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: Peuker8 – Radiance (2019; WhyPlayJazz)

Our collective re-imagining of jazz continues apace with this new release from Paul Peuker, the third with his Peuker8 group. At first blush, it is tempting to compare this album to the recent efforts from Phillip Gropper, as they are both based in Germany and have internalized a wide breadth of influences. But Peuker has his own voice.

Peuker plays guitar, with Marius Moritz on piano, Mark Weschenfelder on sax and clarinet, Alina Gropper on violin, Filip Sommer on viola, Elisabeth Coudoux on cello, Eugen Rolnik on bass, Florian Lauer drums, and Konstantin Ingenpaß providing vocals on two tracks (that’s nine technically, but maybe we should not count Ingenpaß toward the Peuker8). While Radiance has a distinct guitar orientation, it is far from a Peuker showcase. Instead, his compositions exercise all instruments in a fashion that combines jazz, classical, and rock music. The occasional singing is rich and forceful, but not overbearing.

2018-10_26_Peuker_8_Foto_Dovile_Sermokas00012.jpgA prime example is Radiance II, which begins with a labyrinthine drum and bass theme that is rapidly joined by piano and then guitar and sax.  Throughout, the tension builds as the strings accentuate this progression. Sax and guitar duel, each offering compelling solos which appear to be loosely improvised.  While each individual instrument or section often plays something resembling a catchy tune, the overlapping and arranging thereof results in a surprisingly involved and complex composition. On the other hand, Framework I is a multiphonic piece with free improv sandwiched by prog rock influences.  Onto the Wild Bright Future begins with jazz chording on the piano before it transmogrifies into a lilting theme that leads to a contrapuntal piano excursion.

Throughout Radiance, Peuker and company manage to push the boundaries of chamber rock by achieving a level of unpredictability and rawness that goes beyond that moniker. It this jazzy classical with rock influences or classically-influenced jazz with a strong guitar presence? What about the tracks that seem like ballads? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter – labels are irrelvant to this group.  And that is a great thing.

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

AMN Reviews: theBABAorchestra – Marigold (2019; Thirsty Owl Records / Slow & Steady Records)

Lauren Elizabeth Baba is a composer and conductor of theBABAorchestra, a 17-piece big band that compellingly blends together jazz, rock, and avant-garde with an experimental flair. Not unlike several other creative music big bands of the last decade (the Eco-Music Big Band, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Brooklyn Raga Massive, Brian Krock’s Big Heart Machine, John Korsrud’s Hard Rubber Orchestra, and those of Nathan Hubbard, Dan Weiss, Ben Stapp, and others) Baba and company nail it.

With five saxophonists (most doubling on flute), four trumpeters, four trombonists, guitar, bass, piano, and drums, theBABAorchestra generates a thick, dense, multi-directional sound of remarkable depth and complexity. All members stay busy, each playing for most of the album. Consisting of a single 41-minute piece roughly organized into four movements, Marigold offers a non-stop, information-rich exploration of textures and overlapping melodies.

The first eight minutes serve as an intro of quiet and loosely improvised piano, flute, bass, guitar, and drum explorations with occasional themes contributed by a subset of the horns. This evolves into droning walls of horns supporting sax soloing. A few minutes later is a free improv blowout grounded by series of chord pairs navigated by the horns. After this point, the horns break up into subgroups and set forth arrays of layered melodies and staccato blasts interspersed with angular guitar, blistering sax solos, and aggressive bass and drumming.

Around the 26-minute mark, however, is where Marigold begins to take off. Piano and horn chording slowly builds in volume, density, and tension. Toward the climactic crescendo, the horns take on rapid-fire Middle-Eastern themes supported by wild drumming and simultaneous soloing. The result is nothing short of breathless.

Plenty of credit goes to Baba and friends for producing an offering of unusual intensity and style. If there is any justice in the world, Marigold will show up on many best-of-year lists. Bravo.

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: NERATERRÆ – The Substance of Perception (2019; Cyclic Law)

NERATERRÆ is Alessio Antoni, and this debut album is a set of seven collaborations with a virtual who’s who of dark ambient and melancholy electroacoustic music. Collaborators include members of Northaunt, Phurpa, Treha Sektori, New Risen Throne, Flowers For Bodysnatchers, Taphephobia, Ugasanie, Xerxes The Dark, and Infinexhuma. For the most part, these tracks consist of layered drones and a sense of dread. Interspersed therein are crackling background static, ritualistic chants, windswept soundscapes, and subtle spoken-word elements.

Highlights include Becoming the Nightmare, a piece with efforts from New Risen Throne and Treha Sektori, which features bassy rumblings, barely audible voices, and processed industrial noises. This evolves into a more conventional pattern of mid-range drones until the voices return for a coda. That Which Shall Not Be Witnessed is a powerful statement made from sweeping waves and pulses overlaid with manipulated voices. Xerxes The Dark and Treha Sektori contribute. Echoing Scars, recorded with help from Flowers For Bodysnatchers, includes piano over rainfall and subtle drones.

Antoni does not attempt to adapt the styles of his collaborators to that of his own. If anything, he adapts to them. The result is an album with sounds that vary around a fixed anchor point. Well worth a listen for anyone who follows the aforementioned artists.