AMN Reviews: Tomas Fujiwara Trio – Variable Bets (2014; Relative Pitch Records)

Tomas Fujiwara Trio - Variable Bets - coverTomas Fujiwara is a drummer who appears on so many good recordings that it is difficult to keep up with his activities. Mostly known for being part of New York’s current creative jazz scene – an artistic landscape that combines free jazz with modern composition – he often records and plays with compatriots Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum, among many others.

This, his first album as leader of a trio, features Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Brandon Seabrook on guitar, and was recorded live last September. It consists of eight tracks, from 2 to almost 14 minutes in length. At first blush, Variable Bets comes across as more experimental than many of Fujiwara’s efforts. The tracks cannot be pigeonholed into any category, much less jazz. Perhaps the guitar / trumpet / drums lineup contributes to that notion, along with each player’s reluctance to settle on the conventional.

A few particularly high points include when Alessi and Seabrook simultaneously improvise jagged, uptempo melodies over Fujiwara’s agile drumming. Seabrook often lets loose with speed picking and grinding out walls of noise, invoking a cross between Nels Cline and Derek Bailey. Fujiwara is so adept and subtle at times, that it is easy to ignore how much he adds to the music. Alessi combines serious chops with a flair for the unpredictable.

Even of you are familiar with Fujiwara’s works, there will be some surprises here. Though confined to the trio format, the musicians use a broad palette to explore and create. Whatever they do, they do very well. An excellent release that will be out on December 2nd, from Relative Pitch Records.

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AMN Reviews: Dub Mentor featuring Yan Jun – Guns of Brixton (Ent-T)

Deep in the recesses of his studio in Tel Aviv, Lior Sulliman once again dons the mantel of Dub Mentor to produce yet another startling minimalist cover, recorded with faultless musicianship and pristine clarity. Here, the Clash´s Guns of Brixton as a chamber piece with previous collaborator Yan Jun confiding the lyrics to us. In Chinese.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Ron Nagorcka – Atom Bomb Becomes Folk Art [pogus P21076-2]

“The very essence of electronic music is distortion!” This declaration, one of the spoken passages of Ron Nagorcka’s Atom Bomb for toy instruments, cassette tape records and miscellaneous devices, stands as a kind of epigram for the open and experimental spirit behind much of the music in this 2 CD survey of Nagorcka’s work.

Raised on a sheep farm in Western Victoria in Australia, Nagorcka was immersed in the sounds of the natural world—sounds that were to play a significant role in his music later in life. His formal music studies included pipe organ and harpsichord performance as well as composition and electronic music, the latter in California under the tutelage of Robert Erickson, Pauline Oliveros, Kenneth Gaburo and John Silber. Returning to Australia, he taught composition and in the 1980s moved to a remote part of Tasmania, where he is as much a naturalist as he is a composer/musician.

The pieces collected in this set cover a thirty year period, running from 1973’s Finite Differences for pipe organ duet, to three works from 2006. Some of the early work is represented by archival recordings of first—and sometimes only—performances. Taken together, they trace the progress of Nagorcka’s interests and the developments in sound technology that helped him to realize them.

The earliest pieces represented here show Nagorcka exploring pitch and timbre with often innovative—and sometimes unreliable—sound sources. Finite Differences’ combination of a limited set of notes and chords with manipulation of the pipe organ’s stops results in a series of dissonant harmonies sandwiched by a low frequency throb and high frequency drones. Modulation (1974) is a later studio reworking of a recording of a malfunction-ridden performance featuring reel-to-reel tape loops and a VCS3 synthesizer. Requiem (1976) for solo piano and Atom Bomb (1977) are new performances of works quite different in structure and feeling. The latter, realized by the trio Golden Fur in 2010, is a gradually accumulating cacophony of spoken fragments, sung lines and miscellaneous sounds building in density, volume and general noisiness over a quietly languid chord progression. Requiem, performed by pianist Nicholas Cummings in 2012, is a haltingly spare memorial to Melbourne composer Ian Bonighton.

The newer work explores alternative tunings or scales as well as field recordings of Australian fauna and locations. The multipart Artamidae (2002) and June Bluffing for Quamby (2006) complement field recordings of birds or landmarks with just intonation and changing time signatures. With myriad degrees of light-dark infusion (2006) is another work in just intonation, scored for an electroacoustic chamber ensemble of trombone, clarinet, cello and MIDI using a 43-tone scale created by Harry Partch. A pungently polyphonic piece, its crossing lines often produce slightly alien-sounding harmonies.

All in all, a rich and highly diverse collection of work.

AMN Reviews: Polbrone – o-nulu (Self-released)

Lo these many years ago, 2005 I believe it was, the brothers Andrea and Simone Salvatici did leave their native Italy to resettle in fair Albion. London, the Big Smoke. And there they did make a joyful sound as Clorinde. Drawing inspiration, as I wrote elsewhere, “from late medieval Europe, they play in minimalist, cyclic oblongs with room for improvisation inside the ellipses, wielding an array of plucked acoustic instruments, mandolin, bouzouki and banjo, kalimba, zither and ukulele, as well as bowed and struck glockenspiel, keyboards, drums and electric guitar. Their wood, metal and catgut sounds startlingly crisp, clear and contemporary, but the brothers titivate them with digital electronics to imbue mustiness and patina.”

Thus The Creative Listener and not long after, a double album soundscaping The Gardens of Bomarzo, with over forty tracks, as sprawling as the infamous park in Viterbo, just north of Rome. Built in that mid-Renaissance time when the Enlightenment was young, science was still all tangled up with purported secret Hermetic knowledge and curiosity only killed the cat when it was required for some alchemical experiment. Designed to assuage the grief of the local prince, who had just lost his dear wife, he and his landscaper defied the symmetry of the typical Renaissance garden and filled it with mythographic statuary. The album Clorinde made in its honour was a kind of cross between an outdoor fair and a ´70s theme album, like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, in scope and narrative ambition. It´s a fine thing to hear, especially if you´ve visited the bizarre, amusing park.

The brothers recently announced that they have rebranded themselves as Polbrone and made a drastic about-face with o-nulu, programming computers while gazing at the shoes beneath their guitars. Now wielding axes, they have chopped their mandolins, bouzokis, kalimbas, etc., into kindling wood and on “Dolores” attack the air in intense, deliberate waves, as if hoping to cleave the thickness of its atoms. “Pigs of Gavorrano” begins tinkling like rose quartz in sunlight before the guitars crizzle its clarity and clouds of feedback are shot through with electric malfunction. Banish the clouds and the sunlight returns to illuminate a cozy, hillside village cottage. There´s lemonade on the porch but it´s been spiked. Beholding the “Watermelon Fields” stretched out from the front yard down into the valley below, the bucolic scene begins to waver, both the sound of it and the sight of it, until some of the watermelons start blowing up.

An interesting introduction to an unexpected left turn in the duo´s career.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP – Return the Tides: Ascension Suite and Holy Ghost (2014; Cuneiform Records)

unnamedIn Rob Mazurek‘s extensive discography, it is difficult to find a release that isn’t a worthwhile listen. Indeed, most of his efforts, especially those of the last few years, are resoundingly excellent. Return the Tides: Ascension Suite and Holy Ghost continues this trend.

The album, featuring Mazurek’s cohorts in Sao Paulo Underground and three new participants, is both a tribute to his mother, as well as a shamanistic ritual to mark her recent passing. Consisting of four tracks all around the 16-18 minute mark, the album offers a logical expansion to the recent Sao Paulo Underground sound. With the three additional musicians, who mostly contribute electronics, sax, and voices, the sextet includes layers and a density that Mazurek’s Brazilian trio hadn’t previously captured.

The album takes the listener on a journey of sorts, starting with Oh Mother (Angel’s Wings), featuring dense percussion, free improv over a repeating harmony, then a noisy freak out at the end. Return the Tides follows, and is powerfully themed, probably the most immediately appealing track. Let the Rain Fall Upwards includes something resembling backwards masking, as well as walls of electronics backing Mazurek’s cornet. Finally, Reverse the Lightning is a quieter piece, featuring the rabeca, a Brazilian fiddle.  Not unlike the Sao Paulo Underground albums, it can be difficult to discern the synthesized sounds from the acoustic instruments.

Mazurek and company channel Electric Miles, Sun Ra, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago to make a recording that is cosmic, spiritual, raw, and powerful. Return the Tides depicts an emotionally chaotic trek from the anguish of loss to peace. One of Mazurek’s best efforts to date.

AMN Reviews: Grego Applegate Edwards – Travels in Tyme [Ruby Flower Records 09]

Grego Applegate Edwards is well-known to rock, jazz, classical and avant-garde music listeners as a very active music blogger given to tastes at once catholic and discerning. But he is also a musician and composer in his own right, having studied with master drummers Elvin Jones and Barry Altschul and composer Arpad Szabo at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, among others. As might be expected, the music on this release draws on a variety of influences and inspirations, most notably the sounds of rock instrumentation, the rhythmic complexity of jazz, and the compositional methods of modern new music. Principally, though, Travels in Tyme is, as its title advertises, about time as embodied in music.

All of the tracks on the disc feature dense textures made up of threads of different lengths. Edwards often will take a line or phrase—such as the three-figure ascending phrase that forms the core of Kelly Green, or the convoluted chromatic melody in Blue Pegleg—and overlay it with multiple, tonally-related phrases of varying durations. The phrases play out, diverging and converging at different multiples of their cycles, making for an often unpredictable array of accents over a sometimes steady, sometimes variable pulse. Melodies don’t function as lead or background voices so much as they take on the role of dividing time into longer or shorter overlapping periods. Throughout the release there’s an echo of the practice, pioneered by Ives and explored at Darmstadt, of using multiple orchestras playing with, against, and through each other simultaneously. Edwards obtains a remarkably rich palette of timbres by multitracking a large number of guitars, percussion and keyboards—and even voice, on Kelly Green (Circles and Shadows)–all of which he plays himself. The resulting planes of sound create a marked sense of depth expanding beneath the resonant, multi-hued surface.

AMN Reviews: Scott Walker & Sunn O))) – Soused (2014; 4AD)

22344_c_w_300_h_300By Vincent Bergeron

I am not sure if Scott is starting this one with a tribute to Marlon Brando, but here is something I wanted to do for years. I can never compose music about actors, it doesn’t work, probably because my music never settles for a specific character all the way through a composition.

In Sunn O))), who first approached him for a collaboration, Walker finds a sound that settles so much, you can treat it like the constant drone heard in some oriental instruments, a sonic bridge (working, in this case, on the lower edge of sound) that gives a lot of freedom if it fits your method enough. That is certainly the case here.

That is a new set of musicians for quite possibly the most inventive crooner of all times, someone that really slowly became a complete music composer with a constantly evolving musical language, at rapid paste this last decade after so many years wandering in his mind. Perhaps this man is getting younger instead of older. If David Bowie is still listening, he must be wondering why he is suddenly so nostalgic of his past. What about Eno, that was once pissed from going nowhere with the never satisfied Walker in studio? Even Robert Wyatt is not surprising anybody now by getting back to his traditional jazz roots. That is telling me that only music composers and improvisers with a priority aiming for new sounds are aging gracefully, while trying to reach a middle ground audience is killing the soul with the years, it might take a while for us to notice, but the process is always taking place.

In any case, we can`t even remotely compare the amazing music that Walker is doing now to what the other songwriters of his generation end up with in 2014. Even his singing, the very core of his soul seems to be entirely different now that what he used to sound like. You listen to every album since Climate of Hunter (1984) and every time, his voice is carrying a different energy and several new tones surprise you out of nowhere. He is taking more and more risks with his voice dramatically. That is no attitude for an old man.

Here, it is not exactly like a new album by Scott Walker, the instrumentation is not nearly as expensive (no full string orchestra), the sound is more roughly compressed and a lot of space is reserved for the known low guitars and bass drones of Sunn O))) (most obviously, on the second half of Bull), kings of drone metal. Even if you are not a fan of this band, you should listen to Soused right now, for Walker, because the most dramatic tones of the music here are all his world, ghost trumpet chords, scrap metal, power electronics and many parts you wonder how it is being done, whatever your listening habits. Although, I find it difficult to follow the words on this collaboration, even with the help of the intense vocal recording and mixing (more effects than before), his lyrics are not rushed for this collaboration, instead they appear often more diversified and written, even though a bit more simpler like on Driftverse/chorus, than on the more goofy irony on himself found on Bosch Bosch, where it was a little bit under written lyrically, I was thinking with repeated listening (if you absolutely want to be critical, you do like me).

It is a well balanced collaboration, it doesn’t feel like one is carrying the other, but instead that both feed each other. If you prefer one or the other, you will tend to notice more what sounds like their parts (I wonder if Sunn O))) is about drama so much than the definition of an hopeless absence of it). There are moments like these, on all pieces, but most of the time sounds like the meeting of both. Although Sunn O))) had their quality side projects oriented on unusual percussions, it sounds like Walker took care of this part. On many levels, industrial music is an important sonic part of both worlds. Sunn O))) is closer to the apathy and anti-climatic attitude of the industrial, while pretty much through doom metal basics of sustained low chords, something Walker has been obsessed with through instruments found in an orchestra, a little bit like Ligeti. Using more and more industrial music sound technics, Walker makes the bridge between philosophies that go well together, Sunn O))) appears like another level in this work.

I am always highly impressed and excited by Scott Walker music, this collaboration brings new possibilities to his ever ambitious and passionate ideas. Many listens expected…

Vincent Berger Rond [2014.09.12]

For more info about Scott Walker + Sunn O:))):