Saturday, July 31, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Chasing Beauty

Ornette Coleman: Beauty is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings [disc 1]. 1993. Rhino Records: R1-71410.

Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone
Don Cherry: cornet, pocket trumpet
Charlie Haden: bass
Billy Higgins: drums

Few recordings capture the birth of a new movement like the sessions found on this first disc. Hitting with a burst of quartet before settling into a long improvisation from Charlie Haden. This the sound of Ornette Coleman hitting upon a nearly ideal format for realizing his musical vision and completely altering the way improvisation would be practiced from that day forward. This music works on so many different layers it is nearly overwhelming. Beyond the great melodies forged for this session ("Lonely Woman," "Focus on Sanity," Una Muy Bonita" and so many more that have taken on a life force of their own well beyond these first recordings) there is what these four players do with this material and an early glimpse of harmolodics in practice. Things rarely fall into place so completely as this - even for Ornette Coleman in his later recording dates. Some of the most enduring and haunting expressions ever captured on record.

Jon Hassell: Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street. 2009. ECM: 2077.

Jon Hassell: trumpet, keyboard
Peter Freeman: bass, percussion, guitar
Jan Bang: live sampling
Jamie Muhoberac: keyboard, drums
Rick Cox: guitar
Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche: violin
Eivind Aarset: guitar
Helge Norbakken: drums
Pete Lockett: drums
Dino J.A. Deane: live sampling
Steve Shehan: percussion

The Fourth World sound pioneered by Jon Hassell gets the full Manfred Eicher production treatment with lush, luminous textures filled with spacious reverberation, real-time sample manipulation and plenty of space for the intricate details of this music to unfold at slow to moderate tempos. With all the attention to sonic detail afforded by the recording process this music never loses its "live" qualities. Sounding more like a band than a highly skilled session players laying down parallel tracks. Peter Freeman's electric bass providing a lyrical grounding point for music that careens with the slightest breeze. The ambiguous forms and slow grooves makes for a beautiful music that nearly suspends time as it bends toward Hassell's unique, vocal-like trumpet tone.

Michael Gordon/Alarm Will Sound: Van Gogh. 2007. Cantaloupe Music: CA21044.

Alarm Will Sound
Alan Pierson: conductor
Sarah Chalfy: soprano
Matthew Hensrud: tenor
Clay Greenberg: bass
Elisabeth Stimpert: clarinet, bass clarinet
Payton MacDonald: percussion
Dennis DeSantis: percussion
Courtney Orlando: piano
Ryan Ferreira: electric guitar
Caleb Burhans: violin
John Pickford Richards: viola
Stefan Freund: cello
Miles Brown: double bass

Sonic arrangements with all the gruesome ugliness and anatomical beauty of a severed human ear. A loud, pulse-heavy setting of letters written by Van Gogh that eloquently depict the stresses, punishments and timeless anxiety of the thoughtful artist. The stubborn dedication to one's own inner demons and drive despite the total lack of external support or encouragement. The brash sonic lines mirroring the brush strokes of the master painter. The relentlessness of the musical texture drawing the listener into the madness of the solitary mind that penned these words. Michael Gordon has painted a tribute to the accomplishments that outlive the pressures they survive by drawing out the words and allowing the struggles and joys to hang and dance in the air along some brilliantly composed music. The words of self doubt and frustrations with society felt by one of the greatest painters to have picked up a brush speaks volumes about the human condition.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Man Versus Machine

sfSoundSeries @ Community Music Center, San Francisco
July 16, 2010

The Mutiny of Rivers (2010) by Christopher Burns
Kyle Bruckmann: english horn, electronics
Ernst Karel: electronics

Clarinet Threads (1985) by Denis Smalley
Matt Ingalls: clarinet

...sofferte onde serene... (1976) by Luigi Nono
Christopher Jones: piano

Quintet for solo saxophone and electronics (2005) by Per Bloland
John Ingle: alto saxophone

Synchronisms no. 3 (1965) by Mario Davidovsky
Monica Scott: cello

Oboe and Orchestra (1976) by Morton Feldman
Kyle Burckmann: oboe
Ernst Karel: electronics

An evening of soloist plus electronics that frequently brought to mind the legend of John Henry. The legendary steel-driver during the mid-nineteenth century railroad era who challenged a steam-powered hammer to a tunnel digging contest through solid rock. The mighty John Henry successfully beats the machine. But collapsed and dies from exhaustion. The virtuosic challenges presented to the human performers suggested a similar kind of effort to defeat the machine.

The most intriguing offering was the realization of Morton Feldman's Oboe and Orchestra with an electronic realization of the orchestra pieced together by EKG. Credit goes to Kyle Bruckmann and Ernst Karel for recognizing the aesthetic parallels between Feldman's instrument plus orchestra compositions and the soloist plus electronics featured on this particular program. Each note of the orchestra part was realized individually by an analog modular synthesizer (with the exception of the trumpet part, which was realized by recording the them on a trumpet separately). The piece was transformed into something that preserved the abstract qualities of the original arrangement with the live solo oboe serving as the common thread between the two experiences. It is a singularly beautiful piece.

The highlight of the evening was ...sofferte onde serene... by Luigi Nono and expertly performed by Christopher Jones on piano. The accompanying electronic materials consisted of close mic'd recordings of piano that enclose the live piano sound with its amplified counterpart. This resulted in a phantom duet as an expression of loss and grief. The timbral similarities between the live and electronic sounds allowed for a seamlessness between stage and speaker. It is a wonderful composition.

Per Bloland's Quintet for Solo Saxophone and Electronics utilized improvisation to give the soloist a chance to bring the same level of physical aggression found in the electronic materials. Something that definitely took flight given the capabilities of John Ingle to peel off a cascade of notes. Here, the dueling audio sources were well matched.

Monica Scott gave an excellent performance of Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms no. 3. The electronic bleeps of the old Princeton RCA synthesizer sounding particularly dated and timbrally impoverished along side the richly vocal qualities of the cello.

Clarinet Threads and The Mutiny of Rivers were pieces where, compositionally, John Henry loses the race. The amplification often overwhelming the live performer even as the two parts play out in heroic opposition to one another. Especially heroic given the high quality of performance given by the players on stage in each of these pieces. The electronic and acoustic parts simply played out on temporally parallel planes that felt unbalanced. The question of how one balances the virtuosity of two different mediums left relatively unresolved.

HurdAudio Rotation: Noise, Love and Funk

Iannis Xenakis: Orchestral Works - Vol. I. 2000. Timpani: 1C1057.

Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
Arturo Tamayo: conductor

Ais (1980)
Spyros Sakkas: baritone
Beatrice Daudin: percussion

Tracees (1987)

Empreintes (1975)

Noomena (1974)

Roai (1991)

The music of Iannis Xenakis is a necessary component of the orchestral literature. The Dionysian element of sound that treats the large ensemble as a fantastic noise maker that operates within a precision and indifference to polite restraint. Such indifference does not exclude the extremes of human utterance and experience. It actually revels in such extremes. As evidenced by some of the greatest program notes ever written: "[Ais is] a work of heroic
attitude, it seems to concern a mythical hero who, with the support of a large orchestra, tells a story so extraordinary that most of its content is beyond normal, comprehensible words." Which neatly sums up the Xenakis aesthetic of pursuing an idea (and sound mass) to its logical end no matter where it goes. The Luxembourg Philharmonic bringing a precision of performance equal to the precision of composition. The end result is a beast with orchestral players and instruments along every limb. Stark, violent and beautiful.

Olivier Messiaen: Messiaen Edition [disc 3]. 1988. Warner Classics: 2564-62162-2.

Maria Oran: soprano
Yvonne Loriod: piano

Poemes pour Mi (1936)
Chants de terre et de ciel (1938)

Song cycles composed during an idyllic period in the young Messiaen's life. Written in the early days of his marriage as a gift and an expression of love. What is interesting here is how much of Messiaen's harmonic language is fully formed and how profoundly important his sense of faith is. All of this prior to the trials ahead that would test and solidify his connection to his faith. Also interesting here is the fact that these songs, written for his first wife, are performed by his second on this recording.

Miles Davis: The Complete On The Corner Sessions [disc 2]. 1973, 1974, 2007. Sony/BMG: 88697062392.

Miles Davis: trumpet, organ
Carlos Garnett: soprano saxophone
Bennie Maupin: bass clarinet, flute
Herbie Hancock: electric piano, organ
Lonnie Liston Smith: electric piano
Harold Ivory Williams: electric piano
Colin Walcott: electric sitar
Michael Henderson: electric bass
Al Foster: drums
Billy Hart: drums
Don Alias: kalimba, African percussion
Badal Roy: tablas
Cedric Lawson: organ
Reggie Lucas: guitar
Khalil Balakrishna: electric sitar
Mtume: congas

Generous canvas slathered deep with the material of funk. The prolonged durations of groove slip this multi-layered material into a ritual of free form expression. The changes in texture clearly being directed by an unseen Miles Davis as he breaks things down and builds them up again. Leaving just enough space for soloists to appear and vanish at intuitively grasped intervals. The multi-disc experience of the "Complete" recordings allows the transcendent qualities of this experience to come to the fore. While the real listening reward lives within the details of this funky soup.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Water, Earth and Psycho Killer

Satoko Fujii/Myra Melford: Under The Water: Piano Solo and Duo. 2009. Libra: 202-024.

Satoko Fujii: piano
Myra Melford: piano

Recorded live at the Maybeck Studio, September 14, 2007.

Satoko Fujii and Myra Melford are pianistic talents worthy of the prestigious jazz piano traditions recorded at the Maybeck Studios. Each of them is a tidal force creating strong currents when their creative energy collides. Under the Water provides an ear full of the collaborative qualities found when Fujii and Melford work both inside and outside of their instruments. Melford's solo take on "Be Melting Snow" offers a glimpse of the solo piano recording I keep hoping is in store. While Fujii's "Trace A River" reveals the contemplative spaces lurking beneath her energetic flow of ideas. Together, in their duo performances, there is an intuitive grasp of compositional balance that never impedes their spontaneous discourse as they weave a language of texture. Sadly, the dynamic range occasionally overwhelms the engineering with distortion toward the later moments of this dialogue. A scratch along the surface of an incredible performance and promising collaboration.

Various Artists: Earth Music: Ten Years of Meridian Music: Composers in Performance. 2009. Innova: 751.

Steps (excerpt) - Vinny Golia
Vinny Golia: bass clarinet

Quarter Turn (excerpt) - John Bischoff
John Bischoff: electronics

Improvisation (excerpt) - Matthew Sperry
Matthew Sperry: contrabass

Lines For Trio (to Paul Klee) - Damon Smith
Damon Smith: contrabass
Hugh Livingston: cello
Carla Kihlstedt: violin

Pauline's Solo (excerpt) - Pauline Oliveros
Pauline Oliveros: accordion

All Chords Stand For Other Chords (excerpt) - Ben Goldberg
Ben Goldberg: clarinet
John Schott: acoustic guitar

Improvisation - Shoko Hikage
Shoko Hikage: koto

Improvisation - Frank Gratkowski
Frank Gratkowski: alto saxophone

Improvisation - Schoenbeck/Burr
Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon
Ellen Burr: flute

Improvisation (with San Francisco sounds) - Viv Corringham
Viv Corringham: voice, electronics, field recordings

Sonic Coordinates - Jon Raskin
Jon Raskin: baritone saxophone

Microtonic meditations for endings and beginnings, mvmt II: Scherzo - Mickley/Marsh
Tom Bickley: recorder, voice
Bob Marsh: accordion, voice

Composition 40 N and Composition 110 A - Anthony Braxton
Philip Gelb: shakuhachi
Jie Ma: pipa

Nightwatching - Theresa Wong
Theresa Wong: cello, voice

A survey of sounds curated by the Meridian Gallery in downtown San Francisco over the past decade. Each passing track offering a small taste of an entire universe of personal sonic language. The collective beauty of these different expressions giving a sense of place. The Meridian is a unique gallery that finds roots in an urban center. With a garden miraculously carved in a small patch of outdoors behind the building, this venue provides a same sense of rugged beauty through the compositional and improvisational arts. Each performance exhibiting and drawing from vulnerability. Vic Corringham folds the sounds of the city itself into his vocal improvisation. The unpredictable-yet-periodic car horns and familiar trolley bells running in counterpoint to his voice. The deliberate brush strokes of bassoon and flute exposing a startling texture with Sara Schoenbeck and Ellen Burr's improvisation. The incredibly beautiful and intricately structured song by Theresa Wong that concludes this disc. The excerpted brevity of so many ideas giving way to a blur and celebration of an aesthetic from a time and place.

Talking Heads: Talking Heads: 77. 1977. Sire Records: 6036-2.

David Byrne: guitar, voice
Jerry Harrison: guitar, keyboards, voice
Martina Weymouth: bass
Chris Frantz: drums

I bonded completely with this record many years ago. Throwing it into the rotation is levity bordering on nostalgia. Every detail of the music frozen for all time on this recording is well known. The CD doesn't do justice to the way "No Compassion" used to straddle the A and B sides of the vinyl. And while "Psycho Killer" was the runaway hit, "Don't Worry About The Government" will always be my favorite song of all time. As the recording debut of Talking Heads, this was the first in a sequence of records that continues through David Byrne's solo career that has often served as my personal soundtrack of summer.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Music of Growth

Sleeping People: Growing. 2006-2007. Temporary Residence: TRR123.

Kasey Boekholt: guitar
Joileah Maddock: guitar
Kenseth Thibideau: bass
Brandon Relf: drums
Amber Coffman: guitar

Sleeping People takes musical patterns as a building block and pieces together tight structures built upon oddities. Odd meters, odd juxtapositions and tightly fitted asymmetries. At the same time they also rock. Building these patterns with the instrumentation and sonic language of electric guitars, bass and drums they manage to scratch the cerebral itch without sounding rigid. Mining grooves that both confound and invite the tapping foot. I've been looking forward to having this disc come back around in the rotation and find that Growing has grown on me. If the world actually made sense these guys would be saturating the culture with this intelligent and inviting sound.

Elliott Sharp/Tectonics: Field & Stream. 1998. Knitting Factory Records: KFR-227.

Elliott Sharp: doubleneck guitarbass, electronics, drum programs, tenor saxophone
with guests -
Zeena Parkins: sampler, little green drone guitar
Frank Rothkamm: drums 'n bass

Tectonics is Elliott Sharp's deliriously off-center, thick and subverted stab at electronica. The result is vivid, intense and oddly somewhere between danceable and not. Heavily processed textures develop with Sharp's guitar work or tenor saxophone placing a welcome anchor in the sound. At other times it veers noisily without anchor into a collision of groove and noise. This music probably wouldn't show up in any club, it's far too listenable to bring a crowd to their feet. But what it does do is bring a welcome layer of grit to it's clean beats.

Ornette Coleman: The Empty Foxhole. 1966 (re-released in 1994). Blue Note Records: CDP 7243-8-28982-2-1.

Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone, trumpet, violin
Charlie Haden: bass
Denardo Coleman: drums

Denardo Coleman is Ornette Coleman's son. And at the time of this recording he was all of 10 years old. Which became the focus of this release when it came out in 1966. On the face of it, it is difficult to reconcile putting someone so young in with the greatest bass player in the world for a session with the prestigious Blue Note label. Billy Higgins he isn't. But then Ornette Coleman's trumpet playing isn't exactly Don Cherry. His violin technique is certainly unlike anyone else. This music does stand up to repeated listening. Ornette Coleman was working with a sound here. And that sound works with this mix of experience and youth. The contrast of Ornette's virtuosity on alto compared to the ragged qualities of his trumpet and violin playing do match the contrast of Charlie Haden's sure presence against the budding technique of Denardo Coleman. The whole thing has to be absorbed as a sound. Harmolodic playing isn't an exclusive club reserved for the extremely well practiced. It only demands a willingness to play from within and that's on here in spades.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Three Sides of Tonality

Michael Harrison: Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation. 2007. Cantaloupe Music: CA21043.

Michael Harrison: piano, composition, tuning

I have to think that equal temperament played no small role in the necessary "crisis" that led Arnold Schoenberg and others to develop an atonal harmonic system. The layers of compromise (and poor thirds) laid out in even twelfth-root-of-two semitones along the piano keyboard had robbed tonality of so much color and contrast. So it is no accident that Michael Harrison and others bring a renewed interest in tonality once the harmonic limitations of equal temperament are addressed. The piano itself, and the just intonation system applied to it, is the aural focus of this music. There is brilliant range of consonance and dissonance in this music. A beautiful sound that compositionally owes so much to the great (and sadly difficult to acquire) Well-Tuned Piano of LaMonte Young. The language of "tone clouds" and the "Homage to La Monte" movement are clear nods to an abiding apprenticeship to Young. And also the meditative approach of "Revealing the Tones" and "Revealing the Commas." Indeed, it was the avoidance of harmonic commas - the so-called "wolf tones" that arise from pure intervals not fitting cyclically into 12-notes per octave - that fueled the push toward compromise and equal temperament in the first place. Here, those bitter, dissonant spices are "revealed" and folded into the harmonic fabric. An ear opening work that also reveals the qualities of tonality available when one can hear them in tune.

Philip Glass: From the Philip Glass Recording Archive: Volume II - Orchestral Music. 2007. Orange Mountain Music: 0047.

Days and Nights in Rocinha (1998)
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Dennis Russell Davies: conductor

Persephone (1994)
The Relache Ensemble
Joseph Franklin: director

Music written with such clarity and simplicity that I can almost imagine a full transcription as it plays. With large tonal consonances that leave me speculating how they would sound in just intonation. If you have any familiarity whatsoever with the musical style of Philip Glass then this is a music that develops without any surprises. And in many ways it leaves me a little hungry for his earlier, edgier and brutally static works. And even a little hungry for dissonance and surprise. But this sound is undeniably pleasant and listening to it is an indulgence. As orchestral works they won't stand out from the Glass oeuvre. But I do enjoy hearing them.

Available Jelly: Happy Camp. 1996. Ramboy: 10.

Michael Moore: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Tobias Delius: tenor saxophone
Eric Boeren: cornet, melodica
Wolter Wierbos: trombone
Ernst Glerum: bass
Michael Vatcher: drums, percussion

Available Jelly plays with a hard swing that simmers their Amsterdam sound with a helping of New Orleans flavor. And a musical sensibility that draws upon a deep reservoir of jazz history without coming up weighted down by everything that has come before. Happy Camp kicks off with a wonderful arrangement of "Nilentika" and "Tanzana Kely" - traditional melodies from Madagascar and then makes a turn toward a sultry rendition of Duke Ellington's "The Feeling of Jazz" before jumping headlong into a set of brilliant Michael Moore originals. Along the way the ears are treated to an ever shifting array of improvised material that never loses sight of its swinging impulse. An absolutely solid disc from a great band. Recommended with enthusiasm.

Monday, July 05, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Three Faces of the Piano

Thelonious Monk: The Complete Riverside Recordings [disc 2]. 1986. Riverside: RCD-022-2.

Thelonious Monk: piano
Art Blakey: drums
Ernie Henry: alto saxophone
Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone
Oscar Pettiford: bass
Max Roach: drums
Clark Terry: trumpet
Paul Chambers: bass

A devastating document of this incredibly important slice of jazz history (much of this material recorded in 1956-7). On a box set that includes many alternate takes and "mistakes" there is only the one "false start" on this disc on the opening of "Pannonica," and even as one hears how this body of music was being birthed in the studio it essentially arrived fully formed. So much so that it's hard to imagine the jazz landscape without a "Bemsha Swing" or "Brilliant Corners." With recordings so strong that the ears naturally refer to these versions if they've ever encountered them before. Equally devastating is the way Monk's hands shaped the very sound of the jazz piano in his wake. His sturdy bridge between stride and bop that continues to color how improvisers approach the ivories. Also, Oscar Pettiford's solo on "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" got my attention. I need to hear more of his playing.

Olivier Messiaen: Messiaen Edition [disc 1]. 1963, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1996, 2000. Warner Classics: 2564-62162-2.

Petites esquisses d'oiseaux (1985)
Quatre Etudes de rhthme (1949-1950)

Yvonne Loriod: piano

Time extracted its continual erosion upon of musical history when Yvonne Loriod passed away last May. She was the widow of Olivier Messiaen and the leading interpreter of his piano works, some of which are documented on this disc. These are intense, difficult pieces that she executes with such grace that the tension rests entirely within the music and not in the feats of playing them. Her fingers passionately grasp the dissonances of Petites esquisses d'oiseaux while coaxing out the lyrical impressionist colors of the Preludes. Quatre Edudes de rythme makes surprising use of serial processes in the evocation of ritual. The considerable forces of intellect and heart brought into pitch-perfect balance for this recording. This direct connection to the composer and irreplaceable pianistic talent will be missed while recordings such as this are treasured.

Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd: In What Language? 2003. Pi Recordings: 08713-0092.

Vijay Iyer: piano, keyboards, electronics, compositions
Mike Ladd: voice, electronics, lyrics
Latasha N. Nevada Diggs: voice, electronics
Allison Easter: voice
Ajay Naidu: voice
Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet
Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone
Dana Leong: cello, trombone, flugelbone
Liberty Ellman: guitar
Stephan Crump: bass
Trevor Holder: drums

Music theater using multiple narrators to tell the modern day mythology (and terribly true tales) of airport security. The collision of global culture with anxiety and prejudice. "The airport is not a neutral place. It serves as a contact zone for those empowered or subjugated by globalization." The music crossing over several stylistic borders as the spoken voice and electronics with a hip hop sensibility. The sound is often unpleasant in exactly the same way that air travel is also unpleasant. Complimenting the uneasy truth of travel "with an uneasy proximity of tan." The individual elements of this piece work extremely well. The lyrics are smart. The music is polished and thought through. The visual theater of the experience in conspicuously absent. And this may account for my own reluctance to embrace this work. I'm left strangely unsatisfied even if I can't identify where this piece falls short.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Endurance Test

JoAnne Brackeen: Keyed In. 1979. Columbia Records: JC 36075 (vinyl).

JoAnne Brackeen: piano
Eddie Gomez: bass
Jack DeJohnette: drums

This is why I keep needles handy for my turntable. Because three dollars at some out of the way vinyl shop turns up an outstanding gem such as this. The rhythm section of Gomez and DeJohnette is a knockout and Brackeen provides both the compositions and pianistic chops to take full advantage of this ensemble. The space afforded to each player as they move smoothly in and out of the focal point makes for an engaging listen. JoAnne Brackeen should figure more prominently on the jazz radar. She has made some great records that stand up extremely well when revisiting them.

Erik Friedlander: Block Ice & Propane. 2007. Skipstone Records: 37101-34642.

Erik Friedlander: cello

I'm already a huge fan of Maldoror, Friedlander's solo cello disc of improvisations inspired by the surrealist poetry of Comte de Lautreamont. Which is dramatically darker and less personal than the inspirations that fuel Block Ice & Propane. A nostalgic reminiscing of family summer road trips of Erik Friedlander's youth. The difference in inspiration comes all the way through to the difference in sound and substance. Block Ice & Propane harnesses improvisation in a completely different direction with episodes that feel composed with many of the interpretive details added by this one of a kind performer. The music has a strong sense of tonal center. With all the contrasts observed between the two solo outings I am already a big fan of Block Ice & Propane. There's a great deal of heart in this music as Friedlander strums, plucks, bows and coaxes a large fiddle out of his instrument.

Morton Feldman: String Quartet No. 2. 2002. Mode Records: 112.

String Quartet No. 2 (1983)
FLUX Quartet
Tom Chiu: violin
Cornelius Dufallo: violin
Kenji Bunch: viola
Darrett Adkins: cello

Feldman's obsession with duration poses a unique set of challenges to the attentive listener. Not to mention the marathon effort called for from the performers. Listening to all six hours and seven minutes of this single movement work in a single sitting is both an invitation and a daunting challenge. The attentive, active listening that I reserve for the HurdAudio Rotation stretches incredibly thin over this activity. It's that endurance state that Feldman's music works within in these elongated works. The penalty for allowing one's mind to drift in and out of the endless sea of unfolding moments is nonexistent.

There is no thematic development unfolding over the course of the journey. The minutes and hours drift by without the faintest hint of melody with material that treats half hours as mere breath. My efforts to concentrate on these textures of string quartet leaving me in an altered state akin to prolonged fasting and meditation. I begin to hear the physical movements and breathing of the performers pulling the bows and plucking the strings as they labor to sustain the taut stillness of this work with its unison entrances and exits.

The use of repetition is striking. It is a non-mechanical form of repetition that bends just beyond predictability or groove. Short phrases and gestures that cycle under their own logic without repeating exactly upon each iteration. Nearly the entire expanse of this music is built upon the subtle differences of shading along a canvas that nearly defies its own frame. Or a landscape that stretches impossibly past its own horizon.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Studies in Intensity

Elliott Sharp/Soldier String Quartet: Hammer, Anvil, Stirrup. 1989. SST Records: SST CD 232.

Hammer, Anvil, Stirrup (take 1)
Tessalation Row
Hammer, Anvil, Stirrup
(take 4)

Elliott Sharp: guitar, composer
Ratso B. Harris: bass (on Re/Iterations)

Soldier String Quartet
Laura Seaton: violin
David Soldier: violin
Ron Lawrence: viola
Mary Wooten: cello

This one has been in my ears off and on since 1987. I can practically reconstruct every detail and nuance of this particular performance of Tessalation Row from memory. That piece changed so much about how I hear things and it is often lurking in my own textural creations. Beyond featuring the outstanding Fibonacci driven Tessalation Row this collection of string quartet compositions offer an earful of Sharp's organic growth from New York's lower east side hard-core music scene to chamber music composer. This music retains an aggressive edge that finds noise within the harmonic frequencies of open strings that mirror the saturation of multiple amplified guitars. The rhythmic precision and unison attacks in the suite extending of Digital, Diurnal and Ringtoss is remarkable. This is some of my favorite music of all time in one concentrated dose.

Cecil Taylor: The Great Paris Concert. 1966 (re-issued in 1994). Black Lion Records: BLCD 60201.

Cecil Taylor: piano
Jimmy Lyons: alto saxophone
Alan Silva: bass
Andrew Cyrille: drums

A documentation of a late November 1966 concert that lives every bit to its "great" connotation. The 20-minute Andrew Cyrille feature "Amplitude" alone is a jaw dropping excursion through this incredible era of the free jazz movement. Cecil Taylor just seems to pour gasoline onto a sound that is already burning up with this great quartet. An important reminder that cerebral can also be fierce. This one is a significant reference point in the free jazz tradition.

Mary Halvorson and Weasel Walter: Opulence. 2008. ugEXPLODE: UG 26.

Live at The Stone, NYC
February 15, 2007
Mary Halvorson: guitar
Weasel Walter: drums, clarinet mouthpiece

This one hits my expectation for these two improvising talents while still delivering more than a few surprises along the way. Mary Halvorson has internalized a lot of different music, distilled it and she brings out a sound that reflects well upon her wide ranging influences. Weasel Walter is a spark plug with a lot of energy as he blends the kinetic forces of punk and free jazz (and "brutal prog"). Both players have a hand in noise and aren't afraid to go there. What is surprising in this particular set is how controlled and conversant this rough material can be when filtered through ears that are squarely in the moment. Weasel Walter bends toward many of Halvorson's stylistic quirks while she in turn has little difficulty turning the intensity level up to eleven. Though many of the best moments on this disc come when they both dial it all the way back in near sympathetic unison.