Free improvisation

AMN Reviews: Jane Rigler – Rarefactions [Neuma 450113]

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neuma_records_and_publications081815002026The rarefaction of the title of this collection—a lessening of density or pressure in a medium, as when a sound wave passes through air—is meant as an overall metaphor for the music it contains. All of the pieces reflect flautist/composer Jane Rigler’s interest in the rarefied, individual sound properties of music at an elemental level, where the basic building blocks of material, gesture, timbre and density can be foregrounded and formed into independent structures of—often quite literally—breathtaking subtlety.

The tracks, consisting of nine relatively brief pieces and one longer suite, were fully improvised by Rigler and a small ensemble made up of Janet Feder, Shoko Nagai, and Satoshi Takeishi, in various combinations and on various instruments. Except for one improvisation for Rigler on solo piccolo and one duet for Rigler again on piccolo and Nagai on accordion, which are presented as they were played, the performances were reworked by Rigler in the studio through editing or overdubbing in order to emphasize some aspect of the sound or to infuse compositional structure.

In the solo pieces for herself Rigler shows how she can dig deeply into music’s formative factors to come up with compositions focused on micro-level phenomena. She takes, for example, the hollow of the breath as it explodes into and travels across the mouthpiece of the flute or piccolo, shucking off the skin of pitch and leaving the inner husk of air rushing through and around the metal tube. The multi-tracked Pulsar 1 for overdubbed piccolos plays with the microtonal discrepancies between the voices—creating a choric effect for one, as it were—while the similarly layered Pulsar 2 takes as its subject matter the low, resonating drones of bass flute, voice and electronics.

The four quartet pieces Rewind, Externally Rarefied, Literally Rarefied and Rewound are essays in the timbral interplay of flutes, prepared strings, percussion, keyboards and electronics, often sparsely textured in order to allow each individual instrument to display the grain of its own voice. Sparseness—a rarefaction of performance–is in fact an overriding aesthetic value for all of these performances, which seem in the end to want to go beyond the physics of sound and to portray instead the coming into being of the music-bearing gesture against a background of emptiness.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Alex Reviriego – Els gats gordos també tenen problemes [Discordian Records DRO76]

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a3928389255_16Barcelona’s Alex Reviriego is a powerful young double bassist with an impressive command of advanced technique and an exploratory attitude toward the timbral possibilities inherent in his instrument. His solo release, Els gats gordos també tenen problemes, draws on these techniques as well as on a complement of preparations to produce a sound that–first impressions to the contrary—relies on no overdubs or electronic enhancements of the bass’s natural voice.

The sonic complexity Reviriego is able to summon is evidenced from the very first track. Setting up a contrast between brighter and more muted colors, Reviriego plucks dark arpeggios from prepared strings while simultaneously playing a harsh, scraping arco. This solo polyphony is a hallmark of his playing, which often has him plucking or hammering the strings with his left hand while drawing the bow with his right. Even in the absence of preparations Reviriego’s technical range facilitates access to an expanded palette of tone colors and textures bracketed, as on the track TCCPFP, between a dark, often rough arco in the lower register on the one side and stridently shimmering harmonics on the other. Some of the tracks explore a more limited technical or sonic field: Medusas errants, for example, is like an etude in pressure bowing on prepared strings. But all is not a matter of aggressive attack and extended technique here; Reviriergo also shows a gentler side on Canço Pop, whose pensive melodicism is carried on a simple and straightforward pizzicato.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Mural – Tempo [SOFA547]

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Houston’s Rothko Chapel—an austere room lit with natural light and dedicated to the display of fourteen of Mark Rothko’s late, subdued color field paintings—is a congenial site for improvised performances by the international trio Mural. The group, made up of Norwegian Kim Myhr on guitar; percussionist Ingar Zach, a Norwegian now living in Spain; and Australian Jim Denley on alto saxophone and flutes, has played there twice before the April 2013 date recorded and issued on this three-CD set. (A previous performance, from March 2010, was recorded and released in 2011 by the Rothko Chapel’s own publishing concern.)

Reflecting the immersive, contemplative atmosphere of the Chapel, Tempo captures the last three-quarters or so of Mural’s over four-hour-long continuous performance. Although each of the three discs can be listened to by itself, the music’s full effect and the group’s deftness at developing sonic textures over long cycles only becomes forcefully apparent when all three are heard in sequence during a single listening.

The release’s title says something essential about the music given not only its expansive duration but the way it sets out a concatenation of sound events coming into and going out of existence in time. Mural’s pacing and arrangement of sound into alternating fields and figures create a sense of musical time imagined as having been precipitated into a narrative sequence with all of its peaks and valleys, its alternations of episodes of activity and rest. Through subtle, largely timbral playing Mural collapses time into a single moment present in a low-frequency sound field extending in all directions; through more urgent, rhythmically driven sections—led by Myhr’s energetic pulse on guitar—the dynamic of time’s passage is made clear.

Throughout it all Myhr, Zach and Denley have an intuitive rapport that doesn’t lapse even over such a long period of playing. Zach’s bells, gongs, drums and pitched percussion are put to good coloristic use over the entire course of the performance; Denley’s sax and flutes can be plaintive, abrasive, abstract or voice-like as the moment requires. Myhr is a strong ensemble player who can, when needed, push the group with chordal ostinatos or an insistent, jangling strum just as easily has he can bind the music during its quieter passages.

AMN Reviews: André Darius & Paul Mimlitsch – Renga [Plus Timbre PT012]

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0122015Renga is a form of linked, short verse written by two or more poets together. André Darius and Paul Mimlitsch creatively interpret the idea of the collaborative series of brief pieces with their duo release titled, appropriately enough, Renga. The fourteen short tracks—each averaging about two minutes in length—are improvisational miniatures for Mimlitsch’s bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet and Darius’ electric upright bass and voice. The music is largely a kind of constantly moving, engagingly free lyricism with frequent excursions into pure sound and timbre, particularly on the tracks featuring Darius’ vocalizations. Mimlitsch’s reedy low register growls and ruminations contrast nicely with the brighter sounding yet similarly low-pitched electric upright bass.

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: Adriano Orrù – Palimpsest [pyr106]

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A palimpsest—a manuscript page scraped of existing writing in order to receive new writing—represents something of an adaptation of old materials to new purposes. As such, it’s an appropriate image for this new release from Sardinian double bassist Adriano Orrù. Once an electric bassist, Orrù here takes up his old instrument again and puts it to new uses in this set of ten improvised duets created through file-sharing.

The duets collected here embrace a diversity of instrumentation: Three are with Silvia Corda on prepared piano and toy piano; three feature Mauro Sambo on gongs and other percussion and electronics; and four match Orrù with Paolo Chagas on bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, and flute. Each pairing is characterized by its melding of distinctive voices into a cohesive whole. The duets with Sambo tend toward a kind of ineffably angular atmospherics, with the exception of Scrape Off, a cut up and multitracked sound collage Sambo constructed from samples of Orrù’s bass. Exploiting her instruments’ sometimes chiming, sometimes muted timbres, Corda sets out deliberately paced chords, displaced accents and percussive dissonances that provide an apt framework within which Orrù’s drones and upper register, atonal lead lines can flourish. Chagas, even when playing out, brings an inherent sense of lyric narrative to his parts. His interactions with Orrù are especially provocative, whether it’s a matter of his shakuhachi-like flute being recontextualized by Orrù’s subtly changing harmonic support, or his soprano sax offsetting the electric bass’s chromatic melodies and microtonal glissandi. Throughout the set Orrù stretches the electric bass’s voice while still maintaining its essential qualities. His sound is notable for its clear highs and resonant lows, which impart a crispness and depth to his quick runs, chords and arpeggios.

AMN Reviews: Udo Schindler & Elisabeth Harnik: Empty Pigeonhole

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Udo Schindler & Elisabeth Harnik: Empty Pigeonhole [cs247]

Since 2009, the German multi-wind player Udo Schindler has held monthly concerts at his home. The concert of 26 October 2012, pairing Schindler with Austrian pianist Elisabeth Harnik, is presented in this intriguing, multi-faceted release.

The title of the CD is well-chosen. The music that takes shape across these two long tracks doesn’t fit into the constraints of any stylistic pigeonhole. And this comes as no surprise: Both musicians are notably versatile in their choices of sounds and in the ways that they bind together and respond to the different moments in which they find themselves. Harnik makes use of every part of the piano, whether by tapping and rattling directly on the strings or wood, phrasing in ecstatic leaps of interval and dynamic, or putting out cascades of notes in measured motion upward and downward. Schindler, for his part, moves adeptly from soprano saxophone to bass clarinet to contrabass clarinet to cornet, at times functioning as the soloist in a sonata and at other times as a weaver of esoteric sound textures. Empty Pigeonhole Part 1 moves with a paradoxically emotional logic from section to section, each of which is defined by a mood as well as by instrumental color and the blend of conventional and unconventional technique that both players offer. Empty Pigeonhole Part 2 is more about texture and color as manifested by the exploration of primal sound elements, though it is expansive enough to include an explosive soprano sax solo over a piano pedal point.