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: John Zorn at The Art Institute of Chicago

iconsquare1382315287-116932-zorn1On September 9, 2018 the Art Institute of Chicago presented performances of musical works by composer John Zorn. Zorn’s unique body of work draws on jazz, rock, punk, metal, classical, klezmer, sacred, mystical, experimental, film, cartoon and improvised music. Zorn is a musical alchemist able to transform this diverse material into something completely new. The program featured six hours of live performances plus documentary screenings. This concert provided listeners a rare opportunity to hear a variety of Zorn’s work expertly performed by many of the musicians that have been part of his universe for decades. John Zorn was also in attendance. He very briefly introduced each of the pieces and the musicians. He also performed in two of the day’s events. For the explorers of John Zorn’s musical universe this was a concert they will remember forever. For new comers and the curious, they were able to sample a very small part of the work of one of the planet’s most prolific and diverse contemporary composers.

The performances were situated in galleries that contained many of the museum’s most iconic art works. This provided an ambiance that allowed the pieces to be a “response” to the art works in the gallery.  The day began with the American Brass Quartet greeting visitors as they performed “Pulcinella” on the Grand Staircase of the Art Institute. It was a wonderful performance that echoed through the museum, announcing the beginning of the day’s events. This was followed by an absolutely sublime performance of the “Gnostic Preludes” by the Gnostic Trio – Bill Frisell(guitar), Kenny Wollesen(vibraphone) and Carol Emanuel(harp).  Hearing this music so beautifully played in a gallery containing some of the greatest art works of the Impressionist era was pure magic.

At noon it was off to the Dali room to hear members of the JACK quartet – Chris Otto(violin) and Jay Campbell(cello) with Michael Nicolas(cello) in a spectacular virtuosic performance of “Freud”, an intense spiky piece of sharp and sudden contrasts. This was followed by a stunning cello duo performance of “Ouroboros” another of Zorn’s intense virtuoso string works. Following this dramatic intensity was a performance of “Frammenti del Sappho” in the Sculpture Court by the voices of Rachel Calloway, Kirsten Sollek, Sarah Brailey, Eliza Bagg, and Elizabeth Bates. This is an incredibly delicate and beautiful work. The visual setting for this performance was wonderful and the performers were outstanding, but the acoustics didn’t work for me. This is an incredibly powerful piece that when performed in a space with acoustics similar to a church or temple would just wash over you and realign your molecular structure.

Next it was off to the Warhol room for a performance of a jazz inspired work, “Naked Lunch” with Sae Hashimoto(vibraphone), Shanir Blumenkranz(bass) and Ches Smith(drums). It was a very tight, high energy performance. Absolutely wonderful! I heard many people comment that it was their favorite performance of the day. Then it was off to the Joseph Cornell gallery for a solid performance by Erik Friedlander and Michael Nicolas of a series of “Bagatelles” for two cellos. By this point the audience had more than doubled.

At 2:00 John Zorn(saxophone) and Kenny Wollesen(drums) performed an improvisation in response to Jackson Pollock. At this point the size of the audience had greatly exceeded the capacity of the gallery and many listeners including myself had to hear the performance from one of the adjoining galleries. Despite being one room over the duo sounded fantastic and the crowd absolutely loved it. I have to say the crowd absolutely loved everything that was performed at this event.  Next it was off to the Picasso Gallery to hear Julian Lage and Gyan Riley perform selections from the “Midsummer Moons”. This music is similar in some ways to the music written for the Gnostic trio in that it’s a very beautiful melodic music.  Again, the crowd absolutely exceeded the capacity of the gallery. I along with many others had to listen from one of the adjoining galleries. It was another sublime performance!

At this point there were still four more performances and the documentary screening. Given the growing crowd I made the difficult choice to skip the documentary, the American Brass Quartet performance of “Blue Stratagem”, Michael Nicholas’s performance of “as Above, So Below”, and Chris Otto and Michael Nicholas’s performance of “Zeitgehöft”. This allowed me to get to the gallery where “Hockey”, one of Zorn’s game pieces was to be performed. John Zorn’s game pieces are a series of works for improvisers in which rules and strategies are interactively enacted upon by the improvisers during the performance of the piece. For this performance Zorn said that he chose the “wet” version of “Hockey”.  John Zorn, Kenny Wollesen and Sae Hashimoto performed the piece on little percussion instruments built and or modified by Kenny Wollesen. It was a spectacular performance that took place in a small dark gallery of contemporary Asian art works.

The final performance of the day was in the Kandinsky Room. The JACK Quartet performed “The Unseen”. At this point the biggest crowds had dispersed but the Kandinsky room and its semi-adjoining gallery were filled to hear the days final piece.  “The Unseen” is a delicate string quartet filled with shimmering harmonics that rise up from out of the silence, eventually disappearing. It was a great to end the day. The crowd really showed their appreciation for the JACK’s, John Zorn, all of the musicians that performed during this event and to the Art Institute of Chicago for programming such a rare and incredible musical event.

For me this was one of the best musical events I have ever attended.

Chris De Chiara

Mulhouse Music Festival: August 21 -25


MARDI 21 AOÛT 2018
* PÜK (Vincent Posty, Cécile Thévenot, Benoit Kilian)
* DAVID MURRAY “INFINITY 4TET” feat. SAUL WILLIAMS (David Murray, Saul Williams, Jaribu Shahid, Orrin Evans, Nasheet Waits)

* STREIFENJUNKO (Eivind Lønning, Espen Reinertsen)
* AHMED (Pat Thomas, Joel Grip, Seymour Wright, Antonin Gerbal)
* NIMMERSATT feat. JON ROSE (Daan Vandewalle, Chris Cutler, John Greaves, Jon Rose)

JEUDI 23 AOÛT 2018
* SYSTÈME FRICHE II “LE CHANT DES PISTES” (Xavier Charles, Jacques Di Donato, Félicie Bazelaire, Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Benjamin Duboc, Isabelle Duthoit, eRikm, Franz Hautzinger, Simon Henocq, Soizic Lebrat, Bruno Maurice, Roméro Monteiro, Nicolas Nageotte, Alfred Spirli, Thierry Waziniack)
* SENYAWA (Rully Shabara, Wukir Suryadi)

* WOLFGANG MITTERER “GRAND JEU 2” (for organ and electronics)
* SPLITTER ORCHESTER & JEAN-LUC GUIONNET “VOLLBILD” (Jean-Luc Guionnet, Liz Allbee, Boris Baltschun, Burkhard Beins, Anthea Caddy, Axel Dörner, Kai Fagaschinski, Robin Hayward, Steve Heather, Anat Cohavi, Mario de Vega, Chris Heenan, Magda Mayas, Mike Majkowski, Matthias Müller, Andrea Neumann, Morten J. Olsen, Simon J. Phillips, Julia Reidy, Ignaz Schick, Michael Thieke, Clayton Thomas, Sabine Vogel, Biliana Voutchkova, Marta Zapparoli)
* A PRIDE OF LIONS (Daunik Lazro, Joe McPhee, Guillaume Séguron, Joshua Abrams, Chad Taylor)
* SONS OF KEMET (Shabaka Hutchings, Theon Cross, Eddie Hick, Tom Skinner)

* GROUPE D’IMPROVISATION DU CONSERVATOIRE DE MULHOUSE (Samuel Colard, Célestine Asselin, Gauthier Legris, Alexandre Cahen, Laure Fischer, Théo Zimmermann)
* SPLITTER ORCHESTER (Liz Allbee, Boris Baltschun, Burkhard Beins, Anthea Caddy, Axel Dörner, Kai Fagaschinski, Robin Hayward, Steve Heather, Anat Cohavi, Mario de Vega, Chris Heenan, Magda Mayas, Mike Majkowski, Matthias Müller, Andrea Neumann, Morten J. Olsen, Simon J. Phillips, Julia Reidy, Ignaz Schick, Michael Thieke, Clayton Thomas, Sabine Vogel, Biliana Voutchkova, Marta Zapparoli)
* PETER EVANS ENSEMBLE (Peter Evans, Mazz Swift, Tom Blancarte, Sam Pluta, Jim Black)
* THIS IS NOT THIS HEAT (Charles Hayward, Charles Bullen, Frank Byng, Daniel O’Sullivan, Alex Ward, James Sedwards)

Découvrez le programme complet : WWW.FESTIVAL-METEO.FR

Check the full program : WWW.FESTIVAL-METEO.FR

AngelicA 28 Festival Internazionale di Musica


The Angelica Festival is celebrating its 28th year with AngelicA 28 Festival Internazionale di Musica in Bologna, Modena (Italy)

May 3>5 + 9 + 13 + 16>19 + 24>27 2018


The festival lineup currently includes:
Skadedyr CULTUREN ,
Alvin Curran A BANDA LARGA sinfonia di strada,
Dharma, HIS HUBRIS, SA ,
TRIO Kimmig-Studer-Zimmerlin & John Butcher,
Gavin Bryars Italian Ensemble & Ensemble Korymbos STRINGS, GUITARS & VOICES,
Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna,
Piccolo Coro Angelico,
Mike Patton FORGOTTEN SONGS (Mike Patton, Uri Caine),
Anthony Braxton & Jacqueline Kerrod, …

For more information visit: AngelicA

AMN Reviews: Gianni Lenoci & Francesco Cusa – Wet Cats [Amirani AMRN052]

41EEaFYzc2L._SS500Wet Cats is a single, nearly hour-long improvisation by Italian musicians Gianni Lenoci and Francesco Cusa. Lenoci, whose background includes studies with Paul Bley and Mal Waldron, plays piano and prepared piano and a bit of wood flute at the very end, while Cusa plays drums. Although they are an ensemble of only two, they fill out a broad spectrum of audio space partly by virtue of the nature of their instruments and partly by virtue of their intelligent playing. Lenoci is sensitive to the piano’s percussive qualities as well as its coloristic effects. He’s capable of taking the music into surprising places, shifting smoothly from agitated, abstract atonality to romantic or bluesy implied chord progressions. Cusa’s drumming is energetic when drive is needed and restrained when the music takes a reflective turn. He is as capable of playing a free pulse beyond barlines as he is able to lay down a solid rock beat. The interaction between the two is assured and seamless; given the quality of their collaboration it comes as no surprise that Lenoci and Cusa are able to maintain a taut focus over the entire course of the performance.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Szilárd Mezei & Nicola Guazzaloca – Lucca and Bologna Concerts [Amirani AMRN050]

Although considerably more rare than the violin-piano duo, the viola-piano duo traces at least as far back as Mendelssohn’s 1824 sonata for viola and piano. Max Reger and Paul Hindemith—the latter a violist himself—added substantially to the repertoire in the last century, as did Darius Milhaud, Hans Werner Henze, George Rochberg and others. Now, Serbian-Hungarian violist Szilárd Mezei and Bolognese pianist Nicola Guazzaloca bring the viola-piano duo into the twenty-first century, albeit in a manner that departs substantially from the conventional chamber sonata.

Unlike classical sonatas, these eight improvisations, four each from concerts in Lucca and Bologna, develop through variations of timbre, dynamics and density rather than through melodic themes and harmonic modulation. But although much of the playing negates the formal vocabulary and syntax of the classical viola-piano duo, something of the latter’s ability to capture an emotional arc remains. The music can be tempestuous, placid, abstract or even plainly melodic, as when Mezei delivers a modal soliloquy during the third improvisation from Lucca. Both improvisers draw on an expanded palette of instrumental colors, setting conventional and unconventional techniques in a mutually illuminating dialogue with each other. Guazzaloca moves agilely from the keyboard to playing directly on the strings inside the piano; his use of objects in association with the piano emphasizes the instrument’s often-obscured status as a percussion instrument. Mezei, too, plays percussively, using a full-bodied attack with the bow as well as a forceful pizzicato; his engagement with hypermodern performance techniques doesn’t eclipse an expressive immediacy consonant with his involvement with Hungarian folk traditions.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: David Toop – Into the Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom: Before 1970 [Bloomsbury 2016]

9781501314513The usual caveats warning against generalizations aside, it’s safe to say that in the arts as in other fields of life, the second half of the twentieth century was an era of improvisation. Encouraged by the dissemination of ideas introduced by Zen Buddhism, Existentialism, and A. N. Whitehead’s process philosophy, avant-garde painters, poets and musicians turned to improvisation as a way of engaging art and life in a spirit of spontaneity. In Into the Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom: Before 1970, David Toop examines the upsurge of improvisation within the music of the postwar period. The book, the first in a projected trilogy of volumes on free improvisation, is the result of the author’s long experience and intimate familiarity with its subject. Toop, who has written extensively on new and experimental music, describes himself as a being “a listener since 1966, a practitioner since 1969” (30).

Culturally, the period Toop focuses on—prior to 1970 and with most attention to the decade and a half before that year—was marked by much ferment. After the end of World War II, philosophical, compositional and technological developments all fostered a rethinking of how and why to make art; one concrete development of this rethinking was a growing interest in improvisation. Largely in America, a fascination with extemporaneity in thought and action grew out of the vogues among artists and others for Zen Buddhism, Existentialism, and the process philosophy of A. N. Whitehead, all of which contributed to the idea of art and life as an ongoing becoming made up of perpetual, open-ended, freely chosen action. In a Europe devastated by the physical and moral destruction brought by war and repressive governments, there was a felt need to start over from nothing. In music, this “Year Zero” mentality led first to serialism and soon after to aleatory and indeterminate forms of music—some of them the product of cross-pollination by visiting American composers–that to varying degrees effectively involved improvisation. Finally, the broadened availability of emergent technologies for sound production and recording, such as magnetic tape, helped provide access to a set of sonic possibilities that hadn’t been practical before.

Free improvisation, which Toop describes as “a music without score, notation, image or text, composer, director or conductor” (15), fit this postwar spirit well, becoming an increasingly formidable presence in the art from the 1950s forward and particularly flourishing in the mid-to-late 1960s. As he shows, though, its foundations had been laid earlier.

Surveying what might be termed the non-musical pre-history of free improvisation, Toop calls attention to early examples of “collaborative spontaneity” (83) congruent with, if not influential on, improvisation in music: Japanese linked poetry, the simultaneous cacophony of Dada evenings, Surrealist automatic writing and drawing, stream of consciousness prose. At the same time that Dada and Surrealism were doing their best to scandalize the Parisian art world in the 1920s and 1930s, experimental musicians and composers like Henry Cowell and Harry Partch were inventing instruments, tunings and techniques that expanded the universe of sounds available for musical use and raised the possibility of changing or displacing conventional notions of what technical proficiency might consist in.

This last point is significant. Toop suggests that one factor slowing the turn to free playing was the constraint that maintaining proper instrumental technique placed on musicians, which made for what he calls “a relative lack of abandon” (51). Early jazz, with its broadened palette of sounds created on conventional instruments played unconventionally, would begin to loosen those constraints. But exactly what role instrumental technique should have within improvisation remained an issue to be debated at least through the 1960s. Toop notes that attitudes toward technique within postwar improvisation bifurcated into two general tendencies: A tendency toward the assumption that improvisation would have to presuppose a certain technical competence or virtuosity in order to be valid, and a counter-tendency toward the opposite assumption, which saw technique as a potential obstacle to expressive immediacy (164-165). (Interestingly, it’s a conflict that hasn’t been resolved so much as it has been surpassed: It isn’t unusual for programs of improvised music to include performers with contraposed attitudes toward the necessity of technical proficiency—sometimes in the same ensemble.)

By the late 1930s, improvisation was becoming a larger presence within musical practice. Toop describes some of the “tentative steps” taken toward free improvisation during this period: Charles Ives’ recordings of 1937, Django Reinhardt’s “Improvisation” of 1938, the free duets of Roy Eldridge and Clyde Hart. Staying within the jazz tradition, the 1940s saw Lennie Tristano and his students delve into free improvisation; the 1950s and after brought the fecund experimentation of Charles Mingus’s Jazz Composers Workshop, the Chico Hamilton Quintet, and Jimmy Giuffre’s various trios. Profound experiments by Chicago’s AACM, the New York Art Quartet and musicians like Sun Ra, Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor pushed jazz-rooted music in radically new directions into the 1960s.

Among classically-trained musicians, the 1950s saw the development of improvised music out of the formal language of avant-garde composition and rapidly expanding methods of instrumental technique. In 1957 or 1958—accounts differ–Pauline Oliveros, Loren Rush and Terry Riley, all students of San Francisco State College composer Robert Erickson, played a completely improvised soundtrack to the short film “Polyester Moon.” During this same period, Oliveros, Rush, Riley and Erickson, joined by Laurel Johnson and Bill Butler, recorded a series of fully improvised pieces influenced by the pointillistic, sparsely-textured sounds of music composed after Webern. Not long before these recordings were made, Lukas Foss had organized the Improvisation Chamber Ensemble at UCLA, a group working with free improvisation, graphic scores and conduction; by the early 1960s, the improvisational New Music Ensemble was formed at UC Davis.

Experiments with free improvisation were by no means confined to America; they were truly an international phenomenon. In Japan, the classically-trained Takehisa Kosugi and Mizuno Shuko collaborated with the then-untrained Yasunao Tone in largely unscored improvisations during the late 1950s and early 1960s; European groups included AMM, Musica Elettronica Viva and the Gruppo Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza. Although these groups were geographically diverse there was a degree of cross-pollination among them, and some even shared personnel.

By the end of the 1960s, free improvisation had spread to more popular forms of music, most notably through the sound and influence of the West Coast psychedelic bands. The rise and proliferation of free improvisation in the 1960s was an aspect of the radicalization and democratization of the avant-garde culture of extemporaneous action that had taken root during the previous decade, and was seeping into the culture at large. Free improvisation fit the ideological temper of the time by offering “a utopian vision of freedom” (53) as an experiment in ideals of leaderless, egalitarian social organization. Which is still part of its appeal. As Toop appositely notes, it is a kind of collaboration that realizes Sartre’s idea of the group-in-fusion: a praxis or purposive activity taken up by an aggregate of individuals such that each individual’s goals and purposes are subsumed and transformed—are fused into a collective goal–as they are directed toward a common end. It isn’t surprising that some advocates of free improvisation during the mid-to-late 1960s—for example, Franco Evangelisti of the Gruppo Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza–were motivated as much by ideology as by musical considerations to adopt collectivist solutions to aesthetic problems. This was reflected not only in the makeup of the groups playing music, but in the institutions free improvisers built outside of the existing institutions.

Beyond its politics, both explicit and implicit, free improvisation was, and is, compelling as an engagement of some of the basic structures of human existence, in which the very ephemerality of the performance lends it significance. More than once Toop relates experiences—his and others’—in which the musical details of an improvised set are forgotten, while the “human drama” of the improvisers’ interactions with each other and with the audience remain memorable. It’s as if what matters most are the choices made in the moment and the pressures shaping them rather than any given sonic outcome of those choices, or the ways that people improvising together engage each other’s choices as possibilities and obstacles in relation to their own—sometimes at the same time. Toop sums it up with the observation that with improvisation “to play is both a sign and symptom of existence. I am here…” (8).  In that sense improvisation is like an image of life, condensed down to its core: The need to act, often without knowing exactly what the consequences of action will be, but making of oneself what one will as one moves into a future whose exact form is necessarily unknown but whose arrival is inevitable.

Daniel Barbiero