AMN Reviews: Vmthanaachth – Inferotemporal (2017; Bandcamp)

This unpronounceable ensemble offers its second album, a dark slab of instrumental chamber-noise walls. Consisting of six performers, instrumentation includes dual guitars with generous overdubbing, non-drum-kit percussion, bass guitar, sax, cello, piano, vibes, and violin. Electronics appear to be present as well, though it can be hard to tell the difference between natural and synthetic contributions. Notably, all of these components combine into a monolithic assault.

Heavily-distorted guitar lines, focusing on thick chords and atmospheric speed-picking, form the base of Inferotemporal. Bass and sax freely improvise over the top of the six-stringed attack. The other instruments make periodic appearances and accentuations. Softly-growled death-metal vocals rear their ugly head from time to time. There is a near-complete lack of melody in the usual sense, which results in an ever-shifting landscape and never a dull moment. Perhaps the only exception to the general rule of the album is the fourth track, Music for the Move Nine, which is a chamber music drone.

Vmthanaachth has achieved a high-water mark in unclassifiable music – a harsh offering that combines influences from across the musical spectrum – metal, jazz, classical, ambient, noise – and results in an oddly listenable amalgam of brooding sound structures and landscapes.

AMN Reviews: Devin Hoff – Baile As Baile (2012; Minus Zero)

Minus Zero is a new label started by Vijay Anderson, Ben Goldberg, and Dina Maccabee. All of the proceeds from album sales are donated to Planned Parenthood. This is a review in an ongoing series covering the label’s releases.

Bassist Devin Hoff, perhaps best known for stints with the Nels Cline Singers and Xiu Xiu, has been lending his skills as a sideman to many worthwhile projects. On this 25-minute EP, he focuses on solo contrabass. Overdubbing plucked rhythms with bowed leads, Hoff wends his way through several short pieces that combine folk and free improv. The first three tracks are part of a suite, Plains Song, and slowly build from the deliberately-paced opener to a chaotic finale. The remaining tracks feature strummed and bowed solos offering wistful yet ominous melodies with a Northern European feel. Hoff’s overdubbing on these pieces also provide texture under slowly spiraling leads, in fashion structurally (though not sonically) reminiscent of post-rock. Hoff manages to combine his technical chops with composition and improvisation skills in a manner that results in a richness that goes beyond your average solo bass album.  Highly recommended.

AMN Reviews: Kyle Bruckmann / Sam Pluta / Katherine Young – Live . Elastic . 10.20.16 (2017; Minus Zero)

Minus Zero is a new label started by Vijay Anderson, Ben Goldberg, and Dina Maccabee. All of the proceeds from album sales are donated to Planned Parenthood. This is a review in an ongoing series covering the label’s releases.

Don’t be put off by the album cover – this is some scary stuff. A 33-minute slab of processed improv featuring Kyle Bruckmann on oboe and English horn, Sam Pluta on electronics, and Katherine Young on bassoon and electronics, the aptly-titled Live . Elastic . 10.20.16 was recorded at Chicago’s Elastic Arts. Bruckmann and Young drone respectively, and make liberal use of extended techniques. As a consequence, it can be hard to tell where the playing ends and the electronics begin. Pluta and Young provide distorted structural elements and walls, using decimated samples among other approaches. Bruckmann’s contributions are high-pitched and complimentary to Young’s lower-register offerings. Given the near-complete lack of melody, this recording is solidly in free improv camp. And with use of non-traditional instrumentation, Bruckmann, Pluta, and Young comfortably flirt with the extreme wing of that genre. Listening to how this trio plays off of one another and responds to their bandmates makes Live . Elastic . 10.20.16 a compelling and enjoyable release.

AMN Reviews: Joshua Rubin – There Never Is No Light [Tundra TUN 002 CD]

For over fifty years now composers and performers have used electronics to enhance, augment, and otherwise expand the range of sounds that can be produced by a conventional acoustic instrument. There Never Is No Light, the debut recording solo by clarinetist Joshua Rubin, works within this by now well-established tradition by situating the acoustic instrument fruitfully at many points along a continuum running from music to noise.

Rubin, who plays bass clarinet as well as clarinet, is a founder and artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble. His skills as a curator are well-displayed in the selection of the six works on this CD, which range over thirty years and two generations of electroacoustic composers.

The disc opens auspiciously with The Soul Is the Arena (2010) for amplified bass clarinet and electronics, a work that Rubin commissioned from composer Mario Diaz de Leon and premiered at Chicago’s Velvet Lounge in November, 2010. For this sometimes boisterous duet Rubin plays the bass clarinet with a harshly distorted sound as he chases electronic shadows in a vigorous game of pursuit. Synchronisms No. 12 (2006) is another duet for reed and electronics by another Mario—Mario Davidovsky. In contrast to the manic energy of The Soul Is the Arena, Synchronisms is a more restrained, reflective soliloquy for unaltered clarinet with discreet electronic interventions. Rubin’s playing is deeply engaging, using carefully modulated dynamics and drawing on the full compass of the instrument. The earliest composition in the collection, Olly Wilson’s Echoes (1974), is a duet for tape and clarinet; in addition to its own inherent interest as an effective pairing of acoustic and prerecorded sounds, it provides historical context for the newer electroacoustic works on the CD.

Suzanne Farrin’s Ma Dentro Dove (2010) for clarinet and resonating body is one piece within the larger cycle Corpo di Terra, a collection of compositions inspired by the sonnets of the fourteenth-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. The title, taken from a line in Canzoniere 9, translates as “but within, where”—an apt name for a work that takes the sound of the mic’d clarinet and feeds it into the resonant interior of a piano. The rhetoric of the piece is built on a virtuoso technical vocabulary turned to expressive ends; Rubin’s performance is as affecting as it is arresting. Mexican composer Ignacio Baca Lobera’s exhilarating Salto Cuantico (2011) also calls for a virtuoso performance for a prepared clarinet that confronts electronic sounds on their own turf, as it were.

Rubin is co-composer of 2012’s Toast, a kind of aleatory work in which a synthesizer unpredictably accompanies Rubin and co-composer/pianist Cory Smythe through the rises and defiles of sonically broken ground.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Bernstein, Marcelo, Popejoy, and Podgurski – Propolis (2017; Minus Zero)

Minus Zero is a new label started by Vijay Anderson, Ben Goldberg, and Dina Maccabee. All of the proceeds from album sales are donated to Planned Parenthood. This is a review in an ongoing series covering the label’s releases.

Recorded live in January 2015 at New York’s Firehouse Space, this two-track album of improvised avant-rock features Sarah Bernstein on violin and voice, Alexis Marcelo on piano and keyboard, Stuart Popejoy on bass, and Nick Podgurski on drums. Perhaps the most immediate observation is the raw power of the rhythm section, with Popejoy and Podgurski providing two-pronged approach. On one hand, they work tightly together to set forth complex, intricate lines, but on the other, then go in their own directions during more free sections of this recording. The former is reminiscent of that of Idiot Flesh, while the latter is more propulsive in nature. Over this, Bernstein and Marcelo supply effects-laden violin and keyboards. They keyboard patches are thick and orchestral, evoking a cinematic and slightly retro feel. Bernstein provides snippets and sawing wails, more for effect than for purpose of melody. A great album for those who like their improv to be creative and not too free.

AMN Reviews: Goldberg, Brown, and Anderson – The Reckoning (2017; Minus Zero)

Minus Zero is a new label started by Vijay Anderson, Ben Goldberg, and Dina Maccabee. All of the proceeds from album sales are donated to Planned Parenthood. This is the first review of what will (hopefully) be several covering the label’s releases.

This trio date from 2015 features Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Sheldon Brown on alto sax, and Vijay Anderson on drums. The eleven mostly-short tracks involve rolling contrapuntal melodies from Goldberg and Brown over Anderson’s supple percussion. Though solidly in a free-jazz vein, Goldberg and Brown alterante between providing main themes over which the other improvises shifting motifs. This adds an element of structure to an otherwise unpredictable mix. Their playing encompasses a modern form of post-bop; familiar, yet angular and discordant. Anderson’s contribution could be described in a number of ways, but a cross between Alex Cline and Chris Corsano is one. He establishes timing in a busy and mercurial fashion, playing in response to his bandmates as well as stretching out on his own. But the trio is at best when each is exploring within the context of the group’s spontaneously transforming orientations and frames of reference.

AMN Reviews: Daniel Barbiero and Cristiano Bocci – Non-Places (2017; Acustronica)

Bassists Barbiero and Bocci team up for their second release in three years, this one on the netlabel Acustronica. Non-Places takes its title from the concept of an atopia – a physical place that lacks a sense of specific place. The modern urban landscape is riddled with public non-places through which individuals can move in mostly an anonymous fashion.

Each track of the album represents a particular non-place. In addition to plucked and bowed themes making use of extended techniques, both performers add electronics and processing to the mix, resulting in a deliberately-paced atmospheric offering. These effects include feedback, distortion, synthetic rhythms, and voices. Frequently, Barbiero and Bocci are playing slow tempos with long-held notes, but from time to time one will contribute a more frenetic melody or motif that is juxtaposed with the other’s more gradual, drone-based approach. Having said that, it is not unusual on this release for the processed elements to dominate, providing a dense electroacoustic sound bed.

Nonetheless, the use of space is key on Non-Places (not surprising, given its theme), with each track exhibiting a unique ambiance and mood. As a result, the album does not jump out as being a showcase for a twosome of accomplished bassists – instead, Barbiero and Bocci use these traditional instruments, as well as the non-traditional ones, as a means to the end of characterizing their atopias.