Since the turn of the millennium, improvised music has increasingly become a global phenomenon. Rather than improvising players forming inter-continental links as they have since the 1970s, they now make links across the globe, a process made easier by the advent of the world-wide web and social networking sites. If you were to draw onto a map of the world the links that connect current improv players, the end result would soon start to resemble the world-wide web itself. For example, a quartet such as SLW brings together Burkhard Beins from Germany, Lucio Capece from Argentina, Rhodri Davies from Wales and Toshimaru Nakamura from Japan.
Since the heyday of Company in the 1970s and 1980s, the nature of improvised music has made it possible for players from different cultures and backgrounds to play together, something that is not as easy in other musics. The three excellent releases below illustrate the point well.
Berlin has long been a hub of activity for improvised music, with players from across the world attracted there. Two such are Argentine-born soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Lucio Capece and UK-born tuba player Robin Hayward, both now Berlin residents. The quintet is completed by German pianist Andrea Neumann plus two more Argentineans, tenor saxophonist Sergio Merce and pianist Gabriel Paiuk. The recording dates from October 2004 at the Goëthe Institut in Buenos Aires.
The album's one 43 minute track eloquently demonstrates the universality of the language of improv; it opens with the sound of electronic clicking and a recording of running water, which together create a rhythmic framework. Hayward's tuba makes an entrance, joined by restrained sounds from the saxophones that add another layer to the developing soundscape. It is soon clear that the piece will feature a balance between instrumental sounds and electronics.
The players are all economical with their contributions, allowing sufficient space for all to be heard, with no dominant voice and the limelight shifting between them. So, delicate plucked sounds from inside a piano are contrasted with blasts of electronics that could drown the piano out but instead rapidly fade away. The overall effect resembles an ever shifting kaleidoscope with different features coming into focus and then fading again. The piece has peaks and troughs of activity and of volume, so there is never a dull moment.
The entirety makes compelling listening, having its own distinctive narrative that improves with repeated listening. But the most remarkable feature of the music is that we do not hear obvious contrasts between the Berlin players and those from Buenos Aires; the players' nationalities become irrelevant as they gel into a satisfying, unified whole.
Chip Shop Music
You can shop around but you won't find any cheaper
The curiously-named Chip Shop Music is a quartet which combines two Irish playersDavid Lacey on percussion and electronics plus Paul Vogel on electronicsand two Swedes, Erik Carlsson on percussion and Martin Küchen on saxophone. This is the quartet's second album on Homefront, following-up its eponymous release in 2007 which documented its first meeting. It was recorded in Dublin in October 2009.
Judging by the music, the band name concerns chips of the silicon rather than potato variety; it is replete with all manner of electronic sounds and treatments, blending seamlessly with the sounds of the real instruments. The other dominant sounds are of percussion, giving the album an ongoing pulse that runs through it so that the music never flags, and there are no silences or subdued periods. Kuchen's saxophone is a subtle presence, characterised by breathy washes that contribute to the overall texture.
As there is no immediately obvious geographical or cultural imperative linking Ireland and Sweden, the four players must have been attracted together for musical reasons. As a foursome, they do display great compatibility and sensitivity to each other. It is not always possible to tell who is playing, but together they build up an appealing, layered collage that is constantly shifting while retaining its coherence. Yes, Chip Shop Music is a grouping with a bright future.
The trio Cranc brings together the Welsh-born Davies siblings, Rhodri and Angharad, on electric harp and violin, with Nikos Veliotis from Greece on cello. The three first came together in 1999, when they released their only previous album, All Angels (edo, 1999). As they are all kept busy with other projects, recordings and performances by Cranc are all too rare. So it is a pleasure to welcome Copper Fields which was recorded in May 2008 in Brussels.
The music is in stark contrast to the 1999 release, a measure of the distance the three have travelled in the intervening years. It belies the fact that it was produced by three stringed instruments, sounding far more akin to electronic music. Underpinned by the electric harp, the three create a slowly-evolving soundscape composed of layers of sustained notes and drones. Its overall effect makes remarkably soothing listening, with the evolution of the drones plus occasional higher-pitched interjections commanding enough attention to prevent it becoming soporific. Simply beautiful and beguiling.
Tracks and Personnel
Berlin-Buenos Aires Quintet
Tracks: one untitled track, 43' 00."
Personnel: Andrea Neumann: inside piano; Lucio Capece: soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Sergio Merce: tenor saxophone, electronics; Robin Hayward: tuba; Gabriel Paiuk: piano.
You Can Shop Around But You Won't Find Any Cheaper
Tracks: Rules Are Rules; The Great War; An Uncast Wind.
Personnel: Erik Carlsson: percussion; Martin Küchen: saxophone; David Lacey: percussion, electronics; Paul Vogel: electronics.