Archive for the ‘AMN Reviews’ Category

130Interstellar Space, John Coltrane’s fiery, harmonically dense set of duets with Rashied Ali, has been something of a paradigm for improvisations for saxophone and drums. This set by percussionist Ben Bennett and alto and soprano saxophonist Jack Wright represents a different kind of paradigm, one that posits color and texture as primary elements. The conventional relationship between pitch and timbre is reversed here in that in Bennett and Wright’s hands, the former becomes a carrier for the latter—when indeed it surfaces at all. For all its potentially broad applicability, Bennett and Wright’s embodiment of reed and percussion interaction nevertheless manages to remain sui generis.

Over the course of his career, Wright has embraced an especially kinetic variety of free jazz—such as would be licensed by Interstellar Space—only to turn around to explore a more austere, sonically constrained type of improvisation. At this stage he seems inclined to gather in and refine elements drawn from the entirety of his personal history, in the process producing a creative synthesis that, while rooted in each tendency he explored, is in the end neither one nor the other. Instead it consists in a unique sound and sense of continuity instantly identifiable as his own.

Throughout the three lengthy pieces Wright sets out timbres or techniques as motifs to delineate and vary, beginning with a long, slow tone that splits into overtones and then dissolves into energetic, bop-like phrases employing a limited set of pitches. From there, Wright draws on the wide-ranging vocabulary he’s developed over the years. He constructs long lines out of air notes or uses register jumps to create the illusion of a jagged melody counterpointed by an independent bassline. More introspective passages find him building phrases out of open spaces as well as sounds, which effectively contrast with frenetic moments sounding like rapid bits of broken birdsong.

Bennett’s sensibility perfectly complements Wright’s. Bennett’s starting point is a severely pared down drumkit—actually a single drum and no cymbals—out of which he creates a variegated texture of timbres using friction as well as percussive strikes. Bennett’s playing eschews rhythm or pulse in favor of pure color. He often mutes the drum to get a closed sound, scrapes brushes against any available surface, bounces objects off the drumhead, and plays on the metal as much as on the membrane. This allows him to play with dynamic as well as timbral contrasts, something that Wright does as well.

It isn’t surprising to find out that Bennett and Wright have been collaborating in different contexts for nearly ten years now. As this recording shows, during that time they’ve forged a uniquely sympathetic relationship in sound.

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sr311Phil Minton + Audrey Chen + Guy Segers + Peter Jacquemyn + Teun Verbruggen – Quintet (Sub Rosa)
Phil Minton + Audrey Chen – By the Stream (Sub Rosa)

Both of these albums, released simultaneously by Sub Rosa, feature the unique talents of Phil Minton and Audrey Chen. Quintet was apparently designed to see how Minton and Chen work together in a jazz-improvisation setting, while the duo album was meant to showcase the particular, and peculiar, vocal improvisatory talents of these two artists.

Chen came to free music by way of years spent at a conservatory studying cello. Indeed, she plays cello as well as using her voice on the Quintet album. Compared to Minton, who has been honing his craft for decades, she’s a newcomer, but she’s seasoned enough to have developed her own approach to ensemble and duo performance. Minton, as mentioned, is well-known for his astounding vocal abilities. I won’t begin to list the sounds he’s capable of here, but they are legion, and uniformly uncanny.

That said, both he and Chen seem to be somewhat at a loss for what to do in the quintet setting. Their performances are mostly sublime, but they don’t seem to be able to engage with the other three players: a drummer, an electric bassist (Guy Segers of Univers Zero), and a double-bassist. And the same goes for the trio. One gets the sense that Minton and Chen are in the same studio as the trio, but neither group knows quite how to proceed in terms of the other, except for Chen’s cello playing, which seems very sympathetic to the group. If listened to for the performances of Chen and Minton, this disc can be quite enjoyable. The last two tracks, dominated by the jazz trio, show that they have a tight rapport and can even bring a little funk into the proceedings. It would be nice to hear more from that trio on its own merits.

By the Stream, the Minton + Chen duo album, in contrast, is a thing of wonder. On every track Minton and Chen come across as alien creatures conversing with each other, either as old friends, or as wary strangers, unsure whether to embrace or fight. On this album, Chen forgoes the cello and puts all of her power into her voice. She tends toward a drone in her vocal improvisations, holding one note for extended periods of time, while Minton is everything and everywhere else – the wind, the voice of a commanding soldier, an existentially distraught man at his very nadir, a baby, – all things that seem to wrap, snake-like, around the solid pole that Chen provides with her steadier vocals. Similar to the work that Jaap Blonk has done with Maja Ratkje, these 14 tracks are otherworldly meetings in a universe that you should be glad you only are able to visit sonically. Beautiful, but at the same time frightening, and as with all Minton’s vocal improv work, completely decentralizing.

AD_smile_caro_bioAndrew Drury Quartet – Content Provider (2015)
Andrew Drury – The Drum (2015)

Percussionist and composer Andrew Drury rarely takes the beaten path. His catalog of appearances, while extensive, is not prolific. Instead, he spends his time teaching and exploring music and other media. Thus, it is a special treat when he releases a new recording, much less two at the same time. These offerings, due out early next year, not only are complementary of one another, but showcase Drury’s compositional intuitiveness and non-linear chops.

Content Provider is a recording of Drury’s off-and-on group of the same name, featuring Briggan Krauss and Ingrid Laubrock on dueling saxes, along with Brandon Seabrook on guitar. Drury provides the drumming and compositions. Krauss and Laubrock deliver staccato lines and drones, with Seabrook mostly in a supporting role with the occasional speed-picking and arpeggiated chords. Still, Seabrook’s tinny and aggressive playing provokes a sense of urgency that drives the other three to free-form blowouts. Alongside them, Drury stays in character by never quite doing what you would expect from a drummer.  While arguably falling to the free-jazz vein, Content Provider is better categorized along with the partially-composed, partially-improvised brand of creative music that is emanating from New York. The group explores sound and texture, while creating and destroying harmonic structures.

The Drum is Drury alone with a floor tom, sheets of metal, bamboo skewers, and bells. He evokes sounds from these unconventional instruments by blowing on them, as well as through brushing, scraping, and striking. The result does not resemble a solo percussion release at all – instead it offers a post-industrial landscape with shifting walls of sound.  In fact, without knowing otherwise, it would be difficult to distinguish Drury’s physical manipulations from computer-mediated electronic music.  Nonetheless, perhaps because of its manual nature, The Drum sets itself apart from that genre.  Either as a testament to Drury’s technical prowess, as an example of what can be done with a limited palette, or as the soundtrack to a hypothetical horror movie, The Drum is a unique and challenging effort.

Drury is kicking off 2015 with a pair of outstanding releases.  If you are going to be in the New York area on February 17th, be sure to check out his release party at Roulette.

Imagine hanging suspended in bullet time, halfway between the clouds and the earth, deep inside a snowflake. Yann Novak’s Snowfall, first presented as a “durational audio-visual performance” over six hours (come and go as you please), is limited to exactly sixty minutes on disc but primed for “repeat”. Poised in its stillness, the sounds of a hundred seasons can be discerned. Not two snowflakes are alike, no two listens the same. Perfect for long, wintertime gazes out the window.

To continue floating through a similar climate, enjoy Novak’s recent collaboration with Fabio Perletta, Liminality.

Stephen Fruitman

2940778What happens when a folk instrument is taken out of its customary milieu and asked to extend itself into musical territory far afield? One answer at least can be found in The 1926 Floor Polish Variations, a release of music for melodeon, guitar, saxophone and an assorted miscellany of sound makers.

The melodeon—the folk instrument alluded to above—is a diatonic button accordion usually associated with sea chanties, Morris dancing and the like. Here, as played by Richard Sanderson, it becomes a formidable instrument in the experimental arsenal. Sanderson is able to extract dissonant overlays of tones, multiphonics, beats and air notes in addition to sounds drawn from the instrument’s mechanisms and casing. (Sanderson’s 2011 solo release Improvisations for Melodeon shows the sometimes surprising range this ostensibly simple instrument is capable of.) From that sonic foundation Daniel Thompson’s guitar and Mark Browne’s saxophone build a superstructure of contrasts and resemblances. The melodeon and saxophone often work together to create a knotted web of long tones, frequently taken from the wind instrument’s upper register. Who’s playing what becomes something of a guessing game until Browne declares himself with a rapidly convoluted line or unmistakable growl drawn from the lower register. Thompson binds and separates the other two with quick, staccato bursts or individual notes left to linger in the spaces between. Seemingly inevitable at the local level while unpredictable over the longer term, each of the four improvisations collected here move along from point to point over the course of a collective stream of consciousness attentively spun.

The sound files are accompanied by a PDF containing striking semi-abstract photographs and an evocative text by Browne.

nbh904_coverAnthony Braxton‘s Tricentric Foundation has put its recent emphasis on boxed sets, with this one being the biggest of the bunch so far. Consisting of a dozen hour-long performances, 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 pairs Braxton with three ladies in duo configurations.

Across this long collection, Braxton lays down various unsettling drones, over which he improvises on a variety of instruments (sopranino, soprano, alto, baritone, and bass saxes, as well as contrabass clarinet). Along with his texture and tone, Kyoko Kitamura (voice), Erica Dicker (violin), or Katherine Young (bassoon) work in the foreground.

Ms. Kitamura provides various spoken word segments, warbles, and squeaks on the first four recordings. Not exactly scat singing, she puts together spoken phrases, nonsense words and throat sounds. On the next four recordings, Braxton’s drones take on a more ominous feel, while his sax playing remains bright. Above this juxtaposition, Ms. Dicker adds violin improv. Scratchy at times, more conventional at others, she bows the whole extent of the instrument, evoking a wide and engrossing range of themes that exhibit her classical and improv experience. Bassoon is one of my favorite instruments, and Ms. Young is no slouch. Having said that, the instrument is downplayed a bit on the final four recordings. Not to say that it isn’t present – but instead she plays it percussively and to set moods.  In fact, it often meshes so closely with Braxton’s playing and the electronics, the result is more of a unified wall of sound that the other two-thirds of this set.

These duets involve Braxton and his collaborator moving in different directions, sometimes as if they were unaware of each other’s presence. The fact that this strategy works is a testament to the respective skills of each. This is a long and challenging, but ultimately rewarding, listen.  If you are a Braxton fan and like your music on the disturbing side, these 12 sets are essential.

cd_brwn001Black Sabbath tribute albums and cover albums are not in short supply.  Quite a few have been made over the years, with varying degrees of quality.  Here, we have Brownout, a 9-piece Latin funk band, using the moniker Brown Sabbath.  They cover a number of songs from the classic Sabbath era of the latter band’s first three albums.

Though driven by heavy guitar, Brownout adds full horn and percussion sections to these tunes.  This works to particularly good effect on The Wizard, which along with N.I.B., Hand of Doom, and Planet Caravan, feature vocals.  While most of these covers stay true to their original albeit with the aforementioned instrumentation, Iron Man for one is almost unrecognizable when given the Brownout treatment. Black Sabbath (the song) also deviates from the original with a thick horn passage to accompany the guitar solo.

Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath will go down as one of the more inspired and unique Sabbath cover efforts – probably the best one since Rondellus released its medieval tribute to the band in 2003. Imagine Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and the crew teaming up with Santana’s backing band, with a modern edge.  Maybe this doesn’t say much, but even Ozzy Osbourne himself is a fan.