Sunday, January 30, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Three Ways to Get Your Freak On

Doctor Nerve with the Sirius String Quartet: Ereia. 2000. Cuneiform Records: rune 126.

Nick Didkovsky: electric guitar, composition
Greg Anderson: bass
Leo Ciesa: drums
Yves Duboin: soprano saxophone, flute
Rob Henke: trumpet
Michael Lytle: bass clarinet
Kathleen Supove: keyboards
Joyce Hammann: violin
Mary Whitaker: violin
Ron Lawrence: viola
Tomas Ulrich: cello
Todd Reynolds: violin
Liz Knowles: violin
Mary Wooten: cello

Ereia is a direct manifestation of the multiple impulses that inform Nick Didkovsky's creative influences. The relentlessly progressive guitar rocker with a slant toward cerebral avant art music finds himself with a band, a string quartet and a commission at his disposal. Conceived as a 3-movement work, Ereia is scored for string quartet alone in the first movement, a conducted improvisation and the third movement as a culmination of the two forces as a composed work for full ensemble. The decision to sandwich the conducted improvisation as a live recording between two studio realizations further adds to the contrast between these three parts. Though there are plenty of similarities to thread the entire work together and challenge multiple assumptions about the artificial lines that divide genre, medium and aesthetic. Ereia sustains an aggressive luminosity throughout while also revealing several moments of human frailty. Beauty and ugly co-mingling within a sonic stew.

Sun Ra: Disco 3000: Complete Milan Concert 1978. (Re-released in 2009) Art Yard: CD 001.

Sun Ra: piano, organ , moog synth, rhythm machine, vocals
John Gilmore: tenor saxophone, drums, vocals
Luqman Ali: drums, vocals
Michael Ray: trumpet, vocals
June Tyson: vocals

Space is definitely the place. A place rich with the blues, dancing aliens, friendly galaxies, somewhere over the rainbows and some far-out analog synth freak outs. Sun Ra's singularity finds particular resonance in this 2+ hour live set from 1978. Clearly an important document of the Sun Ra sound from that era. The stripped down group drawn from members of the Arkestra gives the ears a chance focus on a mature John Gilmore and the explosive energy of Michael Ray.

The Peter Brötzmann Octet: The Complete Machine Gun Sessions. 2007 re-issue of the 1968 sessions. FMP/Atavistic: Archive Edition ALP 262 CD.

Peter Brötzmann: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone
Even Johansson: drums
Peter Kowald: bass
Willem Breuker: tenor saxophone
Fred Van Hove: piano
Evan Parker: tenor saxophone
Buschi Niebergall: bass
Han Bennink: drums

Eight improvising musicians assembled in Bremen's Lile Eule in May of 1968 and subsequently changed the world with a blistering performance that still leaves cochlear scars to this day. The backdrop of political assassinations, an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam, the disastrous convention in Chicago and an environment of protests across North America and Europe serves as the spiritual and psychological backdrop for the barely channeled energy of Machine Gun. It's an energy that glows with a different quality. Aggressive and focused, it is clear to these ears why this recording continues to be so important to the local improvised music scene here in Chicago. Harsh and completely necessary. This is a music that could, and has, diverted rivers in the development of free jazz archetypes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: The Illusion of Progress

Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 1. 2007. Okka Disk: OD12067.

Peter Brötzmann: clarinet, tarogato, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
Mats Gustafsson: baritone saxophone, slide saxophone
Ken Vandermark: clarinet, baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone
Joe McPhee: trumpet, alto saxophone
Hannes Bauer: trombone
Per-Ake Holmlander: tuba
Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello
Kent Kessler: bass
Paal Nilssen-Love: drums
Michael Zerang: drums

It is an interesting experience to return to this disc after unexpectedly becoming immersed in the Chicago scene in the interim since last studying this recording. The individual personalities are clearer after having experienced so many of them play live over the past few months. This ensemble is a marvelous vehicle and medium for channeling Peter Brötzmann's ideas and approach toward improvisation. The shifting combinations of instruments produces some startling results over this long form improvisation. And there is a beautiful symmetry to this performance as the first ten minutes features a steady build up toward a thick texture and the final ten minutes drops back before building up toward a monstrous energy leading into a brief coda of tranquility. There is a softness to Brötzmann's music that is startling given his well documented ability to play with raw aggression.

Peter Brötzmann/Michael Zerang: Live in Beirut. 2005. Al Maslakh Recordings: 03.

Peter Brötzmann: tenor saxophone, tarogato, b-flat clarinet
Michael Zerang: drum set, darbuka, percussion

Peter Brötzmann has recorded several outstanding sax and drum duo sessions over the decades. Even within his stellar output on that front this disc is a standout. Michael Zerang dives right into the energy of the moment and brings something amazing to the creativity of this listening experience. The long drum solo early in "Yalla Kholoud" leading toward Brötzmann's tarogato work is particularly thrilling. Particularly as they lock in so quickly. The ragged, confident-yet-aggressive quality of the dialogue between these musicians makes this disc a thrill ride right from the start.

Peter Apfelbaum & The Hieroglyphics Ensemble: Jodoji Brightness. 1992. Polygram Records: 314-512-320-2.

Peter Apfelbaum: tenor saxophone, piano, organ, synthesizer, drums, percussion
Bill Ortiz: trumpet, flugelhorn
Jeff Cressman: trombone, pyramid bell, percussion
James Harvey: trombone
Paul Hanson: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bassoon
Tony Jones: tenor saxophone
Peck Allmond: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, trumpet
Norbert Stachel: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass saxophone, clarinet, flute, piccolo
Will Bernard: guitar
Stan Franks: guitar
Jai Uttal: guitar, harmonium, dotar, percussion
Bo Freeman: bass
Joshua Jones V: drums, timbales, bass drum, congas, bata, vocals
Deszon X. Claiborne: drums, percussion
"Buddha" Robert Huffman: congas, bell tree, gongs, bata, vocals

A couple of things that struck me when revisiting this old friend of a recording; it has aged remarkably well and it's surprising how every sound and nuance is so deeply ingrained in my memory. I swear there's a "picture perfect" replica of it residing in my brain. This is music that takes up the sweep of "world music" without treating any of it as exotic. It is all music, and it is all jazz. The writing and playing on here is fantastic. This is one durable recording.

Powered by Blackbirds

Eighth Blackbird: PowerFUL @ Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Saturday, January 22, 2011

Eighth Blackbird:
Tim Munro: flutes, voice
Michael J. Maccaferri: clarinets, voice
Matt Albert: violin, viola, voice
Nicholas Photinos: cello, voice
Matthew Duvall: percussion, voice
Lisa Kaplan: piano, voice

special guest:
Katherine Calcamuggio: mezzo-soprano

John Corigliano: Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (2000/09) for soprano and sextet

John Luther Adams: The Light Within (2007) for sextet and electronics

Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together (1972), arranged by Matt Albert for sextet 2000/03

Coming Together is a "powerful," and adaptable piece of music. I've heard it performed many times over the years. Most performances focus on the pulsating churn that often overwhelms the text. Allowing fragments of Attica Prison inmate Sam Melville's words to poke through just enough to reveal the chilling intensity and foreboding of the repeated words to emerge (and subsequently submerge). Rzewski doesn't specify instrumentation. Simply rhythm and an indication of where the spoken words should line up within that churn. Eighth Blackbird takes liberties within the guidelines of Coming Together that allows the full text to come to the foreground with a strong sense of dramatic purpose. Each member of the ensemble contributes to the reading of the text. The rhythmic churn begins understated. Leaving plenty of room for it to grow and build upon the intensity of the poetry. Matt Albert practically transforms into the persona of Sam Melville as the primary speaker. Pushing his own performance toward the extremes fitting the man who would become the leader and casualty of the prison riots that would erupt six months after writing these words. Words that were never lost within the performance even as the ensemble progressed along a relentless crescendo of churn. Eighth Blackbird's interpretation was absolutely devastating.

The first half of the program featured a setting of the words of Bob Dylan by John Corigliano. Songs that exist along a completely different continuum from Bob Dylan the bard. The familiar words settled into an art song treatment with a deceptive sense of simplicity. Hearing Corigliano's music performed live (and performed well) is a powerful reminder that his music is even better than the high regard it has earned. Mr. Tambourine Man is a powerful work that easily belongs on a program focused upon powerful, politically charged music. Eighth Blackbird brought an amazing precision to this piece. The unison entrances between Lisa Kaplan on piano and Matthew Duvall on percussion were particularly impressive. Highlighting the incredible attention to detail throughout the performance.

Sandwiched between these political works with words was the expansively instrumental The Light Within by John Luther Adams. This was my first chance to experience this work as a non-performer. A remarkably different experience when the click track in the headphones is absent. Without that click, the passage of time takes on a different focus as the harmonic landscape shifts with an ecological sense of time. The changing qualities of light of a sunset translated into the frequency domain. A reminder that "powerful" isn't limited to human endeavors in a changing and fragile world. The electronic component of this performance was understated and only barely audible within the haze of sound.

This was a remarkably thoughtful, and well rehearsed program that builds enormous anticipation for the "powerLESS" program scheduled for February 5.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Richter Scale

Bill Frisell: Richter 858. 2005. Songlines: SGL 2551-2.

Bill Frisell: guitars, electronics
Hank Roberts: cello
Jenny Scheinman: violin
Eyvind Kang: viola

Eight compositions for an electric guitar variant of the string quartet that draw upon Gerhard Richter's Abstract Pictures as the trigger for the formal, textural and substantive material of these works. Improvisation plays an important role, as it does in the paintings themselves. The strong sense of horizontal line and vibrant colors are beautifully captured. The fluidity of paint and brush stroke finding a strong parallel in bows and strings. Recorded live without overdubs, these performances hang in the air to be savored in the same manner the paintings hang on the wall. This recording is a small detour away from the Americana sound that Frisell has made into his signature style. Yet it is also a return to his earlier sound (and collaborations, in the case of Hank Roberts) as well as the kind of record long time fans of this guitarist have been hoping he would make. Much of the sound retains that familiar Frisell sound, in much the same way even the most abstract brush stroke of Gerhard Richter retains the DNA of its creator.

Marty Ehrlich: News On the Rail. 2005. Palmetto Records: PM 2113.

Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, clarinet
James Zollar: trumpet, flugelhorn
Howard Johnson: tuba, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
James Weidman: piano, melodica
Greg Cohen: bass
Allison Miller: drums

Marty Ehrlich explores his brilliance as both composer and performer within the medium of the "large small" ensemble. Weaving material through the sextet as it alternates between big band type writing to smaller combinations of players that show off the considerable talents of the individuals involved. This material is focused, melodic and tight. There isn't a spare moment that doesn't propel toward the next on this set. Allison Miller's drum work in particular is a revelation.

Donkey Monkey: Ouature. 2007. Umlaut Records: UMCD 0005.

Yuko Oshima: drums, voice, sampler
Eve Risser: piano, voice, turntables

Oshima and Risser pack a lot into the 32-minutes of music found here. Along the way they don't forget to pack in a lot of fun. The first two tracks kick this adventure off with an aggressive dose of fun as this duo rocks things out with equal doses of whimsy and brutally intense playing. The feeling that exudes from this pair makes for a bright spot along the rotation. Highly recommended. It will make you want to get up and dance and put new wrinkles in the brain along the way.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Standards and Opuses

Anthony Braxton: Piano Quartet, Yoshi's 1994 [disc 3]. 1996. Music and Arts: CD 849.

Anthony Braxton: piano
Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet
Joe Fonda: bass
Arthur Fuller: percussion

I've returned to this recording more than a few times now and it's finally possible to hear beyond my disappointment with this music. The Braxton recordings of jazz standards have always been a mixed bag from an artist who is normally brilliant beyond belief in his composing and recording life. Having the master reeds player playing the ivories for this outing adds a new wrinkle to the experience. While this isn't one of his better projects, he does clearly state the case that his own creative endeavors are part of the same wellspring of music found along the full jazz continuum. These interpretations are jarring, surprising and performed with enormous passion and musicality. And Marty Ehrlich does an impressive take on Strayhorn's "Lush Life."

Anthony Braxton: 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 [disc 2]. 2006. Firehouse 12 Records: FH12-04-03-001.

Composition 351 - dedicated to the composer/scholar Harvey Sollberger.

Anthony Braxton: composer, conductor, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, sopranino saxophone, clarinet, E-flat contralto clarinet
Mary Halvorson: electric guitar
Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo, voice
Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon, suona
Reut Regev: trombone, flugelbone
Carl Testa: acoustic bass, bass clarinet
James Fei: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Andrew Raffo Dewar: soprano saxophone, c-melody saxophone, clarinet
Jay Rozen: tuba, euphonium
Stephen H. Lehman: alto saxophone, sopranino saxophone
Jessica Pavone: viola, violin
Aaron Siegel: percussion, vibraphone
Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, trumpbone, piccolo trumpet, bass trumpet, shell

This box set is practically an infinite opportunity to take in the brilliance of Braxton's ghost trance musical structures combined with an outstanding ensemble of creative improvisers. The totality of this offering (as with the totality of Braxton's recorded output) nearly shatters human dimensions. The hourglass measures out the temporal dimensions of a sonic texture that could easily expand indefinitely. The hour long slice provided on this disc representing the second set of the 12+1tet's week long residency at the Iridium in 2006. The gentle direction of Anthony Braxton's direction is barely audible even as the musical language is clearly his own. The fact that such a large collection of musicians fluent in the sounding universe that has taken a lifetime to realize is a testament to both the staying power of Braxton's ideas and his abilities as a mentor.

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Symphonies [disc 1]. Recorded in 1994. The International Music Company: 205294-305.

Symphony No. 1 in C major (op. 21)
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth: conductor

Symphony No. 2 in D major (op. 36)
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
James Lockhart: conductor

It's difficult to imagine these works having tweaked the sensibilities of their day. Historical accounts indicate that they did. Even these tame, deeply Haydn inspired classical works were already creating friction with the established formal constraints of the turn of the nineteenth century. The second symphony featuring a Scherzo movement where the Minuet would be. The cadences that stretch on and on (okay, it's not difficult to hear how his endless cadences would strike the ears of any era). It's even more difficult to imagine these works as being new and unfamiliar. Ingrained as they are in the symphonic repertoire and even passively as copyright free "background" music for so much media and public space. Though a focused listening does reveal that the durability of this music is no accident. I'm struck by how aggressive the writing is for the wind instruments.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Drunken Monkeys

Beck: Guero. 2005. Interscope Records: B0003481-02.

Produced, recorded and mixed by Beck Hansen and The Dust Brothers

This one is a triumph of songwriting and musical ideas over bland production choices. Beck has an underrated sense of poetry that gets a little buried under the beats in a string of otherwise hook-heavy songs. His words capture a sense of place and attitude that rings of truth blended with surreal perspective. The Dust Brothers prove to be a bit of a misfit for my ears. In spite of them, this disc has enjoyed some healthy spins.

Ornette Coleman: Beauty is A Rare Thing [disc 5]. 1993. Atlantic Recordings/Rhino Records: RI-71410.

Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone
Don Cherry: pocket trumpet
Scott LaFaro: bass
Ed Blackwell: drums

The abundance that pours from this 6-disc box set is particularly evident when you reach disc five. A reminder that Scott LaFaro's tragically short life included this brush with Ornette Coleman at such an explosive period of creative growth. Also a sobering realization that Coleman is now the final surviving member of this timeless lineup. That this significant touchstone of jazz history is receding into an increasingly distant era. This is hard to comprehend given the vitality of the recordings that still leap out and take the ears by the imagination. "Check Up" in particular has taken up residence in my soul as the mind will play this sound back from memory in periods between sleep and wakefulness.

Thomas Chapin Trio: Menagerie Dreams. 1994. (Re-released as disc 4 from the Alive box set in 1999) Knitting Factory Records: 35828-02482-2.

Thomas Chapin: alto saxophone, flute, baritone saxophone, mezzo soprano saxophone
Mario Pavone: bass
Michael Sarin: drums, gongs
guests -
John Zorn: alto saxophone
Vernon Frazer: poetry

Thomas Chapin had a unique talent for channeling a spectrum of life and emotion through his playing. With his long standing trio with Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin that ability became electric. Menagerie Dreams captures a slice of Chapin's range. The brief wisp of the title track shows off Chapin's delicate flute work. While an animal madness abounds and tromps through much of the other works in "Bad Birdie," "A Drunken Monkey," "The Night Hog" and the creative setting of Frazer's poetry in "Put Your Quarter In And Watch The Chicken Dance." Chapin could soar, groove hard and even peel back at the drop of a hat (or a quarter). This document preserves the energy of this creative soul who has since soared to unknown realms and reminds the ears of an era when the Knitting Factory fostered an important and burgeoning scene.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Electric Groove Carving

Paul Giallorenzo/Anton Hatwich/Charles Rumback @ The Hungry Brain, Chicago, IL
January 2, 2011

Paul Giallorenzo: electric piano
Anton Hatwich: electric bass, acoustic bass
Charles Rumback: drums

An electric piano trio that forms its textures and allegiances through groove. Paul Giallorenzo's rock-steady-yet-jagged compositions gives this trio material to chew on with his electric piano timbre sitting at the heart of the sound. Anton Hatwich anchors the ostinato bass lines while Charles Rumback gives a restrained and organic sense of pulse. This group was a revelation at The Hungry Brain into the wee hours of a Sunday night. Hearing Anton Hatwich work the electric bass into a tight groove with the drums was particularly surprising.

The smoldering, understated solos formed an unholy partnership with a smattering of odd meters and subtly twisted forms. The balance of funk with a laid back sound was beautiful to behold. This is one group that needs to get into the recording studio.