Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra “Promises” (Luaka Bop, 2021)

I started listening to improvised music in 1999. I was a fan of Tom Waits then – I saw him live in that same year in Florence – and I remember that at a certain point I wanted to start listening to jazz music. Back in the days, you were able to go to those enormous music megastores in Milan – Messaggerie Musicali, Fnac – and also a lot of small record shops where you could take your CD, go to a workstation provided with headphones and, thanks to the barcode on the album, listen to it before the purchase.

That’s how I was into Mingus – how can you resist to the “Haitian Fight Song” bassline? – as an example. Then there were newspapers like “Il Manifesto” that, thanks to the long articles on a Saturday insert dedicated to culture, you would read extensive analysis of every music style, from calypso to soundtracks, and run into an article about John Zorn and his filecard compositions, just to give you a help in understanding how I was meeting new music prior to the internet era.

But when I started listening to Coltrane, I was only trusting his name and my curiosity, and so I bought my copy of “A Love Supreme” happy to learn something new. But at the first listenings – that was my first jazz album – something strange happened to me: my head was simply going somewhere else. I was simply not used to improvisation, so my brain was refusing it. But, you know, practice makes perfect. 

So in a few time I was hooked by a lot of more or less traditional jazz, like Davis, Holiday, Rollins, Ellington. I also bought me some books, like “Jazz” by Arrigo Polillo, a classic reading in my native language. And then I started to see my first concerts. The very first one was a Masada quartet featuring Zorn, Dave Douglas, Joey Baron and Greg Cohen. For free. I was really happy. Then, after quite some months, I left Milano and the university for the suburbs and my parents.

But I kept on listening to music. And so it came 2001, the year the Trane’s album “Olatunji Concert” was released. I remember that at first I was happy about this record because, even if poorly recorded and produced, it was really my idea of music put on a CD. Pure sound, sometimes pure noise with fragments and echoes of melodies coming from God knows were. And then it happened something I would call an ‘agnition’. 

I was on a trip with friends, a psychoanalist – not my therapist, at the time I was followed by a younger woman – and other people. We had to join a panel discussion, or something similar. This pal, the therapist, was interested in what I was listening to, so he asked me to put some music into the car stereo. I had some records with me, not by chance, and my choice was the “Olatunji” album. I thought it would be funny, to see the reactions of my friends. But what I didn’t know at that time was MY reaction. Something really unexspected.

While listening to the melody of Coltrane and its development on “Ogunde”, and then the harsh screams of Pharoah Sanders, I felt something inside of me, as if something were collapsing and crumbling. Obviously there was nothing in me really happening, this is only a metaphor for a feeling. But I remember clearly that sensation of something falling apart in me, and I would use, back in those days, to describe this feeling I kept for myself, the German word ‘spaltung’. 

‘Spaltung’ (in English: ‘split’, or ‘slit’) is a word used by Jacques Lacan, the self-promoted renovator of psychoanalisis, to identify the ontological division of the self between a talking being and a thinking being, meaning that you’ll never be able to describe with words your true inner feelings, and this scar is the first trauma of every human being. Since I’m not Slavoj Zizek, I won’t bore you with such concepts moreover, but those were the things that came to my mind in those times.

I never had such emotions again, but I remember that my basic idea was, if I’m able to feel something I’ll never be able to trasmit, and if this is something I have to take care of, something I have to be responsible for, in a way this is, as far as myself, the same as a good improvisor does while he creates his own language and music: something he is responsible for, even if few people understand him. If Arto Lindsay takes his risks in scratching his guitar, why do I have not to be serious about my own life? 

Since 2004 until 2007 there was also a period where I simply could not listen to free jazz and improvised music. Every time I was trying to spin a record by Don Cherry, Peter Brotzmann, or Gato Barbieri, I was having horrible feelings. I had never been aware of another human being with such sensations as me, but in a way I feel now that at that time I wasn’t free as a person, and so I was not able to listen to such a free music.

If you are readers to my blog, now you know that everything is all right. I mean, I can listen to music so carefully that I can write about it. So, it’s just fine. But when I knew that Pharoah Sanders was working to a new album in London, and then when finally I was able to listen to that record a month ago, the one I’m reviewing for you now, I thought back to those events of my life. Obviously I was curious about how such a record would sound, and I was pleasantly surprised in listening to it this spring. 

All things started in 2015. At that era, Pharoah Sanders listened by chance to “Elaenia”, a record made by Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points. Curiously enough, he was also in a car, but with a guy from a record label, and not a psychoanalist, who gave him the hereabove mentioned album. Sanders and Shepherd started meeting each other. Maybe they were going for a visit into the British Museum to see ancient Egypt’s statues. Or maybe they were talking about music together.

Then, the two started thinking about making music together. “Floating Point” is the result of this meeting. It can be described as a symphony in nine movements somewhere between third stream, ambient, minimalism; as if Gunther Schuller met Brian Eno and Steve Reich. Let’s try to analyse the movements of this work, so that we can deal with it closer and describe it more carefully using the most apted words. 

Fist and most important, this record sees harpsichord piano, other electronic instruments and the saxophone on the foreground. “Movement 1” sees Shepherd depicting the few notes that, repeatedly, will constitute the skeleton of the entire composition. After quite a while, it’s Sanders turn to improvise a melody that will give you the feeling of being back in the era where Coltrane was playing with the likes of singer Johnny Hartman: his gentle side’s ghost is now between us.

Strings come near just to underline the ecstatic atmosphere with a series of prolonged statements. They dominate “Movement 2” a little bit more, even if the scene is taken by Sanders and his melancholic melody. Some electronic sounds embellish the music, as it happens in some of Bjork albums throughout “Movement 3”. “Movement 4” begins with Sanders voice, whose purpose is to give life to a more human feeling than electronic sounds, just before another tenor solo. 

Some chimes, or sounds that imitates them, enrich the solo, then some piano and electronic melodies in place of the repetitive pattern we hear from the beginning come to give strenght to Sanders statements. Gentle electric sounds succeed each other on “Movement 5”, while the saxophone try to give life to a music that is reminiscent of all the history of free jazz but thin as a gentle breeze; and then, here we are again with the harpsicord pattern.

“Movement 6” is murmured through tenor, clavier and a cello solo. What’s peculiar in this music is that you don’t have a simple add of instruments, the one on the other. Every note is brushed with the right space to separate it from the others. Then the orchestra underlines the cello’s melody gaining the foreground. The impression anyway is not that of an alternating of full, rounded sounds and more sparse notes, a well known dynamic in jazz music, but that of different feelings cohexisting together in the heart of the listener. 

Crescendo of last part of the movement leaves space to a new repetition of the now well known hapsichord notes at the beginning of “Movement 7”, even if soon we hear a new melody on saxophone. Now silence is almost more important than music, or, better said, it is from silence that the music can take his life. The entire orchestra also is aware of this, and so it’s more cautious in participating to this creation.

More harpsichord little figures go around Sanders’ tenor, taking soon his place in conducing the music. An ecstatic melancholy is, anyway, the predominant feeling of this part of the symphony. We hear a more decise turn on minimalism. More and more rapid figures intertwines, until a new saxophone assertion, more decise than the previous ones. Even the coexisting of analogic and electronic sounds isn’t creating a contrast, also thanks to the equipment Mr Shepherd chose for the recording. 

Piano, Harpsichord, Celesta, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3, Oberheim 4 voice & OB-Xa, Solina String Ensemble, Therevox ET-4.3, EMS Synthi, ARP 2600 and Buchla 200e are the instruments that are mixed together with the saxophone and the orchestra. “Movement 8” seems to come from a session of 1970s rock music, even if the notes we learned to appreciate are constantly present, at least until new electronic sounds appear jumping into a silence every now and then, leaving you with the feeling of constantly reemerging from a dream.

Finally, a subtle organ drone drive us until “Movement 9”, where, after some silence, we can appreciate the orchestra’s dramatic but atonal crescendo until the end. An album for people who want to undestand how much the shifting from one feeling to the other or the compresence of different feelings can be a form of spiritual awakening – because art is always a form of spiritual awakening – “Promises” is exactly as its title wants to suggest. 

For those of you who are not completely aware of the history of avant garde jazz, Farrel “Pharoah” Sanders – his nickname is the gift of another big soul, the mythological Sun Ra who hosted him in his Arkestra at the beginning of his career – is one of the very first musicians to experiment with free form and the decise insertion of noise elements taken from R&B into his sound and vision, as many other did at that time, from John Coltrane to Albert Ayler.

Recluted by Coltrane himself in his second small group after the one with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones disbanded, and even prior in seminal records like “Ascension” and “Meditations”, Sanders stayed with Trane until his death in 1967, following then his path with new, different ensembles, and experimenting with different types of music. This album is a way to reconcile past and present, since Sanders style evokes that of his soul brother and maybe, given Coltrane’s curiosity for every music style, it is not far from the truth to think that if he would have lived longer, maybe he would have experimente with such sounds. 



Monday, May 24, 2021

Zeena Parkins – Mette Rasmussen – Ryan Sawyer “Glass Triangle” (Relative Pitch, 2021)

I became aware of Mette Rasmussen and her music about five years ago: after reading an article about her on an Italian newspaper I always buy because I can find some interesting articles on improvised music and cinema, where her work was presented as very interesting and if not innovative at least highly appreciable, I started searching for her work online through video and audio files.

I first listened to some of her solo peformances from 2015 since I knew that soloing is one of the most difficult setting for an improvisor, and I wanted to see basically if the praises about Rasmussen I read were really acceptable. I have to tell you the truth: I was a little bit disappointed. Rasmussen has a graspy, assertive tone, something every passionate listener of improvised music can love, but her language seemed a little poor to me.

I love solo performances by saxophone players. One of my favorite records back in the days was “For Alto” (Denmark, 1971), a double LP by saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton. His first appearance to the world outside, this record seems to me even today one of the best statements on that particular instrument. Not superior, because music is not a competition, but worthy to stay near Ornette Coleman’s best works. 

I hate to put it simple, but if you wanna to express yourself on one instrument, you have something to say. Braxton in that record was saying it all. Ornette through his multiple settings was saying everything. Kaoru Abe was saying so much. Rasmussen, as far as I was able to hear, was a great sparring partner – I also saw videos where she was playing with musicians such as Thurston Moore or Chris Corsano – but when it came to solo improvisation, she was not expressing herself completely.

That was really disappointing to me, not because of some attack to my well refined senses, but because it happened in a period in which I was reflecting on how improvised music is mostly a music for men and made by men, for hystorical reasons I expressed here in this long article. So, reading about Rasmussen I had this little hope that things maybe were changing for the better. But Rasmussen was, and still is, a young musician, and everything can get better maybe with just a little time. 

Funny thing is, few time ago I was able to finally buy a copy of Peter Brotmann’s recent solo tenor improvisations “I Surrender Dear” (Trost, 2020) and things became complicated: this record, in fact, is not the same Brotz we’re able to hear from “For Adolphe Sax” until his Tentet. It’s not that Brotzmann has become sentimental, not at all. But the music on the Trost solo album is only different from the usual.

And so I thought about Rasmussen and her solo exhibition and I asked myself: have I missed or misinterpreted something? So this weekend I listened again to Brotzmann on solo tenor, and then I went back to Rasmussen listening her work extensively. And I find out she is improving, not only: but she came out this year in February with a great trio record on Relative Pitch, a New York-based label. So, what a better occasion to share my feelings and thoughts about this music with my readers? 

For those who don’t know her, Mette Rasmussen is a young alto saxophone player coming from Denmark but currently – at least this is what I read through multiple online presentations that are cut and pasted the one from the other – living in Norway. She studied at a local conservatory, but she brings always with her some books to study while she’s having some rest from exhibitions. Here’s some of the people she has collaborated with: Chris Corsano, Jamie Saft, Alan Silva, Mats Gustaffson, Paul Lytton, Thurston Moore and Goodspeed You! Black Emperor.

Usually compared to Albert Ayler and Gustaffson for her graspy, raucous and confrontational statements, Rasmussen gives her best – in my opinion, so I strongly recommend you to make your own listening to her in different contexts – in duo, trio or with other musicians. This album featuring Zeena Parkins on electrified harp and Ryan Sawyer (Marshall Allen, Boredoms, Thurston Moore, and many others) on drums can be considered one of the best way to start with. 

The first thing I noticed while handling this record are the titles of the compositions (“Nat Bygone, just biggone”). Irony is great thing, and if you think about Fluxus, in a way, I thought back at FIG, the Feminist Improvising Group, an ensemble you can find some recordings along the Internet, but that no one guiltily wants to reissue, as least as far as I’m informed.

The first thing I noticed while listening to the record was, obviously, the music. Alto opens with rapid and abruptly fractured statements. Drum figures and harp blowing answer back. Little by little, every instrument structures his own language, answering each other. Sax becomes dramatic and explodes, while drums and harp scratches contour it. After, harp and saxophone put themselves together, until alto designs little pieces of sound again, and so drums take the foreground while harp goes on the highest pitches. 

Here’s finally a sax melody on the lower and medium registries, launching itself at the end in ultra high grasping notes, with drums closing the piece with dust (“Begiunners, begges, beattle, belt, believers”). The second piece (the record consists actually of an entire concert aptly divided in six parts for the album) opens with the drums with the saxophone indulging; full and void dynamics here makes me think about compositions like “No. 2” by Henry Threadgill.

The mood is in effect more meditative, but the space here is handled with a more contemporaneous sensitivity – maybe we’re more deluded than we were in the Seventies – and so the saxophone is crackling on medium and high pitches, while drums depict different colors here and there. Harp becomes episodic, as Parkins doesn’t want to intrerrupt the dialogue from his pals. Then the sax melody makes stronger and dramatic statements on higher registries, and so the harp underlines them with scratches and semi-drones. 

Drums, as in the best chicagoan tradition, creates an atmosphere suspended between melody and rhythm. This second piece (“Nat Bygone, just biggone”) ends with the sound of wood from the sticks, little bells, and the diminuendo of the harp. At the beginning of the third piece, Rasmussen explores as much of the pitches and registries she can; even if she’s mostly on medium and high tones, even if what I feel is a lack of lyricism as present, instead, in some of the musicians she is quite often compared with – Albert Ayler for instance.

Zeena Parkins in this third improvised piece is the first sound source, and the conductor, so to speak, with sounds that seem to come from a theremin and that almost imitate a human voice. Saxophone fastens, while drums become pulviscular again as in Sunny Murray tradition – which is not bad for a musician coming from an alternative rock environment, snob as this assertion can seem. 

After “Flood of Trees”, the piece we have tried to describe here above, on “The crystal chain letters” drums come back with obsessive patterns, saxophone echoes as a short wave analogic instrument, then it brings you a melody on the medium and low pitches, while the harp brings back the last suggestions and drums again become like a little thick flood and sax comes back to high, trembling registries.

“Merlin and the gleam” is full of post-coltranian reminiscenses in the drums and sax interactions, the harp produces scratching sounds, and then Rasmussen shifts on the altissimo pitches: the other two musician give her complete freedom of speech, the climax becomes really intense and dramatic. After some other melodic hints by the harp and a new fragmentation of the drums, it’s the time for the closing “Melts into surface”. 

Here, Rasmussen becomes almost lyrical but without becoming really melodic. She suggests more than creating an atmosphere. Subjective as this description almost minute-per-minute can be, from it I can imagine the reader able now to see what’s good to me in Rasmussen music and what are her weak points, so to speak. Imagine them in a solo context and you got to my point.

On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine musicians, like the one featured on this record and the other Rasmussen’s collaborators relying on them for no o few reasons. I can only tell I’ll continue in listening to her music and following her evolution, since I’m really interested in living in something more than a comprehensive environment: it can be better to live in an environment where people can express themselves and improve without the difficulties we all as part of the human history carried with us until not that much time ago. 

Related resources: Downtown Music’s gallery for the Glass Triangle Trio.



Sunday, May 23, 2021

Various Artists “Anthology of Experimental Music from Mexico” (Unexplained Sounds Group, 2020)

There are records who are interesting for the music they convey, and records interesting because they help you to rethink your thoughts. The music in this album, released on November 6 last year, is important for both the reasons. But first, a little bit of history. In a market dominated by English and American musicians and productions, one think that in other parts of the world improvised or experimental music can be only a new acquaintance, or the product of a colonialisation.

To tell the truth, there are musicians all over the world who play experimental music since decades. Re:KonstruKt label, which I documented many years ago through AAJ, is one of them. They had a relatively bright exposure on the media because they were good and lucky enough to play with people like Peter Brotzmann, Joe McPhee or William Parker. But nobody dug the roots of Istanbul experimental music. So, since I will talk in this article of Mexican experimental music, I want to play a little bit with its history.

At the end of XIX Century, composer Julian Carrillo developed “Sonido 13”, or “The 13th Sound Theory”. Not applied until he composed “Prelude to Colon” in 1925, this theory pioneered microtonal music. In fact, Carrillo divided every octave in 13 instead of 12 pitches, as it occurs through the history of Western music. To show how easy this new system was, Carrillo asked some guys studying in an elementary school of New York to transcribe a Bach work according to Sonido 13. 

Every guy in the classroom did the transcription in less than one hour. Easy as the theory can be, in fact Sonido 13 to be executed needed a new bunch of instruments, apted to the new music. As an example, a well tempered piano has 88 keys. For Sonido 13, a piano would need 704 keys instead. Anyway, new music instruments were built. But Carrillo was not alone in this attempt to create a new, more contemporary, music.

Carlos Jimenez Mabarak transitioned from tonal music to dodecaphonic music in the 1950s, and it opened the music he wrote to new, experimental methods. His mother was a writer working in the diplomatic service, so he studied as a young guy far from Mexico, in Guatemala, Chile and Belgium. He had a diploma in 1936, and the following year he took the decision to dedicate himself completely to music. So, he started teaching composition at the National Conservatory of Mexico City. 

In 1945 Mabarak composed for Chavez his Symphony in E flat. His music can be divided into three periods: traditional (1935-1955), dodecaphonic (1956-1976) and then a comeback to traditional sounds until his death in 1994. But his compositions are important since they’re showing how it is difficult to divide the work of a composer between tradition and innovation, since the two elements can be intertwined together.

This little excursus – I advice you my reader to give a try to both Mabarak and Carrillo, since their music is available through the World Wide Web – just to show you how music is usually divided by critics in traditional and innovative, and then in subgenres, but such divisions are hystorical, and need to be criticize. Ugo Volli, an important semiologist in my Italy, writing about paintings stated that there is no such things as a Impressionistic picture, or a Pop picture, per se. 

All you have in fact, are figures depicted on a canvas, with more or less recurring elements, more or less rounded, or edgy, parts, created with different techniques, and it is the critic or the viewer who, thanks to his notions and cultural background, give the work of art a particular place in the known history of paintings on his own mind. But this is an intellectual operation. More or less, the same I do when I write a review for a piece of music. So, musically speaking, there are no such ‘traditional’ or ‘innovational’ elements per se.

Obviously the listener, or the critic, will be able to frame a given music, and he can also take his pleasure in doing so, but this is usually not what musicians do. Take as an extreme example William Parker when, interviewed on The Wire, said at the beginning of the new century “I’m a conductor of energies, more than a composer”. How many improvisors or composers would subscribe such a statement? Many, in my opinion. 

And so, here we are with this record issued last year by the Italian label Unexplained Sounds Group, that features pieces of experimental music created in these last years by Mexican artists and that is the demonstration of the fact that not only it is difficult quite often to recognize a sound – it is a voice, a guitar, an electronic machinery? – but also to give name to what you’re hearing without questioning your preconceived notions.

In fact, the less interesting artists here are the ones who uses only one set of brushes, so to speak, instead of mixing different techniques. But, let’s give the record a new spin so that I can describe the music, and the artists, herein. The opening track is a piece by a musician I met in London in 2011, Rogelio Sosa. Musician and sound artist, he studied electro acoustic composition and improvisation through different medias. 

His piece La Noche Del Nahual consists of sonic patterns, the ones you find in some of the most intriguing compositions by Bruno Maderna using computers of his own time, but here you have anyway an autonomous and personal idea of music. So there is the reference to Maderna, but you’re able to enjoy the piece and its climax per se, not only for his references.

Then, it follows the Tecuexe Band, an acousmatic ensemble that uses pre-Hispanic, Mariachi and electronic tools. Their purpose is to explore music traditions of the old Mexico. So they give this anthology a piece of music called Acahual with the chia that is percussive but a little bit foregone. 17°48’N by Juanjose Rivas is also something we have listened to so many times before. The ‘nomadic multispecies’ collective called Interspecifics are the last one to give life to rhizomes that in a way are older than the rest, through their Topologias del Deseo. 

Then, we are finally run pleasantly over by Israel Martinez with his Totaua: the repetitive patterns are sufficiently disturbing to become really interesting, and also the way he plays with the full&void dynamics are very personal. Unluckily on a record we’ll not be able to see him working with different medias like videos and photographs as he usually do, but if you are planning to visit Mexico, maybe the so called ‘restart’ can bring us new live performances by such artists.

Simonel on the opposite uses electronic obsolete instruments to give life to a fresh sound interspersed with melancholy and exstasy. You hear it is electronic analogic music, but the intention will show you how much the artist has reflected intensely on what he’s doing. After, you can immerse yourself in the music of Roberto Romero-Molina, a sound and visual artist from Tijuana, who works on both sides of the border. 

Escandinavia por Ala Delta starts with rhythmical sounds with glitches here and there, loops of recorded voices and other sonic gestures. The atmosphere is interesting, you exspect that something will happen and effectively at a certain point you run into a Diamanda Galàs-like moaning voice. And then it’s the turn for Rodrigo Ambriz, both composer and actor, with his very interesting Et voici la fièvre.

The voice is distorted electronically, echoing both Antonin Artaud and Isidore Isou a little bit, with an ‘evil’ mood, and a dramatic quality that, even if it’s the longest piece with its 15 minutes, it’s the most interesting and very far from being boring, at the opposite: it’s one of the most intriguing in this anthology. Then it’s the time for Mito del Desierto and its Larva ella que trastorna: basically it’s a poliphonic ensemble of sounds and voices, with a rhythmical background. 

Last three pieces of music are the flux rich of sonic debrises and echoes of far away melodies of Los Heraldos Negros’ Amydos, the concrète sounds orchestrated to reach an apted climax in Conception Huerta’s INVASION and the almost lynchian sound design by IN FORMALDEHYDE ad their NoirLand. Last music you’ll hear in this record are again Tecuexe Band with Sembrador, another rhithmically driven piece of music, where the melody of a flute is fluorishing around electronic sounds imitating the ones from nature.

If you’ll buy the record through Bandcamp you’ll obtain also some digital bonus tracks not on the original CD, printed as a limited edition of 200 copies. Hope to hear more from some of these artists in the future, especially from Sosa, Ambriz and Conception Huerta, but this is because of my personal background. While listening to this record, you can obviously have your own favorites and continue to explore this intriguing music coming from Mexico in the near future. 



Saturday, May 22, 2021

Paolo Angeli “Jar’a” (ReR, 2021)

When about three years ago I reviewed a record where Angeli was featured as a guest, I promised myself to write more extensively about him after the release of a proper solo album. The time has come now. “Jar’a” is a beautiful record where Sardinian music, under the appearances of a tenor voice (Omar Bandinu from the vocal ensemble Tenores di Bitti “Mialinu Pira”), is mixed and intertwined with a not-overdubbed-or-overtly-post-produced-post-rock-music.

In its premises, and in its results, the record is a very melancholic product, on one hand since Angeli’s special guitar remembers here the atmospheres of Christian Fennesz or of Sigur Ros, throughout the echoing of the saturated noise, on the other because both Sardinian folklore and post rock are now, in 2021, leftovers of an assimilation to the maistream or, to put it as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in his movie “Birdman” states, of a ‘cultural genocide’.

But, let’s go back to the roots. Paolo Angeli is born in 1970, and he started to play guitar at 9: his father was his first teacher. In 1990 when the University of Bologna was occupied, there the Laboratorio di Musica e Immagine was born: 14 musicians, including Angeli, were unhinging the boundaries between composition and improvisation, and between the music genres. Those who depict occupations as an occasion to sleep and smoke joints don’t know what they’re talking about, evidently.

Three years after these events, Angeli was back in his isle, where he asked Mr Giovanni Scanu to teach him the secrets of folk music and folk guitar. Contemporarily Angeli attended the singers of the sacred week (Easter) coming from different parts of his beloved Sardinia. This is the period, during until 1996, where Angeli worked on his ‘sardinian prepared guitar’, an incredible instrument mixing together Sardinian roots and the avant garde music, with its 18 strings and its being a hybrid between a baritone guitar, a cello and a drumset.

These are the years where Angeli set his poetics and start collaborating with imporant and very creative pals at the same time. He will issue records in company of his Sardinian colleagues Gavino Murgia on tenor saxophone and Antonello Salis on accordion and prepared piano, but also with international known improvisers such as Evan Parker, Hamid Drake, Mats Gustaffson and Ned Rothemberg.

In 2005 he left Sardinia from Barcellona, where he developed a new style of music: these are the years of his collaboration with Fred Frith’s label ReR, culminating in the album “Tessuti” where he played compositions of Frith himself and Bjork, the famous ‘alternative pop’ singer. From 2010 to 2013 after attending a concert by Paco de Lucia, Angeli fell in love and studied flamenco guitar, obtaining in the end a mix of different traditions: flamenco, Balkan and Arab suggestions, music from the North Africa.

From 2015 to 2016 he toured extensively Brasil, Australia, Japan, Turkey, and Europe. After all these experiences, and after mixing avant garde, traditional music and indie rock – there’s another intresting tribute album after “Tessuti” called “22.22” where Angeli plays the music of Radiohead – our hero is ready to put together all these different experiences. The resulting record is this “Jar’a” we’re reviewing here.

An album thought in six movements, it starts with the sound of a guitar arpeggio similar to the one of an African kalimba – as a matter of suggestion. Then, on the second movement, guitar feedbacks and saturated sounds leave soon space to little arpeggios fluorishing around arco’s melodies. Then the music widens through new sound patterns. An electrified melody becomes more dissonant, then again the arco and the echoes, while electric and acoustic melodies alternate to arpeggios and melodies.

The third movement sees an electrified arpeggio with little rhythmical accents, then the fourth movement starts with a guttural voice becoming more melodic and the hyper saturated sounds of guitar somewhere in between Sigur Ros and Fennesz as mentioned previously. A trembling effect almost breaks the surface of sound mixing then with it. The voice is amplified through delays and guitars effects.

The fifth movement is full of echoes of the music of the Slint, the historical post-rock band from the 1990s, then you can hear an almost ‘music concrète’ through the reverbs. And finally the sixth movement comes, created around another guitar arpeggio accompanied by a sound pattern and the voice, culminating in what can makes you think of the sound of an undertow.

What you’ll hear through this album is a music made of different elements that are fitting together very well. There’s no nostalgia in there, nor the atmosphere of a frigid experiment I have heard through some other records in these last years. This mix of ancient and contemporary musics is something you feel as natural and fluid as something cultivated for years, and we all need to be so grateful to Paolo Angeli for his desire to create new music and take on the right tracks his inspiration. 



Friday, May 21, 2021

Paul Dunmall – Matthew Shipp – Joe Morris – Gerald Cleaver “The Bright Awakening” (RogueArt, 2021)

I started listening to this record as one of the very first things I did since I came home this afternoon, very excited for it, and then bam! Never hearing before the music of Paul Dunmall, not even when I resided in London ten years ago, after a couple of phrases on tenor saxophone I was hooked! The soul, all the values I learned to love in this music were here, coming out of my speakers.

But I wasn’t completely happy. And then, I recognized those sounds. “Oh my!” I though. “I can recognize where this music is coming from!” But lets’ start from the beginning. Paul Dunmall is born in London, or best said Welling, London, in 1953. His father was a semi-pro drummer, and thanks to him Paul started playing with the drum kit at a very young age: at 12 to be precise.

After a couple of years Dunmall got his first alto, then he started playing Otis Redding material with his first regular band. Classically trained at a local conservatoire, his first idols on saxophone were Junior Walker and Chris Curtis. At a record shop he worked after school, Dunmall was finally able to listen to the likes of Ben Webster and Stan Getz.

At 17 he started playing with Marsupilami (“a heavy, hippy, strange band” he stated in an interview) and moved, following his new friends, to a farm in Langford, Somerset. That was the time he first toured in Europe, visiting France, Holland and Germany, and also the time he first heard of Coltrane thanks to his band’s singer.

At first it was “Meditations”, but after a month Dunmall listened to “Afro Blue” and was definitely into Trane. Then, it was the time of Albert Ayler and Wayne Shorter. For a few time he started playing improvising with the drummer, then he came back to London where he experimented what he after called “a spiritual awakening”.

At first, Dunmall thought about a trip to India, but then he discovered the Divine Light Movement in London. Spiritual practicing and making music became his daily life, touring with the musicians he met at the ashram even in the US. The music he played with the guys were “jazz/soul/rock-based modal things with few solos now and then”.

Then after some problems with the ashram the group disbanded and Dunmall played with different rock bands. In 1975 he incided his first record with Johnny Guitar Watson. At the same time, Dunmall was heavily practicing while listening to Freddie Hubbard, Mc Coy Tyner and Rashaan Roland Kirk.

In 1976 he came back to the UK where he played folk and jazz music. After hearing the album “Spirits Rejoice” by Louis Moholo (now Louis Moholo-Moholo) he was introduced to the free impro movement. And now, after you’ll go to his website or to other resources all over the internet just to find out how impressive his discography is, is the time for a more recent history.

Pianist Matthew Shipp – you can find a full, very interesting interview by me with him here – met Dunmall at a Café Oto residency in 2010, and after a couple of years the tenor saxophonist called him to play live with Joe Morris on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The resulting concert is the one hour-long album issued this year by label Rogue Art titled “The Bright Awakening”.

The music is very aware of Coltrane’s album “Meditations” to me, as I said before. Even if Dunmall avoid Coltrane’s use of tri-tones and the sound consequently is not so overwhelming, he in a way reproduces, or cites, some melodic lines from that album and, for the rest, adds that raucous and graspy sound he takes with him from the old days in which he was playing R&B.

Matthew Shipp has always been conscious of the music of McCoy Tyner, Trane’s companion in many sessions, and while Dunmall explores both upper and lower registries, he provides a rhythm according to Morris bass and Cleaver drums that makes the music levitate in an excellent manner. But the reference to Coltrane, quoted not litterally but almost, can be a problem as we’ll see now.

I remember when, at the beginning of my career as a reviewer, I met an Italian critic who told me that Wayne Shorter in some of his older stuff was “embarassingly similar to his idol Coltrane”. I tried to listen to that stuff myself, and even if I recognized big qualities to Mr Shorter, above all in the music he gave life with Miles Davis, I was with the here not nominated Italian jazz critic.

The problem is, I listened to many musicians who claim for their music a spiritual quality. Sonny Rollins as an example, and then his disciple David S. Ware, who played for a long time with Matthew Shipp and who is in no way similar to his master. Because, you see, what’s the spiritual quality in being similar to someone else?

Obviously the quotes can be only quotes, i.e. an hommage to a great spirit and a great music. But the problem here is that the music seems an accommodating version of Coltrane’s free jazz. Some hints on bossa nova pianism and funky drum and bass rhythms can suggest this difficulty in being fully “free” the way Dunmall states in his interviews, not knowing what will happen next.

I’m not saying that while listening to this album you’ll know for sure what will happen, but in a way at the end of the record nothing had blown your mind with something you were not prepared for. The fact that this is really a good album and that I want to listen more to it, even if I usually get bored when immersing myself in things I know yet, doesn’t solve the problem.

Obviously there’s Anthony Braxton great theory to give us a little help: there are musicians, who are great innovators, and others who follow the path – there’s a third way: being nostalgic, but it’s not the case here. Paul Dunmall is a great follower. Great. Anyway, somewhere in my head, something is saying to me that if you cannot be completely original, you are not really yourself.

But for the moment, I want to give credit to the four guys here more than to myself, and give this anyway interesting new record more spinnigs. Maybe one key to this music is from a Dunmall’s quote: “I just want to have my own voice and have a great sound, like Dexter Gordon – but used in a free improvisational context”. I don’t think there’s nothing definitely wrong with that. 



Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Mauro Sambo & Marcello Magliocchi “... camminava solo sotto le stelle ...” (Plus Timbre, 2021)


A couple of years have passed since my last review. I abandoned – another time! – free jazz and improvised music since I was hearing only some interesting stuff here and there, but lost in a big desert, so to speak. More recently I started writing again, on paper, and I felt the need to go back to my (let’s call it) youth. So I went to a record shop and I came out of it with a bunch of recent records (Cecil Taylor at Angelica, Roscoe Mitchell on ECM, Peter Brotzmann solo...) and finally, while I was listening to those records, I was curious again of hearing new stuff around me.

And then I remembered of Mauro Sambo. I have to confess my readers I feel guilty with him. I never met Mauro in person, but he sent me physical copies of six of his CDs plus a DVD about ten years ago, when I first started writing to this blog. We also had some exchanges through social networks. But I never wrote a single word about his work, that is very singular and interesting. So, while I wait to relisten to all of his older stuff, maybe for a retrospective, Mr Sambo is out right now with a new record in duo with Marcello Magliocchi. And, what a record.

A little bit of history first. Mauro Sambo started his artistic career at Venices’ Accademia di Belle Arti, and during his studies he won some fellowships and had his first exhibitions through Italy and Europe culminating into his participation to the XLIV Biennale di Venezia in a section dedicated to young talents coming from all over the world. His first works are sculptures and pieces of performance art. He shifted to sound in 1986 basically because of his will of putting together sound and images.

As a musician, Sambo is a multi-instrumentalist (reeds, percussions, flutes, guitars, electronics) whose relationship with sound is always peculiar. If you might, think about the first performative sounds of a concert of his beloved Art Ensemble of Chicago mixed with that intimistic but mystical quality of the sound of a musician like Evan Parker, even if grammar and syntax are quite different, and you’ll not be that far from the reality of Sambo’s music.

Created quite often as one of the many brushes for his performances, music is a part of Mauro Sambo’s palette, and it’s very interesting to see him playing saxophones through a metal cage, or sharing the space of a concert with other musicians like he does on this CD from 2021 titled “... camminava solo sotto le stelle ... “ (He was walking alone under the stars, NdA) accompanied by friend Marcello Magliocchi, an intriguing drummer and percussionist who creates music gestures through sounding sculptures aptly created by Andrea Dami, plus an electric guitar with only one string and other percussions.

Magliocchi is an accomplished musician of his own, who in the past played free jazz – with the likes of Mal Waldron or Joelle Léandre, just to name a few, contemporary music and movie soundtracks. His touch is both important in creating the atmosphere and the inner space throught which you move as a listener, and in underlying with his tools his friends improvisers. This is why I compared this sounds to the one produced by the AEOC.

On the other hand, Sambo statements, even if quite often fragmented and short, create a space for a meditative listening that is quite similar to the one you’ll find listening to Evan Parker on soprano, even if the two musicians use a different language. Parker repetitions and binaural sounds open your mind, while Sambo can obtain the same effect almost as if he’s fragmenting the space through sound or, at the opposite, splitting up the sound through space.

“Improvisation – Sambo states in a recent interview – is absolutely necessary, obviously it needs to be inside some predetermined patterns, patterns dictated by your own culture, you emotional approach to the situation created in that particular moment, even if you play alone (the environment and the public has an influence on your path) or with other musicians”. This, as everyone can understand, is a music made out of relationships more than relying on mastering abilities like speed or resistance. And, in this sense, it is true contemporary music. 



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.