Flying over the Grand Canyon on your way to Las Vegas is one way to see that huge gash in the earth, and standing on the banks of the Colorado River is another. From one perspective depth cannot be appreciated, from the other the enormity of it all. Such is the case with modern improvised music. Listeners often maneuver in the dark, catching a glimpse here and a glance there, but to take in the enormity of it is quite impossible.
The compiled list below details the some of the best music releases from the first half of 2012. Disclaimer alert: it is the tip of the musical iceberg and certainly subject to argument, and change, by year's end. With that in mind, here goes:
Rodrigo Amado/Motion Trio Burning Live At Jazz AO Centro (JACC)
Myra Melford/ Mark Dresser/ Mat Wilson/ Trio M The Guest House (Enja) Zanussi Thirteen Live (Moserobie) Wibutee Sweet Mental (Sonne Disk) Federico Ughi Songs For Four Cities (Skycap)
The Thing/ Neneh Cherry The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)
Aram Shelton Quartet Everything For Somebody (Singlespeed)
Elliot Sharp Trio Aggregat (Clean Feed)
Ivo Perelman The Foreign Legion (Leo)
Eivind Opsvik Overseas IV (Loyal Label)
New Zion Trio Fight Against Babylon (Veal Records)
Joe McPhee/ Ingebrigt Haker Flaten Brooklyn DNA (Clean Feed)
Steve Lehman Trio Dialect Fluorescent (Pi)
Jonas Kullhammar/Aalberg/Zetterberg Basement Sessions Vol. 1 (Clean Feed)
Mats Gustafsson/Fire! w/Oren Ambarchi In The MouthA Hand (RuneGrammofon)
Harris Eisenstadt Canada Day III (Songlines)
Zeno De Rossi/Stefano/Gallo/GuanoPadano 2 (Tremoloa Records)
Ravi Coltrane Spirit Fiction (Blue Note)
Peter Brotzmann/ Jörg Fischer Live In Wiesbaden (Not Two)
Daniel Menche Guts (Mego)
Animation Agemo (Rare Noise)
Angles 8 By Way Of Deception/ Live In Ljubljana (Clean Feed)
Sometimes, the best way to experience the canyon is to take it at your own pace, step- by-step, looking no further than the bird on the ledge and the rock underfoot. Such is the exploration of creative musics.
The Italian/Swiss guitarist and sound composer Luigi Archetti moves at a glacial pace, creating his hybrid sound that is part drone and part musique concrète, a sort of ambient sculpture. He builds, ever so slowly, upon field recordings, microtones, and sometimes noise that turns more inward than out. This double-CD follows the original null (die Schachtel, 2009) and builds nearly 140 minutes of sound over two discs. Archetti, a guitarist, forms some sound here from his strings, as he did on the Low Tide Digital series (Rune Grammofon) with cellist Bo Wiget. Others are found sounds, but mostly his acoustic interventions, coupled with electronics are slow motioned meditations. Nothing happens and yes, everything happens. He casts a spell with his sly ornamentations. The gifts here, laid out in 20 tracks, are the ever so slight variations, the unhurried sounds (sometimes punctuated with noise) that offer reflection on sound itself.
Those who believe hip-hop is a large and growing dead zone in the musical oceans because its toxicity kills creativity and innovation in service to fashion, might want to listen to Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto
's bands and keyboard player Jason Linder who is at home in a traditional piano trio format, and an accomplished big band leader. Prieto, who was granted the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2011, draws from an extensive repertory of sounds for this outing. He can ooze funk, shift to Cuban drumming, swing jazz, batter hip-hop beat, or keep African time.
Recorded in studio, the trio instantly creates varying landscapes, pairing music with spoken and sung poetry, sometimes wordless. Linder, Prieto, and Kokai keep a mixed bag of rhythms, harmonies, and differing constructions making this project interesting throughout.
Large improvising ensembles, like the 21-piece Royal Improvisers Orchestra, are as much about theater as music. Heard here on the inaugural release from Riot Improv records, the five tracks by this orchestra vary from a sort of primal scream to Anthony Braxton
's Cobra music and Butch Morris' Conductions, each piece is conducted by a different musician and the results point in differing directions. The opening "Collective Improvisation" threatens to walk down a classical music path, rotating a swirling cauldron of energy, including Alfredo Genovesi's electric guitar and a generous portion of electronics. The tension releases with a cacophony of laughing and barking voices. The disc ends with a guest appearance by the legend Han Bennink
A brief statement at just shy of 29-minutes of music, the quartet of Xavier Charles (clarinet), Jean-Philippe Gross (electro-acoustic devices), Franz Hautzinge (quartertone trumpet) and Lionel Marchetti (Revox B77 and shortwaves) creates a very onomatopoeia sounding recoding in TSSTT!. The four (sometimes) minimalist improvisers provide a tempered bill of fare here. Charles and Hautzinger's clarinet and trumpet are equally balanced with the electronics of Gross and Marchetti. The opening track acts as a tuning radio with sounds crossing in-and-out of the perception, followed by slices of sound energy that are splashed in to the mix sci-fi movie style. While the four are stoic tone generators, they also elicit some playful sound. Meticulously recorded, each gesture, breath, nod and spark surround the ears.
If as they say, "writing about music is akin to dancing about architecture," then what is performing music about architecture akin to? Drawing? Maybe.
Sound artists Thomas Tilly (field recordings) and organist Jean-Luc Guionnet capture an environment of sound in the Cathedral of St Pierre in Poitiers, France by way of organ drone and sine wave generation. The sound sculpture these artists create (capture?) are the unique features of a 12th century Roman Catholic cathedral. They set about measuring columns and recording the interplay between the organ as a tone generator and white noise as it circles and bounces off the great stones of the immense space. The pair went about mapping the familiar other worldly experience of these colossal houses of worship. Their recordings of the exchange between organ tones and white noise was then taken to a studio and mixed with their field recordings of the air flow within St Pierre. Like all recordings, be they at the Village Vanguard or a concert hall, the space must be considered by the engineers. When the space becomes an equal partner in the performance, the balance shifts toward it as the headliner.
With all due respect to younger generations and our brave new digital world, there is still something important about the wrapper music comes in. Once called "an album" (as in a scrapbook or photograph collection), the LP/CD cover and its information should be part of the musical experience. That said, it is difficult to separate the cover photo and liner notes of Watch The Walls Instead from the music created by the trio of Giacomo Merega (electric bass), Noah Kaplan (saxophones) and Marco Cappelli (guitars), plus guests. The cover, a photograph (by Monia Lippi) of what? A moment when a human form strolls, not unlike the famed Bigfoot footage, into the woods. The mood the trio invokes is a doleful often sulky sound of meandering form. Guest Anthony Coleman sits in on seven tracks, dribbling and bouncing notes against the liquidized saxophone tones of Kaplan and the bobbing electric notes of Merega. Where are we? Clues are found in the partial science fiction short story liner notes of Sparrow. Planet Zelurion or Earth? Perhaps when the trio grows to quintet, with violinist Mauro Pagani the answer is clearer. The sounds of Cappelli and Pagani's echoey eeriness delivering us into the great quiet of deep and very dark space.
Small big bands are the musical equivalent to first responders. A 10-piece outfit like Positive Catastrophe is equipped to face any challenge with percussionists, electric bass and guitar, saxophones and even accordion and French horn. The invention of cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum
's "Ascent" into a blues based blowing device for saxophones. It's multiple lines of sound approach Coltrane with his late period explorations sorted out.
The band covers the four-part title track, commissioned by Chamber Music America. In this setting the party band that opens the disc is quieted (well, toned down) for the complexity of the percussionist's composition. Tight, restrained swing is the order of the day. Positive Catastrophe delivers music that is raggedly concise, and that is not an oxymoron.
's The Rub And Spare Change (ECM, 2010), Bruno Chevillon's Old And Inwise (Clean Feed, 2011) and Carvalhais' Nebulosa (Clean Feed, 2010). But of those who came for Berne, most stayed tuned into the bassist's sound. His second outing finds him in company of his trio of pianist Gabriel Pinto and drummer Mário Costa, plus violinist Dominique Pifarély and soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien.
Carvalhais chooses to pursue a very modern sound, distinct from straight melody and yet flowing with consequences. The quintet forms and reforms into quartets, trios, duos and solos. He seems much more concerned with the maintenance of theme than melodies. That said, Particula is bound together by a constant energy. On "Generator" it's the lift-off of Parisien's saxophone flight. "Capsule" finds the melding of synthesizer with violin and bits of controlled tumult. Carvalhais is a master of keeping open forms somehow fettered, harnessing freedom for his own purposes.
played the Five Spot 50-plus years ago. You might read about the arguments, even fistfights over his music. But, listening now it's quite another thing to grasp the tenants of the contretemps over what would eventually be called harmolodics. Maybe spinning the disc by Iranian/American saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh
will conjure the feeling of Ornette's impact. The melding of his Iranian dastgah heritage with jazz heard on Post-Chromodal Out! exposes listeners to Persian tunings and a sound not unlike that of Coleman.
Comprised of two suites "Welt Facets" by Modirzadeh and "Wolf And Warp" by James Norton, the music allows the differing intervals of Western jazz and Persian tones to coexist. He recruited pianist Vijay Iyer
to play a radically re-tuned piano, plus Iraqi trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, whom he co-led the Radif Suite (Pi Recordings, 2010) to execute this sound. It is one thing to embrace fusion, but this is another concept, one familiar to John Coltrane
admirers. Modirzadeh embraces non-Western sounds drawing from Iran, Iraq, Filipino, and yes jazz without watering down or resorting to rock fusion. The result is at first strange to the Western listener's ear, but then as comforting as Coltrane in India, or Coleman's flight to Morocco.
would be guitarist Jimi Hendrix, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten would be John Entwistle, and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love is a shoe in for Keith Moon. Sadly, there are no limousines and Lear jets to trash, but the free jazz trio is as close as we get to raucous royalty.
Following its backing singer Neneh Cherry on The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Superjazz, 2012) the band invited bassist Barry Guy
to collaborate on this double LP limited edition release. Recorded at the Saint Catherine's Church in Vilnius, Lithuania in 2011, the 11 tracks feature the ever eruptive saxophone styling of Gustafsson. His boiling acrobatics are part Albert Ayler
and part strong-man competition. He has recorded several dates with Guy for Okka and Maya record and in his London Jazz Composer's Orchestra. Here the unique draw is two basses. Guy and Flaten trade off bowed for plucked sounds. The energy rarely lags, even in the quieter moments. The glue here is drummer Nilssen-Love, who has developed a signature sound that, at times has the potential for implosion. He gives off the impression that he's barely in control of his sticks. This abandon, coupled with the keen interplay of Gustafsson, Flaten and guest Guy set the twilight reeling.
Hairybones: Peter Brotzmann/ Toshinori Kondo/ Massimo Pupillo/ Paal Nilssen-Love
is certainly futile. We humans can only help to contain him.
Apparently one of the few ways to match the energy produced by the great man is to plug-in. With the band Hairybones, this is accomplished by trumpeter Toshinori Kondo utilizing electronic processing, bassist Massimo Pupillo wielding an electric bass and the Brotzmann's batterie of choice these days, Paal Nilssen-Love muscling up on his kit. Recorded live at Jazz em Agosto in Lisbon 2011 this marks the third release for the Hairybones outfit following their self-titled 2009 Okka Records debut and the limited release Hairy Bones At Fresnes (Bro Records, 2009).
Brotzmann and Kondo collaborated in his Die Like A Dog quartet (with William Parker and Hamid Drake) and Pupillo, of the Italian avant jazz/rock trio Zu, is also a frequent collaborator. Here the energy rarely lags, and when it does you might hear Brotzmann wrestling his Bb clarinet or tarogato. Nilssen-Love at the ready with brushes, anticipating the (wait for it) rush of sound. An exhausting 53-minutes.
Tracks: Air Volume; For Standing Waves; Disturbances; Close; Bells; Architectural Remains.
Personnel: Thomas Tilly: measurements, recordings, composition; Jean-Lus Guionnet: measurements, organ.
Watch the Walls Instead
Tracks: White With Clouds; Blue On Blue; Still Yellow; Absence of Color; Too Much Light to Tell; Metal or Wood; A Picture, You Blinked; Patterns On the Glass; Tentative Light; Things We Used to Know; Forgotten Corners; Some Wind and Voices.
Personnel: Giacomo Merega: electric bass; Noah Kaplan: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Marco Cappelli: guitars; Anthony Coleman: piano; Mauro Pagani: violin.
Dibrujo, Dibrujo, Dibrujo...
Tracks: Cafe Negro Sin Azucar; Garrison Ascending; Lessons Leanred from Seafaring Tales; It's Eternally; Perhaps the Artist was a Little Mad; Wolves and Blizzards; Dibrujo One; Deebrojo Two; Debruhoe Three; Dibroojoh Four.
Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn (1); Abraham Gomez-Delgado: percussion, vocals (4,9); Kamala Sankaram: accordion, vocals (2-6); Mark Taylor: French horn; Reut Regev: trombone; Matt Bauder: tenor saxophone; Michael Attias: baritone saxophone; Pete Fitzpatrick: electric guitar, vocals (5); Alvaro Benavides: electric bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.
Personnel: Hugo Carvalhais: bass; Dominique Pifarély: violin; Emile Parisien: soprano saxophone; Gabriel Pinto: piano; Mário Costa: drums.
Tracks: Weft Facets: Facet Thirteen; Facet Fourteen; Facet Fifteen; Interlude I; Facet Sixteen; Facet Seventeen; Facet Eighteen; Interlude II; Facet Nineteen; Facet Twenty; Facet Twenty One; Facet Twenty Two; Interlude III: Facet Twenty Three; Facet Twenty Four; Interlude IV; Facet Twenty Five/Reprise; Wolf & Warp: Wolf One; Wolf Two Piano Solo; Wolf Two Ensemble; Wolf Two Bass Solo; Wolf Three Ensemble; Wolf Three Drum Solo; Wolf Four; Wolf Five Part One; Wolf Five Part Two; Wolf Six; Wolf Seven.
Personnel: Hafez Modirzadah: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Amir Elsaffar: trumpet; Vijay Iyer: piano; Ken Filiano: bass; Royal Hartigan: drums; Danongan Kalanduyan: Filipino kulintang; Faraz Miniiei: Persian santur; Timothy Volpicella: electric guitar.