Sunday, March 28, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Time Changes and Then Some

Mark Dresser/Denman Maroney: Time Changes. 2005. Cryptogramophone: CG 124.

Mark Dresser: bass
Denman Maroney: hyperpiano
Michael Sarin: drums, percussion
Alexandra Montano: voice

Massive helpings of polyrhythms as various lines of 2-against-3-against-4-against-5-etc. move in and out of phase with one another as the ensemble moves through fields of metric modulation and other systemic "time changes." Yet this music never buries the players under the formal tricks and hyper-inventive design of these charts. The hyperpiano - really an improvised form of preparing the instrument in real time and using plenty of inside the instrument techniques - is afforded plenty of room for subtle shifts without falling into a novelty of extended techniques. And the music maintains a fierce swing and fidelity to jazz traditions. Making all the uncompromising formal machinations even more impressive. This one continues to be a strong favorite in the rotation.

Andrew Drury: A Momentary Lapse. 2003. Innova: 581.

Andrew Drury: composer, drum set
Eyvind Kang: violin
Briggan Krauss: alto saxophone, clarbone
Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Myra Melford: piano
Mark Dresser: bass

Another long standing favorite in the rotation. It's hardly a coincidence that it features Mark Dresser on bass as well. He's never been involved in a disappointing session. Great band all around (Myra Melford on piano is a real stand out) playing some outstanding tunes with plenty of polish. As good as any jazz record of the last 25 years as far as my ears are concerned.

Bill Frisell/Dave Holland/Elvin Jones: Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones. 2001. Nonesuch: 79624-2.

Bill Frisell: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, loops
Dave Holland: bass
Elvin Jones: drums

Three legends of extreme musicianship and jazz chops get together and play through the Bill Fisell songbook. Knowing these tunes so well from earlier recordings adds a spark to hearing these wickedly tight interpretations. Music such as this is an indulgence.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Z is for Zone

The Zs: Arms. 2006. Planaria Recordings. PR029.

Sam Hillmer: tenor saxophone, vocals
Matthew Hough: electric guitar, vocals
Charlie Looker: electric guitar, baritone guitar, vocals
Ian Antonio: drumset, percussion, vocals
Brad Wentworth: drumset, percussion

Militant precision that starts and stops (and stutters) on a dime as the Zs take their contrasting extremes into the studio to document their exquisitely crafted textures. By combining the disciplines of a chamber ensemble with a hard core band they bring each genre exactly what the other is lacking. Music with a razor sharp intellectual edge that still holds a kinetic, visceral edge. The group chanting of "Nobody Wants To Be Had" or "Except When You Don't Because You Won't" falls in lock step with the instrumental sonics of the Zs machinery to reveal the creative pulse that thrives within the disciplined brutality of the sound.

Francois Houle: Aerials. 2006. Drip Audio: MAX 21552.

Francois Houle: clarinets, prepared piano

Other than the spare moments when Francios Houle plays the prepared piano along with the clarinet simultaneously the piano serves as a subtle, resonant presence to this sound. Moments when Houle plays the clarinet directly into the piano are balanced against its absence. A subtle, but rich harmonic component that springs forward on a good pair of speakers. Musically, this material exists within spaces between notes and phrases. Spaces Houle's ears are uniquely tuned to play around. This recording is a wonderful document of the material I had the pleasure to hear performed live at Guelph a few years back. Francois Houle is an understated master of this instrument and Aerials provides an extended presentation of his soloistic prowess.

Birgit Ulher/Ernst Thoma: Slants. 2003. Unit Records: UTR 4142.

Birgit Ulher: trumpet
Ernst Thoma: live electronics

While one might be struck by the inventiveness of Birgit Ulher's extended trumpet techniques and the way she matches the timbral twists and unpredictable outbursts of Ernst Thoma's electronics. Knowing of her improvisational prowess first hand I'm more inclined to marvel at Thoma's ability to keep up with the sonic range of Ulher. The truth is that these artists respond to one another and take the listener to some remarkable places. The final moments of "Skyblue" in particular reaches a suspended state that is remarkable.

HurdAudio Rotation: Platonic Electrons and Voice

Iva Bittova/Bang on a Can All-Stars: Elida. 2005. Cantaloupe Music: CA 21027.

Iva Bittova: violin, voice
Robert Black: bass
David Cossin: drum set, percussion
Lisa Moore: piano
Mark Stewart: guitars
Wendy Sutter: cello
Evan Ziporyn: clarinets

These ears don't get nearly enough of Bittova's silky lyricism. The extended vocal techniques and creative turns are an exquisite balance of song writing sensibility with a command of the abstraction of compositional matter. Even when revisiting Elida the qualities of this music are still unnerving. The shifting collage of focal points that seamlessly weaves texture and voice is a rare pleasure. Even more rare is the feat of sonic hooks that draw in the ear without wearing out their welcome for a music that is durable and inviting.

Louis Andriessen: De Staat. 1991. Electra Entertainment: 9 79251-2.

Schoenberg Ensemble
Reinbert de Leeuw: conductor
Maarten Karres: oboe
Ernest Rombout: oboe
Maarten Dekker: oboe, english horn
Justine Gerretsen: oboe, english horn
Willem van der Vliet: trumpet
Hendrik Jan Lindhout: trumpet
Huug Steketee: trumpet
Jos Verspagen: trumpet
Iman Soeteman: horn
Christiaan Boers: horn
Peter Hoekmeijer: horn
Theo Hoekstra: horn
Toon van Ulsen: trombone
Pete Saunders: trombone
Albert Zuyderduyn: trombone
Peter van Klink: bass trombone
Hans Kunneman: electric guitar
Patricio Wang: electric guitar
Rob Zeelenberg: electric bass guitar
Mapje Keereweer: harp
Ernestine Stoop: harp
Henk Guittart: viola
Aimee Versloot: viola
Rena Scholtens: viola
Jouke van der Leest: viola
Claron McFadden: soprano
Barbara Borden: soprano
Yvonne Benschop: mezzosoprano
Ananda Goud: mezzosoprano

This setting of an excerpt from Plato's Republic is loud and steeped in the irony of how sadly wrong Plato was about the power of dissonance as a vehicle of subversion. If harmony really could subvert governments then De Staat would be illegal. As it is, this piece courses through my veins as an old favorite. A vocal style and political message with strong parallels to Steve Reich's Desert Music with a decidedly less gentle bend and brass parts designed to knock walls off of their foundations.

Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura: Between. 2006. Erstwhile Records: 050-2.

Keith Rowe: guitar, electronics
Toshimaru Nakamura: no-input mixing board

Between is a good word for these other worldly sheets of sonic matter. A musical space that exists within a sliver between what is and is not audible. Extended explorations that often convey the illusion of settling into a perpetual introduction. Keith Rowe having refined his skills at improvising quietly for long durations over the decades with AMM applies his signature ears to these soundscapes. Rowe and Nakamura allow the electrons themselves to tell their own story through the signals barely revealed here. A revelation of the infinity that lies between silences.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

International Ornette Coleman Day 2010

When I saw Ornette Coleman perform at Davies Symphony Hall late last year it was like watching the Dalai Lama of hamolodic philosophy ply his craft to improvised music. The room erupted with an outpouring of love and respect for the lifetime of music that has been and continues to be The Shape of Jazz to Come. The musician who became so revolutionary by remaining true to his own sound. And when he picked up his tenor saxophone that night the familiar human cry and temperament left no doubt that he still possesses that unerring sense of melody. The intervallic phonemes that are so uniquely his. The controversy that greeted his explosive arrival onto the jazz scene has all but subsided into a collective awe for the path he blazed for later generations to explore. Now it is hard to imagine jazz history without the imprint he has left upon it.

Ornette Coleman turns 80 today. While beauty may be a rare thing, it is rarely farther away than his recordings. With song titles that read like poetry imbued with sounding qualities attached to the names. Have a harmolodic day.

Focus On Sanity
Lonely Woman
Monk And The Nun
Just For You
Una Muy Bonita
Bird Food
Change Of The Century
Music Always
The Face Of The Bass
The Circle With A Hole In The Middle
Little Symphony
The Tribes Of New York
Rise And Shine
Mr. And Mrs. People
Blues Connotation
I Heard It Over The Radio
P.S. Unless One Has (Blues Connotation No. 2)
Revolving Doors
Brings Goodness
Joy Of A Toy
To Us
Humpty Dumpty
The Fifth of Beethoven
Motive For Its Use
Moon Inhabitants
The Legend Of Bebop
Some Other
Embraceable You
Folk Tale
Beauty Is A Rare Thing
Free Jazz
PROOF Readers
Check Up
T. & T.
C. & D.
The Alchemy Of Scott LaFaro
Cross Breeding
Harlem's Manhattan

Sunday, March 07, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Music of Journey and Escape

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Complete Quartets Volume V. Recorded 1986 - 1994. Delos: DE 3035.

Orford String Quartet
Andrew Dawes: violin
Kenneth Perkins: violin
Terence Helmer: viola
Denis Brott: cello

String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59 No. 3 ("Razumovsky")
String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74 ("Harfen")

Two tasty quartets from Beethoven's middle period. That point of transition where he begins flexing his expressive voice without entirely relaxing his grip upon the formal classical conventions of his time. Each is a four movement work, but the inner workings of these pieces begin to bend and torque under his growing sense of adventurous development. And aurally fascinating bridge between the classical and romantic eras without the excesses of the late Romantic period. It's funny how my ears crave excess in Classical music but resist it in Romantic music. Perhaps these transition pieces hit the desired balance.

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost [disc 4]. 2004. Revenant Records: 213.

Albert Ayler Quintet - April 17, 1966 at La Cave, Cleveland, Ohio

Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone
Don Ayler: trumpet
Frank Wright: tenor saxophone
Michel Samson: violin
Mutawef Shaheed: bass
Ronald Shannon Jackson: drums

An hour long blast from the fire hose of Ayler's expressive talent. Backed up with a great ensemble and unfortunate production techniques in documenting this historically significant set. Michel Samson's free jazz violin sound remains a fascination that begs for more sonic evidence. And Ronald Shannon Jackson's drumming is spot on for this kind of collaborative creation. Hearing these particular twists on Ayler's core tunes adds a great deal to understanding his sonic imprint.

Yuanlin Chen: Away from Xuan. 2009. Innova: 721.

Away from Xuan
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Tan Dun: conductor

Wondering along the J
Melody of China
Yuanlin Chen: conductor
Hannah Addario-Berry: cello
Wanpeng Guo: sheng
Peter Josheff: clarinet
Xian Lu: dizi
Eric Myers: keyboard
Hong Wang: erhu
Shenshen Zhang: pipa
Gangqin Zhao: percussion
Yangqin Zhao: yangqin

Chasing the Sun
The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet
O. Nicholas Raths: guitar
David Crittenden: guitar
Alan Johnston: guitar
Joseph Hagedorn: guitar

The program notes for Chasing the Sun reads:

This music was inspired by an ancient Chinese legend about a man who craved to embrace the sun. He noticed that the sun always moves from east to west and he believed that the place behind the mountain in the west must therefore be the home of the sun. He started to chase it to the west. He believed that once he climbed up the mountain, he would reach the home of the sun, and then could embrace it and enjoy sunlight forever. The man ran resolutely towards the west. H jumped over streams, swam rivers, crossed through jungle and climbed up the mountain. The sun, however, was found behind another mountain far away. The brave man did not give up. He persisted in his belief and continued chasing the sun. He crossed rivers, forests, jungles , and climbed mountains. The poor man finally died of thirst and loneliness in a desert. He had never reached the home of the sun.

Instead of emphasizing the aspects of the suffering and martyrdom for a steady belief, I interpret the sun-chaser to be a happy man. He was always full of hop; he appreciated the world around him; he enjoyed every moment and all his experiences during his rough journey. Although he died of thirst before reaching his destination, he had no regret for his life.

The music depicts the spirit and the mood of the sun-chaser, as well as the landscape of this story. Both tonal and atonal music are used to describe the hardship of the journey. Special playing techniques were used to interpret the natural elements such as wind, forest, jungle, mountain, river, and desert. At the end, the music reaches a climax and then the man's spirit is transfigured. The music becomes pure, quiet, and fades out in the air.

As a piece of program music Chasing the Sun is impressive. The beauty of the story and the interpretation afforded to it is reflected throughout the music as it unfolds. All three of these wildly different compositions are impressive. Away from Xuan ripples with color, intense orchestration and rich dynamic contrast while Wondering along the Journey mines textures built out of a mixture of traditional Chinese and Western instruments. Each worthy of multiple listenings and wonderings.