AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Gianni Mimmo & Daniel Levin – Turbulent Flow [Amirani AMRN032]; Gianni Mimmo & Alison Blunt – Lasting Ephemerals [Amirani AMRN037-LP1]

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Two unusual and refreshing duets for reeds and strings, both of them featuring soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo.

Mimmo, a resident of Pavia in northern Italy, started out on tenor saxophone and passed through alto and baritone before settling on the soprano after hearing Steve Lacy play live with Bolognese poet Adriano Spatola. Although Lacy was an important early formative force in Mimmo’s development, the latter’s influences and aesthetic grounding go beyond jazz and even free improvisation to embrace contemporary art music as well as visual and media arts and, perhaps more importantly, poetry. Mimmo’s playing reflects an interest in the symmetries between voice and the soprano saxophone—both of which are powered and limited by the measure of breath—and is centered on a melodicism always on the verge of alluding to speech and its variable rhythms.

R-4077400-1354467939-6427.jpegThe aptly titled Turbulent Flow pairs Mimmo with the dynamic American cellist Daniel Levin. All nine tracks masterfully realize the concept of the duet as being as much about setting voices against each other—in the abrasions of parallel planes rubbing surfaces, or in the direct confrontation of collision on the perpendicular—as it is of having them blend harmoniously. Conflict and complementarity are built into the weave of the interplay between the two, with Levin’s muscular, physical engagement with timbre framing Mimmo’s buoyant complexes of sound. Both players build and relieve tension through a variety of textural strategies such as layering rapid runs up and down the sax on top of thickly impastoed cello chords and glisses; opening up transparent spaces through contrastingly quiet contrapuntal passages; mounting a flurry of upper register notes on the soprano over the cello’s obliquely walking pizzicato. This is about the beauty of angles, some of whose edges are quite sharp.

LastingEphemerals_Mimmo_Blunt_album_cover_art_2014If the sonic geometry of Turbulent Flow is broadly planar, the interplay between Mimmo and UK violinist Alison Blunt is one of supple and intertwining lines. This set of duets, recorded at St. Leonard’s Shoreditch Church in London in the summer of 2013, embodies a quieter and more reflective mood than that of Turbulent Flow. Much of the music is a matter of putting line against line. Both players shape melodies out of spontaneously constructed tone rows, with Blunt moving smoothly between single note lines and harmonically rich—and sometimes unsettling–multiple stops. Color contrasts between reed and string are largely supplementary to the improvised polyphony, but when the two instruments overlap in pitch, particularly in the upper register, each unhesitatingly asserts its own identity with stridence.

As the one constant binding both of these very different recordings together, Mimmo’s voice inevitably is thrown into high relief. It consistently coheres around an often free-flowing line that has at its core a lyrical logic that keeps it rooted in song, even as it moves through pantonal note sequences, registral leaps and serrated rhythms. Extended techniques such as key clicks and overblowing serve somewhat the same function in regard to the main line as backlighting for an object—they make clearer the essential profile of the thing in question, which for Mimmo is always the melody.

AMN Reviews: Artificial Memory Trace – Anouran Love Songs (Gruenrekorder) & Synkronika (noise-below/Tentacles of Perception Recordings)

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Oh, the places you´ll go! The things you´ll hear. Artificial Memory Trace was born Jaroslav Trkal and also trades as Slavek Kwi. He calls Ireland his home but one wonders if the Czech immigrant isn´t really at home wherever anything makes a sound, given the breadth and depth of his field recording art.

152_1A boyhood fascination with frogs tadpoled into a huge fresco of Amazonian amphibia, recorded over the course of several years around lakes Mamori and Yuma in Brazil, sewn into seventy-two seamless fragments, stored on a USB flash card and going on for hours. Anouran Love Songs is a masterful Audubonian accomplishment and a remarkable extended listening experience. Copies are sold out at Gruenrekorder but still available through Kwi´s website:

R-7009254-1431591877-4817.jpegSynkronika is more of the same but different, a symphony of jungles including the Brazilian Amazon but also South Africa, Basque Country and Ireland, far shorter (but still almost eighty minutes) but more “avant” in terms of conducting an entire zoo of feral, man-made and domesticated wild life (including one house cat that does not seem happy to be included) into six diverse collages and ambient floatation devices.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: Devin Gray – RelativE ResonancE (2015; Skirl Records)

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Gray RelativE ResonancE COVERDrummer and composer Devin Gray made his debut as a leader in 2012 with his release Dirigo Rataplan. This, his second offering, features Gray with a different set of collaborators: Chris Speed on saxophones and clarinets, Kris Davis on piano, and Chris Tordini on bass. Gray provided charts that result in the group undertaking numerous tight, angular workouts, with an emphasis of intricate rhythms.

Some of the tracks are at times reminiscent of the jazzier compositions of Frank Zappa. In particular, the first track, City Nothing City features dense structure and lines that head in unexpected directions.  In the Cut follows with a Brubeck-esque piano rhythm that quickly moves into a long statement from Speed on clarinet.  Jungle Design (For Hannah Shaw), on the other hand, is a more atmospheric piece, featuring a bass drone accentuated by melodic and downtempo sax and piano.

For five of the eight tracks, Gray wrote an etude variation for each player, resulting in a more methodical outcome for these efforts.  But these details can be ignored if desired, and are easily overpowered by the overall creative-jazz approach of Gray and company.  To that point, Speed’s tone is a distinctive force on the album, as is Davis’s ability to fill empty space with accentuated patterns and rhythms.

RelativE ResonancE will be released on June 9. CD Release Concerts will take place on June 13 at Greenwich House Music’s Sound it Out Series NYC, and on June 14 at An die Musik, Baltimore.

AMN Reviews: Guapo – Obscure Knowledge (2015; Cuneiform Records)

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Guapo - Obscure Knowledge - Hi_Res_Cover-Guapo-Obscure_KnowledgeUK-based Guapo has been kicking around for about 20 years, showing off their chops in various configurations and lineups. Obscure Knowledge features leader Dave Smith on drums, Kavus Torabi on guitar, Emmett Elvin on keyboards and synthesizers, and James Sedwards on bass. The album is arguably one long track, broken into three parts.  The album title is from the writings of Aldous Huxley, a fitting reference for Guapo’s musical dystopia.

Taking their cues from post-rock, 70’s prog (especially Zeuhl and Krautrock), psychedelia, and avant-metal, Guapo provides a drone-ridden, power-trio plus keyboards approach. The group demonstrates restraint as themes slowly evolve, building and holding tension. For example, the first track begins with walls of keyboards, ascending riffs, and a driving rhythm section.  But after several minutes, it morphs into an ominous keyboard / guitar motif, then a progressive rock oriented theme. The second track is a more atmospheric piece, laden by keyboards and interspersed with guitar effects. The final track, a 12-minute jam, features more emphasis on guitar and bass than the rest of the album.

Fans of Guapo’s previous releases will find much to like here.  And for those intent on exploring the sounds of this group for the first time, Obscure Knowledge is an excellent place to start.

AMN Reviews: Chihei Hatakeyama & Hakobune – It is, It isn´t (White Paddy Mountain)

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a0568954772_16As far as the archives are concerned, this is the first collaboration between two prolific Japanese wizards of atmosphere. Hakobune (Takahiro Yorifuji) layers electric guitar and Chihei Hatakeyama, on whose quality boutique label It is, It isn´t has been released, sits at a piano made of phosphorescent fog. They dovetail seamlessly in thoughtful, wordless conversation. Both are iconoclasts on the one hand and meticulous curators of the ambient tradition on the other, something that can be heard with particular clarity on “Vibrant Color,” with its swirling Enovian saucers taking off randomly, bending your head back.

All three tracks are mighty, impressionist canvases, each a little more over twenty minutes than the last. They absolutely float, at that point on the horizon where the blue of the sky meets the blue of the water and all difference dissolves. This is pluripotent ambience – it can bring you joy or it move you to tears – because it is and it isn´t. Recorded in a single day, “practically unedited” and appearing on album in the order in which they were played live.

Stephen Fruitman

AMN Reviews: David Starobin – New Music with Guitar, Volume 9 [Bridge 9444]

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9444_cover_largeThree substantial new works for nylon string guitar make up this the ninth installment of Bridge Records’ series of releases dedicated to new music for guitar, featuring the distinguished guitarist David Starobin. The settings vary from a guitar and violin duo on Poul Ruder’s Schroedinger’s Cat (2012) to a guitar concerto with full orchestra for Paul Lansky’s 2009 With the Grain, with a chamber work for guitar and eleven piece orchestra–Richard Wernick’s 2002 The Name of the Game–lying in between. Both the Wernick and Ruder compositions take long established forms and either update them or permute them to their limits. In the tradition of Bach’s building compositions around the German note names B-A-C-H (Bb, A, C and B natural), The Name of the Game takes as its basic material a pitch class set spelling out the guitarist’s name and arranges it into a fragmentary modernist polyphony. Starobin and the International Chamber Ensemble give a clear, engaging reading of this angular yet accessible work, with Starobin’s chords and single note lines providing the harmonic and melodic fulcrum. Also alluding to Baroque form is Ruder’s composition, a set of twelve canons seemingly in every conceivable form and notable for its subtly nuanced play of string timbres. The austere instrumentation of the piece contrasts dramatically with the lushly orchestrated With the Grain. On all three works Starobin’s performances are as pristine and compelling as they are beautiful.

AMN Reviews: Victoriaville Day 4 (May 17, 2015)

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Read our review of Victoriaville Day 1.
Read our review of Victoriaville Days 2 and 3.

ErikFriedlanderVICTORIAVILLE, Que – When a loved one dies, the loss can open doors to creative rebirth, which is what happened to avant cellist Erik Friedlander. The death of his beloved, dancer / choreographer Lynn Shapiro in 2011, re-kindled his creative juices and resulted in the poignant and luminous CD, Claws and Wings (Skipstone Records), his eight-part lament to her life. It is a work of beauty and memory – tender sketches that stirred emotions, never descending into melancholy as Friedlander, pianist Sylvie Courvousier, and laptop artist Ikue Mori played music from the CD Sunday afternoon. They rendered such pieces as Frails as a Breeze, Dreams of Your Leaving, and Dancer with subtlety and tenderness.

A mainly scored concert, with some free improv, it was an unusual start for the last day of the 19-concert Festival International de Musique Actuelle here, which focuses on experimental and improvised music. Friedlander was at his lyrical best, while Courvoisier added delicate notes by playing in the highest octave and Mori’s enhanced the mood with bell-like sounds from her laptop.

JoshuaAbrams&HamidDrake-3Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams discovered the unique, banjo-like sound of the three-stringed guimbri – a favourite of Morocco’s Gnawan musicians – and made it his main axe. With African style rhythmic and melodic repetition, he played that instrument as he led a septet through a program of originals that had a mesmerizing effect on the rapt audience. He calls it Natural Information Society.  Master percussionist Hamid Drake was a special guest, playing alongside two drummers and some unusual instrumentation – Lisa Alvarado on harmonium and gong and Ben Boye, playing autoharp and electronic keyboard. They injected some welcome melodic variety into the mix.

Suzuki&Onda-4On the more experimental side, Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda played with silences, common objects and toys to create a unique and unusual soundscape to a small audience seated in a circle. The musicians did it by scraping, rubbing, striking, dripping, sawing, dragging, whirring, buzzing, and scratching in a darkened room. It was a sound experience, unique.

Kaze-5The follow-up was easier to love – Kaze combines the veteran free jazz duo of pianist/composer Satoko Fujii and her life’s partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, with the French team of trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orrins. The trumpeters played in unison and harmonic combinations also in more experimental modes, coaxing sounds from the horn with such unusual techniques as Pruvost blowing into it using a rubber tube. Not to be outdone, Tamura at one point set aside his horn and simulated its sound with cupped hands. I was most impressed by Fujii’s roaming technique as she emulated Cecil-Taylor and Don Pullen with freely expressive and percussive piano bursts, and her using a mallet to coax unusual sounds and textures by hitting the strings inside the baby grand.

MAGMA-2The final concert, by Magma, the French prog-rock super group, attracted a different audience and helped boost ticket sales to about 4,000 over four days. Though the music sounded dated and formulaic, a crowd of several hundred called for an encore after a two-hour show at the larger of two halls in the converted hockey coliseum where the major concerts were held.

Festival head honcho, artistic and general manager Michel Levasseur, declared the festival an artistic and commercial success – the quality and variety were outstanding – but he expressed concern for the future in the current climate of government funding cutbacks. He offered no hints as to plans for next year.