Thursday, May 17, 2012

Briefly Reviewed, May 2012: On Vinyl

Bassett & Lubelski at The Stone
Sunday Night - Sunday Afternoon

On Graham Lambkin's Kye imprint comes the duo of guitarist Marcia Bassett and violinist Samara Lubelski performing two sidelong improvisations. They are both doyennes of modern, open-form psychedelia; Bassett made her mark with Double Leopards and Hototogisu, while Lubelski is associated with the Tower Recordings, Metabolismus, and Hall of Fame. Though Lubelski has employed the violin as shading on a series of psych-folk records over the last few years, her main statement on the instrument remains In The Valley (Child of Microtones, 2003). Her guitar playing has its own welcoming, gauzy approach, but it's a delight to hear her stretch out with bow, strings, and pedals as she does here. Comparisons have been made to Takehisa Kosugi and to a degree that’s not too far off, though Lubelski’s wowing wails are a shade brighter and less severe. It would be a little too simple to call Sunday Night – Sunday Afternoon a drone record, though Bassett’s echoing, layered fuzz and Lubelski’s delayed and reverbed harmonic scrapes do create a canvas of tonal strata. These tones aren’t just undercurrents for a life already lived or music already played, however – they are active and incredibly nuanced, and the two instrumentalists’ uncoiled sparks play off of one another with interwoven overtones. Those overtones sometimes produce a human-like cry, but not in the sense of an Eternal Music sublime. Rather, Bassett and Lubelski revel in the natural thinness of their instruments, which encourages the music to ricochet as much as it seeks commonality. The pair creates a thorny sound environment and one that is, quite clearly, connected to the physicality of two improvisers. Ambient or drone-based music doesn’t normally evoke such strong real-time interplay, and such dynamism is central to Bassett and Lubelski’s work.


When this attractive LP arrived from Germany with a gorgeous-looking silver-embossed cover, stuck in with some out-of-print vinyl I’d bought, I had no idea who Karl Bösmann was. Eskalation appeared in 2007 on the Youdonthavetocallitmusic label (Ilya Monosov/Shining Path, Kommissar Hjuler), Bösmann’s sixth album as sole performer, alongside a series of compilation appearances and so forth. I’m still not entirely sure who he is – experimental/sound artists tend to be less big on bios than their jazz/improv counterparts – but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, because he’s clearly producing some fascinatingly bleak work. Bösmann creates these sound environments electro-acoustically using guitar, violin, contrabass, singing bowls, percussion and voice, though they’re usually altered beyond recognition. “Voice 23” is harsh, metallic throat singing, perhaps augmented by a mouth harp, and parceled out in stomach-churning drones and militaristic loops. “RRRRR” involves deep, resonant cymbal scrapes amid low and indeterminate burbles, which build into a rugged mass of feedback and cyclical cricket-machine chatter. “Medan Market Place” seems synth-driven, with variable-pitch hammering that produces a nasty glue of overtones. The lengthy title piece appears to stretch out Bösmann’s condensed obsessions from the first side into something that, while it retains an unsettled industrial texture, takes on the characteristics of inching into a hot bath. Dense, sharp, and impenetrable, Bösmann’s work is nevertheless a respectable and compelling slice of modern non-music along the lines of John Duncan, NWW, and Ghédalia Tazartès.

At Huseyins
(Sagittarius A-Star)

At Huseyin’s captures reedman Phill Musra’s cooperative in its post-Intex/post-Boston days when he, multi-instrumentalist Michael Cosmic and percussionist Huseyin Ertunç were living in LA and doing what they could to work creatively in a far-flung and often challenging environment. While the tapes regularly rolled, none of the music they made was released at the time, though Musra sells CD-Rs when he performs (not always in the best of circumstances). Limited-edition imprint Sagittarius A-Star has issued some of Musra’s new music, but this is the label’s first disc from his archives, a single-sided blue vinyl 12” containing 1991 recordings of “I Love You God” and “Creation.” In terms of palette the music is different from the Intex LPs – Cosmic sticks to keyboards, whipping between vibes, organ, guitar and kalimba-like settings, while Musra is furious and entranced on soprano. On the opening piece, Cosmic’s whorls of Twentieth Century organ music are particularly impressive and the theme has sparks of The Creator Spaces. “Creation” is fragile but captivating – the interplay between Ertunç and Cosmic builds on an array of surfaces before the keyboardist spins out an almost comically rhapsodic solo of Ra-like juxtapositions. Though brief, At Huseyin’s puts forth a convincingly offbeat impression, and makes up in honest struggle what it may lack in technical proficiency.

Ritual Inscription

Epigraph is a new label focusing on improvised music presented in Bakersfield, California and though such local/international boundaries are rapidly disappearing in some ways, it's still a good thing to spotlight certain hubs of activity. After all, this music is as much about the communities that stretch beyond the players as it is providing a context for self-reflection. Ritual Inscription is the label's first release and it consists of two sidelong pieces by the trio of percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani (Easton, PA via Japan), trumpeter Kris Tiner (Bakersfield), and guitarist Jeremy Drake (Los Angeles), totaling just over a half-hour of music. Nakatani’s relentless touring has made him a force on the American creative music scene; he frequently performs solo (with his Nakatani Gong Orchestra) and in unpredictable meetings with local improvisers. While his solo performances revel in deep, physically resonant tones brought forth from large gongs and the bows he’s invented, there’s also fleetness arising in even the sparest of settings. That’s true here, with singing bowls and metallic objects deftly and agitatedly orbiting Tiner’s bright, clarion lyricism. It’s interesting to hear Tiner in a setting as wide-open as this trio – the improvisations are busy and convulsive compared to Empty Cage’s stately rigor or the romanticism of Tin/Bag. That’s not to say the performances don’t have their subtlety, but the trumpeter’s sardonic, bluesy wail often highlights the music’s central unrest. One challenge is that in Nakatani’s work, there is a visual element that is almost untranslatable to recordings. His physical movements and the effects his body makes on a range of selected/unselected percussion is fascinating to watch. So while Ritual Inscription is a fine album, it’s well worth your time to seek out these performers in their natural habitat.

Made in Norway
(Rune Grammofon)

There really isn’t much out there like the Scorch Trio. Founded in 2002 by Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim and the Norwegian rhythm section of bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, the unit has waxed six albums in the last decade. While free-fusion groups aren’t exactly a new concept – early jazz-rock was pretty far-out – Scorch Trio clothe their technicality in an utter lack of bullshit, and the focus is on spontaneous growth rather than a hyper-masculine wall of racket (though that’s certainly possible, too). One can’t really call them a Scandinavian ensemble any more – Björkenheim lives in New York, Flåten makes his home in Austin, TX, while Chicago drummer Frank Rosaly came in after Nilssen-Love left in 2010. On the double-vinyl set Made in Norway, the group’s already strong connection to Chicago is solidified by adding reedman Mars Williams to the mix on seven improvisations recorded live in Oslo and Bergen.

I’m not sure whether it’s longevity or the introduction of Rosaly and Williams (or the immediacy of a live setting), but Made in Norway strips away the full-bore nature of some of Scorch Trio’s previous work into hushed, tense telepathy, Björkenheim working through dense rockish scales with rounded detail on “Loos” as electric bass and percussion stir up an elegant mass. Even when the guitarist unravels upper-register peals, they are in concert with the ensemble rather than chopsy power-plays. For as throaty and exuberant an improviser as Williams is, what comes to the fore on Made in Norway is his presence as a deep listener – his soprano and tenor snake their way into the burbling Latinate groove of “Oslo” (a beautiful example) or hoarsely accent microscopic wails and terse, coiled shades as “Genber” begins threading its way into one’s consciousness. A heel-digging stomp has subtly emerged by the time spit and sweat fly on the latter piece, Björkenheim’s coagulants and Williams’ burred tone yoked to fuzz bass and Rosaly’s kaleidoscopic pulse. But even amid this electrified swirl, snatches of “Lonely Woman” render the current visibly pathos-laden. There’s a little bit of feeling one another out on the closing “Bergen,” but the warped anthem that Williams and Bjorkenheim allude to is gorgeous (if perhaps too briefly used). Made in Norway is a rewarding meeting between four world-class improvisers, and hopefully the die for further collaborations has been cast.

Psycho Predictions
(88 Records)

French percussionist/composer Jacques Thollot may have set the bar for the “drummer’s solo album” insanely high, creating an electronic and acoustic sound environment that explores compositional detail, chops and whimsy in 1971’s Quand Le Son Devient Aigu, Jeter le Girafe a la Mer (Futura). Ches Smith’s Congs For Brums is a decidedly less manic solo effort than the Thollot LP, but the Brooklyn-via-Bay Area percussionist and composer is mining a similarly curious seam. Psycho Predictions is Smith’s third album under this moniker, alongside work with guitarists Mary Halvorson and Marc Ribot, saxophonists Tim Berne and Darius Jones, and bassists Trevor Dunn and Devon Hoff (Good for Cows). Psycho Predictions consists of a three-part suite for drum set, gongs, bells, vibraphone, electronics and mini keyboard, all performed in real time.

Often, it seems like Smith’s MO is ensemble subterfuge; sure, he swings hard and pushes group interaction to a high level, but that comes with a degree of picking apart time and units on his own terms. While there’s certainly a lot going on within Congs for Brums’ music, it’s an equally patient and ultimately captivating affair – the opening “Death Chart” and its flayed keyboard blocks and thrashing backbeats echo Talibam! at first, but oppressively slowed down. Smith varies the pace and superimposes tumbling fills and quirky, childlike melodies, somehow keeping the whole thing in a relatable orbit. “Birth Chart” begins minimally with a simple keyboard progression and repeating vibraphone cells; Smith moves to mallets and toms with a clear, sashaying elaboration, occasionally accenting with hi-hat splashes. By the composition’s close, the original focus has been obliterated by sharp flourishes and plugged-in clunks, but as he works toward ancillary sonic obsessions, these newly introduced fragments are handled with tunefulness and economy. The closing “Conclusion: That’s Life” ties together thin electronic bloops and dives with clattering, agitated rhythm in a sweaty improvisation, maintaining a tenuous link between noise and concentrated, particulate elaboration. Midway through the piece, Smith’s ornamental phrases atop a haranguing electronic beat are wonderfully striking, if soon supplanted by a brash swing. Psychotic Predictions is a very special record of orchestrated solo music from one of this music's most intriguing young improvisers.

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