Saturday, May 31, 2008

Scale of the Day: B Pythagorean Dorian mapped to the Square-root-of-2


The B Pythagorean Dorian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale. Notice the Dorian-esque symmetry found even within this remapped scale. Visually, one can see it in the +1.96, +47.07, +49.02, -49.02, -47.07, -1.96 sequence with the inversion (within square-root-of-2-space) of each interval giving this scale its peculiar balance.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Around the Blogs: Afro-Futurism and the State of Race in Creative Improvised Music

By way of the Chapel Performance Space blog comes word of a Sun Ra Tribute Band led by an Earthly cast of Seattle area players - Stuart Dempster: trombone, Bill Smith: clarinet, Tom Baker: guitar, Greg Sinibaldi: saxophone, Michael Monhart: saxophone, Jim Knodle: trumpet, Lynette Westendorf: piano, Greg Campbell: percussion, horn, Dan O'Brien: bass, Bill Moyer: percussion. Expect to see more bands like this as the beauty of Sun Ra's music continues to build increasing resonance in this dimension.

While a love of Sun Ra is transcendent, the contrast between the image of the tribute band and the current Arkestra is striking. Against the backdrop of an electrifying Barack Obama presidential campaign with all of its progressive promise of positive change and the thoughtful discussion of race in jazz sparked around the blogs by Ethan Iverson's incredible essays over at Do the Math on difficult questions about Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. Read the whole series of essays. Tristano's claim as an early pioneer of free improvised music has long been a curiosity for me. Approaching his music as belonging to the tradition of Conlon Nancarrow and Charles Ives - as Iverson concludes to be more appropriate - does place his music in a profoundly different context. Stanley Crouch's assertion that Tristano's turn toward European traditions (at the expense of the African diaspora) did little to advance jazz reinforces this uncomfortable segregation of Tristano into the "American Maverick" tradition. As one who loves the musical traditions of Charles Ives and Thelonious Monk with equal affection this conversation raises multiple points about how the complex history of immigrants and emancipated slaves is reflected in the development of the arts. And in particular how the injustices and biases carry over into how each tradition develops relative to one another. Sun Ra - whose role as an early pioneer of free improvised music is more compelling than Tristano's - may have completely embraced the persona of a being from Saturn in part as a reaction to the ugliness of racism in the America in his day. His music is compelling to the point that I'm inclined to believe he really was from outer space.

Soundslope writes about the Xenogenesis Suite by Nicole Mitchell. Written as a tribute to the writer Octavia Butler, who was another voice of the Afro-futurism associated with Sun Ra. I have this disc on my shelf already and it's cued up to enter the HurdAudio Rotation.

And bouncing back to the "Maverick" tradition, Alex Ross draws my attention to the music of Johanna Magdalena Beyer. An early twentieth century composer I should have learned about (and already be obsessed with) long ago. Anyone from that era associated with Charles Seeger and his "dissonant counterpoint" is someone these ears are hungry to hear. I imagine this New World double-CD and this New Albion disc are a good place to start.

Scale of the Day: G Pythagorean Dorian


The intervallic content of the G Pythagorean Dorian Scale. The Dorian-esque intervallic symmetry displayed in its Pythagorean manifestation.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Department of Reviews: So Embarrassing

Capillary Action: So Embarrassing. 2008. Pangaea Recordings: 80270 23152.

Jonathan Pfeffer: vocals, guitars
Spencer Russell: acoustic bass, electric bass, vocals
Ricardo Lagomasino: drums, percussion
Kevin McHugh: keyboards, vocals

Zachary Crystal: percussion
Johnny Butler: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone
Matthew Nelson: tenor saxophone
Ryan Snow: trombone
Andy Hunter: trombone
Jeffrey Young: violin
Jessica Pavone: viola
Caleigh Drane: cello

This one has been spinning around more than a few times in the HurdAudio airspace as the mad, manic talents of Jon Pfeffer manages to channel a small army of extreme voices into a wicked splatter of poly-stylized rhythm and noise.

The wide ranging jump cuts and abrupt transitions are an immediate attraction to this energetic flexing of contrasting extremes slapped together at sharp angles. The quality of the horn and string arrangements throughout this haze of free jazz, heavy metal, flamenco, tango and punk collision by itself is reason enough to recommend this listening experience. But all of this deeply creative arranging is in the service of a song writing that manages to withstand the relentless churning of sonic textures and densities with a thin strand of poetic thread. The sense of wide contrasts takes on a new dimension as the angriest and most indignant words are often given the softest, most calm delivery and textures within a set capable of turns toward screaming freak outs and blazing bar chords at the slightest provocation.

Lurking within the shadows of light and dark emotions and textures is a relentless sense of humor wrapped in odd meters and splashes of inspired-yet-sarcastic fragments of edgy smooth jazz. The difficult, forced proximity of so many stylistic reference points reinforces the personal expressions of uncomfortable situations told in the words of these songs. In its probing, scatter shot honesty it hits several raw nerves along the way. It's urban, funny, angry, bitter, brainy and it never lets up. Capillary Action is heavy on the action side while never losing its sense of pulse.

Scale of the Day: B Dorian augmented 4


The B Dorian augmented 4 Scale as one would find it on any conventionally tuned, equal tempered instrument.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Aeolian 1% wide


The F Sharp Aeolian 1% wide Scale. The equal tempered "natural minor" with the intervals stretched just slightly to fit a 1212-cent stretched octave.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Two Nights of Marshall Allen

Thee Maximalists @ Orion Sound Studios, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, May 24, 2008

Paul Sears: drums
Keith Macksoud: bass
Dave Newhouse: keyboards, saxophones, flutes, bass clarinet
Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute, electric valve instrument
Elliott Levin: saxophones, flute, poetry


The Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen @ Sullivan Hall, New York City, New York
Sunday, May 25, 2008

Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute, evi
Charles Davis: tenor saxophone, percussion
Art Jenkins: percussion, vocals
Tyrone Hill: trombone
Michael Ray: trumpet, vocals
John Ore: bass
Fred Adams: trumpet
Knoel Scott: alto saxophone, percussion
Vincent Chancey: french horn
Cecil Brooks: trumpet
Danny Ray Thompson: baritone saxophone, flute
Rey Scott: trombone
Dave Davis: trombone, tuba
Luqman Ali: drums
Elson Dos Santos Nascimento: percussion
D. Hotep: guitar
Yahya Abdul-Majid: tenor saxophone, percussion
Bill Davis: bass
Farid Abdul-Bari Barron: keyboard
Wayne Anthony Smith Jr.: drums

A celebration of the 84th anniversary of Marshall Allen's arrival on Earth.


The Sun Ra Arkestra covers an astonishing slice of jazz history. Over the course of two long, spirited (and spiritual) sets at Sullivan Hall, the space age band touched upon several resonant nodes of large ensemble improvisation. Reaching all the way back into the Sun Ra catalogue with a vibrant take on "Dreams Come True" to "Space is the Place" and several wonderful Marshall Allen originals the Arkestra proved not only is it going strong, but continues to be as hip, vital and "out there" as ever. With an ensemble cohesiveness formed from unusually long associations they bring a rare ability to swing everything from standard charts to full-on free improvisation that keeps everything deliciously unpredictable and enthralling. The Arkestra also brings a playful, irreverent energy that overflows with cosmic optimism and an open invitation to bring one's ears and mind to explore a cosmos of theatrics and sound.

One night earlier at Baltimore's Orion Sound Studios it was a completely different sound marked by Marshall Allen's improvisational voice and searing sound. As a collaborator with Thee Maximalists, Allen was backed by the decidedly progressive rock leaning rhythm section of Paul Sears and Keith Macksoud while co-conspirators Dave Newhouse and Elliott Levin alternated as fellow horn players with keyboard and poetry added to the mix - each weaving their own individual elements into the sound. The textures often carried a heavy groove while the space-age qualities of the electronic valve instrument - a device capable of serious beauty in the hands of Marshall Allen - was completely at home within this sonic environment. The forceful gestures from the alto saxophone on display at both performances was expressively human no matter how many genres were colliding underneath it.

It's no accident that Marshall Allen led the Sun Ra horn section for 40 years before assuming the leadership position of the full Arkestra. The man from Saturn had a knack for adding - and retaining - great talents within the Arkestra. Allen's forceful gaze that sweeps across the audience with searing intensity becomes a conductive focal point when turned upon the players in the Arkestra. The combination of eyes and movement locks the ensemble together and often triggers synchronized gestures from the full battery of players. The sounds drawn out of his instruments burns with enormous creative energy. He is an excellent saxophonist and an improviser with edgy ideas that stand out. The expressions of love, respect, joy and well wishes from his colleagues and audience were genuine and heartfelt. (And the cake was delicious). At 84, his life is a fascinating story of long running creative accomplishments and a sound that deserves to be widely regarded as an important thread of jazz and creative music. His own compositional voice is a masterful take on the traditions and spirit of Sun Ra.

With Thee Maximalists, Marshall Allen proves that there are many paths both to and from Saturn. His activities outside the Arkestra add new insight to his sound as he adapts to different players with startling results. The swirling lines of the electronic valve instrument accompanied by two flutes was one particularly inspired moment within a shifting sea of improvised textures from the Maximalists. Proving that the energies of the cosmos can both rock and swing.

With the Arkestra, he resides at the helm of a beautiful pageantry. The live experience with the costumes, the sounds of joy and players clearly feeding off of the energy of a crowd is a glimpse into a friendlier solar system. The procession of players carrying their sound off the stage marked an adieu in the form of a parade easing toward a gentle return to our home planet. Earth is fortunate to have Marshall Allen among us.

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Aeolian mapped to the Triative


The F Sharp Aeolian mapped to the Triative Scale. The "natural" minor all stretched out to fill the just perfect twelfth.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Aeolian diminished 4 mapped to the Square-root-of-2


The F Sharp Aeolian diminished 4 mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale. This scale is has a noticeable density of consecutive quarter-tones from the second to fourth degrees followed by a gap of three-quarters of a semitone. This grouping of densities gives this scale its harmonic flavor.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Scale of the Day: G Sharp Aeolian

Audio of the G Sharp Aeolian Scale (as one would find it on any conventionally tuned, equal tempered instrument).

See also:
G Sharp Aeolian notated
G Sharp Aeolian interval analysis

Thursday, May 22, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Off Duty Dryad Gets Stuecke on Monk

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Klavier Stuecke. 1958 (re-released in 1994). HatHut: Hat ART CD 6142.

David Tudor: piano

Klavierstücke I - VIII & XI (4 versions)

What a beautiful confluence it was that David Tudor came to these piano pieces as Stockhausen was composing them. These are striking, uncompromisingly Stockhausen-esque ideas realized on the piano in a manner that makes both the instrument and ideas feel so fresh a full half-century after this recording. There's an openness of semi-improvised details within an alternative notation system along with the sonic rigor of serialized component parts that makes this music so intriguing. But it's the pianism of David Tudor that makes this recording incredible - like hearing the Glenn Gould of avant garde music playing one of the 20th century's Well Tuned Claviers. Tudor had an amazing ear for the detail and resonance lurking within these gestures and often pointillistic textures that coaxes so much from a music that tempts cold detachment from performers less sensitive to the many nuances within such challenging material.

Elliott Sharp: Sharp? Monk? Sharp! Monk! - Elliott Sharp plays the music of Thelonious Monk. 2006. Clean Feed: CFG001CD.

Elliott Sharp: acoustic guitar

Elliott Sharp's playing answers the same question as emphatically as the title of this set of five monk tunes realized on the Dell Arte Grande Bouche acoustic guitar. With fingers working every part of the instrument - strumming the fingerboard close to the tuning pegs, attacking the instrument at times or coaxing these great melodies from odd angles Sharp embraces the spirit of Thelonius Monk's compositions with an approach that is both personal and respectful. This is music that Sharp has lived with for a long time and it shows with the patience he brings to it along with an instinctive knack for keeping the harmonic underpinnings (an Monk-ish intervallic peculiarities) of these pieces intact.

Leroy Jenkins: Themes & Improvisations on the Blues. 1994. CRI: CD 663.

Themes & Improvisations on the Blues (1986)
The Soldier String Quartet
Laura Seaton: violin
David Soldier: violin
Ron Lawrence: viola
Mary Wooton: cello

Panorama 1 (1983)
Leroy Jenkins: violin
Henry Threadgill: flute
Don Byron: clarinet
Marty Ehrlich: bass clarinet
Vincent Chancey: french horn

Off Duty Dryad (1990)
The Soldier String Quartet + bass
Lindsey Horner: bass

Monkey on the Dragon (1989)
Leroy Jenkins: violin
Henry Threadgill: flute
Don Byron: clarinet
Marty Ehrlich: bass clarinet
Janet Grice: bassoon
Vincent Chancey: french horn
Frank Gordon: trumpet
Jeff Hoyer: trombone
Thurman Barker: traps
Myra Melford: piano
David Soldier: violin
Jane Henry: violin
Ron Lawrence: viola
Mary Wooton: cello
Lindsey Horner: bass
Tania Leon: conductor

Chamber works by the late - and sorely missed - jazz violinist. The ensembles offering a multi-instrument blend of the unmistakably playful and melodic sensibilities found in Jenkins' improvising. Added to this compositional base is an earnest restlessness in these pieces as Jenkins works his ideas through toward startling transitions and conclusions. On this pass through the rotation I am struck by Off Duty Dryad for string quintet with its textural shifts and gestures emanating from the lower register of the cello and bass. The personnel assembled for Monkey on the Dragon is stacked with so many musicians and composers that have affected me over the years. It is a particular fascination to hear them assembled to realize Leroy Jenkins' compositional voice. A voice that deserved more concerts such as this one to expose the beauty of his compositional output.

Scale of the Day: C Sharp Aeolian diminished 4


The intervallic content of the C Sharp Aeolian diminished 4 Scale as one would find it on any conventionally tuned, equal tempered instrument.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Scale of the Day: F Sharp Pythagorean Aeolian


The F Sharp Pythagorean Aeolian Scale. With the characteristic 2 otonal members (with the frequency ratios of 9/8 and 3/2) and 3 utonal members (with the frequency ratios of 32/27, 4/3 and 128/81).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Sometimes I Feel Like a Drummerless Child

Thomas Ulrich/Elliott Sharp/Carlos "Zingaro"/Ken Filiano: T.E.C.K. String 4tet. 2007. Clean Feed: CF089CD.

Thomas Ulrich: cello
Elliott Sharp: acoustic guitar, national tricone
Carlos "Zingaro": violin
Ken Filiano: bass

String timbres have often been at the heart of Elliott Sharp's most attractive works. Be it his string quartets (of the "conventional" instrumentation) or his work with guitars his is a familiar voice to pick out within this quartet of free improvisers. And improvisation has also been a strong facet of Sharp's output. Here the sound bends and undulates with the creative additions of Ulrich, Zingaro and Filiano filling out the soundscape with their own distinctive mark. The music that flows, unpremeditated from this ensemble is quiet and intense. Focused on details while leaving plenty of space for new sonic territory to be initiated from any quarter.

Gunda Gottschalk/Peter Jacquemyn/Ute Volker: Baggerboot. 2003. Henceforth Records: 102.

Gunda Gottschalk: violin, viola
Peter Jacquemyn: bass
Ute Volker: accordion

Three arcing, long-form improvisations with the reedy timbre of Volker's accordion deftly bridging a territory between the high and low strings of Gottschalk and Jacquemyn. Each makes up part of a complete set, like three large canvases hanging next to one another, offering up a study in shading and texture. There's a grounded sense of drone within this sound even as none of these individual players stands still for long, allowing the texture to develop with a sense of unfolding and hearing with ears wide open.

Ron Miles: Heaven. 2002. Sterling Circle: SC5151.

Ron Miles: trumpet
Bill Frisell: guitar

If you've had this disc up on the shelf for a while you might have forgotten how good it is. And if you don't have it on your shelf at all (or on your hard drive, your portable player and all the other ways music worms into it's "non-physical" media) then you're missing one of the most amazing works of understated duo collaboration recorded. Named after the Duke Ellington piece represented in this set, along with Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-gonna Fall," Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp" and a take on Hank William's "Your Cheatin' Heart" that virtually weeps, it's the Ron Miles originals that shed the most light on a collaborative sensibility that runs deep between these two players.

Scale of the Day: F Phrygian mapped to the Square-root-of-2


The F Phrygian mapped to the Square-root-of-2 Scale. The quarter-tones are front loaded leading up from the tonic.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Scale of the Day: A Sharp Phrygian


The intervallic content of the A Sharp Phrygian Scale as one would find it on any conventionally tuned, equal tempered instrument.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

3081 Reasons to Dig Free Improvised Music in Baltimore

3081 @ The Red Room, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dave Ballou: trumpet, cornet
John Dierker: bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Michael Formanek: 5-string electric bass
Will Redman: drums

Reason # 3079 - Michael Formanek's irresistible double-bass technique translates well to the electric. He strums, plucks, taps and coaxes an amazing sound with all that amplification. The tight confines of the Red Room added an element of danger as the neck of the instrument swayed within range of Dave Ballou's head.

3081 played two short sets at the Red Room with a focus on deep listening and intensity. This quartet of Baltimore-based musicians with deep jazz roots bring an aggressive, edgy approach to free improvisation that succeeds on the responsiveness between players and a confidence that allows for collaborative, well-formed pieces of variable texture and relatively short durations. These are musicians with serious chops making music without flashy displays of empty showmanship.

Reason #3080 - The percussive brilliance (and whimsy behind the graphic scores of Book) of Will Redman. Dynamic range, extended technique and even an electric toothbrush in the service of spontaneous ideas.

Reason #3081 - These are four of the most consistent voices of Baltimore's growing improvised music scene. Individuals worth seeking out in Micro Kingdom, Quartet Offensive, New Volcanoes, Open Music Ensemble, Science Friction and any number of other projects that have enormous pull for these ears. Knitting these compelling individuals into a single quartet is an enriched human mathematics of sound.

Scale of the Day: F Phrygian diminished 4


The F Phrygian diminished 4 Scale as one would find it on any conventionally tuned, equal tempered instrument.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Vignettes in Charm City

Marilyn Crispell @ An Die Musik, Baltimore, MD
Friday, May 16, 2008

Marilyn Crispell: piano

"I believe her music will be considered required listening by future students of exploratory creative music. Having the opportunity to work with this most special musician has helped to open my own musical universe in every way. With Marilyn I am free to introduce march music, totally notated pieces, no music or vertical harmonic music -- she can execute in every area (and even more importantly, she creatively contributes). Her work will be seen as one of the models for the next time cycle." - Anthony Braxton, August 1989

Braxton's generous statement rings more true than ever as Marilyn Crispell has continued to add more texture and material to her amazing improvisative voice at the piano. With an added sense of lyricism and melodic focus and an uncanny ability to spin fantastic spontaneous creations out of simple component parts, Marilyn Crispell is a substantial creative force in the current time cycle. Required listening for anyone studying creative music and intensely rewarding listening for anyone who loves hearing the continued evolution of jazz piano music.

In the first of two sets, Crispell featured her melodic side as she built remarkable tension out of tasteful restraint. Single lines and singular gestures gave way to open piano voicings built up from the middle-low register of the instrument as she effortlessly picked out exquisite harmonies from just a few well-placed notes. The whispers of melodies that she added to her textural vocabulary with Amaryllis and Nothing Ever Was, Anyway has since been folded into the range of sounds at her finger tips as the Marilyn Crispell of the current time cycle is one of breathless extremes in the service of intuitively pristine formal constructions. At the core of this music remains the prayerful tone of John Coltrane's "Dear Lord" that served as an early inspiration and signature tune for Crispell.

The second set featured a satisfying return to the cluster-rich, spiky free improvisations that had such a strong pull for these ears when I first discovered her music. The percussive precision and clarity of her forays into the registral and textural extremes of the instrument growing organically from sequences and gestures that would return and remain prominent through much of her improvisation. The understanding of just how explosive and controlled her sound is with such an expansive set of materials does indeed make her the model of improvised music that Braxton recognized her to be.

(Photo credit: Joe Fornabiao)

Scale of the Day: D Locrian


The D Locrian Scale as one would find it on any conventionally tuned, equal tempered instrument.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Whole-tone mapped to the Square-root-of-2 1% wide


The E Flat Whole-tone mapped to the Square-root-of-2 1% wide Scale. In terms of sounding frequency this scale is identical to one half of an equal tempered chromatic scale 1% wide. But with the significant contextual difference of treating the 606-cent "stretched tritone" as the interval of harmonic equivalence.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Adès Sandwich

"Beethoven Re-Imagined"
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra @ The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, MD
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thomas Adès: conductor

Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Opus 21 - Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Concerto, "Concentric Paths" Opus 24 - Thomas Adès
Anthony Marwood: violin
Symphony No. 4 in B Flat Major, Opus 60 - Ludwig van Beethoven

If you're going to have one of your works sandwiched between two slabs of Beethoven symphonies, one could hardly do better than being programmed between the first and fourth. The shortest, and most politely classical of the Beethoven symphonies still leave plenty of room for an ambitious foray into contemporary sounds and contrasting textures in between. And if you're the composer of that middle work who happens to be charged with conducting the whole affair one could hardly do better than Thomas Adès.

Already an accomplished composer, conductor and pianist at age 37, Thomas Adès' Violin Concerto is a fantastic piece tailored for Anthony Marwood's musicianship and virtuosic skills on the violin. The textural variation of this work is particularly striking in Adès' willingness to explore the extremes of thin and thick orchestration along with extreme instrument registers while sustaining a clear sense of multiple, cyclical moving parts. As a conductor with rare insight into this piece Adès coaxed a dynamically balanced reading that brought out beautiful details from within the sound. The violin part was an important and consistent layer running throughout this work that was often absorbed into the larger sonic picture as the orchestration worked in tandem with the soloist rather than as accompaniment.

As a conductor, Adès lead faithful renditions of the two Beethoven war horses. The first symphony began with a faltering attack on the opening chord, but quickly coalesced into a solid performance. The fourth symphony was excellent as the long introduction of the first movement was perfectly drawn out before launching into its familiar churn. A fine program and a fine "re-imagining" of Beethoven. Though I can re-imagine how the Adès would have fared if it had been wedged between the "Eroica" and the "Ode to Joy" over the course of a much longer evening. The Violin Concerto would probably stand up within any part of this canon and still leave me with an appetite to hear more.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Whole-tone 2% narrow


The E Flat Whole-tone 2% narrow Scale. Dividing the 1176-cent compressed octave into six equal parts.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

From the Bottom of the World to Area 405

Antipodes: Contemporary Australian performance art and music video
Curated by Timothy Nohe @ Area 405, Baltimore, MD
Sunday, May 11, 2008

Featuring works by Eugenia Raskopoulas, Justene Williams, Catherine Fargher, Maria Miranda, Norie Neumark, Lisa Anderson, Jon Drummond, Warren Burt, Daniel Blinkhorn, Mari Lou Pavlovic, Debra Dawes, Mari Velonaki, Carla Cescon, Jacky Redgate, Lisa Andrew, Sara Waterson, Sarah Goffman, Josephine Starrs and Julie Rrap.

The down under sensibilities of Australia's video and sound artist community found illumination and kindred resonance as ruminations upon the effects of global warming, karaoke performance and repeated computer generated imagery projected deep within the recesses of Baltimore's Area 405 warehouse space. The often creative and wide ranging combinations of video with sound presented a mingling of high and low brow sensibilities with a strong sense of environment.

Justene Williams' Red Foto presented a striking image of rapid-fire, almost robotic movements of a woman covered with scraps of red photographs up against the mirrored corner inside the private room of a strip club. The sound of the patrons mingling with the reflected, surreal image that is aesthetically reinforced by the camera held by outstretched arms to catch a self portrait at the end of each movement. Part choreographed performance, part video poetry, this proved to be a kinetic expression that lingered.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Whole-tone 3% wide


The E Flat Whole-tone 3% wide Scale. Featuring the 1236-cent stretched octave as the interval of harmonic equivalence.

Monday, May 12, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Jazz Greatness

Martial Solal/Dave Douglas: Rue De Seine. 2006. Cam Cine TV Music: Cam 5013.

Martial Solal: piano
Dave Douglas: trumpet

Two players so thoroughly steeped in jazz tradition that they've carved their own names into it with original compositions that coexist well with the standards included in this set. As a long time Dave Douglas fan it's the interpretations of his material that holds particular interest to these ears. The solo piano take on Dave Douglas' "For Suzannah" is one of several jaw dropping moments on this disc. Beyond that solitary number this is a steady dialogue between two enormously gifted improvisers. One can almost hear what they don't play as the silent metronome clicks between these two players or the phrases stripped of extraneous notes and ornamentation. A few more versions of "Body and Soul" like this and we may eventually forget the association with that old Humphrey Bogart film (play it again, Martial).

Charlie Haden/Liberation Music Orchestra: Not In Our Name. 2005. Verve: B0004949-02.

Charlie Haden: bass
Carla Bley: piano, arrangements
Michael Rodriguez: trumpet
Seneca Black: trumpet
Curtis Fowlkes: trombone
Arnee Sharon Freeman: french horn
Joe Daley: tuba
Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone
Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone
Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone
Steve Cardenas: guitar
Matt Wilson: drums

Each Liberation Music Orchestra recording just gets better with every listening. The fine details of Carla Bley's incredible arranging instincts come into sharper focus each time I hear this music, leaving me all the more impressed. The transformation of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings orchestrated for an elite big band as the somber prayer ripples through the wind instruments. The ensemble arrangement of Bill Frisell's Throughout that retains the steady introspection of the original version. The reggae twist on the Metheny, Mays and Bowie's This Is Not America within the larger context of protest music. The anthem reclaimed for the America the Beautiful (Medly) all highlight the astonishing abilities of Carla Bley when her medium happens to be this collection of high caliber players under the direction of Charlie Haden. The moral indignation and longing for domestic and foreign policy with a humanitarian conscious that runs through the Liberation Music Orchestra's long standing "message" adds even more resonance to this listening experience.

Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil. 1964. Re-released in 1999. Blue Note Records: 7243 4 99001 2 7.

Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone
Freddie Hubbard: trumpet
Herbie Hancock: piano
Ron Carter: bass
Elvin Jones: drums

The 1960s era Blue Note reputation was built on stellar recordings like this one. It leaves a haze hanging in the air like so many records from that period, only more so than usual with this particular session. The ears are pulled in so many different directions. Each player brings something that completes this sound and the gravity of Herbie Hancock's playing is hard to miss. Then there's that rhythm section of Ron Carter and Elvin Jones and the sound they put in underneath this playing. This is easily a definitive recording that belongs in any serious jazz collection. And in the end it's the Wayne Shorter compositions that really draw the ears in.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Whole-tone (2 - 1) 2% wide


The E Flat Whole-tone (2 - 1) 2% wide Scale. The stretched quality of this scale sneaks up on the ear, as each successive semitone (the 102.00-cent interval just upward from the tonic) and whole-tone (202.00-cent intervals each) are well within the ear's tolerance range at just a few cents off of their equal tempered equivalents. But the succession of an extra 2-cents or 4-cents adds up to a 24-cent wide octave - which is noticeably wide and jarringly dissonant. And in this harmonic context, that jarring dissonance is treated as the interval of harmonic equivalence. This makes for some interesting resolutions into dissonant harmonies.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Pythagorean Whole-tone - Lydian Mode - 1% wide


The E Flat Pythagorean Whole-tone - Lydian Mode - 1% wide Scale. The Lydian-ness makes this a steady sequence of 205.95-cent major seconds leading upward from the tonic until one reaches the 182.25-cent interval required to snap things back into the stretched octave.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Mob Hit

Mobtown Modern @ The Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, MD
Friday, May 9, 2008

Not so Much: Minimalish Music

Music In Similar Motion (1969) - Philip Glass
Katayoon Hodjati: flute
Jennifer Everhart: bass clarinet
Brian Sacawa: soprano saxophone
Phil Kiamie: marimba
Erik Spangler: laptop, KP3

Vermont Counterpoint (1982) - Steve Reich
Katayoon Hodjati: piccolo, flute, alto flute

The Low Quartet (1985) - Michael Gordon
Brian Sacawa: baritone saxophone
Christopher Blossom: baritone saxophone
Jacob Chmara: baritone saxophone
Michelle Acton: baritone saxophone

Honest Music (2002) - Nico Muhly
Lisa Liu: violin

In C (1964) - Terry Riley
Lisa Liu: violin
Katayoon Hodjati: flute
Jennifer Everhart: bass clarinet
Brian Sacawa: alto saxophone
Phil Kiamie: marimba
Shodekeh: beatboxer
Erik Spangler: KP3

The additive, unison lines of Music In Similar Motion with a twist. A new arrangement with a Kaoss Pad in the mix. Video accompaniment. A performance space dressed up with candles and a modest bar. At the core of the sound is the familiar minimalist classic by Philip Glass at his most essential, static self. But there is this thoughtful, attentive re-interpretation added to the experience. It is an attractive sound that has evolved from the loft spaces of Greenwich Village of the late 1960's and found a new shape at the Contemporary Museum of Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood.

At one time the Minimalist movement was regarded as a revolt against the academic serialist composers that dominated the academic institutions as they fiercely guarded and promoted their vision of the "music of the future." But the future proved too slippery to be neatly transitioned into its "logical" post-tonal era. The minimalists never claimed to hold the mantle of the "future of music" even as the steady pulse and clear tonal centers eventually eroded the core tenants of that fabled post-tonal era. Change and transition became more precious as a scarce commodity within this music. The beauty of audible process - of phasing and layering - became a focal point for a generation of composers learning to trust their ear and instinct.

Now the minimalist works of Glass and Reich are proving to be resilient as details emerge with renewed interpretations. The battle for the "future of music" has been fought to a draw and the aesthetic landscape is now marked with several minimalist masterpieces worth revisiting. The understanding and passion applied to this music by Mobtown Modern shows off its strength in re-arranging and re-shaping classic contemporary works. With a smart sequence of pieces making up the "minimalish" program the evening proved to be a heady mash-up of familiar works recast to startling effect.

Possibly the most resilient, and most re-interpreted minimalist work is Terry Riley's In C. The unspecified instrumentation, the blissful embrace of static tonal harmony and steady pulse combined with the expansive freedom of 53 short cells sequentially and individually explored by the performers has allowed this piece to thrive in many contexts. The Mobtown Modern eschewed the temptation to pile on thick layers of sound in favor of a balanced, multi-textured take that allowed the individual layers to evolve with sharp clarity. The addition of Shodekeh's human beatboxing proved to be a fresh update on the pulsing high piano C's that typically serve as the ensemble's metronome for this piece. The Mobtown Modern also chose to unfold In C with a tight forward momentum as opposed to lingering for long stretches within the trance-inducing innards of this piece.

Katayoon Hodjati's performance of Vermont Counterpoint hit upon the electric qualities of this piece as a live work as she negotiated multiple changes between piccolo, flute and alto flute while playing against a prerecorded backdrop of multi-tracked flutes. This is the first re-interpretation of this work I've heard since encountering the original Ransom Wilson recording and I was pleasantly surprised by the differences in dynamics and tempo used for this performance.

The one piece on the program unfamiliar to me was Honest Music by Nico Muhly. A beautiful work performed by Lisa Liu on violin against a prerecorded track. As my first exposure to the music of Muhly I was left intrigued. The recorded accompaniment was relatively sparse and consisted of short gestures that melded with or helped punctuate the live violin sound.

Michael Gordon takes the attractive textures of minimalism and puts a decidedly more dissonant edge to it. With the Low Quartet he brings this music to a satisfyingly primal level that comes through in this all baritone saxophone arrangement. With equal attention to sonic color and groove the Mobtown made their hit and allowed the rich detail of this piece speak for itself.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Whole-tone mapped to the Cube-root-of-2


The E Flat Whole-tone mapped to the Cube-root-of-2 Scale. This is essentially an equal tempered major third divided into six equal parts.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Scale of the Day: E Flat Whole-tone (2 - 1) mapped to the 3/2


The E Flat Whole-tone (2 - 1) mapped to the 3/2 Scale. The whole-tone altered and squeezed into a just perfect fifth.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: From Big Red to the Fantasy Etudes

Killick: Bull****. 2007. Sol Ponticello: 00261 22074.

Killick: 38-string harp guitar "big red"

Big red is the focal point of this excursion. The vessel constructed for this particular voyage. With an intonation and several timbral forays into territory reminiscent of Harry Partch's Kithara instrument this solo music takes a winding journey that spins a sonic universe entirely of Killick's creation. By the end of the story he tells through steady, yet wide ranging improvisation, my enthusiasm for this music has grown. At turns ugly, at other times bathed in painful beauty, this is an acoustic expression that straddles guitar, harp and double bass with an introspective sense of solo freedom.

Clusone 3: An Hour With... 2000. HatHut: hatOLOGY 554.

Michael Moore: alto saxophone, clarinet, melodica
Ernst Reijseger: cello
Han Bennink: drums

Given the explosive potential found both individually and collectively with the members of this trio there is a remarkable tension in just how restrained this hour of music is. Touching upon original compositions and bird themed tunes by Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Saint-Saens and several others the medleys that make up the bulk of this material offer up a feathering of vibrantly nuanced interpretation. The strummed cello playing of Ernst Reijseger brings an attractively unfretted chordal layer to this rhythm section that allows Moore's melodic lines to take flight and soar.

William Albright/PRISM Quartet: Music for Saxophones. 2007. Innova: 687.

PRISM Quartet:
Timothy McAllister: soprano saxophone
Michael Whitcombe: alto saxophone
Matthew Levy: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone
Taimur Sullivan: baritone saxophone, alto saxophone
University of Michigan Symphony Band
H. Robert Reynolds: conductor
Michael Lowenstern: bass clarinet
Marilyn Nonken: piano
Matthew Herskowitz: piano

Fantasy Etudes for Saxophone Quartet (1993)
Heater: Saga for alto saxophone and band (1977)
Pit Band for alto saxophone, bass clarinet and piano (1993)
Doo-Dah for three alto saxophones (1975)
Sonata for alto saxophone and piano (1984)

This one is a fascinating collection of composed works for saxophone with strong pull toward jazz harmony and idiomatic gestures. William Albright polished these intricate, idea drenched pieces while still leaving space for humor and levity to come through. Fantasy Etudes in particular is an excellent, wide-ranging composition that exposes just how much untapped potential lurks within the saxophone quartet medium. With an uncanny sense of proportion and duration these pieces unfold with surprising variation contained within their economic formal constructions. And the gradual transition between overtly "classical" textures into swing era jazz harmonies and gestures over the course of Heater is incredibly satisfying.

Scale of the Day: E Flat Pythagorean Whole-tone - Lydian Mode - mapped to the Triative


The E Flat Pythagorean Whole-tone - Lydian Mode - mapped to the Triative Scale. The all "otonal" variant of the whole-tone spread out along a just perfect twelfth.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Filing Under not THERE

John Cage: Freeman Etudes. 1995. Newport Classic: 85616/2.

Janos Negyesy: violin

Nothing compliments a warm evening with the windows open like solo violin music mingling with the calm breeze. With John Cage the music often resembles nature itself as he plumbs a beauty of wild, abandoned spaces. The first two books of the Freeman Etudes are performed on this double-CD as Janos Negyesy deftly navigates a work that is both difficult and tranquil. The aleatoric details of this music are subsumed by a larger frame of time and soloist. The allure of this sound is found in actively listening without preconceptions about form and melody in much the same way one admires the stark horizons in an unpopulated and unfamiliar landscape, or the star-filled night sky that was in fact the generative source material for this piece.

Tim Berne/Science Friction: Mind Over Friction (collection, the): A re-issue of the classic Science Friction Live and Studio Recordings. 2006. Screwgun Records: SC 700018.

Tim Berne: alto saxophone
Tom Rainey: drums
Craig Taborn: rhodes electric piano, laptop, virtual organ
Marc Ducret: electric guitar, acoustic guitar

Expansive, free-wheeling music that could almost be described as "progressive jazz" if it didn't completely blur the unsteady lines that divide (and conquer) genres. Even the text in the packaging includes a "file under: not THERE" as a self-aware comment on the music found on these three discs. And this is music to submerge one's ears with the generous helpings of Science Friction's rough edges and twisting forms. This excellent quartet sustains long periods of intense creative playing into something defiantly consistent and beautiful through washes of odd transitions, angular melodic lines and mixed meters. It's a good place to start for the ear not yet initiated to the Berne sound.

Brian Auger: Planet Earth Calling. 1981 - re-released in 1987. Garland: GRZ010.

Studio recording with various combinations of the following:
Brian Auger: hammond organ, yamaha CP 70B, electric grand piano, prophet 5 synthesizer, rhodes electric piano, acoustic piano, miniMoog, cabasa, gogo bells, freeman string dymphoniser, tambourine, vocals, cowbell
Ho Young Kim: guitar
George Doering: guitar
Dave McDaniels: electric bass
Dave Crigger: drums
Steve Evans: electric bass
Tom Donlinger: drums
Terry Baker: drums
Michael Barsimanto: drums
Alex Ligertwood: vocals

This is the third spin through the rotation for this disc and I've expressed disappointment each time. There is some good in this music. The band is excellent. And a number of the Brian Auger solos do in fact "rock." The sadness comes as the whole thing careens into the nausea of something between smooth jazz and disco. Too gentle and unchallenging on the ears to allow the rockin' musicianship to redeem the experience.