AMN Reviews: Adriano Orrù – Palimpsest [pyr106]

A palimpsest—a manuscript page scraped of existing writing in order to receive new writing—represents something of an adaptation of old materials to new purposes. As such, it’s an appropriate image for this new release from Sardinian double bassist Adriano Orrù. Once an electric bassist, Orrù here takes up his old instrument again and puts it to new uses in this set of ten improvised duets created through file-sharing.

The duets collected here embrace a diversity of instrumentation: Three are with Silvia Corda on prepared piano and toy piano; three feature Mauro Sambo on gongs and other percussion and electronics; and four match Orrù with Paolo Chagas on bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, and flute. Each pairing is characterized by its melding of distinctive voices into a cohesive whole. The duets with Sambo tend toward a kind of ineffably angular atmospherics, with the exception of Scrape Off, a cut up and multitracked sound collage Sambo constructed from samples of Orrù’s bass. Exploiting her instruments’ sometimes chiming, sometimes muted timbres, Corda sets out deliberately paced chords, displaced accents and percussive dissonances that provide an apt framework within which Orrù’s drones and upper register, atonal lead lines can flourish. Chagas, even when playing out, brings an inherent sense of lyric narrative to his parts. His interactions with Orrù are especially provocative, whether it’s a matter of his shakuhachi-like flute being recontextualized by Orrù’s subtly changing harmonic support, or his soprano sax offsetting the electric bass’s chromatic melodies and microtonal glissandi. Throughout the set Orrù stretches the electric bass’s voice while still maintaining its essential qualities. His sound is notable for its clear highs and resonant lows, which impart a crispness and depth to his quick runs, chords and arpeggios.

About these ads

AMN Reviews: Uri Caine Ensemble – Rhapsody in Blue (Winter & Winter)

Uri Caine

Cover of Uri Caine

Uri Caine´s improbable streak of strokes of genius in posthumous collaboration with the great composers of modern Western music (Mahler, Bach, Schubert) finally comes home to New York, picking up George Gershwin and a few other immigrant lads while passing through Ellis Island. After Woody Allen´s “Manhattan”, it seemed impossible to ever hear Rhapsody in Blue without picturing its opening credits, but after that swooping clarinet intro, the ensemble´s rib-tickling rinky-tink freestyling proves it can be forgotten. Caine drags it down to the Bowery, through the garment district, uptown for drinks and dancing, takes it to a Broadway show and buys it a Nathan´s hot dog. Bobbing and weaving with Chris Speed´s clarinet, Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Joyce Hammann on violin to the tattoo of a seemingly eight-armed Jim Black, Caine´s streetview New York is elegant, sweaty, sentimental, Puerto Rican, kleztastic, and “interested in your soul”, to quote a period poem by Langston Hughes.

But he´s just getting wound up. He launches into a fanciful revisit of the Gershwin songbook, together with singers Theo Bleckmann and Barbara Walker, so we can also revel in the clever lyrics of brother Ira. Bleckmann and Walker´s “Let´s Call the Whole Thing Off” has that screwball comedy banter and “I´ve Got a Crush on You”, where bassist Mark Hellas, a star in these more intimate settings, particularly lifts. Someone slipped the jumpy juice into Bleckmann´s drink for “They Can´t Take That Away from Me”, a stammering abomination that many will just love. After the ensemble seesaws between smooth and cyclonic, Caine rounds off alone, with a blue, don´t-let-the-bastards-keep-you-down “How Long Has This Been Going On”.

Nice inner sleeve photo portrait by Carl van Vechten, patron of the Harlem Renaissance, to which Gershwin owes so much.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Chicago Underground Duo – Locus (2014; Northern Spy)

chicagoundergroundduo_locus_tcRob Mazurek and Chad Taylor are at it again as Chicago Underground Duo, with an offering that falls somewhere between free jazz, electronica and IDM. Yes, Locus is that broad. Both members of Chicago’s rich creative jazz scene, the pair have teamed up, for the seventh time, to produce a fresh release of genre-twisting intricacy.

Mazurek is no stranger to these pages, as he has been an integral part of a number of brilliant groups, including Sao Paulo Underground (AMN Review), the Rob Mazurek Octet, and Exploding Star Orchestra. Taylor was a frequent collaborator with the late Fred Anderson, and has also played with Jeff Parker, Assif Tashar, Marc Ribot, and many others on over 50 recordings.

Here, Mazurek is credited with cornet, synth, Game Boy, electronics, bamboo flute, and voice, while Taylor plays drums, mbira, guitar and balaphone. In a way, Locus is a logical progression from the latest Sao Paulo Underground release, as Mazurek combines his hard bop roots with electroacoustic improvisation. Taylor brings an Art Ensemble of Chicago influence to the tracks, harkening to that group’s use of non-western polyrhythms.

To the casual listener, they might not even realize that they are experiencing avant-garde music – the overall feel is slick, aggressive, and modern, but also abstract and cerebral. With one foot in jazz, another in layered synthscapes, Locus is a worthy and compelling addition with the Duo’s ongoing legacy.

AMN Reviews: Keir Neuringer – Ceremonies Out of the Air

coverEvery once in a while I start thinking that there’s nothing new to be heard in solo saxophone recordings, but I’m always wrong. Case in point, this release from the Philadelphia-based Keir Neuringer. Ceremonies Out of the Air demonstrates what one person with versatile skills can coax out of an instrument.

Neuringer has spent many years in Europe and the U.S., collaborating with Rafal Mazur, Ensemble Klang, Evan Parker, Reuben Radding, Matt Bauder, Andrew Drury, and many others. This, his first solo release, is an 80-minute, 5-track tour-de-force of the saxophone that was recorded in a single night in August 2013.

Each piece has a distinct emotional or philosophical meaning to Neuringer, evoked in the form of continuous, floating notes and chords. Often multiphonic, Neuringer’s approach is both heartfelt and cerebral. His style is somewhat reminiscent of John Butcher, but too idiosyncratic for a direct comparison.

Rolling and scraping, Neuringer uses both sounds, and makes liberal use of the space between sounds, to kindle quiet interludes between long, wavering drones. Sometimes repetitive and minimalistic, but never a dull moment throughout its length, Ceremonies Out of the Air sets a high water mark in the often-overlooked oeuvre of solo sax.

AMN Reviews: Colin Webster and Graham Dunning – Estigate [LOR050]

Recorded in a London, UK storage facility over the course of two days in winter and summer 2012, this stimulating set of eight live improvisations is a soundtrack of things confronted in their raw state.

Colin Webster draws a kind of elemental expressionism from tenor and baritone saxophones, making all the parts of the instruments audible as he figuratively disassembles and reassembles them as he plays. Through key clicks, overblown notes, air sounds and multiphonics Webster conveys a vivid picture of the player transmitting ideas directly through the instrument’s material. Complementing him is Graham Dunning’s turntable, feeding in Dunning’s field recordings via dubplate supplemented by a spectrum of pops, crackles and the mechanical groan of motors running down under pressure and then returning to speed.

Although fully improvised, the tracks all embody an inherent sense of composition that makes good use of variations in density and timbre through layering and sonic contrast.

AMN Reviews: Kris Davis – Massive Threads (2013; Thirsty Ear)

massivePianist Kris Davis has worked in many group settings, and her frequent collaborators include Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey, John Hebert, and many others. Massive Threads is her second solo recording, a follow up to 2011′s Aeriol Piano.  While almost all tracks are fully improvised (aside from a cover of Monk’s Evidence), she doesn’t shy away from her classical leanings.  In fact, it is as if Davis is performing an avant-classical piano recital, calling upon the ghosts of Cage, Feldman, and Ligeti with her instantaneous compositions.

The album begins with Ten Exorcists, a  repetitive, percussive piece for what sounds like a specially-tuned piano.  The track also includes brief interludes of ominously-swirling counterpoint.  The title track is similar in a way, with playful, yet dark, rolling blending into subsequent pounding, and then a quieter interval leading to similar dynamic chording.

Davis’s musical schizophrenia between the classical and jazz worlds is similar to the disconnect between her left and right hands on the piano keyboard. This is a woman who wants things both ways and is not willing to be pigeonholed or compromise. The result is an intriguing and intellectual effort that is too headstrong to be labelled as academic.

AMN Reviews: The Nels Cline Singers – Macroscope (2014; Mack Avenue Records)

mac1085_200-2__mediumOver the last 30 years, Nels Cline has made the transition from upstart guitarist to an established and well respected player.  In many ways, he is now at the peak of his career, a leader of several projects, and an in-demand  sideman.  This is the fifth album from the inappropriately-named Nels Cline Singers – the group is instrumental though some vocals are moaned and chanted. Featuring Cline on guitar, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Scott Amendola on drums, the group is rounded out with contributions from Yuka Honda, Cyro Baptista, Josh Jones, and Zeena Parkins.

The first track, Companion Piece, begins as slow acoustic jazz, then builds up to explosive soloing from Cline, while the rhythm section lays down a varying base. The Wedding Band is another fun track, opening with guitar and effects over South American percussion, then settling with guitar picking and a wandering bass line. Climb Down offers a relatively steady beat overlaid with guitar fiddling and effects, while Seven Zed Heaven begins with an inside-out guitar line before moving on to processed slides and licks, and a long tension-filled crescendo.

What should be clear is that the Singers never rest on a particular style or feel. The album is varied and each track is unique, but all of them work together as a cohesive whole.  And some are downright catchy in their own weird ways.  Not exactly jazz, not exactly avant-garde, not exactly rock, Cline and company pull together aspects of those styles and more to produce an engaging release.

AMN Reviews: Bore – Issue 2

This second number of Bore, the publication of predominantly text-based scores edited by Sarah Hughes and David Stent, arrives bearing a generous sampling of compositions by Tim Parkinson and James Saunders. As with the first number, this one puts its scores in a format designed to be used the composers intended—a welcome invitation to the reader to participate in the realization of the works included.

Parkinson, a London-based composer, curator and pianist whose works have been performed internationally by Apartment House, the London Sinfonietta, Rhodri Davies, Stefan Thut and Anton Lukoszevieze among others, is represented here by the scores to four Songs (2011) for two performers. The songs largely consist of texts drawn from a consumer survey which are spoken, chanted and shouted, and accompanied by clapping, drumming and other gestures. In addition, the performers are to strike, stir and drop objects at given times. The scores include verbal instructions specifying the conditions and durations of each song as well as pages of music notation showing the rhythms and phrasing to use for the texts’ delivery. The texts make for a droll narrative of prosaic preoccupations both essential and trivial—and sometimes both at the same time. Delivered under the conditions of controlled chaos that the instructions seem to want to create, the Songs stand as a dramatically heightened articulation of things we do or feel, without ordinarily giving them voice or thought.

James Saunders—whom we recently interviewed—contributes two sets of scores, one set verbal and one set graphic. The verbal scores—formatted, in a nice touch, as recipe cards—are sets of instructions for large ensembles of players using sound-generating objects and percussion instruments. The instructions specify sound durations and qualities, as well as rules for interactions among the ensemble’s members. The compositions’ major formal elements would appear to be timbre and density, to be shaped through phrasing and layering. The graphic scores consist of two iterations of Object Network, a piece for ten objects of the performer’s choice which are to be moved around the scores’ surfaces according to rules given in an accompanying sheet. The resulting sounds will be a function of the objects’ weight, material composition, surfaces, etc., and of the pressure used to move them. Although the instructions don’t call for contact microphones, amplification could add an interesting layer of variables to those already present.

Even with the ready availability of exploratory scores on such sites as, there’s still nothing like being able to hold and use scores produced with such careful attention to quality.

AMN Reviews: Maile Colbert – Come Kingdom Come (Two Acorns)

An exploratory opera dealing with “millennialism and apocalyptic thought and theory” using the New Testament´s Book of Revelations “as a score and launching point” and enough dinosaurs on the cover to make creationists crazy. What´s not to love? Intermedia artist and “soundscape ecologist” Maile Colbert, an Angelino living in Lisbon, directs soprano Gabriela Crowe as she mixes medieval chant and the poetry of Ian Colbert and weaves these shimmering threads into an electroacoustic soup.

As much about genesis as eschatology – the ultimate tip of the end of time touching its very beginning – Come Kingdom Come is divided into seven acts, seven days of void filling with form, where the spectral “Ouverture for That Day” catches fragments of what happened at the end in the strings of cello loops. Act One “Begins” with a prayer as heard by the angels, faint but passionate, a glossolalia that ultimately turns into English, about the cold shiver family memory can bring to the soul. Fragments of conversation in “Two Vessels” may reflect some of those memories. “Day from Arrival” seems to exist in some limbo, sparks shed by the Milky Way, muffled voices from the dark side of the moon.

Crowe “looks for absolutes” on “Four Falling Branches”, a Meredith Monk-y, polyphonic kaddish featuring electronic irritationist Tellemake, smoothed out by organ drone, sandblasted and then, on “A Fluid Dawn”, nibbled at the edges by electric termites. “Blinding for to Begin Again” is the mouth of the snake biting its tail – death to make way for beginning, God destroying his ministering angels each morning only to create new ones each night. The final track “Song for the End of Time” is sung with Jessica Constable (partner of Andrea Parkins in The Skein), while Rui Costa mans the electronics. It´s just as quietly disorienting and non-spectacular as you suspect the end times will be – a whimper, or perhaps better, sigh, rather than a bang.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Dan Weiss – Fourteen (2014; Pi Recordings)

pi52_270Dan Weiss is a New York based drummer who has appeared as a sideman with Matt Mitchell, Tony Malaby, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Miguel Zenon and Kenny Werner, among many others. He has also released a series of recordings under his own name, of which this is the latest. Unlike his other offerings, however, Fourteen is a thoroughly-composed, seven-part suite for – you guessed it – fourteen musicians. Weiss’s cohorts include Miles Okazaki, Jacob Sacks, Thomas Morgan, David Binney, and Jacob Garchik.

The album can be roughly categorized as modern, big-band avant-jazz. It is horn-heavy, which is not surprising given Weiss’s leanings. But, significant roles are played by electric guitar, piano, and voice. Harp, organ, and Weiss’s percussion round out the group.

Fourteen is more than just a sum of all these parts. For instance, the album kicks off with slightly contrapuntal piano. Later tracks make heavy use of chanted vocals, with shades of Philip Glass‘s Koyaanisqatsi toward the end of the Part Two as well as the beginning of Part Six. At other points, Weiss’s charts let loose free jazz blowing, as a multi-horn and guitar attack create massive walls of sound.

Comparisons of Weiss to Darcy James Argue‘s efforts are probably going to happen. These comparisons are not completely off base, as Weiss takes a similar holistic approach to large-scale composing, while leaving just enough room for interesting soloing. These solos, however, are so deeply integrated into the composition that they appear to be intentional rather than off the cuff.  Given how well this effort works, that’s a very good thing.

Weiss has made his mark with this release.  It doesn’t necessarily swing, but it doesn’t need to - it’s too busy blowing you away.