Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hearing Voices

Continuum: Finding Voice
October 12, 2012
The Music Gallery
Toronto, Ontario

Christopher ButterfieldMusic for Klein and Beuys (1987)
Anne Thompson: bass recorder
Carol Lynn Fujino: violin
Paul Rogers: bass
Laurent Philippe: melodica
Rob MacDonald: banjitar
Sanya Eng: harp
Ryan Scott: percussion

Nikolai Korndorf: Cazone Triste (1999)
Sanya Eng: harp

Linda C. Smith: Brush Line (2004)
Anne Thompson: flute
Max Christie: clarinet
Carol Lynn Fujino: violin
Paul Widner: cello
Laurent Philippe: piano
Ryan Scott: percussion
Marion Newman: mezzo-soprano
Brian Current: conductor

Martijn Voorvelt: Frederick's Doctor (2012)
Christopher Mayell: tenor
Anne Thompson: flute
Max Christie: clarinet
Carol Lynn Fujino: violin
Paul Widner: cello
Rob MacDonald: guitar
Sanya Eng: synthesizer

Martijn Voorvelt: Petit Air II / Fredrich's Tagebuch (1998)
Marion Newman: mezzo-soprano
Anne Thompson: flute
Rob MacDonald: guitar
Adrian Gross: mandolin
Sanya Eng: harp

The Continuum Contemporary Music ensemble started off their 2012 season with a strong voice.  Or at least a collection of strong voices that balanced out a program of music carving out a wide path of expressive territory.  Each piece was exquisitely well rehearsed and presented in a manner that allowed the ears to hear all the way inside the music.  Even as the subject material would switch from haunting beauty to complete madness.

The second half of the concert consisted of the Martijn Voorvelt pieces, presented as a continuous work of musical theater.  Continuum had spent the last week working directly with the composer to realize the drama Frederick's Doctor and their dedication to the macabre absurdity made for a flawless production of material that was often challenging and brittle.  The setting of Doctor Morell Mackenzie's often graphic accounts of the botched diagnosis and surgery upon German emperor Frederick III's laryngeal cancer were occasionally a bit hard to take. Especially given Christopher Mayell's incredible dead-pan delivery.  The sense of madness in his text could nearly be tasted in the back of my throat.  As this gave way to Marion Newman's performance of a voice robbed of its ability to communicate, the balance of humor and despair was simply delicious.  Having the flute player and mezzo-soprano delivering text in rhythmic unison was a particularly striking sonic effect.  Especially as the performance transitioned to the vocalist lip-syncing to Anne Thompson whispering through her instrument.  It was a brilliant set of pieces that won over my normal aversion to theatrics.

To my ears, the most stunning work on the program was Linda C. Smith's Brush Line.  An achingly beautiful work built out of luminous, horizontal strokes of warm sounds along a cold landscape of silence.  The constant reference to colors in the text added to the sense of sound painting with their vibrato-less delivery.

Cazone Triste is a virtuosic solo harp piece that gently gives way to song.  Sanya Eng's voice eventually shifting into the foreground as she plays to reveal a beautiful sound.  The simplicity of her voice balanced well against the confidence of her playing.

The opening work, Music for Klein and Beuys by Christopher Butterfield, set the whimsical-yet-serious tone that anticipated the Martijn Voorvelt experience of the second half.  The combination of bass recorder, melodica and banjitar with a percussion part the often consisted of tearing and wadding up newsprint never took on a sense of gimmick as the musical textures proved to be substantive.  Written as a memorial to Yves Klein and Josef Beuys, it is a wonderfully unpretentious and warm piece of art music.

Overall, there aren't enough superlatives to lavish upon an evening such as this.  An inspired sequence of great pieces of music performed well.  Continuum has set high expectations for the season that follows this concert.

Monday, October 22, 2012

HurdAudio Rotation: The Long View

Annie Gosfield: Flying Sparks and Heavy Machinery. 2001. Tzadik: TZ 7069.

EWA7 (1999)

Annie Gosfield: sampling keyboard
Roger Kleier: electric guitar
Ikue Mori: electronics
Jim Pugliese: drums, percussion
Sim Cain: drums, percussion
Hans-Gunter Brodmann: metal factory percussion
Matthias Rosenbauer: metal factory percussion

Flying Sparks and Heavy Machinery (2000)

Flux Quartet
Tom Chiu: violin
Cornelius Dufallo: violin
Kenji Bunch: viola
Darrett: Adkins: cello

Talujon Percussion Quartet
Michael Lipsey: percussion
Dominic Donato: percussion
Tom Kolor: percussion
Jim Pugliese: percussion

Annie Gosfield has a stylistic sensibility that cannot be described without sounding like less than the stunning results she achieves through her music.  As a composer who collects samples to build a big part of her sonic pallet (performing many of these samples herself as part of the ensemble) she is hardly treading into revolutionary territory.  Yet the musicality of her pieces is astonishing and way ahead of so many who have worked with similar materials.  Her craft is the kind of music that these ears have craved.  Realizing the potential rarely found by so many armed with samplers and an idea for integrating real world sounds into music.  Her pieces are music first, never outstripped by their concept, execution and intention.

Both of the pieces on this disc focus on the sonic matter of factory sounds.  Steering clear of the theme of "dehumanization" of factory work and machinery, it instead brings a wide open ear to the beauty inherent in the sonic materials of industrial scale mechanics.  Sounds that reveal a deeper humanity within sonic materials revealed by percussionists and recordists alike.  EWA 7 builds upon a shifting symbiotic relationship between sampled materials and live players with an all-encompassing sense of groove and texture.  All of which makes excellent use of the materials and the players at hand in its realization.  Flying Sparks and Heavy Machinery then takes this same textural and inspirational content and applies it to composed music.  Peeling away a layer of abstraction just below the sampled textures found in EWA 7.  Taken together, these two pieces form two halves a singular sonic vision and a startling sense of what is possible when wide open ears and blistering intelligence are brought to bear upon the tools of sampling technology and compositional prowess.  Highly recommended.

Fantastic Merlins: Look Around. 2007. Innova: 670.

Nathan Hanson: tenor saxophone, electronics
Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan: cello, electronics
Brian Roessler: bass
Federico Ughi: drums

The music of the Fantastic Merlins is informed by many influences and sources.  My ears can hear the gentle tug of fellow Minnesota resident George Cartwright's angular compositions and early Curlew sounds.  Much of this is reinforced by the cello and saxophone arrangements.  But there are also passing references to a full body of jazz history and grounded feeling for a world of musics.  The slower tempo tracks finding expressive force through long phrases that exhale through harmonic terrain.  Faster tempos touching briefly upon ostinato patterns and groove before dissolving into a sophisticated sense of texture.  One can even hear the bitter cold winters of Minneapolis and the undercurrents found in the music of The Bad Plus.  Not every shifting passage leaves a lasting impression, but it does leave an itch to hear Look Around again.  

Marty Ehrlich: The Long View. 2002. Enja: 9452-2.

Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, bass clarinet
Sam Furnace: alto saxophone, flute
Ned Rothenberg: alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Robert Debellis: tenor saxophone, clarinet
JD Parran: tenor saxophone, contrabass clarinet
Andy Laster: baritone saxophone, clarinet
Eddie Allen: trumpet
James Zollar: trumpet
John Clark: french horn
Clark Gayton: trombone
Marcus Rojas: tuba
Mark Dresser: bass
Michael Sarin: drums
Mark Helias: conductor, bass
Mark Feldman: violin
Ralph Farris: viola
Erik Friedlander: cello
Eddie Bobe: bongos, cowbell
Bobby Previte: drums, bass drum, tambourine
Wayne Horvitz: piano
Ray Anderson: trombone
Pheeroan AkLaff: drums

This disc was a "must have" just on the strength of the personnel included in these sessions.  The fact that this is a multi-movement work for shifting ensembles composed by Marty Ehrlich and realized by this all-star ensemble makes this one a long-running favorite in the rotation.  The fourth movement in particular is pure bliss with its Wayne Horvitz introduction leading into a brilliant quartet performance from Ehrlich, Horvitz, Dresser and Previte.  The rockin' Marcus Rojas tuba introduction for the fifth movement is another highlight. As is the Eddie Allen trumpet solo in the first and the soprano saxophone plus strings, drums and percussion second movement.  It's a "must hear."  Long form jazz compositions rarely get such aggressively solid realizations as this and the musical material gives these players plenty to dig into.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

HurdAudio Rotation: To Say Your Name

Ornette Coleman: Beauty is a Rare Thing [disc 2]. 1993. Atlantic Recording Corp: 1-56826-275-2.

Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone
Don Cherry: pocket trumpet
Charlie Haden: bass
Billy Higgins: drums
Ed Blackwell: drums

One of the main things this box set gets right is the music.  The electricity between these players still leaps out from the speakers through the decades providing more than enough substance to inspire the free improviser.  Beyond the obvious chemistry is the incredible balance between individuals of remarkably equal force.  Disc 2 opens with "The Face of the Bass" with its intoxicating exposure of Charlie Haden's brilliant bass work.  Followed up by moments of awe for Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman.  Billy Higgins remains a harmolodic obsession, hearing how he carves through the same loose grooves traveled by his musical conspirators.

As an additional dimension to this music (that continues to be "The Shape of Jazz to Come") are these Ornette Coleman heads.  Compositions that have grown into familiar entities that have inspired other versions performed by various players in my personal collection.  "Ramblin'" has taken on a life of its own and the reason for that is abundantly clear on this take.  "I Heard It Over The Radio," a track previously unreleased before this complete Atlantic Recordings collection, has been given an inspired interpretation by Paul Plimley.  And so many other tunes that have become companions in my head (I often hear "Kaleidoscope" or "The Tribes of New York" in my head while commuting to the day job).  Beauty is no rare thing on any disc from this set, and today's disc is a jolt from a deeply creative period from one of Jazz's greats.

Thomas Chapin: Alive [disc 1] - Third Force. 1999. Knitting Factory Records: 35828 02482 2.

Thomas Chapin: saxophones
Mario Pavone: bass
Steve Johns: drums

The spark that catches and sets a sound aflame through Thomas Chapin's preferred medium of the trio is clearly audible on this set.  The kinetic energy realized by a saxophonist with a deep grasp of jazz roots applying his trade to a deft balance of groove, jam and melodic inventiveness.  The explosive quality of these live takes of pieces that would come to define the fleeting Knitting Factory scene of the 1990s.  And not lost on these ears is the forceful quality of his flute playing.  This cat could jam hard, rock out and still navigate his way through linear, melodic development.  Being a multi-instrumentalist with this much talent is almost showing off.

Sadly, Chapin falls on the unfortunate list of jazzmen lost far too soon, leaving behind the agonizing questions about how much the course of improvised music would have been altered had his career followed along the trajectory left behind on recording such as these.  There is also the real celebration of the vibrations captured for posterity.  This is a music that retains so much of its edge and pieces like "Ahab's Leg" or "Iddly" are hard to forget when they've been experienced like this.  Alive is a significant documentation of something significant that the ears seek to hold on to.

Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: One Dance Alone. 2008. Songlines: SA1571-2.

Wayne Horvitz: piano
Peggy Lee: cello
Ron Miles: cornet
Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon

This one is the second of two releases featuring the understated, detail-rich chamber jazz compositions of Wayne Horvitz.  The brush strokes of these restrained gems colored both by the instrumentation and the improvisation-friendly personalities brought into this project.  Making Gravitas Quartet one of the rare blends of jazz and classical traditions that soars without giving short shift to either side of the equation.  One Dance Alone is held together by interspersing the three movements of "July" (in reverse order) between contrasting compositions.  "July" being a deliciously abstract study in sparse textures that reveal the layer of Horvtiz pathos that exists at the core of his compositional output.  The remaining tracks feature a waltz, a focus on melodic material and brilliant textures (particularly for Ron Miles to play over) that make a strong case for Wayne Horvitz's ability to realize compact, song-like forms by getting all the individual elements of his ideas polished to a pristine shine.