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Biliana Voutchkova / Michael Thieke: Blurred Music (elsewhere)

Berlin-based violinist Biliana Voutchkova and German clarinetist Michael Thieke (Magic I.D., International Nothing) present a stunning achievement in blending compositional, pre-structured material with live improvisation, creating a blurring of virtually identical sections that create microtonal anomalies in timing, rhythm, timbre and motive, as heard in 3 amazing performances. ... Click to View


Matthew Revert / Vanessa Rossetto: Everyone Needs A Plan (erstwhile)

The second collaboration between sounds artist Vanessa Rossetto and writer and sound artist Matthew Revert is a monumental work that studies the evolution of communication through fragments of spoken words, and a rich tapestry of sound from acoustic and electronic instruments, field recordings, and perplexing and dramatic sources of sound. ... Click to View


Lucio Capece / Marc Baron: My Trust In You (erstwhile)

Two electroacoustic improvisers and composers--Lucio Capece on reeds, analog synths, effects, field recordings, drums machines, speakers in motion, and Marc Baron on field recordings and analog devices--developed these 6 extraordinary recordings that blend motion, perspective, sound and noise, and concrete references in a mystifying and mesmerizing journey in sound. ... Click to View


Melaine Dalibert : Musique pour le lever du jour (elsewhere)

Inspired by the work of Hungarian-born French media artist Vera Molnar, and by the vicissitudes of natural phenomena, French pianist and composer Melaine Dalibert developed algorithmic procedures to compose this work, translating to "Music for the Daybreak", as an illusory "endless piece" of meditative layered, resonant music in the mode of Morton Feldman. ... Click to View


Otomo Yoshihide / Paal Nilssen-Love: 19th of May, 2016 (PNL)

An intensively diverse and thrilling game of "cat and dog" between Norwegian percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love and Japanese guitarist Otomo Yoshihide, performing live at Dom Cultural Center, Moscow, Russia in 2016 for two extended improvisations that exemplify incredible technical skills, reflective and introspective dialog, and cathartic release; absolutely impressive. ... Click to View


Marker (w/ Ken Vandermark): Wired For Sound (Audiographic Records)

The debut from this Chicago band merging strong grooves with free playing, with 2 guitarists--Andrew Clinkman & Steve Marquette, plus Macie Stewart on keys & violin, Phil Sudderberg on drums, and Ken Vandermark on reeds, each of the 3 tracks dedicated to an artist: Belgian movie director Chantal Akerman; German choreographer Pina Bausch; and Anthony Braxton and Bernie Worrell. ... Click to View


Vandermark / Kugel / Tokar: No-Exit Corner (Not Two)

the second CD by the trio featuring the tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Ken Vandermark, the drummer Klaus Kugel, and the bassist Mark Tokar has the band back at Krakow's Alchemia Club, bringing these three Chicago and European players together for a skronky, energetic romp of commanding playing alongside unorthodox approaches and powerfully creative intent. ... Click to View


Bobby Zankel & The Wonderful Sound 6: Celebrating William Parker at 65 (Not Two)

Celebrating bassist and composer William Parker's 65th birthday at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia in a band led by Bobby Zankel on alto saxophone, Muhammad Ali on drums, Dave Burrell on piano, Steve Swell on trombone, Diane Monroe on violin, and William Parker himself on bass, in a 4-part suite of beautifully turbulent and masterful free jazz. ... Click to View


Ernesto Rodrigues / Guilherme Rodrigues / Fred Marty / Carlos Santos: Jardin Carre (Creative Sources)

French double bassist Fred Marty joins Creative Sources core performers, violist Ernesto Rodrigues, cellist Guilherme Rodrigues and electronic artist Carlos Santos for an extensive improvisation exploring both lyrical and pointillistic improvisation, themed loosely around a garden quartet or frame, the music detailed, active and formidably sophisticated. ... Click to View


Urlich Mitzlaff : Ten Sonic Miniatures about the "Scream" by Edvard Munch (Creative Sources)

Using Edvard Munch's famous painting "The Scream" as his muse, German cellist living in Portugal, Ulrich Mitzlaff, presents 10 acoustic miniatures from just over a minute to 4 1/2 minutes in length, including wildly interactive moments of delirium to darkly melodic bowed passages, using his impressive technique to create vivid depictions of Munch's work. ... Click to View


4! (Patrizia Oliva / Carlo Mascolo / Domenico Saccente / Felice Furioso): Factorial (Creative Sources)

Free electroacoustic improvisation from the Italian quartet of Patrizia Oliva on voice, electronics, bawu, objects, Carlo Mascolo on prepared trombone, Domenico Saccente on accordion and prepared piano, and Felice Furioso on drums, cupa cupa, contrabbassa, sounded objects, using voice and unusual instrumentation to guide unusual and forward-thinking improv. ... Click to View


Frantz Loriot : Reflections on an Introspective Path (Neither/Nor Records)

French-Japanese violist Frantz Loriot's first solo album takes the viola into unusual territory, using an acousmatic approach to create music and sounds with no visual reference by transforming the sound of the viola through preparations and remarkable extended techniques, layering and assembling his works to create concrete statements of movement. ... Click to View


Costa's Acustica, Carlo: Strata (Neither/Nor Records)

New York composer and drummer Carlo Costa assembled this accomplished ensemble of NY improvisers for a live performance at IBeam in Brooklyn, capturing his piece "Strata" that evolves layers of sound from very sparse to densely yet accesibly stacked sound, varying recurring material to change perspectives in the aural space as the piece progresses; impressive. ... Click to View


Flin van Hemmen (w/ Neufeld / Obsvik): Drums of Days (Neither/Nor Records)

Debut album as a leader from drummer and pianist Flin van Hemmen, an evocative album of original compositions and improvisations recorded in a trio with Eyvind Opsvik on double bass and Todd Neufeld on acoustic guitar, with Tony Malaby on alto and soprano sax on one track; a beautifully cinematic and poetic album that allows for space and reflection. ... Click to View


Peter Blegvad : Bandbox [6 CD BOX SET] (Recommended Records)

Starting with Blegvad's "Downtime" LP, this box traces the evolution of the Peter Blegvad Trio into a quintet with Karen Mantler and Bob Drake, released in a solid box with a double CD of alternate versions, unreleased material and live performances, plus a 72 page book of photographs, memorabilia, drawings, documents and recollections; the ultimate reissue! ... Click to View


Roberto Musci / Giovanni Venosta: Messages & Portraits (2018 Edition) (Recommended Records)

A welcome reissue of two 1980s, forward-thinking albums of electronic compositions from Milanese ethnomusicologist composers, sound engineers and performers Giovanni Venosta and Roberto Musci, incorporating exotic field recordings from their world travels into accessibly sophisticated pieces, creating unexpectedly innovative, novel and melodically rich hybrids. ... Click to View


Vitor Rua & The Metaphysical Angels: When Better Isn't Quite Good Enough [2 CDs] (Recommended Records)

Guitarist Vitor Rua (GNR, Telectu) recorded the 15 pieces of this 2-CD set first as a series of overdubbed solo improvisations, using his virtuosic skills to create intriguing and compelling works, which he orchestrated and recorded with the quintet of Hernani Faustino on bass, Luis San Payo on drums, Manuel Guimaraes on organ, Nuno Reis on trumpet, and Paulo Galao on clarinets. ... Click to View


Allen Ravenstine : Waiting For The Bomb [VINYL] (Recommended Records)

Many years after Pere Ubu and his work as a pilot, one of the world's most unique synth players, Allen Ravenstine, releases an album of composed works, 18 discrete hybrid miniature sound worlds that blend acoustic, real-world and synthetic sounds in unorthodox ways that elusively twist conventional approaches with unexpected elements and narrative twists. ... Click to View


Lance Olsen Austin : Dark Heart (Another Timbre)

Four fascinating and detailed compositions from Canadian composer and painter Lance Austin Olsen, each work giving the performers space to collaborate on the results, using graphic scores and Cage-like elements from recordings; performers include Terje Paulsen, Gil Sanson, Ryoko Akama, Isaiah Ceccarelli, Katelyn Clark, Patrick Farmer and Apartment House. ... Click to View


Alex Jang : Momentary Encounters (Another Timbre)

Four fragile and mostly minimal works by Victoria-based composer Alex Jang, performed by the Apartment House ensemble, with solo pieces by Heather Roche on clarinet + field recordings, one with Cristian Alvear on guitar, an acoustic quintet, and "any three players" designed for any mix of instrumentation, here on melodica, vibraphone & cello. ... Click to View


Linda Smith Catlin: Wanderer (Another Timbre)

Eight sophisticated chamber pieces composed by Linda Catlin Smith and realized by the Canadian Apartment House ensemble, including a solo piano performed by Philip Thomas, a piano duo with Thomas and Mark Knoop, and works for percussion & cello, 2 quintet pieces for strings, percussion and winds, and two 7-piece conducted works with two percussionists, strings and brass. ... Click to View


Cassandra Miller : O Zomer! (Another Timbre)

Two ensemble works and two solo pieces by Christian Wolff's favourite contemporary composer, Cassandra Miller, who is blazing a very personal trail through the experimental music world, with brilliant performances by Apartment House, Mira Benjamin, Philip Thomas, and Charles Curtis with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ilan Volkov. ... Click to View


Cassandra Miller : Just So (Another Timbre)

A disc of extraordinary string works by Canadian composer Cassandra Miller, presenting four string quartets superbly played by the Quatuor Bozzini quartet of Clemens Merkel on violin, Alissa Cheung on violin, Stephanie Bozzini on viola, and Isabelle Bozzini on cello, including the large work "About Bach", awarded the Jules Leger Prize for New Chamber Music. ... Click to View


Bucher / Countryman (w/ Simon Tan / Isla Antinero): Extremely Live in Manila (ChapChap Records)

A live concert in Quezon City from the Manila based duo of Rich Countryman on alto saxophone and Swiss drummer Christian Bucher, who are joined on one track by acoustic bassist Simon Tan and trombonist Isla Antinero. ... Click to View


Ernesto Rodrigues / Guilherme Rodrigues / Adam Pultz Melbye / kriton b.: The Distant Sound Within (Creative Sources)

Three strings--cello from Guilherme Rodrigues, double bass from Adam Pultz Melbye, and viola from Ernesto Rodrigues--plus harmonium and objects from Kriton Beyer, in a live performance at Kuhlspot Social Club in Berlin, each of the 9 movements a concentrative work named with a three-letter onomatopoeia, as the players draw sound from a mysterious dark distance. ... Click to View


Akmee (Pedersen / Jerve / Albertsend / Wildhagen): Neptun (Nakama Records)

Debut album from this Oslo collective quartet of free improvisers led by drummer Andreas Wildhagen (Nilssen-Love Large Unit) with Erik Kimestad Pedersen on trumpet, Kjetil Jerve on piano, and Erlend Olderskog Albertsen on double bass, a thoroughly modern band that balances more experimental playing with improv in the European tradition; a strong start. ... Click to View


Akmee (Pedersen / Jerve / Albertsend / Wildhagen): Neptun [VINYL] (Nakama Records)

Debut album from this Oslo collective quartet of free improvisers led by drummer Andreas Wildhagen (Nilssen-Love Large Unit) with Erik Kimestad Pedersen on trumpet, Kjetil Jerve on piano, and Erlend Olderskog Albertsen on double bass, a thoroughly modern band that balances more experimental playing with improv in the European tradition; a strong start. ... Click to View


Nakama: Worst Generation (Nakama Records)

Freely improvised and unusual collective improv from the quintet of Christian Meaas Svendsen (double bass), Andreas Wildhagen (drums), Ayumi Nataka (piano), Adrian Loseth Waade (violin) and Agness Hvizdalek (voice), an abstract yet energetic album with Hvizdalek's voice adding an exotic edge to extended techniques based in free jazz strategies. ... Click to View


Nakama: Worst Generation [VINYL] (Nakama Records)

Freely improvised and unusual collective improv from the quintet of Christian Meaas Svendsen (double bass), Andreas Wildhagen (drums), Ayumi Nataka (piano), Adrian Loseth Waade (violin) and Agness Hvizdalek (voice), an abstract yet energetic album with Hvizdalek's voice adding an exotic edge to extended techniques based in free jazz strategies. ... Click to View


Machinefabriek: Engel (Machinefabriek)

Rutger Zuydervelt, AKA Machinefabriek, expanded the existing score for Marta Alstadsaeter & Kim-Jomi Fischer's dance piece "Engel", which is a contemporary piece combining dance and circus acrobatics, the new soundtrack a large work combining rich mirages of electronica, ambient sound, assertive noise, and even a section of Paal Nilessen-Love's drumwork. ... Click to View


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The Squid's Ear
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A Month of Zorndays
John Zorn's 50th Birthday Celebration at Tonic

Updated througout the month

John Zorn







John Zorn Improv Night  (Tonic) 

September 29, 2003

With Derek Bailey unable to make it to town for his scheduled night in the monthlong Zornfest, John Zorn pulled together an old-fashioned improv night (although having drummer Joey Baron still in town certainly made it something more than an ordinary night). It was the first nonevent of the month, which almost carried with it a tinge of relief.

Two opening pieces by Baron, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and cellist Erik Friedlander achieved the often-claimed-but-usually boring improvised classical. Violinest Mark Feldman and laptop percussionist Ikue Mori followed in a similar vein, Feldman playing bold, heavy notes, leaving Mori's laptop as the melody instrument. Their second piece took a very different path, with Feldman playing fast lines and scratches over Mori's busy backing. Feldman and Friedlander also carried the high-art torch for a piece, and were joined by Courvoiser (making the group into Courvoisier's Abaton trio) for an equally stunning piece.

Baron and Zorn had of course already shared the stage during the month - two weeks prior had been the Masada quartet's first gig in over a year - but seeing them in duet was just good. Starting and stopping, completing each other's sentences until they built to a roar, only Baron to stop and play a quiet, slowly metered rim roll while Zorn carried on full throttle. Later Baron backed Zorn with licked-finger drum-head rubs, not just for effect but really playing with Zorn's saxophone.

Better yet was Baron sitting in the Susie Ibarra seat with the Mephista line-up. He's a faster, busier player than Ibarra, it's not really fair to call it Mephista at all, but they played wonderfully, although he ultimately overpowered Courvoisier and Mori. A second, quieter piece where Baron rode cymbals worked better. The piano, drums and laptop created torrents of rhythm together, and Courvoisier and Mori now have the shared pleasure of playing with the two happiest drummers in the world.

The final group piece opened with Baron, Friedlander and Mori, then Zorn coming in, suggesting combinations that hadn't been heard, and built slowly to a gorgeous sextet, Zorn blowing a slow lament, Feldman complementing him while Friedlander carried a deep bass, the rest melding into a beautiful, thick blanket.

Perhaps it wasn't quite like old times, not just in Zorn's calling consecutive pieces by the same ensembles, but in the near-formal virtuosity exhibited throughout. Certainly it was a different sort of Improv Nite than he would have presented 10 years ago. And if anything really stands as a testament to the growth of John Zorn and the scene he embraces, it's what they do for fun.

- Kurt Gottschalk






Bezique  (Tonic) 

September 24, 2003

Bezique is the last game piece Zorn conceived, and by his own admission in introducing the piece, "it's very strange." It differs from other pieces in that the players - the musicians involved - create the settings ahead of time rather than while they are playing. As a result, more coherent musical statements are made without losing the structured improvisations that can make the game pieces so rewarding.

The game pieces in general are interesting not just because of the music that's made, the characters they bring out or the mystery in which they're kept. They predate what could be called Zorn's "index card" period, and seem to have informed it. After creating a series of situations where he could hear styles, genres and moods crashing into each other, he began to use it as a formula for composing and arranging, most notably on the album The Big Gundown and the piece Spillane. Beziques was written in 1989, just two years before Spillane was recorded, and combines the tools of the game pieces with a compositional approach.

Each of the 11 players (Trevor Dunn, 5-string electric bass; Anthony Coleman, Farfisa organ; Sylvie Courvoisier, piano; Marc Ribot, guitar; Jim Publiese and William Winant, percussion; Jim Staley, trombone; Mark Dresser, bass; Okkyung Lee, cello; Mark Feldman, violin; and Jamie Saft, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer and effects) got a turn creating a piece, calling out a series of directives ("EP1, Ribot; M7, Courvoisier, Lee, Winant; EP3-1...") while a "gaffer" played interlude music. It was reminiscent of Duke Ellington's idea that he writes for individual musicians, except purely that, without scores. Zorn would write down the directives that he would then guide them through by holding up his familiar cue cards, and reminding the arranger of rules and trying to keep an overall cohesion between pieces. "The hardest thing is coming out of Ts," he reminded the group more than once. "You can't just write a whole piece and think it's gonna work," he told them later. "You gotta think about the piece that came before it. You gotta think about the pieces in order."

While pieces like Cobra show player's proclivities in what they want to hear at the moment, it was fascinating to watch entire pieces borne of one player's musical sense. Dresser created a beautiful suite. Lee jumped back and forth between styles, relying heavily on a Ribot/Saft/Dunn trio. Coleman injected humor, which in itself is impressive when you're only able to suggest with genre, tempo and volume. But "M4 and 9 for Dresser and Sylvie" got a good laugh from the bandstand. (When they got to that point in the piece, Zorn showed the two cards "Quiet" and "Rock" to the audience.) Likewise, it was interesting to watch players run the pieces through their heads as they were being called.

The performance lasted 80 minutes, and it's a shame that Bezique has been forgotten over the years. While the other game pieces make for great theater and a fun night of in-the-moment creation, Bezique resulted in some truly memorable music.

- Kurt Gottschalk






John Zorn's Lacrosse, Hockey, Rugby  (Tonic) 

September 24, 2003

In the progression of game pieces that led John Zorn to create the magnificent Cobra and Xu Feng structures, several earlier games were devised. Lacrosse was developed in 1977, originally performed in the days of Studio Henry in lower Manhattan where, as Zorn recalled at the beginning of the performace, the music competed with the sounds of crickets in the building. This rendering of the game had Anthony Coleman on keys, Marc Ribot on guitar, William Winant and Jim Pugliese on percussion and Zorn on alto. The game was very interactive, the players motioning amongst themselves and using a sparse set of rules, each calling segments and directing the game while in motion - unlike most of Zorn's game pieces there was no prompter. They used extended techniques on their instruments, and the piece was enjoyable if for no other reason than the mastery each showed: Zorn and Ribot played off each other, Coleman working inside the grand piano, and both Pugliese and Winant seeming to utilize every inch of their percussive sources. The ensuing music was not particularly coherent, a series of stop-starting quotations that were often punctuated but rarely lyrical.

Following was Hockey, a piece from 1978 that Zorn described as "exotic aquatics." He displayed the score for the game, explaining that at the time of its writing he believed that "all you really needed for an evening of music is one sheet of paper." Hockey limits each player's language to five sounds, which are carried out through a series of solos, duos and trios. Two versions of Hockey were presented, the first which Zorn referred to as the "dry version" with Okkyung Lee on cello, Jim Pugliese on percussion and Zorn on duck calls. This version was tremendous fun, particularly in seeing Zorn playing the duck calls again, a fistful of varying bird and buzzer sounds that are clearly enjoyable to play. Lee provided an excellent foil to Zorn as she scraped, sawed and zipped around her cello while Pugliese provided often rollicking outbursts. The music frequently shifted, Zorn sometimes calling off directives to change the rhythm. More sophisticated than Lacrosse, the piece still paled to later game pieces in its sometimes spastic results. The second rendering of Hockey was presented by Anthony Coleman, Marc Ribot and Mark Dresser on bass. Zorn described this as the "wet version,", and the difference between the two renditions was remarkable. Coleman here stuck to his heavily effected Farfisa organ. Ribot as well played heavily effected and downright alien guitar, while Dresser was a monster on the bass, sometimes playing with a stick, plucking around the neck or bowing below the bridge. Zorn prompted from the front as the three played with clear enjoyment. The results were, once again, fun to watch, somewhat dubious in their music results, but inspiring and important in their ability present new possiblities in improvisational playing.

The last piece, Rugby, was written several years later, in 1983, and was more like his later pieces. Sylvie Courvoisier was on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass, Mark Feldman on vioin, Jim Staley on trombone, William Winant on percussion, with Zorn prompting using a card system. The interplay this time was much more obvious, players pointing to each other to suggest musical direction to Zorn. The cards instructed the players with phrases like "Intercut," "Trans," "1 Clock Changes" or "4 Trades," and the piece seemed to work at time similar to Butch Morris' conductions. A series of escapades and interludes, the structure provided much more lyric and expressive opportunities to the musicians, adding a quirky and playful air to the resulting music. Zorn once again showed the single sheet that defined the game, but this time it was clear that the direction he was to take game pieces in 20 years ago held great potential for making excellent and unpredictable music.

- Phil Zampino






September 12, 18, 25 2003

Bar Kokhba - (Tonic) September 12, 2003, 8:00 set
Masada - (Tonic) September 18, 2003, 8:00 set
Electric Masada - (Tonic)September 25, 2003, 8:00 set

One of the wonderful things about Zorn's 50th birthday month was the opportunity it presented to hear the various Masada permutations on successive or nearly-successive nights, the chance to compare the way the different voicings and personnel shaped the music (sometimes even the same charts), and the air around us, the actual feel of the world, or as much of it as you can fit inside the little Tonic warehouse. This is evocative music, music that reaches down into the limbic system and plants fleeting images of places that, for a few moments, I have a terrible longing to visit.



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