Tuesday, August 27, 2013

HurdAudio Rotation: Sleepless Ghosts

Thomas Chapin: Alive [disc 3]: Insomnia. 1992. Knitting Factory Records.

If it has been a while since you gave this one a spin, do yourself a favor and go put it on right now.  This is a feast of texture that soars with the killer combination of Thomas Chapin's excellent trio of the early 1990s, Chapin's compositions and some jaw dropping horn arrangements added to the mix.  This set opens with one of Marcus Rojas' tuba solos and if that doesn't get you excited then we can't be friends anymore.  There is also the unmistakable presence of Curtis Fowlkes on trombone in yet another example of why his recorded output inspires so much awe and reverence for the music he has been involved with.  There is also Frank London on trumpet.  So this is a host of New York's heaviest hitters augmenting the chemistry of the classic Thomas Chapin, Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin trio.  The title track is just one of the Chapin originals that continue to live in my own DNA.  The brass arrangements using a mix of instruments and mouthpieces in cross-rhythmic bliss at the end of "Pantheon," the choral arrangement of tubas and flute in "Equatoria" or the rhythmic propulsion of "Coup D'Etat" are just a few of the shining moments on a varied journey through the Insomnia experience.  Fifteen years after the world lost this astonishing talent, Thomas Chapin remains very much "alive" through stellar recordings such as this one.  And this is one that reward repeated listening in a big way.

Anthony Braxton: Piano Quartet (Yoshi's) 1994 [disc 2]. 1994. Music & Arts.

I have a difficult relationship with this recording.  It starts with the fact that it is Anthony Braxton, who is a major figure in my musical world.  I regard him as a genius who has possibly ushered in more ideas, music and raw enthusiasm than any other individual in the history of music.  It's not exactly a shock that someone as prolific as Braxton would have more than a few recordings that don't exactly support how substantial he is.  This is one of those recordings.  And yet there are moments of brilliance buried within an otherwise plodding album.  Adding complexity to this impression is the outstanding contributions made by the supporting cast in this quartet.  Marty Ehrlich is fantastic throughout.  Joe Fonda and Arthur Fuller are an outstanding rhythm section.  The persistent, nagging issue here is Braxton's pianism.  There are moments where the interaction between piano and the other performers is exquisite.  But these are trace gems within a bombastic approach to the ivories couched within the language of jazz standards.  Without Braxton's accomplishments as a horn player and extraordinary composer this particular collection would not draw attention from these ears for long.  There's a fascination with hearing a genius missing the mark completely here.

Anthony Braxton: 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 [disc 1]. 2007. Firehouse 12.

Composition No. 350

On the other side of the Anthony Braxton coin, my relationship with this recording is far from difficult.  He is again surrounded by outstanding musicians (a good dozen plus one), many of them former students of the master.  And here we have a realization of one his own Ghost Trance compositions.  This one weaves a material of pulse structures over a 70-minute span, a duration that encourages and trance-like state for the attentive listener and for the improvising musician to work within.  The generous expanse leaving room for an unpredictable group sound being shaped in real time by Anthony Braxton at the helm.  The result is exquisite.  Listening to it is like taking a spectrogram of this relentlessly abstract work and wrapping one's ears in its pulsating shapes.  This entire box set is highly recommended as a clear example of Braxton's genius for group improvisation meshed with compositional structure.

Friday, August 16, 2013

HurdAudio Rotation: American Icons

Charles Ives: The Symphonies / Orchestral Sets 1 & 2. 2001. Decca: B00004TTIK

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Cleveland Orchestra
Academy of St. Martins in the Fields

Symphony No. 1
Symphony No. 4
Second Orchestral Set
Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 3
Three Places in New England

My ears were quick to tell me "it's been too long" as they drank in a concentrated helping of Ives' symphonic writing.  This truly is a cornerstone of orchestral aesthetic.  Ives had an ear for texture, for tightly weaving in a rich tapestry of Americana and the Symphony No. 4 adds an astonishing use of quarter tones smeared across multiple ensembles.  The similarities between the final movement of Symphony No. 2  and the "Putnam's Camp" movement of Three Places in New England struck a nerve on this time through.  These pieces have a sense of place even as they reach toward an impossible ideal.  The distance between the student work of Symphony No. 1 and the self-confidence of the Symphony No. 2 is astonishing.  Each one of these begs for repeated listening.

Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions [disc 5]. 1974-1975. Columbia Records.

These complete sessions are essentially a series of large jam sessions organized by Miles Davis.  The funk comes in large slabs of drums, congas and electric bass punctuated by Dave Liebman's soprano saxophone, Pete Cosey's electric guitar and smatterings of Miles Davis himself on trumpet.  The form can get fairly free and sprawling while the ears get lost in the groove.  And yet there is enormous beauty lurking in this generous expanse of material.  The start/stop textures of "What They Do" providing a nice contrast between density and individual parts for the ears this afternoon.  And the relatively short "Minnie" closing out this particular disc with a reminder of how tight Miles could make things when he wanted to.

Ornette Coleman: Beauty is a Rare Thing [disc 4]. 1959-1961. Rhino/Atlantic.

Free improvisation allows me to hear a musicians ears.  Hearing the same environment and stimulus that is feeding their own playing in the moment.  Their reactions often being a fluid balance between the internal and external sounds of a given occasion.  Free Jazz is the main attraction included on this fourth disc.  After a few tracks that sustain the raw energy of the quartet format from the first three discs of this collection we have a First Take with the Free Jazz double quartet followed by a 38-minute take on the record that helped propel an important discipline of full improvised freedom.  The collection of ears on this session is solid.  Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Scott LaFaro and Billy Higgins forming the quartet on the left channel while Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell hold down the right.  These are some impressive ears and a forceful statement that freedom can soar and freedom can swing.  Like with so much free improvisation, focused and attentive listening is enormously rewarding even if the music never explicitly demands that one pay attention.  Leaving the pleasure of hearing Free Jazz exclusively to those who make the effort to listen.  And Free Jazz is arguably more rewarding than most.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

HurdAudio Rotation: Variations on Alone Together

Iannis Xenakis: Orchestral Works - Volume IV. 2004/2007. Timpani: 1C1136.

Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
Arturo Tamayo: conductor
Hiroaki Ooi: piano

Erikhton (1974)
Ata (1987)
Akrata (1965)
Kirnoidi (1991)

The first three volumes of this cycle leave the impression that Xenakis could wield a large orchestra like a massively dissonant, loud enterprise as he brings architecture to bear upon the musicianship of a mass of players.  On this set we find Akrata.  An early work for a relatively small chamber ensemble composed mostly of winds.  And that same forceful dissonance is there without the overwhelming means of producing it.  It is a completely riveting work, allowing the ears to hear deeper into Xenakis's language as it was still forming.  The remaining pieces are suitably large and beautifully bombastic.  A reminder of the force lurking within sound for a medium that is more often effete.  Also, the piano introduction of Erikhton is a fantastic explosion of activity that gives way to an ocean of glissando from the orchestra.  This is an important contribution toward documenting what Xenakis wrought for orchestra.

Elliott Sharp: Doing the Don't. (film) 2007. Pheasant's Eye.  Directed by Bert Shapiro.

This collection of three short documentaries about the music and persona of Elliott Sharp is a perfect example of New Yorkers taking it upon themselves to document their own cultural enterprise.  Few people have been as consistently given short shift by the music press as Elliott Sharp.  Interviews are often distorted by disinterested "journalists" and reviewers are often dismissing the sonic output of this wildly eclectic figure as being overly cerebral.  Almost clownishly downplaying the significance of the music that has poured out of Elliott Sharp over the years and decades.  While some of the verbal descriptions from Sharp himself in these documentaries reveal much of the reason behind the confusion and dismissal that the mainstream has afforded him, what comes out in spades is the level of respect his music deserves.  I had forgotten how many allies his music has built up on the New York scene and loved hearing the late Butch Morris speak so enthusiastically about this body of music.  The stubborn momentum that Sharp brings to his own projects was equally inspiring.  The inclusion of performances of Syndakit, Quarks Swim Free and the archival footage of Orchestra Carbon's 1987 performance of Larynx at BAM make this particular collection a treasured glimpse into a major figure in the HurdAudio constellation.

Lee Konitz: The Lee Konitz Duets. 1967.  Milestone: MS 9013.

Lee Konitz: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone
Richie Kamuca: tenor saxophone
Marshall Brown: trombone
Dick Katz: piano
Karl Berger: vibes
Jim Hall: guitar
Eddie Gomez: bass
Elvin Jones: drums
Ray Nance: violin

The duet format for improvising musicians has become a more common expression since the appearance of this recorded.  So the timidity found here along with the retreat to the relative safety of a rhythm section by the end of this set is understandable.  But even with the longing to hear more excursion beyond the relative safety of improvising over phantom rhythm changes and standards this remains a collection of improvisations by outstanding musicians.  Lee Konitz's mind and ear for melodic development remains nearly unequaled (Joe Henderson is clearly a peer working along side Konitz in this regard).  "ERB," the duet with Jim Hall is the most rewarding listen on this set.  The one track that plays to the strengths of  the stripped down instrumentation that gives way to sonic exploration of the keypads on the saxophone and the sound of skin along strings of the guitar.  This was an important record both for what has followed in its wake as well as the expression of masters from its era.