Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Misha Mengelberg “Berlin Solo 1987“ (self released, 2021)

In Italian and other languages, differently from French and English, the terms to indicate a musician ‘playing’ are different from that of an activity implying a game. Same with acting. This, in a way, is a distortion. Misha Mengelberg is a musician that, as Cecil Talyor would have put it, “can play”. But Mengelberg is a serious musician or one of those who love to come back to childhood as each one of us should?

During a concert in Italy, at the beginning of the new millennium, Mengelberg was, at a certain moment, singing like a child, almost out of tune – or indifferent to tune. You can find an interview about that performance at the following link – even if unluckily for you the interview it’s in Italian, but it’s only because I don’t want to be perceived as disrespectful.

Fact is that, Misha Mengelberg believed in music as John Cage believed in it. Music has a childish quality in itself, that is the sound of freedom. If Lou Reed said once that listening to music is like to be in your mother’s womb, with the drums mimicking your mother’s heartbeat, for centuries in the western world the rules of music were almost at the point of destroying the mother and the children, suffocating them with rules. 

Do you remember Chopin’s Nocturnes? I own a beautiful double CD with Maurizio Pollini playing that incredible music. But for Chopin’s contemporaries, that music was really only shit. Because it was music for piano, and the piano was the instrument where women were performing music at home. So, how some culturally evolved men were supposed to loose their time with things more suited for women?

Things are different nowadays, but even if concerts for piano solo are held in my city in prestigious theatres, there is a sacred quality with (classical) music that makes people like John Cage and Misha Mengelberg wanting to play with it, to disrupt that facade, that mask, and go deeper to the heart of both the musician and the listener. 

More prosaically, as I wrote four years ago one week after Misha Mengelberg died aged 81, our pianist was born in Ukranie in 1935, son of the Dutch conductor Karel Mengelberg. His family moved to the Netherlands in the late 1930s and the young Mengelberg started taking piano lessons at the age of five. Subsequently he studied architecture briefly before entering the Royal Conservatory at the Hague.

Influenced by Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and the above mentioned John Cage, Mengelberg in 1964 participated to a session of music with, among the others, drummer Han Bennink – who will become one of his lifetime collaborators – and multireedist Eric Dolphy, for the record of the latter titled “Last Date”. It’s like the perfect joining link between the US and Europe, as far as improvised music. 

As many of his peers and colleagues, Mengelberg recorded a huge variety of live performances. The one we refer in this review is a solo performance at piano coming from a cassette labeled as “17-18-4-88 berlijn solo”, but in fact it has been established that the record comes from a solo performance in 1987. The music is different from the assertions of the US free jazz and avant garde music from the 1960s and 1970s, you can smell something coming from Fluxus or european avant art and theatre. At the beginning.

The record is divided in four parts, two parts per set for a couple of sets, to be accurate, from 15 to 23 minutes each. At the beginning we can hear the piano has been prepared as Cage would do, but the music, spanning from the lower to the medium registries, becomes after a brief introduction a little excited just to come back to what it seems to be an attempt to create assertions who are interrupted, hammered, deconstructed. 

Finally the hummed monologue becomes like pearls whose fall resonates on the floor, then the perpared part of the piano comes in the foreground, with the strings hummed and dragged, then again we hear a small melody reminiscing some baroque music, just before an attempt to deconstruct the melody itself, just like Marc Ribot does sometimes with his guitar – it would be interesting to track how the two banks of the ocean have influenced each other and how.

At about minute 8 Mengelberg tries to mix some assertive chords with more subtle excursions on the keyboard, then for quite a while silence fill the room just before a come back to this mix of melody and humming, giving us that feeling possibly Roland Barthes was referring to in his La Chambre Claire when talking about the “punctus”. We go on with many permutations until the end of the first part of the section, not without some nice occasions to hear Mengelberg pressing, pushing and crushing, so to speak, his keys. 

Second part of the first section opens with a series of violent strumming on the lower registry of the piano, like we’re accustomed to listen to in Diamanda Galàs playing in her beautiful but haunting Defixiones, but instead of adding a raucous and grasping voice, at a certain point we hear another deconstructed melody – in fact it seems like a mix between a blues and a classical tune, which is no surprise since as a muisicologist pointed out in a recent number of the magazine Musica Jazz, Thelonious Monk himself was keen on taking inspiration from classical music for the blues pieces he wrote.

Obviously Mengelberg music isn’t devoid of more intimate, reflexive moments, but if the influence of Monk in these moments is clear and goes well beyond the quotation, which is present anyway, straight to the feeling of that music, one wonders, at a certain point, if it’s true that there are differences between the Western and the Eastern banks of the Atlantic, since the elements put to cook together seem to be almost the same. 

We’re at almost half of the second part and a deconstructed ragtime appears, magnificently interspersed with a strumming on the medium and upper registries. As far as it seems, the music of Mengelberg from the beginning of this album hits us because of the ability of his creator to put together different styles and different emotional temperatures giving us the feeling that something almost new is coming from that clash.

After a brief applause, the last ten minutes of this section are dedicated again to the music of Monk, but it’s a Monk that we still know revisited by Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, and so it’s a Monk who lives of different interpretations, as his music would have gone well far beyond his creator’s death. Strumming on prepared chords occupy a consistent part of this section of the record, just before coming back to a deconstructed melody. 

If the first set was equally divided into ‘decostructing Baroque’ and ‘deconstructing Monk’, the second set sees Mengelberg engaging in an attempt to put his hands on the living matter of classical music interspersed with more modern experimentations, using a similar ‘method’ to the one described above – that’s why we don’t describe it almost second-by-second as we did before.

My advice today is to listen carefully to these sets, available through Bandcamp, because if it is true that on a first level the European Avant Garde music from the 1970s on is more keen on playing with the sound matter and how it has been hystorically defined, while the US Avant Garde is more keen on creating new shapes and forms – think about Braxton and Mitchell, at a deeper level you will find in fact similar concept in both – aren’t Mal Waldron and Steve Lacy from the US? 

And if there are different temperatures and general architectural concepts to differentiate the two currents, on a deeper level the bricks are the same, even if layered differently. I won’t loose time in affirming that, being mostly African-American the music coming from the US, it is more keen on illustrating how to survive in an hostile environment finding out the inner strenght to survive, while the European musicians find themselves more at ease with playing with culture and ideal constructions putting them out of context in order to see what they can become.

Because, in fact, in both cases the nucleus is an attempt to say something different from the mass thinking, the thinking of Power, in order to establish a new, spiritual order, that of freedom. And if Don Cherry encouraged Peter Brotzmann to go ahead with his music, we cannot let records like this unlistened, because their story is, mostly, our own story. A history of freedom, an attempt to a better life for each one, the search for new forms of music and life.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Camila Nebbia & Patrick Shiroishi “The Human Being as a Fragile Article” (Trouble In Mind, 2021)

Even if improvised music is a niche since it’s very beginning in the 1970s, nonetheless it gained attention in every part of the world – this is also the main reason this blog is written in English: to give the best visibility to this music to all the people interested in it – so different scenes rose up all over the world. In the past I wrote for All About Jazz about an avant garde scene in Istanbul, and few months ago I reviewed on this blog a CD collection of experimental music coming from Mexico.

But those of you who are more keen on tasting different dishes with their own ears maybe are familiar with musicians like Kaoru Abe and Yosuke Yamashita from Japan, as well as Ibrahim Maalouf from Lebanon or Vijay Iyer from India. So, what I’m gonna do with this article, is to present you a couple of younger improvisors who gave life this year to a beautiful cassette now out of print but available to your listenings through the Bandcamp website.

The first improvisor featured in this cassette, titled “The Human Being as a Fragile Article”, is multi-instrumentalist and activist Camila Nebbia. Nebbia comes from Buenos Aires, Argentina, but recently she has moved in Stockholm, Sweden. Devoted to free improvisation, electronic music and mixed media (mostly super 8 film, archives and digital video). Nebbia is co-creator and curator of a collective interdisciplinary group and of a concert series. 

In her website I can see a huge amount of artistic collaborations I’m completely new to, so I think I’ll map them in the future. Her artistic companion in this cassette issued very recently is Patrick Shiroishi, a Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist and composer based in Los Angeles who, this year, has released other different and interesting material: from Hidemi, a solo album where he give life to a tribute to his father, also musician, Hidemi Shiroishi, through a multi-layered instrumental construction, to the more approachable album Natsukashii where he leads a quartet.

It’s not easy to find out resources on similar musicians along the World Wide Web and this is the reason I think it’s important to document their music in spaces like this one. Let’s start with the music, so. The first piece is called Un Nino Llamado Cuervo, opened by distorted saxophones intertwined the one to the other creating an intimate, meditative but urgent atmosphere. The second piece, El Ser Human Como Un Articulo Fragil, the title track, sees the spoken part introducing every sonorous fragment more linked to the music, which is a little bit more lyrical making me think about some of the early Braxton compositions. 

Al Costado De Los Recuerdos, with its seven minutes, its small percussions, bells, pre-recorded birds, crossed by a ghostly, delicate melody and some interspersed scratches. Olvido is introduced by small metal percussions and voice, bringing the horns in the background at the very beginning before a more peer to peer dialogue, while Mi Pies Son Tan Fuertes Como Mì Corazon is constructed on small blows and again a spoken part in the background. Mentiras y Silencio is based on continuous, subtle but assertive little lines on the horns with fragments of field recordings giving life to something I can visualize as a fire burning around the horns themselves.

El Espacio Entre El Lenguaje features percussions, horns and an almost far away chant, whereas the following short Terra Seca and Apagar El Televisor are based respectively on faster saxophone lines – again, derivative from Braxton language as far as I can hear – and squealing, honking horns remembering some experimental stuff from the 1990s of John Zorn. Finally, it’s the turn of the longest composition/improvisation on the cassette, the more than 11 minutes long Mientras El Cisne Blanco Se Eleva Al Cielo, No Deja Rastros Acà Abajo, full of raucous notes, shorter, deconstructed statements, meditative atmospheres, fragments of voice, of pre-recorded sounds like the resonating sounds of a Sitar, other effects, giving me the impression I was right in finding an inner atmosphere to the music I was listening from the beginning. 

In a way, listening to this music, I found myself at the far left of a spectrum of experimentation based in a world full of TV series pretending to give us instruments to our thoughts, and struggling and revolts who don’t resonate that much in our Western media, asking myself if I’m dreaming when I think of this music as derivative from a well defined ‘fire’ but more keen on looking at a well determined inner space. Obviously, we can say that starting from your inner self is the best way to rise up your own consciousness, but I miss that highly formal experimental statements from the 1970s as a way of telling the world ‘the hell with your common sense and wisdom, I’ll fight for a wider - and not a better – world’.

I’m not saying this music has a too much confrontational quality. It is confrontational and experimental as far as this world we’re living allows it to be. And this is the big deal. But one deal we can afford only listening better to records like this one and trying to confront this music with the one from the past, in order to understand better the different worlds they were created in. Paradoxical as it is, I think there were better information, in quality, in the pre-internet era. Now everything is accessible, but not only the good informations. But this is maybe another problem, and will talk about it another time. 



Monday, October 25, 2021

John Coltrane “A Love Supreme Live in Seattle” (Impulse!, 2021)

October 2, 1965, a Saturday night. The place is The Penthouse, a club held by Joe Brazil where people like Roland Kirk and Chick Corea played many times. Mr Brazil won’t be very happy of the performance of that night, but not because of the music: the deal is, ‘Trane lovers drink only one beer, then they listen to that demanding music with almost religious concentration. But they’re right. That night, John Coltrane enlarged his historical quartet in order to welcome a bunch of other musicians, so it was worh to listen to them carefully.

It wasn’t the first time for the multireedist, this kind of enlargement of his quartet. Few months before, during the sessions leading to the album The John Coltrane Quartet Plays, he hosted bassist Art Davis, along with Jimmy Garrison, for a mournful version of the classic song Nature Boy. Also, the same year, Coltrane recorded his pivotal album Ascension, released only the following year, where he led his classical quartet plus Art Davis again, trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Dewey Johnson, altoists Marion Brown and John Tchicai, and tenorists Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp.

This period, from 1965 until the end of ‘Trane life in 1967 for a liver cancer, is my favorite in the saxophonist career. Les schizophrenic than the previous years, where Impulse! managers were constantly asking him to produce a hit song like Atlantic’s My Favorite Things, forcing the musician to issue records like Ballads, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, while it was clear listening to his less commercial stuff like Africa/Brass, India and the live versions of My Favorite Things what Coltrane’s real direction was, the 1965/1967 period marks the end of the classic quartet and an attempt to follow more experimental paths. 

Unluckily the extraordinary machine of the classic quartet in the end disbanded. Pianist McCoy Tyner declared more than once how unable to listen to the music he was with the passing of time, due to the volume of the two tenors – Coltrane took Pharoah Sanders as a permanent member of his band, and for a short amount of time tried to set a couple of drummers, putting Rashied Ali and Elvin Jones side by side – the latter also said farewell not knowing exactly how to manage with the uncertainties of ‘Tranes experimentations.

But with Alice Liddle, further also Coltrane’s wife, on piano, and Jimmy Garrison as the only member of the previous group remained as pivotal contrabass, the music went on for that short amount of time leaving some masterpieces like Meditation, the above mentioned Ascension, Kulu Sé Mama and the drums/saxophone duets contained in the beautiful Interstellar Space. 

Anyway, that night, the second occasion we know in which Coltrane played the A Love Supreme suite in its entirety, was for sure a special night. Just to start, Carlos Ward on alto and Pharoah Sanders on tenor and percussions are present in this concert/record, as well as Donald Rafael Garret at a second bass. Ward has been mostly a sidemen for people like Coltrane, Karl Berger, Don Cherry, Abdullah Ibrahim and Cecil Taylor if we refer to jazz, but for the most part of his life the man played also funk.

Donald Rafael Garret has been one of those rare musicians whose career is difficult to put in a box and to label. A collaborator of Muhal Richard Abrahms and his Experimental Band, he played also with Sun Ra, Coltrane – he is present also on the double album Live In Seattle, on Om and on Kulu Sé Mama –  Johnny Griffin and Roland Kirk between the many others. 

This version of A Love Supreme is very far from the original, even if the themes of the four sections are all expressed in their entirety and clearly distinguishable. But the variety of musicians involved and the different intros before every part of the suite make this album one of those products of research you can also be disappointed with, if you’re not that much adventurous. Another characteristic of this record is that the use of small percussions by Sanders and the presence of Ward make this rendition of the suite more keen on the experiments of the AACM, building a bridge between the wave of NY free jazz and the Chicagoan avant garde movement.

Those who are familiar with the Juan-Les-Pins version of the suite – played on July 26, 1965 by his classic quartet – will be not particularly swept up by ‘Trane performances on this Seattle date, since he was careful in order to leave the correct amount of space to his many hosts. Ward solo on Pursuance is possibly the most interesting part of the record since it is completely unheard before and Ward himself is not an overrepresented musician – unluckily – but for sure he has something to say: his solo is flamboyantly obliquous but clear and meaningful in his statement. 

Pharoah Sanders solo on Pursuance is something every Coltrane fan wanted to hear in a clearer recorded environment since the release of the Olatunji Concert in 1999. There, the noise of the poor recording wasn’t helpful in making us concentrate on Sanders honks, squeals, parodistic marches, while here his solo, that for some parts is not that much different from that on My Favorite Things, is finally clearly audible.

And it is an important statement. Apparently, Pharoah is not matching with the rest of the band and seems not consequent to what John previously have played, but if you listen closely it makes completely sense. Hazardous as it is melodically, harmonically and chromatically, Sanders’ solo is one you don’t forget quickly and that in a way change emotionally at every listening, depending on the feeling it moves in you, that can be different every time. 

In his liner notes for the album, Ashley Kahn writes that maybe there can be other live versions of A Love Supreme to discover. We hope so, and we hope they will be different the one from the other, in order to touch with our ears how different even a perfect music can be while involving other human hearts or the same in different occasions. Quick note for the listener: this live version is recorded with the drums and the piano on the foreground and the saxophones and the bass on the background. Disappointing as this can be for some of you, some people say that listening to it in mono, if your stereo gives you this opportunity, is a good correction.  



Saturday, October 16, 2021

Alvin Curran and Walter Prati "Community Garden", Milano, La Fabbica del Vapore, 10.15.2021

I’ve been in the Monumental Cemetery zone in Milan many times in the past. I love to take pictures of the statues in the cemetery with my camera. I have experimented with natural, harsh light, so I suppose sooner or later I’ll came back with a simple direct flash in order to obtain a different effect. But yesterday night I’ve gone to the Fabbrica Del Vapore which is near the Cemetery, in order to see one of the cornerstones of improvised music, Alvin Curran.

Alvin Curran was in the 1960s one of the founders of the group Musica Elettronica Viva, that hosted musicians and composers as Frederick Rzewski, Richard Teitelbaum, Steve Lacy, Allan Bryant, Carol Plantamura, Ivan Vandor and John Fetteplace during his various decades of activity. MEV was one of the very first groups of musicians to experiment with the sound of synthesizers, giving life to what, in the following years, would have been called “electro acoustic improvisation”.

Friends of John Cage with whom MEV played a composition titled Solo For Voice 2, where Plantamura voice was trasfigurated by a Moog synthesizer, the group featured many collaborations with master improvisors – there’s a beautiful record from 1976 titled Time Zones featuring Teitelbaum and Anthony Braxton. But the main point with EAI is that it helped widen the concept of composition. 

Preparing a piano is, per se, a compositional gesture, as an example. And this is what I have seen first yesterday night as I entered the room where the concert of Alvin Curran with his longtime collaborator Walter Prati would have been played. Curran had at his own disposition a prepared piano (with cardboards, a small plastic bottle half full of water, a ligther, etc.) and a keyboard previously programmed with many sounds (human voices in English and Japanese languages, the sound of many different musical instruments as trumpet and saxophone, natural sounds like water falling, but also many manipulated sounds).

On the other hand, Walter Prati had a couple of laptops and a small electric viola enriched with a couple of pedals and an arco. Even if the concert was presented as a celebration of a recent CD published by the duo and titled Community Garden, disposable both physically and on many streaming platforms, the music the people filling the room with me listened to yesterday was completely new. The musicians themselves, in fact, didn’t knew what they were creating. So, the listener was attending to the music on the same side of the musician.

The more analogic sounds of the prepared piano were interspersed with samples, electronic sounds, manipulated sounds, the electric viola (both pinched and arcoed), giving life to a multilayered effect from whom emerged some curious moments like the sensation of attending to a music blob and more melancholic reminiscences of Ellington blues. But it is really difficult to describe every moment of the music, and maybe it’s also pointless. 

We can say to our readers that all dynamics of sound and silence, of flux and interruptions, and the sonic ranges have been experimented with success. Creating a music is not only a matter of playing, but also of listening and halting, sometimes, as Prati stated at the initial little speech before the concert. As far as me, I can obviously saying this was the most intense and interesting concert I attended this year, between the ones I wrote a review for this blog.

Community Garden has been for sure an intriguing live performance. The prepared piano, historically meaning the attempt to deconstruct bourgeois music as part of the values of one small but imposing part of society, the idea that composing doesn’t mean only to write down a bunch of notes on a piece of paper but creating an environment for creativity, the mix of sound and noise as part of a sound environment, the blurring of the line between the conscious will of the musician and his unconscious or physical response to the partners, is all we heard and saw yesterday night. 

It is important to testify these little moment of creativity and deconstruction (and reconstruction) of our ideals of what music is, because we all are living in a very conservative period, where music is mostly entertainment or a mere wallpaper for different environments, while in fact the sound world is a recall to our first environment and, this way, an important tool to create a new, collective meaning to life. And so I’m grateful to Curran and Prati for sharing with us their thoughts and feelings under the shape of beautiful music. Don’t miss them, if they’re around to play. 


Friday, September 24, 2021

Ben Goldberg “Eight Phrases for Jefferson Rubin” (BAG Production Records, 2021)

When last week I was listening to a clarinet in a concert of contemporary music, I was hit by how much dissonant this instrument was in that context, so I fully understood Eric Dolphy, one of my favourite multi-reedists, when he tried to be as scratchy as he could on bass clarinet. Above all, even if he studied the style of music I was listening to in that moment, his roots were dwelved into blues. So when I first listened to Ben Goldberg, I was in a way deeply fascinated by his touch.

But let’s start with a little bit of order. In the last issue of an italian magazine devoted to jazz there is an intriguing review of Goldberg’s last album, Everything Happens To Be, featuring a well known rhythm section to my readers: Michael Formanek on bass, Thomas Fujiwara on drums, plus the architectural guitar of Mary Halvorson. I didn’t wanted to review it since few time ago I wrote about Goldberg’s companions in full, but I promised to myself to spend some time listening to his music.

Ben Goldberg is an incredible musician. He studied with Pauline Oliveros and in some way her sensitivity matched perfectly with that of his pupil, as we will see during this review. During the lockdown Goldberg lost all of the concerts he was supposed to play, and so he started developing a musical diary published through his Bandcamp account. But this year he released a couple of intriguing records: the one with the trio mentioned here above, featuring also Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone, and an older album of previously unreleased material that will be the heart of this review.

The album is titled Eight Phrases for Jefferson Rubin. Rubin was an intimate friend of Ben Goldberg, a sculptor that curiously enough for a certain amount of time lived and worked in my own country, Italy. Sadly he passed away after an accident with his pickup truck. The music featured in this album is recorded by Goldberg on various clarinets, plus veteran Larry Ochs on sopranino and tenor saxophone, John Scott on guitar, the basses of Lisle Erris and Trevor Dunn, and Michael Sarin on drums.

The first things that came to my mind, even if it can seem a superficial description, is that Larry Hochs plays his sopranino saxophone, as an example in a piece like the initial Problem, as Steve Lacy was playing his own soprano: lots of edges, staccatos, various techniques used in order to give his instruments not a raucous but that quality of a tense sound, as typical of a music coming from jazz and an instrument whose lack of roundness need the players to be solved.

Obviously Goldberg is not playing here the part of a Steve Potts, with that characteristic stream of consciousness, but he is respectful of the atmosphere created by his pals and by his own decisions as a composer: an intense, meditative but not intimistic mood that can be related to what happens after a tragic loss. In his book Sud e Magia (South and Magic) anthropologist Ernesto De Martino described how music was used in south of Italy to help people to avoid madness after the death of a beloved parent, but in a way Goldberg’s music is intended to avoid concepts and actions related to catharsis.

Plain of Jars is, again, introduced by a saxophone whose melodic and harmonic structures will be for sure well known to the fans of the Rova, even if here there’s something different from the typical impetuousness of a quartet of reeds and a more direct orientation to explore all the possibilities of the instruments. Silence is a compositional tool widely used in this piece of music, and the single players are able to fill it with a respectful creative tension.

The piece titled Visited sees a unison of reeds and arcoed bass, and a consequent tension transmitted also through the dialogue between the other bass and the drums. Guitar weaves a dramatic and expressively urgent canvas, while the crescendo of the other instruments dramatizes music in a magistral use of distortion evoking the ghost of a Ronald Shannon Jackson. The clarinet behaves consequently, but the tension and release program sees the music reaching some peaks just to leave the soloists an aptly space of expression.

Eight Phrases, the other ten minutes long composition on the album, start with a clarinet statement added with sparse drums here and there. After, soprano saxophone crawls while the clarinet takes the role of the drums and the bass give the composition his right pulsation. Then a clarinet solo and another duet with the soprano leave space to some syncopated brushes and a bass texture, that after a while sees also the intervention of a gentle guitar. Another reed dialogue closes the piece.

Brace and Bits sees the clarinet sneaking out through the drums figures, rapidly substituted by a guitar solo. Drums and guitar continue together until clarinet and sopranino draw some lines at the horizon, depicting a vivid landscape. After some drums figures, guitar harmonics and the clarinet close. With Elements, it is time to leave some space to bass and sopranino, intertwining so well that the drums give only a few gentle brushes hits to add some little spices to the music.

Lost Touch sees Ochs mastering his tenor saxophone through a melody whose structure is well known to the lovers of jazz tinted with contemporary music, and the assertiveness of the tutti creates a dramatic bridge to the tenor’s wild, finally releasing the tension, assertions. All the instruments are finally living the opportunity to express themselves in a wild context, lowering the volume but not abandoning their creativity to underline the clarinet solo.

It’s time to close, and Snow is perfect for this purpose with his guitar melody: it’s like a night coming after a full, troubled day. This record can be the perfect introduction to a figure, that of Goldberg, and I invite you to recover also his debut with Kenny Wollesen in the Klezmer Trio, his compositions for Steve Lacy and the album by avant garde guitar hero Nels Cline New Monastery. I think one of the most satisfactory things about jazz and contemporary music is that when you meet a new pal, you really want to see how he behaves in different context: here there’s a new occasion to that.




Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Eliane Radigue "L'Ile Re-Sonante", Milano, Auditorium San Fedele, 09.20.2021

The Auditorium San Fedele is near the Duomo of Milan, and it’s also near a good great library. Not that far there are some small restaurants for ‘i Milanesi bene’ (the Milanese bourgeois) so it is good to be able to breath some fresh air thanks to the music. But before to start, a little bit of context – yes, more.

Every year the above mentioned Auditorium organizes a review of various artists coming from electronic music and contemporary music called Inner_Spaces. This year, thanks to the Covid, the guys were not able to create a real review, organizing different concerts before a given date, so the only thing we as externals knew was that on September 20 and 21 there would be a performance of the precious piece of music L’Ile Re-Sonante by Eliane Radigue.

The masterpiece of drone/ambient music by Radigue was introduced by a couple of shorter pieces of music by the younger composer David Monacchi, born in 1970 and disciple of Salvatore Sciarrino. Monacchi is developing since 15 years a project called “Fragments of Extinction”, where he exposes the sounds taken directly from nature (e.g. the sounds of the Amazon rainforest) in an attempt to preserve its purest sound forms.

First Monacchi piece was Stati d’Acqua for fields recordings (taken along the Tevere, the river of Rome, but also from a scanning of a six month foetus and the resonance of the fluid of a human body), while the second, part of the above mentioned Fragments of Extinction series, featured the sound of the rainforest in Brasil. If Monacchi research on site is remarkable, I can’t completely enjoy the result, even if it is not bad.

The way ‘real’ sounds intertwine themselves with electronic sounds, as an example, makes me think about the clarinet and the tape recorded dialogue in Stockhausen’s Stimmung, but the result here is that of a mere flux of the ones into the others and viceversa. Something we have listened to for about ten years at least. The way also Stati D’Acqua terminates, with a slow lowering of all the sounds, without any apparent reason, makes me think of a compositional cul de sac the composer didn’t took seriously.

But I have to admit it, it is difficult to mix the will to create a meaningful sonic environment, with the desire to report the climate crisis we’re all living: there’s a comunicative urgency in Monacchi that overwhelms him as a composer maybe. Or maybe it just me wanting from a soundscape the same complexities of contemporary music.

Things don’t go that much better with L’Ile Re-Sonante by Eliane Radigue. I think we have to deal, for once, with the given definition of the music: “drone-ambient music”. Yesterday night I heard very clearly all the drones, but it was not ambient music. I heard description of this work of music everywhere as a music created to impregnate discreetly the environment in which it is played. At the opposite, yesterday the volume was very high, at a point the structrure was resonating clearly and distinguishably.

I heard almost a long, prolonged piece by Sunn O))) maybe, instead of a composition by Eliane Radigue. I’m joking a little, but that was the feeling anyway. The good thing was that the drones were clearly audible, initially as a human heartbeat slowly beating, then the air was full of different textures the one mutating into the other until I was able to distinguish, with time, three different sonorous landscapes: the first drone movement, then a bunch of female operatic voices, then again another drone.

Two things came to my mind: the work of Mark Rothko, or at least a music transposition of it, and the Vipassana Meditation – I mean, the music was creating the right environment for it, so I closed my eyes and started a Vipassana myself. More prosaically, L’Ile Re-Sonante is the highest compositional point of Radigue as far as her work with the ARP 2500 synthesizer, and the best possible union of the different roots Radigue was referring to: European composers of noise music (Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari) and the american noise minimalists like Rhys Chatham, or Pauline Oliveros drone music.

Nevertheless the ‘acousmatic direction’ I have depicted, the work of Radigue is one of the most brilliant and important composers in contemporary music. I still hadn’t the opportunity to listen to her most recent stuff – I know she’s encountering several musicians to discuss the sound dynamics of their instruments composing music ad personam – but I’m sure it will be interesting in the future to immerse in her sound world. I so hope her research will be rewarded by brilliant results.  



Friday, September 17, 2021

Olivier Messiaen “Quartet for the End of Time”, Milano, Teatro Dal Verme, 09.16.2021

The best way, for someone unfamiliar with contemporary music, to start listening to this genre is undoubtely, in my opinion, the Quartet for the End of Time by Olivier Messiaen. Its vivid melancholy mixed with open meditative trascendency is something everyone can deeply appreciate. The story behind the composition of the eight movements is impressive too.

So, even if sometimes I listen to this work of art on my PC as many other music, I wanted to give it a deeper listening, and when I knew that there was the opportunity to listen to the Quartet live in a concert hall, I bought istantaneously the tickets for me and for a friend who never listened to contemporary music but that was deeply fascinated by the work and its performers.

More prosaically, the Quartet for the End of Time was created by Olivier Messiaen when he was a soldier in the French army fighting against the German Nazis during World War II. Hostage in a concentration camp, he mediated with a party official to leave him free to write some sheet, and since there were three other musicians in the camp, in 1941 Messiaen and his new friends were able to perform for the soldiers and the prisoners.

Messiaen music is full of references to carnatic music, the sacred music of the south of India, but transposed into a system he called ‘modes of limited transposition’ along with other elements taken from his first serial works. Also an ornithologist, he tried to convey the sound of birds into his own music. He said he was able to perceive colors while listening to sounds – a phenomenon known as synesthaesia – and so one of the goals of his music was to allow people to listen to colors: the second Quartet movement, as an example, is intended to give the listener the sensation of yellow and light blue.

As previously written, the music of the Quartet is divided in eight movements, some ensemble music and some solo music – all the instruments except the piano. The four musicians at Teatro Dal Verme yesterday afternoon were flawless, and this helped for sure me and the huge group of other listeners to enjoy the music. Giovanna Polacco is a talented violinist who studied at the Conservatory of Milan. After, she gain an impressive number of awards and played under the direction of Abbado and Karajan for a long time.

Clarinetist Sergio Delmastro started studying piano at a young age, then he passed to composition at the Turin Conservatory; after a huge number of recordings for Stradivarius, BMG and MGA (Paris), he started teaching composition at the Conservatory of Lugano. Nikolay Shugaev won his first prize as a cellist at the age 13, the first of a long series, and curated a long theory of first executions of authors like Fine, Falcon, Rosenblatt, van Geel and others.

And finally, pianist, harpsicordist and orchestra director Antonio Ballista played in the last decades under the direction of Abbado and Boulez among the others, and he can claim to have the major authors of contemporary music writen pieces directly for him: from Berio to Bussotti, from Sciarrino to Sollima. He toured also with Berio, Dallapiccola and Stockhausen, and collaborated to concerts of Boulez, Cage and Ligeti.

A deeply fascinating journey into the idea of time and transcendency, the Quartet is also full of references to contemporary philosophy. But, surprisingly, the way the musicians interacts the one with the other and intertwine the one with the other will be not unfamiliar to the usual reader of this blog. I’m not obviously saying that Messiaen music is similar to jazz, but that even if this is written music there’s almost an interplay in the way the parts are conceived in relation to the full scheme.

While the clarinet solo is what the words say, a solo of clarinet with all the other instrument muted, the solos of cello and violin are provided with a minimum of interaction with the other three players, giving life to some interesting small dialogues or conversations that can be intriguing for a lover of free improvisation. It’s not a surprise that many composers of free jazz or experimental music are taking this type of contemporary music seriously while studying. 

In the end, if you take in consideration the last works of Roscoe Mitchell and you think about it as a zen kind of music, with the sonorous masses as statements instead of being the developments of a given theme, something similar can be said of Messiaen music, whose praises to the eternity of Jesus and the consequently reflection on time are very tied to Mitchell’s. Sometimes, the difference between genres are only a matter of temperature. So, my final advice is: enjoy the music, wherever it comes from.