AMN Reviews: Scott L. Miller – Raba [New Focus Recordings FCR198]

The electronic and electroacoustic music on Raba represents an updating, in its own way, of ambient music by way of contemporary art music. As composer Scott L. Miller explains, the CD began as a retrospective of his work but evolved into a reworking of some old pieces along with the creation of new work.

The title track, composed in 2015 and revised in 2017, exemplifies the paradox of tension within drift that characterizes Miller’s reimagining of ambient composition. The piece is orchestrated for a small electroacoustic ensemble of winds, strings, piano, percussion, and electronic sound. The latter is responsible for the ambience, providing as it does a textural backdrop recalling at times the electronic hum of a distant engine. Over this foundation, the acoustic instruments intervene with complementary washes of sound. The work is low-key but psychologically taut; it creates an atmosphere permeated by unresolved anticipation. The title of The Frost Performs Its Secret Ministry (2016) hints at an esoteric action hidden in an everyday meteorological event; this trio for flute (Laura Cocks), guitar (Daniel Lippel) and electronic sound keeps that action veiled in mostly abstract, unpitched sounds: the flute comes in on a gust of air notes, for example. Lippel’s agitated strumming keeps the piece from wafting into languor and instead adds an urgent, emotional edge. Lippel is the pivot for Meditation (2016) for guitar and interactive electronic sound. The piece is undergirded by a feedback-like hum on which the guitar’s coloristic fragments float; from this basic division of sonic parts Miller builds a subtle drama out of oppositions of timbre: the sharp attack, short sustain and relatively muted tones of the nylon-string guitar provide a compelling contrast to the electronics’ sustained sounds.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Josh Sinton’s Predicate Trio – Making Bones (2018; Iluso Records)

Before recording this album, baritone saxophonist and bass clarinetist Josh Sinton took a break from music for a few months. Whether Making Bones (full title: making bones, taking draughts, bearing unstable millstones pridefully, idiotically, prosaically) benefitted from this hiatus is only known for sure by Sinton himself. But as listeners, we can speculate that it did.

While he is another one of the many New-York-based creative musicians that has played with just about everyone (Ideal Bread, Nate Wooley, and Anthony Braxton to name just a few), for this new trio Sinton is joined by cellist Christopher Hoffman (Henry Threadgill, others) and drummer Tom Rainey (credit list is way too long). With such esteemed and self-reliant colleagues, Sinton can relax and focus on writing and his own playing, which manages to be both muscular and emotional.

The bari sax gives Sinton’s lines an organic feel as he leads the trio through complex punctuated melodies. Rainey goes with his usual active approach, providing unexpected rattling beats through each of the nine tracks. Hoffman, who is woefully under-appreciated as both sideman and leader, performs heroics on the cello, complementing and contributing to Sinton’s leads.

These stylings are apparent on Tiaga, where Sinton makes his instrument vocalize through an aggressive, driving lead while Hoffman and Rainey phase in and out of rhythm. On Blockblockblock all three partake in a disjointed improvisation around a rough and angular structure. But even the more downtempo pieces exhibit a non-linearity that is both intriguing and poignant.

While ostensibly a jazz trio, Making Bones goes way beyond that designation. Another great release from Iluso Records, a label that should be getting much more attention.

AMN Reviews: René Lussier “Quintette” [Circum-Disc Microcidi012]

Prolific and eclectic guitarist René Lussier’s credits include more than sixty film soundtracks and more than thirty albums.  Lussier’s music, while drawing from a variety of contemporary experimental musical ideas, has a unique sense of melody that is colored by the frequent use of folk like “clogging” motor rhythms that are injected with the power and energy of rock. In addition to his work in experimental music and free improvisation Lussier  has performed and recorded with several groups including Conventum, Les 4 Guitaristes de l’Apocalypso-Bar, Fred Frith’s Keep the Dog and The Fred Frith Guitar Quartet.

Lussier’s latest album “Quintette” finds him in the company of drummers Robbie Kuster and Marton Maderspach, Julie Houle – tuba/euphonium and accordionist Luzio Altobelli.  Lussier assembled this group at the end of 2016 and they have been rehearsing and performing ever since. His concept for this group was to create music where the written and the improvised live together allowing each performer a lot of freedom while preserving the character of the original composition. Lussier’s arrangements continually shift roles across the instruments as the music’s modules are overlaid on one another. The result is ten pieces of tuneful, energetic and imaginative music that is simultaneously precise, frantic and wild. “Quintette” is an album that I believe should turn up on many “Best of 2018” lists. Highly recommended!

Chris DeChiara

AMN Reviews: Kim Myhr – pressing clouds passing crowds [HUBROCD2612]

Few notions encapsulate the human condition more tidily than the notion of passage: of passing to different places or stages of life, or simply passing through in any of its literal or figurative meanings. On pressing clouds passing crowds guitarist/composer Kim Myhr has collaborated with poet Carolyn Bergvall on a suite of pieces touching on passage and transience in their many manifestations.

The music, which was written before Bergvall’s words were composed, is performed by Myhr on twelve-string guitar and Ingar Zach on percussion, along with the string quartet Quatuor Bozzini, from Montreal. In a structural allusion to passage the six parts of the suite segue naturally from one to the other, and feature repeated figures, ringing chords and arpeggios over insistent rhythms; for the Bozzini there are restrained drones and elongated, unstable chords with subtly rising and falling inner voices. Myhr’s penchant for repetition underscores the spirit of Bergvall’s text: repetition, as the recurrence of something that by itself doesn’t last, is simply the other side of flux. By the same token, Bergvall’s text is well-suited to the music: through images, anecdotes and aphorisms, she crafts an anti-narrative of what it’s like to experience the passing nature of things—in her words, to “move into unknown terrain where the ground is imperceptibly changing.”

Daniel Barbiero


AMN Reviews: Anguish – Anguish (2018; RareNoiseRecords)

As music labels go, RareNoiseRecords deserves a medal of bravery. Their modus operandi seems to include heavy doses of combining groups of people that no one else ever thought of combining. The result has been some very interesting releases over the years, favorites of which include partnering of noise, free-improv, industrial, rock, and jazz musicians. Here, they take another step forward with Anguish – putting together members of experimental hip-hop group Dalek, free-jazz aficionados Fire! Orchestra, and Krautrock pioneers Faust. Not only does the quintet meld well, in this self-titled release they have created a dark and cynical commentary on today’s socio-economic dystopias.

Personnel-wise, we have vocalist and electronic musician Will Brooks, guitarist / synthesist Mike Mare, saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, drummer Andreas Werliin, and keyboardist Hans Joachim Irmler. An interesting lineup no doubt, but not as disjointed as it may seem. Brooks and Mare were influenced by Irmler’s Faust, as well as the industrial music that derived therefrom.  And Gustafsson once again proves that he can adapt his style to play with anyone.

Running between two and eight minutes in length, the nine tracks include atmospheric improvisations, but mostly are song-length diatribes with repetitive (though often complex) beat patterns, sax wailing, and plenty of tension. Gustafsson, in particular, is plaintive and emotional, while Irmler’s contributions are haunting. The first, fifth, and seventh tracks are short instrumental interludes, and sound at least partially improvised.  These are the most “outside” parts of the album.

The remaining songs angrily explore the darker side of urban and societal decay. Brooks speaks, raps, and sings the lyrics with earnestness. He makes observations using coarse language – guns, alcohol, drugs, pregnancy, hopelessness, and a lost generation – all controversial topics are game (see below for a sample). The effectiveness of his message is punctuated by Irmler’s distorted contributions, Gustafsson’s warbling combined with Mare’s keening and screaming guitar-work, as well as the group’s Krautrock-infected driving rhythms.

This is intelligent protest music that is timely and falls within a category of its own. Highly recommended.

…nostrils plugged with the funk of dreamless men
tripping over the length of their lives
scripted with a pitchfork at the edge of flame
the place where they came together is the place where they fell apart
they look at each other in the void of cracked eggs
chanting the pledge of allegiance to a pitbull with a billy club
on an ocean of crack vials and uzi shells
planned parenthood discussed in a think tank
Hitler became an American citizen
and hope floats in an empty pack of Kools
sailing down a gutter river of 5 million 40oz bottles of malt liquor
filtered through the bladder of a ghost…

AMN Reviews: Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon – Soft Berm (2018; Magnetic South Recordings)

Hear ye, aesthete! Hear ye, free music(s) fan! Hear ye, improvisers! The brash, virulent duo of Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon hold the keys to the kingdom and are ready to storm the palace of non-idiomatic form. Shimmy Soft Berm, the latest from guitarist Dorji and drummer Damon’s ever-proliferating corpus, into the deck. Comprised of a single live performance from Fall 2017, this one has all the hallmarks and hits the high points.

Soft Berm is a fine specimen of contemporary audio verité: the wow, flutter, and hiss of the original source recording, the sounds of shuffling feet and crowd noise, and even a few unsteady moments during the duo’s sonic explorations remain preserved and presented. Whilst their studio releases afford the pair a degree of forgiveness and/or rumination on the productive process, make no mistake, Berm’s fleeting moments of disorientation are as fascinating as the eons of pure exhilaration captured on this performance. From Damon’s crystalline drum paradiddles to Dorji’s prepared guitar hypno-raga, the duo spends just over 40 minutes trekking through three distinct sonic movements, in which they sanguinely explore space, syncopation, timbre, tension, and release. Damon is easily one of the most exciting percussionists to appear on the scene since Chris Corsano and having recently witnessed Kuzu, Damon and Dorji’s trio with Dave Rempis, I can assert that his technical proficiency and stamina behind, around, and in front of the drum kit are top-notch. Meanwhile, Dorji remains one of the few contemporary guitarist possessive of a Bailey-esque sensitivity, which is manifestly apparent in his tasteful engagement with his looping pedal.

Barring any wanton self-indulgence or dives off the proverbial deep end, this duo is walloping towards canonization. You heard it here first. Don’t be surprised when you hear someone half your age name-checking Damon and Dorji alongside Rashied Ali and John Coltrane as a force to be reckoned with in the realm(s) of free/improvised/art rock.

– J. Sebastien Ericsson Saheb

AMN Reviews: Møster! – States of Minds [HUBROCD2577]

Møster! is a quintet of Norwegian rock and experimental musicians led by multi-instrumentalist Kjetil Møster. On States of Minds, a two-LP release also formatted for two CDs, Møster plays saxophone, clarinet, electronics, and percussion; the rest of the group includes Hans Magnus Ryan on guitar and electronics; Jørgen Træen on modular synthesizer and lap steel guitar; Nikolai Hængsle on electric bass and electronics; and Kenneth Kapstad on drums. The group’s sound is a creative amalgamation of elements that at first may seem incongruous, but in fact fit together comfortably in a kind of instrumental space rock for the 21st century. The CDs’ focal points are the two long improvisations, which show Møster!’s skill at creating complex textural pieces balancing a broad spectrum of instrumental color. On some of the shorter, more propulsive pieces Møster or Ryan may take the lead, but in general the sound is a collective one. All in all, this is high quality, intelligent improvisational rock.

Daniel Barbiero