Thursday, August 6, 2009

Peter Kowald / Miya Masaoka / Gino Robair - Illuminations

Rastascan Records 2004


I suppose Kowald is the big name here – and as ever his presence is colossal – sparking off rich, improvised reactions from the albums two other contributors with his typically dark, abstract bass playing and his wonderful sense of rhythm and texture.

I’ve heard two other albums with the percussion work of Gino Robair – both involving British free improv saxophonist, John Butcher and strangely enough one of these albums also involves the third member of this trio – koto player, Miya Masaoka – the only other album I have heard her play on.

The pieces on offer here are short, succinct, carefully articulated and defined – suggestive of sparsely drawn sketches composed of a few gentle strokes of the brush. They are miniatures of a large, overall image – not that the music itself is either minimal or sparse. Perhaps quiet and unassuming would be better ways of describing the sounds on offer – there are few manic moments – Kowald’s bass delivers deep, rumbling lines that drive things forward, Masaoka’s smooth koto players twinkles in between like a gentle stream flowing over a cluster of rocks as Robair’s unusual percussive work offers mystery and intrigue. His odd assortment of instruments includes things like the faux daxophone (though I’m still not sure at what point I am actually listening to this) and the act of scraping an ebow across various surfaces.

This album is certainly less frantic than the previous two posted here – the lack of a sprawling piano accompaniment places things on a different level where texture often plays a stronger role than colour. The deep bass provides an unusual counterpoint for the higher register of the koto and the careful insertion of the strange sounds of Robair’s electronics and percussion gives the album a kind of otherworldly abstraction and thoughtfulness – not something you always get with free improvisation, which makes it all the more worthwhile to listen to when you do.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sylvie Courvoisier / Joëlle Léandre / Susie Ibarra - Passaggio

Intakt 2002


Passaggio according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia is “is a term used in classical singing to describe the pitch ranges in which vocal registration events occur.”

OK, so there’s no singing on this album, but the three improvisers here, offer a wide range of tones from Léandre’s scraping bass to Couvoisier’s dramatic jumps from the high notes to the low notes on piano to Ibarra’s shifts from tense cymbal tapping to a single, resonating strike of the bass drum. It’s a sort of deconstruction game as the trio tries to distort and warp the usual sound of their instruments, rumbling in the lower-registers before leaping into high-pitched screeching.

There are plenty of these tumultuous passages too, and given the brevity of the tracks, they can at times get a little prickly, like being caught beneath a net of brambles and it’s certainly a more challenging listen than the previous Léandre album posted on here. Expressive and tight with plenty of colour, there’s still a lot to enjoy on this offering and as ever with free improvisation albums, its strength lies its ability to surprise with unusual juxtapositions and striking dynamism.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Joëlle Léandre - Signature

Red Toucan Records 2002

Download, Part One
Download, Part Two

Bonus Post 2. Whilst I have a few free moments, I might as well try and keep up my May post count and raise it to the grand total of 3. Superb set of duets from Joëlle Léandre joined by Masahiko Satoh for the first set and Yuji Takahashi for the second, both on piano. Leandre for those who have never experienced the virtuosity of her bass playing is one of the lesser-known figures on the free improv circuit, but to my mind certainly one of the best. But having said that, Léandre also has a strong background in classical music and working with contemporary classical composers, such as, Boulez, Cage and Scelsi so her credentials are certainly impressive. The pieces here are a great introduction to her talents, ranging from haunting Ligeti-esque chamber pieces to lively Bartók-esque folk dances.

There is a strong echo of Japanese mysticism in the music as on certain occasions where Léandre’s lightness of touch is delicately balanced by Satoh’s sprinkling of Takemitsu-esque notes, carefully woven into a meditative like trance. Her set with Takahashi is more severe than Satoh’s; the spaces are wider apart, the notes are sparser, that sense of spiritual emptiness is perhaps greater, but it also reminds me of recent avant-garde European music – the likes of Salvatore Sciarrino – itself deeply routed in atonality expressed by composers from Schoenberg through to Scelsi. But tradition aside, the strength of this album comes from the brilliance of the playing, faultless, expressive, rich.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Derek Bailey / Han Bennink - ICP 004

ICP 004
Instant Composers Pool 1969


Bonus Post. Those already familiar with Derek Bailey and Han Bennink should know what to expect from these two great free improv players, but this partnership really surprised me. I think this may be the first time they recorded together, but I could be wrong. Anyway, the year is 1969 so it pre-dates the only other duo between them by 3 years. This album is remarkably fresh feeling with both improvisers exploring space and timbre in a surprisingly sophisticated way. Layers of tonal space are deconstructed, broken down and twisted, chaotically into atonal dissonance – Bennink’s rolling drum beats shift from steady pulses to all out attacks, pushing Bailey’s dynamics in all kinds of directions. Semblances of structure are crushed over time, blown to pieces and disseminated by strong winds, loud, fast and energetic.


Tatsuya Nakatani & Peter Kowald - 13 Definitions of Truth

13 Definitions of Truth
Locust 2003


First new post for a while and with fewer words than usual. Still, this one’s certainly worth a listen – Kowalds droning bass and Nakatani’s tribal percussion makes me think of ancient rituals, lost in time – the kind of open-endedness I enjoy when listening to all this free improv stuff.

Tension is high. Track 2 treads carefully, making sure not to wake the sleeping giant as portrayed by the breathing sounds of the almost snoring bass. Next there’s the gentle patter of light rain or the consistent dripping of running water, followed by a flurry, a bell, panic then calm, tension and release.

The impressive relationship between the two improvisers wonderfully comes across in their synchronised ability to maintain that tension, which is wound tight and strong, before beautifully releasing everything a flurry of dissonant sounds. The approach made me think of a ship adrift in a ferocious sea, creaking, rolling, thrown from side to side – running between cabins attempting to hold on as waves break against the side, flooding the deck until calm – the aftermath – a new dawn, a strange new world, a brave new world.

Track 9 builds into a heavy wall of sound before tapering off into the distance, leaving the bass alone, swirling and rumbling into the last track with its deep and rich, meditative chanting and the constant sound of bells – in what can probably be described as Kowald actually carving the air with his bass – in what is by far the best track on the album. A mini masterpiece in itself – the end of the road, the path to truth, nirvana, enlightenment – and an overwhelming blast of noise.


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