Trio HLK

Trio HLKStandard Time (Ubuntu, 2018)

triohlk-standardYou can see why Steve Lehman and Evelyn Glennie want to hang out with these guys. Trio HLK is full of glitches in the matrix, playing smoothly rapid clockwork music that’s full of hiccups. With all the start-stop unpredictability, it’s fitting that one song is titled “Stabvest.”

The effect comes from rapid-fire shifts in time signatures — take a look at the blips of 13/16 and 15/16 in the sheet music for “Extra Sensory Perception Part II,” below (full score available here). Pianist Richard Harrold, guitarist Ant Law, and percussionist Richard Kass run this obstacle course with slick aggression, with Law’s eight-string guitar doubling as bass. The effect is like a sped-up minimalism, with lots of jump cuts between phrases that are repeating but not really repeating.

trio hlk sheet music

The result is music that feels ultra-modern but still sounds pleasant, between the chiming jazz-club chords and the occasional acrid-but-friendly touch of guitar. “TWILT,” a brainy twist on a jazz standard (you can figure out which one), is a good demonstration of what the trio can do. But their guest musicians add some sparkling fun. Lehman add his angular sense of cool to three tracks, and Glennie dances airily on songs like “Extra-Sensory Perception,” a thrill ride that culminates in a hard-driving succession of rising chords shared by piano and guitar.

Here’s a video of the gentle Part I of “Extra-Sensory Perception,” followed by the more intense Part II.

 

Secret Codes of Guitar and Drums

The Lie DetectorsPart III: Secret Unit (Chant, 2018)

maoz-3The Lie Detectors could be classified as a jazz duo, but in fine downtown fashion, it’s jazz with hefty shots of bombast: the heavy crunch of “Rice;” the light touch of “Go” that descends into a sinister, shamanistic guitar sounds; the echoey and folky strains of “Closer” mixed with sparse improv. Punk and metal get their say in the next track, “Here and There.” Those four track are the way Secret Unit starts.

Eyal Maoz (guitar) and Asaf Sirkis (drums) have known each since age 10. Now living in New York and London, respectively, they’re charting impressive musical careers. Maoz is a member of the Lemon Juice Quartet and Shanir Blumenkranz’s Abraxis (which got to record one of John Zorn’s Masada Book II albums), and he leads bands including Edom, Wild Type and the eclectic power trio Hypercolor. Sirkis has been playing with jazzsters including Larry Coryell, Dave Holland and John Abercrombie.

They’ve released two other duo albums: Elementary Dialogues (Ayler, 2006) and Freedom Has Its Own Taste (Fasson, 1998). They don’t seem to have used the Lie Detectors name with those releases, and maybe with good reason — the name is the top secret organization that they formed at age 10. Apparently they’ve decided it’s time to reveal the secret.

Maybe that means more Lie Detectors records to come. Secret Unit‘s varied styles are held together by a cosmic constant of jagged energy and wide-grinned attitude. “Flying Horse” gets into a catchy little groove, but not after a nifty intro of spackled non-rhythm. “Circles” plays like an improv-minded mutation of surf music, with Maoz echoing away against Sirkis’ continuous wave of rolls and snare.  Then there’s the relatively quiet noodling of “Sting” and the choppy rock anthem of “Green Shirt.” But it feels cohesive, like two people speaking the language of a decades-old secret society.

Casual Bombast on Piano and Drums

Paul F. Murphy and Larry WillisExposé (Murphy Records, 2008)

murphy-exposeI know Paul Murphy’s drumming through his work with saxophonists Jimmy Lyons and Glenn Spearman. I remember the aptly named Trio Hurricane, with Spearman, Murphy, and bassist William Parker bringing heavy thunder.

Exposé is now more than a decade old, but when it showed up on eMusic’s “recent additions” list, Murphy’s name caught my eye. I didn’t know what to expect from him in a duo setting, especially paired with a piano, although he’s apparently recorded with Larry Willis multiple times. Exposé presents powerhouse drumming from a subtler angle — lots of tapping cymbals and feathery tom rolls on the solo track “Labyrinth,” for example. Willis brings the crystalline sounds of jazzy piano, but in an edgier vein than cocktail music, with the right improvisational spirit to keep the session outward-facing.

The title track starts slowly with what might be a nod to Cecil Taylor — not in terms of torrential playing but in the kinds of harmonies Taylor composed with. From there, Willis goes more lush and bright, weaving through jazz idioms while Murphy keeps up a continuous rustle, busy but not overwhelming.

The phrase “Liquid Dance” makes for an excellent track title. Murphy keeps up a busy, almost relentless patter but at a low volume, while Willis applies the right restrained, contemplative splashing to fit the name.

Some contemporary mainstream jazz leans in this direction. I’m thinking of labels like Origin Records — pleasing to the ear, but striving to create something new out of familiar cloth. This session wouldn’t be out of place there. Murphy fills space in a way that might be off-putting to some listeners, but I came here for the drums, so I’m happy to focus on the robust energy more than the relaxing moments.

Guitar-Trio Gazing

Ethan ShermanBuilding Block (pfMentum, 2018)

sherman-blocksYou could categorize Building Block as jazz shoegazing or maybe a calm shade of post rock. Clocking in at 40 minutes, the album presents small bites of tasty trio work led by Ethan Sherman on guitar, with appropriately restrained bass and drums — a casual and grooving little session.

The 7-minute “Keltner” is a good way to introduce where the album is coming from, although it takes patience. The longest track on the album, it gradually builds on its on the stillness of a Western-tinged theme to reach a slow-burning payoff.

“Motivation” is languid and comforting, an almost too-pretty melody. I’m also partial to the cool little tune “Dangling,” with its gentle swing.

Chris Rolontz on bass doesn’t get many chances to stand out, but he turns in a nice solo on “Dangling” and does an excellent job framing and sustaining the mood on “Norway.” That track is sparse to the point where drummer Christian Euman is left to sustain the momentum, which he does fluidly.

Usufruct, a Harvest of Sound

UsufructWindfall (VF Industrial, 2018)

Usufruct performs at the Luggage Store Gallery (1007 Market St., San Francisco) on Thursday, January 10.

From the joyous prog rock of Reconnaissance Fly, Polly Moller and Tim Walters have staked new turf in the realm of pensive electronics and austere set pieces.

Windfall paints a spare landscape where silence is a primary color. Moller’s voice and flute are foundational sound sources, both organically and in digitally twisted forms, and Walter adds electronics like small, bright creatures darting across a shadowy geometric plane.

“Usufruct” is a real word, referring to “the right of the people to harvest the fruits of common property.” In that spirit, the band harvests found texts, read by Moller. “Only a Test” borrows from what might be a military handbook, with Moller and Walters barking out disconnected proclamations and lists of words. “Donzerly” cuts up the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, backed by swirling, buzzing electronics that sound aggressive but feel solitary.

When the flute is unadulterated, Moller draws forth a sense of color and stillness, augmented by trilling or tilted embouchure. On “Upside Down Wedding,” Walters plays back the melodic lines  to create an intertwining vine climbing through the ether.

Here’s Usufruct performing at the 2018 Outsound New Music Festival:

Tania Chen and Feldman and Cage

Tania Chen, Wobbly, and Thomas Dimuzio will perform Triadic Memories at The Lab (2948 16th St., San Francisco) on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 8:00 p.m.

Tania Chen and Jon LeideckerMorton Feldman: Triadic Memories (Knitted, 2018)

Tania Chen (with Thurston Moore, David Toop, and Jon Leidecker)John Cage: Electronic Music for Piano (Omnivore, 2018)

feldman score

Tania Chen champions the piano music from the quadrant of Cornelius Cardew, Morton Feldman, and John Cage. It was one of her John Cage albums that inspired me to start writing something here. But then I found out Chen is going to be performing Morton Feldman’s 90-minute “Triadic Memories” with real-time electronics responses provided by Wobbly (Jon Leidecker) and Thomas Dimuzio. So I took a detour to hear her 2018 recording of the solo piano piece.

The composition is what you’d expect from late Feldman: lingering, drifting phrases, more relaxing than ominous, organized in delicate, spacious rhythmic doodles, and while you can run the piece as comforting background noise, you can also use the stillness to focus yourself into the moment, clinging to the notes and phrases against the deep silence. It’s also an interesting exercise in perception. The piece consists of arpeggios that spell out dissonant, prickly chords, but the melting-ice pace turns them into sparkling gems.

The added electronics are based on what’s coming out of the piano — Leidecker presumably attached microphones to the instrument, as he and Dimuzio will do in the Jan. 16 performance. On the CD, electronics appear sparingly, trying to accent the sound without being distracting. A passage starting around 17:20 includes a deep-water aftereffect. Another at around the 26-minute mark is more overt and mischievous but still doesn’t upset the overhanging atmosphere.

But that’s not really what I sat down to write about. I wanted to write about John Cage.

Chen-Electronic-Music-For-Piano-OV-262As you’d expect from a Cage piece, there’s a game aspect and a touch of whimsy behind Electronic Music for Piano, and I think it’s more enjoyable if you listen knowing the rules. Producer Gino Robair recorded Chen performing the piece three times — in separate duets with Toop and Moore in London, and with Leidecker in Berkeley. The CD knits the performances together with help from a “chance-based system” deciding which sound sources would play at which times.

“Sound sources” seems to include not just the six players (counting Chen three times) but also multiple angles, as microphones were all over the place — under the piano soundboard or at different points in the room, all to capture the mix of sounds persisting in air. Pure silence counted as a source and was weighted into the system, as were special options for “piano tracks only” and “non-piano tracks only.”

The overall mood is a fuzzy darkness: Lots of buzzing and roaring (not just Thurston Moore, but also the amplified piano soundboard), alternating with plinks and plucks from the piano, alternating with thick silence.

chen cage silences

About the silence — you don’t put on a John Cage record if you can’t tolerate silence, and this one delivers, with slabs of blankness lasting one to three minutes. “Silence” also factored into the original performances. One silence at around the 8-minute mark is broken by the tiniest flicker of piano strings, almost accidental. That, and the organic way in which the piano sound returns, suggest this was “organic” silence — a very quiet moment that really did happen in the studio.

That said, Thurston Moore’s roar tends to dictate the tone at any given moment — especially in the early minutes, where he’s either ON or off. Much as I enjoyed the chance aspect of the recording, I have to admit it creates jarring results, especially when the guitar kicks in or out. Take the excerpt below, for instance. In the spirit of the recording, I’m starting it at exactly the 15-minute mark, and it includes two silences of roughly one minute apiece.

Yoni Kretzmer’s New New Dilemma

Yoni Kretzmer’s New DilemmaMonths, Weeks and Days (OutNow, 2018)

kretzmer-monthsEight years after I stumbled onto his music, Yoni Kretzmer has again recorded with New Dilemma, the group matching his sax with a string trio. It’s a welcome reunion-of-sorts and, considering the double-CD span of Months, Weeks and Days, a heftier dive into the possibilities for this grouping.

This time, the compositions mostly take the form of longer suites, such as the 19-minute opener, “Sunday Oct. 12th.” The band is also augmented with one more low voice — Josh Sinton on bass clarinet, acting as a foil to Kretzmer and complementing the low-string trio of viola, cello, and bass (Frantz Loriot, Christopher Hoffman, and Pascal Niggenkemper). Flin Van Hemmen rounds out the band on drums.

New Dilemma’s self-titled debut highlighted the compositions and the chamber-music potential of the strings. This second album emphasizes the edge of hard-digging improvisation, with raspy horns and gutty strings. Here’s a span of “Sunday Oct. 12” that features some hard-blazing soloing against composed lines.

“Nov 27th – Dec 1st” is an impressive track that starts with a chamber feel — unison melody as a backdrop to some sublime Kretzmer soloing, fast but restrained, working in a currency of burly knots and tangles. “Friday May 13th” likewise veers into the orbit of traditional chamber music, with its fluttering baroque cello line and floating melodies (and Van Hemmen clattering away with some abandon).

“Tishma” is the only title that isn’t a calendar date, and it’s a departure in another way as well, opening with a creeping overhang built of long tones, with cymbal tapping and Pascal Niggenkemper’s plucked bass breaking the surface tension. The rest is a patient piece built of small sounds.

You can sample parts of Months, Weeks and Days on Bandcamp.