May 26, 2008

Now Playing: Evan Parker

Evan Parker/Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Boustrophedon (in Six Furrows) (ECM)

Evan Parker: soprano saxophone; Roscoe Mitchell: alto & soprano saxophones; Anders Svanoe: alto saxophone; John Rangecroft: clarinet; Neil Metcalfe: flute; Corey Wilkes: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nils Bultmann: viola; Philipp Wachsmann: violin; Marcio Mattos: cello; Craig Taborn: piano; Jaribu Shahid: double-bass; Barry Guy: double-bass; Tani Tabbal: drums, percussion; Paul Lytton: drums, percussion

Recorded live at Muffathalle, Munich in September, 2004.

This is an essential companion to Roscoe Mitchell’s brilliant Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 &3 (ECM) which I wrote about here. Same extraordinary musicians, but this time featuring Evan Parker’s music. Keep in mind that Parker has long been a standard bearer for “total music” or pure free improvisation - and the concomitant disdain for composition that this implies [FN1]. So it is interesting to hear him taking a dip into the Third Stream with substantial portions of fully notated material and tightly controlled improvisations. As such, Boustrophedon is unique in Parker’s massive discography and worth hearing for that fact alone.

Parker adopts some of the strategies that Mitchell used to marshal the large-ish forces of the Transatlantic Art Ensemble such as prelude-like themes, conducted tutti figures, groupings and sub-groupings of individual instruments, and climaxes built on the staggered entry of simultaneous soloists. There are even moments of swingin’ timekeeping. But the music remains uniquely Parker’s, even if his horn is often silent. Comparing the two releases, it is striking how adept these musicians are at realizing the creator’s intentions while still retaining their own individuality and free expression. Manfred Eicher’s live sound manipulations give the proceedings an otherworldly (if sometimes murky) ambience, in keeping, I suppose, with Parker’s Electroacoustic Ensemble recordings on ECM, though I might have preferred Steve Lake’s clarity and transparency of texture as found on Mitchell’s disc. Sonic quibbles aside, this is an exceptional recording.


[FN1]: The partisan Free Jazz Blog repudiates both records for apostasy here.

May 18, 2008

Now Playing: Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton: Nine Compositions (DVD) 2003 (Rastascan)

Anthony Braxton: reeds; Liz Allbee: trumpet, electronics; Kyle Bruckmann: oboe, English horn, etc.; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, etc.; Greg Kelly: trumpet etc.; Matt Ingalls: clarinet, bass clarinet, violin; Dan Plonsey: reeds, violin; Gino Robair: percussion, etc.; Scott Rosenberg: reeds; Jay Rozen: tuba, electronics, etc.; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon; John Shiurba: guitars, banjo; Justin Yang: reeds,

Rastascan gives Braxton the deluxe treatment with over six hours of PCM audio at better-than-CD resolution (24 bit/48 KHz) on one standard DVD [FN1]. This expansive format suits Braxton’s prolific nature, documenting (with startlingly high fidelity) a mere three days of activity. The disc contains a complete 12tet concert at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco from December 11, 2003 and an additional four hours of studio recordings from December 12th & 13th. That’s a lot of music.

What’s interesting about this recording is that Braxton’s large ensemble works of a recent vintage (Compositions 322, 327 & 328) appear side-by-side with much older pieces performed by trio and quartet (Compositions 23e, 72h, 74e & 75). Hearing these earlier compositions in this expanded context sheds some light on the mysterious goings-on of the Ghost Trance Musics (GTM). One of the key components of GTM is its collage-in-performance aspect wherein any part of Braxton’s enormous oeuvre can appear (either spontaneously or by design), played by any instrument and some of these early compositions can be heard, if fleetingly, within the GTM performances. Listening to these older pieces in situ also confirms that Braxton’s music has always been abstract, ambitious, and contingent on sympathetic interpreters. For Braxton, composition is more than merely notation as an end itself, but a means to guide improvisation. As the hour-plus long GTM compositions unfold, an astonishingly diverse and limitless music gushes forth from the musicians, who are all clearly inspired by Braxton’s admonishment to “kick it about, have some fun” [FN2] and totally dedicated to giving these pieces a proper performance - which means improvising with both force and empathy within the vast realm of Braxton’s complex written material. The inclusion here of two earlier GTM compositions (Compositions 190 & 292) demonstrates that, given committed performances by capable musicians, GTM can yield music of extraordinary richness and complexity.

Nine Compositions (DVD) 2003 is an essential document and an excellent introduction to Braxton’s unique musical vision. Highly recommended.


[FN1]: Everybody knows that the recording industry is in the dumps and everybody knows the myriad reasons for this sad state of affairs. What I don’t understand is why the recording industry has refused to take advantage of the DVD format with its better-than-CD sound unbounded by the 80 minute track limit. Sure, DVD-Audio and/or SACD have even higher resolution and sound better, but the standard DVD supports a stereo PCM track that can be played on any DVD player - you can have video too! The CD is dying (if not already dead); please give us something better. /end of rant.

[FN2]: Taken from the rehearsals for this disc, the full quote is instructive regarding Braxton’s aims with GTM: “Don’t worry about playing everything perfect. It’s not even about that; we’ll just do the best we can do. Kick it about, have some fun, try to work together. That’s what I’m interested in: the concept of the group as a family…where the musicians are working together, looking out for one another.” (From the liner notes).

May 11, 2008

i-Pod Blog

Here’s a terrific blog that virtually writes itself: What I Listed To On My Way To Work Today. This pseudonymous NYC-area commuter has a forty-five-minute to one-hour one-way trip to work via mass transit. So he takes his fully loaded i-Pod, puts it on shuffle and tabulates what transpires, adding commentary as necessary or so inspired. Sometimes he posts camera-phone photos and random factoids about his journey. Brilliant! It helps that he has fairly catholic tastes, including jazz and other esoteric music amidst the indie-rock – he even admits to one-time Deadheadom. My kind of guy. But, what I really want to know is: what does he listen to on his way home?

I hope he keeps it up – over time it could make for a wonderful book.


May 9, 2008

Kansas City

While visiting family in Kansas City last week, Liz & I had a chance to re-visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum and check out the new Bloch Building: a radical - yet breathtakingly beautiful - piece of architecture. Sheathed in walls of glass, the Bloch Building somehow seamlessly integrates itself with the original building’s 1920s-era traditional monumentality (pictured) while still asserting a supremely modern and functional aesthetic.

The Bloch Building also houses the contemporary collection, which include works from some of our very favorite painters: Rothko, DeKooning, Kline, Diebenkorn, and four (4!) by Wayne Thiebaud. Lunch at the Rozzelle Court Restaurant in the “old” building was quite elegant as were the newly-renovated galleries. The whole place is first class all the way. And get this: admission is free (though we did make a donation).

The New York Times gave the Bloch Building a rave review upon its opening last June and another nice article and many great photographs of the complex was featured at arcspace. Even more photographs can be found at Steven Holl Architects.

I wish we could have seen the building at night, glowing against the sculpture garden; it really is a stunningly gorgeous campus.