AMN Reviews: Osvaldo Coluccino – Interni [Kairos 0015062KAI]

Before he began writing music as a mature composer, Osvaldo Coluccino (b. 1963) was a literary artist. Although he had studied composition and classical guitar, had performed in concert halls in his teens and had begun to compose in 1979, from the end of the 1980s to the early 2000s Coluccino was mainly engaged in writing: poetry, drama and prose. Poetry in particular demands an ear for words as sonorous objects as well as a grasp of language as potentially an instrument of condensed meaning—of saying much with little. And while Coluccino may consider his work with poetry and with composition to occupy two separate and largely unconnected spheres, it does seem that both of those qualities of poetry—sonority and economy of expression—carry over into his compositions.

This is especially true of Interni, a 2017-2018 series of five solo compositions for various flutes and one for flute and electronics. As he did with earlier works, like the Emblema series for small chamber ensembles and Atto, which was composed for objects rather than musical instruments, Coluccino with Interni makes music focused on the quiet details of sound production and color.

From the opening notes of Primo interno for C flute, Coluccino’s sensibility reveals itself. In as pure an example of klangfarbenmelodie as one could want, Coluccino calls for each of the first four notes—all of them a G—to be played with different extended techniques, yielding a melody consisting of a sequence of changing timbres over constant pitch. As with the first Interno, so with the rest: the entire series stands as a kind of encyclopedia of extended flute techniques. These include key clicks, whistles, palate snaps, tongue rams, air pizzicato, multiphonics, harmonics and more. Coluccino draws attention to the specific characteristics of his sonorities by separating them with palpable rests; these islands of sound then function as brief meditations on sound in its qualitative dimension.

Interno sesto for contrabass flute, bass flute and electronics maintains the consistency of the preceding Interni by couching complex timbres at relatively low dynamics. The electronics serve as a kind of background curtain of undefined noise and a screen on which the flutes can project their sounds.

This music requires a technically advanced performer with an ear attuned to nuance; Coluccino is thus fortunate to have these fine works realized by the Italian flute virtuoso Roberto Fabbriciani.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Daniel Lippel – Mirrored Spaces [New Focus Recordings FCR239]

From guitarist Daniel Lippel comes a two-CD set containing a generous collection of recent work for solo guitarist. On the recording Lippel, a virtuoso specializing in the contemporary repertoire for guitar, plays both nylon string classical guitar and electric guitar, conventionally and with extended technique, with and without electronic augmentation. But no matter the instrumental set-up or the musical setting, Lippel’s performances are characteristically deft and assured.

A dominant theme on Mirrored Spaces is the use of alternative tunings and microtonality. The title work, a six-part suite co-composed by Lippel and Orianna Webb in 2006-2008, draws on quarter-tone tuning. The quarter-tone discrepancies create a wobbly choric effect, giving parts of the suite a strangely unstable feeling. Other parts sound like more conventional, albeit beautifully adventurous, classical guitar playing.

Ryan Streber’s Descent for scordatura electric guitar and two amplifiers was also a collaborative composition. The piece, which detunes the guitar’s four lowest strings from standard fourths tuning to the cello’s fifths tuning, has as its central trope the subtle incongruity of having an electric guitar played with classical technique. The piece slowly descends from the instrument’s upper to lower registers and in the process dresses it up in an increasingly overdriven, distorted sound.

Other pieces exploring alternative tunings include Christopher Bailey’s Arc of Infinity, a multi-faceted work for guitar and three layers of electronic sounds that uses overtones in standard tuning to create harmonies in Just Intonation, and Lippel’s own Scaffold, which incorporates three guitars using three different tunings.

Extended technique is more-or-less taken for granted on many of these performances, but they come to the fore particularly on From Scratch, a 2017 electroacoustic work by Sergio Kafejian, that envelops its skittering runs and fragmentary phrases in aggressive, percussive gestures, string scraping, snap pizzicato, and plucking behind the bridge.

No brief review can do justice to the rich variety of music in this collection. One can only say: Listen.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: RAIC – Chance Operations [Bandcamp]; Ask the Trees – The Heart’s Message Cannot Be Delivered in Words [Bandcamp]; Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg – I Drew a Fish Hook, and It Turned into a Flower [IKKI 010]

For a good number of years, Richmond, Virginia has been home to a lively, if not always well-enough known, alternative music scene. As is true of most such places its venues hospitable to experimental and creative music come and go, but its artists persist. Groups like New Loft, Ting Ting Jahe, Hotel X, RAIC, and others evolve, mutate, merge and diverge, but what doesn’t seem to change throughout all these changes is a commitment to the art and the community. Three new releases demonstrate the diversity and appeal of Richmond’s alternative music scene; what all three have in common is a spirit of collaboration that seems deeply ingrained there.

RAIC is the Richmond Avant Improv Collective, whose current core membership consists of Samuel Goff, Abdul Hakim-Bilal, Erik Schroeder, Zoe Olivia-Kinney and Laura Marina. For Chance Operations, a two-CD set inspired by the philosophy of John Cage, RAIC assembled twenty musicians of various backgrounds and genres and put them together in a series of small groupings whose memberships were determined by chance operations. As could be expected, the music is extremely varied in instrumentation, atmosphere and style, but the one constant is that the participants seem to be listening to each other. A sample of its twenty-one tracks, chosen in an appropriately random manner:

(You Got the Wrong) Eleanor Friedberger (Jimmy Ghaphery and Brandon Simmons, flutes): nimble, birdlike phrases punctuated by air notes, hisses and overtones.

Complicated Advisory (Laura Marina, vocals; Richard Schellenberg, percussion; Lucas Brode, guitar; Brandon Whittaker, drums; Levi Christian Flack, bass; Madeline Billhimer, baritone saxophone): an abstract piece whose human presence—in the form of Marina’s voice—is nevertheless to the fore.

La Grande Odalisque (Samuel Goff, percussion and keyboards; Abdul-Hakim Bilal, drums; Erik Michael Schroeder, keyboards; Jimmy Ghaphery, alto saxophone and flute; Nat Quick, selo; Kyler O’Brien, bass): a slightly menacing, noirish ambience advancing on measured footsteps, culminating in an intense freakout for sax and keys.

Oblique Strategies (Jacob Courington, bass; Kyler O’Brien, drums; Benjamin Schurr, guitar; Madeline Billhimer, baritone saxophone): guitar and sax noise over a tight drumbeat and mobile bassline.

Materia Prima (Lucas Brode, guitar): the hum, pop, shimmer, and creak of electric guitar as a percussion instrument.

Irrigating an Arid World (Samuel Goff, drums and percussion; Laura Marina and Maura Pond, voices): visceral cries in the desert answered with tom-tom, snare, cymbal, and rattle.

A spinoff of RAIC, Ask the Trees are a newly formed quintet comprising RAIC’s Erik Schroeder on tenor and soprano saxophones along with New Ting’s Jimmy Ghaphery on alto and sopranino saxophones and bamboo flute, Sam Byrd on drums and Fred McGann on Nord keyboard, along with Richard Schellenberg on bass. Their first album, The Heart’s Message Cannot Be Delivered in Words, is in the tradition of the post-Coltrane, metaphysical jazz that flourished in the early 1970s. Consequently, the music is meditative but intense, ranging from the serene flute lines introducing Air and Sky, to the expressionistic collective improvisation of Flight. There’s excellent chemistry here: the two horns complement each other with thoughtful counterpoint, as in Essence, or engage each other in pointed dialogue, as in The Path. Byrd’s drumming is noteworthy for its compressed energy, whether undergirding the Phrygian-flavored Wisdom in Imperfection with a loose, free swing, or enhancing an introspective mood with precise brushwork. McGann’s keyboard and Schellenberg’s bass are also essential components in this highly atmospheric and ultimately inspired contemporary take on an evergreen subgenre of jazz.

I Drew a Fish Hook, and It Turned into a Flower is the third collaborative release from electronics artist Stephen Vitiello and clarinetist/vocalist Molly Berg. On this recording, they are joined by drummer Justin Alexander, violinist Jennifer Choi, bassist Marcus Fischer, and lap steel/pedal steel guitarist Mike Grigoni. As with Vitiello and Berg’s previous collaborative recordings, I Drew a Fish Hook is what Vitiello describes as an “edited improvisation.” Separate parts were recorded in separate locations and mixed together; there are loops and some other types of audible processing as well. But the resulting music doesn’t sound abstract or artificial—far from it. It’s mesmerizing, atmospheric, lush and melodic, often unfolding slowly over drifting harmonies and languorous washes of electronic sound. Berg’s voice is evocative and nicely complemented by the resonant sounds of Vitiello’s guitar and Rhodes piano, as well as by Choi’s violin and Grigoni’s steel guitars.

The sound recording is the audio half of this IKKI edition; the other, visual, half is a set of images from Los Angeles photographer Jake Michaels.

AMN Reviews: Bobby Naughton – Solo Vibraphone Hartford [OTIC Records OTIC 1016]

Since its founding in 1975, Hartford, Connecticut’s Real Art Ways, originally an upstairs space on Asylum Street and since moved to Arbor Street, where it still operates, has provided a hospitable venue for avant-garde visual artists and musicians. During the late 1970s through the early 1980s, RAW often hosted concerts put on by New Haven’s Creative Music Improvisers’ Forum. On August 5, 1978, vibraphonist Bobby Naughton, a founding member of CMIF, played a solo concert there; fortunately it was recorded by RAW’s then-director Joseph Celli and has now been released for the first time on Naughton’s OTIC label.

For this set Naughton put together a program that included compositions by Wadada Leo Smith, Charles Mingus and Carla Bley, as well as a flute etude by Joachim Andersen that Naughton adapted to vibes, two standards, and an original composition. These choices, as varied as they are, serve not only to demonstrate Naughton’s versatility as a performer, but show as well the kind of open-minded ferment that characterized so much of the creative music of the period.

Smith’s Hapnes, Portrait of Braxton, for example, is a largely linear composition made up of asymmetrical phrases with irregular accents. Smith’s concept at the time was to create melodies delineated by silences; Naughton’s playing respects these boundaries while maintaining a sense of forward motion. Bley’s Ictus, a piece first recorded in 1961 by the trio of Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, presents its own set of challenges by threading its lines through constantly changing time signatures, to be played “as fast as possible.” After introducing the piece with gongs and drumming, Naughton races sure-footedly through the melody, as required. By contrast, Naughton plays Jesus Maria, also by Carla Bley, with a gently rocking rhythm and lyrical feeling. His interpretation of Mingus’ Goodbye Porkpie Hat is suitably poignant.

The briskly paced Andersen etude is an unusual choice, and in some ways the most audacious, but it’s one that Naughton turns into a virtuoso display of disciplined mallet work. His own Untold Tale, which opens the set, is a pianistic piece that seems to tell of Naughton’s own roots as a keyboard player. It also introduces a degree of timbral exploration in the form of struck metal objects and muted keys.

Although Solo Vibraphone Hartford is a forty-year-old archival recording, it gives the listener the feeling of being right there in the room above Asylum Street—even as the sound of a siren punctuating Goodbye Porkpie Hat brings home the reality of improvising in an urban environment, where anything could happen either inside or outside the performance space. It documents Naughton during a period when he was working in ensembles ranging from trios to large groups, as part of CMIF, Leo Smith’s New Dalta Ahrki, and on his own projects. Thus it’s a real pleasure to hear him in the intimate setting of a solo performance, where his voice as an improviser and interpreter of others’ compositions can clearly be heard.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Benoit Cancoin – Orbital Solo [Blumlein]; Birgit Ulher & Benoit Cancoin – Electric Green [Blumlein]

The primary focus of French double bassist Benoit Cancoin’s music is on the changeable qualities of sound as such. As with his previous solo work and his work with the extraordinary, free improvisational string quartet Quatuor BRAC, his two most recent recordings, one a solo and the other a duet with trumpeter Birgit Ulher, find him deeply immersed in the double bass’s palette of sounds.

In Orbital Solo Cancoin’s concentration is on transformations of sonority rather than changes of pitch. The latter he often holds constant or very nearly so, as when he brings out the subtle differences between the same note as played on different strings and different positions, or as played plucked, tapped and bowed. He’s especially adept at highlighting the different sets of overtones obtainable from the same note when one changes the position and weight of the bow as when, for example, he takes the open D string as an anchor and uses variations in bowing to coax a rich range of harmonics from it.

Orbital Solo is one long, unbroken performance in which the double bass is played organically–without amplification or augmentation by electronics or foreign objects. The title is a reference to Cancoin’s having rotated the instrument around the axis of its endpin while playing, in order to foreground the spatial aspects of the sound.

On Electric Green Cancoin partners with Birgit Ulher, another musician known for exploring the less ordinary side of her instrument’s sound capabilities. The album is marked by an understated, dynamically subtle expressionism communicated through an extended vocabulary of creaks, chattering, squeals, whooshes, and gurgles.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: David Bowlin – Bird as Prophet [New Focus Recordings FCR237]

The violin virtuoso has been an important figure in Western art music for centuries. Over these centuries the nature of virtuosity has evolved, along with the techniques needed to achieve it. What a 21st century violin virtuoso sounds like is on display on David Bowlin’s Bird as Prophet.

Bowlin, Director of String Studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, is an adept interpreter of new music and a founding member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, one of the most esteemed new music groups in the world. The works on Bird as Prophet bring out both his versatility and lyricism in equal measure.

Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronism (1988) for violin and tape uses discreet electronic sounds to supplement a central focus on the violin. While the latter is indeed synched with the tape it could stand on its own as an example of late Modernist virtuosity: a technical challenge played out in a slightly fragmented arc of double stops, rapid runs into the extreme upper register, and mood-changing, introspective interludes.

Under a Tree, an Udātta (2016) by Du Yun, like Bowlin a founder of ICE, is another piece for fixed media and violin. Under a Tree is anchored on a recording of Vedic chanting, which sets up an insistently rhythmic drone for the violin to play over. Bowlin’s line, which has some of the looseness of an improvisation, is an eclectic mélange of raga-like microtonal swoops, percussive strikes and long-held, widely-vibratoed tones. What the piece seems to say in part is that contemporary virtuosity isn’t solely a matter of technical mastery, but of being conversant with multiple musical traditions as well.

Bleu (2011), a composition for solo violin, is a mature work written by the late George Walker for his violinist son Gregory when the composer was nearly 90. It’s a beautiful, expressive piece that combines a warm romanticism with chromatic, Modernist lines; Bowlin plays it with great depth of feeling, as he does Martin Bresnick’s Bird as Prophet (1999), a piece for violin and piano (Tony Cho).

Bowlin has previously interpreted the music of Alexandra Karasyoanova-Hermentin, a Moscow-born composer/pianist of Russo-Bulgarian background currently living in Austria; he premiered her violin concerto Mahagoni, which she had written for him, in 2007. Here she contributes two pieces for small chamber ensembles. Kastena (2003) for violin and cello, the latter played by ICE’s Katinka Kleijn, is a tension-filled work that floats an energetic violin part over a cello performance that alternates between drones and abrupt, percussive interventions. Mari Mamo (2009), a trio work for violin, flute (Conor Nelson) and percussion (Ayano Kataoka), constructs melodies out of discontinuous tone colors and plays fruitfully on the contrast between staccato flute and tuned percussion on the one side, and long, floating violin tones on the other.

Daniel Barbiero