AMN Reviews: Jo Quail – Exsolve (2018; Bandcamp)

My introduction to UK-based cellist Jo Quail was on her recent collaboration with Eraldo Bernocchi and FM Einheit. Here, she teams up with two electric guitarists and a vocalist on three duets.

Quail is anything but a conventional performer or composer. She overdubs and processes her cello tracks, combining heavy riffing, sweeping waves, and low drones with occasional melodic aspects. Her style is cinematic, perhaps gothic, and seems to draw equally from classical, dark ambient, and atmospheric metal influences. She combines these elements with suitably dramatic percussion.

On Forge – Of Two Forms this results in an aggressively driven piece for the first two-thirds of its 17 minutes. Guitarist Dan Capp provides appropriately-timed power chords and riffing. On Mandrel Cantus, Quail is joined by guitarist Nik Sampson. He fills a similar role as Capp, but also offers a more rhythmic approach that combines well with Quail’s heavy musings and disjointed percussion. Causleen’s Wheel is a different animal, with Lucie Dehli on whispered vocals. Quail’s playing features fewer overdubs, but for the most part is haunting and melancholic. Toward the end of the track, she runs her cello through distortion effects to produce heavy chording and walls of sound. Here is where Dehli also switches styles – to urgent chanting and desperate wordless vocals.

On Exsolve, Quail gives us 45 minutes of grim and ominous soundscapes, full of dark colors and emotions. Highly recommended.

AMN Reviews: Gabriel Zucker – Weighting (2018; ESP-Disk’)

Acclaimed pianist Gabriel Zucker is joined by trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, saxophonist Eric Trudel, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey on this recently-released effort. Originally written in 2014-15, Weighting was played live in that time frame, but this is its first recording. Unlike much of the creative jazz discussed in these pages, Zucker’s compositions are clearly pre-determined and improv plays a relatively minor role in the complex and dynamic themes herein. Indeed, Weighting could be viewed as an energetic modern classical piece performed by a jazz quartet given a little room for extemporization.

Would It Come Back to You leads off the album with an exploratory duet between O’Farrill and Trudel. Just beyond the half-way point, Zucker and Sorey join in for a dramatic flourish and then the main theme begins. Zucker’s compositions, as well as his complimentary and percussive piano themes, makes the group sound as if there are more than just four voices. As one would expect, Sorey goes well beyond holding down a rhythm and adds dense offerings of his own.

Another representative track, The Stream of New York / And Art, of Course features Zucker on a staccato piano lead, which morphs into a number of related, overlapping themes and motifs worked through by his bandmates. Zucker continues leading the group into a noisy crescendo. Not all of the pieces are so aggressive or angular, but even those that take it down a few notches still exhibit Zucker’s compelling techniques.

While Weighting is serious music, it also exhibits a sense of urgency and joy despite all of the polyphony. As a result, the album has no shortage of appeal. This one should be on everybody’s best of 2018 list.

AMN Reviews: Donald McPherson and Tetuzi Akiyama – The Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 (2018; God in the Music)

If one could synthesize the murmurations of the common starling into sonic form, the resulting product would invariably sound similar to the twin guitar duo of late-Aotearoa / New Zealand artist Donald McPherson and Japanese improviser Tetuzi Akiyama. Consisting of three parts culled from a 2010 live performance in Christchuch, The Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 features some enjoyable Akiyama and McPherson riffing, with the duo crafting sonic landscapes that evoke a gamut of emotions, from splendor to pathos.

The opening segment, Part One is the longest piece on the tape, clocking in at just over 19 minutes. The side features much of what you’d expect from the pair: the playing is both prodding and prodigious, yet the listener is spared the cloying blows of virtuosity and one-upsmanship. Instead, McPherson and Akiyama weave in and out of each other’s playing and remain content in their explorations of bucolic motifs that taper off as soon as a new thematic turn reveals itself. At times the guitars are cinematic and even orchestral (5:04); at other points, the pair’s playing is evocative of flamenco (11:58). In all, Part One possesses enough whimsy and a number of (very) high points that assuage any moments in the performance that may feel awkward or too tentative for some listeners. 

Part Two opens the second side and is most likely to elicit the John Fahey comparisons. While understandable to a degree, they ultimately miss the point and serve only as inchoate shorthand for those unwilling to settle in and listen to the unique artistic voices, nuance, and timbres that belong to Akiyama and McPherson, both individually and as combined as a unit. At times, a bit tedious; however, the duo never sound lost and retain their ability to engross the listener throughout. The closer, Part Three, is both the shortest cut on the album and its strongest piece by a mile. Reminiscent of Indian raga, Nick Drake, and even Neu!, the piece is vibrant and captivating and like the best of dreams, ends far too soon…

While the sparsity and relatively restrained dynamics on The Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 may make it a bit more demanding than the pair’s 2006 Vinegar & Rum, this listener would argue the peaks surpass and outweigh any troughs from the moment you hit play on the deck. What’s more, not only does this release help mark the arrival of new End of the Alphabet / Astral Spirits collaborative spin off-imprint, God in the Music, it marks almost one year since McPherson’s death. What better way to remember the guitarist than to enjoy his collaborative work with his friend and kindred spirit Tetuzi Akiyama. 

– J. Sebastien Ericsson Saheb

AMN Reviews: Steve Ashby & Daniel Barbiero – The Elongated Path (2018; Impulsive Habitat)

Steve Ashby and Dan Barbiero* provide a multilayered ambient excursion in this concise release. Consisting of five tracks totaling 36 minutes, the duo explores outdoor soundscapes and atmospheres. Barbiero contributes bowed melodies and drones on his double bass. Never in a hurry to get anywhere, he makes use of space as a complementary force in his playing. Ashby focuses on providing field recordings, some more processed than others, and a small amount of guitar-work.

The album has a distinctive lo-fi feel that can be attributed to background noise or some degree of tape hiss. While most tracks feature Barbiero’s deliberately-paced melodies, others are closer to pure soundscapes with the bass just another source of abstract impressionism. Ashby makes heavy use of recordings of birdsong, and artfully interleaves them with percussive elements. These latter effects lead to the most compelling aspect of the album – a melancholic, but non-threatening, pastoralism that is both detail-oriented and non-intrusive.

* Barbiero writes for Avant Music News.

AMN Reviews: The Coldwater Trio – Live at the Battery Books & Music [Bandcamp]

More than any other kind of music, collective free improvisation succeeds or fails largely on the strength of the chemistry binding its players together. It isn’t unusual for a free improvisational ensemble to play focused, coherent music its first time out, given a felicitous combination of sensibilities and skills. Live at The Battery Books & Music by the Los Angeles area Coldwater Trio—guitarist Haskel Joseph, trumpeter Bruce Friedman and cellist Michael Intriere—captures the group at its first gig; their imaginative brand of chamber improvisation is played with a sensitivity to color and texture that tells of a compatibility transcending their individual voices, which are built on diverse sound palettes. Joseph works with a wide variety of sounds—wah-wah drenched psychedelia, heavy metal scrounge, a shimmeringly clean tone enhanced by reverb. Intriere plays with a proper, classical sound when he isn’t using extended techniques and percussive effects, or setting up asymmetrical pizzicato lines like a bassist walking steadily through changing time signatures. Friedman most often takes the melodic line, playing an introspective mid-register both with and without mute. Although the seven tracks are fully improvised, collectively the group sets up structures and atmospheres that coalesce and melt away organically, whether in the minor key ruminations of a track like Parenthetical, the ballad-like quasi-soundtrack Point Dume, or the abstractly jittery Pico.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Far Corner – Risk (2018; Cuneiform Records)

Far Corner is the instrumental quartet of William Kopecky on bass, Dan Maske on keyboards, Angela Schmidt on cello, and Craig Walkner on drums, with Jerry Loughney contributing violin. Risk is their third studio album (technical their fourth album overall), and first in about decade. They play a rather charming and unique take on heavy chamber rock. As such, they fall in the middle ground between progenitors in both the 20th century classical and prog rock genres.

From the outset, the group makes it clear that they are not kidding around. Risk begins on the aggressive side and rarely lets up. Maske’s plethora of vintage and modern keyboards (I’m pretty sure I hear a mellotron in there) combines with Loughney’s riffing and lead themes to produce a retro, albeit non-derivative, sound. Kopecky and Schmidt and hold down the low end and then some, adding both color and further motifs. Walkner is a precise and busy drummer, who tightly drives the labyrinthine rhythms with generous use of the double bass.

Far Corner occasionally wears their influences on their sleeves. For example, Flim Flam Man could be subtitled Poking Fun at Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. On the other hand, Myopia is a heady and all-out prog anthem that moves in a more modern direction. But then Past Deeds, Present Treacheries exhibits more of a Univers Zero structure and feel. Further, The Chickening (a great song title) alternates between what sounds like electric guitar riffing (despite that instrument not being credited) and more melodic breaks.

At some point when listing to Risk, you need to just sit back and enjoy it. Regardless of its occasional toying with darkness, this is just a fun album. Highly recommended.

AMN Reviews: Karoline Leblanc / Nicolas Caloia / Ernesto Rodrigues – Autoschediasm [atrito-afeito 010]

A release from the trio of pianist Karoline Leblanc and double bassist Nicolas Caloia, both of Montreal, and Portuguese violist Ernesto Rodrigues, Autoschediasm, recorded in June at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, is an example of discerningly improvised timbral polyphony. From the first instant Leblanc, Caloia and Rodrigues reveals themselves to be possessed of a fine collective chemistry based on keen listening and sensitive responsiveness. Each leaves adequate room for the others’ instruments to breathe and to sound; their music is the product of what appears to be an unforced, natural rapport. As instrumentalists, all three are primarily colorists working with the full palettes that piano, double bass and viola make possible. The group’s fluency in handling color is especially evident on the second track, an exploration of space and tone. The strings are particularly creative here, with Rodrigues spinning out a full spectrum of unpitched sounds against Caloia’s harmonics, plucked and struck notes, and pressure bowing. Leblanc’s discreet interventions serve as the keystone holding Rodrigues’s and Caloia’s centripetal forces in place. By contrast, on the first piece the trio craft a long but coherent improvisation on the basis of skillfully handled dynamics and a seamless blend of conventional and extended techniques. Leblanc is a deft player, playing inside and outside the piano as needed, and alternating lead and support–or simply staying silent–when the collective sound seems to demand it. Caloia gets a robust sound and provides a firm grounding with his powerful mid and lower registers; Rodrigues’s sense of texture comes out nicely in his use of rapidly bowed layers or plucked and tapped points of sound.

Daniel Barbiero