August 10, 2018:
In the middle of July we received the latest from Edition Wandelweiser, the German label run by Antoine Beuger dedicated to new forms of composition, or mixing improvisation with composition, with historic cues from Cage, Feldman, Tom Johnson, &c. Three albums really stood out for me in this set, and I've spent quite a bit of time listening to them.
First is the new album from Argentinian saxophonist Sergio Merce, who uses amazing technique and control to create unique harmonic environments. My interest grows in the practitioners of this kind of playing, which I first heard in the solo work of Ned Rothenberg, but which continue into the output of musicians like Kai Fagaschinski & Michael Thieke, John McCowen, Philippe Lauzier, John Butcher, Josh Sinton, Ab Baars, &c. Having played clarinet for many years as a young man, I view the techniques with a mixture of awe and fear, concentrated and extreme examples of what a reed instrument is capable of. Merce in particular uses circular breathing techniques and saxophones keyed to microtonal scales, allowing him to create unusual harmonic interactions. Far from novelty, these are applied to slowly developing compositions, the speed allowing the listener to focus on the incredible rhythms generated between tones. I find this kind of music remarkable.
Merce, Sergio: Three Dimensions Of The Spirit (Edition Wandelweiser Records)
Conservatory trained Argentinian saxophonist Sergio Merce uses a prepared tenor sax and a microtonal sax to create rich harmonics and slowly moving tonal works, layering aberrant and alluring tones in restrained configurations that allow each stratum of sound to be distinguished and appreciated, creating mesmerizing compositions of elusive and illusionistic sound.
The other album that caught my ear is from Fluxus composer and performer Toshi Ichiyanagi, Sapporo, a 1963 composition using a graphic score and an extremely flexible framework allowing for an infinite number of interpretations in performance. This realization was recorded in the studio in 2010 with support from the Jack Straw Artist Support Program. The ensemble includes more than a dozen performers, and the instrumentation includes conventional orchestral instruments and more exotic elements including Contact Microphone, Psaltery Bow, Light Bulb, Spring, Umeboshi Pit, Shell, Resin, Glass, Marble, Button, Glass Fuses, Ring Modulator, Singing Bowls, Telephone Bells, & c. Despite the large grouping the performance never becomes burdened by layers or chaos, and the control and concentration is exemplary.
Ichiyanagi, Toshi with Eye Music: Sapporo (Edition Wandelweiser Records)
Written in 1963 for up to 15 peformers plus a conductor who may also make sound, Japanese composer and Fluxus artist Toshi Ichiyanagi's score has 16 pages marked with combinations of lines, dots and letters indicating duration, number of events, and moments of restraint, each player using a different page, with certain options of switching pages with another player during performance.
The third Wandelweiser album to catch my ear is from vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Marianne Schuppe and her album Nosongs. Apropos to the label, her songs are, on the surface, simple and with sparse accompaniment. The heart of the matter are the words themselves, beautifully descriptive and insightful, giving the listener the feeling of being in a room and realizing that someone is softly singing behind them. I find this approach delicately courageous, for her voice is laid bare with the most minimal of accompaniment, allowing any misstep to glare. But there are no missteps, her confidence is extraordinary and her use of tone and vocal control carry her music. I recommend the quietest of rooms and the absence of distraction to fully appreciate this gem.
Schuppe, Marianne: Nosongs (Edition Wandelweiser Records)
Marianne Schuppe continues to reimagine songs and their relation to tone and melody, here in a series of 11 songs realized with voice, lute, and uber bows, creating delicate accompaniment to her lucid movements between pure sound and words, singing and speaking her lyrics of succinct phrases rich in subtle intimation and evocative imagery; beautiful.
Room 40 also caught my interest with the latest from Toshimaru Nakamura, the 9th solo album of his work with the no-input mixing board. I've been fascinated with Nakamura since I first heard him on albums on the erstwhile label, and I've been fortunate to watch him perform live. Typically I've thought of his work as more ambient, using large washes of sound with little rhythmic punctuation, there's a certain glorious mellifluousness to his electronics. Not so on NIMB #9, a series of experiments that could fit on a Banned Production cassette. Which is a compliment: we carry Banned to add a wide diversity of experimental approaches in our catalog (plus it's kinda retro cool to be connected to tape culture that I've personally collected since the 80s).. Nakamura's album is not raucous, but it is very active and momentous, a clear step forward in his work with an instrument that, on the surface, should have no sonic properties of its own.
Nakamura, Toshimaru: Re-Verbed (No-Input Mixing Board 9) (Room40)
Tokyo-based electronics artist Toshimaru Nakamura's 9th album of No-Input Mixing Board music, elucidating sound from the mixing board without any audio sources, showing the amazing evolution of his approach as he turns this "empty" "instrument" into an amazing source of rhythmic and assertive sound that's both surprising and wonderfully musical.
Another CD added this week to my review in progress of Joëlle Léandre's magnificent 8-CD box set on Not Two Records, this time focused on her solo disc, CD 6. I'll continue to improve and add to this review until it is finally published as a "Heard In" item on The Squid's Ear. Because of the number of discs and my desire to write about each CD, plus spend more time editing the text, this will be a work in progress, ultimately publishing this as an independent review on The Squid's Ear. So, more to follow...
Léandre, Joëlle : A Woman's Work [8 CD BOX SET] (Not Two)
A thorough overview of bassist and vocalist Joëlle Léandre's recent work in a boxed set of 8 CDs and a 16 page booklet of essays, photos and credits, each CD bringing a unique grouping from Les Diaboliques to duos with Mat Maneri, Fred Frith, Lauren Newton, & Jean-Luc Cappozzo, plus one solo disc and a quartet with Zlatko Kaucic, Evan Parker and Augusti Fernandez; magnificent.
A disclaimer: I've long been a fan of Joëlle Léandre, and as a buyer for Squidco, always pick up any album that I see her leading or playing on. I admire her impressive skills on the double bass, both plucking and bowing, showing characteristics from the history of free jazz bass players and her own, very unique path on the instrument. And for myself, even more endearing are her vocals, very much in the vein of Phil Minton or Joane Hétu; her vocalizations are confident and strange, the two highest compliments I can give to a free improvising vocalist. She has an outstanding discography of more than 100 albums as a leader and/or in the company of some of free improvisation's finest global players. Her creative interests seems restlessly infinite, and the diversity of her projects is exemplary. But more specifically to my disclaimer: Léandre has also been a very encouraging angel for Squidco, writing to us in the most charming manner since our earliest days, thanking us for taking on the music that we sell and bringing a sense of satisfaction to me that we are part of the globally connected set of musicians that are driven to create the music we so admire.
I was excited when I saw that she had an 8-CD box set on the Polish Not Two label, a retrospective of sorts bringing a variety of settings and groups together into one magnificent package. Not Two does not disappoint, providing a sturdy box with an outer sliding sleeve jacket, inside a 16 page 10" x 5" booklet that rests over two compartments containing 4 CDs each. The booklet starts with an essay from Stuart Broomer, and a longer retrospective article on Léandre from Marciej Karlowski, plus photos, quotes and credits. Each of the CDs presents a different grouping of Léandre with other like-minded improvisers, with the exception of disc 6 which is pure Léandre solo. The groupings are: CD 1, Les Diaboliques (Léandre, Irene Schweizer, Maggie Nicols); CD 2, Léandre & Mat Maneri; CD 3, Léandre & Lauren Newton; CD 4, Léandre & Jean-Luc Cappozzo; CD 5, Léandre & Fred Frith; CD 6, Léandre solo; CD 7, Léandre in a quartet with Zlatko Kaucic, Evan Parker and Augusti Fernandez; CD 8 duos between Léandre and Zlatko Kaucic, Evan Parker and Augusti Fernandez. Most of the material was recorded in 2015 & 2016, with the Solo disc from 2005 and the Maneri duo from 2011.
The first disc of the box opens strongly with Les Diaboliques, the trio of Joëlle Léandre on bass, Irene Schweizer on piano, and Maggie Nicols on voice. "Diaboliques" or "little devils" is an apt name for this grouping, bring both superlative playing skills and a sense of mischievousness to their improvising. The trio is caught live in DOM in Moscow in 2015.
All three are masterful players, technically superb and with long histories in a variety of settings and approaches to improvised music. They are also all interested in unique approaches to improvisation, and their performances have both sophisticated and polished playing extremely balanced by unusual vocalization, inside piano playing, and eccentric bass technique. The result is exhilarating and unpredictable. The concert begins with the full trio for an extended dialog with tight interactions that take strange twists and turns, Nichols and Léandre both bringing bending notes and odd utterances over Schweizer's anchor; halfway through, the converstation takes a strange turn, breaking down to both Nichols and Léandre singing and speaking, Schweizer inevitably returning in a strong direction that takes all three players to the top of their game, Nichols closing on a sighing note. Nichols and Léandre follow with a dynamic duo, Nichols getting wilder as her voice warms, trading operatic exercises with raspy cries and odd wordless phrasing, while Léandre trades similar statements in furious bowing, powerful plucking and unusual harmonics. The performance continues in wonderfully consistent work through to the 5th piece, where Léandre and Nichols step back for a solo from Schweizer that showcases her powerful technique and nimble mind as she constructs lyrically inclined and extended statements that blend compositional and jazz phrasing in effortless ways. The concert ends with the full group uniting in a tour de force finale.