Tuesday, October 01, 2013

HurdAudio Rotation: Midnight Sunrise

Sten Sandell Trio: Face of Tokyo. 2008. PNL.

Sten Sandell is a pianist who knows how to touch upon the extremes of free improvisation.  The extremes of density, the extremes of register and the extremity of duration with a disc that features two long pieces.  The fact that his cohorts of Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and Johan Berthling on bass understand this sensibility adds to an improvised set that skillfully uses extremes to paint contrasts.  The severity of the sparse opening allows one to hear enormous detail in the smallest gestures.  And more importantly, hear these details through the ears of these performers as they respond to these same textures.  The volcanic eruption that builds out of this opening makes for a study in what makes free improvisation so compelling in the hands and ears of such masters.

Stefan Wolpe: Enactments: Works for Piano. 2005.  Hat Hut.

"March and Variations for Two Pianos" (1933)
"The Good Spirit of a Right Cause" (1942)
"Enactments for Three Pianos" (1950-1953)

The chronological sequencing of these three works is hardly a coincidence as this set makes the progression of Stefan Wolpe's piano writing into a kind of focal point.  The "March and Variations" being a relatively tame, but astonishingly detailed piece for two pianos that establishes Wolpe's approach toward thematic development.  This carries forward into the "Enactments for Three Pianos" where he is applying a decidedly different method for ordering notes.  This is a Hat Hut recording, so the performance is crisp and the production values are top notch.  Perhaps the best possible introduction to the Wolpe piano sound and a clear statement that even his most dense textures are never opaque when given a disciplined performance like this one.

Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head. 1975. Horizon Records.

This is how free jazz does the extended 7-inch single.  Two long takes on the insanely hooky "Theme from a Symphony" followed by two radio-friendly duration takes on "Midnight Sunrise" giving just a taste of Ornette's work with the Master Musicians of Jajouka.  This disc marked the first recorded outing of Prime Time, even if it isn't exactly credited as such.  The blend of harmolodics, funk and poly-tonal abandon makes for something worth coming back for time and again.  This is Ornette along a very interesting part of his artistic evolution along with a dose of fun.  For all his fierce, philosophy-driven improvisation Ornette is a blues man at heart who knows a thing or two about fashioning a riff.  And "Midnight Sunrise" gives evidence of how Ornette's sound fit within a global milieu.

Monday, September 16, 2013

HurdAudio Rotation: Rhinoceros is My Profession

Eric Dolphy with Booker Little: Far Cry. 1961. New Jazz.

This record takes on a particular luminescence with presence of its two tragic headliners.  Booker Little developed his sound and left us documentation like this even as he never lived to see his 24th birthday and Eric Dolphy was gone far too soon just four years after this recording date, leaving us at age 36.  And yet the creative spark they left behind on Far Cry continues to burn, leaving an important statement about jazz tradition and how there is always room for the individual to plumb its revolutionary angles.  Opening with "Mrs. Parker of K.C." and its interplay of bass clarinet and trumpet and segueing into "Ode to Charlie Parker" with the interaction between flute and trumpet this 1960 set is no historical curiosity.  It is a vibrant thing that remains fresh more than half a century later.  From there we get the classic Dolphy originals of "Far Cry" and "Miss Ann" as the hard bop/free jazz gauntlet is thrown.  The rhythm section backing up these flights accounts for much of the burn and scorch found here with this being the recording debut of the great Ron Carter on bass with Roy Haynes on drums and Jaki Byard on piano.  The deep impression left behind by this record is not diminished by its brevity.  There is much to stimulate the ears in less than three quarters of an hour, a set duration that reflects the frustratingly short period of time these players had to set the jazz world on fire.  Admiring what they did do while aching for what might have been, this record occupies the same hallowed ground as John Coltrane's A Love Supreme or Miles Davis' Kind of Blue as one of the stand out recordings of a jazz language that is far richer because of the contributions found here.

Nels Cline: New Monastery. 2006. Cryptogramophone.

The most striking thing about this particular "view into the music of Andrew Hill" is that you can cleanly plot the lines between the source of inspiration and the music found on this set.  The extreme magnification that forms the cover art for New Monastery is an apt representation of the compositional and improvised energy that makes up this recording.  Sharp details of Andrew Hill's sound are expanded upon as a sonic universe is explored within pockets of the larger landscape of Hill's music.  The degree of inspiration is entirely understandable.  Making this a recording well worth revisiting.  Hearing this ensemble's take on "Dedication" is a particular thrill as the notes of the familiar opening take shape leading into the deliciously introspective improvisation that Nels Cline adds to this durable piece.

The Bad Plus: Suspicious Activity? 2005. Columbia Records.

A jazz trio record brought to you by a generation that has internalized the best qualities of concept albums.  The sequencing of these polished gems is every bit as thrilling as the individual moments of groove heavy bliss that pour out from this recording.  Much has been written about the way The Bad Plus plays covers.  So I'll just say that this one includes the theme from Chariots of Fire and it is every bit as creative and polished as the originals found here.  Speaking of those originals, "Anthem for the Earnest" remains my fondest introduction to The Bad Plus.  Having "Prehensile Dream" leading right into it makes for a record that immediately makes the ears take notice.  This is a piano trio in the best sense.  Ethan Iverson brings a brilliant intensity to the piano.  But focus the ears on the drumming of Dave King and one finds just as much intensity and intricate detail at work.  Then there is the brilliant bass work of Reid Anderson.  There is very little here that can be called "supporting" or side-men.  This is an old friend to these ears in the rotation.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

HurdAudio Rotation: With Enthusiasm and a Little Violence

Annie Gosfield: Lightning Slingers and Dead Ringers. 2011. Cantaloupe Music.

Lightning Slingers and Dead Ringers for piano and sampler
Brooklyn, October 5, 1941 for solo piano

Performed by Lisa Moore

Annie Gosfield has developed a singular language that focuses on the transitory properties of sampled sound with live acoustic instruments.  And in the case of Brooklyn, October 5, 1941 strips away the electronic components to leave the acoustic exposed.  A language that favors abrupt transitions between musical ideas and a healthy dose of rhythmic groove derived from the mechanical qualities of recorded machinery.  The result is something dynamic, captivating and thoroughly non-derivative.

I heard Lisa Moore perform Lightning Slingers and Dead Ringers at a Bang on a Can marathon some time ago and was enthralled by the textures and the acrobatic feats of saddling a single virtuoso with playing the piano part and triggering samples.  This recording allows me to wrap my head around the piece as a whole and understand its structural logic.  I am happy to report that Lisa Moore still delivers a dynamic, thrilling performance for this recording and it is a work that stands up well to repeated listening as it reveals new details each time one encounters it.  It is a genuinely outstanding composition.

The addition of Brooklyn, October 5, 1941 adds a perfect coda to this set.  A short piano work that resonates like a ghost of an unheard recording of factory machinery.  Instead realized as the maniacal rhythms played upon both the exterior and interior of the piano.

Fowl: InaStorMental. 2008. Independent.

InaStorMental exists at a different extreme from Annie Gosfield.  The sonic language is anything but singular, often consisting of dense layers of multi-tracked material that pay homage to a set of influences that remind these ears of Frank Zappa and John Zorn.  While the end result is often uneven on this disc, it does manage to soar when it is good.  There is a great record lurking within this set, but it is often buried, obscured or in need of some editing.  While much of the forward momentum of this music is compelling, it often trips over itself and loses its way in tangles of texture and atmosphere.  There is much to like about this record, but there is also much that holds it back.  Leaving the ears hungry for a quality that doesn't require qualification.

Exploding Star Orchestra: We Are All From Somewhere Else. 2007. Thrill Jockey.

True to its name, the Exploding Star Orchestra presents music with a sense of cosmic scale.  The centerpiece of this particular set is easily the Sting Ray and the Beginning of Time suite that invokes the wrath of the big bang along with the graceful agility of a swimming sting ray.  Offering searing textures that draw upon the density of a large ensemble (with two drum kits kicking out grooves) to moments of exquisite intimacy of brittle electronics or solo piano.  Rob Mazurek harnesses the creative energy of extremes and comes up with an expressive and rewarding whole for the listener willing to commit to these large, suite forms.  Imagine the creative forces of Sun Ra and Philip K. Dick unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.  Music that draws upon the creative energy of the Chicago scene and shapes it into something larger than the sum of its considerable parts.  This is an extraordinary record.

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.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

HurdAudio Rotation: Festliches Praludium

Torturing Nurse & VertonenTorturing Nurse/Vertonen. 2012. Rococo: 6784937576-8.

Torturing Nurse: "txnxtxnxt"
Junky Cao: voice, noise
Youki: turntable, guitar

Vertonen: "Allegiance Variance"
Blake Edwards: devices

Even with an aesthetic bent toward sonic extremes and a willingness to plunge into saturated textures, noise music is actually about restraint and a deliberate sense of how one manages sonic density over time.  With this split release from Shanghai's Torturing Nurse and Chicago's Vertonen the ears are presented with two different takes on restraint versus saturation as a means of shaping form.

"txnxtxnxt" is a crafted sonic canvas that systematically adds new sonic sources and ideas with a deliberate effort to avoid thick layering of materials.  Leaving an interaction between two performers that is startling in its ability to allow new materials to bubble up into the foreground.  The constant sense that the textures of "txnxtxnxt" could come unhinged at any moment and give into the waves of harsh noise constantly hinted at around the edges adds a delicious tension to the piece as a whole.

"Allegiance Variance" takes more of an installation object approach to noise.  Short movements strung together, each offering up a sound logic that is set in motion and allowed to run itself out.  It becomes a measured study of noise materials and the nature of drones and mechanical devices artfully mixed and realized.  This is mechanics with a pulse and a sense of shading and perspective.

Kronos Quartet: Nuevo. 2002. Nonesuch: 79649-2.

David Harrington: violin
John Sherba: violin
Hank Dutt: viola
Jennifer Culp: cello

Luanne Warner: marimba
Alejandro Flores: vocals
Efren Vargas: vocals
Carlos Garcia: musical leaf
Tambuco Percussion Ensemble - Ricardo Gallardo, Alfredo Bringas, Claudia Oliveira, Raul Tudon
Rominko Patixtan Patixtan: harp
Pegro Lunes Tak'il Bek'et: guitar
Carmen Gomez Oso: vocals
Xun Perez Hol Cotom: vocals
Rominko Mendez Xik: vocals
Luis Conte: percussion
Anonymous: organillo
Gustavo Santaolalla: toys, percussion
Ariel Guzik: plasmaht
Cafe Tacuba -
Ritacantalgua: electric guitar
Emmanuel: programming, keyboards, jarana
Quiqui: jarana, concha, programming
Joselo: electric guitar
Alejandro Flores: violin, requinto

El Sinaloense by Severiano Briseno (arr. Osvaldo Golijov)
Se Me Hizo Facil by Agustin Lara (arr. Osvaldo Golijov)
Mini Skirt by Juan Garcia Esquivel (arr. Osvaldo Golijov)
El Llorar - traditional arranged by Osvaldo Golijov
Perfidia by Alberto Dominguez (arr. by Stephen Prutsman)
Sensemaya by Silvestre Revueltas (arr. by Stephen Prutsman)
K'in Sventa Ch'ul Me'tik Kwadulupe by Osvaldo Golijov
Tabu by Margarita Lecuona (arr. by Osvaldo Golijov)
Cuatro Milpas by Belisario Garcia de Jesus and Jose Elizondo (arr. by Stephen Prutsman)
Chavosuite by Ricardo Gallardo
Plasmaht by Ariel Guzik (arr. by Kronos Quartet)
Nacho Verduzco by Chalino Sanchez (arr. by Osvaldo Golijov)
12/12 by Cafe Tacuba (Ruben Albarran, Emmanuel del Real, Enrique Rangel, Jose Alfredo Rangel) (arr. by Osvaldo Golijov)
El Sinaloense (Dance Mix) by Plankton Man

At some point, Kronos Quartet releases became concept albums.  Which follows a certain logic as the string quartet that pioneered its identity as a chamber ensemble dedicated to contemporary works it soon broke that particular "niche" wide open.  And at some point Kronos Quartet releases broke loose from the confines of "string quartet" music in the formal sense and exploded into an expressive playlist that happens to involve the members of the quartet.  Here the sonic journey is unified by an exploration of the cultural vibrations of Mexico.  At times augmented by percussionists, voice and pre-rendered electronics, this is a rich sampling of the musical contours of Mexican culture.  And much to Kronos' credit, it is a vibrant mix of traditions both established and in flux.  But more than a sampler, this is a journey and a concept album that follows its own arc.  The vocals on El Llorar are astounding.  And the true gem of this collection is the riveting Silvestre Revueltas Sensemaya in the middle of the set.  The Cafe Tacuba collaboration loses me to a certain extent as a sequence of ideas of variable quality that don't always hang together for my ears.  The exuberant Plankton Man mix at the end ties everything back together to conclude the experience.  The focus on arrangements of music from various portions of Mexico's high and low-brow cultures almost leaves me wishing for string quartet compositions by Mexican composers.  But the sonic integrity of this experience snuffs out that fleeting criticism.  If anything, it's the brevity of these fleeting experiences that leave the ears breathless from so much breadth of experience without the satisfaction of depth.  Many of these pieces could stand to go longer at the risk of puncturing the pacing of the overall concept album.  But that is perhaps the takeaway of Nuevo.  As it serves as kindling for the curious to dig deeper into this realm.

Richard Strauss: Tone Poems. 1957. Deutsche Grammophon: 463-190-2.

Staatskapelle Dresden
Berliner Philharmoniker
Karl Bohm: conductor

Eine Alpensinfonie, op. 64
Don Juan, op. 20
Der Rosenkavalier: Waltzes from Act III
Also sprach Zarathustra, op. 30
Festival Prelude, op. 61
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, op. 28
Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils
Ein Heldenleben, op. 40
Tod und Verklarung, op. 24

The music of the Romantic Era - particularly the late Romantic Era - leaves these ears cold with its excesses.  Music that emotes (and emotes, and emotes) through long-winded chromaticism and a tonal language that sounds dated feels about as remote as music can get.  Richard Strauss is often the exception, with traces of modernism creeping into his sound and helping to usher in the much more agreeable modern era.  Yet his tone poems possess very little that can be regarded as anything other than squarely Romantic.  And yet it simply blows this listener away.  This is not a sentimental attachment to this music (it was never part of my formative experience).  This is an appreciation of raw orchestration.  And an admiration of Strauss's ability to write music that was about something.  There's no abstraction here.  Eine Alpensinfonie is about the majestic Alps complete with stormy weather and breath taking altitude.  The Festliches Praludium strikes an irresistible majesty with its combination of pipe organ and orchestra.  Also sprach Zarathustra is a genuinely great orchestral work.  These Karl Bohm versions are a true indulgence and a reminder that not all Late Romantic works were over-indulgent.  Some hit the high marks that they aimed for.