AMN Reviews: Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl – Artlessly Falling [ Firehouse 12 Records FH12-04-01-034 ]


“Artlessly Falling” is the latest album from guitarist, composer Mary Halvorson’s group Code Girl. Halvorson has received a great deal of recognition for her unique guitar style and her unpredictable improvisational skills but it is her writing that really shines on this album. For the eight songs on “Artlessly Falling” Halvorson first wrote the lyrics, with each lyric written in a pre-existing poetic form and then set them to music. Halvorson’s songs balance poetic lyrics rich with imagery set to elaborate melodies over challenging but supportive accompaniment. “Artlessly Falling” is an evocative set of songs that will really grow on you with each listen.

For this edition of Code Girl Mary Halvorson is joined by longtime creative associates Amirtha Kidambi on vocals, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums, plus new collaborators Adam O’Farrill on trumpet and María Grand on tenor saxophone and vocals. They are joined by guest vocalist Robert Wyatt, who appears on three songs that Mary Halvorson wrote especially for him. It is really great to hear Wyatt’s voice on something new! Halvorson considers Wyatt to be a major influence on her and on this particular recording.  The influence is clear on the tracks Wyatt sings on but it is felt throughout the album.  The production of “Artlessly Falling” has a warm, very even, and somewhat dry sound reminiscent of albums recorded at Carla Bley’s Grog Kill Studio by Bley, Michael Mantler, and John Greaves / Peter Blegvad that featured Robert Wyatt.  It’s a great sound and Code Girl really extends that sound with their incredible imagination and musicianship.

The opening track “The Lemon Trees” begins with a nod to Wyatt’s “Sea Song”. However, this quickly becomes a very original piece. As Wyatt sings the lyric, each verse alternates with a probing trumpet commentary. That becomes a trumpet solo accompanied by the rhythm section that slowly develops into a trumpet and drum duo that transforms into a drum solo and then suddenly the ensemble is right back to the lyric. The tag ending features a bass solo beautifully accompanied by just the two female voices.

The album continues with “Last-Minute Smears” which is most likely the only song to ever use the congressional testimony of a candidate for the US Supreme Court as a found lyric.  It opens with a very “downtown” improvised intro that slowly develops into a striking ballad beautifully sung by Amirtha Kidambi. It has colorful ensemble writing plus a soulful tenor solo from María Grand. 

On “Walls and Roses” Wyatt and Kidambi sing the same introspective verses back to one another. Halvorson frames the verses with a contrasting section that allows her to wink at Jimi Hendrix as she sails off past the straits of Sonny Sharrock and Shockabilly era Eugene Chadbourne only to return with a winding melodic counterpoint between her and Kidambi.  I hope these brief descriptions of the first three tracks leave you with a sense that on “Artlessly Falling” each track is filled with surprises.

As a group Code Girl’s playing is solid and adventurous. They very easily move back and forth from the written to the improvised. This allows Code Girl to continually shift and transform their sound. It is this combination of Halvorson’s writing and the group’s interaction with both her music and one another that makes “Artlessly Falling” such an interesting listen.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

RIP Jim Nickels of Blitzoids

90055769_3158446434189687_2643056946210406400_nOn March 18 Jim Nickels of the trio Blitzoids passed away in his sleep.

The Blitzoids were a Chicago area based trio (Steve De Chiara, Jim Nickels, Chris De Chiara) that delivered two albums of anarchic collages of found sounds, instrumental jams and pseudo-songs that could border both on dadaistic cacophony and on parodistic genre-bending. The albums were reissued in 2006 on ReR.

Jim will forever be missed.

Don’t Call Faust ‘Krautrock’

A Faust profile from Washington City Paper:

Almost 40 years after the fact, Faust remains a standard-bearer of Krautrock, the German experimental rock movement of the early 1970s.

Just don’t call Faust a Krautrock band.

For one thing, says Jean-Herve Péron, one of the group’s two remaining original members, Faust doesn’t have many fans in Germany, even though it’s still based there. For another, none of the musicians on the current tour, which stops at the Black Cat Sunday for the final night of the Sonic Circuits Festival, happens to be German. Péron is French, original drummer Zappi Diermaier is Austrian, James Johnston is British, and Geraldine Swayne is Irish.

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Out on Bo’Weavil Recordings

Bo’Weavil Recordings has a new avant-jazz release:

by N.E.W. (Noble/Edwards/Ward)

N.E.W are the combined improvising talents of Steve Noble (Drums/Percussion), John Edwards (Bass), and Alex Ward (electric guitar). This, the third release for N.E.W, catches them in all their live ferocity, potency and inventive group improvisation, equal measures free improv as avant-rock, these 3 lives tracks reveal the sheer power, attack and total commitment that these three have to reaching new heights.

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AMN Picks of the Week

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended. Don’t take the categories too seriously.

Shurdut, Jeffrey Hayden – Computer Music (2009, free jazz)
Shurdut, Jeffrey Hayden – All the Things You Are (2009, free jazz)
Essl, Karlheinz / Klaus Burger – ESSL.BURGER Live (2009, improv)
Dirty Projectors, The – Bitte Orca (2009, avant-rock)
Fully Celebrated Orchestra, The – Lapis Exilis (2005, free jazz)
Fully Celebrated Orchestra, The – Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (2009, free jazz)
Quartet Offensive – Carnivore (2009, avant jazz/rock)
Monty Adkins – Five Panels (2009, classical / electronic)
M.B. (Maurizio Bianchi) – A M.B. Lehn Tale (2009, electroacoustic)

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AMN Picks of the Week

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Alex Skolnick TrioGoodbye To Romance: Standards For A New Generation (2002, jazz covers)
Telectu – Quartetos (2003, post rock / improv)
Troy Spencer – Phase 2 (2007, avant-rock)
Steve Roach – Dynamic Stillness (2009, electronic / ambient)
Atom Heart / Bill Laswell / Tetsu Inoue (1996, ambient)
Alvin Fielder Trio – A Measure of Vision (2007, free jazz)
Steve Lehman Quintet – Artificial Light (2004, free jazz)
Paul Metzger – Three Improvisations on Modified Banjo (2005, experimental)
Rent Romus – The Pit (2009, avant jazz)

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KFJC Reviews

From KFJC:

Faust/Nurse With Wound – “Disconnected” – [Dirter Promotions]

A 12” reissue of the 2007 “Disconnected” collaboration CD, with a second 12” of previously unreleased material. Sides 1 and 2 feature German avant-rock pioneers Faust working with the generally disturbing Nurse With Wound on four interesting studio creations that include drones, tribal beats, and voices and stuff. I can’t honestly say that I know from the sound of it where Faust ends and NWW begins, but does it matter?

Uncle Woody Sullender – “Live At Barkenhoff” – [Dead CEO]

This release from 2008 covers a live performance by Uncle Woody Sullender from August 2008 at the GartenKultur Musikfestival at the Barkenhoff in Worpswede, Germany.

Woody Sullender is a Brooklyn-based academic/composer/artist (and some-time WFMU DJ) who most recently has been focusing on experimental banjo projects. This live recording from a performance in rural Germany features him playing his “electronically augmented banjo.” It bears similarity to the guitar-work of John Fahey and is quite pretty, but it also verges into drone territory, making it even more mesmerizing. Quite lovely.

Cluster – “Berlin 07? – [Important Records]

This is a recording of the first time Dieter Moebius & Hans-Joachim Roedelius have played in Berlin since 1969, a long awaited reunion show. Cluster, from Germany, is an experimental ambient & electronic duo with an avant-garde & prog flair. Originally known as Kluster, once Conrad Schnitzler was out of the picture, it turned to Cluster. This release is 2 lengthy tracks full of fun drones, synthesized sounds, sequencers, and the like. Doing what they do best, with huge smiles across their faces. Floating in outer space with sparkling comets, or swimming in the rainbow reefs of Bermuda. It’s on the lighter side of looped and unexpected electronic experimentation.

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Blues in Space is a heavy avant-rock group from New York worth a listen or two. Luup is an experimental group from Greece. Pavonine has a new ambient release out for free download. Locrian is an experimental duo with influences including John Cage, Suffocation, Glen Branca, power tools, Brian Eno, Obituary, Stockhausen, broken records, sirens, empty buildings, television static, Throbbing Gristle, air through vents, mouth breathers, field recordings. Esa Pietila has a new release coming out soon.

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