Wednesday, March 30, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Anomalous Soul

Herbie Hancock: Empyrean Isles. 1964 (1998 Rudy Van Gelder Edition). Blue Note Records: 7243-4-98796-2-1.

Herbie Hancock: piano
Freddie Hubbard: cornet
Ron Carter: bass
Tony Williams: drums

If the qualities of this Blue Note classic could be bottled up and drunk like champagne then we would all be living on Empyrean Isles. This one is a real high point creatively for Herbie Hancock. Especially the formally ambiguous "The Egg" with its evolutionary meanderings. Then there are the hook-heavy grooves of "Cantaloupe Island" and "One Finger Snap" drawing the ears toward the intoxicating effects of this energy. It's a little disappointing that too many of these tracks simply fade out - an artificial, studio driven device - rather than unfolding these layered patterns toward a more organic ending. But the quality of these compositions and top-form solos more than make up for that unfortunate decision. This remains one of the records that justifies enthusiasm for Herbie Hancock and any one of his partners in crime from this session.

Michael Moore Trio: Chicoutimi. 1993. Ramboy: 06.

Michael Moore: clarinet
Fred Hersch: piano
Mark Helias: bass

This disc continues to be a pleasant surprise each time it cycles back around in the rotation. As a quiet, understated outing it leaves an increasing impression each time it catches the ears off guard with its outstanding interplay and unerring sense of melodic material. Each player is stretching out in spite of the incredible restraint that forms the foundation of this sound. The brevity of each piece allows for complete gems to form without overstating or over-developing each thematic turn. And this brevity always feels exactly proportional as the set of sixteen pieces forms a complete whole. This is how great musicians show off without being showy.

James Tenney/The Barton Workshop: Spectrum Pieces. 2009. New World Records: 80692-2.

The Barton Workshop
James Fulkerson: co-director
Frank Denyer: co-director
Jos Zwaanenburg: flute, bass flute
Ned McGowan: flute, bass flute
Eduardo Olloqui: oboe
Alexander van Eerdewyk: cor anglais
John Anderson: clarinet, bass clarinet
Ymke Broers: also saxophone
Krijn van Arnhem: bassoon
James Aylward: bassoon
Joeri de Vente: horn
Emmanouil Ventouras: horn
Reijer Dorresteijn: trumpet
Gertjan Loot: trumpet
Koen Kaptijn: trombone
Arne Visser: tuba
Tobias Liebezeit: percussion
Paula Chico Martinez: percussion
Frank Denyer: piano
Nora Mulder: piano
Mirjam Rietberg: harp
Martin Kaaij: guitar
Marieke Keser: violin
Boris M. Visser: violin
Max Knigge: viola
Manuel Visser: viola
Anne Magda de Geus: cello
Stefan Pliquett: bass

Spectrum 1 (1995) - violin, trumpet, bass clarinet, 2 percussion, piano, bass
Spectrum 2 (1995) - flute, cor anglais, clarinet, bassoon, horn
Spectrum 3 (1995) - chamber orchestra
Spectrum 4 (1995) - violin, alto recorder, vibraphone, guitar, piano, bass clarinet, trombone, bass
Spectrum 5 (1995) - flute, oboe, bass clarinet, bassoon, vibraphone/percussion, harp, piano, viola
Spectrum 6 (2001) - flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, cello
Spectrum 7 (2001) - flute, cello, piano, and tape delay system
Spectrum 8 (2001) - viola obbligato and flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, cello

These late works of James Tenney are a revelation. My ears came into these pieces with the expectation of his earlier works exploring the harmonic series: Saxony, Septet for Electric Guitars and Spectral Canon for Conlon Nancarrow. Works that methodically unfold the harmonic frequencies of the harmonic series into a shimmering aural image of psycho acoustic beauty. These Spectrum pieces are startling in the shift away from emphasizing the strong tonal harmonies of the lower partials of the series and hover within a surprisingly rich territory within a field of tones within the series. The use of computer assisted algorithmic technique allows for Tenney to step back from this sound as its composer and gently guide the fabric of acoustic phenomena. Revealing that the harmonic series as compositional inspiration is not limited to a singular sonic fingerprint. The reinforcing just intervals offering up an image of both stasis and movement. This is some profoundly beautiful chamber music.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Samplings from Toronto, Seattle and Montreal

NOJO (Neufeld - Ochipinti Jazz Orchestra) with Don Byron and Hugh Marsh: Highwire. 2002. Auracle Records: TND 273.

Don Byron: clarinet, bass clarinetLinkHugh Marsh: violin
Ernie Tollar: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, clarinet, flute
Dan Bone: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Andy Ballantyne: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet
Patricia Wheeler: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet
Sean O'Connor: baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Jason Logue: trumpet
Kevin Turcotte: trumpet
Lina Allemano: trumpet
Stephen Donald: trombone
Don Laws: trombone
Scott Suttie: bass trombone
Doug Burrell: tuba
Rob Lutton: bass
Barry Romberg: drums, hand drums, shakers
Michael Occhipinti: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mando-banjo percussion, conductor
Paul Neufeld: piano, synthesizer, hammond organ, wurlitzer electric piano, melodica, prepared piano

Circling back to get this gem into the rotation was a deliberate move on my part. This is music that I've been living with for a few years now and I'll take any excuse to put it on and make the air vibrant with its many layers of textured grooves and whimsical turns. Highwire is both a forceful and gentle reminder of just what kind of range big band writing can have in the post-bop era. Beyond the potential sub-groupings within a large ensemble, this is a music that takes multiple, surprising directions while fearlessly touching upon grooves of any flavor. Adding the veteran chops of Don Byron and Hugh Marsh simply adds yet another layer to a collection rich with creative solos. Ultimately, it's the quality of the writing that shines on this disc. A good place to start if your ears are not yet aware of the creative vibrations of the Toronto music scene.

Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet: Husky. 2006. Hyena Records: HYN 9348.

Skerik: tenor saxophone
Craig Flory: baritone saxophone, clarinet
Hans Teuber: alto saxophone, flute
Steve Moore: trombone, wurlitzer
Joe Doria: hammond organ
Dave Carter: trumpet
John Wicks: drums
Isalee Teuber: guest vocals

Skerik never allows musical substance to get in the way of a good time. Even the most clever horn arrangement gets folded into the all important groove. And the groove pallet encompasses all from laid back soul to aggressive beats that trend toward metal. Sitting within this tasty mix - and well in the pocket - are these vintage keyboard sounds of Hammond and Wurlitzer. They sound good. Vintage spun from new grapes. This is the Seattle sound and Skerik is no mere cog within that rhythm-laced noise.

Marianne Trudel Quintet: Sands of Time. 2007. Marianne Trudel: TRUD 2007-1.

Marianne Trudel: piano, composition
Rob Mosher: soprano saxophone, soprano saxophone, oboe
Jonathan Stewart: tenor saxophone
Morgan Moore: doublebass
Robbie Kuster: drums

Marianne Trudel applies the same intensity toward lyricism that Skerik does for rhythm. Where Skerik's Syncopated Taint lays down a groove designed to rip one's face off, Trudel accomplishes the same aim through erosion. Focal melodic lines are woven through out this mixture of solo, trio, quartet and quintet settings with more than a few strong nods toward the music of Keith Jarrett. Yet the particulars of this particular voice is Trudel's own. A sensibility bubbling up from the Montreal music scene.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: The Lucky Hum

Jenny Scheinman: Shalagaster. 2004. Tzadik: TZ 7709.
Jenny Scheinman: violin
Myra Melford: piano, harmonium
Russ Johnson: trumpet
Trevor Dunn: bass
Kenny Wollesen: drums

Aggressive, downtown musicianship applied to a hybrid of folk music and jazz. The result achieves that rare balance of simplicity and sophistication. This is what happens when the effusive, improvisatory energies of some of the best players goes toward a music that keeps a strong melodic focus. An exquisite record with more than a few jaw dropping Myra Melford solos. This is a great ensemble. Highly recommended.

Matana Roberts: Lines for Lacy: Ellington/Staryhorn for Solo Saxophone. 2007. Limited edition CD-R.

Matana Roberts: alto saxophone

With the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn as grounding melodic landscape, Matana Roberts swims from within this music with a fluid sense of improvisational purpose. The dedication of this live solo set to the soprano saxophone great Steve Lacy adds yet another vibrant dimension of passion to this performance. Matana Roberts sustains her unaccompanied presence by drawing upon a deep reservoir of personal love - a love devoid of any crass, commercial sense of the word - to play well within the living, breathing interior of this material. Acting as a flexing, connective tissue between a lineage of jazz that clearly includes this outstanding alto saxophonist.

Kenny Dorham: Trompeta Toccata. 1964 (2006 Rudy Van Gelder remaster). Blue Note Records: 0946-3-62635-2-6.

Kenny Dorham: trumpet
Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone
Tommy Flanagan: piano
Richard Davis: bass
Albert Heath: drums

Jazz has seen more than its fair share of artists deserving more enthusiastic recognition. And it's the divine craftsmen like Kenny Dorham that are especially under-celebrated. Dorham was one of the hard bop era's most consistently great arrangers and soloists with an introspective bent. Even the trumpet showcase title track "Trompeta Toccata" displays a thinking man's approach to showing off one's chops. That such an amazing record could spend so much time under the radar - I mean Joe Henderson was his sideman on this session for crying out loud - is difficult to ponder. But an all to familiar part of so many jazz careers. There is plenty of material here in this short set to fuel new ideas and directions for current jazz artists even a half century after it was recorded. In short, this is one of the classic Blue Notes deserving of many more ears.

Monday, March 07, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Evolutionary Biology Determining The Possibility of Its Own Conceptualization

Muzsikas: The Bartok Album. 1999. Rykodisc: HNCD 1439.

Peter Eri: viola, guitar, percussion, flute
Daniel Hamar: bass, small cimbalom, gardon, percussion
Laszlo Porteleki: violin
Mihaly Sipos: violin
with guests -
Marta Sebestyen: vocals
Alexander Balanescu: violin
Janos Kovacs: tambura
Zoltan Juhasz: long flute
Marton Eri: cello
Zoltan Porteleki: cimbalom
Zoltan Farkas: gardon, drums, dance
Ildiko Toth: dance

I guided journey through the Hungarian folk music that inspired Bela Bartok with an ear for the roots of a rich cultural sound. With a mix of traditional arrangements, original phonograph recordings and Bartok compositions based upon these materials the ears are afforded a glimpse into the infectious qualities that captured the great composer's attention and passions. Muzsikas brings a high level of musicianship to this project that infuses this collection with a vitality that makes this collection far more than a curiosity.

Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 2. 2007. Okka Disk: OD12068.

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

Observing the occasion of Peter Brötzmann's seventieth birthday with a dosage of one of his outstanding large ensembles. It is exactly this kind of trans-Atlantic collaboration that has given the Chicago improvised music scene a noticeable vitality (as I observed earlier today at Ken Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble performing at the Chicago Cultural Center). Jagged and beautiful. Yet constantly guided by the ears and collaborative dialogue of this great ensemble. The sound spun for American Landscapes 2 paints a thick landscape in a single movement expression. Not unlike the Peter Brötzmann painting found on the cover. It builds as a steady crescendo of barely controlled energy before giving way to desolate textures. An expansive free improvisation built out of dissonance and a multiplicity of moving parts and an unerring sense of sonic integrity.

John Berndt: The Private Language Problem: New Electro-Acoustic Compositions, 2001-2007. 2008. Sort Of Records: 021.

R. John Berndt: electronics, compositions, performances

Each piece on The Private Language Problem carves out its own timbral space. Then derives its energy from within the narrow, compositionally chosen confines of its limited timbral range. Often with the implicit intention of triggering an altered state of consciousness in the listener. Dry achieves this as a steady state, ergodic texture of sine tones derived from a set of frequencies found in a field recording of a fire. Older Now builds a sonically different ergodicity with guitar as the input for a spectrally altered delay signal. While each piece operates within a well defined timbral zone, they vary enormously from piece to piece. Vacillating widely between acoustically rich and electronically primitive tones. Each one throwing out anchors toward a previously unknown shore. John Berndt taps into a modified dream state that skitters along the border between wakefulness and deep sleep.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: The Necessary Impossibility of Determinism

Laurie Anderson: Life On A String. 2001. Nonesuch Records: 79539-2.

Laurie Anderson: vocals, keyboard, violins
Tom Nelis: vocals
John Kelly: background vocal
Joey Baron: percussion, drums
Chris Speed: saxophone
Cuong Vu: trumpet
Skuli Sverrisson: bass, little organ, percussion programming, high bass, sounds
David Torn: open loop
Greg Cohen: acoustic bass
Danny Frankel: percussion, hand claps, box-o-toys
Mino Cinelu: percussion
Eyvind Kang: violin
Erik Friedlander: cello
Mitchell Froom: keyboards, claviola, mellotron, wurlitzer
Liheng: baritone banhu
Peter Scherer: keyboard, percussion
Jamshied Sharifi: additional keyboards, strings
Hal Willner: turntables, samples
Van Dyke Parks: string arrangements, conductor, keyboards
Ann Leathers, Carol Webb, Jan Mullen, Jonathan Dinklage, Ricky Sortomme, Joel Pitchon, Ellen Payne, Barry Finclair, Enrico DiCecco, Heidi Modr, Jean Ingram: violin
Sue Pray, Karen Dreyfus, Vincent Lionti, Judith Wilmer: viola
Fredrick Zlotkin, Jeanne LeBlanc: cello
Timothy Cobb: bass
Jill Dell'Abate: orchestra contractor
Elena Barere: concert master
Dwight Mikkelsen: copyist
Bill Frisell: guiter
Ben Rubin: bells
Mocean Worker: beats, keyboard
Lou Reed: guitar
Martin Brumbach: percussion arrangement
Vinicius Cantuaria: percussion

This particular Laurie Anderson collection - a "concept album" in its own right - has long been an aural fascination for these ears. So much of the Laurie Anderson language is present; the odd pauses in mid sentence, the down turn at the end of phrases, the unpredictable turns within an altered song form, and the sense of poetry and story telling swimming within each song. It's an approach that has yielded mixed results over a long career. From frequently excellent to sometimes puzzling. With Life On A String, Laurie Anderson has tapped into a rich slice of New York musicians. Many of them are the best in their field (in my opinion). And it's amazing to hear how they sublimate their talent toward realizing such an unmistakeably Anderson-esque sound. Then there is an additional layer of production. A thick layer that somehow rarely obscures the rich qualities of these quirky pieces. This is a perfect example of how to be over-produced without sounding over-produced.

The Flying Luttenbachers: Destroy All Music: Revisited. 2007 re-mastering of the 1994 release. UG Explode/Skin Graft Records: GR85CD/UG06.

Weasel Walter: percussion
Chad Organ: saxophones
Ken Vandermark: reeds
Jeb Bishop: bass, trombone
Dylan Posa: electric guitar

It is fitting that I now find myself inhabiting the wasteland of Chicago that the Flying Luttenbachers left behind in their wake. Though it was probably a wasteland before the Flying Luttenbachers waged their sonic warfare upon a social order that continues to sleep walk to the status quo. The sonic energies that Weasel Walter and his collaborators tapped into continues to reverberate through the late night venues of this town.

Destroy All Music was intended as a statement of my own frustration and alienation. I was angry about society, the sad state of culture, the emptimess of my wallet and the general ignorance and hypocrisy of the status quo. Not much has changed for the better! The syntax of this music is one of unmitigated dissonance and dischord. Padadoxically, balancing this ugliness has always been a furiously positive outpouring of energy that screams 'nothing can stop MY MUSIC!' In spite of the nihilist trappings, there's an underlying hope that destroying everything can somehow create a clean slate for the future to build upon. I still believe in this concept, but I'm waiting for it to happen beyond the scope of music...

- Weasel Walter, from the liner notes.

The Flying Luttenbachers specialized in revealing the significant overlap between brutality and honesty. The undeniable pull and cathartic necessity of unmitigated dissonance and dischord. Along the way this documentation of the band's activities around Chicago in 1993 and 1994 coalesced into Destroy All Music as evidence of a plateau realized within a collision of punk, jazz and noise experiments. A blistering instability captured on recording and available to inoculate one's ears and mind from the dishonest politeness of mainstream culture.

X.o.4: Cataracts. 2006. Ecstatic Peace!: E#105d - limited edition LP.

Bill Nace: guitar, sound artist
John Truscinski: drums, sound artist
Jake Meginsky: percussion, sound artist

X.0.4 is a star located approximately 956 light years from Earth in the Lynx constellation and is generally only visible through a telescope. Not unlike the sonic universe inhabited by the trio of the same name. Sound folds in upon itself into a space of quiet amplification. Progression consisting only of a natural sequence of events captured through amplification. It is a tenuous, suspended state built up from carefully controlled feedback, slight excitations of guitar strings pulled into the foreground of a drone texture and the undulating shifts of a harmonic/enharmonic terrain. Music that pulls the ears toward the interior of the sounding bodies and electrical signals of guitar and amplifier to reveal a space previously unrealized. Beautiful and aloof.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Empire Smashing

Doctor Nerve: Armed Observation/Out To Bomb Fresh Kings. 1991 re-release of the 1987 and 1984 recordings. Cuneiform: Rune 38X.

Nick Didkovsky: composer, guitars, tiple
Samm Bennett: percussion
Doug Brown: electric bass
Anne Brudevold: violin
Lucian Burg: saxophone
Brian Carter: drums
Don Davis: tenor saxophone
Dave Douglas: trumpet, piano
Yves Duboin: soprano saxophone
Brian Farmer: drums
Mike Leslie: electric bass
Bill Lippencott: saxophone
Joachim Litty: saxophone
Michael Lytle: bass clarinet
Steve MacLean: electric bass
James Mussen: drums
Kyle Sims: electric bass
Marc Wagnon: vibraphone, percussion, piano
Chuck Verstraeten: trombone

An unlikely mashing together of aggressive progressive rock with algorithmic hyper-technique informed by jazz and new music impulses resonating from the time continuum of the late 1980s. In other words, the reverberant soundtrack of my adolescence. It also happens to be a music that has weathered the test of time well. Serving up blasts of sonic materials in short attention span friendly doses. Doctor Nerve is still active as a band and still loudly pointing toward musical directions seldom traveled. Even though it seems like there is little this kind of heady irreverence couldn't cure.

Sylvie Courvoisier: Signs and Epigrams. 2007. Tzadik: 8033.

Sylvie Courvoisier: piano

This collection features solo piano compositions by the master improviser. The continuity between her improvisations and compositions means these pieces uniquely expose the creative choices Sylvie Courvoisier makes as a creative musician. The decisive quality of both keyboard and extended technique into a multi-dimensional, multi-timbral whole. A sense of harmony that expands and contracts between single tonal centers and an explosive freedom. The multiple moments of brilliance spread throughout this hour-long performance keeps this music engaging and particularly rewarding to the active ear. Highly recommended.

Billy Bang: Vietnam: The Aftermath. 2001. Justin Time Records: JUST 165-2.

Billy Bang: violin
Ted Daniel: trumpet
Frank Lowe: tenor saxophone
Sonny Fortune: flute
John Hicks: piano
Curtis Lundy: bass
Ron Brown: percussion
Michael Carvin: drums
Butch Morris: conductor

This record has a strong pull on multiple levels. An incredibly positive expression born out of the trials and tribulations of the Vietnam experience (an experience shared by several members of this group who served). It took Billy Bang more than thirty years before he could confront his personal demons and experiences from that war. That gestation period allowing for a maturing of ideas. The Vietnamese folk melodies recalled by bang mingle within a swing groove equally informed by the blues and conduction methodologies. The camaraderie shared between these excellent players is hard to miss. Few records deliver such a lasting and decisive blow along such an emotional and intellectual level.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Sonic Excursions

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Complete String Quartets [disc 2]. Recorded in 1989. Delos: D/CD 3032.

The Orford String Quartet
Andrew Dawes: violin
Kenneth Perkins: violin
Terence Helmer: viola
Denis Brott: cello

String Quartet in G major Op. 19 no. 2
String Quartet in B-flat major op. 130

The Beethoven Symphonies have been a wide spread obsession for a long time. But those in the know realize that his String Quartets are where it's at. Not only did Beethoven's compositional career straddle the transition between the Classical and Romantic periods, but it could be argued that he almost single handedly pushed one aesthetic into the other with his expansions upon form and idea. This is profoundly impressive music.

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost [disc 1]. 2004. Revenant Records: 213.

Herbert Katz Quintet, June 30, 1962 - Helsinki, Finland
Herbert Katz: guitar
Albert Ayler: teno
r saxophone
Teuvo Suojarvi: piano
Heikki Annala: bass
Martti Aijanen: drums

Cecil Taylor Quartet, November 16, 1962 - Copenhagen, Denmark
Cecil Taylor: piano
Jimmy Lyons: alto saxophone
Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone
Sunny Murray: drums

Albert Ayler Trio, Jun
e 14, 1964 - Cellar Cafe, New York City
Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone
Gary Peacock: bass
Sunny Murray: drums

Few discs so succinctly trace the progression of Albert Ayler as he found his voice and the role that his time performing before European audiences had in drawing his artistry out. The polite takes on the standards of "Summertime" and "On Green Dolphin Street" giving way to the thrill of Ayler's fire breathing as he scorches the Earth somewhere between his stints with the Cecil Taylor Quartet and his own trio two years later. The raw emotional energy of that sound remains a challenge and a sonic wonder that resonates through decades of free jazz. Not surprisingly, the polite interpretations of his early ears remain only a curiosity like a dam that has not yet burst.

Michael Ellison: Invocation. 2010. Innova: 766.

String Quartet #2 (2002)
Borromeo String Quartet:
Nicholas Kitchen: violin
William Fedkenheuer: violin
Mai Motobuchi-Rosenthal: viola
Yeesun Kim: cello

Invocation-Meditation-Allegro (1996)
Helen Bledsoe: flute

Elif (2003) for hafiz and chamber ensemble
Kani Karaca: voice
Ahmet Toz: ney
Onur Turkmen: ney
Hasan Tura: violin
Emil Vilenescu: bass clarinet
Jeff McAuley: cello
Michael Ellison: conductor

Michael Ellison's music is born through an immersion within multiple cultures, guided by an ear and mind sensitive to the delicate connecting tissues that bind the East and West. Inspired by Sufi music and traditions, the American academic composer has made his home in Istanbul where he teaches at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Music of Istanbul University. These pieces display a unique sensitivity and participation within multiple traditions. The extended techniques and intonation applied in
Invocation-Meditation-Allegro are grounded in Turkish traditions as opposed to more abstract constructions. This same reverence fills the monumental and substance rich String Quartet #2. Elif reveals a collaborative energy that is both haunting and brief. Overall, this is beautiful music born drawn from intense discipline and ears open to a focused cultural understanding.