new music reviews authored by paul khimasia morgan

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Confront Recordings 25th Anniversary Concert, Bethnal Green, London 31st October 2021

As well as being a respected improvising musician in his own right, with ensembles including THE SEEN, The Sealed Knot, IST, Oceans Of Silver And Blood, The Scotch Of St. James and more, Mark Wastell has been releasing non-mainstream music of all stripes on his Confront Recordings imprint since 1996.  Furthermore, he ran his independent music retail outlet Sound 323 from premises in Highgate in London for many years where - in the shop's basement space - he also hosted concerts of improvised music by practitioners such as Derek Bailey, Steve Beresford, Nmperign, Burkhard Beins, Tim Hodgkinson, Henryk Rylander, Tom Chant, Dom Lash and many others.  My own interest in the shop began in 2005 when I got off the Tube opposite, rang the doorbell for the first of many times and after making a few cd selections to purchase, harangued Mark into agreeing to stock one of the first releases on my own DIY label; a 7" by cellist Bela Emerson.
Today, Mark hosted a full six hours of non-stop improv fare - duos of musicians with work published on Confront Recordings interspersed with films made during previous Confront events.  The audience seemed to be a 50/50 mix of musicians and enthusiasts, opportunities to catch up with friends "post-pandemic" [ this space - Ed.] , for me, giving the event the feel more of a family gathering than "just another" gig to attend in The Smoke.  In fact, the audience was rather larger than Mark possibly expected as initially everything was to be presented in the chapel at the rear of St Margaret's House; after the first performance by Steve Beresford and Clive Bell, the live performances moved into the hall in the adjacent building, with the film screenings in the chapel itself. 

Steve Beresford and Clive Bell

Steve Beresford and Clive Bell set the tone perfectly for the day's activities; an exquisite blend of Steve's ceaseless experimentalism on the chapel's upright piano and the bag of objects and devices he brought with him amplified through a 3 watt amp, and Clive's beautiful playing of a curious double-horned wind instrument I must find out the name of the next time I'm in the same room as him.  Halfway through their extemporisations, Steve throws in a snippet of melody from a jazz standard on the piano (possibly - I was outside in the warmth of the sun at the time, listening through the open doors) which elicits an audible wave of glee from the listeners.
Lockdown has given musicians the time and opportunity to try new things in isolation, and so it has been for double-bassist Dom Lash who bought himself a Fender Telecaster guitar and an overdrive pedal and spent his time developing a very interesting and personal approach to electric guitar over the last year or so.  His duet with saxophonist and composer Simon Rose was possibly the highlight of the day for me, although this may not be the last time I use that phrase in this piece of writing.  Solid body guitars are not usually the first choice for players who position themselves within the "jazz idiom" - even at the very fringes, where we are today - but Lash uses the Telecaster's basic yet unique design super-effectively; the biting, percussive nature of the instrument highlighted by the sheer power in his contrabass-trained hands.  Simon Rose's playing, in contrast, is fluid and shimmering; a warm glow of sunlight on the craggy rockface of Lash's guitar.  Dom boots the overdrive pedal on and off sporadically for emphasis on particular notes. 

Jennifer Allum and David Toop

Violinist Jennifer Allum and the uncategorisable David Toop - who no doubt today is away from his current book-writing project in order to play some flute - present a quiet, beautiful, still duet that gently issues forth like a soft westerly breeze off a lake on a spring morning.  Allum's extended techniques extract the full potential from her instrument while Toop hovers strangely close to silence in the most engaging ways.  In contrast, Alan Wilkinson's and Douglas Benford's maximalist quietude produces some of today's most unexpected moments of beauty.  Quite rightly considered one of the UK's premier saxophonists, halfway in, Wilkinson breaks out what I think I'm right in thinking was a bass clarinet - my apologies if that's completely wrong Alan, I was standing right at the back of the hall - whose lower register kicks their improvisation up a gear.  Throughout their set, Douglas Benford busies himself with a hand-pumped harmonium while simultaneously selecting objects from a variety of percussion instruments laid out at his feet.

Phil Durrant and Martin Vishnick

Phil Durrant and Martin Vishnick traded musical tics and splutters on mandolin and classical guitar respectively.  I've seen Phil perform before; usually on modular synth equipment of varying types and so was pleased to have the opportunity to see him tackle the mandolin.  Their performance was very lively and consisted of two distinct improvisations, both employing a wealth of extended techniques and creative interplay.
For the latter part of the day, live electronics began to emerge, beginning with Luigi Marino's control surfaces, software and feedback strategies running through a powered monitor - presumably for optimal bass response - in a duo with violinist and member of The Ligeti Quartet, Mandhira de Saram.  I've previously seen Marino using multiple bowed cymbals to create dense layered sound, and here, he uses technology to similar effect.  Mandhira's violin work blends very well and it is apparent that they are both having fun developing their sounds in real time.  My set with the Zurich-based multi-disciplinary artist Jason Kahn was very enjoyable; today Jason used only his voice - a strategy he used the previous day when we performed acoustically outdoors in the Sussex countryside with percussionist Ken Hyder and saxophonist Tim Hodgkinson.  I utilized the remains of my long-suffering acoustic twelve-string guitar with transducers to produce a "playable" feedback system.  Jason was at the very end of his first UK tour since the onset of the pandemic.  Slowly, slowly the world opens up again.
Saxophonist John Butcher - now bearded - and double-bassist Olie Brice present a muscular free jazz weaving magical auras of trepidation, activation energy and release.  Butcher's playing is always exhilarating to witness, meanwhile Olie Brice underpins and builds structures here, demolishes there, in fun, technical and fascinating ways.
Facing a long and most likely tedious drive back to Brighton, I regretfully make my move back to the car during Sylvia Hallett and Chris Dowding's set.  Having watched them set up, however, I was expecting an esoteric combination of violin and trumpet experiments with digital technology with Chris' trumpet exhibiting a particular Jon Hassel-esque quality during their soundcheck.  However, as I was leaving, I stopped to listen in the dark of the gardens of St Margaret's House as the pair wove an enchanting web of detourned melody; a folk influence here, a lament there; a twinkling of DSP artefacts trailing from each flourish mirroring the retina-bloom of the fairy lights hanging from the canopies at the rear of the Café.  Beautiful.

I particularly liked that throughout the entire event, the visual artist Gina Southgate was painting the musicians; working swiftly and effortlessly, producing an amazing body of work. 

A big shout-out also to the excellent fresh coffee and vegan menu in the Café and the tireless George Paris, Programme Manager at St Margaret's House, and of course the weather, which thankfully stayed warm and clement throughout the entire event allowing everyone the space and freedom to wander around the site at leisure without fear of getting rained on.  If this is the bar for gig-going in outside-Lockdown times, I'm all for it.  And I'm really looking forward to attending the next milestone in the Confront Recordings journey.

Photos and text by Paul Khimasia Morgan, October 2021.

Friday, 1 January 2021

contact microphones under duress


Simon Whetham

Forced To Repeat Myself

USA  Misanthropic Agenda  mar056  CD  (2020)

Misanthropic Agenda may be known for their earlier output from noise artists such as Lasse Marhaug, Merzbow, John Wiese, and Sissy Spacek but more recently, the label has recently released material that could be described as coming more from the experimental music/sound-art frontiers by people like Joe Colley, Fransisco Meirino and Andrea Borghi, so Whetham is in appropriate company here.

It seems to me that Simon Whetham is concerned with the Interior.  Not only the interiors of the rooms he performs in; his and our own interior worlds.  In a similar way to Rie Nakajima or, Choi Joonyong or Holly Jarvis, he analyses the physical attributes of his performance environment and extracts auditory information from it using a selection of his most appropriate techniques.

On Forced To Repeat Myself, he presents eight tracks portioned out of performances from a 2018 tour in Europe.  The sleeve cites nine locations - Vilnius, Bologna, Marghera, Acqui Terme, Turin, Milan, Cagliari, Pietrasanta and Dortmund - so I assume some or all of the eight tracks are assembled from multiple concerts, rather than each track being a direct document of a particular performance.  This is confirmed by Whetham’s statement that the album was “composed” in Marseilles in 2020, making it less a document, rather a piece in itself.  As such, Whetham takes admirable liberties with the idea of a “cohesive production” and combines audio that seems to have been recorded in many varied and interesting ways.  One moment you are listening to his devices from a distance on the distorted and heavily compressed built-in mics of ghetto blasters - and various other recorders of differing types no doubt - the next you are up close to the action with a loud direct feed from the mixing desk of one of his contact mic’s attached to an unknown surface.  Objects and devices move, rotate, perhaps even perambulate around the performance space(s).  In the absence of any visual information on the cd packaging bar two photographs of rows of empty seating - which may have anything or nothing to do with these live concerts - we will likely never know what we are actually listening to.  But I like this.  What I have gleaned about Whetham's practice is that he combines sounds which are normally too quiet to be noticed with self-built devices that mostly seem to be designed to produce acoustic sound, either by themselves or when interacting with the performance space in some way.  I have also known him to experiment with pushing audio equipment to destruction in various ways in previous work, but again, in the absence of sleeve-notes other than a simple “…all source materials…were extracted from performance recordings…” what specific techniques and “instrumentation” - if that is the correct word, even - are also unknown.  You do get the feeling that things are set up by Whetham and then left to their own devices and accidents or unintentional events are encouraged; a microphone dies in a hail of electronic pops on track six, elsewhere things collapse, spill, stop working, bump into each other, scrape along the floor or are perhaps even flung out of the artist’s way.  Over and over again.  It’s like Whetham takes a living gallery installation with him on tour. 

Lovely design on the packaging.  The heavy card digipak with high quality black and white print shows off the images by Monica Nannini, Laure Catugier and Jürgen Dünhofen well.  The circular disc image is by Whetham himself.  Recommended.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Three from Betwixt & Between

Quinie / Jacken Elswyth
Betwixt & Between 4
UK  Betwixt & Between  no number  Cassette/DL  (2019)

Excellent unsolicited surprise arrival through the letterbox here.  And on cassette too, today’s favoured format of the avant-garde.  A split release, so a side each for Glasgow based Quinie, accompanied by friends Gordon Bruce and Tom Merewether and Betwixt & Between head Jacken Elswyth who resides in London.  Elswyth and her cohorts are part of a growing movement gaining a reputation for continuing the folk tradition.  Any folk music scholar/enthusiast will probably tell you how the songs have been and should be passed down through time, with no proscribed limits on interpretation per se, thus keeping the tradition alive, current and relevant.  This, I suspect, is an important part of Elswyth’s motivation.  She’s also an excellent banjo player, as evidenced here.

On the other side of the tape, Quinie sings songs “…embellished with occasional bells, whistles and percussion interspersed with odd interludes of reedy drone”  These drones are fantastic - not at all in a “ambient/dark/moody” kind of way; more playful and upbeat and possibly played with good humour on reed-based instruments associated with traditional Scottish music, I suspect.  I was not 100% sure whether Quinie is the name of the band or an alias of the singer/artist Josie Vallely until I turned up Vallely’s website where she states “…I have a personal practice under the name Quinie that brings together my interest in Scots song, sense of place and an investigation of women’s representation in the Scottish Tradition”. Of the six tunes here, half are songs by Matt McGuinn (“Red Yoyo”), Duncan MacRae (“Wee Cock Sparra”) and Lizzie Higgins, (“Wha’s at the Windy”).  Vallely’s delivery is captivating and the weird musical attenuations lend proceedings a mysterious feeling.  Really beautiful stuff.

Alula Down / Jacken Elswyth
Betwixt & Between 5
UK  Betwixt & Between  no number  CD/DL  (2019)

This is sent from Betwixt & Between’s Jacken Elswyth, here presenting her amazing banjo-picking skills - “clawhammer” I believe might be the accurate terminology, but I stand to be corrected if I’ve completely misunderstood the term - and in keeping with the B&B series, alongside four songs from Hereford-based Alula Down, a duo of Kate Gathercole and Mark Waters who do a nice line in gently delayed acoustic guitar and drone-making harmonium, glass harmonica (one of my all-time favourite instruments to listen to - check out also sound artist Camille Norment's recent work) and “gentle feedback” better to accompany the singer’s voice with.  Both artists’ approach are based in the folk idiom - an area of music I think I should mention I know very little about - in fact, they both present versions of a traditional (the one Peter Bellamy recorded in the 1970s?) song called “Sweet Lemeny” but with very different results.  Elswyth also uses a drone as an accompaniment, the exact nature of which is not stated on the cassette sleeve, but reading through the text on the B&B Bandcamp site it appears to be bowed banjo.  “Last Chance set”, my favourite of her three pieces is a range of extrapolations of the Appalachian dance tune.
Aside from their version of “Sweet Lemeny”, Alula Down contribute three bird-themed songs, “Sprig of Thyme”, “Three Ravens” and “Blackbird”.  The acoustic guitar on “Sprig of Thyme” is processed ever so lightly with echo, making not an eerie sound, but producing a very bright and active clarity.  On “Sweet lemeny” a repeated series of plucked harmonics shifting the guitar into otherworldliness by way of filtering or eq-ed overdrive, while Gathercole’s vocals are treated with subtly ever increasing tape echoes creates a sublime result.  The duo’s use of feedback, harmonium and glass harmonica on “Three Ravens” is similarly effective, paired as they are with Gathercole’s close-mic’ed, intimate vocal.  “Blackbird” pushed the guitarist right towards the back of the room, it seems, while gradually letting the sounds of the fields outside the walls of the studio back in.

Ryan Eyers / Jacken Elswyth
Betwixt & Between 6
UK  Betwixt & Between  no number  Cassette/DL  (2020)

Since receiving B&B numbers #4 and #5, I have received #6 and randomly met Jacken Elswyth in person at a TST (record stall) pop-up at the Evening Star in Brighton thus putting a face to this excellent series of releases.  Jacken‘s side begins with a seven minute rendition of Jon Bekoff’s “Lone Prairie”.  The tune is cyclical and Elswyth adds drones which almost segue into the start of the following song, “Caravan” by Mark Stevenson.  Stevenson is a contemporary figure in the British folk scene
In “Improvisation for amplified banjo(29.3)” Elswyth bucks tradition by utilizing probably something as simple as a transducer or contact mic on the banjo through the nearest guitar amp.  But what a sound!  Clouds of upper harmonics and the abstracted character of the set-up made the instrument unrecognisable to me in the opening moments.  This piece affected me in a similar way as did Rhodri Davies’ processed harp recordings on Wound Response from 2012.  The joy of hearing the unexpected; the reversal of what the instrument was designed to be.  The world swings back on its axis for the two and a quarter minutes of acoustic “Improvisation for banjo (30.1)”.
On Ryan Eyers’ side we are treated to five “short sketches” of solo drumming on what to my ears seems to be a jazz-style full kit.  Unusual as solo kit drum recordings may be, this work serves as more than just an introduction to Eyers’ skills or some kind of showcase simply to generate future employment.  Perhaps referencing the recent prevalence of online “sample-packs” by certain synthesiser enthusiasts, Eyers sees it as much a resource as a finished work.  The pieces certainly sound great - facilitated by someone who knows how to mic up a drumkit; perhaps Eyers himself?  Named as sketches, these three-something minute pieces are exactly that, and thus surely that is their nature.  The first piece serves as a kind of ritual beginning to proceedings - setting the scene, settling the mind, focussing the body.  The minimalist development of “Sketch 2” reminds me of Nissenenmondai’s singleminded sticksperson Sayaka Himeno, but Eyers puts far more variation into these three minutes than Himeno usually does.  “ Sketch 3” is a full-tilt syncopated riot, Andy Ramsay-like but without any convoluted motorik.  I can imagine it as the backbone to a Stereolab-influenced piece by someone somewhere.  “Sketch 4” is an absorbing journey into repetition and melody, which flows neatly into “Sketch 5” utilizes tuned toms and hi-hat exclusively to produce something between Afrobeat and The Butthole Surfers.

I suspect physical editions of items in this series are and will be made available in tiny editions, but the good news is all seem to be available as digital downloads alongside previous items B&Bs 1-3.  For further folk edification, see the Bancamp site.  A fine - in both senses of the word - strand of the current doings in the UK folk idiom.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Distant Animals - Everyday Violence

Distant Animals
Everyday Violence
Germany  Engram Recordings  ER34  DL  (2020)

An ep length chunk of analogue synthesis in the form of three pieces each roughly six and a half minutes in duration from this Lewes in Sussex-based creator, Daniel Alexander Hignell.
Minimal opener New Youth opens up creases in the crumpled space-time continuum.  Buried below the surface humus are noises computers made in the 1970s, whirring as nebula fly by and the back of your head sinks almost imperceptibly into the moistening peat as the heavens open once again.  There are hints at waves of hidden meaning; Distant Animals work with subsonic and ultrasonic composition, probably.  How is it made?  Perhaps with the corpulently flightcased modular synthesiser apparatus he used at an Aural Detritus concert in Brighton in 2016 likely in combination with nefarious dark-web music software in new and unexpected ways?  Toward the end of the piece I can discern a kind of bit-crushed house rhythm or sped-up dub techno pulse; out of sorts with my expectation of the track.  Good.
L’histoire annotee des processus emergents (or The Annotated History of Emerging Processes)
Analogue bubbling, network machine-room cooling systems breath deeply.  Emergency neon.  A distillation of sci-fi movie soundtrack opulence.  Tones emerge and disappear for maximum headphone joy.  Like a bubbling tarpit.  Chunky.
All three pieces seem to be built out of sounds that exist on the very edge of human auditory range, so the music seems to be quiet; and the third piece, Everyday Violence exists within the listener’s particular physical environment and influences and is influenced by it in turn.  Separate listens at different volume settings have yielded very different experiences for me.  Today, at a reasonable volume, I’m listening to the beginning of this piece merge with the regular pulse of the neighbours’ builder’s cement mixer outside, whereas I was aware of a more pronounced high-end detail in this piece late last night at a more modest amplitude.  Synthesiser drone emerge presently to delineate the overall structure.  The piece ends with a crescendo which is cleverly emphasised by the relatively low perceived volume of the majority of the material.  It benefits from the extra emphasis after the close listening demanded by the preceding majority of the work.  
Also see his Death Keeps Me Awake from 2019 also on Engram, Lines and Weaves / Threads on Hallow Ground from 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Engram is based in Berlin, the spiritual home of forward-looking electronic music.  So far, in this year’s batch of releases are: a one minute and five second track from Male Dynamics, an album of pretty electronica from Oriental Love, an album from Adam Majdecki-Janicki that features a track superbly titled “This Planet Is A Penal Colony And Nobody Is Allowed To Leave”, post-harsh noise from MMRK, Yang Liu’s piano movement Rain Air II and a sonified sense of nostalgia by Hsiao Li Chi among other intriguing things.
Clearly they take their mission statement “N. Senada's "Theory of Obscurity" states that an artist can only produce pure art when the expectations and influences of the outside world are not taken into considerationvery seriously.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, as Wikipedia states; There is a debate as to whether or not Senada actually existed, or was simply an invention of [the band] The Residents.  Despite this, the label is absolutely worth your time exploring.

five from Astral Spirits

Pat Thomas / John Butcher / Ståle Liavik Solberg
Fictional Souvenirs
USA Astral Spirits MF191/AS088 CD (2019)

UK musicians pianist Pat Thomas and saxophonist John Butcher team up with Norwegian drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg. I’m always in the mood for anything John Butcher-related; the recent Tarab Cuts vinyl issue with Mark Sanders and the Skullmarks cd by Butcher’s project Common Objects are both worth your immediate attention. And so is Fictional Souvenirs. That this trio also features Pat Thomas who is part of Common Objects is of interest. Where his contribution to Skullmarks was cited simply as “electronics”, here his input is detailed a touch more accurately as “Moog Theremini & iPad-based electronics”. As you might suspect, a Moog Theremini is a small theremin-type electronic instrument, but with the advantage of an added Moog-designed synthesis capability. Thus the sounds Thomas conjures from this device are anything but the 1950s sci-fi noises you might associate with the original theremin instrument. Ståle Liavik Solberg and Butcher have both released material on the respected Clean Feed Records out of Lisbon, Portugal. Based in Oslo, Solberg co-curates the Blow Out! Festival with Paal Nilsen-Love and performs with the quartet Will It Float? with London improvisors John Russell, Steve Beresford and John Edwards. Pat Thomas currently is known for his solo piano work with Duke Ellington material, but also has a free-improvising trio, Shifa, and Ahmed; a quartet with Antonin Gerbal, Joel Grip and Seymour Wright inspired by the music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Thomas has also played with Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley’s Quartet and in duo with Lol Coxhill. Theirs is a very playful approach on Fictional Souvenirs, less free-jazz more exploratory improvisation. But without warning, the musicians flip the music on its head. Parts of “Heartaches” for example are really very minimal and benefit from an almost-there sense of propulsion. I am reminded of the minimalsm of Diatribes’ recent album Echoes and Sirens. “The Solution” is a dynamic ten minute journey where the synthesised sounds of Pat Thomas’ Theremini come to the fore. One of the most beautiful electronic passages I have heard this year comes from Thomas’ set-up at the very end of the closing track, “Keys”. This is a live recording made in concert at London’s wonderful I’Klektik venue by Giovanni La Rovere split into six pieces and, thanks to high-speed internet connections, mastered by Alan Jones at Laminal Audio in the USA.

Rodrigo Amado / Chris Corsano
No Place To Fall
USA Astral Spirits MF207/AS103 CD (2019)

“Full tilt” tenor saxophonist is joined by the in-demand free drummer of choice. “Announcement” is just that - a full-on no holds barred, full frontal assault. Clichés aside, we all know what Corsano is capable of in terms of sheer speed, force and integrity and Rodrigo Amado keeps the pace up; more than that - the pair seem locked together in a breakneck trajectory towards the unknown. “Dont Take It Too Bad” inhabits a calmer place, beginning as a quiet and contemplative soundfield before ramping up the tension. In fact, it seems to me that this is what drives many duos - the tension created almost becomes a physical entity separate from the two players themselves. “Into The Valley” demonstrates a demarcation; a devolution of the sonic space. What this duo also demonstrate is a total familiarity; that vague notion of “telepathy” between players who have either spent a significant amount of time in each others’ worlds or who have miraculously spontaneously “clicked” on first meeting. The solemn beginning of “We’ll Be Here In The Morning” harks back through jazz history to the sound (or reminiscence of) Charlie Parker. Apart from pleasing jazz “purists” - if such a creature even exists anymore - the fact that Corsano waits three minutes before joining in with gentle pattering accompaniments shows the degree of mutual respect these musicians hold for each other. Burton Greene / Damon Smith / Ra Kalam Bob Moses Life’s Intense Mystery USA Astral Spirits MF193/AS090 CD (2019) Piano trios are fun. The first thing that should be said is that apart from Damon Smith’s credentials and mixing and mastering by Weasel Walter, there is very little “punk rock” about this album, just in case seeing Walter’s name on the sleeve might have got your hopes up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Weasel Walter is a super-dynamic player; that’s one thing the album lacks slightly for me - perhaps they should have let him sit in on a couple of numbers, for the sake of variety if nothing else. Ra Kalam Bob Moses started his prolific career with the mighty Rahsaan Roland Kirk and went on to play with Larry Coryell, Gary Burton, one-time Miles Davis cohort Dave Liebman, and Pat Metheny among many others as well as releasing multiple albums as bandleader. Burton Greene also has an interesting early career having co-founded the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble with Alan Silva, played with Patty Waters, Sam Rivers and Albert Ayler among others and released two solo albums on ESP-Disk in the 1960s. Since then he splits his time working from his Amsterdam base and in New York and the East Coast of the US. More recently he has had his work released on John Zorn’s Tzadik. Damon Smith has worked a lot with Weasel Walter and runs his own label, Balance Point Acoustics and has previous form with Cecil Taylor, Elliot Sharp, Peter Brötzmann, Marshall Allen and Jim O’Rourke. There are three parts of “Life’s Intense Mystery” spread over the disc; free, yes, but with one toe still in the lukewarm water of melody. Which is altogether fine if that’s your bag, although personally I enjoy a bit more sound-making than melodic information in my free playing. That said, some of the melodic ideas elsewhere are making me scratch my head - it’s particularly rudimentary on “Kid Play” but then I guess that’s the point with that one. Track four “Perc-Waves (or Percussive Waves)” is my favourite area, where the trio really relax and explore some territory. It’s got balls, while simultaneously coming off eerie and weird.

Harris Eisenstadt Old Growth Forest
USA Astral Spirits MF196/AS093 CD (2019)

Drummer and composer of this music Harris Eisenstadt is joined by trombonist Jeb Bishop, saxophonist Tony Malaby and bassist Jason Roebke. Eisenstadt is a Canadian musician who has worked with Wadada Leo Smith and Vinny Golia, Sam Rivers and Adam Rudolf, Ellery Eskelin and Angelica Sanchez and the UK double-bassist Dom Lash. He currently leads two other ensembles; Canada Day with Matt Bauder, Nate Wooley, Chris Dingman and Eivind Opsvick and Guewel with Wooley again, Taylor Ho Bynum, Mark Taylor and Josh Sinton. Eisenstadt has also produced eight compositions at the time of writing. Just a small selection of his activities there. Jeb Bishop is a veteran of the Vandermark Five, Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra and his own Jeb Bishop Trio. Tony Malaby describes himself as “...a tenor saxophonist in modern creative and post-bop jazz”. He has been prolific in his recorded output, playing with musicians including Tom Rainey, Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor, Mat Maneri and many others. Jason Roebke has worked with Paul Lytton and Josh Berman on Trio Discepancies also on Astral Spirits, also in trio with Tim Barnes and Nate Wooley, as well as with Eisenstadt and Bishop on their trio recording Tiebreaker from 2008. The music on II was recorded live at The Parlor Room in Northampton Massachusetts by Jared Libby in June of 2017. “Needles/Seedlings” has an unexpectedly jaunty melody that only makes an appearance halfway through. Once the group get their teeth stuck in, they run with it like a territorial pitbull with an unsuspecting chihuahua in its jaws. “Rustling” is the aural equivalent of wet pigment running down a fresh canvas. “Pit and Mound” swings with a bitter-sweet melody that graciously gives way to pure sound and back again. Where “Nurse Logs” is sweaty and agitated, “Biomass” has a vaguely Latin feel that took me by surprise, while the opening minute of “Shaded Canopy” is like a slowed down New Orleans street band. The audience duly clapping in the appropriate places. “Song With Owen” meanders in a pleasant way; Malaby and Bishop echoing each other’s parts bringing us out of the forest and into the sunlight.

Shiroishi / Golia / Fujioka / Cline
USA Astral Spirits MF205/AS101 CD (2019)

Here we have an unusual quartet presenting two adventurous pieces from saxophonists Patrick Shiroishi and Vinny Golia, and drummers Dylan Fujioka and Alex Cline at an October 2018 session at Seahorse Sound Studios in Los Angeles. Shiroishi has multiple projects on the go including Upsilon Acrux, Corima, In The Womb, Oort Smog and Hoboglyphs. As well as leading his own ensembles, Vinny Golia has worked with a broad range of musicians including Anthony Braxton, Henry Grimes, Joëlle Léandre, John Zorn, Patti Smith and Lydia Lunch. Dylan Fujioka is an LA based drummer and composer whose recorded output thus far, as far as I can make out, covers both jazz improv and “ambient” electronica. Alex Cline’s first record - with Jamil Shabaka - was released in 1977 and since then he has performed with many group with Yusuf Lateef, Miya Masaoka, Gregg Bendian, Susan Rawcliffe and many others including his trio Spiral with Brian Horner and his brother Nels. The first track of this pair, “Right Eye Sun”, is evidence of a seemingly fairly straight-ahead melodic approach while “Left Eye Moon” is considerably more what you might call ‘out there’, whatever that means these days. Possibly there is a right brain/left brain analogy going on here, but I could be reading too much into it. Certainly, “Left Eye Moon” is the more curious of the pair. I’d hesitate to go as far as to call it “astral” jazz, but its going in that direction; restraint, space, unhurried, with extended technique and interesting ideas - the pairing of the instruments offers a lot of intriguing options - and it gets raucous as well. There is more to catch the ear on this piece, for sure. But for me it remains a little polite; it somehow never gets near to the visceral. The recording quality is “polite” as well; everything has been recorded “correctly” - in a technical sense - it could benefit from a bit more chaos somewhere in my opinion.

All five of these discs fall within the remit of jazz, but Astral Spirits is not an exclusively “jazz” label as I first thought. They have also released electronic music from the likes of Jeff Lane aka Tereshkova, music based on the sounds made by electric eels (no really) by the fantastic Rob Mazurek of Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet, and modern-day fusion from Quin Kirchner. Jazz afficionados are amply catered for with music from Hamid Drake, Otomo Yoshihide, Trevor Watts, Chicago Underground Quartet, Ilia Belorukov, Lisa Cameron & Sandy Ewen and many more. Astral Spirits is also prolific; possibly due to the generosity of parent label Monofonus Press, with over forty new titles in the last 6 months since I received this unsolicited batch in the mail. That’s an almost Mikroton-like schedule. The sleeve design links all the titles together nicely, in the form of intriguing and colourful paintings by Jaime Zuverza.

Friday, 11 October 2019


Matt Atkins  / Adam Kinsey
UK  Minimal Resource Manipulation   MRM033  CD-r / DL  (2019)

Obtained from Matt Atkins in person at a concert at Hundred Years Gallery in Shoreditch earlier this year where Atkins performed in a trio with Brigitte Hart and John Macedo.  Minimal Resource Manipulation is Atkins own imprint and is named succinctly after the situation most non-mainstream musicians find themselves in these days.  LOWERCASE is an ironic title given that most of the gathered material here is fairly maximal in nature and a far cry from the early 2000’s New London Silence, Berlin Reductionism and indeed lower case music championed by London’s Sound 323 record shop and others.  Perhaps this is simply a reference to a scene that Atkins and Kinsey love.  But here, the duo break down the ideas and techniques associated with so-called lower case music and reassemble them in relatively dynamic and “in-your-face” ways.
There are two pieces on the disc; “Part One” feature grubby tape record heads and  broken twigs while small motors molest crockery.  A vaguely gothic synth-drone loops for a while, the musicians shuffling about, rubbing various utensils against multiple surfaces.  Then, close mic’ed patterings emerge before someone begins turning the platter of a record deck backwards by hand so that the lp lurches drunkenly through the frequency spectrum.  “Part Two” plays around with the ticking of insects, transducer hums, filter sweeps, a stylus sticking in a run out groove.  Later, reverbed IRCAM homages swoop about like pitchshifted bamboo chimes or gaseous tubes vibrating.
It transpires that these are two live improvisations made utilising laptop and modular synth, the recordings mastered by Phil Julian.  Expert sound-making - which I very much enjoy listening to - of a stripe that many musicians are dabbling with these days.  But it seems to me that the real challenge  is to make something bigger than the sum with these components.  I include myself in that.  LOWERCASE is a great example of these two musicians’ work.  I’ll be keeping an eye on their future output.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Deux Sowaris

Phil Durrant
Sowari Modular
UK  Linear Obsessional  LinOb  LOR097  CD/DL  (2019)

The highly respected improvisor Phil Durrant forks over fertile new ground with this release.  Whether it be composition, his involvement in New London Silence with Angharad Davies, Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell as a violinist; his solo or collaborative work with modular synthesisers or more recently exploratory mandolin in a duo with guitarist Martin Vishnick and others, Durrant has an enviable reputation.  Sowari Modular is Durrant solo and in inquisitive mood, perhaps due to Linear Obsessional head Richard Sanderson’s policy of open-mindedness and regard for his artists’ freedom to choose whatever they wish to submit to his imprint.  To my mind, Sanderson’s approach produces wildly varied - but always excellent - output.  Sowari Modular is no different.  Named in reference to Durrant’s trio with Burkhard Beins and Bertrand Denzler, Trio Sowari - or perhaps,  more literally, his role within it -
 'Sowari Modular' features tracks using either modular synth assemblages or tracks made with single semi-modular synthesisers. Ranging from enveloping drone pieces influenced by Eliane Radique through to more "gestural" pieces incorporating outside sounds such as electric motors and wine glasses, the album is a blueprint of singular patches and hairtrigger fluctuations - a very physical music from a very arcane source.
according to the label’s marketing.
Opening track “Survey” is an exploration of imaginary terrain.  Terror and terroir.  Tramlines.  Moving tones. Motorways.  “Misty” bounces along like a monster-fied mutant Pong video-game.  
“Zero Coast” is thick with analogue synthesis and is more aggressive, you might say.  Analogue synths seem to be often in control of their owners rather than the other way around and I wonder if this might be the case here; Durrant locked in a battle of will with the angry filters and oscillators.  “Sweep” is longer at 11 minutes and more meditative and explores the less audible ends of the frequency spectrum before generating a tone reminiscent of Tuvan throat-singing with occasional crystalline pitch shifting effects.
“Radio Gag” gets staticky - kind of like what you might hear from a pocket short wave radio if you were Jeff Bridges in Tron.  “From Another” sounds like something I imagine you might hear drifting out of an open window as you stroll past the IRCAM building on a summer afternoon.  “Field” utilises a simple machine rhythm as a base on which to build seemingly random, autonomous sound events.  Erosion quickly sets in and like the sands from a south coast beach, the noises and little sequences find themselves drifting off and settling in places far away from where they started.  No electronic groynes have yet been  provided.  At fifteen minutes, “Still” is the longest piece on Sowari Modular.  Typical perhaps of Durrant’s occasional interest in a drone-based approach, it is made up of small, gentle modulations and developments; a well-chosen handful of shimmering fragments introduced slowly and then left to fend for themselves.
The portrait of Phil on the sleeve is by painter/bassist Kev Hopper, (he of Stump, Ticklish and Prescott), who also releases his own music on this excellent South London imprint.

Trio Sowari
Third Issue
AUSTRIA  Mikroton CD 67  CD/DL  (2018)

Following on from 2005’s Three Dances and 2008’s ShortCut both released by Potlatch, their third release - this time on Mikroton; one of my current favourite imprints - finds Phil Durrant on modular and software synthesisers, Burkhard Beins on percussion and objects and Bertrand Denzler on tenor saxophone.  On the back of the cover is a photograph of a neatly cut stack of firewood and kindling against a stone wall.  Someone’s ready for winter.  Within, you will find four pieces of music with great one-word titles; “Gravitation”, “Suspension”, “Exploration” and “Levitation”.  That last one probably not referencing Terry Bickers and Bic Hayes’ 90s prog-rock band, but hey, who knows?  Eclectic tastes never hurt nobody.  All three players are known for their considered approach to their relative instrumentation, so I was very excited to receive this disc.
A hum, initially seemingly simple, but opening up incrementally.  Swept metal; poise.  A gentle increase of intensity, like a slight but noticeable change in air pressure.
Low drone to start; joined by a horn tone almost like a human voice, opening out into a recognisable sax.  Nice combinations of beat frequencies, overtones, harmonics and sine waves.  A distant drum?
More percussion-led.   Bells, chimes, struck metal… There is some bass information, fleetingly.
With the use of their fairly orthodox use of bowed cymbals, saxophone and  tone generation, we could almost be listening to a free jazz unit of which there are many youthful examples around at the moment.  Trio Sowari are not so predictable however, and things soon take a turn for the oblique.  The musicians carefully develop their material into a group dynamic so restrained and in harmony with itself, it could be the musician’s metabolisms we’re listening to.
What is unusual about this clutch of recordings however, is the way they seem to bend time.  “Gravitation” is nearly fifteen minutes long and “Suspension” is twelve, but they seem to pass by in an instant due to the density of the actions and the deep levels of unspoken communication between the players, I think.  These recordings were made over two days which suggests to me that the group were prepared in advance for a short and intensive burst of activity.
Recorded by Patrick Robalewski at Sudstern Studios, Berlin, July 2016.  Mixed and edited by Burkhard Beins.  Mastered by Werner Dafeldecker.  Seek it out.