AMN Reviews: Harry Partch – The Bewitched (2021; Neuma 126) and U.S. Highball (2021; Neuma)

Many contemporary composers have been described as iconoclasts but few really are the rugged individualists they are often portrayed as being. Harry Partch(1901 – 1974) may be one of the rare exceptions. Influenced by his study and interpretation of ancient musical models, Partch decided to firmly break with the European musical tradition. He devised his own tuning system with a microtonal division of the octave into forty three notes and then designed and built a whole series of instruments to utilize his tuning. His music was influenced by ancient music, folk traditions from around the world and the dramatic inflections and gesturing of the human voice. His music does not have that “out of tune” quality that many often experience with microtonal music. This is largely due to Partch’s music being primarily based on rhythmic and melodic gestures rather than chord progressions surrounding a melody. Partch’s work was not just about his tuning system and his instruments, it was about his re-imagining of music itself.

Harry Partch commented that his work was like ancient ritual but in modern terms. He often used the word corporeal to describe his work and I have to admit that even after several decades of listening to his music that I didn’t really appreciate what that meant. It wasn’t until I watched a DVD of a performance of his piece “Delusion of Fury” that my appreciation of his work really started to click. For Partch, like many non-European cultures every aspect of the physical performance of his music was as important as the sonic result. I would recommend that readers take advantage of things like Vimeo and YouTube to see, as well as hear live staged performances of his work.

Partch wrote “The Bewitched”in the early 1950’s. He described it as a ballet satire. The piece has only been produced a few times. It is ten scenes based on everyday American life plus a prologue and epilogue. The story revolves around the idea that the world needs a serious dose of reality and that a witch goes around and appears in each of the scenes using her ancient magic to deliver a much needed bit of self-awareness to each of these everyday situations.

This recording of “The Bewitched” is a binaural recording from 1980 at the Berlin Festival. For full effect use your headphones or ear buds to get a sense of what it must have been like to be sitting in the audience for this performance.  As you can see from the video clip from this performance, the ensemble, the soloists and the dancers are all together on the same stage, all completely engaged in Partch’s ritual. And as you can hear the ensemble gave quite a spirited performance!

In addition to releasing “The Bewitched” Nuema has re-released a very rare recording of Partch’s “U.S. Highball”.  It is a work from 1943 and is the story of a transcontinental hobo trip set in Partch’s unique speech music style. It’s a story Partch knew well, as he lived the hobo lifestyle for many years. This recording of “U.S. Highball” is from 1946 and was originally released by Partch on his own label in an edition of 100 records on red vinyl. It’s a really interesting performance and a rare glimpse into one of Partch’s earliest works.  Both recordings are highly recommended !

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Fred Frith, Sudhu Tewari, Cenk Ergün – Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down (CARRIER054)

LMULMD_digital_cover

Fred Frith is a pioneer of the extended electric guitar. Take a glance at his discography of over four hundred titles and it becomes clear that Frith has successfully inserted himself into an incredibly diverse number of contemporary sound worlds. From bands like Henry Cow, Skeleton Crew and Massacre to improvising with the likes of John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, and Evan Parker to his compositions for electric guitar quartet, the Ensemble Modern, the Arditti Quartet and so much more! 

One of Frith’s many collaborations has been with Sudhu Tewari in the duo Normal. Tewari is a sound artist focused on audio electronics, interactive installations, invented musical instruments and sound sculptures that utilize whatever materials are on hand. They recently presented and discussed a number of their invented instruments at the Center for New Music in San Francisco.

“Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” is a new release from Fred Frith, Sudhu Tewari and Cenk Ergün. The material for this album was recorded about ten years ago as an improvisation with Frith on guitar, Tewari playing recuperated junk and electronics and Ergün on electronics.  However, this is not an album of a group improvisation. “Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” is a long form work that uses the original improvised studio material as building blocks for an entirely new piece.

Cenk Ergün is a Turkish American composer/improviser currently based in Berlin. Ergün has written a wide range of acoustic and electronic works. A wonderful album of two of Ergün’s compositions for string quartet performed by the JACK Quartet was released earlier this year. During the lock down Ergün revisited the ten year old session and then went to work. He created a sound library of various samples from the original trio session. The samples range from a second to several minutes. Samples from the library may be heard in their raw form or heavily processed. Ergün used this library to very carefully assemble “Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down”, which combines elements of rock, noise, improvisation, electronic processing and digital studio composition.

Street Piano_photo by Carly McLane

While “Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” has been divided into seven tracks it really is a continuous forty-four-minute piece. I think it is best to listen to it as a single listening experience. The piece has a mesmerizing almost dream like quality to it.  It’s sounds move from the chaotic and noisy to the lyrical and harmonic, often drifting between multiple textures. There are sections that focus on developing very specific elements from the original session.  For example, the title track is all Frith reassembled by Ergün layering different moments from the original studio session. “Stay Tuned“ features Tewari’s mallet work on his “street piano” accompanied by birds and the occasional passing car interrupted by bursts from the studio session.  The piece ends with “Dem” which focus’s on the final sounds Frith made in the original session. The gentle de-tuned arpeggios from Frith’s guitar unfold at a glacial pace into long sustained chords that slowly transform back into their original form.

“Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” is a wonderful listen! It successfully combines so many different sonic elements that it is likely to appeal to a very broad range of creative music listeners. Treat your ears and give it a listen.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Susan Alcorn Quintet – Pedernal [Relative Pitch Records 1111]

alcorn quintetWhen most people think about the pedal steel guitar they expect to hear Country or Hawaiian music.  For the last twenty-five years Susan Alcorn has been forging her own way of playing the pedal steel guitar. Alcorn’s unique sound, while steeped in the pedal steel tradition, is largely shaped by the deep influences of Olivier Messiaen and Ornette Coleman. Her playing spans the gamut from the very melodic and soulful to rich harmonic sounds to sparse swells and otherworldly textures.

Alcorn has recorded several solo albums and has played on many recordings including Nate Wooley’s “Columbia Icefield” and Mary Halvorson’s Octet. An unexpected grant provided Alcorn with the resources to write and record “Pedernal”, her first album as a band leader.  She is joined by guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, violinist Mark Feldman and drummer Ryan Sawyer.  Alcorn wrote the albums five compositions with these specific players in mind. 

The album opens with the title track “Pedernal”. Its stark and somber steel guitar and bass intro slowly builds into a bluesy minor theme. The piece really develops over several iterations as it shifts mood and texture, eventually working itself into a frenzy that unwinds into a more reflective segment that eventually returns to the primary theme. The title track just opens the door to what you will hear on the rest of the album. Alcorn makes great use of contrast and counter lines in developing her compositional material. This often gives her work a cinematic feel as it can suddenly shift from something very melodic and or rhythmic into oblique or sparse textures. Susan Alcorn’s compositions for this quintet range from the harmelodic hoedown of “Northeast Rising Sun” to the textural expanses of the chamber sounds found in both “Night in Gdansk and “Circular Ruins” to the angular and bop like melodies of “R.U.R”.

“Pedernal” is a wonderful album. Listeners of creative music and the outer fringes of jazz will find quite a lot to like on this album. The quintet is spectacular and I hope this won’t be the last ensemble record that Susan Alcorn leads. I think that “Pedernal” will show up on a lot of the best of 2020 lists and it absolutely deserves to be included.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: “Gran Sasso”, Matteo Liberatore (2020; BandCamp)

a2037926004_2“Gran Sasso” is Matteo Liberatore’s second solo guitar album.  It is the follow up to his excellent 2018 debut “Solos”.   Unlike “Solos” which focused on extended techniques on the acoustic guitar, “Gran Sasso” is a single extended piece for solo electric guitar using somewhat more conventional techniques. Having said that “Gran Sasso” is less of a departure from “Solos” as it is more of a glimpse into Liberatore’s musical imagination.

“Gran Sasso” is without any overdubs and other than some reverb and extensive use of the volume pedal, it is void of electronic effects. It is a very imaginative piece that has an open atmospheric quality in which Liberatore explores shape, texture, space and color. His dropped guitar tuning gives him a big open sound. Liberatore’s tone is bright and clear and has just a little bit of chime. “Gran Sasso” unfolds in unusual ways; the piece seems to continually shift from moment to moment.  But all the while Liberatore’s playing sounds both intentional and reflective giving this piece its own character.

“Gran Sasso” is a wonderful modern electric guitar record and is something I have found myself replaying over and over again. It was recorded and mixed by Matteo at his home studio and was mastered by Elliot Sharp. “Gran Sasso” appears to be a digital only release so head on over to Bandcamp and check it out.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara

 

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XXIII

0011822341_21Welcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

Today is Anthony Braxton’s 75th birthday and this is the final post in this series.

We begin with a wonderful performance of Composition 304 from Winsor Music.

We continue with an entire performance of Anthony Braxton with Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum  as the Diamond Curtain Wall Trio from 2015 in Copenhagen.

This trailer from 2012 on Roulette TV intersperses interview with performance to provide a nice overview of Braxton’s career and his ideas.  Braxton’s forever hopeful outlook is a very timely positive message to us all.

Finally, since it is Anthony Braxton’s birthday why not wish him a happy birthday with a visit to the New Braxton House at Bandcamp and check out all of the recordings that are available and maybe pick up a few.

Hope you enjoyed the series and happy birthday Anthony Braxton.

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Chris De Chiara

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XXII

p013r6cnWelcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

We begin this week with a set from the Anthony Braxton Diamond Curtain Wall Quartet in Budapest from 2015. The group features Braxton’s computer music patch with Braxton on reeds, Ingrid Laubrock – tenor and soprano saxophones, Taylor Ho Bynum – brass and Mary Halvarson on guitar.  I really like this video not just for the great performance but also for how it was filmed. I sure wish I could turn on my TV set and see this on one of the channels.

As we are getting near the end of this series I realized I hadn’t posted any of Braxton’s writing so here is a short essay titled  “ALLEGORY AND FORM”

We end this week with a stunning audio only set from Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams from Chicago in 1977.

Join us again next week for the final post of AMN Celebrates Braxton 75.

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Chris De Chiara

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XXI

p013r6cnWelcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews, and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

We begin this week with a short clip from 2007 at the Blue Note in Milan, with Anthony Braxton, William Parker, and Hamid Drake. The quality of the video is low but the music is great.

We continue with Anthony Braxton’s  Composition Numbers 136+56+254 performed at a workshop in Tokyo conducted by Kyoko Kitamura and Masayasu Tzboguchi in 2019. The ensemble is Nonoko Yoshida – alto saxophone, Shinpei Ruike – trumpet, Masayasu Tzboguchi – piano, Hiroki Chiba – bass, Manami Kakudo – percussion and Kyoko Kitamura – vocals and conducting.

We conclude this week’s post with an article by Paul Steinbeck, from 2018 that originally appeared in the Journal of Music Theory. Steinbeck is an accomplished musician, scholar, and author. Unlike much academic writing, Steinbeck’s writing is always clear, insightful, and readable. I would highly recommend his recent book on the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In “Improvisation and Collaboration in Anthony Braxton’s Composition 76”   Steinbeck provides an insightful analysis of the work that will be of interest to both listeners and musicians.

Join us again next week for another post as AMN Celebrates Braxton 75.

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Chris De Chiara

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XX

p013r6cnWelcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews, and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

We begin this week with a full concert from 2019 in France of Anthony Braxton with Ingrid Laubrock – saxophone, Miriam Overlach and Jacqueline Kerrod – harp, Carl-Ludwig Hübsch – tuba, and Jean Cook – violin.

A Conversation with Anthony Braxton is a transcript from 1995 during a visit to Istanbul. In this conversation, Braxton dives into a variety of topics often in a very conversational and informal way, more so than in many of his interviews.

Here is a nicely filmed and recorded concert segment from 2019 of Anthony Braxton Solo – Live @ Sons d’hiver.

We end this week’s installment with a talk that Anthony Braxton gave in Amsterdam for the 2015 DOEK FESTIVAL. He is joined for this talk by Kevin Whitehead, Taylor Ho Bynum, and James Fei.

Join us again next week for another post as AMN Celebrates Braxton 75.

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Chris De Chiara

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XIX

p013r6cnWelcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews, and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

This week’s post begins with a  2015 performance of Anthony Braxton’s Composition No. 131 by Ben Leeds Carson – piano, Jason Hoopes – bass, Robert Lopez – drums and Rhonda Taylor – alto saxophone at the 2015 Santa Cruz Festival of New Music.

Anthony Braxton live in Italy at the Pomigliano Jazz festival in 2009 with William Parker – bass and Don Moye – drums.

We end this week’s post with an interview from 2008 from the “under your skin channel”.

Join us again next week for another post as AMN Celebrates Braxton 75.

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Chris De Chiara

AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part XVIII

Headshot Anthony Braxton courtesy of the artistWelcome to AMN Celebrates Braxton 75, a multipart series focused on the work of American composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Braxton, who in 2020 will be celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, is one of the most important and influential creative minds of the past fifty years. Each week this series will feature three to four links of live performances, interviews and articles found on the web that should be of interest to both the curious and the longtime explorers of Braxton’s music.

We start this week with a concert from 1976 at San Jose State University.  The concert featured Anthony Braxton – reeds, Roscoe Mitchell – reeds, Richard Teitelbaum – synthesizer and Allen Strange – musical easel. The concert was presented in quadraphonic sound but this recording was made on a handheld stereo cassette recorder. Despite the low-fi sound, this is a wonderful concert. The second part is also available and well worth the listen.

In 2005 as part of “Braxton at 60: A Celebration”, Kevin Whitehead gave a talk at Wesleyan University, in which he explores Braxton’s relationship to “jazz”. “Braxton & Jazz: IN the Tradition” is an adaptation of that talk in print format.

We end this week with a 2019 performance of Anthony Braxton’s Composition No. 63 for two soloists and chamber orchestra.  Performed by the Mills Performing Group during the “Anthony Braxton 75th Birthday Celebration Concert” at Mills College, Oakland, California.

Join us again next week for another post as AMN Celebrates Braxton 75

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Chris De Chiara