Sunday, May 30, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Knocking on the Door of the Cosmos

Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford: Spark! 2007. Palmetto Records: PM 2129.

Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, clarinet
Myra Melford: piano

"For Leroy" is one of the more heartfelt tributes, sonic prayers and expression of joy expressed in the passing of Leroy Jenkins that I've heard. A musical offering from two musicians who had the experience of knowing and playing with the great improvising violinist. That same reverence comes around as Erhlich and Melford interpret "Images of Time," composed by the late Andrew Hill. It is this impressive outward expressiveness balanced against the inward dialogue between these musicians that makes Spark! such a rewarding listen. My familiarity and appreciation for Melford's compositions runs a notch deeper with these versions of "Night," "A Generation Comes and Another Goes" and the fantastic "I See A Horizon." The Marty Ehrlich compositions call for a similar appreciation and familiarity with his work. The soul of blues and gospel music surges within this music - sometimes only barely perceptible beneath its surface. And the ability to draw upon a small number of elements that build toward a larger resonance gives this disc a sound much larger than a duo recital. This is living, vibrant music paired down to these two forces and it is very good.

Killick: Smudgeriffic. 2007. Sul Ponticello: 021 - limited run CD-R (#9 of 33).

Killick: guitar

Killick embraces the practice of free improvisation with an all consuming abandon. Every component of sound that the electric guitar can produce is fair game in this single movement study of solitary exploration. Simply plugging the instrument into the amplifier becomes a subject for rhythmic exploration. And each idea becomes subject to interruption from the next idea. In many ways, the "smudges" of Smudgeriffic is the restless movement from one timbral space to the next. Much of which reinforces my enthusiasm for the sound worlds and sensibilities this artist brings to life.

Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Myth Science Solar Arkestra: Sleeping Beauty. 1979 (re-issued in 2005). Art Yard: CD 003 & LP 003.

Sun Ra: piano, electric piano, organ, vocals
Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute
John Gilmore: tenor saxophone, percussion, vocals
Eloe Omoe: bass clarinet, flute, percussion
Michael Ray: trumpet, vocals
Danny Thompson: baritone saxophone, flute, percussion
Luqman Ali: drums, vocals
Noel Scott: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, percussion
Craig Harris: trombone
Tony Bethel: trombone
Vincent Chancey: french horn
James Jackson: bassoon, flute, percussion
Walter Miller: trumpet
June Tyson: vocals
Rhoda Blount: vocals
Richard Williams: electric bass
Stanley Morgan: congas
Harry Wilson: vibraphone
Curt Pulliam: trumpet
Kenny Williams: tenor saxophone, flute
Hutch Jones: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
Taylor Richardson: electric guitar
Steve Clark: electric bass
Damon Choice: vibraphone, vocals
Eddie Thomas: drums
Reg McDonald: drums
Atakatune: percussion
Sylvester Baton: reeds

A surprisingly laid back and deep groove pathway through the cosmos. Thick with keyboards and an Arkestra of astonishing talent. The John Gilmore solos send chills down the spine with their explosive energy. The "space jazz" message feels disguised by the soulfulness of this session. But it is ever present in the chants that wind through this material. Proving that Sun Ra's interstellar vision didn't exist in a vacuum as it adapted to the twists and bends of genre while still running light years ahead of its time. Put this one on the turntable on a hot day with the windows open.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: One Duo, Two Trios

Nels Cline/Elliott Sharp: Duo Milano. 2007. Long Song Records: LSRCD103/2007.

Nels Cline: guitars
Elliott Sharp: guitars

It's a pleasure to hear such compatible performers blend their common instrument together like this. The shared sense of terrain that each brings makes it impossible (and unnecessary) to separate who is doing what in any given sounding texture. Divided into two halves - an all acoustic set and an all electric set. It's remarkable to hear how similar the musical language and aesthetic identity is as these master improvisers traverse between these distinct timbral divides. The addition of sustained tones, amplification and processing is a subtle addition to the consistency of ideas that flows through the life blood of this organic sound.

Matthew Shipp Trio: Circular Temple. 1994. Infinite Zero: 14506-2.

Matthew Shipp: piano
William Parker: bass
Whit Dickey: drums

Music like this makes me love my speakers. The clarity of sound between these three separate forces is a remarkably well-recorded and produced aural image of independence and unity. These three players work with the raw material of free improvisation - big confident slabs of free jazz sounds that cover the canvas with controlled splashes and dribbles. Erupting from time to time with a vicious ferocity that stands out all the more because of the moments of contrasting quiet that pool around the edges. This is a solidly percussive side of Shipp's piano playing and it rolls easily against Parker's bowed utterances as Dickey meets volume with volume in this set. All played with an unwavering alertness of the poetic angles of each given moment.

Mary Halvorson/Reuben Radding/Nate Wooley: Crackleknob. 2009. Hat Hut Records: hatOLOGY 662.

Mary Halvorson: guitar
Reuben Radding: double bass
Nate Wooley: trumpet

The individuals found on this collaboration inspire an enthusiasm for this music long before the first sounds of Crackleknob strike the ear. Individually, each is a fresh voice on their respective instruments and part of a dynamic improvisation scene in Brooklyn. Listening to this music exceeded my already high expectations. Musical ideas are tossed effortlessly between players in a manner that is beyond conversant or even reactive. Many of these ideas extend beyond the immediate rhythms or phrases of the moment as the intuitive sense of form and structure within these "free" environments is striking. This is collective dialogue with sound materials that dances between players in a remarkably even, trio-centric manner. With no sense of urgency (or ego) to fill each moment with more (or less) than what is called for. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sonic Sleep Cycles

O SLEEP @ Southern Exposure, San Francisco, CA
Saturday, May 23, 2010

Theresa Wong: composer, cello, voice
Michael Carter: electronics
Luciano Chessa: dan bau
Shayna Dunkelman: drumset, percussion
Ellen Fullman: long string instrument
Dohee Lee: Korean percussion, voice
Heike Liss: video
Alice Wu: costumes

O SLEEP is an improvised opera inspired by the drama, science and conundrum of sleep and dream life. This multi-dimensional piece focuses on the synthesis of improvised and composed music, text, movement, video and use of architectural and natural space in performance, challenging to throw the blueprints of a large scale piece to the blenders of improvisation and chance. - Theresa Wong

The tension between improvised music and a formally composed multi-media structure finds an ideal subject in the cyclical quality of sleep. The regular and necessary passage into an unconscious state between the hours of wakefulness finding a natural ally with the materials and process of improvisation. The stages of sleep providing a formal, non-narrative arc of its own that lends itself to multi-media adaptation and interpretation.

The use of a nearly transparent white veil between the performers and audience provided a soft haze as well as a surface area to gently capture video images and text as it projected through the gallery space at Southern Exposure. The creative, white costumes created by Alice Wu worn by the performers completed the sense of sleep space that would be punctured at key moments when performers would step between the two worlds separated by the membrane. The concrete support that neatly divided the stage - and obstructed the center - offering a sense of right brain/left brain sharing the same journey through sleep.

The performance space appeared deceptively sparse. With Ellen Fullman's 50-foot long string instrument necessarily filling the back and leaving room for drums, electronics and movement. The incorporation of instruments both familiar and wildly inventive only adding to the dream-like quality of the theatrics.

Sonically there were episodes of sublime beauty. Particularly when Theresa Wong and Dohee Lee sang a vocal duet behind a white curtain as images of an open window were projected onto them. The voices exploring the beating frequencies between sustained tones tuned very close together as an expression of brain waves slowing down toward sleep. This harmonic richness later returned and expanded with the sounds of the long string instrument as Ellen Fullman walked forward and backward using her hands to coax a sound world of incredible dimension.

O SLEEP deftly manages to avoid cliche and pretense with its subject material. It explores the quality of sleep without sounding sleepy. It incorporates dream state without becoming dreamy. This particular performance began with a startling loud burst of percussion as an introduction to the timbral variation of the experience in store.

If anything, the abundance of materials and ideas that swirl through O SLEEP left the feeling that 90-minutes wasn't nearly enough time to absorb the many qualities of this work. Compared to the longer performance at the Marin Headlands a year ago this felt abbreviated. So many of its strongest ideas presented and edited - and yet I missed the sense of development that more time would allow. An ambitious, fantastic work that invites the indulgence of "sleeping in." It should be interesting to see how O SLEEP continues to evolve in future incarnations.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Studies of Freedom

Terry Riley: Keyboard Studies. 2002. Musikproduktion Dabringhaus Und Grimm: MDG 613 1135-2.

Steffen Schleiermacher: piano
Bernd E. Gengelbach: sound projection

Keyboard Study #1 by Terry Riley
Keyboard Study #2 by Terry Riley
Hommage a RILEY-REICHlich verGLASSt by Steffen Schleiermacher

Electronically aided interpretations of the early Terry Riley compositions as a labor of love. A love of the static textures and pulsating beauty that erupts through the fine details of repeated patterns sliding apart from one another. Listening to this music is an indulgence and nod to the minimalism that glittered and attracted my ears toward a life in music. The Hommage piece takes the vocabulary and passion for minimalist keyboard works and paints a sonic portrait with it. Brush strokes that are unapologetic in their direct nods toward Piano Phase and Moonshine Dervishes. Sonically pleasant while formally less pure than the Riley works. Still an indulgence, just the same.

Barry Guy and the NOW Orchestra: Study - Witch Gong Game II/10. 1994. Maya Recordings: MCD 9402.

Barry Guy: bass, director
Coat Cooke: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute
Ron Samworth: guitar
Kate Hammett-Vaughan: voice
Paul Plimley: piano
Bruce Freedman: soprano saxophone
Graham Ord: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, piccolo
Peggy Lee: cello
Clyde Reed: bass
Paul Blaney: bass
John Korsrud: trumpet
Ralph Eppel: trombone
Saul Berson: alto saxophone
Dylan van der Schyff: drums

A large ensemble applying sloppy, drippy brush strokes and paint splatters to the canvas of time. Running in close parallel to a score using graphic notation to guide the collective improvisation (Witches Gong II/10 being that score). As Barry Guy puts it:
WGGII/10 utilises various "signs" that feature in many of Alan Davies paintings. The signs jump ship from the painting to a new life, designating musical archetypes. These are planned to give an array of possibilities and allow the director to layer material and set up various polyphonies as well as leaving open spaces for improvisations. Crucially, this score presents musical possibilities on one "landscape" page, obviating the need for page turns as in a conventional score.

Sonically, it is a richly rewarding listen. A testament to both the composer/performer/director finding allies in a large ensemble of supremely talented players. The much shorter Study is fascinating take on group improvisational textures that is well worth its inclusion here. A big, joyous blast of sound from the ensemble formerly known as the New Orchestra Workshop.

Max Roach: We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite. 1960 (re-released in 1989). Candid Productions: CCD 79002.

Max Roach: drums
Booker Little: trumpet
Julian Priester: trombone
Walter Benton: tenor saxophone
Coleman Hawkins: tenor saxophone
James Schenck: bass
Michael Olatunji: congas
Ray Mantilla: percussion
Tomas DuVall: percussion
Abbey Lincoln: voice

A week that found the GOP senate candidate from Kentucky stupidly weighing in on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is as good a time as any to revisit the voices and righteous expressions of the movement that confronted - and ultimately defeated - Jim Crow. Composed for the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, this is a music that contrasts the deafness of Rand Paul's ideological stance. The image of of the sit-in at the lunch counter speaks far more truth than the shallow Libertarian assertion that businesses shouldn't be forced not to discriminate. It's only after more than four decades of the Civil Rights Act becoming law that the notion of a free market "self-regulating" or "evolving" beyond racist policy can even be naively expressed. Without regulation of businesses there would be no 40-hour work week, no barrier to the practice of child labor, no recourse against harassment and discrimination, and the vile practice of Jim Crow laws would be alive and well. Rand Paul's clumsy back peddling from having his vapid ideology exposed rings even more hollow compared to the substance and history of this music. This was a real struggle and it was one so undeniably on the right side of history. A musical expression of something true. More than enough vitality in this sound from decades ago to shame a would-be senator. We are fortunate to have this expression from Max Roach along with the great ensemble of musicians (including the "Prez" on tenor) preserved for the ages.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Of Baroque and Free Jazz

Johann Sebastian Bach: Bach Edition [disc II-2]. 1999. Brilliant Classics: 93102/25.

Leon Berben: harpsichord/Cembalo

The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I BWV 846-870

Prelude & Fugue No. 13 in F sharp major
Prelude & Fugue No. 14 in F sharp minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 15 in G major
Prelude & Fugue No. 16 in G minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 17 in A flat major
Prelude & Fugue No. 18 in G shar
p minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 19 in A major
Prelude & Fugue No. 20 in A minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 21 in B flat major
Prelude & Fugue No. 22 in B flat mino
Prelude & Fugue No. 23 in B major
Prelude & Fugue No. 24 in B minor

Bach's grasp of harmonic centers is completely at the focal point of these works for solo keyboard. The cycle itself makes that abundantly clear as he tackled the creative rigor of fashioning preludes and fugues for each major and minor key. Within the relatively narrow timbral confines of the solo harpsichord these deeply Baroque pieces with their canonic melodies and churning rhythms give off the sense of precision time keeping devices with all their gears in motion. These works have since become a massive head water from which so much music has flowed. It's a good idea to swim in these waters from time to time.

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost (box set) [disc 8]. 2004. Revenant Records: 213.

Albert Ayler interview with Birger J
orgensen for Afterbeat program - December 1964, Copenhagen, Denmark

Albert Ayler interview with Birger Jorgensen for Afterbeat program - November 11, 1966, Copenhagen, Denmark

Albert Ayler interview with Daniel Caux for France Culture - July 27, 1970, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France

The verbal side of this uniquely American artist and jazz musician. Putting into words his experience as a creative and sensitive soul puzzled by the hostility and resistance expressed toward what he knew to be his honest expression. One can hear the voice of a man torn between multiple worlds. And for the first time I can appreciate the importance and value of Mary Parks' role in his life. Something that isn't easy to do when listening to New Grass. The need he felt for acceptance within his "own tribe" in America pitted against the acceptance he found throughout Europe along with the responsibility of caring for his own brother in the midst of forging his own creative voice all had a hand in his tragic demise shortly after the interview in France.

The passionate sense of "this is the only way" expressed in the Jorgensen interview with regard to the strain of free jazz he was pioneering speaks volumes about the era he was living through.

Marshall Allen & Lou Grassi: Live at The Guelph Festival. 2007. (Recorded September 8, 2001). Cadence Jazz Records: CJR 1192.

Marshall Allen: alto saxophone, flute
Lou Grassi: drums, percussion

A much appreciated documentation of Marshall Allen's brilliance as a reedsman. Given plenty of space to shine in this duo format with the incredible Lou Grassi propelling things along. Or in Grassi's own words: "...get into that spiritual zone and stay there for an hour or two." These two players - nearly strangers at the time of this performance - find that zone early on in this set. Allen's playing moving seamlessly between introspection and fiery blurs that holds to a sense of open dialogue. His considerable time and energy spent with the Sun Ra Arkestra has somehow managed to eclipse the soloistic attributes that make Marshall Allen such a great jazz treasure. This disc truly is a welcome addition to the rotation.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Untraceable Intermission

Roof: The Untraceable Cigar. 1996 (2000 re-edition). Red Note: 4.

Tom Cora: cello
Luc Ex: bass
Phil Minton: vocals
Michael Vatcher: drums

Hearing this music, or Skeleton Crew or Third Person or early Curlew or any of the Tom Cora collaborations with The Ex leaves an overwhelming sense of loss. Tom Cora's cello sound and the playful/serious approach he brought to his music was silenced far too soon. It's hard not to miss Tom Cora. Recordings like The Untraceable Cigar are a gift to the ears not just for the record of his one-of-a-kind cello improvisation. But the sonic spaces that opened up through his creative collaborations. Phil Minton's extended vocal techniques folded in with Luc Ex (of The Ex) finding such a common vibration between punk and free improvisation. The surprisingly faithful rendition of Harry Partch's The Letter, a setting from a hobo friend, is right on target with the tone and delivery of its original voice. This is music from a time to be hungrily devoured without missing the joy that exudes from its living sound.

Anthony Braxton/Evan Parker/Paul Rutherford: Trio (London) 1993. 1994. Leo Records: CD LR 197.

Anthony Braxton: reeds
Evan Parker: reeds
Paul Rutherford: trombone

So much of Anthony Braxton's career has grown out of a failure early in his creative output. A solo concert where he discovered that he could not sustain his improvisational ideas over an extended period of time. From that time forward he has developed an extensive sonic language to prevent that failure from repeating itself. And became a master improviser in the process. With that ability to stand on his own for any length of time comes the additional pleasures of extended collaboration with fellow travelers along the road of creative improvised music. Evan Parker and Paul Rutherford are clearly equal forces as this live performance from almost exactly 17 years ago to the day evidences. How many triple wind instrument ensembles could hold their own like this? Satisfyingly cerebral and emotionally charged. An inventive dialogue between artists across the Atlantic.

Morton Feldman: Complete Works for Two Pianists. 2002. Alice Musik Produktion: ALCD 024.

Kristine Scholz: piano
Mats Persson: piano

Vertical Thoughts 1
Intermission 6
Projection 3
Intermission 6
Two Pieces for Two Pianos
Piano (Three Hands)
Intermission 6
Piano Four Hands
Work for Two Pianists
Intermission 6
Two Pianos

The additional pair of hands doesn't necessarily add to the density of Feldman's sparse textures - though occasionally it does. It does add more reach along the instrument's register and an independence to explore longer patterns. These are particularly evident in the languid polyrhythms of Work for Two Pianists. But it is the consistency of sound and the qualities that carry over from the solo works that is striking. There is a rare compositional purity to Feldman's music that happens to also make for music that satisfies on so many different levels. The instrument still paints along a blank canvas with brush strokes that drip in a Feldmanesque manner. Aided by an additional pair of hands.

Nocturnes and Privilege

Volti (and other choirs) @ First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA
Friday, May 14, 2010

Daglarym/My Mountains by Donald Crockett
performed by Volti
directed by Robert A. Geary

Mary Hynes by Samuel Barber
lo son la Primavera by William Hawley
National Weather Forcast by Henry Mollicone
performed by Colla Voce, Head-Royce School
directed by Robert Wells

Paghahandog by Robin Estrada
performed by Volti

Cantate Domino by Jam Pieterzoon Sweelinck
She Walks in Beauty by Eric W. Barnum
Gai Bintang by Budi Susanto Yohanes
performed by The Acalanes High School Chamber Singers
directed by Bruce Lengacher

privilege by Ted Hearne
O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen
performed by Volti

Like Snow from Midwinter Songs by Morten Lauridsen
Hear My Prayer, O Lord by Henry Purcell
Let me fly arr. Robert DeCormier
performed by Ecco, Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir
directed by Clifton Massey
David Belles: piano

Nocturnes by Morten Lauridsen
performed by all choirs
Morden Lauridsen: piano

A program of music that leaves one feeling envy for the performers and the opportunity they have to crawl inside this music and experience these pieces multiple times through rehearsal and performance. Most of these works linger well after their vibrations strike ear drums with the rare quality of language delivered through aesthetic means.

The standout composition was Ted Hearne's privilege. The forlorn "oh, mother, it's leaving me behind" from a translated traditional Xhosa anti-Apartheid song at the conclusion of the final movement leaving a strong emotional resonance consistent with the compelling voices expressed through the piece. The setting of David Simon's (writer for The Wire and Treme) statement in an interview with Bill Moyers providing a starkly honest description of contemporary urban reality: "we pretend to need them/we pretend to educate the kids/but we don't/and they're not foolish/they get it." Each movement offering similar honesty with a direct simplicity and a vibrant resonance with contemporary life. I need to hear more of Hearne's music an ideas.

Robin Estrada's Paghahandog was another standout with its application of abstract constructs (and alternative notation) that took the instrument of choral voices and made a joyful, animated sound. An adventurous aural/oral work with strong resonance for how one conceptually approaches sounds that morph between different performers.

Each of the High School choirs performed at a very high standard and were well suited to augment Volti with the rich sound of Morten Lauridsen's Nocturne as it bathed the room with the warmth of its sound. A fitting piece to conclude with its embrace of choral music's deepest traditions and harmonic fabrics. This one leaving the impression of the depth of repertoire that Volti builds upon as an evolving and profoundly human endeavor.

HurdAudio Rotation: Big Picture, Quiet Spaces

Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson (Trio M): Big Picture. 2007. Cryptogramophone: CG 134.

Myra Melford: piano
Mark Dresser: bass
Matt Wilson: drums

The glow that still resonated in the air after hearing Trio M perform live for the first time runs through this recorded set. That feeling of needing to have this disc after hearing that show one month before its release has not dulled with time spent drinking in the sounds preserved here. A rare meeting of creative equals forming something startling above and beyond the sum of its considerable parts. The layering of individual compositional contributions within the generosity and musicianship makes for an experience that will re-arrange the actively listening mind and raise expectations for what is possible within a trio collaboration. A great disc that is truly a joy to hear.

Petra Haden/Bill Frisell: Petra Haden and Bill Frisell. 2003. Songline/Tonefield: TND 312.

Petra Haden: vocals, violin
Bill Frisell: electric guitars, acoustic guitars, loops

Chills, meet spine. Spine, meet chills. This is what happens when Petra Haden and Bill Frisell interpret Frisell's "Throughout" with plenty of layers of multi-tracked harmonies in the service of this deceptively simple piece. Beyond this concluding track this is a collection of songs that levels the same respect towards Gershwin and the Foo Fighters. Petra Haden's harmonic sensibility appears to effortlessly escape the intonation issues that plague vocalists as if they never existed. Multi-tracked layers of her voice producing something almost too sublime. Not unlike the effect of multi-tracked Frisell guitars. A truly great collaboration full of warmth and reward.

Morton Feldman: Works for Piano. 1990. Hat Hut Records: hat ART CD 6035.

Marianne Schroeder: piano

Intermission 5 (1952)
Piano Piece to Philip Guston (1963)
Vertical Thoughts 4 (1963)
Piano (1977)
Palais De Mari for Francesco Clemente (1986)

To my ears these are definitive interpretations of this delicately quiet, fragile music of exquisite beauty that unfolds like crystals against the shaping forces of silences. Morton Feldman created vast sonic landscapes using very few notes along a large canvas of time. A well placed pair of notes at contrasting registral extremes on the piano setting just the right ripples of vibration along a tranquil pond.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Myrmyrs From the Workshop

Myrmyr/Oakland Active Orchestra @ The Uptown, Oakland, CA
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The second Tuesday night of each month has become a musical laboratory at Oakland's Uptown Nightclub. The considerable talents of the Oakland Active Orchestra take a turn toward testing out new compositions, collaborations and group improvisation strategies with an informality that allows for rough, unpolished sound that often bends toward promising directions.

The opening set from Myrmyr - a duo collaboration featuring Agnes Szelag and Marielle Jakobsons - offered up some improvised live sample-and-playback textures that skirted just around the edge of promising and never completely coalesced. Their composed work written specifically for the Oakland Active Orchestra hit a nice nerve with its 5/8 rhythmic thread that would appear at key structural points.

The final work of the evening, "Is Ahab A Hab?" by trumpeter Tom Djll, proved to be the most rewarding musical experience of the evening with its pulsating rhythm section over a structure-long crescendo.