Archive for the ‘AMN Reviews’ Category

image_Morgan_coverTrombonist/composer Morgan Powell (1938, West Texas) is notable for having taken a background in jazz improvisation and integrated it into the context of the small art music ensemble. Powell began playing trombone early and by his teens was playing regionally in professional jazz bands. After studying music education and composition at North Texas State College with Ed Summerlin and Samuel Adler, Powell entered the doctoral program at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where his teachers included Salvatore Martirano, Kenneth Gaburo. He taught there from 1966-1994 and was chairman of the composition/theory division from 1978-1983.

In this compact book, some of whose chapters have appeared in New Music Box, Perfect Sound Forever and elsewhere, Ann Starr offers a personal, impressionistic account of Powell’s work augmented by biographical information, interviews (with Powell and with trumpeter Thomas Wirth), reviews and liner notes, and a profile of the Tone Road Ramblers, the collaborative improvisational sextet in which Powell plays and for which he writes much of his music. The book is accompanied by a CD containing nine tracks, two of which were previously unreleased, representing work written between 1972 and 2008.

As evidenced by the CD selections, Powell’s background in jazz orchestration would seem to come through in the instruments he’s written for. There are solo works for trumpet, trombone, tuba as well as duets for flugelhorn and percussion, trumpet and alto saxophone, and flutes and percussion. Also included is an improvisation by the Tone Road Ramblers, whose instrumentation—percussion, flute, clarinet, trombones, and trumpet—carries the flavor of a scaled down jazz big band. The music is appropriately multifaceted. Alone (1972), performed by Ray Sasaki on trumpet, begins with an echo of Varese’s Integrales and then turns ruminative, the instrument often taking on a vocal quality. The whimsically titled Triptych in Five Parts (2000), performed by the Ramblers, is a texturally-varied improvisation with a well-balanced, constantly changing blend of timbres—a remarkable thing to do unscripted. Destiny and Desire (2003) for trumpet (Sasaki) and alto saxophone (Howie Smith), is a contrapuntal work of emergent dissonances interspersed with solo passages. The single work for a string instrument, the expressive Sonny’s Songs (1999) for solo violin, is performed by Dorothy Martirano and seamlessly incorporates extended string techniques–bent phrases, microtones, and left-hand pizzicato—into an expansively lyrical framework.

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a0057794967_2Hailing from Portland, Oregon, this heavy prog / jazz / metal trio provides 40 minutes of King Crimson inflected angularity on Treffpunkt. Featuring Jon Scheid on bass, Ryan Miller on guitar, and Phil Cleary on drums, the trio blasts through eight tracks of heavy instrumental riffing and disjointed rhythms. With a punk urgency, Miller alternates between providing distorted atmospheres and hard strumming on his guitar. The rhythm section lays down time changes with math-rock ease. You could try to dance to Treffpunkt, but you’d probably break both legs.

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.

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

“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)

Posted: October 18, 2014 by nepets in AMN Reviews

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

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.