Whim Ensemble is Ofer Pelz (prepared piano, percussion) and Preston Beebe (percussion). Both are new to me. Beebe is a composer and percussionist with a strong interest in using technology, live as well in the studio. Preston studied composition, electronic music, and percussion at several institutes. For example from 2014-2015, he studied at IRCAM and composed a work for baritone saxophone & electronics, performed in the Centre G. Pompidou in Paris. As a duo, they debuted in 2016 with a release for the Montréal-based Kohlenstoff label. The music keeps the middle between improvised and modern composed music and moves within abstract territories. They have a very varied sound palette to their disposal, using prepared piano and a variety of percussive objects and gadgets. Some of their improvisations are very intense and dramatic, like the opening one Four Zero, that sounded like an abstracted version of a Morricone-theme. In other improvisations, I missed however something. Lovely sounds, but a bit too much sounds only, missing an idea, focus or direction. Just dwelling around. But in contrast, there are also some dazzling perspectives opened up by them. The rich sound spectrum built from scraping and percussive sounds, lead up fascinating timbres and textures full of details.
Not The Music is a duo of bassist Eric Norman and bass clarinettist Philippe Lauzier, both Montréal-based musicians. English saxophonist John Butcher joined them for concerts in Ottawa and Montréal. First five improvisations — En conséquence — were recorded live on April 27th 2018 in Ottawa. The second set of five improvisations — par interruption — were recorded live on April 26th in Montréal. Lauzier is a composer, improviser, instrumentalist (clarinet & saxophone) and sound artist. Normand is likewise working on many fronts as a composer, improviser, bassist, instrument designer, composer, songwriter, singer and record and concert producer. Earlier the duo released an album for Tour de Bras. Here in the company of John Butcher, they give way to very concentrated set with a lot happening. All three of them are experienced improvisers, each one with its distinctive style and technique. They interact and communicate with full force and concentration, although sounding sometimes a bit hesitant and modest. Strongly focused they demonstrate a concentrated interaction with sometimes diverging sometimes-converging manœuvres of emotional impact. Often repetition of motives and gestures is an important strategy of building up tension and drama. Excellent work.
The Canadian ensemble Quatuor Bozzini are really something special. I only recently came across them on Cassandra Miller’s Just So, which I loved. A quick internet search reveals that they have interpreted everyone from contemporary composers such as Miller and Linda Catlin Smith to John Cage (of course they did) to, now, Phil Niblock. And they do all of this with great aplomb and, even more impressively, refinement.
Phill Niblock — Baobab is no exception, though it is a very different beast than some of their other releases. (For you Niblock fans out there, you likely already know what to expect.) Originally penned for orchestra, the two tracks on this album — Disseminate and Baobab — have been chopped and reconfigured as 20 separate tracks, each consisting of a single instrument, performed by the quartet of Clemens Merkel, Alissa Cheung, Stéphanie Bozzini, and Isabelle Bozzini. The result, per the notes of Emanuelle Majeau-Bettez, is a sort of “hardcore drone” of microtonal layerings, albeit created by a chamber quartet. In that, it reminds me of a less wandering and less entangled take on Zeitkratzer’s Metal Machine Music recording. As seems fitting for such acoustic drone, these tracks are characterized by sonic modulations rather than melodic shifts or unpredictable sounds. In this sense, the music sounds deceptively mechanical, as if it were a series of digital loops. Of course, the acoustic nature of the music belies this. Apart from the brief fade-in and fade-out marking the beginning and end of each piece, these songs have no prescribed course. They simply and glacially fluctuate, as the listener’s ear wanders from tone to tone.
This is music to listen to closely. This is music to read to, to tune in and out of. This is music to mediate to and contemplate. If full, subtle, and loud new music is your thing (and, yes, this should be played loud), Baobab is well worth the listen. And, if you are not yet sure whether you enjoy this “hardcore drone,” this compounded, aggressive monotony dense with rich timbral subtleties, then this album is an excellent place to start.
The profiled Quatuor Bozzini started in 1999 and interested mainly on contemporary music. They make their own decisions in choosing and producing their programs, never taking the easy way. Over the years they built up the impressive experience and premiered hundreds of compositions. About 20 CDs appeared filled with works by John Cage, Phil Niblock, James Tenney, Gyula Csapó, etc., etc. This time they concentrate on a composer from their homeland Canada, Simon Martin. Martin is a composer and producer of contemporary concert music, operating in the footsteps of Harry Partch, La Monte Young and James Tenney, implying a focus on natural intonation. With Musique d’art they set their teeth in an hour-long, five-movement composition for string quintet. Besides the Bozzini sisters and Allisa Cheung and Clemens Merkel, they are joined here by Pierre-Alexandre Maranda playing the double bass. Earlier Quator Bozzini performed work by Martin: Icebergs et Soleil de minuit — Quatuor en blanc (2007). But Musique d’Art is a welcome next step. The work is built from extended dissonant and abrasive sound entities, moving on like a massive tectonic plate, with a very differentiated sound spectrum at a micro level. In the second part there occur some dramatic changes where the music changes into harsh and noisy sections. Overall with this composition Martin offers an intriguing exercise in combining noise and music, that reminded me at moments of the work of Rumanian composer Iancu Dumitrescu. Playing with timbre and pitch the music deeply resonates, and is very expressive and emotional in its own way. In a great performance by Quator Bozzini and Maranda!
Nobili gli intenti del sassofonista, flautista e compositore canadese Jean Derome, classe 1955, che con questo Somebody Special dedica uno splendido omaggio alla memoria di Steve Lacy: si tratta di dieci composizioni estratte dal vasto canzoniere del sassofonista americano, scomparso nel 2004 all’età di 69 anni. Atto dovuto, se consideriamo che Steve Lacy, che ha vissuto a lungo a Parigi e per un breve periodo anche a Roma, viene ricordato prima di tutto per aver riabilitato ed esplorato uno strumento, il sax soprano, che nel jazz era fermo agli anni Trenta e a Sydney Bechet. «Ma molti hanno dimenticato che questo gigante del sax soprano ha composto anche centinaia di bellissime canzoni», sottolinea giustamente Jean Derome nelle note che accompagnano il disco, uscito di recente su Ambiences Magnétiques. Il quintetto è completato da comprimari di lungo corso come Pierre Tanguay alla batteria e Normand Guilbeault al contrabbasso, cui si aggiungono Alexandre Grogg al pianoforte e la cantante Karen Young.
Negli ultimi quindici anni abbiamo ascoltato le rivisitazioni del Rova Saxophone Quartet e gli studi in solitaria e non (non per forza al sassofono soprano, anzi) di Roberto Ottaviano, Matt Gustafsson, Gianni Mimmo e svariati altri. Ci sono persino dei gruppi interamente dedicati alla musica di Steve Lacy, dai The Rent ai The Whammies, passando per il progetto Ideal Breads di casa Cuneiform Records. Ma in pochi hanno rivolto la loro attenzione esclusivamente alle canzoni, tutte ovviamente bellissime e con versi estratti da poesie beat, da testi di filosofia Zen o da classici nascosti della letteratura mondiale. Lacy aveva iniziato a comporle nei primi anni Settanta per la voce della moglie, la violoncellista e cantante svizzera Irene Aebi, per poi coinvolgerle in un processo continuo, decennale, di trasfigurazioni e nuovi arrangiamenti.
E di questo si tratta, di ri-arrangiamenti, nelle dieci canzoni scelte da Jean Derome, basate su testi di Herman Melville, Brion Gysin, Po Kiu-yi, Lao-Tzu, Thomas Gainsborough e Judith Malina. L’effetto è piacevole e curioso, dal momento che Derome e soci fanno respirare, aprono e rendono accessibili delle musiche che, originariamente, presentano aspetti di non-immediatezza, dinamiche storte, angoli bui, strutture complicate e passaggi intricati: in pratica, quello che Lacy andava inquadrando sotto la definizione di poly-free; ciò che della sua musica è il tratto caratteristico. Qui, invece, gira tutto intorno alla voce di Karen Young, meravigliosa e accogliente, capace di modulazioni che impressionano, viva, vivace e ricca di calore umano. Una carezza sul viso, laddove il timbro vocale di Irene Aebi, a causa delle inflessioni da perfetta cantante d’opera, continua in molti casi a rappresentare uno scoglio per chi desidera avvicinarsi allo sconfinato corpus discografico di Steve Lacy.
Tra un senso classico dello swing e l’eleganza del miglior vocal jazz, queste cover sono quanto di più accessibile si possa trovare nella discografia di un autore obliquo e imprevedibile come Jean Derome, legato a formazioni che parlano i linguaggi dell’art-brut e del kitsch (pensiamo al jazz-rock mutante e cacofonico dei suoi Dangereux Zhoms, fondati negli anni Novanta), dell’improvvisazione rigorosa e della musica da camera. Ma qui la storia è un’altra e — leggiamo ancora nelle note — «l’intera comunità jazz dovrà cogliere la musica di Steve Lacy per mantenerla in vita». Nient’altro da aggiungere.
Flammes is out now on “Mikroclimat” label. Album was recorded by Nous perçons les oreilles & PLANT — it’s two great duos based on impressive musicians and improvisers. Here together plays Éric Normand (electric bass, snare drum), Jim Denley (alto saxophone, bass flute, toys, fruits), Joane Hétu (alto saxophone, voice, objects) and Jean Derome (alto saxophone, objects). The music by these musicians is powerful, intensive and filled with innovative ideas. All four musicians are masterful and inventive composers — they manage to join together experimental music, electronics and free improvisations to one place. They’re also great and inspiring improvisers — spontaneous solos, expressive and vivid melodies, thrilling bursts, energetic culminations and special effects are the main compounds of their music. The authentic synthesis between contemporary academical music and avant-garde jazz makes an effort to colorful, original, inspiring and trendy sound. Musicians always like to find new ways of playing, use original expressions and get on brave, extravagant and impressive experiments. The improvisers are already famous on world-wide scene — they’ve had been collaborating and playing together with other famous jazz masters and the musicians related to other music genres.
Flammes is a great and impressive synthesis of various music styles. Avant-garde jazz and free improvisation contain the base of the musical pattern. These styles certainly go along with the newest tendencies of experimental jazz — stunning sound experiments, authentic, specific, rare, exotic, weird or simply crazy ways of playing, original methods of improvising, unique sound, special effects and evocative decisions are the part of it. The musicians don’t go away from the rules and the roots of avant-garde jazz — they find a suitable and impressive way to connect together the innovations and roots of 1960’s avant-garde jazz, the music of famous Canadian and American avant-garde jazz pioneers and traditional methods of improvising. Avant-garde and experimental jazz meet contemporary academical music, experimental music and academic avant-garde mixed up with electro-acoustics and electronics. It’s like two absolutely different pieces gently joined together — strict, awakening, modern and evocative academic avant-garde is accompagnied by ambient, glitch, other special effects and electronics, synthetic forms and wide range of dynamics, timbres and tunes. The musicians manage to create fascinating musical pattern. Free collective improvisation is the key of it. Synthetic and open form gives an opportunity to get on adventurous experiments, powerful culminations or stunning musical experiments and eclectic stylistic combos. It’s the best place to connect together absolutely uncompairable styles and elements. Polyphonic facture is made by using individual melodies created by each improviser. The musical pattern is multi-layed, filled with gorgeous tunes, strange timbres, rich and expressive musical language, passionate expressions, all kinds of rhythms, tunes and chords. Innovative and fascinating instrumental section is created — it’s based on rare combos, exotic and extended playing techniques, sound experiments, innovative or specific ways of playing, who are fused together with conventions of contemporary academical and experimental music. The melody line is solid, engaging and driving. It’s based on three alto saxophones, bass flute and electric bass. Vivid, dynamic and expressive melodies of saxophones give the main tune to the melody. There are dozens of elements who gently fit together in one place — dizzy solos, sharp growls, hot thrills, tremendous explosions, bursting culminations, blowing and frantic riffs, aggressive and furious blow outs or soft, sweet, calm and lyrical excerpts. Bass flute brings solemn, deep and calm bass line, strange timbres, weird combos and original tunes. Electric bass is crossing with the saxophones especially in instrumental section, but makes a fantastic combo at the same time. Sharp, electric, synthetic and interesting tunes of electric bass are against natural, warm, expressive and moving solos of saxophones and bass flute. Sharp riffs, powerful bursts of energy, intensive melodies, passionate improvisations, deep and peaceful contemplations who grow out to frantic, thrilling and vibrant free improvisations — that’s the base of these improvisations. Electric bass and saxophones make a fantastic combo — their collective improvisations are the most effective elements of these compositions. The musical backgroudn is gorgeous and bright — it’s based on hollows, spoken elements, declamations, experiments with voice, as well as the sounds of various objects and toys. The rhythmic section is based on various kinds of rhythms. Breaking sessions, thrilling and trembling solos, tremendous culminations, strange timbres, tiny ornaments, dizzy passages and dozens of other elements are gently combined together. This album has impressive, bright and vivid sound.