Arrington De Dionyso, Mary Halvorson, Liturgy, Sightings, Peter Brotzmann & Pulverize The Sound

Martin Longley By

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Arrington De Dionyso's Malaikat Dan Singa
Cake Shop
May 25, 2011

When I first witnessed the singer, reedsman, guitarist and performance artist Arrington De Dionyso at The Stone, he was working as a solo act, exploring extended timbres, textured multiphonics, confrontational starkness and isolated honking eruptions. In more recent times, this Olympian (that's Olympia, in Washington) has been applying these out-there improvisational strategies to the rock 'n' roll zone, forming the Malaikat Dan Singa group and upping the volume, density and intensity considerably. I subsequently caught him at The Knitting Factory with this combo, and days before playing at the Lower East Side's Cake Shop, he was at the Issue Project Room, Brooklyn's home of experimental sounds.

We shall deem this a rock combo, in the absence of a more accurate term. The Malaikat trio nevertheless still retains copious stylistic tics that will ensnare admirers of free form jazz, as well as South East Asian musics, post-punk, noise-droning and Captain Beefheart, at home in his Trout Mask Replica (Reprise, 1969) log-cabin. On that previous Stone occasion, De Dionyso wasn't playing guitar, but it's now a central part of the Malaikat attack. Like B.B. King, De Dionyso doesn't sing at the same time as riffing. Well, not very often.

How to describe his stance? De Dionyso appeared akin to a somewhat deranged yoga instructor, throwing ceremonial shapes and singing in a deeply guttural growl that's informed by Mongolian and Tuvan throat-singing techniques. This is where Huun-Huur-Tu meets Napalm Death. After only one number, off came his shirt, and he moved, mantis-like, reaching for the Cake Shop's glow-light spangled ceiling, or striking right-angled poses with his forearms. The drums and bass were locking together in a tightly funk-rocked twitch, recalling the severe syncopations of the veteran English trio Blurt.

On this evening, when he picked up a horn, it turned out to be the bass clarinet, which was perfect as a throaty, guttural extension of De Dionyso's multiphonic vocal techniques. Gruff and ragged, he made a very voice-like sound, gobbling away at the reed, pecking, clucking and squawking deeply. Once again, images of Beefheart's Trout Mask era slammed towards the eyes. As a guitarist, De Dionyso made compact riff patterns, angular and strafing. Small melodies with a compressed nature. Serrated to kill.

To the uninformed, the leader's vocals might have sounded like some strange invented dialect, formed especially for rockin' extremity purposes. Apparently, though, he was singing in the Indonesian tongue, which kinda fit together with the Oriental bodily postures. The band-name translates as Angels And Lions. So, to marry meditational Eastern studies with an urgent punk savagery is one of the more unusual methods, even within the realms of avant rock. This was a band that made its audience dance, or at least contort, whilst remaining ultimately and gloriously inaccessible.

The Mary Halvorson Quintet
Joe's Pub
May 30, 2011

Lately, guitarist Mary Halvorson has been growing markedly more aggressive in both her soloing delivery and her choice of sonic texturing. Her array of effects pedals appears to have been multiplying, leading to greater adventures in mangling, distortion, pitch-pulling and bent metalling. Her style has been developing and evolving at high speed.

For this quintet gig, though, Halvorson chose to remain with her core sound of avant Wes Montgomery shimmering, tonally slanted sideways into a glowing refraction of the jazz tradition. The evening's repertoire premiered material destined for Halvorson's next quintet disc, set for a recording session in July. This might be why the mood of the gig was mostly cool school rather than that now-accustomed attack mode, as when caught in her own trio setting, or with new pals trumpeter Peter Evans and drummer Weasel Walter. The thrust of this quintet is directed towards compositional substance, thoughtful themes and a more sly-footed approach to innovation.

The horns were equally divided between heads and soloing activity. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon were less extroverted than would be typical for most of their appearances, particularly the latter. This was less of an ego thrill, more of a shared service to the overall responsibility of the collective music. The set was warmly negotiated, but the normally closely charged atmosphere of Joe's Pub didn't catch fire into its potential sparking intimacy. Halvorson's tunes probably desired a few more airings, so that they could relax into a greater, looser expressiveness. Once the album hits the shelves, these new pieces will have grown and developed, and subsequent quintet dates will be hotly anticipated.

The Knitting Factory
June 2, 2011

When Brooklyn black metallers Liturgy opened for The Ex at (le) Poisson Rouge a few months back, the gathered audience was relatively small. This local neighborhood show was different, being the record release celebration for their Aesthetica (2011), on Chicago's Thrill Jockey label. What can only be described as hype appears to have engulfed the combo, coupled with the controversy surrounding their upsetting of the mainline metal community with their apparent intellectualizing of the form. This is all words, to a certain extent. Simply listening to the music doesn't prompt such difficulties of definition, particularly to those prone to wide-ranging aural activities. The problem apparently lies in the attitude of main man guitarist and singer Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (not a name to avoid the wry uplifting of an eyebrow), who allegedly has a penchant for penning essays on the state of the music, when he should be perhaps out there rocking. All of this sounds like kneejerk overreaction from a closed community, but Liturgy is almost asking for the attention by deliberately flirting with the genre, at the same time as desiring the so-called sophistication of the experimental noise-monger.

Laughing all this off, perhaps what should be addressed is the fact that Hendrix's voice was, when the band chose to play songs, much too high-pitched for this deep-core unleashing of Satanic spirituality. It was a limited yowl with a raging-child frequency, fine for a few outings, but ultimately it would have been preferable for a greater ratio of instrumentals. This, when the twinned lead guitars and lone bass were rammed into colliding shapes, was when Liturgy sounded at its most powerful.

The Brooklyners also suffered from following Sightings, a trio from the same borough, who seem to just get down and subject their grind to all manner of jagged electronic doctoring without any self-consciousness. The trio's pieces gave the impression of possessing an improvised danger, even if they were, in reality, preordained. They had just the right amount of un-togetherness, teetering on the edge of fragmentation, yet capitalizing on the tensions this created. Liturgy, by comparison, offered little space to move.

Peter Brötzmann/Pulverize The Sound
Abrons Arts Center
June 8, 2011

Each year, the Vision festival bestows lifetime achievement recognition on an artist (by definition a veteran) who has made a significant mark on the free jazz landscape. For their sixteenth edition, eyes have turned to Germany, and the recipient is reed man Peter Brötzmann, surely one of the form's most extreme practitioners. This 70 year-old has always emphasized his stamina in the blurting wall-of-sound realms, but he's also partial to the occasional bout of calm reflection. When a player's core revolves around the grizzled macho howl, what happens when he becomes a septuagenarian? Brötzmann's response is to arrive straight from the airport and proceed to play three sets of music, only taking a brief break while the young Pulverize The Sound trio displayed how they doubtless hold him as one of their chief influences.

The evening's theme was one of unusual lineups. The opening quartet set featured a drummer-less combo with two bassists—William Parker and the less-expected Eric Revis—and Brötzmann partnered with equally versatile horn man Joe McPhee. Even though the front line took a predictably rugged approach, there were many instances of holding back for contemplation, with the bass back-liners becoming the front line, themselves switching responsibilities for bowing and plucking possibilities. This was an establishing motif for the night, and the following duo performance really shook the sensibilities.

Even though Brötzmann was aiming for the marathon session, the night's second set allowed him to pause in the creation of raging cries. A duo with the Chicagoan vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz was naturally spacious, although still startlingly forceful. Adasiewicz is surely the most physical vibes-striker I've ever witnessed. He's taken his technique into the furthest reaches, using his entire body to fuel the force of each rhythmic blow. His manner is highly percussive yet nimble, possessing the emphatic thrust of a bluesman, as he's stamping feet on his too-fragile-looking sustain pedal. Adasiewicz also concentrated more than most on the bowing potential of his instrument, creating an entire sequence of hovering shimmer, nudging Brötzmann towards a less burred tone.

When, finally, the German took a rest, his New York heirs rose up in a frenzy of choreographed noise, composed in a fashion that suggested the end results on an improvisation. Breathless head-banging riffs took on the light steps of precise arrangement, as trumpeter Peter Evans, bass man Tim Dahl and drummer Mike Pride made their sonic assault. Initially, Dahl's excessively distorted (and ultra-trebly) electric bass seemed a touch too thin over heavy duration, but soon the ears adapted (or were driven into submission), and the pelting machine-gunning could be heard uninhibitedly. Evans switched between pure bugle-trilling and scuffed up-close bell-chundering. The trio's set was a thrill for both the guts and the ganglia.

Call me a traditionalist, but Brötzmann's greatest ascension of the evening was his more hell-raising quintet set. He partnered with fellow reed men Ken Vandermark and Mars Williams—the latter recalled as a member of The Waitresses—amounting to a barrage of equally adept racket-sculptors. Even though this pair often transcended the sonic limits, there were several occasions when Brötzmann lurked silently to the side, only to weigh in at an opportune moment with headlong blasts that were even greater than theirs; this was not your typical septuagenarian. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love was not as astonishingly intricate as usual, here depended upon to deliver a harder, less-detailed drive to ensure the group momentum. This was Brötzmann at his more predictable, but there was no finer way in which to climax this celebratory night. Anything less would have been an anti-climax.


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