Saturday, 31 July 2010

IRON KIM STYLE – Iron Kim Style

Moonjune

Iron Kim Style is a quintet consisting of a couple of guitars (Dennis Rea and Thaddaeus Brophy, the latter on 12 strings), plus trumpeter Bill Jones, drummer Jay Jaskot and bassist Ryan Berg. The “inspiration” might reside in the figure of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il (who is even present, via pictorial superimposition, in the group’s photograph on the cover), yet the phrase “your boxing has no power” used as caption reminds of another Iron, namely the one and only Mike Tyson.

The music: not exceptionally original but, to remain inside the pugilistic ambit, still packing a punch and brisk enough. Technically evolved to a good degree – not to the point of resemblance to a series of exercises – the pieces range between many obvious influences, which you will find listed in other reviews of the same album. 70’s Miles Davis with aromas of Bill Frisell and Terje Rypdal, and – occasionally – tunes constructed upon a single bass riff à la Hugh Hopper. Some of the tracks sound like a pretext for jamming rather than real compositions; the problem is that those improvisations are not always at the maximum level of freshness, at times becoming quite wearisome.

Overall, the record’s liveliness is respectable - especially when we don’t want to think too much, just tapping the foot for a while. If the Tyson association stands, though, this group is comparable with the boxer’s post-incarceration version, circa 1995: the menace and the clout were not sustained anymore by the once-decisive speed and the bob-and-weave approach, and Evander Holyfield was lurking behind the corner.

Friday, 30 July 2010

STELLARI STRING QUARTET – Gocce Stellari

Emanem

The title (Italian for “stellar droplets”) comes from Orion Nebula’s newborn stars, generated by the nuclear fusion of huge globules of gas and dust; stars are also the origin of the seven tracks’ names. Thus, associating the adjective “stellar” to the playing heard in this CD becomes commonplace. Philipp Wachsmann (violin), Charlotte Hug (viola), Marcio Mattos (cello) and John Edwards (double bass) conduct business with a combination of formal respect for the configurational clarity of a hypothetical composition: these pieces, recorded at the 2007 UNCOOL festival in Poschiavo, Switzerland, impressively resemble the upshot of written scores - with more than a hint to XX century’s literature - exalted and enriched by the kind of impulsive improvisation that one expects from musicians at this level of instrumental command.

In the liner notes, Caroline Kraabel makes a very good point about the initial trouble in recognizing the single voices even after many years of listening to them. Here lies the reason of this record's accomplishment: the global yield of polychrome pitches, fractal percussiveness and structural multiplicity overcome the difficulties elicited by the thorny convolutions and atonal spirals - permeated by a measure of intransigency - that the quartet constantly delivers. The performers apply a logic of intelligibility to everything they play, dividing the stereo space in well-defined sectors, remaining disengaged from rigid rules yet appearing solid all along. The typical characters connected to contemporary music for strings - including the exploitation of rarely attended parts of the instruments - are astutely employed, proof of a technically enlightened maturity. Serialism, lyricism, dronage and the average reviewer’s pet quote - Lachenmann (yeah, let's go and join the name-throwing party…) - get evoked and instantly disposed of in a matter of seconds.

Ultimately, the best way to tackle Gocce Stellari is absorbing it little by little over repeated listens, at first being flattened and somewhat pushed back by its bittersweet vigour, then dissecting the components to individuate and separate nuances and details. Both acts lead to the same conclusion: this is a persuasive record.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

ROSS BOLLETER – Night Kitchen

Emanem

The pathos of intemperate resonance that transpires from a ruined piano is nearly visible in the work of Ross Bolleter, who makes of this kind of tool a way of living. He has amassed a number of wrecked pianos over the years, five of them occupying his home's kitchen for the occasion; this fact and the choice of improvising during the night or at dawn ("at the latest") give this album its title.

Without recurring to the umpteenth quote of Bolleter's theory, we'll only invite the reader to consider this music similar to existential deterioration - not necessarily the progressive tarnishing of metal parts, or strings. The crumbling of a musical machine appears as the pictogram of a microcosm amidst superior forces, like a person gifted with an extraordinary potential that remains unexpressed and ultimately falls to pieces due to a combination of adverse circumstances. Listening to these weird radiations of huddled harmonics and detuned reverberations, and to the tangled rhythms generated by that peculiar hybrid of intoxicated gamelan and urban junk, you can't help but compare the original scope of that apparatus with what it embodies at present. Nobody in the real world would think of performing with a decayed instrument; no one stops a poor man in the street to ask for the story of his life.

On the contrary, this is exactly what this Australian artist does, eliciting incomparably awkward sounds - at times ironic, elsewhere severely introspective. We sit in front of a manifestation of uncompromising discord, born from a sonic organism that was originally created to be divided in small fractions of acoustic ordinariness. Now everything is fused in an unbreakable aura of dissonance whose morphology is nevertheless totally congenial to these ears. It's an inspiring experience that leaves us pondering about the pointlessness of perfection while appreciating the influence of mutability on what humans call "music" after having injected a good dose of customary triviality to an otherwise unstructured radiance. Yet the upper partials emitted by Bolleter's perished boxes need no intervention, shaping the surrounding environment with their past glory transmuted into transcendental tolls and glowingly malformed heterogeneity.

Monday, 26 July 2010

LISA MEZZACAPPA’S BAIT & SWITCH – What Is Known

Clean Feed

Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa is a liberal participant in lots of different situations gravitating around new jazz, her recognized “honorary musical godfathers” (Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Sun Ra, Coleman, Ayler, Dolphy, Kirk) constituting the primary source of inspiration for this debut as a boss, particularly in regard to the energy and the focus that those masters have transmitted to Lisa over the years. She was already involved in the “metal jazz” band Go-Go Fightmaster, whose members are a part of this recording: tenor saxophonist Aaron Bennett juxtaposes paradox and hostility in a confrontational style where romanticism is the last memory before dying, guitarist John Finkbeiner is a fissure-filling achiever of impractically skewed lines of exploratory modernity, and drummer Vijay Anderson is proficiently concerned with the guardianship of the pulse, yet he shows the impatience of a percussionist for what’s square, inserting rhythmic traps and shifting accents whenever the occasion calls.

The fact that Mezzacappa produces a cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” gives the idea of a broadminded approach – you won’t find Van Vliet covered by many people these days. Instead, on “The Cause & Effect Of Emotion & Distance” the whole quartet seems to rise from the ashes of a previous thematic disintegration to turn into a cloud of aromatic scents. In general, the architectures conceived by the leader are characterized by sharp steadiness rooted in contrapuntal verisimilitude. She’s a credible instrumentalist, precise and solid but also able to extract a degree of passion from the most exsiccated, skeletally linear conception. The band’s ability in reciprocally trusting their instant choices and avoiding excesses of discordance is a major plus – everything sounds intelligible (including the tense blowout heard in the title track) and the potentialities of this wise frugality are evident in the acute lucidity defining the entire record.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

KEITH BERRY – The Cartesian Plane

Elevator Bath

The fallibility of a human mechanism is inversely proportional to the illusions from which it absorbs nourishment. Confidence and unsettlement, inflexibility and hesitancy are but two of the infinite contrasts that perceptive beings meet while assembling a buried universe of personal inclinations alimented by their deepest wishes. Accordingly, another remarkable manifestation of necessary imperfection is the disproportion between the latter – meaning “any aspiration” - and the lack of occurrences that might help in fulfilling those expectations. This is the starting point of that kind of silent, inexplicable interior grief that can devastate a psychically fragile person, or fortify that individual’s awareness if the process of growth was accurately carried on.

Intent in listening to one of the five movements comprised by The Cartesian Plane, I notice a fantastic image cut by the frame of an open window: a perfect blue sky spotted by white clouds in a corner, and a wealth of green given by fully flourished branches. All around, a nearly scary quietness is fought by the incessant chant emitted by thousands of cicadas, in turn overwhelming uncommonly infrequent chirps - even birds seem to look for answers this afternoon. A typical flash during which I found myself asking “why”, not focusing on the cause of my controlled qualm. The reasons behind strange phenomena and dubious behaviors, I’ve stopped searching for them since ages. The rightness of certain combinations of sounds and colours is something that must not be rationally examined. At least not neurotically. That left me alone with the mere question. Why?

Still no response. The music is repeating its course for the third time, the reconnection with Keith Berry’s vision turned on via indiscernible hues and infinitesimal details. A side of this 12-inch picture disc (a limited edition of 233 copies) contains a pair of segments that are harmonically permanent, though we detect subliminal modifications in the fundamental matter of the droning formation, characteristically not specified by the composer. The other face of the album features a slightly different approach in terms of change: somnolently elliptical pictures of desolation are outlined in blurred stupor over the remaining three subdivisions, letting us intuit the vague presence of corporeal entities. It could be a sluggish orchestral fragment or a moribund choir, voices in the wake of the eternal issue. Why?

Following a lengthy stretch of almost complete silence, all it takes for Berry to put together again the threads of his resounding solitude is 47 minutes of merged tones that are both majestically entrancing and soul-consuming. Finding comparisons is a hopeless exercise reserved to pen-pushing bureaucrats. On the contrary, we will keep raising questions without receiving a solution. There’s a reason why people don’t really want to know that explanation, staying within the borders of a self-styled reality. When the truth finally materializes, it’s going to be terribly late for a dull analysis.

CURLEW – A Beautiful Western Saddle / The Hardwood

Cuneiform

This CD/DVD double whammy reclaims important documents by my favourite embodiment of Curlew (George Cartwright, Davey Williams, Ann Rupel, Pippin Barnett, Tom Cora) from unjustified shadows. A Beautiful Western Saddle introduces, for the first time in the band’s existence, a set of lyrics penned by poet Paul Haines (an old objective for Cartwright’s admiration) and sung by Amy Denio. Leaving the analysis of the texts to those who are fascinated by this sort of revisionary act, let me tell you that the music was, and still is, fairly atypical in the quintet’s history. It does preserve all the fundamental features of classic Curlew: the awkward antagonism of the main themes, the incapability of missing a beat even in the most rhythmically tortuous fragments, the extreme flexibility of players who switch from composed parts to improvised sections with confidence and genius (hats off Tom Cora, wherever you are).

Denio’s charming yet vigorous accents, in union with a higher degree of structural straightforwardness, adjust the usual guidelines by attributing a distinct American flavour to the songs while magnifying orchestrations that sound - for lack of a better definition - rurally urbane. There’s more melodic open-mindedness in this record than anywhere else in the ensemble’s curriculum, and I bear in mind that this turn of events was reasonably startling for yours truly when it appeared on the market. Heard in the present day the project is warmly greeted and fresh-sounding, a one-of-a-kind experiment that deserves appropriate recognition (not to mention the elegiac magnificence of tunes like “Today” and “Human Weather Words”, or the hypnotic consequence of the minimalist “Paint Me!”). This writer stresses that the very best of Curlew lies elsewhere (Bee or Paradise being the personal suggestions, should someone need a first course). Make no mistake, though: we’re talking outstanding stuff here - no question.

If there were residual doubts about buying this thing or not, the “fuck yeah!” response might be brought out by the addition of the video material. The initial half includes The Hardwood – originally issued on VHS – shot at the Knitting Factory in 1991, a testimony of the tightness and energy of the original lineup, caught executing evergreens such as “Gimmie” and “To The Summer In Our Hearts” with the habitual perspiring ability of keeping the blood boiling and the fractured metres going (Rupel’s head-shaking trance and agile fingers are a must-see; she’s not playing nowadays, an awful shame for a great bassist and composer. Please come back, Ann!). The rest was recorded at Washington’s D.C. Space – also in 1991 – and is mainly based on Western Saddle’s repertoire, naturally with Denio joining on stage (and recklessly dancing with Williams in one of the DVD’s funniest spots). Given the rarity of the footage and the chance of appreciating the difference between the studio and the live renditions of the pieces, the somewhat rough quality of the picture is easily forgotten (it’s been almost 20 years, remember). This is the only way to observe this unique group in action from a comfy sofa, and that’s enough to warrant happiness.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

DARREN TATE – The Night

Fungal

Tate goes a little backwards in his own era, presenting a new work that closely recalls some of the earliest outings on Fungal, the ones where the untailored quality of the assemblages seemed to be more important than any sort of structural design, thus confirming an often acknowledged worship for Dadaism. This particular record consists of a single 39-minute piece starting with gradual synthetic glissandos, continuing with a few electronic touches and a little spacey wavering, ultimately stabilizing (so to speak) into a coalescence of nocturnal urban ambiences - cars passing by are the predominant colour – that, as the time elapses, is progressively defined by nearly insubstantial splashes of guitars and keyboards, played with the same candor of a young kid having an initial approach on the instruments, with a modicum of echo. At about 23’30” a splendid droning undercurrent appears, and the earth loop’s hum is also very “in your face” over the final minutes, utilized – like all the rest – as just one among not many hues in a basic palette. At first, the resulting music sounds almost unimposing; already at the third listen, we’re finding ourselves once again enraptured by this man’s tenuous yet incomparable visions. If there is a musician who engendered a style definable with just that person’s name, that must be Darren Tate.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

MARTIN KÜCHEN / ERNESTO RODRIGUES / GUILHERME RODRIGUES / CARLOS SANTOS - Vinter

Creative Sources

A crepuscular cooperative of alto sax, viola, cello and electronics with some concession to throaty droning and a clear tendency to unveil buried aspects of the instrumental combination to turn them into relevant traits. In “Mörkertid” a preliminary static exposition is subsequently splintered in parallel singularities, each instrument gently wheezing and rasping until the piece’s natural demise. “Kyla” is intermittently characterized by a chugging pulse over which the other voices try and find a place to exist without being noticed. This includes unpolished upper partials, barely hinted sibilance, pitches that oscillate between full tone and dispirited sighing. These sounds are nothing previously unheard of, but an optimal integration makes them appear more beautiful than they really are. The segment’s overall yield is a valuable one, especially when the quartet starts moaning and groaning around the thirteenth minute. The lengthy “Barmark” is definitely the most difficult track to translate, informed as it is by cyclical shrieking highs and “classic” tampering with strings and bridge in several of its parts. Accordingly, this is also the least involving chapter in terms of sheer timbral attractiveness; except for a couple of concentrated surges and a handful of captivating buzzes, it’s not excessively momentous in the economy of an album that nevertheless remains a valid alternative to futile silence.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

ANDREW CHALK – Ghost Of Nakhodka

Siren

Except for the persistently enticing title track, opening the CD at about 20 minutes of duration, Ghost Of Nakhodka is a collection of rather short sketches – seemingly cut off longer sessions, abrupt fadeouts characterizing several of them – which confirms Andrew Chalk’s matchless aesthetic, adorned with a continuous sense of yearning for something that’s passed and given up for lost by now, a not-too-latent regret permeating the large part of the music album after album. Yet this time we must also take note of a somewhat easier detection of the sounds obtained – strings in particular – in some of the tracks.

Although Chalk has grown the listeners used to the lack of lists of sources, thus attributing an additional layer of secrecy to his creations, in this circumstance the emergence of acoustic guitars and other related instruments (perhaps a balalaika, somewhere else a cimbalom or a hammered dulcimer) lets enjoy a previously unheard kind of melodic tactility amidst an otherwise nebulous-as-always gathering of aural landscapes replete with backward tapes, stratified chordal elongations, disembodied harmonies and smile-inducing juvenile memories. There’s no actual indication of a way to follow in these touching pieces, and the individual response to the combinations of frequencies is the only correct method to assess this heartfelt work. As a general rule the sound is deceivingly timid, revealing its pale grace through repeated spins. Long-ago reminiscence and fragments of tunes mix effectively in the weak flickering of a sheltering pensiveness.

Chalk’s segregation from the rest of the world, both artistically and in any potential alternative meaning, is clearly dictated by the need of finding answers to issues that would generate depression in less intelligent human specimens, and that instead get transformed in vehicles for the propagation of evolutional resonance by a man who, despite living in a sea town, exclusively sails across reticent hopes permeated by extracorporeal vibrations.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

DANIEL LEVIN QUARTET – Live At Roulette

Clean Feed

Is writing that a music can’t be retained in the memory a compliment or a reprimand? The crow keepers of official criticism might find lots of “authorized” terms to describe and classify the kind of interrelations occurring in Live At Roulette, but what remains in this writer’s mind following several thorough listens is a vague difficulty in accepting its imperfect, chamber-tinged arduousness. As if the instinctive connections that attribute naturalness to a creative stream had been severed by a malevolent entity, the musicians feverishly attempting to put scattered pieces and ideas together. Now and again successfully, otherwise rather inconclusively.

Cellist Levin decided to tape the material after noticing that the most remarkable occurrences between him and his comrades were situated “off the map into uncharted territory”, as opposed to the prearranged frames that he was trying to set for them to improvise upon when the group started in 2001. Including Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Moran on vibes and Peter Bitenc on bass, the potential and the actual technical yield of this collective is quite high. The dynamics at work are indeed many and multidirectional, the alternance of soloist spots, duets and sudden crescendos a memo of the theoretical highs that we were anticipating.

Ultimately, what’s lacking is exactly the sort of snapping break, of excogitative coup that characterizes the unforgettable chapters in the book of improvisation. When something comes that, at least for a while, reinforces our conviction of having individuated the right way, it sounds more an accident than the crop of instantaneous research. And usually it lasts for a too short moment in time, before the general sense of uncertain direction returns. To summarize, this is a record made by outstanding players that in this circumstance didn’t manage to reap the expected fruits, remaining at a midway point along the various paths.

Friday, 2 July 2010

ANTHONY BRAXTON / JOËLLE LÉANDRE – Duo (Heidelberg Loppem) 2007

Leo

What is immediately noticed after listening to this double CD, marking a rare duo encounter between two masters, is that Léandre doesn’t seem all that much interested in her distinctive theatrics and operatic vocalizations. She does use the voice, but in a subdued way during a number of severe exchanges. One is brought to think of a sort of concentrated inviolability without the pomp, the musicians perfectly aware of the fact that this an occasion in which what’s stated will not be amended or retracted, and that the ensuing recording should be as clear as possible in terms of instantaneous creation of art and discernible intuition.

Braxton’s intelligent pressure (explicated through sopranino, soprano and alto saxes and contrabass clarinet) is garrulously foresighted. The exceptionality of his spiralling voraciousness is highlighted by a unique capacity of remaining confined within the limits of essentiality, so that a swarm of notes is perceived as a wholeness, not as a demonstration of technical dexterity (because, let’s face it, remarking about the latter would be hopelessly pathetic). Léandre builds upon grounds of guttural timbres and outstanding flights across both the pure and impure frequencies of the bass’ strings, a plain-spoken individuality cooperating with Braxton in the joint despoliation of improvisational compatibility from superfluous lustre and less-than-deep meanings.

This is a traditional example of the near-uselessness of a review given the names involved, alone enough to certify the virtual impossibility of expressing artistry under the level of excellence. You just need to relax and unfasten the mind’s locks, welcoming discursive whirlwinds, profound ruminations and atypical explorations of the instrumental registers with equal attentiveness and pleasure.