Free Improvised Music from East to West

Mark Corroto By

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This recent batch of freely improvised music assures us that there is no shortage of imaginative and highly skilled musicians applying their craft all over the world. Even though the music is challenging to make, and sometimes listen to, it does offer great rewards to those with patience and the fortitude to submit themselves to new sounds and new ideas.

Christine Sehnaoui and Michel Waisvisz
Al Maslakh

The Lebanese label Al Maslakh produced this unusual recording by Dutch electronics master Michel Waisvisz and Lebanese saxophonist (by way of Paris) Christine Sehnaoui. That's right a label from Beirut, Al Maslakh (meaning The Slaughterhouse), has released some impressive projects. This is a collaboration recorded in 2007. Unfortunately Waisvisz, just shy of his 60th birthday, has since passed away. He plays his own creation, "the hands," an electronic interface that he places over his hands, allowing him to invoke movement into music making. His wow and flutter can build to thunderous noise or linger at sizzling points. Waisvisz, who has collaborated with the likes of Shelley Hirsch, DJ Spooky, Richard Teitelbaum, and Steve Lacy, creates sounds not unlike those of early Raymond Scott electronic experimentation, rumbling sometimes cartoonish noises. His human/electric interface via his hands dares you to guess where the man stops and the electronics begin. Paired with Sehnaoui, the sounds gel. The saxophonist is adept at the microtonal aspects of the saxophone. She produces biting, slicing notes or breathy echoey sounds from the bell of her horn. Sometimes her playing reminds you of that of Bhob Rainey or Michel Doneda. Their is a equanimity and patience to her playing that is born out of self control.

Jon Mueller and Jason Kahn
Crouton Music

Recorded during a US tour in March of 2007, Topography finds two percussionists turned sound artists constructing houses of sound for listeners to stroll in. Jon Mueller, a member of Collections Of Colonies Of Bees and Pele and collaborator with Jack Wright, Hal Rammel, and Fred Lonberg-Holm, meets his long time colleague Jason Kahn, known for his solo work and with Signal Quintet and Gunter Mueller. Each track, although slightly different, is centered in the same concept. The pair produce a consistent rumble that is amplified and altered by the unique surroundings of each concert venue. Mueller's snare drum vibrates endlessly throughout, as the pressure of the electronics arcs across the stage. These performances probably had very little to add in the visual department as the two artists creates layers and layers of sound. And yes it is percussive, but the beats are micro, such that the movement is through energy fields—not unlike those electric football tabletop games, that used vibrations to move players up and down the field.

Nicola Cipani
The Ill-Tempered Piano
Long Song

Italian pianist now living in New York, Nicola Cipani gives us one of the most joyful instant recordings this year. His choice of music making was to utilize broken and almost unrecognizable untuned pianos he found in various warehouses. Okay, better heard than read from a piece of paper (or computer screen), these sometimes cranky, sometimes otherworldly boxes of strings remind you that the piano (and a few clavichords) are percussive instruments. Things rattle, children's simple songs are plunked, parts ache, and buzz. Cipani's concept seemingly never lags, nor repeats. The tunes are all bare bone compositions, averaging only 2 minutes in length, with the longest at five minutes and the shortest, just 32 seconds. "Macrominiature" is an off balanced set of chimes and vibrating chords, "True Story" has plucked strings, while "Scemofonia" sounds like very familiar bells rung via a vibraphone. Cipani's imagination is unbounded. He sometimes plays simple songs, other times winds up a crazy player piano, as on "Outsourced Music." If the strange and the beautiful is appealing to you, don't miss this record. Tom Waits will be sampling these sounds.

Jack Wright and Alban Bailly
The Harmony of Contradictions
Sort Of

It would be too easy to label guitarist Alban Bailly the French Derek Bailey. Spelling and pronunciation aside, the Frenchman turned Philadelphia resident does though remind you of the great improvising genius. His roots in rock and Arabic music prepare listeners for nothing they will experience on this recording. He takes up with fellow Eastern Pennsylvania saxophonist Jack Wright on these eight improvised pieces. Wright's saxophone is best in tandem with other players. It is not that he cannot command the stage as a solo artist, he has a long discography of released LPs, CDs, and cassettes of this one-man shows. It's just that pairing him with another musician offers the listener and the musical partners the synchronistic effects of his genius. Jack Wright makes players better musicians, and better sound is delivered. Here, Bailly extends the possibilities of an acoustic guitar, with spitfire notes, tapping, and the sweep of fingers up and down the strings. With Wright's coaxing the two dance around each other's notes, blurts, blobs and squeaks. The duo provides plenty of differing sounds to chew on, they seemingly never repeat a sound (or noise). The missing element here is the visual. The physicality of each musician playing is evident, but a live performance or video is the only way to fully digest this endeavor.

Stephane Rives
Much Remains To Be Heard
Al Maslakh

Soprano saxophonist Stephane Rives produces the musical equivalent to literary author Cormac McCarthy's best selling novel The Road. Written in such sparse prose, readers are required to utilize their imaginations and fill in the landscape of this post-apocalyptic novel. Rives' one hour solo doesn't conjure the visual, but its spartan approach does start the imagination machine in your head. Rives purposely places large gaps of silence in this lengthy piece, focusing the mind on the music and, truthfully, allows outside sounds to enter the listening experience. His sometimes shrill saxophone pauses, and you hear the mail carrier at your front door, or maybe the refrigerator is accompanying Rives with a mechanical hum. The saxophonist invites the outside in. He dictates the pace of your listening, and each individual's consciousness counts for the outcome. The experience of this recording varies whether you listen while meditating, eating, dreaming or on the metro.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Wig Wag; Preciously Empty; Deep Sleep Revelation; The Bottom Of The Pond; Finding The Short Wave In The Dark.

Personnel: Christine Sehnaoui: alto saxophone; Michel Waisvisz: the hands.


Tracks: Middletown March 03, 2007; New York 1 March 12, 2007; New York 2 March 12, 2007; Milwaukee March 04, 2007; Boston March 08, 2007.

Personnel: Jon Mueller: Percussion, cassettes; Jason Kahn: percussion, analogue synthesizer.

The Ill-Tempered Piano

Tracks: Body Hair Rag; Princip; Macrominiature; True Story; Accent Elimination 1; Blink; Pastime; Celestino; Scemofonia; Tibidabo; Sredni Vashtar; Flimflam; Accent Elimination 2; Ear Worm; Outsourced Music; Astragalizousa; Crime Watch; The Odd Ones; The Petrarca Brothers; Self-Saluting Unit; La Deutsche Vita; Paramour; Adopt a Highway; Gentleman Cow.

Personnel: Nicola Cipani: broken and untuned pianos.

The Harmony Of Contradictions

Tracks: La folie de la raison (The madness of reason); Innocence des viellards (The innocence of old men); La beautie des laids (The beauty of the ugly); La sitation des audecieux (The hesitation of the bold); L'audacite des hesitants (Boldness of the hesitant); La laideur de la beautie (The ugliness of beauty); La viellesse de l'innocence (The antiquity of innocence); La raison de la folie (The reason for madness).

Personnel:Jack Wright: Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone; Alban Bailly: acoustic guitar.

Much Remains To Be Heard

Tracks: Much Remains To Be Heard

Personnel: Stephane Rives: soprano saxophone.

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