Sunday, November 11, 2018

Keiji Haino + SUMAC “American Dollar Bill” (Thrill Jockey 2018)

Japan is a particular place to live in and to make art. One of the most conservative countries in the world, is also inhabited by some of the most hard working men in the world. They quite often use the so-called 'performative drugs' (like cocaine) to stay on business, but they don't talk that much about it since it's 'improper'.

On the other hand, Japan had met the powerful energy of the atomic bomb at the end of WWII, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A scar still vivid in the collective consciousness of the entire country. This combination of psychological repression and surviving a mass destruction created the conditions for developing some form of arts completely different from that of the other industrialised countries.

As an example, Japan didn't have post-modernity, that peculiar condition of having the right words but not the feelings, the remaining of the structures of speech without the subject that is typical of a Thomas Pynchon, but instead Japan had the interpenetration of life and death, as you can read in Yukio Mishima and see in Nobuyoshi Araki.

While the subject is fading in the Western world, it becomes hypertrophic in Japan. You can observe this phenomenon in music, particularly in free jazz during the 1960s: Yosuke Yamashita, Kaoru Abe, Masahiko Satoh, it's as all of them were screaming for coming out of the pain for living. And it's obviously the same for guitarist and singer Keiji Haino.

Haino was the frontman of the impronoise trio Lost Aaraff during the 1970s, but it was in 1981 that he became a true legend with the album Watashi Dake?, the japanese answer to Trout Mask Replica. During the decades, he refined his style coming to a sort of elaboration of the blues he called 'ahyhiyo'. You can listen to the result in the beautiful Black Blues from 2004.

Early this year, Haino joined the metal combo SUMAC, lead by guitarist and vocalist Aaron Turner to give life to this project called American Dollar Bill, which contains some of the best extreme music you'll listen to this year. The music is as abstract and destructured as hypnotic, nervous and anxious. There are some quieter parts here and there – but it's fire smoldering beneath the ashes – and full blasts of pure willingness of power.

In 1972 photographer Daido Moriyama gave life to his most uncompromising and experimental book, “Farewell Photography”, full of shots taken as trials to the setting of the camera, wrong framings, as the 'self' of the photographer was dyonisiacally going to pieces testifying his drift into the world, and this music is the perfect companion to those images.

More than simply extreme noise, this album is a good photography of our egos, repressed by the rules of society but still alive and ready to roar for a last call to our humanity. Is Japan the future for all of us? Maybe, it's still the present time, and it's our goal to say 'no' to repression. Music can be an act of resistance.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Mary Halvorson “Code Girl” (Firehouse 12, 2018)

I've listened to Mary Halvorson in live performances two times in the past: once in a small theatre in Italy with friend and collaborator Jessica Pavone, then in London in a small but famous club (The Vortex) with her quartet The 13th Assembly. Some years are passed, but her creative vein is still far from draining.

A long-time disciple and collaborator of the multi-awarded composer and reedist Anthony Braxton, and of other giants of improvised music like Marc Ribot, Halvorson has released a couple of albums this year. The first, issued in March by the label Firehouse 12, is titled “Code Girl” and sees Halvorson heading a quintet of musicians including bassist Michael Formanek, drummer Tomas Fujiwara (basically her Thumbscrew Trio), Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet and Amirtha Kidambi on vocals.

Divided in two Cds, for a total lenght of 90 minutes, this issue is composed by 14 beautiful songs, a little bit obliques – they remind me of Robert Wyatt – where there's space left here and there for some little improvisation. Possibly one of the best output this year, “Code Girl” is composed by nice arpeggios, scales and solos on guitar driven by great grooves of the rhythm section, long melodic tirades on trumpet, some arcos on the bass and a great vocalist, usually trained in South Indian Carnatic tradition, but here completely at ease with alt-rock flavoured melodies.

An advice for all the fans of free jazz/improvised music: sound needs structure to make sense, and the AABA structure can be as interesting and smart as our beloved and chosen composition-with-improvisation scheme. Don't miss the opportunity to be enriched by this form of art, like any other art: you won't regret at all.

Audrey Chen “Runt Vigor” (Karlrecords, 2018)

Two years ago I wrote a long article for this blog in which I was postulating how necessary it was, for the good of improvised music, to have artists who are female and non-European, in order to have new inputs and develop new languages. Now, it is as my prayers have been listened by some god or similia.

Audrey Chen is a young contemporary artist. Born in 1976 outside of Chicago, she is a 2nd generation Chinese/Taiwanese-American musician. She started playing cello at age 8, and voice at 11. Originally trained in classical music, she started since 2003 to develop her own music and her own style, very far from consolidated clichés.

Typical of her generation of improvisers/contemporary musicians, Chen developed a great number of collaborations: with Phil Minton (voice), Henrik Munkeby Norstebo (trombone), Doron Sadja (electronics), Richard Scott (modular synthesizer), Joke Lanz (turntables), and Maria Chavez (turntables) among the others.

The goal of being often hand-in-hand with other, different, musicians and disciplines is to develop your own language and nuances while answering to different incitements, which is different from developing your style alone.

But on this Runt Vigor, issued only on 180 gr vynil and digital, we can finally appreciate Audrey Chen in an intense solo performance: a vocal solo track at the beginning, then assisted by analog electronics and, finally, her cello.

Chen use of voice is different from the 'classical' avant-garde ladies like Joan La Barbara and Meredith Monk: no melody or narration implied, only destructured microtones, and sometimes some syllables. The cello is bashed and rubbed – not only the strings, but also the body – and the electronics are treated consequently.

Sometimes, listening to this record, I asked myself is Chen has a feminine (meaning: new) quality in her music. Difficult to answer, since the avant-garde isn't rooted in sex like rock music and so is a-gendered – unless you are Cecil Taylor. But for sure this music is something unheard before, a new wave, something necessary. Hope to find something similar in the near future. For the moment, my strong advice is to enjoy Audrey Chen.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Centazzo - Schiaffini - Armaroli "Trigonos" (Dodicilune, 2018)

Andrea Centazzo, composer and performer, is one of the pivotal figures in the so-called NY Downtown Music Scene of the 1970's. Unluckily he is known here in Italy only as 'Giorgio Gaslini drummer' – he played drums and percussions with Gaslini from 1972 to 1976 – and this fact limited his career at a point that Centazzo chose to move to the Us at the end of the decade. There, he played with John Zorn, Tom Cora, Eugene Chadbourne and Toshinori Kondo.

He also founded his own label, Ictus, and recorded with Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, Pierre Favre, Alvin Curran among the others. At the same time he studied composition. A more complex figure than the 'percussionist' described by the press, Andrea Centazzo has now recorded for the label Dodicilune a new album of his own compositions, with the help of vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli and trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini. If you want to know more about this couple of musicians, read here.

The music provided by this album is 10 compositions, four by Centazzo and Armaroli, two by Centazzo/Schiaffini, and the remaining played by the trio. Being at the border of contemporary music and improvised music, all the compositions have a meditative quality that goes beyond the sum of its parts.

The gestures have a quality typical of the Eastern folk music, but they are not rooted in it: it is more an assonance than a derivation. Listening to the record, I often asked myself how good would it be to listen to this music live in a good theatre, since it's aura would be better exploited in this context.

And in effect, the issue of the record was premièred in Milan, Italy, at the Out Off, a small theatre devoted to theatrical experimentation since the 1970's. Really a good place to start this new adventure for an artist like Centazzo, who in the past has gone well beyond music also thanks to his painted graphic scores.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Marc Ribot “Songs of Resistance (1942-2018)” Anti, 2018

Marc Ribot is one of the most eclectic post-modern musicians you'll ever hear on guitar. He toured exstensively with Chuck Berry and recorded guitars in many of Tom Waits' albums since 1984, but in his discography you'll also find not one, but two Cds dedicated to the music of Albert Ayler. Between the artist he worked with, there are David Sylvian, John Zorn, Elvis Costello and Mike Patton.

In 2018, Marc has become more political than ever. First with his last Ceramic Dog Trio album “YRU Still Here”, then with this new “Songs of Resistance (1942-2018)” issued by alt-rock label Anti. Politics and the resistance to fascism have a noble tradition in avant-garde jazz at least since 1970's album “Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra”, where Ornette Coleman's bassist gave life to some free jazz versions of the anti-fascist and anarchist songs of the Spain of the 1920s.

Now that Trump has won the elections in the Us and the alt-right is spreading their wings all over the world, is time to embrace again the weapons of creativity against the Black Wave. And, who better than Marc Ribot? Helped by a bunch of brave singers like Tom Waits, Steve Earle, and Meshell Ndegeocello, Mr Ribot gives new life to old political songs for our harsh times.

Only the initial We are Soldiers in the Army has open references to jazz, with his textures of saxophones. The rest of the album is divided between folk songs (Bella Ciao, The Militant Ecologist), rock (The Big Fool), ethnic music (Rata de Los Patas), funk (John Brown) taking me back at the good old days in which I was listening to Ani Di Franco and Bruce Springsteen.

Obviously this is a post-modern record, in which you can touch all the time passed between the original songs and the present tense, but the original drive is still here. It's all a matter of our present tense. Fascism is coming back, and so many artists are lost in the supermarket of a sterile experimentation – now that everything has been experimented – but it's not the case of Ribot and his friends, whose idea and practice of music is still rooted in real life and their beings.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

John Coltrane "Both Directions at Once" (Impulse!, 2018)

March 6th, 1963. Englewood Cliffs, Van Gelder Studios. Saxophonist John Coltrane joined his partners – bassist Jimmy Garrison, pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones – for a recording session. The result will be: four short versions of Impressions (one pianoless), two untitled originals with Trane on soprano (the most interesting pieces), a version of Nature Boy which is a short game based on the theme of the song, two versions of Vilia, one Slow Blues and two versions of the piece One Up, One Down.

Part of the material, recorded the day before the session with singer Johnny Hartman, is pianoless. That means that possibly Trane had Sonny Rollins, his eternal rival, in mind. Hearing for the first time this material, Rollins said “This is like finding a new room in the great pyramid”. But we're so far here from a “new Coltrane album”, from a “lost album”.

The recordings, held by Naima Grubbs, Trane's first wife, and discovered only recently, are in fact only a session of music, recorded only with the purpose of leaving Coltrane free to listen to them. An album is usually something more complex, with material coming from different sessions. So, while listening to this record anyone can feel like a peeping tom, which is quite good since you're listening to unreleased material by John Coltrane.

Ok, so what about the music? The two untitled originals go near the land of free jazz, while the remaining pieces are pure post-bop. Trane himself described his style and articulation to Wayne Shorter as “starting a sentence in the middle and then going to the beginning and the end of it at the same time”.

And obviously you can hear that in this session. The music in this album is important since you can hear Coltrane on solid rock starting with his future sonic experimentations, in a period, our present tense, of reflux, with so many musicians standing on solid ground. A call to do something else, something new.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Roberto Ottaviano - Forgotten Matches The Worlds of Steve Lacy (Dodicilune, 2017)

“Today, the more I study Lacy's repertoire, the more I deal with the transcription of his compositions, the more I listen to his unreleased recordings, the more I concentrate on his language trying to connect the strings of his inspirations and his soundographies, the more I feel little, tiny”. This is a statement by saxophonist Roberto Ottaviano, who gave light to a double album full of Lacy's music last year.

Roberto Ottaviano is a sopranist born in Bari, Italy, in 1957. He studied saxophone with Lacy himself, while applying to composition and arrangement under the guide of George Russell. Since 1979 he toured and recorded all over Europe, playing with Mal Waldron, Giorgio Gaslini, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille, Albert Mangelsdorff, Keith Tippett, Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, Barre Phillips, Pierre Favre, Kenny Wheeler, Mark Dresser, Paul Bley, Irene Schweitzer, Tony Oxley and many others.

Roberto Ottaviano
In this double record, full of Lacy's compositions, Ottaviano plays with a quartet (with Glen Ferris on trombone, Giovanni Maier on bass and Cristiano Calcagnile on drums) on the first cd, and in a duo with pianist Alexander Hawkins on the second cd. Ottaviano style on soprano saxophone is less metaphysical, less angular than Lacy's, more rounded.

The music contained in this collection is more similar to what Lacy did in albums like 'The Kiss' (Lunatic Records, 1987) than in obliques, confrontational records as 'The Gap' (America, 1972). Both the quartet and the duo is far from free playing, and more akin to traditional jazz. To hear such interpretations is strange in a way, since Lacy music is hand to hand with the limits of his instument, while Ottaviano is playing it more like a conventional, melodic device.

Anyway it's important, now that 14 years have passed since Lacy's death, to reinvigorate this music for the new generations of musicians and listeners. Maybe this record can put a new light on Lacy's body of work, reinvigorating his legacy and leading his music to the future.