Monday, February 15, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Karlheinz, Thelonious and Leroy

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Klavier Stuecke. 1994. Hat Hut Records: hat ART CD 6142.

David Tudor: piano

An aesthetic summit from an era of hyper rationalism. Animated by the incomparable pianism of David Tudor. One of a hand full of large scale piano works that pursues a willingness to test human perceptions of note groupings centered around dynamic range - as opposed to proximity or tonal harmonic construction. With some familiarity and disciplined practice one can bend their perception to hear the elaborate organizational structures in this music. But to simply immerse the ears and hear it as music is a different - and arguably more rewarding - experience in and of itself. Tudor's interpretation prevents this music from sliding into an abyss of cold, technical precision. Even with technical precision present in spades. Instead, I hear the longing to force musical progress down this particular byway and the tension of nearly succeeding despite the proximity of a logical extreme end point.

Elliott Sharp: Sharp? Monk? Sharp! Monk! - Elliott Sharp Plays the Music of Thelonious Monk. 2006. Clean Feed: CFG001CD.

Elliott Sharp: acoustic guitar

I remember catching Elliott Sharp's 1994 tour with Carbon in Seattle. This was just after they had released Truthtable - arguably the edgiest studio recording this incarnation of the group would ever record - and in the midst of playing a blistering set Elliott Sharp took out his soprano saxophone and told the audience, "this is not jazz" before launching into some circular breathing, looping patterns. The image of "jazz" as standards, show tunes, lounge acts and the stomach churning nausea of "smooth" reinforced by image of Kenny G with a soprano saxophone demanded a considerable amount of distance from what Sharp was doing.

The reality was - and is - that Sharp's uncompromising integrity is much closer to the original innovators that made jazz great. Thelonius Monk, with that melodic approach that was so shocking in its day finds a natural affinity with the individualistic sound Sharp has honed on the acoustic guitar. This recording is a wonderful homage to that enduring influence. It also happens to be a wonderful solo guitar record. The question and answer posed in the title nodding to the perceived distance between two artists. The respect paid and honest artistry captured in this documentation providing the exclamation point to the answer to the question.

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

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

Monkey on the Dragon (1989)
Leroy Jenkins: solo 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 Baker: traps
Myra Melford: piano
David Soldier: violin
Jane Henry: violin
Ron Lawrence: viola
Mary Wooten: cello
Lindsey Horner: bass
Tania Leon: conductor

A recital of chamber works by the great jazz improviser and violinist. The lineup of performers is an impressive mix of fellow improvisers and practitioners of composed music. The music itself is thick with ideas and enough details that it takes multiple listenings to absorb the many layers and nuances. It is unquestionably worth several listenings. I would like to hear multiple interpretations of each of these works.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Magnum Opuses

Harry Partch: Delusion of the Fury: A Ritual of Dream and Delusion. 1971 (re-released in 1999). Innova: 406.

Danlee Mitchell: conductor

Still the definitive recording of this too rarely performed work. This exclamation point on the end of Harry Partch's creative output. And sadly an incomplete documentation of the full corporeal experience that Delusion of the Fury is when experienced in person. The sense of story telling relies upon the dance, costume and the mystical presence of these amazing instruments on stage. The music itself relies on few words in an of itself. An interesting destination for an uncompromising aesthetic motivated by the natural harmonic and rhythmic contours of spoken word.

Anthony Braxton 12+1tet: 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 - disc 7. Firehouse 12 Records: FH12-04-03-001.

Recorded live: March 18, 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 7 = Composition 356 - dedicated to the writer/scholar Noam Chomsky

As ghost trance music, this one is clearly a trance inducing performance. One can hear the moment when the ensemble steps through the improvised texture and into a collective state of singular flow. The sonic material ripples through the late hour of the performance and into a creative zone that shimmers in a near suspended state. The alert listener is drawn into this same state as the sequence of sounds follows a an intuitive logic like neurons firing in just the right sequence to conjure up lost memories and ideas. Then the whole ensemble settles into a well crafted - yet spontaneous - coda that restores the mind to its normal state. Collective improvisation shaped and formed by one of the masters.

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Symphonies [disc 6]. Recorded in 1994. The International Music Company: 205299-305.

Symphony No. 9 in D minor (op. 125)
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Raymond Leppard: conductor
Soloists: Gilian Webster, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Martin Hill, Robert Hayward
The Ambrosian Singers
John McCarthy: choirmaster

Possibly the largest juggernaut in the symphonic canon. The best way to set this one aside is to indulge from time to time. The turn toward choral writing at the tail end of the final symphony is startling. It also fits as a gesture toward how much Beethoven changed symphonic writing - particularly after this piece. It's much easier to understand the Romantic era after internalizing the bombast of the Ninth.

HurdAudio Rotation: The House That Hope Built

Gunda Gottschalk/Peter Jacquemyn/Ute Volker: Baggerboot. 2005. Henceforth Records: 102.

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

Free improvisation with strong parallels to improvised painting. Big, multi-colored paint brushes dripping with thick gobs of paint being flung into the frame of time to produce an aural image that fills every part of the canvas. The three tracks are labeled "Cascade I," Cascade II" and "Cascade III" for a music that cascades with the violence and beauty of a waterfall along a sheer cliff on its way toward a fierce splash and spray at the bottom. The reedy accordion pulled along by strong currents as the string instruments are sawed at mercilessly by Gottschalk and Jacquemyn. A spontaneous creation that loses nothing with repeated listening.

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

Ron Miles: Trumpet
Bill Frisell: guitar

Two forces of creativity and musicianship in its purest form in this outstanding duo recording. The sense of play takes on a particularly even handed quality through its treatment of Ron Miles originals along side Thelonious Monk, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan and a devastating take on Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart." All played as a flowing conversation between trumpet and guitar. The joyful, rootsy folksiness of "Just Married" is a strong initial draw into this listening journey that invites the ears to listen to the varied nuances that unfold between these players.

Future of the Left: Travels with Myself and Another. 2009. 4AD Ltd: CAD2913CD.

Jack Egglestone: drums, percussion
Kelson Mathias: bass, guitar, synths, vocals
Andrew Falkous: guitar, bass, synths, vocals

Punk music walks a fine balance between intelligence and stupidity. Not enough of either tends to make the end result intolerable. Future of the Left walks that line better than most I've heard. An ability to draw from unfiltered rage without being utterly consumed by it. More "polite" aesthetics rarely give ground to angry and stupid. Future of the Left opens up and traps it within conviction that is vaguely political and indignant. Somewhere along the way they hit upon some brilliant song writing. "The Hope That House Built," "You Need Satan More than He Needs You" and "That Damned Fly" hitting that sweet spot that makes this collection so imminently enjoyable.

HurdAudio Rotation: Lizards, Evil and String Quartets

Lounge Lizards: Live in Berlin 1991 Vol. II. 1995. Intuition Music: Int 2044 2.

John Lurie: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone
Michael Blake: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Steven Bernstein: trumpet, cornet
Jane Scarpantoni: cello
Bryan Carrott: vibraphone, marimba, timpani
Michele Navazio: guitar
Billy Martin: percussion
Oren Bloedow: bass
G. Calvin Weston: drums

There is generous space for individual cadenzas and isolated pairing within this larger ensemble on this documentation of the live Lounge Lizards experience from 1991. There is also an element of whimsy at work as the groove propels this music that carries the heavier, serious turns of phrase and arranging. While this recording does not disappoint, the studio outings seem to deliver more unexpected surprises.

Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil. 1964 (Rudy Van Gelder re-issue from 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

This one crackles with all the spark and energy that has since made Speak No Evil an undisputed hard bop classic. It's recordings like this that make the awe that each of these performers inspire abundantly clear. As a pianist my ears gravitate to Herbie Hancock's playing and find my own awe renewed. "Infant Eyes" in particular opens the ears to the potential of well constructed (and sensitively played) ballads.

T.E.C.K. String Quartet: T.E.C.K. String 4tet. 2007. Clean Feed: CF089CD.

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

The string quartet re-conceptualized both in instrumentation and aesthetic approach. Yet the bent wires and strings still draw upon a deep tradition with the practice and experience each performer brings to the table. The mixture of European and North American free improvisers adds to a sense of disassembly through collaborative association. A sonic dialogue made more musical through the strong personalities involved. Elliott Sharp's signature sound leaps out to these ears so familiar with his work. And much of the pleasure of listening to this disc comes from hearing how it integrates or often works against the other members of this ensemble.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Albright, Solal, Douglas and Haden

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)

William Albright (1944 - 1998) was a longtime fixture at the University of Michigan where he received his doctorate and served as chairman of the music department. The labor of love that this recording represents is difficult to miss. The legacy of students and colleagues he inspired over the years is incalculable. The legacy of compositions may leave an even deeper impression as the scope of his works becomes clear. The Fantasy Etudes for saxophone quartet is the opening salvo of this disc. It is an impressive, deeply thoughtful and artfully worked out piece. Albright's reported skills as an organist is at work as he applied his ideas to saxophone quartet. One can hear the instruments serving as pipes as well as an adept improviser weaving his spontaneity into this music. Ideas flow thick and furious as each meticulous detail is worked out without losing sight of the work as a whole. The pieces that follow solidify the impression left behind by the etudes.

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

Martial Solal: piano
Dave Douglas: trumpet

Dave Douglas as a jazz trumpet player. For all the press nonsense about his incorporation of "non-jazz" influences or insinuations that he's too "intellectual" to swing and the imaginary conflict with a Marsalis establishment there must be an almost willful deafness to hear how artfully Dave Douglas plays - and plays homage to the traditions of - jazz. Dave Douglas is a jazz trumpet player and he's one of the best of his generation. Recordings like the duo of Marial Solal and Dave Douglas in Rue De Seine are a gift that drive home just how thoroughly steeped in the tradition both of these innovative players are. Hearing the interpretations of the Dave Douglas Quintet pieces (that are so familiar to these ears) is a particular revelation. Solal's solo take on "For Suzannah" is a devestating interpretation of Douglas's beautiful composition. After a few rounds of interpreting originals this pair turns their attention to the standards of Rogers and Hart and Hammerstein to close out this set. Leaving no trace of doubt. These are jazz musicians and they are in rare form on this recording.

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
Ahnee 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

A profoundly patriotic expression built upon dissent and propelled by the disappointments surrounding the 2004 general election. A defiantly beautiful and optimistic body of music borne from the depths of despair and alarm at the forces of greed and cruelty that held onto power. Carla Bley's arrangements are a wonder here (as they are on every Liberation Music Orchestra endeavor). Some of the most deeply soul stirring music I know of.

HurdAudio Rotation: Big Red and the Cellos

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

Killick: 38-string harp guitar

"Extemporaneous guitaristic paciforms of the balmy stasis when peace supplants war." Killick's improvisational soundscapes generate a spontaneous enthusiasm for me. This solo set featuring "Big Red," a custom instrument built by Fred Carlson featuring 38-strings and a wealth of microtones, is simply beautiful in every way. Visually stunning (I've seen Killick perform live - the visual joys of viewing this instrument are not present on this recording) as well as sonically rich. In Killick's hands he tours through territory that embraces both gentle textures and sounds of brutality. The amplification serving to bring out a full range of sonic discourse. Bull*** is a short journey. And a testament to the potential of creating rich sonic terrain with new instruments.

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

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

Music that careens through stylistic and creative territories on the frenetic drumming of Han Bennink through a set structured along bird themes. Through all the crackling interplay between the three forces that make up this trio the roots that stretch through an entirety of jazz and European improvisational traditions runs incredibly deep. All the careening force in the world is held in place by a grounding in Irving Berlin, Lee Konitz and Hoagy Carmichael. Much of the perceived whimsy and whiplash changes drawing from the contrast through the generous calm moments of this music. The tension of knowing that a "Turkey In The Straw" could burst forth at any moment. A trio for the ages.

Erik Friedlander/Broken Arm Trio: Broken Arm Trio. 2008. Skipstone Records: 59700 87882.

Erik Friedlander: cello
Trevor Dunn: bass
Mike Sarin: drums

A sound thick with Friedlander's melodic pizzicato lines as they sit squarely in the pocket. The rhythm section is extremely tight and the compositions are overflowing with folksy charm. Short pieces that add up to a pleasant listen as these three veterans of the downtown scene spin out tunes inspired by Oscar Pettiford and Herbie Nichols. The Broken Arm of Broken Arm Trio referring to bassist Pettiford taking up the cello after breaking his own arm.

Monday, February 01, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Berned at the Cross Roads

Tim Berne/Science Friction: Mind Over Friction (collection, the): a re-issue of the classic Science Friction Live and Studio Recordings. 2001, 2003. Screwgun: 16892 88452-1.

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

In many ways Science Friction is an ideal band. Relentless, uncompromising charts with plenty of twists and time changes that fill in the details of their hyper-composed structures with the improvisational prowess of the individual members of the quartet. And the world of sonic damage brought into the mix by those four players is substantial. The first disc offers up the studio sound of these wicked tunes while the second and third disc open the ears to how this music works in a live context. Both settings are devastating. Marc Ducret is a complete monster on guitars coursing through this music like a beast just barely contained. When paired with the electronic machinations of Craig Taborn the creative textures never let up. Tim Berne's compositions provide some shelter from the storm of sound while allowing him to do plenty of ripping on his own horn. The fact that the Tom Rainey effect is in full force here (in my experience, Tom Rainey is never less than exceptional and has the effect of transforming any group into something transcendent) is almost too much. The Science Friction sound is must have as far as these ears are concerned.

Brian Auger: Planet Earth Calling. 1987.
Garland: GRZ010.

Brian Auger: hammond organ, yamaha CP 70B, electric grand piano, prophet 5 synthesizer, rhodes electric piano, acoustic piano, minimoog, cabasa, gogo bells, freeman string symphoniser, tambourine, vocals, cowbell
Ho Young Kim: guitar
George Doering: guitar
Dave McDaniels: electric bass
Dave Crigger: drums
Steve Evans: electric bass
Tom Donlinger: drums, waterphone, wind gong, gong
Terry Baker: drums

This one is just a bad record. Good musicians. Miserable material. It's come up in the rotation a few times before and each time I bring fresh ears. It really is stunning how bad it is given the ability and talent involved. It feels like the victim of the worst of the late-'70s and early '80s fusion impulses.

Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (disc one). 1990: CBS Records: C2K 46222.

Robert Johnson: guitar, voice

Haunting evidence of a voice reaching out from the Delta of the early twentieth century. Many voices have followed in Robert Johnson's wake. But to hear him is to hear the source inspiration for so much that has followed. There's an undeniable feeling to his inflections and the intonation of his guitar that speaks broadly to the human condition. An important touch stone that deserves more attention.