AMN Reviews: John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (1965; Impulse Records)

A friend once told me that listening to A Love Supreme was like going to church, even if you are not religious. I’ll admit that, as a non-spiritual person, the studio version of John Coltrane’s masterpiece has taken me places over the 30 years since I first heard it. With only one other live performance officially released, A Love Supreme has remained mysterious and enigmatic over the decades with its relative scarcity adding to its appeal.

When the word came down that a new live version was going to be officially put out this Fall, anticipation built. I tend not to be a completist, so in many cases I do not go out of my way to obtain the many reissues, alternative takes, and bonus material that slowly drips from my favored artists of days long ago. With A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle, I made an exception and put it on as a “what the heck” listen.

In this set from October 1965, Coltrane’s classic quartet (including McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones) are joined by Pharoah Sanders and Carlos Ward on second and third saxes, as well as Donald Garrett on second bass. The piece is a dramatically expanded version of the studio recordings, clocking in at over twice the length, with four interludes separating its four movements.

And it is a wild ride. The septet provides a turbulent take on the material, which includes the signature melodies and patterns as well as lengthy improvisations. The latter are more outside than in, with several members employing extended techniques, wailing, and long solos. Jones, in particular, is even more impressive than usual, playing busily enough to make one wonder if there is not a second drummer as well. One of the interludes is a lengthy drum solo that stops just short of going over the top.

While not exactly free, the reading is experimental, almost weird, and quite exhilarating. Coltrane is telegraphing the evolution that he would undertake in the last two years of his life, with disjointed sheets of notes and plaintive wails. Admittedly, some of the spirituality is dampened by the sheer energy of this mix (with the closer, Psalm, being an exception). Pulling back on Coltrane’s vanguard tendencies to some extent is Tyner, whose piano playing lands more squarely in the “jazz” camp while remaining edgy.

So yes, this release does live up to the anticipation and hype. While recommended for any fan of A Love Supreme, it is essential for those who appreciate Coltrane’s final period. I’m glad that I said “what the heck.”

AMN Reviews: Kelly Ruth – Simulacra (2021; Bandcamp)

Kelly Ruth describes her music concisely – she “uses contact microphones and effects pedals on her weaving loom and other fibre related tools.” Indeed, without this explanation, it would be nearly impossible for the listener to ascertain the source material of her recordings on Simulacra. But perhaps that is the point she is making, as she uses these machines and tools (along with additional processing) to create soundscapes that simulate other organic and human-made processes and activities.

Case in point, Sensorial Waters opens the album with scraping and squeaking that resemble an oceanside with damped waves, seagulls, and whalesong. Two or three distinct lines of sculpted noise make up this heady amalgam. Like several of the tracks on this release, Ruth employs loops to create virtual rhythms that repeat for shorter or longer periods, though never wearing out their welcome.

Illusory Perceptions incorporates multi-tracked wordless vocals, deliberately-paced beats and mechanically-generated textures. One can imagine the threads being amplified as they are slowly pulled through the loom, but one could also envision this piece as a soundtrack to biological processes. On later tracks, the sounds can be more suggestive of machinery but retain a warmth and intentionality. While not exactly upbeat, Ruth eschews darkness for an intellectual experimentalism.

The 15-minute Momentary Collapse takes a left turn of sorts with mid-frequency drones and static added to the mix. The piece exhibits a breathiness, again spanning the gap between the living and inanimate. Vocalizations and elements resembling tuned percussion assist with the former.

As with her previous release, Forms, Ruth populates a corner of the avant-garde / noise / musique concrete space that is fairly unique. The closest comparison that comes to mind is the sound art of Tod Dockstader, but Ruth is more rhythmic and keeps her entropy high yet under control. Very, very well done.

AMN Reviews: Ricardo Jiménez & Antonio Ramírez – Génesis Negro (2021; Sentencia Records); Hidden Forces Trio & Alejandro Rojas-Marcos – Velá (2021; Sentencia Records)

Sentencia Records is a small label from Spain putting out a variety of music on the more extreme ends of the composition / improv continuum. These are its latest pair of releases.

Ricardo Jiménez & Antonio Ramírez – Génesis Negro

The solo instrumentalist carries a heavy burden. They need to use their single instrument, usually in the form of just one non-overdubbed voice, to maintain a listener’s attention for long periods of time. There certainly are many notable successes in this regard, but this should not discount the difficulty of such an effort. Enter Ricardo Jiménez and his guitars. Artist Antonio Ramírez provided a set of surrealist drawings for a project, and Jiménez used them as inspiration for his writing and playing. While ostensibly resembling the works of Sunn O))) due to the use of heavy, overdriven riffs, Jiménez also incorporates a range of textures and tempos. The pieces are structured, with repeating themes, loops, and feedback. Some passages are more textual, with sculpted noise walls. But Jiménez also provides passages played with the distortion pedals off or with an acoustic. But even these more pastoral moments are dark and feature processed sounds in the background. The result is a must-have for anyone who appreciates creative heavy music.

Hidden Forces Trio & Alejandro Rojas-Marcos – Velá

Hidden Forces is Gustavo Domínguez on clarinets, Marco Serrato on double bass, and Borja Díaz on percussion. Here, they are joined by longtime collaborator Alejandro Rojas-Marcos on clavichord for two 24-minute freely improvised excursions recorded live at a book fair (voices captured in the background are charming rather than distracting). As such improv goes, this is of the open-ended sort with generous employment of extended techniques. The quartet eschews traditional notions of melody, harmony, and rhythm for texture, color, and feel. They not only play their instruments, but they also use them as sound-generating implements. Serrato and Díaz provide an ever-shifting threshold racket, including meandering bass lines and rattling percussion. Domínguez offers up angular solos while Rojas-Marcos often saws his clavinet’s strings directly. Not all four musicians play at the same time, with each individual coming and going from the mix. This allows room for personalized expression and also varies the dynamics and density of these pieces. The overall result is a thoughtful pair of explorations.

AMN Reviews: More Dark Ambient for Fall – Taphephobia & IDFT, Alphaxone, and Fionnlagh

As Halloween approaches, we express the darker aspects of our world and existence along a spectrum from the silly, comedic, and lighter aspects of horror to those that are truly meant to terrify. While most decorations, events, and media oriented toward this holiday are directed to the former, a handful of recent dark ambient releases are subtle reminders of the latter.

Taphephobia & IDFT – Kandu (2021; Reverse Alignment)

This collaboration between Taphephobia (Ketil Søraker) and IDFT (Behnoud) is a slow-paced series of layered drones and pulsing waves. Each piece provides subtle details in its combinations of sounds, with different tones and textures moving at varied tempos. Synth-oriented, the closest comparison is to the works of Steve Roach, but with more of a brooding approach. To that point, Sacrifice is an experimental track that incorporates rougher, sweeping textures, a sparse bass line, and a hint of voices. The 16-minute Lockdown ends the album with the features mentioned above as well as percussive electroacoustic elements.

Alphaxone – Ghost Machine (2021; Cryo Chamber)

Alphaxone (Mehdi Saleh) returns with a set of walled drones coupled with crackling textures and distant mechanical noises. Found-object percussion along with processed sounds provide patternless strikes and clashes. Oscillating rumbles undergird higher-pitched recordings and effects. As an example, Aftershock evokes irrhythmic operations of eldritch machinery accompanied by shadowy voices before evolving into haunting synth chords and ominous pounding. Ghost Machine could be a soundtrack for a film about how a biomedical experiment goes horribly wrong, resulting in chimeric beings that slowly pick off doomed protagonists. Regardless, it is a prime representative of how dark ambient accented with a touch of musique concrete can be a compelling mix.

Fionnlagh – What Came Before (2021; Ambientologist)

Speaking of cinematic music, What Came Before from Fionnlagh is a set of 15 deep, synth-heavy drones that swell and fade. These ebbing and pulsing melodies and windswept soundscapes are presented atop low-frequency patterns, resembling the scores of Jóhann Jóhannsson. Textures vary from smooth to rough. While rarely harsh, the tone is admittedly dystopian, with mildly distorted snippets inserted at various points. As the album progresses it gets increasingly abstract and foreboding, with disjointed electronics and percussion integrated with the drones. The dynamics can be jarring, with more delicate passages periodically drowned out by loud swells of synth.

AMN Reviews: Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson – Searching for the Disappeared Hour (2021; Pyroclastic Records)

By now, we are all aware of the notion of “pandemic time” – when your normal routine has been disrupted to the point that it is difficult to remember the day of the week much less the time of the day. Two experienced New York-based composer / improvisers, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and guitarist Mary Halvorson, have attempted to capture this phenomenon in 12 duet pieces.

While both are well-known in modern creative jazz circles, their approach on Searching for the Disappeared Hour is more classically oriented, or at least better described as chamber jazz. To that point, each composition includes a series of melodic and harmonic structures that Courvoisier and Halvorson fluidly traverse. There is little repetition or traditional thematic development – they say their piece and move on. But along with and between the written aspects is plentiful room for improvisation.

At first blush, the tone is pastoral and quiet, with contrapuntal themes that are colorful, upbeat, and vary from spare to densely arranged. But upon deeper listens, the experimentalism of this duo comes to the fore. Most notably Halvorson’s use of extended techniques and note-bending on the electric dispels any notion that the album is easy listening, as does Courvoisier’s angular and percussive moments. But perhaps most remarkable is how they have captured the emotional roller coaster of the last 18 months. Even within a piece, the mood can move several times between joyous interludes and darker expressions. Happiness can turn in an instant to gloom or melancholy, and vice versa.

Consequently, Searching for the Disappeared Hour works on multiple levels. It can be listened to as a testament to the technical prowess of two musicians. But it is also a strangely moving exploration of the disorientation that we all have felt in recent months.

The album will be released on October 29 by Kris Davis’ Pyroclastic Records.

AMN Reviews: Gabie Strong – Wilding Sun (2021; Dragon’s Eye Recordings)

Wilding Sun consists of four pieces that combine studio and live guitar drones and loops with field recordings, processing, and effects. All checking in between 8 and 14 minutes, each is a sonic exploration of medicinal herbs, aptly titled Lavender, Catnip, Dandelion, and Mugwort. The result of this effort is too active to be truly ambient, but nonetheless has the feel of an outdoor sound installation.

Strong layers long-held notes and distorted chords with other sound sources. The tones are bright and often windswept, yet with more than a hint of disquiet. Her use of distortion varies from the subtle to overdriven walls of sound. There are frequently two to four distinct lines between her playing and the recorded material, providing a richness that unfolds at a deliberate pace. The field recordings include insect and animal noises, adding some fauna to the titular flora.

Having said that, Mugwort is something of an outlier. A lo-fi live recording, Strong plays entirely with amplified extended techniques to sculpt a staticky and feedback-laden soundscape.

Perhaps the most unusual and compelling aspect of this album is how Strong’s playing and composing provides both a peacefulness as well as non-stop quantum fluctuations. While the drones have a certain uniformity, at the micro level they are constantly reformulating themselves.

This is a thinking person’s music that stirs the listener at a deeper level. Wilding Sun will be released on November 12 by Dragon’s Eye Recordings.

AMN Reviews: New Dark Ambient for the Fall – Kloob, BlackWeald, Altus, and Ager Sonus

As Autumn brings cooler temperatures and shorter days, dark ambient artists are busy releasing new material that captures the accompanying cyclic decay of nature as well as otherworldly existential dread.

Kloob – Parallel States (2021; Winter-Light)

Dani Kloob’s haunting soundscapes rumble and unfold in an understated fashion. Almost hypnogogic, these pieces are felt as much as they are heard. While long, slow drones dominate the foreground, crackling electroacoustics and processed sound elements poke around the edges. Evolving at tectonic time scales, each track is surprisingly rich and densely layered. One contains patterns of beats that provide a further cinematic intensity to this offering.

BlackWeald – 90377 Sedna (2021; Bandcamp)

Coming off of an 11-hour(!) release earlier this year, BlackWeald has toned it down a bit in terms of length on 90377 Sedna. But this album comes with a short story, a video, and extensive artwork, so maybe not so much. The focus here is space ambient, with dark, shimmering drones, synthetic voices, and distorted walls. These sounds certainly evoke a combination of machinery and the vastness of deep space, with more than a little horror thrown in. The digital release comes with a 32-minute bonus track, сингулярность, which is an extended, slow-moving drone – perhaps not essential but enjoyable nonetheless.

Altus – Hypoxia (2021; Bandcamp)

Altus (Mike Carss) takes things in a different direction with swelling and ebbing waves of clean synths, not unlike the works of Steve Roach and other more “mainstream” electro-ambient artists over the last two or three decades. Unassuming sequenced patterns come and go from the background. Nonetheless, there is a distinct tension to this work, an underlying anxiety or urgency that occasionally comes to the fore in programmed beat patterns or rougher textures. Some of this can be found on Metal Fatigue, a track that couples synth washes with boiling static. Carss has over 50 releases out under the Altus moniker, and Hypoxia is a solid jumping-off point for exploring his lengthy discography.

Ager Sonus – Niflheim (2021; Cryo Chamber)

Ager Sonus (Thomas Langewehr) is back with another percussive ambient excursion. This one also focuses on heavy use of flutes and synthesizers. Aiming to tell a story of battles and Nordic mythology from the 9th century, Langewehr’s rhythms are both tribal and martial. The synths, combined with effects and recordings, create a complementary sonic environment. The flute, coupled with occasional use of stringed instruments and throat singing, adds gritty primordial textures and a few jagged moments. Nonetheless, the synth work is smooth and layered for the most part. The feel is not overtly warlike, but gives rise to the impression of preparation for war – a small army readying for battle by torchlight in a darkened stronghold. I’ve made comparisons between Ager Sonus and Robert Rich before, and such similarities hold.

AMN Reviews: Jarl – Spectrum Confusion (2021; Reverse Alignment)

Sweden’s Erik Jarl has a long discography of releases going back over 20 years. This latest effort is in the realm of electronic avant-garde, landing somewhere between synth-driven dark ambient, Kosmiche music of the 1970s (think Klaus Schulze), and the electronically-generated manipulations of Roland Kayn. Consisting of three tracks, each between 12 and 21 minutes in length, Spectrum Confusion is in parts sweeping, majestic, spacious, and weird.

The first track, aptly titled Spectrum Confusion Part 1, features oscillating tones from layers of synths. There is a rough element of grittiness to some of these, while others are smoother. Each voice appears to be looped, cresting and receding in its own pattern. These slowly build upon each other, with short repeating motifs clearly discernable amongst a growing wall of noise. Somewhere near the midpoint, the nature of the piece changes to entail a smaller number of cosmic pulsings. Loops are again employed, as well as echoes. This approach ramps up, stratum upon stratum, until at least half a dozen distinct elements can be heard bringing the composition to a crescendo. The remaining two tracks follow along similar lines, exploring shimmering and whooshing variations on these themes.

Spectrum Confusion was released on October 1 by the newly-resurrected Reverse Alignment label.

AMN Reviews: Fred Lonberg-Holm, Abdul Moimême, Carlos Santos – Transition Zone [Creative Sources CS712]; Mikel Vega – Powndak Improv [Bandcamp]

In May of 2018 Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics), Abdul Moimême(dual electric guitars) and Carlos Santos (electronics) met for the first time as a trio. The result is this five-track set recorded live at Namouche Studio in Lisbon.

Moimême is no stranger to these pages, having appeared in a duet with saxophonist patrick brennan on 2019’s Terraphonia and with brennan again along with others on 2020’s The Sudden Bird of Waiting, both of which were reviewed here. On Transition Zone he once again is featured playing two electric guitars simultaneously with a variety of outer-edge techniques. Lonberg-Holm also explores the technical borderlands of his own instrument; his pitched, unpitched and semi-pitched sounds, along with extended bowings, complement Moimême’s well-developed repertoire of scrapings, strikes and plucking. Santos adds a continuo of electronic tint to the completely improvised performances. Although the three hadn’t played together as unit before their sympathetic chemistry is immediately apparent on all of these finely sculpted pieces of textural playing. From the scuffed surfaces of Tumultuous, with its harsh weave of feedback, to the long cello tones and ringing open guitar strings of Hushed, Transition Zone shows how three like minds can paint sound from a broad palette of color.

Also worth mentioning is Powndak Improv by Bilbao guitarist Mikel Vega. Like Moimême, Vega is an exploratory guitarist, but of a more conventionally experimental kind. His improvised performances on this album are pitch-predominant albeit tonally decentered; his electric guitar sound is rich with reverb and distortion and at times is directly allusive to heavy metal. On one track he plays acoustic guitar, which he leads through a labyrinth of angular arpeggios and fragmentary chord sequences. On the texturally provocative track Methagaarborg Vega is joined by saxophonist Fernando Ulzión and electronics artist Miguel A. Garcia.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Guillaume Gargaud – 17 Compositions [New Focus Recordings]

Guillaume Gargaud’s seventeen compositions for steel-string, acoustic guitar are short—none is longer than a minute and three-quarters—linked pieces of an elegant simplicity. The simplicity is more in the concept than in the sound, which can be subtly complex; each piece involves self-imposed constraints that in effect attempt to convert some of Gargaud’s improvisational gestures into etudes centered on certain pitches and pitch relationships. And this is where the complexity comes in. For despite Gargaud’s focus on a paring down of material, the often-recurring pitch relationships that make up that material and that Gargaud introduces, elaborates, and plays variations on, are harmonically sophisticated and shot through with a dissonant tension that belies the rather quiet mood in which they’re presented. While each brief piece can stand alone as a kind of tone poem complete in itself, listening to the entire sequence is like seeing an object from many different perspectives which, taken together, give a picture of the essence of the thing.

Daniel Barbiero