With its third batch of releases, Another Timbre reinforces the impression created by the first two batchesthis is a label whose every release is likely to surprise and delight the listener, a label that is documenting improvised music's journey into interesting new territory. Although this latest batch does not yet see the release of the mouth-watering John Tilbury disc of piano works by John Cage and Fluxus composer Terry Jennings, in different ways the three discs here are all just as worthy of attention.
Sebastian Lexer / Seymour Wright
This is an exciting release, and one which shows that Another Timbre is a savvy label, with its finger on the pulse. Pianist Sebastian Lexer and alto saxophonist Seymour Wright are two of the new generation of improvisers who have captivated London in recent years. Both are members of 9!, the ensemble that emerged from percussionist Eddie Prevost's regular improvisation workshops which have been running since 1999. Lexer and Wright have other AMM connections too: Lexer has had John Tilbury as a piano teacher (Lexer also participates in that forthcoming Tilbury album, providing electronics) while Wright has recorded live with guitarist Keith Rowe. Hence, the emergence of this new generation feels as if the baton is being passed forward to them.
Certainly, Lexer and Wright show every sign of having learnt from the very best. Both exhibit great restraint and empathy; it seems vitally important to both of them that each note is correctly placed and of the right duration and tone. Lexer often plays inside the piano and also uses computer technology to augment the sound of the instrument, producing sounds like conventional piano alongside those that could just be electronically produced. The greatest compliment to his playing is that he sounds like a pupil of Tilbury's.
Quoting Steve Lacy, Wright has spoken of his own saxophone technique as "grappling with the saxophone". He certainly does not display straightforward conventional technique, but instead problematises this area of his playing. The end results combine well with Lexer's playing, producing music that has its own satisfying logic and coherence, surely a test that we should expect any music to pass.
Intriguingly, a future Another Timbre release will feature a trio including Wright and trumpeter Jamie Coleman, another member of 9!. On this evidence, that will be worth checking out.
By way of contrast, Two by Toot features three long-established improvisers who have been together for over a decade; their first album, One, was released in 2005 on the Norwegian label Sofa. Two was recorded at concerts in Austria in 2005 and in Germany in 2008, allowing the listener the opportunity to hear how those three years affected the threesome's music and interactions. The three ingredients of the triovoice, trumpet and synthesiserare not an obvious combination but given that all three players listen well and react appropriately, they make it work and sound natural.
Vocalist extraordinaire Phil Minton is the elder statesman here and, although his gymnastics are more restrained than on his own solo recordings, they are as delightful as ever. His contributions complement Axel Dorner's trumpet and Thomas Lehn's synth, often seeming to imitate them thus setting up a form of call and response as one imitates the other and so forth. Minton often breaks out of such cycles by employing his renowned surreal utterances. Much of the time, one of the three is to the fore; occasional crescendos when all three play together for a prolonged period are made all the more thrilling by their scarcity.
This trio plays the type of improv that, it is now tempting to call "good, old-fashioned improv". As wonderful as it ever was.
Alfredo Costa Monteiro
Centre of Mass
Another Timbre Byways
The third release sees the debut of a new imprint, Another Timbre Byways, which will release limited edition CD-Rs featuring less well-known musicians. This inaugural release sets a high standard for others to follow. Barcelona-based sound artist Alfredo Costa Monteiro is already well known enough to have appeared at the Atlantic Waves festival, to have accumulated a smallish discography and to have his own Wikepedia entry. He has previously released recordings of "paper music" and "rubber music".
Here he delivers a prolonged (over 32 minutes) drone piece as good as any you'll have heard this past year. Monteiro has used the phrase "soft noise music" to describe his music, and it is apt here as the listener is not overwhelmed by its volume but captivated by its form and structure. Underlying everything is a persistent low frequency droneat times reminiscent of a didgeridoothat provides a solid foundation on which to build, as well as setting the nerves jangling. Monteiro overlays the drone with sounds obtained from exciting a cymbal, a process which, in his hands, yields an inconceivably broad range of sounds, enough to create a constantly varying and fascinating soundscape, one that makes riveting listening. Monteiro is one to watch. And so, of course, is Another Timbre. Roll on 2009.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Blase_37:18; Blase_ 25:34.
Personnel: Sebastian Lexer: piano; Seymour Wright: alto saxophone.
Tracks: Ling; Kla.
Personnel: Axel Dorner: trumpet; Thomas Lehn: analogue synthesiser; Phil Minton: voice.
Centre of Mass
Tracks: Centre of Mass.
Personnel: Alfredo Costa Monteiro: cymbal, resonant objects.