The Anglo-German improvising trio Konk Pack climaxed their epic US tour with a pair of New York City dates. They had already taken their extremist electroacoustic abstractions to far Knoxville and Kansas City, ending up performing at two of NYC's finest experimental haunts.
Konk Pack boasts a line-up that springs from diverse quarters, combining to make a gloriously intuitive barrage of sounds, both soft and savage. They've been together for 13 years, facilitating empathy without banishing unpredictability. To witness both of these gigs was to marvel at a band revealing completely different aspects of their ongoing vocabulary.
Tim Hodgkinson is the most well-known member, at least around European parts. He was a founder of the 1970s English band Henry Cow, which was deeply embroiled in semi-prog rock capering, flighty jazz improvisation, moderne classical prancing and controlled guttural noise-sculpting. These descriptions just about cover their areas of activity, if falling short of capturing the ever-changing ratios between those forms. In Konk Pack, Hodgkinson's main instrument is a small lap steel guitar, played on tabletop, surrounded by a modest selection of stroking and tapping implements. Periodically, he'll choose to pick up his clarinet.
Another Londoner is the drummer and percussionist Roger Turner. Not so renowned as Hodgkinson, but certainly one of the most imaginative and distinctive sticksmen around the globe. As with Hodgkinson, Turner was keeping his kit down to a minimum of objects beyond the basic drum set, to ease travelling hassles. Even less well-known outside Germany is analogue EMS synthesiser player Thomas Lehn, whose set-up harks back to old school 1970s knob-twiddling, with plugged-in keyboard for added immediacy.
Although once rooted in jazz improvisation, and still allied with the English methods of free playing, Konk Pack is presently removed into the industrial zone, paying particular attention to metal-stressing, volume extremities, electroacoustic battling and sheer noise sculpting. It's a sub-section of the European improvising tradition, and a combination sound that's less familiar in the States.
Konk Pack's major tactic is the periodically jarring cut between a hugely aggressive onslaught and then stretches of immense sensitivity. Its effectiveness depends on where the listener is seated. To the left Lehn-ing side of The Stone, the synthesizer was rearing up to an impossibly extreme level, tending to overcome the drums and guitar. This was no disadvantage, though. Reports emerged afterward that Hodgkinson was equally dominant over on the right hand side of the room. As the music feels very environmental in nature, it seems fitting that the subjective experience of the sound-balance should shift according to audience placement.
Hodgkinson's string-doctoring isn't as elaborateor as stylistically distinctive as his old band mate Fred Frith's techniques. He adopts a more direct attitude, visceral, clanging, scraping, stroking with comb, brush and small spatulas. Turner was alternating between tiny squealing flicks and sudden full-kit detonations, possessed of a striking violence that would surprise every time. It was his delicate work that capitalized on such instrumentation the most when the music was in its sparse state. Lehn managed to cut out (or even blow up) the left speaker, putting so much force into his playing the there was fear for the stability and intactness of his gear. His quaking physical vigor was translated into a rupturing wall of electronic oppression.
The set at The Stone contained all the elements that are desired in improvisation, keeping down to a relatively curtailed time-frame, but loading the single piece up with excessive excitement as well as a soothing contemplation. Detail abounded, ramming overcame.
Following a swift jaunt to Philadelphia, the trio returned to NYC for a tour-ending gig at Roulette, down at the Canal Street end of SoHo. Here they were augmented by local singer Shelley Hirsch, who at once slid into the Konk Pack subjective universe, and also maybe succeeded in altering the nature of the ensemble's flow. The program was being filmed, and the sound system was more controlled and contained. This time, every detail of the improvising was clearly limned. There were certain junctures where intensity was magnified into a rush of simultaneous incendiary gouting, but there were also many more opportunities for a multi-textured soundscape to evolve.
With Hodgkinson and Lehn now marshalled into a more sensible volume curve, it was Turner who was now allowed to kick out as the potentially loudest bringer of outbursts. He was industriously scraping metal edges across his snare drum, or sawing stingingly at polystyrene, but when the notion caught him, he would erupt with unexpected clumps of heavy hitting.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.