AMN Reviews: Mary Halvorson – Reverse Blue (2014; Relative Pitch Records)

coverWhile Mary Halvorson has been active in the creative jazz scene for over a decade, she has truly come into her own in the last three or so years. It is not just that she has appeared on eleven recordings in 2013 alone. Her recent releases Imaginary Sea (AMN review here) and Thumbscrew (AMN review here), for example, both exhibit a new level of compositional maturity for the guitarist. Reverse Blue, officially releasing in October, continues that trend.

Her group on this quartet recording includes Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Halvorson’s deliberate, prickly guitar-wielding is on display, with characteristic bent notes and unexpected directions. For instance, her heavy riffing and soloing on the opening track, Torturer’s Reverse Delight, is offset by a more introspective and jazzy approach on Hako, as well ominous falling tones on Rebel’s Revue.  All four musicians contribute equally to these efforts, often collaborating in contrapunctal lines and dissonance.  Another keeper from Ms. Halvorson.

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AMN Reviews: Steve Lehman Octet – Mise en Abime (2014; Pi Recordings)

pi54_270The title of this album refers to the phenomenon of standing between two mirrors and seeing an infinite reproductions of one’s image. And the way that Lehman brings intellectualism to creative music, comparisons to M. C. Escher and recursion are perhaps appropriate. Joined by Chris Dingman, Jonathan Finlayson, Drew Gress, and Tyshawn Sorey, among others, Lehman’s octet features five horns, vibes, bass, and drums. The result is a busy, almost frantic, feel stretching across eight tracks.

While Mise en Abime resembles free jazz at times, it is too pre-planned to fall squarely into that category. Particularly, this album continues Lehman’s foray into spectral music, though it does not seem as much at first listen. Instead his hard bop, Braxton, and Ellington influences are at the fore throughout most of this recording. But on some tracks, such as Beyond All Limits, shimmering spectralism creeps in to good effect.  Lehman instructs his group to create sweeping background sound effects. Whether Lehman composed some of these pieces in the spectral domain is unclear, but ultimately it does not matter.  Hearing Mise en Abime is like listening to two different albums played on top of one another.  This combination works, but it leaves you with a sense of wonderment over the composer’s ability to synthesize all of the sounds and keep them straight.

A very compelling release that is cerebral, but never too academic in nature. Highly recommended.

AMN Reviews: Dead Neanderthals – Prime (2014; Gaffer Records)

gr052-prime-front-1500pxComing off a recent team-up with Machinefabriek, Dutch free-jazz / noise group Dead Neanderthals is back with Prime, a release due out in early October. Consisting of Colin Webster and Otto Kokke on dueling saxophones, and Rene Aquarius on drums, the Neanderthals amp it up in a major way on this effort. Ultimately, this is a free jazz blow-out ala Peter Brotzmann with a touch of hard noise wall on the side. Webster and Kokke don’t slow down the screeches and squeals for a bit on the album’s single 40-minute track. They turn in an all-out blast fest with Aquarius pounding the drums relentlessly. Fans of Merzbow, Painkiller, heavy drones, and saxophone madness will find plenty to like here. Perhaps you could say  that they are a one-trick pony – but what a heck of a trick!

AMN Reviews: Ashley Paul – White Night

21ashleyAshley Paul – White Night  (Important Records, Cassauna series, SAUNA21)

By Dan Coffey

Ashley Paul’s latest release, before her upcoming full-length album on Important Records, is a cassette containing six songs. The Brooklyn-based new face on the avant-garde improv/compositional circuit has become quite prolific. Here she uses the cassette medium to create what seems like a suite in two parts, the songs tied together by explorations of loss and determination to find what has been lost. To that end, the music, all performed by Paul save for guest appearances by Eli Keszler on percussion on the title song and Greg Kelley on trumpet on another cut.

Paul plays quite a bit of guitar on these songs – deceptively simple combinations of three or four notes repeated at different tempos to anchor the chaos that she brings into the mix. Much of the guitar sounds muddled and distant, so that when another few crisp, clear notes are played on electric guitar, one suddenly gets the feeling that they’ve been in a sonic closet with Paul and her contraptions. The almost-claustrophobic nature of many of these songs don’t become apparent until this juxtaposition occurs.

The first song, “Dragon,” features Paul’s frail vocals over low-key sonic mayhem. There is so much bowing and scraping in addition to what sounds like all manner of mechanical objects being put into play, that one can imagine Tom Waits at Paul’s studio door, yelling “LET ME IN! LET ME AT THAT STUFF!” But Paul gives the contraptions center stage, moving her voice to the periphery – something Waits would never do. Another way of looking at what Paul is doing throughout the recording, but especially on “Dragon,” is to compare it to the second and third tracks of Sun Ra’s “Strange Strings”; there is a naiveté here, a sense that Paul is pushing herself out of her comfort zone, playing instruments that are not her strongest suit. Which makes the listening experience that much more transfixing.

The second track on side one, “I’m Finding You,” actually does place Paul’s voice in the forefront. It’s a much shorter piece with beautifully strained vocals that speak to a faith held despite certain odds that only the singer knows (“I’m finding you / I know you’re there). The guitar is much more prevalent in this track, reminding one of a combination of Derek Bailey-lite with echoes of Mary Halvorson.

The final song on side one is sort of a reprise of “Dragon,” but without vocals and with quite a bit more unrestrained mayhem. Side two opens with the almost ballad-like title track, again concerned with the themes of loss and finding. Paul pulls out some truly beautiful guitar work and vocals on this one. Since we’ve already mentioned Bailey, Halvorsen, and Sun Ra, one more analogy can’t hurt. “White Night” sounds like a dead ringer for much of the early 80s post-Henry Cow “Rock in Opposition” output, particularly Lindsay Cooper’s “News from Babel” project. One almost expects to hear Dagmar Krause or Robert Wyatt join in on the vocals.

The second track on side 2, “Goodbyes,” is also reminiscent of the noisier side of the Rock in Opposition movement. Fred Frith’s “guitars on the table” style of playing and the “Downtown” improv scene of the early/mid-80s is directly referenced here, to amazing effect.  The final track, “Run the Walls,” continues the RIO theme, sounding more like very-late period Henry Cow and Art Bears recordings. Paul really manages to go against the vocals heard previously, for a more cacophonous effect, reminiscent of what Dagmar Krause was doing in the Art Bears in the early 1980s.

All these referents shouldn’t obscure the fact that this is a distinctly original album by a multi-talented artist still finding her place in the musical world. After listening to this cassette, one might hope she never does find her place.

AMN Reviews: Secluded Bronte – Secluded in Jersey City [pogus 21075-2]

Although this EP-length CD from Secluded Bronte was recorded live in the studio at WFMU in Jersey City, NJ way back in 2002, it still sounds fresh.

The creative process of Secluded Bronte—made up of brothers Jonathan and Adam Bohman and Richard Thomas—seems to be to take a kitchen sink miscellany of toys, objects, appliances and technologies, play them live, and then chop and channel the sounds into a collage. There is a kind of inspired zaniness to the results, but with a shadow behind it, almost as if we’re listening to toy pianos, metal utensils and other household objects being upended by a poltergeist with a dry sense of humor. And it’s this droll undertow that sets Secluded Bronte apart from much acousmatic sound art and lends a welcome splash of irreverence to the art of sonic mayhem.

AMN Reviews: Emiliano Romanelli – 333 Loops (Volume 1) (Terziruolo)

romanelli_333loops1_te02_bigThe longing for eternal concord is written into our DNA and is the outcome of our most optimistic philosophies, from the Torah to Kant´s still much-discussed perpetual peace. Thirteen years after co-founding T um´, Emiliano Romanelli has begun issuing documents of “sound events generated by the homonymous modular system” he designed in 2011.

As he explains, the system he constructed contains “an archive of 333 pre-recorded sound loops produced…by a sound synthesis software played in different acoustic environments… the loops are used as modules in a random process of juxtapositions.” Depending on how it is programmed, 333 Loops could run between 110,889 seconds and 110,889 years, according to Romanelli´s calculations.

This first volume, featuring three extracts running a mere thirty-five minutes combined, was recorded at a festival held on the grounds of a medieval Capuchin monastery in Italy. Despite being so hot-wired, generative music never sounded less artificial. It is a sublime ambience more absorbed than heard, the sound of all of us dissolving into our yearned-for innate amity.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: IKB Ensemble – Anthropométrie sans titre [cs263]

The IKB Ensemble is named for International Klein Blue, a kind of synthetic ultramarine blue patented in 1961 by French painter Yves Klein, which he used in nearly 200 monochromatic paintings. Klein was attracted to the color because he saw it as largely bereft of associations outside of sky and sea, and thus able to withdraw from the viewer into a kind of immateriality or intangibility. It seems fitting then that the ensemble creating this subtly developing long piece, recorded in Lisbon in February 2014, should take its inspiration from Klein’s color.

Although IKB is a large ensemble—it’s composed of thirteen members playing strings, reeds, brass, percussion, electronics and even voice and accordion—it steps very lightly. Much of its activity is spent exploring timbre outside of pitch—key clicks, bowed muted strings, unvoiced air notes, wordless vocalizations—at low volume. When a clearly sounded tone asserts itself in the mix, as it does on occasion, the effect is almost startling. Even as it builds slowly and almost unperceptibly to a crescendo, the music is meditative in the way that looking at a monochromatic painting can be meditative.