AMN Celebrates Braxton 75: Part IV

Braxton_anthony_moers_260507Welcome 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.

The Sounds of Now, Part Three: Anthony Braxton and the Ethics of Improvisation by Chadwick Jenkins from 2007 is a very insightful essay that digs into Braxton’s musical philosophy. Jenkins very clearly explains his interpretation of some of the ideas found in Braxton’s Tri-Axium Writings. It is very well written and should be read carefully, and maybe more than once in order to digest Jenkin’s interpretation of Braxton’s writings.

This is a recent performance of Braxton’s Composition No. 1 (1968) for solo piano performed by Brett Carson.

A short interview from 2008 where Anthony Braxton discusses chess, math & music.

A set of the Anthony Braxton Quartet performing in East Berlin in 1985. The group for this concert is Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispell – piano, Gerry Hemingway – drums and Jens Saleh – bass. You can hear the magic that Hemingway, Crispell, and Braxton have together.

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

Previous Segments

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: exclusiveOr / Architeuthis Walks on Land / International Contemporary Ensemble – “modules” [Carrier 044]

Jeff Snyder and Sam Pluta have been working together since 2006 as the duo exclusiveOR.  With Snyder performing on analog synthesizer and Pluta on live electronics. Their work explores the intersection of composition and improvisation with live electronics. For “modules” the duo is joined by some of today’s leading creative musicians: Architeuthis Walks on Land (AWOL) which is Amy Cimini – viola and Katherine Young – bassoon, and members of ICEPeter Evans, Nate Wooley – trumpets, Ryan Muncy – saxophones, Weston Olencki – trombone and Ross Karre – percussion.

“modules” was commissioned in 2014 by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) as part of their ICELab Series. It is a concert length work that utilizes both improvisation and strictly notated material. The piece covers a lot of ground as it flows through its fifteen modules in which seemingly opposing materials (pitch, sound and noise) and methodologies (composition, improvisation and live electronics) seamlessly interact with one another to create a unified whole. 

 

The fifteen “modules” are comprised of five composed by Pluta, five by Snyder and five improvisations from various small groupings of the ensemble. Each of these tracks or modules has its own distinct character, color and instrumentation. Pluta’s modules tend to be more aggressive and noisier, while Snyder’s are often more harmonically focused. The improvised sections are all sonically oriented and very original. Despite the contrasts within each module they really seem connected and many segments flow into one another in a conversational like manner.

Here is an earlier performance with brass quartet, analog synthesizer, live electronics, and percussion.  It’s interesting to hear both of these versions because it makes clear the significant contributions that improvisers can bring to pieces like “modules”.

For those that need some kind of categorization I would put “modules” under the banner of “creative music”; in that the sound worlds that the composers and improvisers create, freely explore many different contemporary and historical musical ideas without any allegiance or deference to any of the “school’s” associated with these ideas. This is a trend that has been growing for quite some time and I think the composers and improvisers on “modules” are among the best of a new generation of musicians continuing this exploration.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara

 

 

AMN Reviews: Elliott Sharp – Plastový Hrad (2019; Infrequent Seams)

Sharp_Plastovy_Hrad_COVER_1400x1400_James_IlgenfritzComposer, improviser and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp has been a major voice within the downtown New York music scene for decades. Timbre, dynamics, motion, shape and rhythm are always in play in Sharp’s compositional and improvisational practice. His music is a kind of avant-garde “groove” that combines algorithmic thinking with interpretive and improvisatory intuition. His latest album “PLASTOVY HRAD” presents three very different compositions that feature the bass clarinet.

 

“Plastovy Hrad” is for chamber orchestra with bass clarinet soloist. The composition was commissioned by the Brno Contemporary Orchestra as part of the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the formation of the Czech Republic. In this piece Sharp builds a kind of labyrinth that is somewhat dark and relentless. The bass clarinet soloist is a lone voice that wanders the labyrinth commenting and questioning as it moves through its ever changing surroundings. The cimbalom is prominently used to provide a counter voice to the bass clarinet.  The use of the cimbalom also gives the piece bits of Czech folk sounds that pierce the dark textures often revealing bits of light.  It’s a really interesting piece that is well recorded.  Both the soloist Lukasz Danhel and the ensemble perform with a great deal of power, conviction and subtly.

“Turing Test” premiered at the Venice Biennale in 2012. It is performed by the voices of the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and the bass clarinet of Gareth Davis. It is a kind of mini-opera where disembodied voices try to understand who they are and where they are. While many of the techniques in Elliott Sharp’s musical language such as cells and looping appear to be at work here, they are used very differently than in other works by Sharp. In this piece Sharp uses these techniques not to construct actively evolving dense textures but clear melodic segments of counterpoint and chords for the voices. Gareth Davis’s wonderful bass clarinet is used to comment and question the voices as they continue their test. It’s a wonderful piece that is beautifully performed. I look forward to hearing more work in this vein from Elliott Sharp.

“Oumuamua” is a graphic score for bass clarinet and electronics. In this piece the bass clarinet is processed by the electronics in real time. In many ways this piece resembles Sharp’s solo electric guitar work, in that there are repeated fragments overlaid in a constant forward motion that occasionally collapses into a sustained sound mass.  The use of electronics here is really interesting in that they are both transformative and interactive. The bass clarinet transforms into clusters of floating sounds that dissolve into duets between the bass clarinet with sounds that resemble berimbau, saxophone and organ. It’s an interesting and wild romp that features Elliott Sharp’s excellent bass clarinet playing.

All in all, “PLASTOVY HRAD” is a really interesting and diverse album that presents three different faces of Elliott Sharp, one of America’s most interesting contemporary composers.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews: Pareidolia – Selon le Vent [JACC Records JR035]

Selon le Vent, a set of two long improvisations from the trio Pareidolia, features music that maintains a creative opposition between conventional and extended techniques and consequently, between line and color. The two tracks—Himmelkino, which roughly translates as “Sky Cinema,” and Herzkino, or “Heart Cinema”—were recorded during a residence in Coimbra, Portugal in May and June 2016. The trio—violist João Camões, pianist Yves Arques and reedist Gabriel Lemaire—were joined by double bassist Alvaro Rosso on Herzkino. Perhaps as a result of this additional voice, the music in Herzkino takes on a sound quite different from Himmelkino. This latter piece is largely an exploration of pure timbre as fabricated by prepared and expansively played acoustic instruments. Herzkino, consistent with its title, seems by contrast to mimic a complex clash of affective states as it traces a long dynamic buildup of taut lines emerging from masses of sound, eventually finding release in eddying piano and a gently rhythmic coda. Whether as a trio or a quartet, the musicians display a high degree of synergy.

https://jaccrecords.bandcamp.com/album/selon-le-vent

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Nate Wooley “Columbia Icefield” [Northern SPY NS 112]

Inspired by the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains trumpeter Nate Wooley set out to explore “ … large structures that have a feeling of being really large and slightly disturbing, but also, natural, … it’s not an attack on our senses. We understand it.”  On “Columbia Icefield” Wooley’s amplified trumpet is joined by drummer Ryan Sawyer, pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn and guitarist Mary Halverson. The three compositions on “Columbia Icefield” while unique in content and form seem to share an overall point of view or perhaps mood. The recording itself also contributes to this overall mood. The album’s mix beautifully exploits the stereo field to project a big and open sound that still seems close and intimate.

The album opens with “Lionel Trilling”, a piece that seems like it would make a great soundtrack for a journey by train to visit the ice field. The piece slowly builds up from very deliberate but somewhat overlapping melodic and rhymical patterns on the guitars. The interplay between Halverson and Alcorn is very tight and balanced. These patterns could be imagined as representing the sounds of the train. They are eventually joined by other patterns played by the drums along with the very effective use of the amplified trumpet as percussion. This builds up over time but not in a sentimental or obvious way.  The train continues to climb till out of nowhere ethereal voices arrive and the mood abruptly changes.  They have arrived and set out to explore the expanse in a floating dialogue. This gives way to a new section of contrapuntal questions and episodic improvisations till it is time to leave and then we get back on the train to return to where the journey began.

“Seven in the Woods” is a piece where its shape slowly forms over time. It begins as an abstraction of what it will become with a slow counterpoint of melodic fragments between the guitars and muted trumpet. When the drums finally enter it tries to subvert the developing shape with march like rhythmic attacks. Eventually the drums give in and all of this abstraction crystallizes into a soulful melodic hymn accompanied by beautiful brush work from the drums. The piece then moves through a series of wonderful moments with solos from each of the musicians. Eventually it begins to fall back apart but is interrupted by the guitars with chiming church bell chords that slowly fade away.

The last piece “With Condolences” starts slowly and quietly but as the sonic conversation grows it becomes more and more animated over time. As it builds up into a chatter, spoken word lyrics emerge and push it back into a more reflective instrumental conversation that slowly winds itself down.

The playing by each of the musicians on “Columbia Icefield” is nothing short of outstanding. I hope that Nate Wooley is able to do a lot more recording with this particular group. As an ensemble they demonstrate real chemistry. Make no mistake “Columbia Icefield” is a great album. So, do your ears a favor and spend some quiet time listening to “Columbia Icefield”.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

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