The Baltimore SDIY Group announces its 2019 Winterfest Concert One, to be held Saturday, February 23, at the Electric Maid, 268 Carroll Street NW, Washington DC 20012. The concert is all-ages with a $10 admission.
The concert is a tribute show to the memory of our good friend & music colleague, Keith “Fast Forty” Sinzinger. Playing are Dave Vosh & Chris Videll; VIU; Novparolo; Logan Mitchell Sr.’s Synth Tech Project with guest Ken Moore; and Helium Road.
Saturday, February 23, 7:30 PM. Doors at 7:00.
For more information, visit the Baltimore SDIY webpages.
As recently as sixty years ago, there was very little in the way of literature for the double bass as a solo voice; it was barely even considered a particularly musical instrument. (And don’t get me started on double bass jokes. As the ancient sage Jimmy Durante once said, I got a million of ‘em.) But now, not only is there a substantial and growing body of work written for the double bass either alone or as the solo voice within an ensemble, there is an even greater and faster-growing set of recordings for double bass as a vehicle for adventurous solo improvisation. Two fine new recordings by Jakob Heinemann and Matt Nelson can claim to be part of this now-venerable tradition. Both albums are concise and to the point—Heinemann’s four tracks total 34 minutes, while Nelson’s five come to 23 minutes—in presenting each artist’s engagement with the instrument’s broad range of techniques and consequent palette of sounds. While both bassists make generous and almost exclusive use of techniques largely developed within the last several decades, each does so with a sensibility that’s quite specific and ultimately personal. Heinemann seems drawn to the instrument’s naturally dark woodiness of tone, something he brings out with a robust, heavily percussive touch using both hands and bow. He’s especially effective at combining bow strikes with a strong left-hand attack to create a dense polyphony of timbres. Like Heinemann, Nelson is attentive to subsuming pitch in unconventional sound colors, albeit in a way less oriented toward auto-counterpoint. He shows himself to be particularly adept at exploring the multiphonic possibilities inherent in subjecting heavy strings to varying pressures from bow and fingers; on two tracks he plays with the microtonal variations that arise from simultaneously sounding stopped and open strings.
The Unexplained Sounds Group, the netlabel run by sound artist Raffaele Pezzella, aka Sonologyst, has with its latest various artists compilation delved into the largely unexplored territory of contemporary experimental music from the African continent. For that reason alone the collection is worth hearing. But the music itself makes its own case for listening. The fourteen tracks give evidence of a creative ferment that meld Western electronics with the musical heritages of the various cultures of that highly diverse continent. A good number of the pieces included in the anthology are rooted in song — in the cyclical rhythms of a given region or in the melodic lines built on traditional modes. For example, several tracks, of which Ahmed Saleh’s Right Side is representative, feature North African vocal, flute or oud music as source material for processing or as a musical framework for electronic overlay and embellishment. Other pieces — AMET’s Imposer Le Savoir and In_o’s track, which seems to be based on a recording of Jiddu Krishnamurti speaking – represent a variety of musique concrete where radio transmissions or other samples are electronically rearranged. There also are more conventionally “experimental,” abstract electronic works, such as Abdellah M. Hassak’s two contributions. This is a fine collection that provides insight into an area of musical experiment that isn’t yet well-enough known.
Elephantine, an LP devoted to new music from Cairo guitarist/pianist/composer Maurce Louca, shows a different, jazz-influenced side of contemporary African music. For this recording, Louca put together a group of twelve international musicians in which North African oud, violin, and vocals are juxtaposed or mixed with Western jazz instrumentation of reeds, tuba, vibraphone, and bass and drums. The music is a successful, organic fusion of jazz timbres and improvisation with North African modality and rhythms.
Guiseppe Pascucci and Vito Pesce, both of whom play guitar and electronics, are collaborators on these two simultaneously released and complementary albums, both of which were recorded live September 2016-February 2017. Pascucci and Pesce’s individual bios on the label’s site are vague almost to the vanishing point—which in a way is consistent with their music: on both albums they craft a collective sound in which each individual voice blends into an encompassing and satisfying whole.
On Nikola Was Right!—the Nikola in question being Tesla—the group sound is rich: resonant, full-ranged and sensuous. The album’s concise, intelligent soundscapes feature surging and cresting tones, complex harmonies wrapped in washes of sound folding back on itself, and crystalline, echoing chords and single-line runs splayed against electronic chaff and the occasional synthetic choir. Humasaurs, by contrast, is a spikier affair. Where Nikola Was Right! tends to efface the guitarishness of the guitars’ sound, Humasaurs pulls it into the foreground and revels in it. Pascucci and Pesce make each part of the instrument audible with aggressively staccato attacks, insistent rhythms, pointillistic textures and sharper-edged timbres. It’s a different proposition from what we hear on Nikola Was Right! and the perfect counterpart to that album. A fine matched pair.
The inspirations for Nathan Davis’ dance opera Hagoromo are the venerable Noh play of the same name, and the earlier legend the play is based on. The story that Davis adopts from these sources is one in which the marvelous intersects with the mundane: the hagoromo is a feather garment worn by the swan maiden, a celestial being, which is stolen by a fisherman who finds it hanging from a tree. In exchange for seeing the swan maiden’s dance symbolizing the lunar phases, the fisherman returns the garment to her, thus allowing her to return to the sky.
While retaining the classic story of the fisherman and the swan maiden, Davis introduces elements of his own. While acknowledging traditional Noh conventions he alters or expands them. For example, he supplements the standard Noh orchestra of flute and drums to include bassoon, violin and guitar; he changes the male chorus typical of Noh to a girls’ chorus; and he divides each of the story’s two roles between a singer and a dancer.
Musically, Hagoromo is divided in two as well. The first several sections are set in heaven, while the remaining sections are set on earth. The music for heaven is, appropriately enough, ethereal and stately, couched in long tones and centered on the ghostly sound of violin harmonics. Only in the last part of the heaven segment does something happen to overturn this celestial serenity: the music turns agitated when the hagoromo is lost. It’s an apt transition to the second, earth segment of the opera, where the main drama takes place. The music there reflects the story’s conflict and resolution not only in the instrumental setting but also and particularly in the singing, which carries the emotional force and range one would want from an opera.
Two albums by guitarists Santi Costanzo and Alan Courtis show some of the many facets of sound obtainable from this versatile instrument, either alone or augmented by objects and/or electronics.
Autocracy of Deception Vol. 1 is the first solo release from Santi Costanzo, a guitarist from Catania, Sicily. In group environments as well as solo settings, Costanzo has pursued a personal path of experimentation that has encompassed the heterogeneous musical languages of jazz, rock, free improvisation, and even serial composition. He’s been able to assimilate and transfigure these influences by projecting his own musical ideas forward, all the while maintaining an understanding and appreciation of these different forms of music, but without having any of them unduly limit his own field of possibilities. This sense of independence within assimilation comes out over the course of his album, which shows a fluency in tonal and atonal music within a fundamental, improvisational openness to following a line wherever it leads, as well as a broad-based technical mastery. The recording’s collection of four improvisation and seven “abstractions” find him pivoting between clearly articulated, complex chords in a classical fingerpicking style; heavily distorted rock freakouts; and looped, reversed, and other processed sounds. On some pieces, Costanzo further extends the guitar’s range of timbres by preparing it with foreign objects. But once all these modifications and transformations are stripped away, Costanzo’s default sound reveals itself to be an especially rich, crystalline, reverb-inflected tone.
In contrast to the natural guitar sounds that undergird Autocracy of Deception, Buchla Gtr by the prolific Buenos Aires guitarist Alan Courtis takes the guitar’s native voice and transposes it almost entirely into the electronic dialects of the Buchla 200 synthesizer. For these recordings, which were made on the Buchla in EMS Stockholm’s studio, Courtis ran the guitar directly through the synthesizer and supplemented it with some pedals. The result is a double LP each side of which contains one long, sonically-textured piece. The guitar is for the most part unrecognizable as a guitar; rather, it serves as the engine driving an evolution of sounds that take on the guises of a shortwave radio tuned in between stations; a power drill emitting a high-frequency whine; a reverb unit being bumped and jostled; and intermittent drones of various timbres.
Whether by design or by accident, the three Scott Wollschleger compositions performed on the trio Bearthoven’s American Dream album capture, in their spare beauty, the pervasive sense of uncertainty and disorientation so characteristic of recent years. This may not simply be something imagined: Wollschleger himself sees them as expressing an often contradictory set of emotions—“doom, optimism, hopelessness, and the sublime.” Perhaps as a result, the collection is pervaded by an elegiac, haunted atmosphere, an impression conveyed by the fragmentary and understated nature of much of the music and made explicit by the title of the final work in the trilogy: We See Things That Are Not There.
Gas Station Canon Song, the opening piece for solo piano, captures this mood in a concise manner. It’s a short work made up of brief phrases, dissonances that sound like stumbled-upon “mistakes,” and an artfully halting pace. Hearing Karl Larson’s performance is like listening to someone reaching for a memory that won’t quite crystallize. The five-movement American Dream for the full Bearthoven trio of Larson, double bassist Pat Swoboda and percussionist Matt Evans continues and expands on the atmosphere established by Gas Station Canon Song. American Dream is very much an ensemble piece of collective sound rather than a work with sharply defined figure and ground relationships; it frequently features instrumental combinations of novel colors, such as when piano and percussion fuse to mimic the sound of a toy piano. The final track, We See Things Are Not There for piano, vibraphone, and crotale, is in mood a fitting complement to the opening track and serves to bookend the collection nicely.