AMN Reviews: Samuel Goff – Transmissions [Cacophonous Revival Recordings]

Samuel Goff, the percussionist, composer, and improviser from Richmond, VA, begins 2020 with his first monograph album and the inauguration of a new label. Goff, who plays tuned percussion and keyboards as well as drum kit, and who often works with field recordings and electronic processing, is no stranger to establishing close-to-the-ground institutions in music’s borderlands. He is one of the founders of the Richmond Avant Improv Collective (RAIC), a free-floating group whose five core members are often joined for performances and recordings by guests drawn from the unexpectedly deep bench of Richmond’s musical underground—musicians such as Jimmy Ghaphery, Fred McGann, Tim Harding, Lucas Brode, and Sam Byrd. For Transmissions, which in addition to being his first solo album is also the first release on his Cacophonous Revival Recordings label, Goff is the sole musician, playing percussion of various types along with keyboards, turntables and more.

Many of the pieces on Transmissions can be described as augmented musique concrète—improvised instrumental performances layered over a foundation of processed field recordings and other pre-recorded sounds. This documentary grounding also comes out in titles like Pikeville, Snakebite and Cochabamba, which evoke places and situations in the real world, the local flavor of which Goff evinces with the instrumental voices he chooses to use. There’s a soundtrack-like quality to much of his music—the two-part title work, for example, has the cinematic sweep and drama of an imaginary science fiction film set in interstellar space. Not surprisingly, one of Goff’s recent albums with RAIC was a soundtrack improvised to a silent film. While Transmissions’ seven tracks happily transgress boundaries of genre and programmatic content, they make for a coherent whole. What holds them all together is Goff’s own sophisticated sensibilities as a composer crafting finished works out of multiple moving parts.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: RAIC – Chance Operations [Bandcamp]; Ask the Trees – The Heart’s Message Cannot Be Delivered in Words [Bandcamp]; Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg – I Drew a Fish Hook, and It Turned into a Flower [IKKI 010]

For a good number of years, Richmond, Virginia has been home to a lively, if not always well-enough known, alternative music scene. As is true of most such places its venues hospitable to experimental and creative music come and go, but its artists persist. Groups like New Loft, Ting Ting Jahe, Hotel X, RAIC, and others evolve, mutate, merge and diverge, but what doesn’t seem to change throughout all these changes is a commitment to the art and the community. Three new releases demonstrate the diversity and appeal of Richmond’s alternative music scene; what all three have in common is a spirit of collaboration that seems deeply ingrained there.

RAIC is the Richmond Avant Improv Collective, whose current core membership consists of Samuel Goff, Abdul Hakim-Bilal, Erik Schroeder, Zoe Olivia-Kinney and Laura Marina. For Chance Operations, a two-CD set inspired by the philosophy of John Cage, RAIC assembled twenty musicians of various backgrounds and genres and put them together in a series of small groupings whose memberships were determined by chance operations. As could be expected, the music is extremely varied in instrumentation, atmosphere and style, but the one constant is that the participants seem to be listening to each other. A sample of its twenty-one tracks, chosen in an appropriately random manner:

(You Got the Wrong) Eleanor Friedberger (Jimmy Ghaphery and Brandon Simmons, flutes): nimble, birdlike phrases punctuated by air notes, hisses and overtones.

Complicated Advisory (Laura Marina, vocals; Richard Schellenberg, percussion; Lucas Brode, guitar; Brandon Whittaker, drums; Levi Christian Flack, bass; Madeline Billhimer, baritone saxophone): an abstract piece whose human presence—in the form of Marina’s voice—is nevertheless to the fore.

La Grande Odalisque (Samuel Goff, percussion and keyboards; Abdul-Hakim Bilal, drums; Erik Michael Schroeder, keyboards; Jimmy Ghaphery, alto saxophone and flute; Nat Quick, selo; Kyler O’Brien, bass): a slightly menacing, noirish ambience advancing on measured footsteps, culminating in an intense freakout for sax and keys.

Oblique Strategies (Jacob Courington, bass; Kyler O’Brien, drums; Benjamin Schurr, guitar; Madeline Billhimer, baritone saxophone): guitar and sax noise over a tight drumbeat and mobile bassline.

Materia Prima (Lucas Brode, guitar): the hum, pop, shimmer, and creak of electric guitar as a percussion instrument.

Irrigating an Arid World (Samuel Goff, drums and percussion; Laura Marina and Maura Pond, voices): visceral cries in the desert answered with tom-tom, snare, cymbal, and rattle.

A spinoff of RAIC, Ask the Trees are a newly formed quintet comprising RAIC’s Erik Schroeder on tenor and soprano saxophones along with New Ting’s Jimmy Ghaphery on alto and sopranino saxophones and bamboo flute, Sam Byrd on drums and Fred McGann on Nord keyboard, along with Richard Schellenberg on bass. Their first album, The Heart’s Message Cannot Be Delivered in Words, is in the tradition of the post-Coltrane, metaphysical jazz that flourished in the early 1970s. Consequently, the music is meditative but intense, ranging from the serene flute lines introducing Air and Sky, to the expressionistic collective improvisation of Flight. There’s excellent chemistry here: the two horns complement each other with thoughtful counterpoint, as in Essence, or engage each other in pointed dialogue, as in The Path. Byrd’s drumming is noteworthy for its compressed energy, whether undergirding the Phrygian-flavored Wisdom in Imperfection with a loose, free swing, or enhancing an introspective mood with precise brushwork. McGann’s keyboard and Schellenberg’s bass are also essential components in this highly atmospheric and ultimately inspired contemporary take on an evergreen subgenre of jazz.

I Drew a Fish Hook, and It Turned into a Flower is the third collaborative release from electronics artist Stephen Vitiello and clarinetist/vocalist Molly Berg. On this recording, they are joined by drummer Justin Alexander, violinist Jennifer Choi, bassist Marcus Fischer, and lap steel/pedal steel guitarist Mike Grigoni. As with Vitiello and Berg’s previous collaborative recordings, I Drew a Fish Hook is what Vitiello describes as an “edited improvisation.” Separate parts were recorded in separate locations and mixed together; there are loops and some other types of audible processing as well. But the resulting music doesn’t sound abstract or artificial—far from it. It’s mesmerizing, atmospheric, lush and melodic, often unfolding slowly over drifting harmonies and languorous washes of electronic sound. Berg’s voice is evocative and nicely complemented by the resonant sounds of Vitiello’s guitar and Rhodes piano, as well as by Choi’s violin and Grigoni’s steel guitars.

The sound recording is the audio half of this IKKI edition; the other, visual, half is a set of images from Los Angeles photographer Jake Michaels.