear things that fall outside the "hits." Here the focus is clearly on what Cash had to say and it's a strong argument for why this troubadour will endure.

Giacinto Scelsi: 5 String Quartets/String Trio/Khoom. 2002. WDR/Montaigne: MO 782 156.

The Arditti String Quartet:
Irvine Arditti: violin
Avid Alberman: violin
Levine Andrade: viola
Rohan De Saram: cello

Michiko Hirayama: voice
Maurizio Ben Omar: percussion
Frank Lloyd: horn
Aldo Brizzi: conductor

String Quartet No. 1 (1944)
String Trio (1958)
String Quartet No. 2 (1961)
Khoom (1962)
String Quartet No. 3 (1963)
String Quartet No. 4 (1964)
String Quartet No. 5 (1974/1985)

Somewhere between String Quartet No. 1 in 1944 and the String Trio of 1958 something affected Giacinto Scelsi's sensibilities. In that first quartet we hear an accomplished, expressionist minded composer. From the String Trio onward the distinct and individual voice of Scelsi take form as he turned increasingly inward. The impressive harmonic forms and constructions of that earlier work give way to an obsessive focus on single tones. String Quartet No. 3 becomes a prolonged study in unresolved cadences. String Quartet No. 5 is a brief snapshot from a mind deep in meditation. The transformation that becomes audible through this cycle - and Khoom is a brilliant addition to this cycle - is a compelling narrative of an artist reclaiming his own soul and spiritual sensibility in the wake of personal and creative crisis. In many ways it is a narrative that mirrors the 20th century experience.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian augmented 5 mapped to the Square-root-of-2 1% wide


The E Flat Lydian augmented 5 mapped to the Square-root-of-2 1% wide Scale. Packing the Lydian augmented scale into quarter-tone territory, then stretching it out just a little bit.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Spinning a Webb with 14-strings On Something Fretless

Michelle Webb & Susan Alcorn/John Berndt & Melisa Putz @ The Red Room, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, February 23, 2008

John Berndt: saxophones, electronics
Melisa Putz: movement

Michelle Webb: guitars, effects
Susan Alcorn: pedal steel guitar

At her MySpace page, Michelle Webb answers the "sounds like" column with a Sonny Sharrock quote that describes her sound beautifully:
Remember that your improvisation must have feeling. It must swing and it must have beauty, be it the fragile beauty of a snowflake or the terrible beauty of an erupting volcano. Beauty--no matter how disturbing or how still--is always true. Don't be afraid to let go of the things you know. Defy your weaker, safer self. Create. Make music.
At the Red Room, Webb's improvisation was hot lava, a liquid of sound that filled every corner of the room that threatened to overwhelm and envelope every ear along with Susan Alcorn's pedal steel guitar. Fed through an impressive chain of effects pedals, even the electric signal of unplugging one guitar in favor of another became a stark oceanic texture of delays and signal modulation.

For her part, Susan Alcorn was the more reserved contributor to the long-form improvisation that unfolded in waves. Adeptly finding pockets of space to place her sound, the sliding microtones of the pedal steel added to the harmonic richness hanging in the air. Over the span of the set, the drive to "create" and "make music" was passionately and abundantly clear with a sound one could gleefully become lost within.

The opening set featured the cross-disciplinary interchange of sound and movement. The physical and kinetic presence of Melisa Putz often working in counterpoint to the staccato textures formed by John Berndt's electronics and saxophone. At times the relationship of accompaniment and foreground felt reversed as the sounds were supported by and responsive to the dance. The deliberate, confident performance from each collaborator maintained a taut expressiveness throughout the two short, unpredictable pieces that made up the first set.

Yes We Can

I just discovered this video that has logged nearly 5 million viewings at YouTube as of this writing. Brilliant concept, brilliant words, and a strange, unfamiliar feeling of optimism that pulls at latent idealism. It's also a pleasure to see Herbie Hancock in there.

And if the contrast in message wasn't already clear, here's some "equal time" from the presumed nominee of the other party.

Only the Rhetoric is Odd

Casual Firebird: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra @ Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, February 23, 2008 (11:00am)

Richard Wagner: Overture to The Flying Dutchman
Lukas Foss: Oboe Concerto
Ludwig van Beethoven: "Largo" from Oboe Concerto in F Major
Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird Suite

The ink on conductor Andrew Grams' degree in conducting from the Curtis Institute of Music is barely dry having been earned in 2003. With a three-year term as assistant director of the Cleveland Orchestra under his belt and a one-year tenure as resident conductor of the Florida Orchestra under way he is clearly gaining experience through community performances, Coffee Concerts and morning matinee concerts such as this one. He is enormously talented and I hope there is success in store for someone with such an acute grasp of orchestral scores.

His easy, casual manner in addressing the audience between pieces is a bit of a throwback to the troubling presentation of modern works that stands in sharp contrast to the Marin Alsop approach. The Lukas Foss Oboe Concerto is a beautiful, if somewhat conservative work and Grams' enthusiasm for the piece is understandable. But why place bookends on either side of the performance declaring it to be "odd?" If "oddness" were a parameter I was interested in the Lukas Foss Oboe Concerto would hardly register a tick on the "odd-ometer." Telling an audience to perceive it as such places an unfortunate coloring upon the experience that may calibrate perceptions too easily shattered if something significantly more "odd" should come down the pike. With the understanding that an early morning audience of orchestral music may expect more sugar coating than I may care to digest, it should be possible to convey genuine enthusiasm for new music with descriptions and observations that highlight what is actually part of the experience.

The Beethoven Oboe Concerto is a curiosity. It is essentially a student work that has eluded Beethoven scholars for a long time. Only the "Largo" movement is available for performances and it has been largely reconstructed from sketches found in the 1990s. Without the surrounding movements this isolated "Largo" is a pleasant sounding work without the profound weight one finds in other Beethoven pieces.

The choppy seas conveyed in Wagner's Overture from The Flying Dutchman was the most balanced and convincing performance on the program. Grams has an excellent grasp on how to level off the dynamics of the dramatic turns in this music. When Anthony Braxton, a composer who deftly expresses so many enthusiasms I share, expressed a new-found passion for the music of Richard Wagner I have to concede that there is substance to be found there. Braxton even acknowledges how remote Wagner's music initially was for him before he finally discovered how valuable his ideas are. I am still on that distant shore that finds the German Romantic a bit too dramatic to digest. But willing to keep an ear on performances of this quality until that same recognition sets in.

Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite soars as it does through the tens of thousands of interpretations performed since its premiere in 1919. Grams was a little more tentative than Alsop's decisive presentation just a little over a week ago. It is amazing to me that that first orchestral stab can still jolt an audience (even one well into its A.M. java fix) after so many performances.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian 3% narrow


The E Flat Lydian 3% narrow Scale. The first 3% narrow scale considered in this space.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Frets of Just

John Schneider @ Fine Arts Recital Hall, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD
Thursday, February 22, 2008

John Schneider: guitars, voice, adapted viola

Lou Harrison: Serenade for just intonation classical guitar
Lou Harrison: Suite for National Steel Guitar
John Schneider: Men are Men & Mountains are Mountains (In memoriam James Tenney) for electric guitar
Harry Partch: Barstow: Eight Hitchhiker's Inscriptions for voice and adapted guitar
Terry Riley: Quando Cosas Malas caen del Cielo, from Book of Abbeyuzzud for just intonation classical guitar
Harry Partch: Lyrics of Li Po for voice and adapted viola
John Schneider: Lament for Pythagorean classical guitar
Lou Harrison: Scenes from Nek Chand for National Steel Guitar

There is a particular shape, a feeling for the materials of sound, that marks the inspired tribute to James Tenney. For those who knew Tenney as a composer, mentor and friend that form bears an unmistakable sense of love and recognition. With Men are Men & Mountains are Mountains John Schneider has tapped into a feeling of sound matter that does great homage to a figure many of us miss. With koan-like patterns along the open strings of an electric guitar Schneider continually turns the pegs to re-tune those strings toward "pure" intervals as a blossom of harmonic growth takes shape. The meditative process makes for a clear offering for one who has opened ears and awakened minds with similar, breathtakingly simple means. That such unfolding should emanate from the only instrument with "standard" frets and amplification in use for this concert felt suitably Tenney-esque.

The depression era troubador qualities of Harry Partch's Barstow take on special vitality in the hands of John Schneider. The just-intervaled simulation of Doppler effect, accompanied by the hitch hiker's thumb and theatrical motion brings the despair and uncertainty of when that next ride might come along into sharp focus. The simple words of transients are immortalized and transformed into a poetry that speaks directly toward humanity.

With a program of music that makes clear the resources of just consonances and dissonances this was a music that is both familiar and endlessly surprising for me. This included a work from Terry Riley's Book of Abbeyuzzud that was new to me and a performance of six of the 17 Lyrics of Li Po, a work that is incredibly important in shaping my personal sense of voice and text in music. John Schneider's easy manner in describing these tunings between pieces is nearly as inviting as the polished performances of such an important strain of new music.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Pythagorean Lydian 1% narrow


The E Flat Pythagorean Lydian 1% narrow Scale. Check out the jagged, uneven sizes that come from unilaterally compressing the otonal intervals.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian 4% wide


The E Flat Lydian 4% wide Scale. This is the first 4% stretched scale considered in this space.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian augmented 5 3% wide


The E Flat Lydian augmented 5 3% wide Scale. Augmented and with a stretched octave with dissonant bite at just over a sixth-tone larger than a 2/1.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Pythagorean Lydian 2% wide


The E Flat Pythagorean Lydian 2% wide Scale. The combination of an all otonal scale with stretching each interval by two percent results in a sharp scale.

Monday, February 18, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Endless Travels

Fennesz: Endless Summer. 2001. Mego: 035.

Christian Fennesz: electronics, manipulations

Ambient glitch albums are a little off the beaten path for these ears. But the reputation that precedes this recording warranted further investigation and the sound that's been pouring out of the speakers has been strangely beautiful. There's a peculiar balance between wisps of slightly processed guitar and highly processed textures that present harmonic turns as if they were under a microscope. For all the layers of digital manipulation there is a sense that this music breathes and churns beneath the efforts to extend and extract noise environments.

Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: Travelling Somewhere. 1973 (Re-released in 2001). Cuneiform Records: Rune 152.

Chris McGregor: piano
Harry Beckett: trumpet
Mark Charig: trumpet
Nick Evans: trombone
Mongezi Feza: trumpet
Malcolm Griffiths: trombone
Harry Miller: double bass
Louis Moholo-Moholo: drums
Mike Osborne: alto saxophone
Evan Parker: tenor saxophone
Dudu Pukwana: alto saxophone
Gary Windo: tenor saxophone

Proving once again that ignorance is deaf, the Brotherhood of Breath was one of the most joyous and animated big bands of all time and they labored in exile because the small minds behind South Africa's apartheid policy were threatened by a mixed-race ensemble. Sound travels far more quickly than social justice as art finds a way to thrive despite political immorality. If the Brotherhood of Breath doesn't already figure prominently into your sense of jazz history then take a moment to put these historic recordings in your ears. The free flowing spirit of these performances and the infectious quality of these themes is remarkable.

The Lounge Lizards: Queen of All Ears. 1998. Strange and Beautiful Music: SB 0015.

John Lurie: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, vocals
Michael Blake: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Steven Bernstein: trumpet
David Tronzo: slide guitar
Evan Lurie: piano, organ
Jane Scarpantoni: cello
Erik Sanko: bass
Ben Perowsky: percussion
Calvin Weston: drums

This is a good dose of that late-90's "downtown" sound as this large ensemble snakes and grooves around some tight arrangements. The emphasis in this sound is on orchestration and compositional form as opposed to generous helpings of individual solos in the spotlight. The way the layers come together into funk-heavy pockets makes for a pleasant listen. This collection in particular is well worth revisiting.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian minor 2 1% wide


The E Flat Lydian minor 2 1% wide Scale. Here's our first look at the +12-cent stretched octave variant of this altered scale.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Anti-Escapism

Michael Zerang: Cedarhead. 2006. Al Maslakh: 06.

Michael Zerang: drums, darbuka, percussion
duos with
Sharif Sehnaoui: electric guitar
Mazen Kerbaj: trumpet
Raed Yassin: tapes, electronics
Christine Sehnaoui: alto saxophone
Charbel Haber: electric guitar
Jassem Hindi: electronics
Bechir Saade: nay

There is a grim, unflinching honesty in the aesthetic fiber of the Lebanese experimental music scene that Michael Zerang's collaborators share with one another. The stark, extended techniques and occasional sonic reference points to contemporary Beirut in the form of concrete recordings or stylistic cues borrowed from folk musics of the Middle East point toward a common sensibility shaped by the absurd severity of centuries of regional conflict. The unflinching honesty of this music in its directness of free improvisation combined with its escapist-free integrity makes these soundscapes enormously compelling.

Bang On A Can & Don Byron: A Ballad For Many. 2006. Cantaloupe Music: CA21036.

Don Byron: composer, clarinet
Robert Black: bass
David Cossin: drums, percussion
Lisa Moore: piano
Mark Stewart: guitars
Wendy Sutter: cello
Evan Ziporyn: clarinets

My enthusiasm for this disc grows each time the ears become reacquainted with the Byron-esque melodic lines that weave everything together. With the Bang On A Can ensemble realizing these pieces the focus rests upon Don Byron the composer as they bring a swinging, polished shine to these works. The music composed for the documentary The Red-tailed Angels about the Tuskegee Airmen is particularly well realized while Basquiat is the resounding highlight of this collection. Show Him Some Lub closes out this disc like an imaginary encore as Byron sets aside the baton and applies his spontaneous energy on the clarinet that fills out the spectrum of groove and inventiveness these ears associate with this great improviser.

Elliott Sharp/Orchestra Carbon: Abstract Repressionism: 1990-99. 1992. Victo: 019.

Elliott Sharp: composer, double guitar bass
Gregor Kitziz: violin
David Soldier: violin
Wendy Ultan: violin
Ron Lawrence: viola
Michelle Kinney: cello
Margaret Parkins: cello
Mary Wooten: cello
Lindsay Horner: bass
Joseph Trump: drums, electronic percussion

This is one of Elliott Sharp's large-scale compositions that has resonated with me for a long time. The canonical treatment of its jagged themes and aggressively developed string textures make for a sound that courses through my own sensibilities as a piece I refer back to frequently.

Raw Nerve

Bone/Doctor Nerve @ Orion Sound Studios, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, February 17, 2008

Nick Didkovsky: guitar
Hugh Hopper: bass
John Roulat: drums

Doctor Nerve
Nick Didkovsky: guitar
Leo Ciesa: drums
Yves Duboin: soprano saxophone
Rob Henke: trumpet
Ben Herrington: trombone
Jesse Krakow: bass
Michael Lytle: bass clarinet
Kathleen Supove: keyboard

Nick Didkovsky has chops. He also has a strong bent toward harried complexity via odd time signatures and algorithmic creations. And yet he has an uncanny musical instinct for plying these twin demons toward the service of creating a grand sound. The music of Bone - a recent trio collaboration with fellow progressive rock veterans Hugh Hopper and John Roulat - and Doctor Nerve deftly avoid the pitfalls of self-indulgence and complexity for complexity's sake. That he arrives at this sound without compromising its cerebral underpinnings or losing sight of the Dionysian appeal of jagged grooves and sharp-edged, compact solos is a testament to a creative instinct that gives Didkovsky's compositions and performance unusual cross-over potential.

If the Floristree is the secret, abandoned industrial space converted into Baltimore's young hipster, BYOB venue where the recent smoking ban cannot be enforced then Orion Sound Studios is the warehouse space for Charm City's hip old-timers. Tucked deep within a semi-industrial neighborhood, the converted loading dock/recording and rehearsal space has a surprisingly warm sound thanks to extensive acoustic treatments found on the walls and in the rafters. Equally surprising is the thriving cultural eco-system drawn together by a passion for progressive art rock musics. Armed with camping chairs, coolers and decibel-dampening ear plugs this was an audience prepared to devour the Nick Didkovsky experience.

One of the reasons for Doctor Nerve's longevity is the wide range of techniques Didkovsky applies to his creations. This is particularly true with the way he makes use of his horn section as the players alternate between realizing tight, orchestrated charts and free improvisation. At one point the band leader set aside his guitar and conducted his large group from in front of the stage. His combination of hand signals and forceful timing cues sculpted a sound that was often both ugly and sublime. As their set shifted early from a handful of Doctor Nerve standards to a long stretch of new material it became clear that this ensemble remains as vital and committed as ever.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian mapped to the Cube-root-of-2 Squared


The E Flat Lydian mapped to the Cube-root-of-2 Squared Scale. The cube-root-of-2 squared, also known as the equal tempered minor sixth, is an interval of harmonic equivalence not yet explored as a "Scale of the Day." Here, the equal tempered Lydian scale is sized down to fit within 800-cents.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: The Suspicious Activity of Dancing

Nels Cline: New Monastery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill. 2006. Cryptogramophone: CG130.

Nels Cline: guitar, effects
Bobby Bradford: cornet
Ben Goldberg: clarinets
Andrea Parkins: accordion, effects
Devin Hoff: contrabass
Scott Amendola: drums, percussion
Alex Cline: percussion

Given the creative beauty found within the music of Andrew Hill there's a pleasant sensibility of "a view" that suggests just how many views into this body of music might be found as sympathetic improvisers gaze into, through and come away inspired. All through New Monastery there is the palpable sense of homage paid toward Hill out of love. This is something tangibly different from duty. The strings of Nels Cline's guitar seemingly stretching backwards and forward through time with the presence of Bobby Bradford providing substantive roots to the history of free jazz. The opening duet between Cline and Ben Goldberg setting the introspective stage that nearly explodes as the full ensemble emerges for a view into "Pumpkin." This is heady, soul-satisfying music.

The Bad Plus: Suspicious Activity? 2005. Columbia Records: 94740.

Reid Anderson: bass
Ethan Iverson: piano
David King: drums

The Bad Plus work a mean addition as this trio effort offers up a polished, dynamic sound that draw the ears toward the individual roles of these Minnesota composer/musicians. This is a piano trio that carves out some clear contours with original compositions (plus one cover) that build and often soar with a fearless approach toward pulse and harmony. Suspicious Activity? keeps the mind awake with its sly turns and bubbling individuality. The drumming is outstanding and would be a focal point all its own if not for the remarkable cohesion of this group as a whole.

Ornette Coleman: Dancing In Your Head. 1973, 1975. (Re-released in 2000). Verve Music Group: 314 543 519-2.

Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone
Robert Palmer: clarinet
Charles Ellerbee: guitar
Bern Nix: guitar
Jamaaladeen Tacuma: bass
Ronald Shannon Jackson: drums
Master Musicians of Jajouka: ghaita, stringed instruments, percussion

"Dance" is the key word for this collection as the harmolodic groove gyrates into a transcontinental frenzy. This one has a split identity, with two long versions of "Theme From a Symphony" featuring a core set of players that would later figure prominently in Coleman's Prime Time group followed by two frustratingly brief versions of "Midnight Sunrise" with the Master Musicians of Jajouka. I understand that more of these recordings from Morocco do exist and the latter part of this record is a tantalizing glimpse at sound of this collaboration.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian augmented 5 mapped to the Cube-root-of-2


The E Flat Lydian augmented 5 mapped to the Cube-root-of-2 Scale. The cube-root-of-2, also known as the equal tempered major third, is the smallest interval of "harmonic equivalence" explored so far in this space. Here we have our first altered scale compressed into that realm.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Pythagorean Lydian mapped to the 3/2


The E Flat Pythagorean Lydian mapped to the 3/2 Scale. Pythagorean proportions compressed into a just perfect fifth.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Far Out

Anthony Braxton 12+1tet: 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 - disc 1. Firehouse 12 Records: FH12-04-03-001.

Recorded live: March 16, 2006 at Iridium Jazz Club, New York City.

The Anthony Braxton 12+1tet
Anthony Braxton: composer, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, sopranino saxophone, clarinet and Eb contalto clarinet
Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, trumpbone, piccolo trumpet, bass trumpet, shell
Andrew Raffo Dewar: soprano saxophone, c-melody saxophone, clarinet
James Fei: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Mary Halvorson: electric guitar
Stephen H. Lehman: alto saxophone, sopranino saxophone
Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo, voice
Jessica Pavone: viola, violin
Reut Regev: trombone, flugelbone
Jay Rozen: tuba, euphonium
Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon, suona
Aaron Siegel: percussion, vibraphone
Carl Testa: acoustic bass, bass clarinet

Disc 1 = Composition 350 - dedicated to the artist Emilio Cruz
The intoxicating mix of ritual, social dynamic, pulse and creative improvisation makes the Anthony Braxton Ghost Trance music something these ears thirst for. As the opening set for a week-long stint at New York's Iridium this disc is compelling evidence of exactly what Braxton claims this music to be: "THE point of definition in my work thus far." A heady statement rendered more so by the sheer magnitude of what his work has already accomplished leading into this current time-space. Comparisons to Butch Morris' Conductions are inevitable. There is a shared quality and even as a recording one can sense the active role of Braxton as the conductor of this work. One can even pick out exactly when Braxton picks up his horn and begins contributing to the sonic fabric of his own creation.

Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All From Somewhere Else. 2007. Thrill Jockey: 181.

Rob Mazurek: composer, director, cornet, computer
Nicole Mitchell: flutes, voice
Jeb Bishop: trombone
Corey Wilkes: flugelhorn
Josh Berman: cornet
Matt Bauder: bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Jeff Parker: guitar
Jim Baker: piano, arp, pianette
Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone
John McEntire: marimba, tub
ular bells
Matthew Lux: bass guitar
Jason Ajemian: acoustic bass
Mike Reed: drums, percussion, saw
John Herndon: drums

Possibly the most joyful noise this side of Sun Ra. This is an intoxicating mix of many, many influences filtered through a big band of Chicago-based improvisers willing to synthesize, groove and bring an updated feel to "far out." When music stretches into the cosmos and comes back with a Sting Ray and the Beginning of Time and Cosmic Tomes for Sleep Walking Lovers the ears are in for a fantastic voyage that transcends terrestrial boundaries. Highly recommended.

Eric Dolphy with Booker Little: Far Cry. 1960 (Re-released in 1989). New Jazz Records: OJCCD-400-2.

Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute
Booker Little: trumpet
Jaki Byard: piano
Ron Carter: bass
Roy Haynes: drums

There is nothing like a rhythm section of Ron Carter and Roy Haynes. Throw in the incomparable Jaki Byard on piano and you get a solid foundation for one of the classic jazz recordings of all time. Yet it's the opening figures running the parallel lines on Eric Dolphy's bass clarinet and Booker Little's trumpet that hooks me into this one every time. Both horn players were cut down far too young - especially Booker Little as he established his legacy before leaving this mortal coil at age 23. With definitive takes on the Dolphy originals "Far Cry," "Miss Ann" and "Serene," this one is a must spin to scratch that Dolphy itch.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Lydian minor 2 mapped to the Triative


The E Flat Lydian minor 2 mapped to the Triative Scale. Note the quirky, numerical symmetry between the re-mapped minor second and its inversion at the re-mapped major seventh with their respective -41.50-cent and +41.50-cent divergence from the notated equal tempered equivalents.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Pythagorean Lydian diminished 5 mapped to the Square-root-of-2


The E Flat Pythagorean Lydian diminished 5 mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale. Note the half-sized Pythagorean Comma between the fourth and fifth degrees - 11.74-cents and one of those rare instances where adjacent tones physically descend in an ascending scale.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat 5, 3 Lydian


The E Flat 5, 3 Lydian Scale. As the first 5-limit, just intonation tuning of a diatonic scale this is the most anticipated scale since the "Scale of the Day" began. With the addition of the prime-factor of 5 it is possible to tune 5/4 major thirds - which is qualitatively more consonant than the 81/64 third afforded by the 3-limit Pythagorean system. 5-limit just intonation is - to my ears - the kind of tuning that brings out the most from classical tertiary harmony. That 1/1, 5/4, 3/2 major triad fuses into a single sound as the interval relationships line up with the 4th, 5th and 6th partials of the harmonic series resulting in a consonance equal temperament only approximates. 5-limit just intonation is a good place to begin exploring just temperaments, and it's a good way to teach the ears about harmony.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Square-root-of-2 subdivided: 2 equal [2 equal/2 equal]


The F Sharp Square-root-of-2 subdivided: 2 equal [2 equal/2equal] Scale. Take an equal tempered "tritone," divide it in half, and divide the respective halves in half. This gives four consecutive 150-cent steps (an interval exactly half-way between an equal tempered minor third, or one quarter-tone less than a whole-tone) for a sequence that cycles at the "tritone."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Three American Originals

Charles Ives: The Symphonies/Orchestral Sets 1 & 2. 2000. Decca: 289 466 745-2.

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta: conductor

The Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus
Christoph Von Dohnanyi: conductor
Jahja Ling: second conductor
Gareth Morrell: chorus conductor

Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
Neville Marriner: conductor

Symphony No. 1
Symphony No. 4
Orchestral Set No. 2
Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 3 "The camp meeting"
Three Places in New England (Orchestral Set No. 1)

This is simply some of the most impressive orchestral music I am aware of. Much of it is dense with ideas as the sound coalesces into an aural portrait of a New England lost to the mist of time. The quarter-tone smears in the second movement of Symphony No. 4 holds particular interest for me even as the breathtakingly ambitious scope (multiple conductors, multiple tempos, poly-harmonic textures, etc.) of this Symphony makes it one of the most awe inspiring works in the repertoire.

Thomas Chapin Trio plus Brass: Insomnia. 1992. Re-released as disc 3 of the Alive box set. Knitting Factory Records: 35828 02482 2.

Thomas Chapin: alto saxophone, flute
Mario Pavone: bass

Michael Sarin: drums
Al Bryant: trumpet
Frank London: trumpet
Curtis Fowlkes: trombone
Peter McEachern: trombone
Marcus Rojas: tuba
Ray Stewart: tuba

There's a rocking, Dirty Dozen Brass Band quality to this music. Hearing these familiar Chapin pieces expanded into this larger ensemble setting is a real treat and the flute playing is fantastic. Thomas Chapin had an understanding of how to steer the delicate, overtly beautiful sound of the flute toward gritty, earthy improvisations with enormous appeal. The ch
emistry of that core trio of Chapin, Pavone and Sarin remains the engine that drives this larger ensemble sound.

Anthony Braxton: Piano Quartet, Yoshi's 1994 [disc 2]. 1996. Music & Arts: CD 849.

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

Anthony Braxton is a brilliant composer, performer and theoretician. However, he is not the person to bring his sonic vocabulary to the piano. I have such high expectations for Braxton's endeavors that I can't leave these piano quartet excursions alone even when confronted by the disbelief at his plodding, harsh technique on the instrument. As a reedsman, Braxton's playing soars - even when interpreting the jazz warhorses of standards. Marty Ehrlich does an excellent job on reeds on this set. The whole quartet is outstanding - except for that sore spot on ivories from the band leader. When one manages to listen between the offsetting solos there is a richness to this recording that makes it worthwhile. This band is at its best when interpreting Thelonius Monk and this second disc does feature "Nica's Dream" and "Pannonica."

A Glimpse Into the 17th Century

Kaori Uemura/Jerome Hantai/Freddy Eichelberger @ The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Baltimore, MD
Sunday, February 10, 2008

Kaori Uemura: viola da gamba
Jerome Hantai: viola da gamba
Freddy Eichelberger: organ

August Kuhnel (1645-1700): Sonate in E Minor (Sonate o Partite, 1698)
John Jenkins (1592-1678): Suite in A (fantaisie, air, divisions)
John Cooper alias Coperario (1575-1628): Four Fantaisies "to the Organ"
Christopher Simpson (1615-1669): Divisions in G
William Lawes (1602-1645): Pavane "on a theme by A. Ferrabosco"
Marin Marais (1656-1728): Suite in G (First Book, 1686)

The viola da gamba is a six string instrument played upright like a cello with a unique resonance that sounds unlike contemporary string instruments. It was common in the Renaissance and Baroque periods and there is a vast body of music written for the instrument. Hearing music written for two viola da gambas with organ on the original period instruments - and in the larger-than-life ornate surroundings of the Basilica - was a rare chance to hear an aural tradition come to life.

I was surprised to hear an early Baroque sound that had less rhythmic churn compared to the large scale works of Handel or Bach that I am more familiar with. The resolved dissonances and steady, conversant cadences were a natural fit for the long reverberation times of such a large house of worship. I was also struck by the variety of melodic qualities between these different composers. John Cooper's Four Fantasies "to the Organ" had the most immediate appeal to my own sensibilities while the unfolding logic of Christopher Simpson's Divisions in G was beautifully austere.

Matmos Up a Floristree

Matmos @ Floristree, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, February 9, 2008

With a set made up of fragments heard at the Baltimore transplant's Red Room show last December along with some new material (and significantly different presentation) Matmos continues to explore a creative territory that reconciles experimentation with an accessible and dance-friendly sound.

To my ears, Matmos seems to be expanding and building upon the music found on the B-side of Talking Heads' Remain In Light from 1980. The intricate, sequenced layers of groove running along side often ironic commentary certainly held a strong David Byrne resonance. This is fertile territory and Matmos does manage to take things much further along with some unusual theater and live video.

Many of the details of this sound were lost within the constant chatter of a large, semi-engaged Floristree crowd that was prone to clumsy dancing. The sound and light problems that plagued this set further compounded efforts to get a clear sense of this material.

Bloodcount = O-positive

Tim Berne's Bloodcount @ An Die Musik, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tim Berne: alto saxophone
Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Michael Formanek: bass
Jim Black: drums

Bloodcount has two significant qualities that give their sound such a gravitational pull: Tim Berne's excellent compositions and the astonishing musicianship of this quartet. After a hiatus of nearly a decade, Bloodcount has reassembled to apply new material to a proven lineup.

Jim Black is one of the more visually intense drummers to experience live. On recording one is left to puzzle out which extended techniques he uses as part of his expansive percussion timbre pallet. Dragging chains along the side of the drum body, generous helpings of bowed cymbals, strummed hand-held tines amplified against the membrane of a tom tom and a junked-out cymbal that looks like it's been run over by a truck make up a small part of Black's bag of tricks. With Bloodcount, these sounds are pulled toward a driving, often funky groove with equal parts sonic variety and tight pulse.

Michael Formanek is the other half of this enviable rhythm section. When he wasn't anchoring a groove with Jim Black - often working a tension between steady pulse and a propulsive energy to obscure that pulse through aggressive counter rhythms - Formanek would leap into the horn range with bowed tones that would match and drift apart from sustained notes with a beautiful cascade of harmonic beating and chorusing effect. His ability to apply a range of plucked, bowed and col legno techniques made for a natural compliment to the extended percussion sounds in the air.

Out in front were the two horns of Speed and Berne. Each building upon the sonic terrain provided by the rhythm section and unknotting the complicated forms and lines of Berne's compositions. Speed has a wonderful tone on clarinet and there wasn't nearly enough of it in the second set. When locked together, the alto-tenor combination pulled a strong focus to the linear materials of this music - linear logic being one of Berne's great strengths as both composer and improviser.

Scale of the Day: E Octave Subdivided: 2 equal [2 equal/2 equal]


The intervallic content of the E Octave Subdivided: 2 equal[2 equal/2 equal] Scale. The intervallic content being extremely limited given that this scale is little more than an equal tempered full-diminished chord.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Packaging the Provocateurs

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra @ Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, MD
Friday, February 8, 2008

Marin Alsop: conductor
Colin Currie: percussion

Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, opus 28
Steven Mackey: Time Release
Claude Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird Suite

With a sequence of compositions that is representative of what Marin Alsop has brought to Baltimore, the contemporary gem of Time Release was surrounded - and juxtaposed - with proven works from the early twentieth century that place these musical ideas within a compelling context and successfully makes the case for a balanced programming diet of new and old musics. This makes for an exciting time to hear live orchestral music in Charm City. This program will be repeated tonight at Carnegie Hall as this well-rehearsed ensemble and charismatic conductor play the provocateurs of the Eastern Seaboard.

My binge listening of Richard Strauss tone poems last weekend prepared these ears for the relatively light fare of Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks. The heavy, romantic hand of Strauss is completely restrained even as the music took several inventive turns along with some well-placed and satisfyingly dissonant passages. The Baltimore Symphony rendered a tight interpretation of this work that was occasionally rushed but exquisitely balanced.

Steven Mackey's Time Release, a concerto for percussionist and orchestra, was the clear focal point of the evening. The orchestral textures and harmonic materials were inventive and the formal internal logic of this composition was nearly transparent throughout. I could only envy the players for the chance they've had to live with this composition as I suspect a few more listenings would crystalize my positive impressions of the piece. Colin Currie gave a polished performance of a fiendishly virtuosic percussion part as Alsop led what was easily the most authoritative performance of the evening.

The "safe half" of the program began with Claude Debussy's excellent Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. This whisp of a piece continues to impress me as one of Debussy's best on the startling beauty of that melodic line initiated by the solo flute at the onset. The impressionistic swirls of tonal color and quiet restraint make the live experience of this work extremely attractive.

Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite is another compelling draw to the concert hall. Much like the Afternoon of a Faun, it is the melodic line and its development make this such a fascinating piece. But unlike the more subdued Faun, Stravinsky brings some dynamic heat as the Suite makes its intensely satisfying forays into its "primitive" rhythmic drive and forceful orchestral stabs. The sudden jolt into fortissimo is a rich and beautiful sound to experience in person. After nearly a century, the Firebird Suite still manages to soar.

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Octave Subdivided: 2 equal [2 equal, 2 equal] - inversion


The F Sharp Octave Subdivided: 2 Equal [2 equal, 2 equal] - inversion - Scale. As an equal tempered scale of even divisions, this scale is self-inverting.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Scale of the Day: F Ionian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 1% wide


The F Ionian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 1% wide Scale. Take a standard F "major" scale, cut it down to half size and stretch it a little bit.