Monday, June 28, 2010

Extending the Maybeck Tradition

Satoko Fujii and Myra Melford @ Maybeck Recital Hall, Berkeley, CA
Saturday, June 26, 2010

Satoko Fujii: piano, voice
Myra Melford: piano
Larry Ochs: tenor saxophone, sporanino saxophone
Natsuki Tamura: trumpet, voice

Opening with a thin tone from the tenor saxophone of Larry Ochs, the evening of structured improvisations began a set of probing the remarkable resonance of the Maybeck Recital Hall. Quiet textures working a steady crescendo to take full advantage of the audible range available in this large living room.

The capacity audience of reservation-only attendees slanted heavily toward musicians and others "in the know" spoke in reverent awe of the jazz history of the Maybeck House. The famous piano recitals recorded within the lavish living room for Concord Jazz from 1989 to 1995. The artists featured offering a hushed poetry that jazz piano afficianados understand; JoAnne Brackeen, Cedar Walton, Marian McPartland, Roger Kellaway, Hank Jones and Toshiko Akiyoshi - just to name a few. Myra Melford and Satoko Fujii recorded a recital in this same space just a couple of years ago and have returned to continue the evolution of their collaboration. Bringing a sound that is fresh and very much at home with the spirit of legends past.

The improvisations for this particular evening featured taut restraint from each of these potentially explosive players and an impressive range of creative extended technique from the two pianists. Myra Melford applying and removing small magnets to the strings of the Yamaha C 7 grand piano as a quick method of "preparing" and un-preparing the piano while Satoko Fujii applied brushes and plucked the strings from within her own Yamaha S-400.

The formal construction of the pieces presented relied on an interplay and generous use of visual cues between players. Each composition leaving plenty of open space that was carefully left uncrowded. Subtle connections of intimate spontaneity would arise between pairs of players and flashes of each performer's virtuosity would appear as textures reached toward a natural climax. The second piece of the evening featured brief bursts of chant from Natsuki Tamura that wove into the overall texture (that included Fujii's singing voice at times) in surprising ways.

The warmth of the acoustic space was well complimented by the attentive and well informed audience. Attending an event with so many accomplished improvisers in the crowd brings a different energy. Focused listening rarely feels so communal. One hopes that the evening's offering will find its way onto the next recording in the Maybeck lineage.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Ugly Noises and Reimaginings

Joshua Jefferson: Jefferson Solo. 2007. Limited edition CD-R.

Joshua Jefferson: alto saxophone

Ten short improvisations that place the ear at point blank range. Immersed within the plumbing and mechanical workings of the instrument. Ever mindful of the organism of lungs, breath and spit that make it work. These are ugly noises and they are honest noises. Strong noises emitted from frail, human artifacts.

Vijay Iyer: Reimagining 2005. Savoy Jazz: SVY 17475.

Vijay Iyer: piano
Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone
Stephan Crump: bass
Marcus Gilmore: drums

A quartet that bursts through the speakers with a mixture of rhythmic intensity and joy on "Revolutions" for the opening track before winding down the sonic journey with a solo piano "re-imagining" of John Lennon's "Imagine." Somewhere in the middle the intensity slows - mostly out of necessity given the big bang that starts the set - that never settles into a low moment. This is a tight ensemble and Iyer has plenty to say musically. For all the extremes of musicianship oozing from every nuanced second of this music there is a lot of heart in this music as well. An outstanding record.

The Flying Luttenbachers: 'Incarceration By Abstraction'. 2007. ugEXPLODE Records: UG23.

Weasel Walter: guitars, basses, mellotron, organ, clarinet, electronics, drums
guests Jonathan Joe, Aurora Josephson: vocals on one track

Weasel Walter paints in slabs of multi tracked aggression. Trafficking in ugly sounds as a more honest means of telling an imagined post apocalyptic story. Balancing the forces of relentless intensity against a loosely conceptual album. All of which works under the Flying Luttenbachers rubric, even if this proved to be the final gesture before disbanding the now one-person band. One can hear the manic insanity and attention to detail at work behind the multiple layers of guitars and drums. The striking quality of this work is a whole is the ability to create contrasts without softening the onslaught of tension and dissonance. At times sounding like a rock opera that has dropped all pretense of accessibility.

HurdAudio Rotation: Three New Yorkers

Elliott Sharp: Quadrature. 2005. Zoar Portal Series: ZPO-01.

Elliott Sharp: solo electroacoustic guitar

A thick dose of Elliott Sharp's sonic language stripped down to his solo guitar sound. The instruments used already have a unique sound long before they become stamped with the hands and mind of Elliott Sharp. Two pieces using a modified Godin Duet Multiac guitar. Two pieces on a Turner Renaissance baritone guitar and one using the Godin with a Max/MSP patch running as a live, responsive electronics effects processor on a Powerbook G4. It's not an accident that so many of the titles of Sharp's pieces bear the names of scientific phenomena. He explores sound and improvised realizations of sound like a mad scientist with a child like enthusiasm for often violent interactions operating at subatomic scale. And yet these phenomena are informed by the blues and a healthy respect for form. A sonic universe that is both informed without neglecting the blood and life that flows through it.

Steve Reich: Daniel Variations. 2008. Nonesuch Records: 406780-2.

Daniel Variations (2006)
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Grant Gershon: conductor
Tania Batson, Karen Hogle Brown, Claire Fedoruk, Rachelle Fox, Marie Hodgson, Emily Lin: sopranos
Pablo Cora, Jody Golightly, Shawn Kirchner, Michael Lichtenauer, Kevin St. Clari, George Sterne: tenors
Gary Bovyer, Michael Grego: clarinets
Cloria Cheng, Vicki Ray, Bryan Pezzone, Lisa Edwards: pianos
James Jaschia, Helen Goode-Castro, Larry Hughes: clarinets
Wade Culbreath, Theresa Dimond, Michael Englander, John Magnussen, Thomas Raney, Mark Zimoski: percussion
Elixabeth Lim Dutton, Todd Reynolds: violins
Scott Rawls: viola
Eugene Moy: cello

Variations for Vibes, Pianos & Strings (2005)
London Sinfonietta
Alan Pierson: conductor
Quartet 1 -
David Alberman, Jonathan Morton: violins
Paul Silverthorne: viola
Timothy Gill: cello
Quartet 2 -
Joan Atherton, Simon Smith: violins
Jane Atkins: viola
Lionel Handy: cello
Quartet 3 -
Miranda Fulleylove, Elizabeth Wexler: violins
James Boyd: viola
Sally Pendelbury: cello

John Constable, Shelagh Sutherland: pianos
David Hockings, Owen Gunnell, Sam Walton, Alex Neal: vibes

I recall hearing Daniel Variations performed at the stroke of midnight at the Bang On A Can Marathon concert a couple of years back and being struck by the humanity and the connective tissues of so many Steve Reich themes. And feeling that it was a compositional achievement equal to his incredible Different Trains. Both works draw upon Reich's Jewish heritage and identity and the way they intersect and respond to questions of mortality in light of religious intolerance and cruelty. While Different Trains provided a personal reflection upon the holocaust, Daniel Variations draws upon the short life of journalist Daniel Pearl. It is a moving tribute. The well defined sonic language of pulsing tonal centers underscoring the fragments of text drawn from Daniel Pearl's own words as well as the Old Testament book of Daniel. The vocal writing working the same mannerisms developed in Desert Music. But with a sharp focus on the contemporary environment of religious extremism that speaks far less generally than Desert Music's admonishment of mankind and its weaponry. There is a beating heart and a reverent gravity to this music that rises above the immediate fears of these uncertain times.

Variations for Vibes, Pianos & Strings is a less thrilling work. Without the allusions to real world events or personal expressions we are left with the narrow confines of Reich's abstract language. Orchestration is such a big part of Reich's sound. It often works to thrilling effect. But then there are pieces like this one that seem to show off its limited range. It's an enjoyable piece that feels incredibly cold in the wake of the passions of the work that preceded it on this disc.

Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris: Testament: A Conduction Collection - Conduction 11: Where Music Goes [disc 1]. 1995. New World Records: 80479-2.

The Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA
December 18, 1988

ROVA PreEchoes Ensemble
Bruce Ackley: soprano saxophone
Dave Barrett: alto saxophone
Larry Ochs: saxophone
Jon Raskin: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone
Chris Brown: electric percussion piano
J. A. Deane: trombone, electronics
Jon English: bass
Jon Jang: piano
Bill Horvitz: electric guitar
BlK lion: guitar, electronics
Kash Killion: cello
Kaila Flexer: violin
Hal Hughes: violin
William Winant: percussion
Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris: conductor

Conduction is Butch Morris's developed language of improvised conducting. A set of gestures and hand signals that allows him to coral a large ensemble of improvisers into a single consciousness. A strategy for harnessing the orchestral range of timbre without losing the spontaneous energy of unfettered improvisation. In the hands of Butch Morris it works. The large ensemble nearly folds in on itself into a unified entity. Something like a cross between a one-man band capable of playing multiple instruments at once and a dog trainer using commands and gestures to direct the energy of a young pup to perform tricks. Conductions depend upon the quality of the improvisers. With Conduction 11 Butch Morris has an incredible resource to work with. One of the simple qualities of conduction that he uses often is the ability to start and stop the fire hose of noise with near uniform precision. The ability to mold, single out soloists and direct linear development is also clearly audible on this set. One can also hear the joy of having his methodology produce such promising sonic results as he "plays" this outstanding ensemble.

Two Nights in West Oakland

Josh Berman with Phillip Greenlief/Scott R. Looney/Damon Smith/Kjell Nordeson @ Studio 1510, Oakland, CA
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Josh Berman: cornet
Phillip Greenlief: saxophone
Scott R. Looney: piano
Damon Smith: bass
Kjell Nordeson: vibes, percussion

Frank Gratkowski/Scott R. Looney/Damon Smith/Kjell Nordeson @ Studio 1510, Oakland, CA
Friday, June 25, 2010

Frank Gratkowski: bass clarinet, clarinet, alto saxophone
Scott R. Looney: piano
Damon Smith: bass
Kjell Nordeson: drums, percussion

Free improvisation can be a flying leap off a tall cliff. An act that calls for timidity to be left behind in favor of a running start and a near blind faith in gravity. These ensembles don't dip a cautious toe into the water or wait to adjust to the change in temperature between musicians. They take that flying leap with the full trust that there are deep waters waiting below.

With the quartet featuring Frank Gratkowski on reeds on Friday night those waters ran with the depth of an ensemble that has developed a working familiarity off and on over the years. The musical ideas forming strong currents as it rushed headlong with the fury of white water rapids. The collective, spontaneous and often instantaneous reaction to every obstruction and bend in the stream made for an impressive rush downstream. The success of this often thick, energetic sound drawing from an instinctive grasp of the role of listening within the group. Musicians laying out and adding only when they had something to bring to the sound with the expert discipline of master improvisers. Extended techniques playing a significant - but rarely primary - role in the experience. Combined with a willingness to allow or subvert grooves as they formed this was a music that balanced mind and body without favoring either.

The quintet featuring Josh Berman on Wednesday was equally fearless as it mined a remarkably different territory. Kjell Nordeson's vibraphone bringing a different kind of harmonic presence compared to his drum kit work on Friday. His exploration of frictions along the keys drawing out a strangely human cry from the instrument. The quintet performance was marked by a sequence of moments that segued neatly along side one another. Moments formed by a conscious decision to allow smaller subgroups to form within. Duos and trios emerging to the foreground by intuitive means. Subgroups born out of selfless dedication to sound.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Saxophone Healing

Rova + 12 Innovative Saxophonists: The Sax Cloud @ ODC Dance Commons, Studio B, San Francisco, CA
Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Sax Cloud by Jon Raskin
Gino Robair: conductor
Integral Cloud Frame by Steve Adams

The Rova Saxophone Quartet:
Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs, Jon Raskin
Aaron Bennett, Sheldon Brown, James Fei, Vinny Golia, Frank Gratkowski, Philip Greenlief, John Ingle, Kasey Knudsen, Jayn Pettingill, Daniel Plonsey, Aram Shelton, Cory Wright

With timbre constricted to anything between a bass saxophone and a soprano saxophone the focus of the evening shifted to spatial arrangement. The alternative performance space presenting the listener with an alternative arrangement. The performers surrounding the outside with roughly one saxophone quartet spread along each corner of the large square room and the audience seated in the middle of the space. Gino Robair occupied the middle of the room as a conductor with every member of the audience facing away from him. So ingrained is the instinct to face - and view - the source of live sound that many in the audience would swivel and turn their heads to see the proceedings so carefully composed to surround.

Jon Raskin's The Sax Cloud offered up a surprisingly quiet mist of saxophone texture. The graphic scores inspired by the ariel photographs of ancient sites by Georg Gerster allowing for a cascading range of creative interpretation. The conductor exercising both a creative and coordinating role as he paints with sound while attempting to keep the room sonically in balance. Within each sub-quartet there was a designated "leader" using a predetermined set of hand signals to coordinate the materials at hand. The prolonged texture of restraint was indeed cloud-like with its complex interactions of pressure systems and sonic ecosystem of evaporation and precipitation.

The second ambitious work on the program, Steve Adams' Integral Cloud Frame, built outward from a set harmonic frame that ultimately opened up to allow for improvised bursts and short periods of melodic development. A beautiful piece that was also striking in its restraint. The illusion of movement between stationary players was striking and similar to the illusion created by stationary speakers within a surround system.

The potential for spectacle and the anticipation of loud sound masses from so many performers was never realized. These compositions were thoughtful and surprising in that regard. The compositional ideas were worked a little thin with each piece filling the span before and after intermission. So much prolonged constraint did build up a need for some kind of cathartic release. That communal moment that happens in a performance of the Sun Ra Arkestra where the members of the band circulate within and throughout the audience as they play. Something to break the dreamlike suspension of hovering at such a high altitude within so much tranquility. The levity and whimsy of Henry Brant's spatial works was conspicuously absent. Hovering within a saxophone cloud formation does offer a great deal of beauty on its own. I was left waiting to soar.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Intonation, Ideas and Dialogue

Lou Harrison: Por Gitaro: Suites for Tuned Guitars. 2008. Mode Records: mode 195.

John Schneider: guitars, national steel guitar
with -

Just Strings
T.J. Troy, Gene Sterling, Erin Barnes

Harvey Mudd College American Gamelan
Bill Alves: director
Caitlin Andrade, Jane Chen, Vicki Chen, Greg Jackson, Anna Lei, Julie Simon, Victoria Wu, Darryl Yong

Serenade (1978)
Suite No. 1 (1978-1992)
Suite for National Steel Guitar (1952/1992)
Suite No. 2(1978-1999)
Ditone Set (1978-2002)
In Honor of the Divine Mr. Handel (1991)

An almost painfully beautiful recording of acoustic guitar music. At times accompanied by percussion or a full gamelan in the case for In Honor of the Divine Mr. Handel. The harmonic territory of just intonation providing a primary interest for these just-preferring ears as the rich shades of consonance and dissonance do much to reinforce Lou Harrison's assertion that "just intonation is the best intonation." But this deeply beautiful harmony simply shades the true focal point of this music: melody. Composed in the period that followed Harrison's 1947 break-down after living in New York City for a decade, this is music written during his search for peace. Distilled to simple contours with a nod to a body of world music histories, what emerges is a singular, introspective and confident voice. John Schneider brings a great deal of sensitivity to these performances. Which also happen to be beautifully recorded and offered as a gentle salve to the contemporary ear. Music from another - and inviting - world.

Udo Kasemets: Pythagoras Tree: Works for Piano. 1998. Hat Hut Records: hat[now]ART 113.

Stephen Clarke: piano

Timepiece (1964) version 1
Tangovariables on the word TANGO (1986)
Timepiece (1964) version 2
3/7 D'un Morceau en Forme de Poire (1995)
Feigenbaum Cascades (1995)
Pythagoras Tree (1994)
Music of the First Eleven Primes (1995)

Music as idea. And complete faithfulness to that idea. In the case of Udo Kasemets' ideas, systemic process or adherence to mathematical expression is the impetus that sets things in motion. Stripping away drama and Romantic notions of expression in favor of the austere beauty of form becoming crystal or petals unfolding as a flower blooms. What the ear hears is a natural beauty. Often stunning in spite of its seeming indifference to the observer. Stephen Clarke brings a wonderful asceticism to these pieces that remains true to the ideas within each of these pieces.

Jaimie Branch/Marc Riordan: Duos. 2008. Limited edition CD-R.

Jaimie Branch: trumpet
Marc Riordan: drums, percussion

A welcome dose of the improvised sounds coming from the Chicago scene. Marked by restrained and focused interaction between two players entirely capable of bursting into a frenzy of activity at any moment. Their ability to focus for an extended sonic dialogue makes this interaction as rewarding as any in recorded history and probably more so than most.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Extended Notation and Interpretation Strategies

sfSound: Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival @ 21 Grand, Oakland, California
Saturday, June 5, 2010

Matthew Sperry: Wadadaism (1991)
Cornelius Cardew: Autumn 60 (1960)
Matthew Sperry: Veins (1995)
James Tenney: Swell Piece #1 (1967)
Anthony Braxton: Composition No. 292 (2001)

Tom Dambly: trumpet
Tom Djll: trumpet
Shayna Dunkelman: percussion
Heather Frasch: flutes
Philip Gelb: shakuhachi
Matt Ingalls: clarinets
James Fei: saxophones
Angela Hsu: violin
John Ingle: saxophones
Christopher Jones: bassoon
Dylan Mattingly: cello
Hadley McCarroll: keyboard
Kjell Nordeson: percussion
Emily Packard: violin
Tim Perkis: electronics
Dan Plonsey: saxophones
Gino Robair: percussion
Monica Scott: cello
John Shiurba: guitar
Damon Smith: bass
Scott Walton: bass
Sarah Willner: violin
Theresa Wong: cello

Any concert that concludes with an hour-long interpretation of an Anthony Braxton ghost trance piece is already an above average experience. The 12-tet assembled to plunge into Composition 292 brought exactly the right mix of understanding, feeling and Braxtonian spirit to keep the trance-state bristling with the multiplicity of layers that walk a fine line between structural intent and collective improvisation. The initial sound that erupted from the ensemble sounded so much like Anthony Braxton's recordings (particularly compositions 290 - 299 found on the 9 Compositions (Iridium 2006) box set) that I nearly expected Braxton and his hourglass to appear at the conductor's position before the ensemble. The absence of a conductor facilitating and coordinating the inter-ensemble structures became a prominent quality of this particular performance as sub groups tended to form where players had easy proximity to each other or when good sight lines could be established between performers. The ability of the collective working together without a social hierarchy was a testament to just how well organized anarchy can sound. The pulse structure of the piece remained clear through the swinging lines delivered in remarkable rhythmic unison while still allowing for plenty of deviation and the inclusion of materials from other Braxton compositions to keep the overall texture fluid.

The first half of the concert presented works that draw upon wide interpretive freedoms through the use of alternate notation. The co-mingling of music from Matthew Sperry, Cornelius Cardew and James Tenney tracing a clear outline of sonic ideas from three composers sadly missed. Swell Piece #1 offered up a dynamic outpouring of sustained sounds from a large ensemble that revealed startling details over the course of the simple shape of its overall form. Likewise, Veins offered up a similar transparency of construction that erupted into a beautiful din of joy. The feeling of love for the composer being remembered was clearly audible. The lineage connecting Sperry's music to that of Cornelius Cardew giving a sense of continuity between creative minds.

Placing these particular works along side each other made this concert something more than a collection of "new music" compositions. This music was played with a lot of heart without softening the edges of a sonic world that embraces both consonance and dissonance. These were pieces that invite the performers to collaborate both with the composer's intentions and with each other. And on this particular evening many of them brought their best.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Does It Swing?

Splatter Trio & Debris play Anthony Braxton: Jump or Die: 21 Anthony Braxton Compositions 1992. 1994. Music & Arts: CD 843.

Compositions 40E(+40D) + (40P + 69Q) + 40(O)
Dave Barrett: alto saxophone, saxcello
Keith Hedger: cornet
Curt Newton: drums
Gino Robair: drums
Steve Norton: soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone
Myles Boisen: guitar/bass doubleneck
Arthor Weinstein: mandola, casio, guitar

Composition 48
Dave Barrett: saxcello
Tom Plsek: trombone
Gino Robair: vibes
Keith Hedger: cornet
Myles Boisen: bass
Curt Newton: drums

Composition 23D(+108A)
Steve Norton: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Gino Robair: vibes, toy piano, mandolin
Myles Boisen: guitar/bass doubleneck
Curt Newton: drums

Composition 50(+53)
Dave Barrett: saxcello, tenor saxophone
Gino Robair: synth, electronics
Myles Boisen: conductor
Steve Norton: alto saxophone, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone
Arthor Weinstein: synth, electronics, bongophone

Composition 142
Dave Barrett: tenor saxophone
Randy McKean: clarinet
Tom Plsek: trombone
Myles Boisen: bass
Curt Newton: drums
Steve Norton: baritone saxophone
Keith Hedger: cornet
Arthor Weinstein: guitar
Gregg Bendian: vibes
Gino Robair: conductor

Composition 15
Randy McKean: clarinet
Myles Boisen: guitar
Gino Robair: conductor
Keith Hedger: cornet
Curt Newton: drums

Compositions 69L + (122+69I) + 69D
Dave Barrett: tenor saxophone, saxcello, alto saxophone
Keith Hedger: cornet
Arthor Weinstein: guitar
Curt Newton: drums
Steve Norton: baritone saxophone
Myles Boisen: guitar/bass doubleneck
GIno Robair: drums, conductor

Composition 74 C
Steve Norton: bass clarinet, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone
Gino Robair: vibes, toy piano, mandolin

Compositions (120D + 90) + (23C + 133)
Dave Barrett: alto saxophone
Keith Hedger: cornet
Tom Plsek: trombone
Myles Boisen: bass
Curt Newton: drums
Steve Norton: bass clarinet
Randy McKean: clarinet, alto saxophone
Arthor Weinstein: pressure-treated cello
Gregg Bendian: xylophone, vibes, glockenspiel
Gino Robair: conductor

The sheer scope of Anthony Braxton's music is astonishing. His music is like an open embrace of the world and all its possibilities with another outstretched arm looking to take in the universe. On this particular subset of Braxton compositions we have works that feature fully notated materials, open improvisation structured around graphic notation and any other number of methods to instigate improvised music. The interpretive latitude extended toward performers takes on multiple dimensions as the possibility of mixing and matching different compositions and playing them simultaneously in collage gives each performance the potential toward becoming something utterly unique. This is the first recording of Braxton's music performed by players other than Anthony Braxton. The sonic insight into the startling possibilities of interpretive freedoms is a testament to the approach taken by these outstanding players as well as a hint at the limitless discovery yet to be explored.

While this disc has been a favorite with these ears for a long time now, increased familiarity with Anthony Braxton's oeuvre definitely enhances the experience. It also reinforces my own impression of just how substantial this music is.

Terry Riley & Michael McClure: I Like Your Eyes Liberty. 2004. Sri Moonshine: 002.

Terry Riley: piano, electronics
Michael McClure: poetry, voice

I've encountered more than a few composers who dismiss Terry Riley's music as "hippie bullshit." I Like Your Eyes does little to dispel this pronouncement. Terry Riley providing spontaneous, improvised accompaniment to Michael McClure as he reads poetry. Each done in one take. It does take on the quality of a beatnik bar with MIDI adornments. The Riley-esque charms are not as strong for me with this one. The poet and musician do create these textures as equal partners - which is a rare feat with this kind of expression. Yet I can't help wishing this material would draw me in more than it does.

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers: Paris 1959. [DVD] 2006. Impro-Jazz: IJ 517.

Art Blakey: drums
Lee Morgan: trumpet
Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone
Walter Davis Jr.: Piano
Jymie Merritt: bass

live at Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris, France. November 15, 1959

The black and white footage isn't always in focus, the sound is mono and the mix is a bit rough. Even with all the rough technical edges this is one incredible live performance. Lee Morgan's unaccompanied solo on "A Night in Tunisia" is completely devastating in its soul-drenched creativity. Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers crawl up inside this music and swing so hard that I forget to be put off by the head-solo-solo-solo-head form and instead anticipate what flights of fancy the next front man will bring to the table. There aren't nearly enough opportunities to hear Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan playing together like this. Archival quality footage that is a gift to behold.

HurdAudio Rotation: Of Ergodicity and Dance

James Tenney: Melody, Ergodicity and Indeterminacy. 2007. Mode Records: 185.

Featuring performers from The Barton Workshop

Poem (1955)
Jos Zwaanenburg: flute

Ergodos I (1963)
tape music

Monody (1959)
John Anderson: clarinet

Ergodos II (1964)
tape music

Seegersong #1 (1999)
John Anderson: clarinet

String Complement (with Ergodos II) (1964)
Jacob Plooij: violin
Manuel Visser: viola
Nina Hitz: cello
Stefan Pliquett: contrabass

Seegersong #2 (1999)
Jos Zwaanenburg: flute

Instrumental Responses (with Ergodos I) (1964)
Jos Zwaanenburg: flute
John Anderson: bass clarinet
James Fulkerson: trombone
Krijn van Arnhem: bassoon
Jacob Plooij: violin
Manuel Visser: viola
Nina Hitz: cello
Stefan Pliquett: contrabass
Tobias Liebezeit: percussion
Charles van Tassel: baritone

Ergodos III (1994)
Frank Denyer: piano
Nora Mulder: piano

Percussion Response (with Ergodos I) (1964)
Tobias Liebezeit: percussion

Ergodicity is a formal and textural quality where each moment is statistically the same as any other moment from the same composition. It is a quality that marks much of Morton Feldman's music. And it was an aesthetic fascination with my friend and former composition teacher James Tenney. This turning toward non-dramatic form and content was a consistent and heart felt decision. In part a reaction to an abundance of media, marketing and institutional bias toward directing or manipulating people's feelings. In part a sensitivity to the feelings and inner life that people naturally have when it's not being drowned out through advertising or driven away through escapism. An inner life that is rarely afforded space in a contemporary existence filled with noise, spectacle and distraction. Melody, Ergodicity and Indeterminacy offers a clear eared space to experience the ideas that grew from Tenney's fascination with ergodic forms along with chance operations and explorations of Charles Seeger's Dissonant Counterpoint theory. Things that require a particular attitude on the part of both the performers and the listener. The musical equivalent of taking a solitary walk through a lush forest. The Barton Workshop brings a pitch perfect attitude to these pieces. The music offered here is a gentle invitation to experience ideas and acoustical phenomena. This music gently prods the listener and rewards the mind that absorbs the relative stillness.

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost [box set - bonus disc]. 2004. Revenant Records: 213.

Bonus disc features two tracks of the U.S. Army 76th AG Band in rehearsal on September 14, 1960. Private First Class Albert Ayler played tenor saxophone and was a featured soloist on the two tracks found on this disc.

This disc is included as a curiosity and a short presentation of a part of the life narrative that shaped Albert Ayler as an artist. These two swing numbers have no trace of the explosive voice on tenor saxophone that would come later as Ayler's playing is sublimated into the singular culture of this Army ensemble. What this disc does is complete an exploration of the Holy Ghost box set. A collection that does a remarkable job of rendering through slices of sound the life, struggle and development of Albert Ayler over his tragically short lifespan. A journey filled with a full range of human cries and responses to the various stages of discovering an inner sound that sets one completely apart from what was expected and what had come before. A fascinating, if still somewhat elusive, figure that demands honest listening.

Kneebody: Kneebody. 2005. Greenleaf Music: GRE-02.

Adam Benjamin: fender rhodes, piano, wurlitzer, pedals, melodica
Kaveh Rastegar: electric bass, pedals
Ben Wendel: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, bassoon
Nate Wood: drums, percussion, guitar, pedals
with guest Davey Chegwidden: percussion

The musicianship and extremely honed chops of this group is impressive. With a rhythmic precision that is nearly inhuman. Add in the tight, polished arrangements and Kneebody sounds like a band made up of recent Berkeley School of Music graduates from the top of their class. It takes a few listenings of this disc to get past being blown away by the abundant qualities of this debut release to detect what is missing. It's a great CD. The production is outstanding. The compositions positively rock while maintaining a nice range of textural variation. There are plenty of inventive turns to keep the ear engaged while the body feels the irresistible tug of the danceable pulses. The polish and sheen are just a little overdone at times - allowing things to careen perilously close to fusion excesses without sounding overly commercial or "smooth." This polish does gloss over a hollowness within this music. The sense that these are recent graduates who have not yet honed a sonic voice that comes with the wisdom of life experience. Individual improvisations are afforded very little space within these textures. Leaving these ears longing for a singular voice to cut through the mix with a counter balance to the layers of clever ideas. Beyond that, I'm happy to spin it again and enjoy the effusive energy of this music and believe that there are bigger things in store from these players.