Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Briefly Reviewed, Installment #1

Okay, we'll see how this goes. Reviews will probably go up every two weeks or so, maybe more often. The first batch might look like I'm cleaning off my desk and, well, that's sort of true - but make no mistake, just because something is several months old and hasn't been placed elsewhere doesn't mean it isn't quite good. Short reviews, no pictures - knock yourselves out!

STEFAN KEUNE / HANS SCHNEIDER / ACHIM KRAAMER
No Comment
(FMP)

Critics usually divide European free improvisation into aesthetic nationalities (or, worse yet, national aesthetics). The British chirp and twitter sans pulse; the Dutch are the jokers; and the Germans elicit a workmanlike bellow. Of course that’s incomplete – just because German saxophonist Stefan Keune works with the UK’s Emanem “crowd” (John Russell, Roger Turner, Phil Minton) doesn’t mean he’s a micro-improviser. Rather, his sputtering, squirrely alto and sopranino unfurl rather nicely in waves of giddy, material activity on No Comment, in constant conversation with bassist Hans Schneider and drummer Achim Kraamer (their second disc together). Certainly the trio can work small sounds with the best of ‘em, and the interludes of high string harmonics and tiny reed flutter are interesting sidesteps within a greater, admittedly hyperactive energy flow. Least convincing is Keune’s work on baritone, which seems more like a huff-and-puff aside; fitting that horn into the trio’s shifting burble-and-scrape would be a feat indeed. This is a good record of rather unhinged and high-octane improvisation, made interesting by the fact that the trio’s sonic particles retain individuality rather than gobbing together.

CHRISTIAN MUNTHE
The Backside Suite
ANDERS DAHL & CHRISTIAN MUNTHE
Several Kinds of Ground
(Tyyfus)

This pair of Tyyfus CDs marks the first time in a little while that Swedish guitarist Christian Munthe’s music has surfaced in anything more than a highly limited edition. Not that there isn’t a reason for Munthe’s being somewhat out of the limelight; he is a philosopher and professor at the University of Gothenburg. As an acoustic guitarist and improviser, the specter of Derek Bailey could loom large. But Munthe is a bit more impetuous and isolated, in the grand Swedish tradition of winking extremism. The Backside Suite, as one might (or might not) expect, features Munthe assaulting the back of his arch top acoustic with hands, mouth, teeth, glass, plastic, and the like. It’s not without precedent – his loud, repetitive scrapings recall an empiricist Han Bennink whirling branches and gurgling in a Black Forest brook on Schwarzwaldfahrt (FMP, 1977). His vocal kisses and blurts, as they mate with slick wood, are especially bizarre. Sometimes wearing on the ears, the disc (and this approach of Munthe’s) is hard to ignore and best taken in bits and pieces. But playing the guitar as it was originally built isn’t out of the question; Several Kinds of Ground joins Munthe and electronics artist Anders Dahl in a program of ten duets, alternately sparse and combative. Here, one can get a clearer idea of Munthe’s approach to the six-string, which doesn’t follow nearly the same rhythmic structures as Bailey, much less John Russell. Alternative tunings meet with repetitive impulses and a wandering, no-mind cadence that could itself be distracting, save for the sheer obstinateness that imbues his playing. Dahl’s no-input mixer, laptop, and assorted rattle occupies the same aural space without being especially conversational, more often a parallel entity or shrill subversion in a dissonantly compelling environment.

PENS
Hey Friend What You Doing?
(De Stijl)

Though the aim of this blog has, clearly, been to present blurbs about jazz and new music, it’s not to say that something else will creep in and have an effect on your host’s ears. Hey Friend What You Doing is one of those records, the first full-length release by the English trio Pens. It’s not surprising that Pens might turn some heads, considering the status and quality of stateside peers like Times New Viking and No Age – bands that, in the ’90s, we would have called “lo-fi” or just plain “indie rock” (because there wasn’t much independent that sounded ‘polished’ at the time); it now gets the term “shit-gaze.” Relying on (a) cheap keyboard, guitar, drumset and vocals, Pens mostly sound like they were weaned on Eric’s Trip and Sebadoh records (the good ones) with an affection for the accidental harmonies of any number of late 70s DIY scum-wave outfits. The whole thing sounds like it was recorded in a cardboard room with shorting equipment and borrowed riffs, but their enthusiasm, brightness and conviction come through brilliantly. Supporting bands like the reunited Slits in the UK, one can hope they make a direct stab stateside.

OLAF RUPP / MARINO PLIKAS / MICHAEL WERTMÜLLER
Too Much Is Not Enough
(FMP)

I didn’t know German guitarist Olaf Rupp’s music before the solo CD Whiteout (FMP, 2009) arrived at my doorstep. He’s only recently come back to plugging in, though he’s been on the scene for about fifteen years. Along with a handful of really interesting new-music guitarists who cross the borders between experimental rock and free-jazz, with this group the improvisational power trio has come full circle. Too Much Is Not Enough is about as sparse as you would imagine – which is to say, only occasionally – Pliakas and Wertmüller’s electric bass and drums also being the massive sound-rhythm stew that Brötzmann has preferred on occasion. Solo, Rupp has a warmer and almost bluesy quality, albeit fractured and weird as all hell. His fingering technique creates stammers across bar-lines, expansive jitters that approximate circular breathing, though for the most part the upper register is avoided. Bass and drums pummel and feed-back, echoing the cover’s gray and black hues. The group’s vision casts a wide, but flat angle: constant jaggedness merges together into closely-valued hues, nuances popping out but the whole of greater import. Olaf Rupp is clearly a guitarist worth paying attention to.

TONY WILSON SEXTET
The People Look like Flowers at Last
(Drip Audio)

Guitarist Tony Wilson, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff are at the center of the seamless executions of this Canadian sextet, which – in a nod to more than a few Brit-jazz albums of yore – centers on a curious and mostly open-form recasting of Benjamin Britten’s “Lachrymae.” Lee is a dervish on the cello, and it’s not hard for her to steal the improvisational show, burning triple-stops and ponticello maneuvers balanced with about as perfectly poised a classical tone as could be hoped-for.  Wilson is a flinty-toned player, embracing a sort of “dirty” arranger’s guitar that while frequently taking a spatial backseat, nevertheless spikes and prods the ensemble. Wilson’s own tunes wrap tight tenor/trumpet/cello lines in a steely atmosphere, recalling Graham Collier on the title tune (with trumpeter Kevin Elaschuk as Harry Beckett; Dave Say is on reeds). The leader dogs worried phrases in “Let the Monkeys Dance,” a guitar-drums duo that, while brief, evidences wiry preparations and a freer world well beyond the arrangements’ breathtaking largesse.

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