The Free Jazz Collective is a volunteer group of passionate and adventurous listeners and musicians dedicated to spreading the gospel of improvised music. The blog is dedicated to authentic, adventurous, accurate, artistic and attention grabbing avant-garde and free jazz.
A key reason for why I like this years ‘Album of the year’ (per the collective), Jaimie Branch's Fly Or Die, is the way that a seemingly innocent and safe beat suddenly starts to decompose and fall apart, like walls tumbling down, just to resurrect as something completely different. I guess I just love when a simple theme explodes in front of me. I’ve been trying to find similar albums after Fly Or Die, and this is one of them. The comparison stops right here.
Marker is Andrew Clinkman on guitar (left), Steve Marquette on guitar (right), Macie Stewart on keyboard and violin, Phil Sudderberg on drums, and finally Ken Vandermark on reeds.
Guitarist Andrew Clinkman is Chicago-based and a member of the band “Cowboy Band” who’s album Cowboy songs cover cowboy songs, in a way that at least I have never heard before. Check on their BandCamp site. Full of experimental joy and energy which reminds me of Irish pub rock bands of the past... Clinkman has also released the solo-album “The Joy Of Cooking” which should perhaps have its own review. Well worth checking out anyway.
Second guitarist in Marker, Steve Marquette, was last mentioned here on FJB playing on "The Few" album Fragments of a luxury vessel. Marquette has his own quintet (Steve Marquette Quintet) and is in general a very active participant in the Chicago free jazz scene.
Macie Stewart on keyboards and violin, plays in the rock band "Marrow" and previosly in "Kids These Days", a now disbanded indie band. She’s also the second half of “Ohmme” (with Sima Cunningham).
Playing the drums is Phil Suddenberg, who’s duo with tenor saxophonist Gerrit Hatcher is well worth looking into, and he’s also part of the rock-/indieband “Wei Zhongle”. Their album Nice mask over an ugly face is brilliant. It sounds like “The Shins” but more experimental and daring!
Last but not least we have reedsman giant Ken Vandermark. Known to many on FJB of course. His new band Marker shows the constant curiosity and willingness to always develop forward, onwards, and what a debut album this is. It’s been getting so much playtime here at home that my wife’s forbidden me to whistle and hum parts of the motif from 'Okinawa Bullfight' when walking around the house.
The first track, 'Okinawa Bullfight' is in essence a 23 minute long song packed with surprises. I’m gently nodding my head to the groove during the first 3 minutes. There’s a cool vibe surrounding the melody the guitars join in I’m starting to wonder where this is going. The beat just keeps on pumping in the background, much like a machine. Then things starts to come off the wall. I open my eyes wide. Nope, false alarm, back to the smoke filled bar, a flavor of the eighties rolls in over funky keyboards. Then it happens again. It all falls apart before the beat comes back again. This is an effective way of getting my attention. The group seems to move through different emotions with ease, and I find myself being captivated by how well they work together. It’s fresh, adventurous and very engaging.
Each song is dedicated to an artist and 'Okinawa Bullfight' carries the dedication for the late Belgian movie director & feminist Chantal Akerman. Movie director and feminist feels very simplified. Perhaps extraordinary artist, pioneering feminist and bold visionary are better ways to describe Akerman. And hearing the music on this first track I’d say it’s a very nice homage to Akerman – full of life, full of energy and full of surprises.
'Every Carnation (for Pina Bausch)' – or Philippina Bausch – the late German choreographer and dance director – has a theme which, similar to Okinawa Bullfight, provides a somewhat safe haven from which Marker can choose to move into different styles. And they do! During the 23 minutes there’s room for everyone to move. Vandermark switches to clarinet and having one guitar in each channel created interesting layers. Another highly satisfying performance – again, full of surprises.
Anthony Braxton and Bernie Worrell (Talking Heads, Parliament-Funkadelic) is dedicated the last song on this album: 'Doctors In The Shot.' After a carefully crafted and extended introduction there’s a thumping post-grunge beat with 2 guitars and drums marching forward. Intensity is increased and I’m almost waiting for Dave Grohl to start singing. But it all comes to a halt and moves in a different direction – of course! Melancholic waves with violin carries the song until it’s ready for another explosion. In wave after wave Marker balance between the introvert and the furious.
Vandermark is such a creative force of today’s free and improvised music scene. I’m so impressed with this new group, and it’s clear that Vandermark is always looking for new and interesting projects. This album is putting all my other reviews behind schedule since I just want to hear Wired For Sound one more time.
My fondness for the rich tradition of reeds-percussion duos in free jazz has proven to be a very fortunate predilection for my ears. Through Andrew Barker’s duo with Charles Waters, I first became acquainted with Barker’s work. With a series of not so many releases on great small labels, like qbico and Earmark records during the late 90’s and early 00’s, the duo formed an extraordinary, yet underrated, body of work where free jazz blowouts, intense solos, and collective playing were followed by mellower moments. Skill, energy and pathos was woven tightly throughout all of the recordings. Now it seems, (with hope that this is a collaboration that will continue to flourish) that Barker has found again a likeminded someone to form a new duo.
I haven’t spent that much time listening to Mikko Innanen’s music, but it’s almost immediately after you start listening to his playing, when you realize that here we have a reedsman that moves easily from tradition to improvisation and back again. He is also someone who has collaborated with great musicians-practitioners of the improvisational ethos like Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink, and William Parker.
This cassette, a nice edition of only fifty copies unfortunately, starts with some boppish lines from Innanen’s sax (who also plays bass clarinet) followed by Barker’s lush percussion work.
The duality of their playing is impeccable. Have they been playing for years, I asked myself. As the cassette plays on, you discover the qualities of the Finnish reedsman’s playing. Sharp tones blending melodies with improvisational gestures. He is a match, an equal to Barker’s skills, rest assured about this fact. They do not succumb to the, sometimes in free playing, easy solution of just bursting out. Their playing is a continuous line of gestures, melodies, changing easily between tonalities and improvisation. They articulate a sound that combines, or better finds a balance, between free playing and melody lines. There are only very few copies left, so go ahead and buy this one, support the artists and avoid paying, maybe, through the nose later, because this one is a great recording.
The opening track of Sing House, "No Such Thing", begins with an angular melody which quickly breaks out into an entertaining chaos of rapid, seemingly free improvisation. This is a fitting introduction to the structure, though that word feels very limiting to describe much of the music here, of Sing House, Jason Kao Hwang's adventurous four-track album. Hwang has assembled a formidable quintet of past collaborators: Andrew Drury (drum set), Ken Filiano (bass), Chris Forbes (piano) and Steve Swell (trombone). Hwang is democratic in his band-leading, with each member given a moment in the limelight to showcase their talents throughout the record.
The tracks are all extended enthralling journeys, with the shortest song, "WhenWhatCould", clocking in at just over 11 minutes. When the aforementioned chaos of "No Such Thing" subsides, after a brief, high octane drum solo from Drury, the theme is restated and leads into a second, much darker mood, which is introduced by the piano and the bass. The energy here is impressive, with Hwang delivering a fantastic solo towards the end of the fourth minute. What is key here is how the track weaves in and around the boundary between the straight-ahead and the avant-garde, Forbes' skillful solo starting out relatively tame before upping the ante.
In contrast to the often bombastic "No Such Thing", "Dream Walk" is a much more spacious affair, beginning with an abstract pizzicato-piano conversation between Hwang and Forbes. Forbes’ gorgeous piano is the highlight of the first few minutes, employing a great use of dissonance in his chords as Drury's cymbals ring in the background. Eventually a motif, which serves as the separation point between each solo, is introduced by the violin and piano before the violin rises to the instrumental equivalent of a relentless scream and starts an intense solo.
Hwang plays viola on "WhenWhatCould", a tune which, like "Dream Walk" introduces itself with sparsity. The viola and bass combine with ominous bowed notes that transition into captivating languid interplay. After the pace picks up a bit, Forbes and Filiano introduce a strong driving set of notes which form the basis of the rhythmic theme of a large portion the composition and accompany part of another abrasive and thrilling Hwang solo. In the latter half of the track, after some quality hectic work by Filiano and Forbes, the song ends on a beautifully grim note, with mournful harmonies from the strings and trombone.
Similarly to the opener, the closer, “Inscribe”, wastes no time at all. The band immediately introduces the motif and springs into life with Filiano taking the lead with a forcefully bowed solo. Forbes, whose playing is often erratic in all the right ways throughout Sing House, comps combatively behind an unhinged trombone solo by Swell. Though the track, like the rest of this album, can be quite aggressive, it also has a surprisingly catchy section. In the seventh minute, the trombone steadily oscillates between two notes to back Forbes’ foreboding descending piano lines, briefly creating an unexpectedly hypnotic atmosphere.
With a title like Sing House, it is a bit ironic that the melodies here are quite knotty and don't stay around for long. Those who come to this record expecting it to "sing" in the conventional sense - have extended periods of singable melodies - may be left cold. However, this is a consistently engaging album - a listener looking for a quality avant-garde jazz record should not hesitate to give Sing House a play.
In the same vein as "Dans Les Arbres", the ten musicians of "Lunar Error" create a sonic landscape full of vibrating sounds that exist and evolve organically. Individual instruments mesh together in a total sound, and there is no melody or rhythm to discern, just the shimmering sounds of many instruments resonating without any sense of direction or purpose other than to exist.
The album's title, Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon, and the band's name, suggest images of endless grey landscapes, with little changes in relief, and a far omnipresent horizon against a dark sky.
The band are Matthieu Lebrun on clarinet, Mathieu Lilin on baritone saxophone, Gabriel Lemaire on saxophones, François Ella-Meyé on piano and zither, Claude Colpaert on gangsa gantung, harmonium indien, Thomas Coquelet on harmonium, vocals, mixing board, contact microphones, Léo Rathier on banjo and objects, Paul Ménard on electric guitar and effects, Pierre Denjean on acoustic guitar and gong, and Quentin Conrate on incomplete drum kit.
Despite the size of the this band, the music is basically quiet in one endless flow of merged multiple sounds that sometimes increase in volume, density, and adding a sense of distress, then dissolving again, without ever too much disturbing the sense of calm intensity that is there from the start.
It's an EP, short but good. If you're interested in this type of music.
This CD is a 42-minute duet between the trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and the Portuguese National Pantheon. Santos Silva is becoming increasingly well-known in free jazz and free improvisation circles, whether through her membership in the group Lama or a host of other projects made in groupings across Europe. For those who have not visited Portugal, the Panteão Nacional may be unfamiliar.
The phrase “obras de Santa Engrácia,” the construction of Santa Engrácia, is an expression in Portuguese that denotes a building project that will go on forever. The source of the phrase is Lisbon’s Church of Santa Engrácia, yes, the Panteão Nacional, located in the city’s ancient Alfama district and overlooking the Tagus River. Endless? The church’s state of incompletion was a constant through centuries of change, a symbol of upheaval. Construction of the first church dedicated to Saint Engrácia on the site began in 1568. The present church began in 1681 after previous ones on the site had collapsed. Construction proceeded for thirty years, until the building was abandoned by King Joao V, distracted by far more ambitious construction projects—an aqueduct, palaces, a cathedral, an opera house.
It was finally finished in the 20th century. In 1916, six years after the fall of the Portuguese monarchy and the launch of the First Republic, it was repurposed as a National Pantheon, a tomb for the country’s greatest figures. It was finally completed in 1966, forty years after the fall of the first Republic, four years before the death of the dictator António Salazar and eight years before the Carnation Revolution turned Portugal into a modern democracy (the “obras” and the construction dates come from the Wikipedia entry).
In recent years the profoundly resonant space—high, thick, dense stone walls; an almost circular space; a dome--has become the occasional site for concerts of a highly contemporary sort. The Variable Geometry Orchestra, a large-scale assembly of free improvisers led by Ernesto Rodrigues, has played there, and the guitarist Abdul Môimeme has recorded a fascinating solo concert there, Exosphere on Creative Sources (full disclosure: I wrote the liner note). The appeal of the space is immediate: it offers something like a 20-second time lag, making it an extraordinary medium for sustained pieces and the exploration of sonic decay.
Here, Santos Silva is literally playing the Pantheon with her trumpet, tin whistle and bells. The Pantheon takes her sounds and magnifies them, playing them back to her, extending them. When she plays succeeding tones a semitone apart, the echoes explode around her. When she (apparently) aims her trumpet in a different direction—sound (overtones), amplitude—change markedly. It would be remarkable if Santos Silva merely explored the sound of the space, its shifting echoes and durations, but she does far more. She creates a profound, subtly evolving work that engages the possibilities of the trumpet and the building as if they were paired, like the two resonators on a veena.
The music is open, the Pantheon is open, and you are invited to hear it any way you can or wish. Some selective thoughts:
At times Santos Silva will throw out a great burred, brassy blast; in contemporary terms, these are multiphonics; in architectural terms, they’re challenges to the Pantheon’s walls to respond in qualitative kind; in jazz history, these are almost rude noises, or maybe even more “dinosaur in the morning” than the sound of Coleman Hawkins thus described by the critic Whitney Balliett, in one documentary it is presented as the sound of the unrecorded Buddy Bolden. These signs point to the status of this concert as a kind of originary moment, intimately connected with multiple histories;
The Panteão Nacional has been almost exclusively a male residence. The first woman to be interred there was the great Fado singer Amália Rodrigues, in 2001. It is perfectly appropriate that a woman should make such a profound statement as All the Rivers at this site;
While the Panteão Nacional is an imposing, even intimidating space (an elevator ride to the terrace for a view of the Tagus involves squeezing into a confined space cut into one of the incredibly thick walls: the claustrophobia suggests “immurement”—to be entombed in a wall;
The CD jacket offers no images of the Pantheon, no suggestion of the power, the grandeur, the solidity, that distance that grows as you get closer. The cover of All the Rivers could not be more opposite: Santos Silva dedicates the CD to her grandparents; the front cover photograph, uncredited, presents an older woman holding an infant; pink wallpaper with an abstract arabesque suggests floral bouquets; in the photograph there is a statue on a pedestal of a boy in formal dress, perhaps from the eighteenth century, reading a book. These are intimate emblems, a personal history, a history as unlike as possible the history to which the Pantheon speaks; a history of the intimate and familial versus the history of church as state (resonating with Jose Saramago’s Memorial do Convento [in English, Baltasar and Blimunda]);
Santos Silva’s performance in the Pantheon is a rich meditation on the nature of time, its expanse, its mystery and its construction in the moment, the necessary relationship between works and breath. If the Pantheon would seem to enclose time, to celebrate a permanence, Santos Silva opens it in a matter of 42 minutes. The strange history of the “obras,” that construction that ebbs and stops with the passage of centuries and the convulsions of politics, is scaled to the performance, the power of the transitory to find form that is lost to a stone monument.
Are time and timelessness different or the same? Is one the route to the other? Which one? Santos Silva and the Pantheon meet on the path of time’s riddle, a mobius strip. We are left blessed with these long tones, these multiphonics, these reverberant bells, these ceremonies of memory, exploration, freedom and reconciliation.
The Aural Terrains label celebrates ten years of activity with several releases that affirms its mission of being “a creative space for exploratory contemporary music in its different manifestations” and “a platform for like-minded composers-musicians who navigate the different aural terrains and depths of sound with vigilance and integrity.”
Steve Noble / Yoni Silver - Home (Aural Terrains, 2017) ****
When Israeli bass clarinet player Yoni Silver relocated to London he began meeting with drummer Steve Noble for weekly sessions that lasted about two years and led to the recording of Home. The album was recorded during two session on April and July 2016 and is dedicated to Silver's newborn son Alexander Silver Schendar. Both Noble and Silver are clever and inventive improvisers, informed by free jazz but not committing themselves to any form or convention. Noble has played with innovative improvisers such as Derek Bailey, Wadada Leo Smith, Evan Parker, Thurston Moore, and Joe McPhee. Silver plays in the Hyperion Ensemble of Romanian composers Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana Maria Avram, played with German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, recorded with Israeli metal-circus-core band Midnight Peacocks, and with composer Dganit Elyakim. Silver has developed a unique technique for the bass clarinet - instrumental prosthetics - that enables him to expand the woodwind sonic palette into the realm of electronics and noise.
The first two pieces begin as quiet rituals, almost meditative, with super-precise and hyper-detailed search of common resonating, buzzing and sustained sounds. Patiently, Noble and Silver expand and deepen their sonic palette, transforming the ritualistic interplay into an intense, tense and dense texture. The third and fourth pieces extend this quiet approach with an unsettling dynamics, still totally attentive and exploratory, but with a conflictual spirit, allowing their reserved sonic storms to intrude and clash with each other Noble and Silver conclude this sonic meditation with a full return to the to the ritualistic mode that opened this recording. But like the Zen Buddhist circle, Ensō, the return only symbolize the beauty of the transient, imperfect spirit of the moment.
Thanos Chrysakis / Christian Kobi / Christian Skjødt / Zsolt Sőrés - Carved Water (Aural Terrains, 2016) ***½
Carved Water brings together four sound artists - Greek, Belarus-based, Aural Terrains label founder Thanos Chrysakis who plays on laptop and live electronics; Danish Christian Skjødt (known from his collaboration with Danish guitarist Mark solborg on Omdrejninger, Ilk Music, 2017), on live electronics and objects; Hungarian Zsolt Sőrés who plays on a 5-string viola (laid on a table), contact microphone, effects, dissecting tools, sonic objects; and voice and Swiss soprano sax player Christian Kobi. These sonic explorers performed at the Sound Art exhibition ‘On the Edge of Perceptibility’ on October 2014, in Műcsarnok - Kunsthalle, Budapest.
The two pieces offer two different strategies of sound artistry. The first one, 39-minutes long, sketches peaceful, abstract textures where the weird, sparse sounds flow and and drift in a clear and quiet - almost ethereal- stream. The four musicians steer and carve this delicate, liquid kind of interplay in an economic manner but surprisingly sketch a rich and detailed texture. There are occasional, sudden outbursts of tense interplay but none lasts for long before the quartet resumes the emphatic, contemplative commotion. The second shorter piece, 12-minutes long, is more dynamic, intense and stormy. The quartet creates continuous noisy waves that keep spreading all over the space, almost tangible with its raw, disturbing substances.
Carlos Costa - Door of No Return (Aural Terrains, 2016) ****
Spanish double bass player Carlos Costa says that for a long time he was fascinated by the image of a 'Door of No Return', a symbolic title that captures the essence of his uncompromising, free-improvised solo art. A title that radiates his strong commitment, pushing through this imaginary door towards the unknown, towards freedom, and never going back. Being at the here and now and becoming “an instrument of pure sounds, harmonies of pain, rhythms of new times, melody of contemplation... chaos and harmony.”
Door of No Return is Costa's debut solo double bass album, recorded on April 2015. Costa's technique is informed by the innovative work of French classical double bass player Alain Bourguignon and American free-improvisers like Mark Dresser and Mark Helias. Each of the ten “Door”s investigates, in a highly disciplined, almost scientific manner, a certain aspect of the bull fiddle timbral spectrum - extended bowing technique, including using the bow or bows on the wooden body of the bass as a percussive instrument, resonating overtones, different kinds of harmonics, multiphonics and other weird sounds and noises. Costa plays the double bass as an observant explorer who maps meticulously uncharted, almost alien-sounding territories. His profound knowledge and understanding of the physical anatomy of the double bass as well as his sense of invention and searching spirit are highly impressive.
Edith Alonso - Collapse (Aural Terrains, 2016) ***
Spanish composer and sound artist Edith Alonso's career has encompassed many fields. She began playing classical music on the piano but soon grew interested in the guitar and saxophone and explored jazz and rock. In the early nineties she played the electric bass in a local punk-rock band. Later she studied electroacoustic and instrumental composition in Paris and discovered musique concrete with composers François Bayle and Pierre Henry. She composed music for many multidisciplinary formats - live poetry, audio-visual, dance and theater projects, improvised in a duo and trio outfits and composed music for "Docuficción en vivo" (documentary fiction - live) about the International Brigades in Aragon (during the Spanish Civil War).
Collapse is a four-part composition for prepared electric bass, recorded in May 2014, edited and mastered by Alonso a year later. Alonso transform the electric bass to an otherworldly sonic generator. She keeps producing from the prepared and mutated string instrument more and more bubbling layers of raw, industrial sounds until any conception of the electric bass spectrum completely collapses and drowns in this dense swamp. This demanding journey open with the aggressive “Collapse I”. “Collapse II” caress a distant pulse in its foray into alien-sounding terrains. “Collapse III” is more suggestive with its sinister, cinematic quality. The final “Collapse IV” mixes the distorted, processed metallic bass sound into an intense, fiery stew that threatens to erupt and melt anything on its course.
2017 is almost done (writing this review, you'll be reading it in 2018) and looking back I have to admit that Nate Wooley is one of the artists of the year for me. I discovered some of his back catalog this year for the first time, while also listening to new things like knknighgh on Clean Feed - every time I try to follow all the things he sings, talks and shouts with his trumpet. And I can't - which is amazing. And so, here is a new one: Battle Pieces II, on which, for the second time he colludes with Ingrid Laubrock on sax, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Matt Moran on vibraphone.
A quick sidebar ... I have to admit that I love the vibraphone. While it might not fit in the context of this blog but I recommend to listen to everything you can find by The Dylan Group, a band that was centered around the vibraphone. So, from the moment Moran comes in, I am no longer listening objectively. I love the sound and within this quartet, it fits perfectly.
Wooley starts of with a fine little melody in the first piece, then Moran comes along, and a few moments later Courvoisier adds some tones to it. It all starts very calm and relaxed. The four musicians take their time to start together. After three minutes already I've been taken into the music. I am tempted to stop writing (And I am not listening for the first time!) and close my eyes to just listen to what is going on - it is a lot.
With four musicians in a room, on a stage (the album was recorded live in Cologne, Germany.) almost everything is possible. If I have it right, Wooley composes a lot of little pieces, melodies or patterns for the different instruments and every one can play one of these at any time. The 'rest' is up to the improvising capability of the four. So I repeat with this concept and four musicans on stage, everything is possible and almost everything happens: there is silence and noisy outbursts. There are single voices and all four play at the same time. There is sheer power and restrain.
Having said all this I think I have to state my core impression of this album: it is lyrical and it is poetic.
For me a good poem dances on the thin line of open sound and word-play on the one hand and understandable words or content on the other. A poem needs different layers, and this album is full of layers. There are lines, melodies and harmonies I can follow easily. But theses lines carry me to places I have never been and don't understand. Just to assure me a few minutes later that I am not alone in this place and the lines I recognized return in a different mode and so on.
As it always is when writing about music, there is one sentence that comes to mind again and again: 'You should listen to it! You should listen to it to get what I mean. You should listen to it because it is worth every single minute.' Perhaps 'Battle Piece 5', the second track on the album, represents best what I am trying to say.
It starts with a little line by Wooley, who is then joined by Moran on the vibraphone. As I said before. From that point on I am not objective anymore. I am hooked!! Then Laubrock adds her beautiful sound. This is the perfect example why I think this album is lyrical. The melodic voice moves from the one musician to the next and together they take me to places I haven't been before. Six minutes in, the sound gets wilder and more vibrant. Laubrock and Courvoisier build an intense dialogue in the middle of Part 5. Then Wooley takes over with a solo part. If you have heard him play already you'll know what I mean. But before I get lost in that uncharted territory a melody occurs and "takes my ears by the hand". A beautiful piece of music.
'Battle Piece 6' starts with Courvoisier's piano, however, the first two minutes the piano sounds like a guitar as Courvoisier works inside the piano. Moran joins after two minutes with some scattered notes. This all takes place in a very calm vibe. Though all the others eventually join in 'Battle Piece 6' stays calm and ends again with the piano sounding like a guitar, joined by Wooley with an aspirated pattern.
I don't want to write about every piece in detail hoping that you start to listen to it on your own.
To end this review I only need one word, and I mean it:
P.s.: I don't know why such beautiful music is called 'Battle Pieces'. What I hear is a very respectful conversation and no battle at all. Is it exactly that? To contradict battle and all its ways? I checked the internet for a clue (as one does these days) and I found a book of poems on war by Herman Melville. Maybe that is a reference? I don't know.
Free improvisation is the art of close listening. It is the art of intense concentration on the part of the musicians to hear what the other one is doing, understand intentions, sentiments, pauses, room to interact, time to take a step back, time to challenge, time to encourage and expand on new ideas. The basic condition is that you, as the musician, have to know your own instrument inside out to be able to keep all these things in mind while performing. It requires openness of mind and the ability to decide.
The interaction between German clarinettist Udo Schindler and Austrian pianist Ingrid Schmoliner is exceptional in this respect. Schmoliner often sets the tone on these nine pieces that were taken from a live concert in April 2014 at the 44th Salon für Klang+Kunst in Krailling, Munich.
Both Schmoliner and Schindler are true acoustic sound sculptors. The former uses all kinds of materials to prepare her piano, with changing percussive or scraping effects as a result, but she is as comfortable in playing the keys unaltered, and still managing to surprise us. The latter is her true companion in this. His clarinet multiphonics vibrate, oscillate and create deep murmuring sounds, sometimes accompanied by Schmoliners undulating voice, sometimes resulting in amazing effects as on the fifth track, "Münda-ichsagedir", when the clarinet manages some animal-like deep howl, amazingly enough immediately followed by a similar bending tone on a piano string.
Their pallet is broad, and single notes, silence, lyrical phrases, hammered keys, yodeling, dampened sounds, sustained notes, and well, yes, even chords on the piano. Despite all the avant-garde, and their willingness to go even beyond what that crowd expects, there is a kind of return to primitive folklore and deeper foundation of being that is brought to the surface, that is presented here, with beauty.
For Permission, pianist Sam Leak ( Aquarium, Don Tepfer, Spike Orchestra, Sam Leak Trio among many more) has got together with vocalist Paula Rae Gibson (Sophie Alloway, Kit Downes and more) on this CD, released on the ever prescient 33Xtreme label.
Permission opens the CD with Paula’s vocals laying smoothly over staccato piano telling the tale of lovers giving themselves permission to do anything. The vocals are soft, sultry and oh, so, laid back with a hint of sexiness. Every word is crystal clear and backed by equally clear piano chords, responses and retorts it makes for engaging listening. There are some great chordal progressions in the latter half which blend well with the vocals over the top. ‘I’ll Catch You When You Fall’ is a beautiful track, with rich, emotive vocals over percussive piano explorations. The deep, full-throated rhythms struck out by the piano strings and echoed through the framework are amazing and their complexity off-set beautifully by the spaced out, clear vocals. Whilst Sam Leak works the piano into a frenzy, the vocals maintain their steady clarity and there are no meeting points yet this continual diversification works well. The lyrics are in perfect contraposition to the piano and the second half sees the piano and vocals both become more emphatic, the vocals introducing more breathiness and the piano ever changing rhythms, separate yet in a distinct dialogue. Sometimes the edge in the vocals is scary. Totally beautiful.
‘Deepest Down’ is about a sensual woman and the vocals about time searching for her origins. ‘She rules by seduction, this woman no man can hold on to’….’she lives to be desired’ the vocals stretch out the words over gentle chords from the piano. Just when the vocals are in the slightest danger of becoming a tad too predictable, the piano intercepts with trills and runs up the keys, in exactly the right places. This is an example of two musicians reading each other well. What is great about the track is the piano line in the second half where major and minor chords clash in the back ground under the vocal line. We are led, deep deep down before the final chords fade away. ‘Rather Make Believe Than Make Do’ begins with sonorous, deep thunking piano over which the vocal line enters. Here the caress of the vocals is answered every time by a piano which almost seems to speak in response. The vocals speak gently of tsunamis of love and intense feelings but the singing is soft, whilst the emotion of the words themselves is reflected by the piano, as if the piano itself gives voice to the lyrics. There is a lovely section where vocals and piano vie for the ears, both being so intense and engaging. Very clever and so listenable. ‘Second Best’ begins with some open piano work from Sam Leak using the instrument to provide percussive under beats with off-set rhythms and lots of little plonks and twinks along with a thudding boom of the frame. The vocals are clear, relatively smooth against this lovely bit of xylophone-like work going on behind from the gremlin in the frame of the piano. Little by little the keys are introduced to strike the strings and the tone changes and we have chords, still over that repeated percussive rhythm. The echoes through the frame left in the recording are a stroke of genius as they add to the atmosphere.
‘Lovely Rain’ is deep, dark and atmospheric, the piano bass notes emphasising the vocal line and slightly doom-laden lyrics. A tale of sadness and healing rain, this is poignant and an interesting track. The vocals have just the right touch of breathlessness to emphasise the sadness of the soul. ‘Full Blown Love’ is a song about being in love and wondering if it is real, the questioning, the wonderings, the healing of a broken heart. Under the vocals the piano is used to create a series of trinkling runs, rippling high strings and wonderful rhythmic interpretations, their disparity with the vocals only adding to the effect of the track. The warning ‘all of me or nothing’ in the lyrics is emphasised by a slightly manic episode from the piano, seemingly panicking and from there we go off into a delightful chase up and down the keys, never stopping, rapid fingers flitting up and down searching for perfect harmony but not quite getting there. Absolutely gorgeous. ‘Over Dark Waters’ is another number touched by the darker side in the lyrics, which sound like someone getting a good talking to. The piano supports with steady chords and rhythm which underpin and underline the vocal line. An interesting track to end the CD.
What is great about this CD is not only how the vocals and piano work together at times but also how for much of it they are in perfect contrast. The piano picks up and turns not only the theme but the lyrics in places, which is a marvellous piece of arranging. Paula Rae Gibson has a voice which lends itself to story-telling and the darker moments of life are brought alive by her interpretation. At times there is enough of an edge to the voice to make you sit and take note, at other times she is subtle and always she is clear. There is an underlying sadness and almost an agony of the soul that appears now and again on the surface in the vocals, which is subtle but present. Tempered by the outlandish and sometimes boyish enthusiasm of Sam Leak’s playing, this is a match made by the musical gods. Sam Leak’s mastery and understanding of a piano is clear and he uses every last string and minutae of the frame which create this wonderful instrument to the full, from using plucked and brushed strings to thunking out rhythms and using the deepest corners to echo back the sounds, tempered with attractive tunes and chordal progressions.
This is a great CD – one to listen to again and again.