Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Heady and Nostalgic

Elliott Sharp: In the Land of the Yahoos. 1987. Zoar/SST Records: 128.

Elliott Sharp: mirage, voice, bass, pantar, guitar, saxophone, drum computer
Chirstoph Anders: voice, mirage
David Fulton: electronic drums
Paul Garrin: pat, rewinds
Christian Marclay: turntables
Jane Tomkiewicz: bender, clay drum

If there's a part of me that is capable of nostalgia, this is one of the discs it reaches for. I've lived with this music for a long time and it continues to be repulsive in all the right ways. Short, detail-rich studio creations that often include deliciously uncomfortable vocals in a music that targets its commentary on televangelists, consumerism and the shallowest depths of American society with blistering criticism. A theme that would be picked up with even greater effectiveness in two "sequel" albums. But for these ears, the sneering voice of the title track at the onset of this listening experience is where it all begins. One of many under appreciated gems in the prolific and thorny catalog of Elliott Sharp.

Terry Riley: piano in 5-limit Just Intonation in C#

This one is another nod toward nostalgia and a substantial piano composition that has supplied a soundtrack for much of my life. Harmony plays a starring role in this music as the startling diversity of intervals within a justly tuned diatonicism reveals a depth of tonality that isn't nearly as audible in equal temperament. Then there is the composition and generous helpings of Terry Riley's under-credited ability for improvisation. Terry Riley plays the role of story teller and shaman as he unfolds an elaborate narrative through abstraction. All of which comes together into a long-form solo work with incredible beauty for those who pause long enough to drink it in.

Jon Irabagon: alto saxophone
Mary Halvorson: guitar
Ches Smith: drums

Saturn Sings is an ideal collision of so many worlds. Thorny, unpredictable compositions rendered audible by the aggressively creative spirits of these five musicians. Realizing a music that plumbs the extremes of order and chaos by filling up the sonic texture with a density that leaves plenty of room for individual navigation. Mary Halvorson has cut her teeth under the tutelage of Anthony Braxton and absorbed many of his best approaches toward improvisation and composition along the way. But this music also taps into a completely different energy that is entirely hers. There's a fiercely independent quality to this sound that allows one to hear deep into the heads of these players while also admiring the tight structure of these charts. All of this adds up to one impressive recording that stubbornly grabs at one's consciousness and dares it to follow the twists and turns of this logical and free music. Ches Smith is a real presence on the drum kit on this one as well. Highly recommended. Savor this.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Stompin' at the Savoy

KLANG: Other Doors. 2011. Allos Documents: 006.

James Falzone: clarinet
Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone
Tim Daisy: drums
Josh Berman: cornet
with guests-
Jeb Bishop: trombone
Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello, electronics

The connection between KLANG and the music of Benny Goodman is both direct and sophisticated. This is no slavish recreation of the music of Benny Goodman, even if there are a few Goodman tunes represented (their take on "Stompin' at the Savoy" is a knockout). The clarinet is well represented here, but the sound is clearly Falzone's. Which makes this an excellent showcase of his well developed voice on the instrument.
The Falzone originals draw their inspiration from the music of Goodman with a contemporary take on their source. Each piece clocking in at around five minutes or less, this ensemble operates squarely within the form and durations of the Goodman era. And this music swings in all the best possible ways. The real attraction to this recording is the ensemble sound of these great musicians. The sequence of clarinet solo melting into a quartet sound followed by mixing in the guest performers before returning to solo clarinet makes for a recording that won't be wearing out its welcome anytime soon. Their interpretation of "Memories of You" with Fred Lonberg-Holm is beautiful and addictive. Highly recommended.

Brad Jones: acoustic bass, electric bass, lead vocals, backing vocals
Abe Fogle: drums, percussion, backing vocals
Jeff Lawrence: keyboards, backing vocals
Bob Debellis: alto saxophone, flute
DK Dyson: lead vocals, backing vocals
Beans: lead vocals
Curtis Fowlkes: trombone

There's no questioning the bona fides of Brad Jones as one of the great bass players on the New York scene. His track record working with the likes of Dave Douglas or the Jazz Passengers speaks for itself. And this band is packed with the kind of aggressive, smokin' musicians one can only find in New York City. While this disc does have moments of greatness, it also has several spots that haven't aged well. Tracks like "3 Guesses" are great. The bass solo on "Pocket Prayer 1 (Birth)" that opens this disc is a high point. But then there is the mixed bag of the vocal pieces that veer into an uncomfortable territory between smooth jazz and rap. And there are some cringe-worthy sections that sound like a late night talk show host may step in and cut them off to deliver a mid-week monologue. This one is a disc that overflows with musicianship that hits a range of musical styles. Some of them timeless, some of them dated.

Lina Allemano: trumpet
Brodie West: alto saxophone
Andrew Downing: double bass

The comparisons between Lina Allemano and Don Cherry are inevitable. Both share the same instrument and the Alemano Four play in the same free jazz tradition that Don Cherry blazed with the Ornette Coleman Quartet. While that comparison is largely positive - born out of a love for the music Don Cherry gave us all - Lina Allemano is her own musician and on Jargon she is following her own, compelling muse. Her partners in crime on this recording are tuned into that same muse as they bring a near-harmolodic precision to the waxing and waning of complementary lines. The result is stunning in an unassuming way. Jargon builds nicely on a tradition that understandably continues to inspire.

Monday, November 14, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Of Love for Eurydice and Maryam

Andrew Violette: Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin. 2008. Innova: 711.

The focus on this double-disc set of solo violin music is the melodic line. The melodic line and how it develops, is constructed, deconstructed and the multitude of variations on a line. Robert Uchida gets full credit for breathing life into these works as he brings his flawless attention span to the long form of this music and adds his own interpretation on the phrasings and dynamics. This is music that subsists (and makes reference to multiple historical points) within a narrow range of parameters. Andrew Violette does not make use of pizzicato. Nor does he notate rests. Listening to this music for two hours reveals the quality of solo music devoid of silence (contextual or otherwise). It feels like these ideas only come up for air between movements. Once set in motion, this is a long sequence of bowed ideas that touch upon scales, trills and the occasional double stop. It's a beautiful - if not particularly varied - sound.

Eric Brenner: soprano
Liz Filos: alto
Toby Twining: baritone/alto

These ears are no stranger to the music of Toby Twining. A composer who develops highly polished vocals works for his own Toby Twinings Music Ensemble. His use of just intonation and extended vocal techniques are carefully crafted toward realizing incredibly beautiful textures. I've listened to his Chrysalid Requiem for a number of years now and I'd heard some of the Eurydice material performed at this year's Bang on a Can Marathon. And yet I was somehow completely unprepared for the devastating impact of hearing this work in its entirety. This music creates its own sonic world and then convincingly inhabits it. And it is a world entirely unlike any other with its invocation of the underworld of the Eurydice story. Composed for the Sarah Ruhl play Eurydice, this music drapes softly along the narrative of this retelling of the Greek myth. This ensemble of voices and cello features some outstanding writing and a sharp ear for the sounds each member is capable of. All the rich detail within these composition never overwhelms the sound. And it's that sound that pulls the ears into the underworld of Eurydice and Orpheus, telling the story and the feeling of love and loss along the way. This is an outstanding work lovingly realized that cannot be listened to only once. A happy addition to the rotation.

Jim Pepper: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone
Bill Frisell: electric guitar
Paul Motian: drums

This one is pleasant listening on all fronts. There's the classic Bill Frisell sound running throughout (even if my ears keep itching to have him front and center). The saxophone solos from Jim Pepper and Joe Lovano are smokin'. The rhythm section is one of the best. And at the heart of this set are these unassuming compositions by Paul Motian. Much of what makes him such a durable, well traveled drummer is present in the music he creates. Understated and composed with generous space for the top line collaborators in his band. The title track, "The Story of Maryam," in particular has a warmth to it that can't be missed. Well worth the remastering that brings this great record back to hear where these players came from.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Music of Pairs

Rene Lussier/Martin Tetreault: Dur Noyau Dur. 1997. Ambiances Magnetiques Etcetera: AM 057 CD.

Rene Lussier: acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Martin Tetreault: turntables, pick-up, radio

Lussier and Tetreault work with the raw materials of electricity and sound. Placing the listener at the unusual position of being extremely close to the point where the needle meets the vinyl, where the fingertips scrape guitar strings or at the exact position where electricity is converted into bursts of noise and sound. Dur Noyau Dur does retain fleeting moments of Rene Lussier's fantastical flights. But they are less geared toward sliding references toward other musics and more contained within the moment of these brief improvisations. The focus turned toward the energy and other-wordly atmosphere of these sonic materials. It's an uncompromising record that demands a great deal from the listener. With the result of taking the attentive ears into deeply unfamiliar territories.

24 Preludes In Quarter-Tone System by Ivan Wyschnegradsky (excerpts)

Three Quarter-Tone Pieces For Two Pianos by Charles Ives

Etude sur le "Carre Magique Sonore" op. 40 by Ivan Wyschnegradsky

The Russian mystic and the iconic American maverick composer are performed together under the shared distinction of having written piano music featuring the interval of the twenty-fourth-root of two. The interval that divides the semitone in half to form the quarter-tone. Beyond the timbre of the piano and the doubling of harmonic resources these two composers are strikingly different. Ivan Wyschnegradsky's quarter-tone piano pieces sound like something Scriabin might have explored had he gone down this particular harmonic path. While Charles Ives retains the balance of awe and Americana that makes him one of the great composers of any era. Hearing the multiple worlds and melodic references of Ives run through the twin blades of his relentlessly creative energy and the 24-tone equal temperament makes this collection more than worth hearing. One can only imagine what these two composers might have done if they had access to better technology for realizing even more inventive harmonic constructions.

Daniel Levin: cello
Tim Daisy: percussion

Daniel Levin and Tim Daisy each work within an expansive sensibility respective to their instruments. Ready to switch up the timbral qualities of the moment in a manner that balances the reactive and the pro-active aspects of duo improvisation. Daisy's drumming takes on a particular urgency in this set as he alludes to, plays within or provides a parallel sense of time with plenty of fractured subdivisions of the organic pulse at hand. Daniel Levin's cello work takes this temporal material and stitches in his own contribution into the overall texture. The ears can almost sense the elasticity of this musical fabric as these master improvisers apply their push and pull to the elusive instant when they create this sound. There are many great duo recordings that feature great musicians at work such as this one. But this disc comes highly recommended as one of the more relentlessly listenable sets you're likely to find.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Ensemble Dal Niente: From Professor Bad Trip to Sounds Seek People

My column on Ensemble Dal Niente's first two concerts of the season is located here. It's where I tackle the monolithic piece that is Fausto Romitelli's Professor Bad Trip.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Mappings and Tunings

Elliott Sharp: K!L!A!V! 1990. Newport Classic: NPD 85504.

Anthony Coleman: toy piano, yamaha organ
Wayne Horvitz: yamaha dx-7, dx-100
Zeena Parkins: korg organ, yamaha dx-100
Joseph Paul Taylor: akai s9000 sampler, yamaha dx-7
Gwen Toth: reed organ
David Weinstein: mirage
sampler, cz101

Elliott Sharp: atari 1040st computer, roland s330 sampler, piano
Twenty Below for various instruments
K!L!A!V! for computer and sampler
Mapping for solo piano

A slice of Elliott Sharp's "ir/rational" compositions segmented by his composed works for keyboards. There is not a lot of Sharp keyboard music, so this collection may be "complete" in that sense. The structural underpinnings of "ir/rational" music emerges with a startling clarity here. Twenty Below is a fun piece that shows its age timbrally. K!L!A!V! is startling in its attractive, sparkling textures of detuned piano samples worked through a sequencer. Sharp's later works along this vein tend to focus more on digital manipulations that obscure the source timbre while this older piece retains a sense of harmonic order and treats its raw materials as more of an instrument (as opposed to an exercise in sound design). It's a better piece than I'd remembered it being. One of the rewards of going back to these older recordings. Mapping features Elliott Sharp applying his guitar techniques and sensibilities to the acoustic piano. Hammering furiously at the low end of the instrument's register to force out a cascading wall of harmonics. It's a piece that practically begs non-guitarists to take it on and make it their own.

Rhythmicon I by Carter Scholz
John Schneider: 17 justly tuned guitars

Scenes from Nek Chand by Lou Harrison
Tandy's Tago by Lou Harrison
Cinna by Lou Harrison
Palace Music by Lou Harrison
Plaint & Variations on 'Song of Palestine' by Lou Harrison
Serenado por Gitaro by Lou Harrison
John Schneider: national steel guitar

Letter from Hobo Pablo by Harry Partch
John Schneider: voice, adapted guitar I
Rebekah Raff: kithara

December 1942 by Harry Partch
John Schneider: voice, adapted guitar I

Three Intrusions by Harry Partch
John Schneider: voice, adapted guitar II
Gene Sterlins: diamond marimba

Harp of New Albion by Terry Riley
John Schneider: guitar in just intonation

Lament by John Schneider
John Schneider: guitar in just intonation

My ears bring more than a passing familiarity with many of these works. Steeped in the sounds of just intonation, this disc touches upon many of the significant proponents and practitioners of a tuning system that is both ancient and refreshingly new. I find the guitar arrangement of the two movements of Harp of New Albion (a piece originally composed and performed by Terry Riley on a piano tuned to just intonation) to be a complete knockout in this collection. The vocal intonations of the Partch pieces (especially Letter from Hobo Pablo) are spooky in their fidelity to Partch's voice on his own recordings of these works. The fact that Harry Partch was an underrated guitarists lends a particular interest to an interpretation to such a dedicated instrumentalist with a grounded understanding of both the theory and the music. The Lou Harrison pieces are exquisite (as his music often is). This is a great collection for getting the sound of pure intervals into one's ear and a much needed documentation of this incredible body of music.

Kevin Crabb: composer, drums
Kelly Jefferson: saxophone

Each member of this quartet plays inside this music. And I mean deep inside. There isn't one element of this set that isn't realized as a cohesive group. Each one of these musicians is clearly cut from a monk-like devotion to jazz music that yields tight performances like this. The fact that these are all Kevin Crabb originals - as opposed to jazz standards - gives this set its luster. The prominence of the cymbals in the mix is the only hint that the drummer is the leader of this ensemble. Tight playing, tight compositions and nearly flawless execution along all musical fronts. If anything, the studio-centric approach to this recording leads to abbreviated solos that could stand to stretch out much longer (as one would imagine happening in a live setting). This one is admittedly more "inside" and "safe" than these ears normally tread, but I have to admire the musicianship on display on this recording.