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.

http://edition.blumlein.net

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.

http://www.newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue/david-bowlin-bird-as-prophet/

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Ryan Carter – Chamber Works [Kairos 0015048KAI]

Although composer Ryan Carter’s monograph Chamber Works contains work largely written for acoustic chamber ensembles and solo piano, the influence of modern electronic audio technologies is never very far away. Carter is, in addition to a composer of “classical” music, a programmer and electronic sound artist, one of whose projects uses a video game controller to create real-time electronic music.

Carter is particularly interested in the ways that technology informs, and at times distorts, the way people listen to music. It’s an interest that surfaces in his third string quartet, Too Many Arguments in Line 17 (2010), which was inspired by the glitches and loops of a badly buffered video Ryan was watching. The piece, which was written for the JACK Quartet who perform it here, mimics the jerky playback of the video with seemingly randomly repeated phrases broken up by hiccups, skips and other rhythmic interruptions.

If Too Many Arguments in Line 17 is marked by discontinuities of rhythm Grip, Carter’s second string quartet, is marked by displacements of architecture. The piece, performed here by the Calder Quartet who commissioned it in 2006, features synchronous and asynchronous layers of sound built up from glissandi, overlapping sustained tones, and tremolo bowings and plucking.

When All Else Fails (2016-2017) is a work centered on the sonorous qualities and interplay of two prepared pianos and two percussionists. The pianos sound at times like marimbas, gamelans and chimes; the preparations additionally alter the instruments’ pitch to throw out a hint of microtonality. The gradually becomes polyrhythmic as the instruments’ tempos go in and out of phase. It’s a highlight of the album and is played with characteristic verve by Yarn/Wire, for whom it was written.

The single work for acoustic instrument and electronics is On the Limits of a System and the Consequences of My Decisions (2016) for fixed media, piano and interactive electronics. Carter envisioned the electronics as another sustain pedal for the piano; they account for the intermittent drones and glassy, bell-like simulacra of the piano part. This latter, played by Keith Kirchoff, is couched in fragmented phrases scattered nervously across the instrument’s registers.

Chamber Works also includes the simultaneously hesitant and exuberant solo piano work Errata (2010), which wittily recasts Carter’s technical limitations as a pianist into technical challenges for the performer (Emanuele Torquati), and Break (2018) for piano and cello.

https://www.kairos-music.com/cds/0015048kai

Daniel Barbiero

Gianni Lenoci, RIP

Pianist/composer Gianni Lenoci died at age 56 on Monday evening, 30 September 2019. The conservatory-trained Lenoci, who obtained degrees in performance and electronic music, taught performance, composition and improvisation at the Conservatorio “Nino Rota” in Monopoli, Apulia, Italy. He was active in improvised music, having studied with Mal Waldron and Paul Bley, and played with many leading figures in jazz and European improvisation among whom were Gianni Mimmo, Markus Stockhausen, John Tchicai, Enrico Rava, Roscoe Mitchell, and Steve Lacy. As a performer of modern and contemporary music he specialized in the work of the New York School composers, particularly Morton Feldman, whose “For Bunita Marcus” he recorded for Amirani Records, and Earle Brown, a selection of whose compositions for piano he also recorded for Amirani. Lenoci’s own 2003 electronic composition “Notturno frattale” won the International Prize of the Società Italiana di Informatica Musicale.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Leblanc / Gibson / Vicente / Mira / Ferreira Lopes – Double on the Brim [atrito-afeito 011]; Up and Out – s/t [Amirani Records AMRN060]

The cosmopolitan nature of improvised music has been an established fact for decades now. Two new recordings show improvisation providing a common meeting ground for musicians from North and South America, Europe and Africa.

Double the Brim features the international quintet of Canadian pianist Karoline Leblanc, Brazilian saxophonist Yedo Gibson, and trumpeter Luís Vicente, cellist Miguel Mira and drummer Paolo J. Ferreira Lopes of Portugal. The group play an emphatic, expansive improvised music informed by classic free jazz. Although there are times when lead voices break through the collective sound, the majority of the music consists of an urgent polyphony in which foreground and background exchange places fluidly and one musician’s solo line imperceptibly mutates into an embellishment of another’s. Leblanc’s hyperkinetic pianism and Ferreira Lopes’ energetic drumming provide a solid foundation for these six intense tracks.

Like the ensemble on Double the Brim, Up and Out is a quintet, this time of five musicians from five different countries. The group was assembled ten years ago by Berlin-based, Finnish-born soprano and sopranino saxophonist Harri Sjöström and includes violinist Philipp Wachsmann, a native of Uganda; the Mexican vibraphonist Emilio Gordoa; double bassist Matthias Bauer, from Germany; and the Norwegian drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen.

In contrast to Double the Brim’s hot expressionism, Up and Out’s style of improvisation is emotionally cooler and concerned with space. The music is made up of collective improvisation oriented toward timbral interplay and changeable textural densities. Much of the textural drama comes from the group’s expert crafting of rising and falling dynamics and mastery of restrained playing. The relationship between the violin and saxophones is especially compelling: a beautiful duet in the middle of the second improvisation highlights the instruments’ similarity of compass at the same time that it emphasizes their differences in timbre. Sjöström is particularly attentive to the sound quality of the soprano and sopranino saxophones, often softening their strident voices with mutes; both Wachsmann and Bauer make best use of their instruments’ range of plucked and bowed sounds. The final piece on the album, Wachsmann’s composition Three Draft Pistons, is a fittingly sparse and episodic recreation of the understated, sound-oriented improvisation developing in the UK in the 1980s.

https://atrito-afeito.com/

https://www.amiranirecords.com/editions/upandout

Daniel Barbiero

 

AMN Reviews: Brian Groder Trio – Luminous Arcs [Latham Records]

One of the traditional attractions of the pianoless jazz trio is the room it allows for harmonic and melodic inventiveness, absent a chording instrument. The Brian Groder Trio, a trio of trumpet/flugelhorn, double bass, and drums, is no traditional jazz trio, but it does take advantage of the format in ways that both recall and go beyond the harmonic freedom of other pianoless trios.

Luminous Arcs is the third release for the group, which in addition to Groder includes double bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Jay Rosen. Their experience together tells, as the tightly integrated playing on display on all eleven tracks gives evidence of a well-developed chemistry. Groder and Bisio work particularly well together and provide fine contrapuntal playing on Spanglin, on the free-fugue introduction to the moody ballad Until Eyes Met, and throughout Smoored. On Bonds of Now, a duet for trumpet and drums, Rosen’s relentless, free-pulse drumming coils tautly around Groder’s line until Groder drops out to let Rosen finish alone. Bisio gets a brief solo piece with Pirr, which balances on strummed chords and tart harmonies.

Adding to the album’s audio pleasure is the verbal pleasure of the vivid imagery and wryly kaleidoscopic observations of poet Randee Silv’s Wordslabs, which serve as an appropriate liner note to this ultimately poetic music.

http://briangroder.com/

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Simon McCorry – Borderland [Bandcamp]; Fabio Orsi – Each Day Moon Tide [Oltrarno Recordings]

Two recent releases of electronic music supply dreamscapes for autumn’s beginning.

On Borderland, UK cellist and sound designer Simon McCorry offers floating, resonant music suggestive of expansive spaces and deep perspectives. McCorry’s sound consists in slowly changing harmonies of layered tones that create a subdued, dramatic tension by moving toward and away from each other. The tracks are crafted from looped and treated cello and field recordings, with the cornet of Harry Furniss appearing on the densely dissonant Awakening.

Fabio Orsi is an electronic artist from Taranto in Puglia, Italy. His release on Berlin’s Oltrarno Recordings is a collection of soundscapes with a decidedly retro shading. The three tracks on Each Day Moon Tide were recorded live and built up out of looped cells undergirded with electronic rhythms; while they recall some of the classic electronic recordings of the 1970s and 1980s, they manage to retain a particular sound of their own.