Posts filed under ‘CD/music reviews’
Andy Haas/David Moreno — Haas/Moreno (Studio Stereomo, 2013)
There’s something comforting about the analog synth and Moog beats that fortify Haas/Moreno. That might be the nostalgia talking. It’s hard to hear those synths and not think of ’70s UFO documentaries.
But Haas/Moreno doesn’t feel like a throwback. It’s informed by the dance music of the ’00s, full of squelchy, understated beats that might soothe but aren’t going for the spacey relaxation of ’70s “space music” (the less saccharine precursor to new age, and the electronic foil to Windham Hill). He also adds quite a few world-music influences to the beats, elements that I don’t remember being that common in the early days of electronic music.
David Moreno is responsible for those sounds, and he’s complemented by Andy Haas’ saxophone. Haas has become a specialist in that genre of Whatever-I-Feel-Like-Playing, often coming up with excitingly abrasive improvisations, but here, he’s offering melodic soloing that’s sometimes even comforting, augmented by reverb and other, more sophisticated electronics effects, to create an extra layer of atmosphere.
You get the full effect right away with “Sequence Green,” the upbeat opener that’s equal parts Kraftwerk doodling, planetarium effects, and jazz sax. “Amplifier Red,” soon after, presents an exotic beat overlaid with Middle Eastern-tinged sax.
On the less relaxing side, there’s the curtain of droning horns on “Oscillator Magenta,” a backing laid down by Haas as Moreno plays the soloist, dealing those thick Moog notes.
Most of Side A is upbeat, with tracks that fly by. Maybe it’s greedy of me to wish the songs were longer; as pleasing as they are, they might wear out if they went eight or 10 minutes. A couple of middle tracks slow things down considerably, including the second half of “Generator Yellow,” which is about sleepy atmosphere and Haas’ placid sax lullabies. Things perk up later on “Multiplier Grey,” where a rocking little beat offers some space for Haas to have ragged fun on the sax.
The LP is printed in a limited edition of 100. Downtown Music Gallery had at least one, at this writing.
David Moreno, by the way, is a visual artist and (like Haas) works at New York’s MoMA for his day job. MoMA recently published an enlightening interview about his work.
Wow. In a septet context, Mary Halvorson’s music gets all warm and cozy.
That might be an impolite thing to say in avant-garde circles, but listen to the billowing horns in the title track.
A lot of Illusionary Sea is like that: lovely sounding horns and quilts of melody, but enough room for Halvorson’s prickly guitar grunge. Richly melodic elements were present with her quintets — “Hemorrhaging Smiles” on Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12, 2012) or “Crack in the Sky” on Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12, 2010) — but to my ears, they’re amplified with the expanded horn section of the septet.
The eccentric guitar lines that made Halvorson’s trio such a delight are still there. But listen to the almost circus atmosphere early in the guitar solo on “Smiles of Great Men (No. 34).” The horns add a bright sound, and Halvorson plays along with a swinging melody before taking the song off the rails.
Halvorson even shows her hand at traditional jazz comping on “Four Pages of Robots,” setting down the backing chords while one horn solos. Of course, that mode doesn’t last, and as the horns wind down the piece, Halvorson obscures throws sheets of guitar spackle at the melody. That’s one of Illusionary Sea’s best tricks: mixing jazz horns with attack-mode guitar in a way that makes sense.
So, when I talk about the music being “nice,” it’s less about losing edge and more about gaining depth. The compositions are still rooted in avant-rock guitar sketchings, but they’re fleshed out with sophisticated horns — a step further toward the jazz side of the spectrum. The ensemble’s progression from trio to quintet to septet seems like a reflection of Halvorson’s desire to say more with the music.
Carlos Alves “Zingaro”, Jean Luc Cappozzo, Jerome Bourdellon, Nicolas Lelievre — Live at Total Meeting (NoBusiness, 2012)
I love not only the sounds, but the pacing on the three long improvisations presented here. It’s a live performance from France’s Total Meeting Festival in 2010, and the quartet draws a rich variety of ideas from their acoustic instruments.
Most of the music doesn’t appear to move blazingly fast, and yet there’s a building sense of energy and tension that’s rather captivating. The players manage to sculpt narrative arcs that draw you in. On top of that, the album ends with a sudden and mildly surprising flourish that leaves you feeling pretty good about everything you’ve just heard. (I won’t give it away — it’s not that unusual an ending, just very sudden. I got a smile out of it.)
The first and last tracks (“Total 1″ and “Total 3″) feature Jerome Bourdellon’s flute taking command of the setting. ”Total 1,” has him playing in a sparkling, energetic mode, reflecting off of Zingaro’s violin and making you wonder why flute doesn’t come up more often in free improv. He’s takes the lead voice during some softer phases, where the flute takes on that calming voice, especially in the lower registers, but he can also dance and dart to play against Zingaro’s madman violin sounds and Jean Luc Cappozzo’s trumpet. Listen to him hold down the low registers here, gradually stepping into the background:
My ears kept gravitating toward the trumpet and the flute (or bass clarinet), but there’s plenty of drums and violin as well. Plenty of Zingaro, in particular: sawing, plucking, and romantically swooning. As often happens with improv, no one voice takes the lead for any long stretch. This is a thoughtful group effort.
Saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love are coming to the Bay Area, and you can’t stop them. But you can go see them:
- Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the Center for New Music (San Francisco)
- Thursday, Nov. 14 at Kuumbwa Jazz (Santa Cruz)
- Friday, Nov. 15 at Duende (Oakland)
Each venue promises a cozy, intimate setting for getting your eardrums blasted out. Brötzmann can certainly play quietly and sensitively, but it’s the biggest sounds that are his signature. This is a guy who told The Wire his overexpansive playing has expanded his lungs to the point of damage. Raise your hand if you didn’t realize that was even possible.
The condition doesn’t affect Brötzmann’s playing, however. So, as late as 2011 at the Musique Actuelle Festival in Victoriaville, he was able to do things like this:
That’s Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love in trio with Massimo Pupillo playing an electric bass set on “kill.” They’ve obviously decided they’ll all amp it up, so to speak, to match Pupillo’s “11″ setting. They do have pauses and quiet patches, but it’s a mostly sweaty and sprinting workout that makes up one of the two CDs in Solo + Trio Roma (Victo, 2012). It qualifies as a Sound of 4 experience.
That excerpt comes from only about 1 minute into a 70-minute track, by the way.
Regarding those quiet patches, here’s a segment where Pupillo sits out, and Brötzmann gets to display some delicate gruffness.
How about Nilssen-Love, who’s less familiar to most listeners? Here he is with a different saxophonist: John Butcher, whose aesthetic often tends toward the introspective — airy sounds and high-tone, slow-motion squeals. Concentric (Clean Feed, 2006) is a much different setting from Trio Roma, with Nilssen-Love going for a more sculpted sound even during the busier segments.
Nilssen-Love also has a solo album where he favors subtlety over bombast. Sticks & Stones (Sofa, 2001) isn’t exactly quiet — maybe “close-miked” is a better term? He solos on a rich array of percussion, making small noises that are amplified straight into your ear, as if you’re in a warm, small room with your head hovering right above the drums. He’s chosen his drums and implements so that the taps and bounces produce rich, almost liquid sounds, and you can savor every nuance, like sips of wine.
Sticks & Stones admittedly gets a little repetitious, but any one of the fairly short tracks is a treat, packed with delicious sounds and fast, rattling drumstick work.
Of course, these two gentlemen will spontaneously decide which colors to flash at these upcoming concerts. I would guess you’ll hear a little bit of all of it. Just come prepared for some big sounds.
(Each album-cover image links to eMusic, where you can sample more of the music. There is no commercial arrangement here; eMusic has no idea that I do this.)
Elliott Sharp — Cut With Occam’s Razor (zOaR, 2013)
As part of Elliott Sharp‘s residency at The Stone in early October, JACK Quartet performed two of his compositions — two companion pieces similiar in strategy, both dynamic and exciting. One of them, “The Boreal,” also happens to lead off Sharp’s latest CD of classical works.
I caught the concert (and a couple others to be mentioned later) during my latest visit to New York.
“The Boreal” was written in 2009, and “Tranzience,” its followup, is a new composition that got its premiere at this show. Both involve alternatives to the string bow — springs, metal bars, ball-bearing chains — mixed with traditional bowing in slashing, cathartic passages.
As with most modern pieces, there were passages of near silence as well. The JACK Quartet impressively stayed precise and focused against The Stone’s Indian-summer heat and the Avenue C street noise.
Both pieces featured stretches of one-note rhythms, played hard and fast, and lots of tapping, plucking, and scraping the strings — which was no surprise, considering how percussive Sharp’s music can be. His guitar work often involves lots of hammer-ons, and some of his homemade instruments are along the lines of the slab, a horizontal bass played with mallets. I like that stuff. My introduction to Sharp’s music was the super-percussive piece, “Larynx,” whose sections are punctuated by solos from four different drummers.
“The Boreal” opens with short metal springs scraping rhythms against the strings, small sounds forcefully pressed into being. It produced some great sounds (more about that below), but the springs weren’t particularly nimble. The players were limited to simple rhythms, sometimes accidentally hitting little nursery-rhymey patterns. Later, the piece sent JACK through some traditional bowing but in not-so-traditional motifs: twisty passages at breakneck speed, providing some of the most exciting moments.
“Tranzience” was very much a companion to “The Boreal,” rather than a sequel. The sheet music was on long, vertical pieces of paper, for a striking and artsy visual difference, but that atmosphere and attitude continued from “The Boreal’s” foundation. So did the extended-technique implements — customized metal dowels this time. In addition to tapping the springs, these were used in a guitar-slide manner, curving a tone into a glissando by moving up or down the neck. I found myself wondering how notated those parts are; does Sharp dictate where the pitch should start and end?
“Tranzience” started with viola and cello hammering out background notes percussively (this really reminded me of Sharp’s slab) with crazed, scattered notes from the violins. This peaked ferociously as the quartet stopped on a dime — one of many pauses during the two pieces that made for particularly exciting moments.
“Tranzience” had the more exciting coda of the two, with the four players slashed frenetically through near-unison melodies near the end.
I enjoyed hearing the two pieces side-by-side, but they’re very similar; it was an awful lot of the same colors spread across 45 minutes. But that didn’t occur to me until near the ending, maybe because I spent most of the concert not knowing what to expect. I don’t think I’d want to hear them together again — but the same can’t be said for other audiences who haven’t experienced them.
(Elliott Sharp’s zOaRmusic Tumblr, which I discovered after writing this entry, has more details about this show.)
“The Boreal” opens Cut With Occam’s Razor slowly — as I suppose it must have in concert — but quickly picks up the pace, first with springs-grinding rhythms and then with one-note unison stabbing patterns. One of the best moments comes midway through the 15-minute piece, when the players form a counterpoint with the metal springs that builds up to a big, buzzy sound with shifting tones.
The next piece, “Oligosono,” gives us a solo piano executing Sharp’s percussive attack. This track was my first exposure to that combination, with Jennifer Lin often two-handedly pounding away at a dissonant chord or even dryly hammering on one note. It produces a nice effect in those low, low registers, where the resonating metal of the strings creates its own coppery overtone.
Add to that some splashes of higher notes and quasi-prepared piano in the form of Lin holding a string down (adding a dull thud to that hammering vocabulary), and you’ve got yourself a piece. ”Oligosono” is often repetitious, but it’s full of engaging patter, as in this segment.
The piece culminates in a more colorful type of piano percussion, stacking tones one after the other for an almost flowery effect.
(Sharp writes more about “Oligosono” here.)
“Occam’s Razor” is a string octet commissioned for Sharp’s 60th-birthday marathon at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. It was recorded in 2011 by the JACK and Sirius string quartets.
It’s a series of shimmering sound blasts that slowly rise and fall in intensity, while keeping all eight instruments involved for a density of sound. Long tones criss-cross in a Grand Central Station bustle, where there’s so much motion going on (passengers flitting across the huge causeway) yet so little change (the crowd as a whole, like a river, remaining in one place while continually moving).
As the pace slows, the long tones of individual players become evident again, and we’re in familiar E# territory, with percussive strikes replaced by long bowing motions. Same idea, different perspective.
After about 15 minutes, “Occam’s Razor” boils down to a quick but satisfying ending — not a fadeout, but more a collective expression of, “Yeah, that’s all we had to say.” I think I favor “The Boreal” or “Tranzience,” but “Occam’s Razor,” while more difficult to take in, is still a really good piece.
Han Bennik Trio — Parken (ILK, 2009)
Daniele D’Agaro, Bruno Marini, Han Bennik — The Tempest (Artesuono, 2008)
I sometimes wonder if other musicians think Han Bennik‘s clowning around dilutes the seriousness of the music — or, more properly, the substance of it. Maybe the audience is watching him too gleefully to really hear what he’s playing. But I think the avant-garde world needs messengers like him, players who can cross audience boundaries. And I enjoy a good musical clown act. I think he’s terrific, albeit exhausting.
On record, his presence is still manic but more subtle. You just don’t get to see him, say, run backstage and invisibly pound on a piano back there. (That happened during one Mills College concert. It was pretty funny.) Parken is a good example, and like many Dutch jazz albums, it presents a good blend of the jazz tradition with well constructed improvisation.
“Music for Camping,” though freeform, is rooted in swingy piano and clarinet. And “Lady of the Lavender Mist” is a lovely ballad with some light clarinet melody. Bennik is content to linger in the background on brushes while the clarinet takes its slow riverboat ride through the piece.
“Fleimsche March” is more overtly “out.” The piano sputters out high notes like a paint sprayer gone mad. Joaquim Badenhorst’s clarinet offers squashed curls of sound, a warped non-Euclidean melody. And Bennik just goes nuts behind it all, of course. “Reedeater” is a slower piece that rambles nicely until it builds into a dark improv jam. Then there’s the two-minute seizure titled “Myckewelk.”
“Isfahan” is more what you’d expect, in terms of abstract improvising. It’s a slowly creeping piece, pushed along by the crackling bursts of Bennik’s drum work. Badenhorst lurks on clarinet, and Simon Toldam keeps the piano quiet for a time, before taking the lead with some nicely jazzy runs.
The final track, “Parken,” is a lovely slow song that features a (Dutch?) female vocalist. I don’t know who; that’s the handicap of using eMusic.
Speaking of eMusic — imagine my surprise at surfing around there and finding what I thought was an ECM release with Han Bennik on it. Turns out it’s on the Artesuono label, and — surprise again — it’s not the darkly moody, introspective material I’d expected after seeing that album cover. No, it’s an old-school organ-jazz trio, doing a hopping set of tunes based (apparently) on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
And while they do break the mold in several places, the old-school segments go hardcore old-school. The lead horn is Daniele D’Agaro’s clarinet, which is certainly different, but the album opens with swingy organ splashing from Bruno Marini on “An Evening at Prospero’s,” turning the grand wizard into more of a jazz-club-owning hep cat. That’s followed with the less traditional “Caliban,” which crackles with post-bop energy and spattering clarinet lines, a free-jazz good time.
“Goodbye” and “So” are slower, warmer numbers. You can totally picture the ’50s album cover with the sweater girl listening to her hi-fi. “Ariel in Clarinetville” gets into a more free-form kind of improvising, but when the chord-heavy organ solo starts up, watch out! You’re plunged way back into ’50s TV territory.
As for Bennik, he’s content to slip into a sideman’s outfit and do his part to swing along, maybe with a little extra activity bubbling beneath the surface. Even his drum solo on “Claribel, the Queen of Tunis” fits right in the pocket. Another solo, on “Caliban,” is full of quietude and subtlety — it’s delicious stuff, playful but not audacious.
It’s true that you often can judge a CD by its cover. Marketing people and artists do a great job conveying the mood of the music. But every now and then, as on The Tempest, you get a pleasant surprise.
Tim Berne’s Snakeoil — Shadow Man (ECM, 2013)
Maybe this is a dumb thing to say, but Shadow Man, the second outing for Tim Berne’s Snakeoil quartet, feels like songs and arrangements picked for the group, a conscious effort to stretch the band’s boundaries.
It’s a fine-lined distinction and possibly a phantom one; after all, it’s pretty obvious the group existed, toured successfully, and made plans for a second album — so of course the songs were hand-picked for them. It just feels like this time, Berne and his cohorts had the advantage of fully knowing the band’s strengths and tendencies. The second time around, they could play to their strengths but also try to push into new territory.
Maybe I’m only getting that impression because “side two” (i.e., the last three songs out of six) consists of three suites, at 23, 19, and 16 minutes, respectively. Not so unusual for a Tim Berne album, but … well, I took it as a sign that these guys aren’t kidding around.
“Socket” (the 19-minute one) has your uptempo, bouncing Berne melodies and the slow parts that typify a suite. But I get different colors out of this than from most of the first Snakeoil album — the almost avant-loungy lushness of the piano/sax duo and the percolating, Bloodcount-like heat of the theme that emerges at the halfway point. There’s a very ECM-like stretch with Oscar Noriega on clarinet, spinning a modern-classical-styled solo as he does so well, accompanied by Matt Mitchell’s patient, angular piano chords and just a wisp of a vibraphone sound from drummer Ches Smith.
“Static” broadsides its way through a nifty bass-clarinet solo by Noriega, then lands in a piano/sax area that feels to me like new ground. Maybe it’s just the instrumentation; that’s certainly Berne soloing, but that piano near-ostinato and the echoey ECM production give it an air that seems new.
The album even starts as if trying to make a new impression. Berne doesn’t appear for the first three minutes, leaving us in a sea of piano and vibes — alien ground compared with Berne’s albums from the ’90s and ’00s.
Of course, Shadow Man isn’t a complete departure. “Static,” “OC/DC,” and “Cornered (Duck)” open with pulse-pounding lines in Berne’s familiar herky-jerky style. (“Static” was co-written with Marc Ducret and got workouts with the Big Satan trio.) Plenty of Berne-written goodness provides the foundation, and the band’s respective improvising voices stretch the fabric into new shapes. It’s a solid effort.
Every other review seems to mention Paul Motian’s “Psalm,” so I might as well, too. It’s a fitting homage to the drummer, a spacious, still duet of Berne and Mitchell maintaining a balanced sense of motion.
Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland — Thee Unhip (Edgetone, 2012)
The Outsound New Music Summit is a labor of love for all volunteers but especially for Rent Romus, who not only runs the whole shebang but does an aces job raising funds and gathering sponsors. It’s been a while since he’s booked himself to play at the festival, though.
Lords of Outland will be part of the final night’s performance, Saturday, July 27, a show subtitled “The Axiom” and running with the theme of blended composition and improvisation. (It will include Kyle Bruckmann’s large-scale, Pynchon-influenced piece, as previously mentioned.)
Originally a jazz band with Romus channeling late-era Coltrane on his sax, Lords of Outland has developed a dark side in the past several years, delving into electronics and sound-experimentation for a more ghoulish atmosphere. Ray Schaeffer’s down-in-the-mud electric bass certainly helps on that front, but outright electronics and the occasional ferocious free-for-all make for a more overtly ghoulish atmosphere.
Jazz is not dead in these tracks. “If Ornette Grew Cacti” opens up with an appropriately prickly take on what could have been one of Ornette’s danceable themes. From there, it goes into a speedy free-jazz attack — Philip Everett’s drumming fills the air with joyous cymbal clashing, and Schaeffer jams madly on bass. There’s also the tuneful and almost traditional “Temple of Dolphy, which shows off Romus’ sax soloing in a relatively light and uncluttered setting.
Throughout the album, C.J. Borosque shows some great work on trumpet. She’s positively screaming on “If Ornette Grew Cacti” and opens up “Planet of the Plutarchs” with some terrific improv, starting with vocalized growls and moving into bright, quick riffs. That track blooms into a bright free-jazz jam, with the bass adding a touch of psych here and there.
The free jazz and noise sides converge all over the place but are used to particularly good effect on “Dedicated to Lord Kraken off Titan off the Shores of Saturn,” where Romus cuts through thick electronics with somber, reverent sax in long tones, a ceremony of respect. In the end, it all explodes into a free-jazz celebration.
This final concert of the Summit should be a doozy. In addition to the Lords and Kyle Bruckmann, the bill includes Lewis Jordan’s Music at Large, a quintet bolstered by guitarist Karl Evangelista and violinist India Cooke. Here’s the Outsound “In the Field” video introducing Jordan, a veteran of the Bay Area jazz scene.
(See also: Vinny Golia Meets Lords of Outland.)
You often get a catchy melody laid down by the guitar or even the bass, topped by Chris Speed playing sax or clarinet in his languid, drifting mode, often more a backdrop than a lead voice. Other songs tip their wings into noise territory, with Hilmar Jensson’s guitar providing a fuzzy haze that only hints at the melody. Black’s drumming varies between bashing and subtle, depending on each composition’s desired mood. It’s all familiar, but just as with a rock band that’s got a successful sound, it still works.
Despite the off-putting cover, the quasi-title track “Antihero” opens the album in a state of peace, a slow sunrise melody on tenor sax. It’s a risky way to start things, but then again, “Antihero” might have gotten lost if it were buried on Side 2, so to speak.
Things get noisy enough from there. “Much Better Now” is a mini-suite that features a quirky, bouncing clarinet theme and another friendly, folky melody. “Tockle” is noteworthy for being a non-pretty track in a pretty setting, calm and serene in its ugliness.
Of the song that are closer to outright rock, “Super K’s” is the most tuneful, but I’m partial to “Marguay,” where a pulsing bass beat is augmented by shards of glass out of Jensson’s guitar. Speed sticks to a chilled breeze on sax there, but the rest of the band is tearing it up.
The album ends with “Square Pegs,” a slow burner that’s like a sunny take on Sunn_0)))). The toneful, droning wash almost obscures the fact that there are chord changes and a beat, and it’s all followed by a long, long fade-out
I was thinking during my first listen that Antiheroes had less emphasis on melody and greater use of noise elements than previous albums, but revisiting the last two albums, Houseplant and Dogs of Great Indifference, I’m not so sure. With each listen, my ear seems to gravitate toward different aspects of the music — the writing, the effects, the drumming. Maybe the band’s depth is what keeps the formula so rich.