Followers of Ashley’s work — a rich, edifying, idiosyncratic mix of directness and ambiguity, singsong vocals and complex technologies, the mythic and the mundane — know that a kind of preservative transformation has been mounting for a while. His oeuvre includes plenty of works created expressly for other performers and ensembles, but Ashley typically performed in his operas with a close-knit cadre of collaborators, including the vocalists Jacqueline Humbert, Joan La Barbara, Sam Ashley (the composer’s son) and Thomas Buckner, and the sound designer Tom Hamilton. Self-agency resulted in a canon of remarkable consistency, despite myriad topical concerns and a gradual evolution toward simpler surfaces and interpretive liberty.
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.
Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.
PGA – Corrections (2012) Jaap Blonk / Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Chris Cogburn – North of Blanco (2014)
Patrick Ascione – Primitive / Espaces Paradoxes (2002) Helmut Lachenmann / JACK Quartet – Complete String Quartets (2014) Medeski, Martin & Wood / Nels Cline – Woodstock Sessions (Vol. 2) (2014)
Max Johnson – The Prisoner (2014)
We recently posted the lineup for this upcoming Philadelphia festival, but Ars Nova Workshop has announced some further acts that will be appearing. Here is the whole lineup as it stands today.
Monday, April 21, 8pm [7pm, pre-concert discussion*] Ken Vandermark’s Made to Break
Featuring Ken Vandermark, reeds; Jasper Stadhouders, el. bass; Tim Daisy, drums; and Christof Kurzmann, electronics [lloopp] Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway ($25)
MacArthur Fellow and Chicago jazz legend Ken Vandermark visits Philadelphia for the first time in over five years to premiere a piece inspired by the Barnes collection with his latest and most radical ensemble, Made to Break. Inspired by elements of Ethiopian music, Dutch group The Ex, the New Music concepts of John Cage and Morton Feldman, and jazz and improvised music history, Vandermark has devised a compositional framework that engages and complements Dr. Barnes’s peculiar personal curatorial philosophy.
Saturday, April 26, 8pm Milford Graves
Featuring Milford Graves, drums + percussion
Bartram’s Garden, 5400 Lindbergh Boulevard ($40)
Free Jazz legend, herbalist, acupuncturist, martial artist, professor, savant, and shaman Milford Graves (b. 1941) is best known for his work with Albert Ayler, the New York Art Quartet (featuring Roswell Rudd, Reggie Workman and John Tchicai) and John Zorn. Graves has spent decades connecting healing practices and herbology (he’s been co-director of George Washington Carver Botanical Garden in New York) to his personal improvising and composing approaches. For his first Philadelphia appearance in over four decades, Graves will present a very rare solo performance inside the oldest barn in Philadelphia County at Bartram’s Garden, the birthplace of American botany. Seating for this concert is extremely limited.
Saturday, May 10, 8pm
John Zorn’s Hermetic Organ
Featuring John Zorn, organ
Girard College Chapel, 2101 South College Avenue ($10)
Maverick American force of nature, John Zorn visits Philadelphia for a rare solo organ performance at the non-sectarian Girard College Chapel, an acoustical and architectural environment of commanding grandeur. One of the largest pipe organs in Philadelphia, the Chapel’s organ is the last authoritative Ernest M. Skinner (of Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company) statement and stands as one of the most powerful pipe organs ever built in the United States. Often crediting Lon Chaney in the silent classic Phantom of the Opera as a primal influence, Zorn’s first instrument was the organ. It wasn’t until 2011, however, during Thirdbird’s BLINDSPOT Festival at Philadelphia’s historic Christ Church that he made his first concert appearance on the instrument. Drawing upon traditions as varied as Messiaen, Xenakis, Bach, Ives, and Korla Pandit, Zorn’s organ improvisations are transcendent, inspiring, ecstatic experiences, offering a direct line to the workings of his rich compositional imagination.
Sunday, May 11, 8pm
William Parker & Muhammad Ali + Odean Pope
Featuring William Parker, double-bass; and Muhammad Ali, drums + percussion; with Odean Pope, tenor saxophone
Monday, May 12, 8pm
William Parker & Muhammad Ali Duo + Marshall Allen
Featuring William Parker, double-bass; and Muhammad Ali, drums + percussion; with Marshall Allen, saxophone
Tuesday, May 13, 8pm
William Parker & Muhammad Ali Duo + Dave Burrell
Featuring William Parker, double-bass; and Muhammad Ali, drums + percussion; with Dave Burrell, piano
Wednesday, May 14, 8pm
William Parker & Muhammad Ali Duo + Bobby Zankel
Featuring William Parker, double-bass; and Muhammad Ali, drums + percussion; with Bobby Zankel, alto saxophone
First Unitarian Church Side Chapel, 2125 Chestnut Street ($25 each)
When Martin Luther King Jr. was a seminary student in nearby Chester, he attended a lecture at the First Unitarian Church on how Mohandas K. Gandhi integrated Henry David Thoreau’s theory of non-violent civil disobedience that ultimately inspired King’s non-violent protests for civil rights. William Parker and Muhammad Ali are two of the most important living Free Jazz musicians today, contributing to many seminal recordings by Albert Ayler, Noah Howard, Frank Wright, David S. Ware, and Cecil Taylor. Over four nights at the breathtaking Frank Furness designed First Unitarian Church Side Chapel, these musicians will perform music inspired by this story, inviting four Philadelphia heavyweights as guests: Dave Burrell, Sun Ra Arkestra’s Marshall Allen, Bobby Zankel and Odean Pope. Over these four nights Parker will reveal a new four-part suite, Flower In Stained Glass Window (for creative music ensemble and improvising trio), featuring an all-Philadelphian chamber ensemble led by Keir Neuringer.
Saturday, May 17, 8pm
Mats Gustafsson’s Swedish Azz
Featuring Mats Gustafsson, saxophones + electronics; Per-Åke Holmlander, tuba; Kjell Nordeson, vibraphone; dieb13, turntables + electronics; and Eric Carlsson, drums American Swedish Historical Museum, 1900 Pattison Avenue ($25)
The Golden Age of Swedish Jazz occurred in the mid-1950´s and was represented by very distinct and personal voices (such as Lars Gullin and Jan Johansson) that were taking inspiration from American West Coast Jazz as well as traditional Swedish Folk Music. Groundbreaking Swedish saxophonist-composer Mats Gustaffson – who has collaborated with everyone from Sonic Youth to Merzbow to Neneh Cherry – will lead this US debut of Swedish Azz, an all-Swedish ensemble that explores the intersection of these histories at the American Swedish Historical Museum, the oldest Swedish museum in the United States, built to commemorate the 1638 settlement of the New Sweden colony formed along the Delaware River.
Monday, May 19, 8pm
St. Francis Duo
Featuring Steve Noble, drums; and Stephen O’Malley, el. guitar
St. Francis de Sales Auditorium, 4625 Springfield Avenue ($15)
St. Francis was born to wealth, enjoyed it, and then renounced worldly goods and privilege in order to be closer to God. He was the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history. The ominous St. Francis Duo – featuring pioneering British jazz drummer Steve Noble (Derek Bailey, Wadada Leo Smith, The Bow Gamelan Ensemble) and experimental guitarist-composer Stephen O’Malley, best know for his work in Sunn0))) and Khanate – will perform at St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in West Philadelphia in what will be their first North American performance.
Friday, May 30, 8pm Peter Brötzmann
Featuring Peter Brötzmann, reeds
German Society of Pennsylvania’s Horner Memorial Library, 611 Spring Garden Street ($25)
Peter Brötzmann is one of the most important and uncompromising figures in free jazz and has been at the forefront of developing a unique, European take on free improvisation since the 1960s. Brötzmann will perform at the German Society of Pennsylvanias’ Joseph P. Horner Memorial Library (named in honor of the Philadelphia Orchestra musician), an awe-inspiring space built in 1817 with the largest private collection of German books in the United States. This Volksbibliothek stands as a commitment to German heritage and has remained an authentic cultural outlet for Philadelphia Germans for centuries. This very rare solo performance from Brötzmann will provide a unique dialogue with this historic and impressive collection.