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Jon Raskin: Hotel Noctambulo and Live at NIR Studios


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The years 2020-2021 have been productive for saxophonist and musical innovator Jon Raskin. A long-time member of the ground breaking ensemble, Rova Saxophone Quartet, Raskin has released ten recordings over an 18 month period. A few are solo works, others are the result of remote collaborations due to the Covid19 pandemic and some are never-before-issued past sessions. Two of these albums, both duets, are discussed below. They reflect Raskin's unique brilliance and his creative range.

Jon Raskin and Mike Cooper
Hotel Noctambulo
Temescal Records

The intriguing Hotel Noctambulo is a collaboration between Jon Raskin and guitarist/bassist Mike Cooper. It was completed via file sharing during the lockdown months of 2020. Raskin plays a few other instruments in addition to alto and baritone saxophones. The title track is a stimulating and eloquent contrabass improvisation with a free flowing poetic sense. Raskin enhances the dramatic ambience with the use of small percussion instruments. He punctuates Cooper's performance with an intermittent soft rumble and rustling beats.

On "Torriform Inclusion," meanwhile, Raskin weaves a melancholic melody on baritone saxophone within an electronically enhanced, otherworldly atmosphere. The saxophone's earthy tones contrast with the metallic sound effects enveloping them. The result is a haunting piece that is simultaneously visceral and cerebral.

Similarly, "Defining a Destiny" features Cooper's ethereal acoustic guitar lines that float and shimmer. Raskin adds serene chimes and cinematic sound effects to the backdrop . The music that ensues is an eerie sonic fairytale.

Appropriately on "Weathers" Raskin recites evocatively an excerpt from Clark Coolidge's avant-garde literary masterpiece A Book Beginning What and Ending Away (Fence Books, 2011). Cooper's guitar enhances the impact of these words with longing, undulating phrases that underscore the enigmatic wisdom of the spoken word.

"Cryptic Itinerary" consists of Cooper's twangy strums and Raskin's angular autoharp chords. It is an introspective tune with a delightfully desolate vibe. The exchanges between the two artists, despite not being in real time, are captivatingly intuitive. This synergy is what makes this unusual recording so sublimely provocative.

Kanoko Nishi and Jon Raskin
Live at NIR Studios
Temescal Records

Raskin's other duo album, Live at NIR Studios pairs him with koto player Kanoko Nishi. Although it was recorded for internet radio on May 6th 2009 it was only released in July, 2021. It is the second of a series of livestream concerts Raskin performed in 2009, when such a concept was quite novel. Nishi and Raskin create exhilarating sonic swirls around one another on this poignant album. Their interactions are fiery yet tempered, otherworldly and both sophisticated yet rough-hewn.

Even though the koto is a traditional Japanese zither, Nishi's approach to it is anything but conventional. On "Map Spans" Nishi strikes and rubs her instrument's strings with passion releasing from them an innovative rhythmic framework that wraps around Raskin's wailing, honking saxophone. The ebb and flow of the spontaneous conversation wavers between contemplative and anxious. This mercurial piece ends suddenly with a delightful cliffhanger.

The taut "Chorography Stretch" opens on an urgent note with reverberating Koto strings and electronic sound effects creating restless vamps. Raskin's synthesizers build dramatic tension leading to a dizzying and haunting ambience. Within it, Raskin's short saxophone phrases and Nishi's singing koto resonate against one another with fragile poetry and mysticism. The overall feel is that of a futuristic mass.

Similar spirituality permeates other tracks on the disc. "Cartography Instance," for example, starts off with Nishi's groaning koto and Raskin's breathy staccato saxophone. Throughout this improvisation there are western classical hints and melodic fragments. Simultaneously, the tolling tones punctuate the performances with an almost Zen serenity. The chant-like saxophone lines together with the koto's drone build an eerie lullaby. The conclusion is enveloped within an entrancing quietude.

As with all of Raskin's singular oeuvre these two records are bold artistic statements that require attentive listening. They are, however, immensely rewarding, particularly when approached with an open mind and on repeated spins.

Tracks and Personnel

Hotel Noctambulo

Tracks: The Navigation Room; Defining a Destination; Cryptic Itinerary; A Futuristic Frigate Gliding; Torriform Inclusion; Paramorphoscopical Activity; Weathers; Hotel Noctambulo.

Personnel: Mike Cooper: electric guitar, bass; Jon Raskin: alto & baritone sax, voice, electronics, autoharp, and recycled percussion instruments.

Live at NIR Studios

Tracks: extent topography; cartography instance; geopolitic juncture; chorography stretch; physiographic shifts; map spans.

Personnel: Kanoko Nishi: koto; Jon Raskin: electronics, sopranino, alto, baritone saxophones



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