Hep to HatHut

Robert Spencer By

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James Tenney says a thought-provoking thing in the liners to this one: "I'm not interested in musical emotion... I don't have any interest in drama—in fact, I do everything I can to avoid it. I'm seeking a more basic level of perception, rather than taste and judgment. (I've done some pieces with ugly sounds. Ugly sounds can be useful too.)" And later: "[My music is] sound for the sake of perceptual insight—some kind of perceptual revelation." These violin/piano (Marc Sabat, violin; Stephen Clarke, piano) duets explicate those theses through a series of generally disconnected sounds, many of them scarcely discernable as having emanated from a violin or a piano at all. When sounds we would ordinarily classify as "musical" cut into and across "non-musical" sounds, the effect is just what Tenney seems to have intended: a certain arrest and focus of attention, a ground set for "perceptual revelation."

Franz Koglmann
O Moon My Pin-Up
hatOLOGY 566

Ezra Pound's Cantos are an enduring monument of modernist poetry, a beguiling, maddening, moving, awe-inspiring masterpiece of a mess that has fascinated me for two decades now. The most powerful segment, the Pisan Cantos, written while the mad and utterly politically deranged poet was under arrest for making pro-fascist broadcasts from Italy during World War II. The Pisans are a sprawling, bewildering, enthralling thing, and so is this musical tribute to them by Franz Koglmann with a large ensemble. It's an operatic-musical comedy-Partchian singspiel setting of some passages taken from them. Soprano Ursula Fiedler is magnificent, singing some passages with utter and unqualified beauty; her chief foil is Phil Minton as Ezra Pound himself, shouting out most of the passages from the Pisans that contain profanity (disregarding the fact that Pound himself didn't spell out these words in the poem itself, but used dashes and abbreviations.) Just as in the poem itself, there are moments here of great ugliness and magnificent, terrible beauty.

Ellery Eskelin with Andrea Parkins & Jim Black
Arcanum Moderne
hatOLOGY 588

Speaking of Ezra Pound, he is the man who observed that any note could follow any other note and be pleasing to the ears, given the proper rhythmic interval. Ellery Eskelin tests that theory on the fascinating trio disc Arcanum Moderne, which places quite free soloing above the backdrop of tasty conventional rhythmic patterns, unconventionally delivered by Andrea Parkins (accordion, piano, and sampler) and Jim Black (drums and percussion). Eskelin sounds like a cross between Joshua Redman and Evan Parker. His tenor soloing is an interesting blend of clear, sharp, melodic improvising, a la Redman, and post-Evan Parker sound explorations, which take on quite a different character here, in the context of these catchy melodies and beats, from how they appear on Parker's own discs. And that, clearly, is the idea, although there is a good helping here also of arrhythmic explorations—notably the beginning of the offbeat "Five Walls."

Loren MazzaCane Connors & Jim O'Rourke
In Bern
hatNOIR 803

Well, I was all set for a post-Ayler "Dueling Banjos," a two-guitar freak-out from a small dark room featuring peeling paint, a naked light bulb in the ceiling, a beat-up card table and framed photos of Derek Bailey and Charles Gayle, but instead what do I get? Meditative sonority and delicacy, gently building, waxing and waning and never quite stating a conventional melody—but never straying too far from one, either. "If John Cage had ever composed any country music, it would certainly have sounded like this," asserts Thierry Jousse, and he certainly has a point. This music makes as much use of silence as Cage ever did, so that the spaces in the music become practically a third partner with Connors and O'Rourke. If ever there was music capable of sobering and quieting the mind, making it susceptible to divine influences, it is the music that is created here.

Jon Lloyd
Four and Five
hatOLOGY 537

A most unusual quartet: Lloyd (alto and soprano saxophones), Stan Adler (cello), Marcio Mattos (bass), and Paul Clarvis (drums and percussion). The vibe here is something like The Gentle Side of Albert Ayler, particularly Ayler's work with violinist Michel Samson. There is a heavy string flavor to this, no set pulse (except when there is), and a great abundance of incisive saxophonics—never of the frenetic variety, but always with an atypical and piquant melodicism. Lloyd's quartet here is less conventional than his work in other settings, but at the same time, even on a smashing cover of Duke Ellington's "Take the Coltrane," it retains a deep and effective acquaintance with the great trailblazers of the form. If Coltrane or Ellington were to hear this version of their memorable collaboration from Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, would they recognize it as the natural next stage of the tradition in which they were working. I believe they would. And that they would applaud.

Maneri / Morris / Maneri
Out Right Now
hatOLOGY 561

A marvelous excursion from the overlooked master of microtones, the pitch-bending trailblazer, Joe Maneri (alto and tenor saxophones and piano), along with Joe Morris (guitar) and Joe's son Mat Maneri (violin). Six free improvisations credited to all three members of the group, as is altogether fitting and proper given the highly interactive and collaborative nature of this effort. In the liner notes Bob Blumenthal praises the "level of three-way agreement" on this disc, and that is an apposite phrase. There is some spooky uncredited vocalese here and there—apparently by Joe, since the violin and guitar are hard at work making it work, and succeeding. Shades of Coltrane's groaning on Live in Seattle, but in a much less frenzied setting. That's not to say, however, that Joe can't bring it. He can, and does. Joe Maneri is, according to Morris, "a soulful balladeer on tenor, and a crying alto player, and a mournful clarinetist. It's like smoky trio music in a modern dialect, not experimental music." Indeed.

John Law Quartet
hatOLOGY 567

The subtitle of Abacus is "Partita for piano, saxophone, bass, drums." Law has modeled this music on a baroque suite. "Baroque music is very close to me," he says in the liners. "I've been playing Bach all my life." Long ago when I was a music teacher, I used to play my students a bit of Bach and then a bit of Charlie Parker, to illustrate to them the close ties between baroque and bebop. Law's music here (with Jon Lloyd, alto and soprano saxophones, Tim Wells, bass, and Gerry Hemingway, drums & percussion) doesn't sound superficially as much like Bach and Bird did on occasion, but there is a great deal of formal similarity—most notably the structure of these seven pieces, which are taken straight from baroque forms: "Ouverture," "Courante," "Aria," "Burlesque," "Sarabande," "Gigue," and "Passacaglia." Law's playing is precise in classical fashion while never being dry or dispassionate (cf. his ringing solo on "Courante"), and these somewhat abstract explorations are enormously captivating.

John Zorn
hatOLOGY 2-580

Here it is, the great game, the immense joke, the ultra-serious experiment, the grand reverie, two hours of radio channel surfing, electronic play, multi-instrumental interaction, ringing telephones, yelling, and much, much more. It's quite a different sensibility from the Hebraic folk bebop of Zorn's Masada discs, but it has its own unique and compelling logic. Zorn and the large ensemble he has assembled here (for two discs: a studio version and a live one) mine the John Cage imperative of finding music in multitudes of "unmusical" sounds, blended with some quite conventionally "musical" ones, particularly on the live disc. Coming from someone with so cinematic a sensibility as John Zorn, it is no surprise that both of these discs are rapid-fire, cutting in and out of noise and music, of fire and cloud, of quotes of "Sentimental Journey" and groanings from the very heart of the earth. It is indeed a great game.

Billy Bang & Denis Charles
hatOLOGY 517

If Ornette Coleman could really play the violin, he would sound like Billy Bang. If a classical violinist were to pick up his instrument one day with a finely honed disregard for the walls and hedges around what he considered to be acceptable music, and to play all the pathos and grandeur and splendor and wreckage of his own soul, he would sound like Billy Bang. Are you aware of what a total gas Billy Bang is? Are you aware of the wild swinging emotionalism of his playing, the fervor, the inventiveness, the classical sense of order and the freewheeling sense of adventure? Are you aware that he is one of the most ingenious and resourceful improvisers whose recordings are available today? And then there is the vast and much-missed Denis Charles, a rhythmic wizard who proves here to be a superb foil for Bang's high-intensity string music-for-a-new-century violin explorations.

Lou Harrison
hat[now]ART 105

If you have never heard the spectacular percussion-based music of the great and nearly forgotten American master Harry Partch, you may dare to entertain a doubt or two about the melodic strength and viability of a full-length 70-minute disc performed entirely by a percussion ensemble—in this case the Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble. Doubt no more. Lou Harrison was always the most melodically acute (as well as one of the most decent and sweet as a human being) of the twentieth century's avant-garde composers, and this all-percussion disc is full of bejeweled motifs that make you forget that the players are all just banging, not sawing or blowing, even though the primary emphasis here is still on forward motion, even on a danceable rhythm, and not on melodic exploration as such. The music here was all composed between 1938 and 1942, but it sounds not a millisecond dated. Harrison's sensibilities were not of one time, but for all ages.

Matthew Shipp Duo with Mat Maneri
Gravitational Systems
hatOLOGY 530

Shipp has the stamina and high-octane improvisational skills to be an energy player in the Cecil Taylor mode, and he very often is just that. However, there is a variegation and nuance to his playing that is not so much lacking in Taylor's as it is simply different from the older master's approach. On this disc he and Mat Maneri (violin) generally set a medium pace—not "mid-tempo" because it is highly elastic and frequently transmuting, but it doesn't attempt the ferocious attack of, say, Taylor with Leroy Jenkins. There are two stimulating covers included here, "Greensleeves" and "Naima"—both associated with Coltrane although the treatment that both get here has virtually nothing to do with Coltrane's approach (a refreshing fact in light of the armies of slavish imitators that are still marching everywhere today). The rest of the disc is filled with Shipp's own compositions—oblique post-Brahmsian excursions such as "Series of Planes," sound-and-silence duets ("Landscape Harmony"). Every one is a keeper. As is this disc.

Horace Tapscott
The Dark Tree 1 & 2
hatOLOGY 2-540


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