Tag Archives: bass clarinet music

May 2020 – single & track reviews – MultiTraction Orchestra’s ‘Emerge Entangled’; Stuart Wilding’s ‘Spaces’ and ‘Horns’

5 May

Conceived during coronavirus lockdown, MultiTraction Orchestra is the latest brainchild of cross-disciplinary Sefiroth/Blue-Eyed Hawk guitarist Alex Roth (currently pursuing new avenues and familial roots in Kraków). It’s his way of fighting the entropy, fear and disassociation of the times: part-corralling/part-embracing a cluster of diverse yet sympathetic musicians, recruited via friendship and open-source callups on the web. ‘Emerge Entangled’ is the first result: twenty-seven players working from Alex’s initial two-and-a-half minute pass of treated, multi-layered minimalist guitarwork. If the video accompaniment (a graceful come-and-go conference call featuring most of the players) is anything to go by, Alex played the part of benign/mostly absent god for this recording. There are no solos, no aggressive chord comping. In the few shots in which they feature, his guitars and pedals sit by themselves in a system loop creating the drone with no further intervention. Instead, Alex acts as the invisible mind on faders, reshuffling the instrumental echoes and response which came back from his loop broadcast.

MultiTraction Orchestra: 'Emerge Entangled'

MultiTraction Orchestra: ‘Emerge Entangled’

It’s an eight-city affair; although the majority of musicians hail from Alex’s other base, London (including his percussionist brother and Sefiroth bandmate Simon, trombonists Kieran Stickle McLeod and Raphael Clarkson, Rosanna Ter-Berg on flute, Madwort reedsman Tom Ward on clarinet, drummer Jon Scott and effects-laden double bassist Dave Manington), the MultiTraction net spreads wide. Finnish cellist Teemu Mastovaara, from Turku, is probably the most northerly contributor; Mexico City saxophonist Asaph Sánchez the most southerly; and Texas-based glockenspieler and touch guitarist Cedric Theys the most westerly. (Muscovian tuba player Paul Tkachenko and Lebanon-based iPad manipulator Stephanie Merchak can battle out as to who’s holding it down for the east).

Instrumentally, although there’s a definite slanting towards deep strings, brass and rolling-cloud drones, there’s plenty of variety: from the vintage Baroque flute of Gdańsk’s Maja Miró to the Juno 6 colourings of London soundtracker Jon Opstad and the homemade Coptic lute of Exeter-based Ian Summers. Alex’s other brother, saxophonist Nick, features in the Dublin contingent alongside the accordion work of Kenneth Whelan and cello from Mary Barnecutt. Most of the remaining string players are dotted around England (with double bassist Huw V. Williams and James Banner in St Albans and Leeds respectively, and violinist Alex Harker in Huddersfield). There’s a knot of contributory electronica coming out of Birmingham from Andrew Woodhead and John Callaghan (with virtual synthesist Emile Bojesen chipping in from Winchester), and some final London contributions from jazz pianist/singer Joy Ellis and sometime Anna Calvi collaborator Mally Harpaz bringing in harmonium, timpani and xylophone.

Alex’s past and present work includes jazz, experimental noise, soulfully mournful Sephardic folk music and dance theatre; and while his guitar basework for ‘Emerge Entangled’ seems to recall the harmonic stillness and rippling, near-static anticipatory qualities of 1970s German experimental music such as Cluster (as well as Terry Riley or Fripp and Eno), plenty of these other ingredients swim into the final mix. I suspect that the entanglement Alex intends to evoke is quantum rather than snarl-up: a mutuality unhindered by distance. From its blind beginnings (no-one hearing any other musicians apart from Alex) what’s emerged from the experiment is something which sounds pre-composed; or, at the very least, spun from mutual sympathy.


 
There are definite sections. An overture in which increasingly wild and concerned trombone leads over building, hovering strings and accordion (gradually joined by burgeoning harmonium, filtered-in glockenspiel and percussion, dusk-flickers of bass clarinet, cello and synth) sounds like New Orleans funeral music hijacked by Godspeed! You Black Emperor; the first seepage of flood water through the wall. With a change in beat and emphasis, and the push of drums, the second section breaks free into something more ragged and complicated – a muted metal-fatigue trombone part protesting over synth drone and subterranean tuba growl, which in turn morphs into a double bass line. Various other parts make fleeting appearances (a transverse flute trill, Alex’s guitar loops bumped up against jazz drumkit rolls; a repeating, rising, scalar/microtonal passage on lute, like a Holy Land lament). Throughout, there’s a sense of apprehension, with something ominous lurking outside in the sky and the air and elements; the more melodic or prominent instruments an array of voices trying to make sense of it, their dialects, personalities, arguments and experiences different, but their querulous humanity following a common flow.

Via touches of piano, theme alternations come faster and faster. A third section foregrounds the tuba, moving in and out in deep largo passages while assorted electronics build up a bed of electrostutter underneath. During the latter, watch out in the video for benign eccentronica-cabaret jester John Callaghan, quietly drinking a mugful of tea as his laptop pulses and trembles out a gentle staccato blur. It’s not the most dramatic of contributions, but it feels like a significant one: the mundaneity and transcendent patience which must be accepted as part of lockdown life, an acknowledgement of “this too will pass”. For the fourth section, a tuba line passes seamlessly into a bass clarinet undulation with touches of silver flute; accelerations and rallentandos up and down. Initially some spacier free-jazz flotsam makes its presence felt – electronics and cosmic synth zaps, saxophonic key rattles, buzzes and puffs, fly-ins of cello and double bass. The later part, though, is more of a classical meditation: beatless and with most instruments at rest, predominantly given over to the dark romance of Teemu Mastovaara’s lengthy cello solo (apprehensive, heavy on the vibrato and harmonic string noise, part chamber meditation and part camel call). The finale takes the underlying tensions, squeezes them in one hand and disperses them. An open duet between Jo Ellis’ piano icicles and Asaph Sánchez’s classic tenor ballad saxophone, it becomes a trio with Jo’s glorious, wordless vocal part: hanging in the air somewhere between grief and peace. A moving, thrilling picture of the simultaneously confined and stretched worldspace we’re currently living in, and a small triumph of collaboration against the lockdown odds.

* * * * * * * *

Although ‘Emerge Entangled’ has a number of masterfully responsive drummers and percussionists in place already, it’s a shame that Cheltenham/Xposed Club improv mainstay Stuart Wilding isn’t one of them. His Ghost Mind quartet (three players plus a wide world picture woven in through field recording) have proved themselves to be one of the most interesting listen-and-incorporate bands of recent years. However, he’s continued to be busy with his own lockdown music. ‘Spaces’ and “Horns” are personal solo-duets – possibly single-take, in-situ recordings. Both created in the usual Xposed Club home of Francis Close Hall Chapel, they’re direct and in-the-moment enough that you can hear the click of the stop button. Stuart’s apparently playing piano mostly with one hand while rustling, tapping and upsetting percussion with the other. By the sound of it the main percussion element is probably his lap harp or a zither, being attacked for string noise and resonance.

Assuming that that’s the case, ‘Spaces’ pits grating, dragging stringflutter racket against the broken-up, mostly rhythmic midrange exploration of an unfailingly cheerful piano. Sometimes a struck or skidded note on the percussion prompts a direct echo on the piano. As the former becomes more of a frantic, swarming whirligig of tortured instrumentation (as so frequently with Stuart, recalling the frenetic and cheeky allsorts swirl of Jamie Muir with Derek Bailey and King Crimson), picking out these moments of congruence becomes ever more of a game: while in the latter half, the piano cuts free on whimsical, delighted little leaps of its own. About half the length of ‘Spaces’, ‘Horns’ begins with the percussion apparently chain-sawing the piano in half while the latter embarks on a rollicking one-handed attempt at a hunting tune. The piano wins out. I’m not sure what became of the fox.



 

MultiTraction Orchestra: ‘Emerge Entangled’
self-released, no catalogue number or barcode
Download/streaming track
Released: 1st May 2020
Get it from:
download from Bandcamp, Apple Music or Amazon; stream from Soundcloud, YouTube, Deezer, Google Play, Spotify and Apple Music.
MultiTraction Orchestra/Alex Roth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Amazon Music

Stuart Wilding: ‘Spaces’ & ‘Horns’
self-released, no catalogue number or barcode
Download/streaming tracks
Released: 5th May 2020
Get it from:
Bandcamp – ‘Spaces‘ and ‘Horns
Stuart Wilding online:
Facebook Bandcamp
 

May 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Muckle Mouth bring us Le Ton Mité plus Chris Cundy (May 25th), and The Family Élan plus Plague Dogs (May 27th); Papernut Cambridge’s Beehive Yourself gig-hosting series continues with The Great Electric, Deerful and Mat Flint (May 27th)

20 May

More on that second set of May gigs at the Dentist in Homerton, plus a continuing set of gigs over in Bow…

* * * * * * * *
Le Ton Mité, 26th May 2017

Muckle Mouth and The Dentist present:
Le Ton Mité + Chris Cundy
33 Chatsworth Road/The Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Thursday 25th May 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“This is the first ever London show of Le Ton Mité, a Belgian musical cooperative that revolves around the compositions of itinerant musician, instrument maker and fine artist McCloud Zicmuse, an American expatriate in permanent residence in Brussels.

“Having left the United States in the mid-noughties on a European sojourn that never ended, McCloud wound up in the Belgian capital in the fall of 2008. Half a decade on, a time in which he has embedded himself in European life via puppet shows, archery guilds, folkloric events, theatre projects and a catalogue of idiosyncratic solo and group works (perhaps most recognisably the 2011 Hoquets album on Crammed Discs called ‘Belgotronics’), McCloud returned to the States, to revisit places he had not seen, in some cases, for fifteen years. This informs his current musical set – an idiosyncratic blend of pop, folk, childrens music and jazz performed by a baroque-style quartet.


 
“To open the evening, there’s be a solo set by Chris Cundy performing his own works for bass clarinet. Chris is a musician, composer, and visual artist working on the fringes of experimental and popular music. He has long been interested with the material properties of acoustics and his music explores self-developed playing techniques such as multiphonics, circular breathing, micro-tonality and (generally speaking) a more tactile approach to the instrument.

“Chris performed with Mercury Award nominated indie-pop band Guillemots and continues to work with the bands frontman Fyfe Dangerfield. He has also collaborated with a variety of alt-pop artists both in Canada and the UK including Little Annie, Baby Dee, Timber Timbre, and Cold Specks.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The Family Élan + Chris Cundy, 27th May 2017

Muckle Mouth and The Dentist present:
The Family Élan & Plague Dogs
33 Chatsworth Road/The Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Saturday 27th May 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Muckle Mouth and The Dentist welcome Bradford psych-folk rockers The Family Élan (and their heady blend of party hits, Hindi film song and Turkish folk dances) back for a fling.

“The Family Élan generally performs as a trio, featuring Krzysztof Hładowski (of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, The One Ensemble, Nalle, Scatter fame) on Greek bouzouki, elektrosaz and vocals, Harry Wheeler on fancy bass, and Shakeeb Abu Hamdan (of Please, Ygrec, Cleckhuddersfax, The Wub) on Western drum kit. The scope of The Family Elan’s output ranges from self penned meditations in the key of Z minor and the odd party hit, to irreverent interpretations of everything from Hindi film songs to Turkish folk dances, delivered with the countenances of psychedelic rockers. Perhaps the unifying strand in all this is a deep interest in traditional music forms and their reinvention through group rock-outs.”


 
As with the Alex Rex gig earlier in the month, Plague Dogs will be in support… but now I know who they are. They’re an alliance of Trembling Bells/Alex Rex kingpin Alex Neilson with writer/curator/artist/cultural geographer Amy Cutler (at least, I’m assuming that it’s that Amy Cutler)… In which case, expect something textural, folk-tinged and audio-visual, probably provoking more questions than it answers..

(UPDATE, 26th May 2017 – this show’s been cancelled, with the hope that it can be rescheduled later in the summer…)
 

* * * * * * * *

I’ve been slow on picking up on renewed gig activity at the Dentist. Likewise with this set of shows over at the Beehive in Bow (the latest of which clashes with the Family Élan show, but there you go…)

Beehive Yourself 2 (Papernut Cambridge + The Great Electric + Deerful), 27th May 2017

Sound Event Solutions & Papernut Cambridge present:
Beehive Yourself #2: Papernut Cambridge + The Great Electric + Deerful + Mat Flint DJ set
The Beehive, 104-106 Empson Street, Bromley-by-Bow, London, E3 3LT, England
Saturday 27th May 2017, 7.00pm
information

“The second of three Saturday night shows for spring and early summer featuring Papernut Cambridge and a hand-picked selection of friends’ bands and DJs.

Papernut Cambridge is led by former Death In Vegas and Thrashing Doves guitarist (and now prolific underground producer/engineer) Ian Button, who has a list of current projects and collaborations that include Go Kart Mozart, David Cronenberg’s Wife, Deep Cut, Darren Hayman, Pete Astor, Rotifer, Paul Hawkins etc. The band is based on an imaginary band from a dream Ian had in 1990 and brought to life in 2013 by assembling a group of friends and collaborators. Papernut Cambridge have now released two albums (‘Cambridge Nutflake’ in 2013, ‘There’s No Underground’ in 2014) and a covers album (2015’s ‘Nutlets 1967-80’), all on Gare Du Nord Records. The next album release is ‘Love The Things Your Lover Loves’ in May 2016.


 
“As ever with this gig series, Papernut Cambridge will be playing the opening set. The very special guests to follow on May 27th are:

The Great Electric – electronic/motorik supergroup featuring Malcolm Doherty (guitars, effects), Rob Hyde (drums), Darren Hayman (synth), Duncan Hemphill (tones, drones and effects) and Pete Gofton (bass). With a band members’ past pedigree that includes Hefner, Kenickie, Go-Kart Mozart and Mum & Dad, expect a determined, nuanced yet mind-melting set inspired by German electronic and prog via Stereolab, music made in space, and radical hypnosis techniques.


 
“Following on from her past work backing or contributing to the work of Darren Hayman, Pete Astor, Owl & Mouse and Enderby’s Room, Emma Winston’s solo electronic project Deerful takes bright melodic indie pop and fuses it with crisp chiptune and electro shimmers, Gameboy beats, and emotive thought-provoking lyrics. Her live shows using an array of TFL-portable synths and devices are always a delight. Deerful’s first full length album ‘Peach’ is released this year on June 2nd.


 
“Former Revolver frontman, Death In Vegas bassist, and now leader of bravado dreampop project Deep Cut, Mat Flint is also a frequent record spinner at The Social, playing sets that range from Northern Soul and hip hop to dub and garage rock. We’re chuffed he’s coming along to pilot the wheel of steel for this show!”

 

December 2016 – upcoming gigs – ‘Staggerlee Wonders’ with Robert Mitchell, Debbie Sanders, Corey Mwamba, John Edwards, Elaine Michener, Mark Sanders and others (London, 8th); Trio Generations with Maggie Nichols/Lisa Ullén/Matilda Rolfsson (Cheltenham and London, 9th & 11th)

5 Dec

StaggerLee Wonders
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 8th December 2016, 8.00pm
– information here and here

'Staggerlee Wonders', 8th December 2016Billed as “an evening of radical poetry and prose fused with free improvised music”, this event’s title is taken from James Baldwin’s blazingly scornful, almost conversational poem – itself named for the black outlaw/hoodlum who flits and thunders through a set of conflicting American tales and songs, taking on the roles of murderer, proud badass, pimp and more.

In all cases, Stagger Lee’s become a byword and signifier for transgressive black resistance to cultural pressure and norms. A lengthy lope in a thickly jazzy, declamatory style, Baldwin’s version takes up the final, revolutionary Stagger Lee position, setting aside the thuggery, choosing instead to weigh up the protests, delusions and not-so-secret wickednesses of white hegemony in one Afro-American palm (seamed with exile, scepticism and righteous ire) before firing up his sardonic, acidic tongue to flay and spit the flesh right off their bones. It’s not clear whether Baldwin’s take will be performed as the evening’s centrepiece, or whether it simply serves as an inspiration; but it certainly sets the bar high, both artistically and politically.

Various performers, both black and white, are confirmed to attend. Hopefully, they’ll all rise to the explicit challenge. Reknowned for his weighty slowhand approach, jazz pianist Robert Mitchell has worked with Epiphany3, F-ire Collective and Panacea. Jazz/folktronicist Corey Mwamba plays small instruments, dulcimer and electronics across assorted projects but is best known for his highly dynamic, hammers-to-humming vibraphone playing and for the ongoing questioning spirit which he explores in both live music and academia (and any intersections he can make between the two). Voices come from restless, movement performer and polygenre singer Elaine Michener (recently seen at the Cockpit Theatre in a quartet with Alexander Hawkins) and from storytelling singer/composer Debbie Sanders (currently heading up Mina Minou Productions, previously embedded in proto-acid-jazz, trip-hop and British R&B via work with Skylab and Chapter & The Verse).

Bass and drums are provided by two stunning soloists who also happen to make up one of London music’s most formidable rhythm partnerships. Both double bass player John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders are capable of a breadth of sound and attack on their respective instruments, running across an orchestral breadth from whisper to hailstone attack (via conversation or monologue, from growling belligerence to kidding conversation or querying patter).

More people may be showing up to play, but that’s already a pretty thrilling loose sextet to work with and to choose from.

* * * * * *

Trio Generations is an intermittent name for a convocation of three top European improvisers, Maggie Nichols, Lisa Ullén and Matilda Rolfsson. Formed last year, they’re playing a couple of English shows to bookend the upcoming weekend. Outlines below, mostly from the Café Oto pages:

Trio Generations, 2016

Trio Generations, 2016

Maggie Nicols joined London’s legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1968 as a free improvisation vocalist. She then became active running voice workshops with an involvement in local experimental theatre. She later joined the group Centipede, led by Keith and Julie Tippets and in 1977, with musician/composer Lindsay Cooper, formed the remarkable Feminist Improvising Group. She lives in Wales and continues performing and recording challenging and beautiful work, in music and theatre, either in collaborations with a range of artists (Irene Schweitzer, Joelle Leandre, Ken Hyder, Caroline Kraabel) as well as solo.

Matilda Rolfsson is a Swedish percussionist and free improviser, based in Trondheim, Norway. During the spring of 2015 she was temporarily based in London where she finished her masters in free improvisation and the relationship between improvised music and dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. During her London stay Matilda got the chance to meet and play with some of Londons most efficient improvisers: Phil Minton, Sylvia Hallett and London Improvisers Orchestra with Maggie Nichols. With her 20” vintage Gretsch bass drum, Tibetan bowls, gongs, bells and plastic isolations, sticks, fingers and brushes, Matilda explores the free improvisation and the instant compositions shaped in the moment: dynamics, orchestrations – structure and chaos. To make rules and break rules, always with the question: where’s the music going, and where’s the freedom?

“Pianist Lisa Ullén grew up in the northern part of Sweden, and is based in Stockholm. A versatile player with a singular musical vision, Lisa has repeatedly proven her ability to imprint her absolute sense for tonal texture on whatever musical context she appears in. Besides working as a soloist and leader of her own groups, Lisa has collaborated extensively with many well-known Swedish artists and dancers, and has also scored several dramatic productions. She’s also performed and recorded music by contemporary composers.”
 
To provide a sense of what might be coming, here’s the full half-hour set from their debut performance at IKLECTIK in 2015: a fractured, prolonged collective improvisation which swaps mood, pace and suggestions like a game of speed poker, with passing shreds of blues. Although Lisa and Matilda match her with lethally-aimed flinders of explosive, challenging percussion and piano, Maggie remains the centre of attention via a performance that’s as much stand-up comedy or theatre piece as it is free jazz. She produces not only the clucks, hisses, pants and operatics of free-voice improv but a bewildering spiky cavalcade of female voices and archetypes (hopeful chitterer, wise sly crone, mother in labour, put-upon wailer, deft gossiper) while including fleeting lyrics from jazz, blues or music hall and assorted Dada twists (including a phase which sounds like a demonic toothbrushing session).


 

This month’s Trio Generations dates:

  • Xposed Club @ Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, England, Friday 9th December 2016, 8.00pm (with Chris Cundy) – information
  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Monday 11th December 2016, 8.00pminformation

At the Café Oto show, John Edwards will be joining in to make the group a quartet. While there’s no support act at Oto, at the Xposed Club Cheltenham reedsman/multi-instrumentalist Chris Cundy will be providing a solo slot on bass clarinet and saxophone. A tactile extended-technique player, Chris began as a self-taught Medway busker coming into his own under the combined influence of Eric Dolphy (on record) and Billy Childish (in the flesh and in the kitchen). Following a relocation to Cheltenham to pursue fine art, Chris has broadened his scope into a world of other collaborations in film, electronica, free improvisation and pop. He’s worked extensively with Fyfe Dangerfield (as part of the Guillemots horn section and as an integral member of Gannets), with Canadian freak-folkers Timbre Timbre and a succession of left-field singer-songwriters. His extended techniques (including multi-phonics, circular breathing and microtonality) have also led him into exploring the works of Cage and Cardew and those of contemporary avant-garde composers such as Thanos Chrysakis and Pete M Wyer, as well as producing a growing number of albums of his own work.


 

June 2001 – album reviews – Marty Walker’s ‘Dancing on Water’ (“a leading light in bass clarinet”)

10 Jun
Marty Walker: 'Dancing On Water'

Marty Walker: ‘Dancing On Water’

Blowing thick darkness, cheery reed-chatter and diva moans with equal facility, Marty Walker has earned himself a New Music name as a leading light in bass clarinet. Over eighty pieces by diverse composers have been written specifically for his particular gifts, and he’s effectively the in-house reedsman for many of the “California school” cadre of composers. For ‘Dancing On Water’ – his first release under his own name on Cold Blue Music – the California school returns the favours. Works from five of its members – the blissful voice-music of Daniel Lentz, the plotted-out ellipses of Michael Byron, Jim Fox’s expansive impressionism, Michael Jon Fink’s lonely, romantic grace-of-few-words and Peter Garland’s percussion-slanted Native American leanings – all juxtapose in different ways with different aspects of Marty’s interpretative approach.

On several of these pieces, Marty gets to stow away his bass clarinet (along with all of its invites to the New Music party) and bring his B-flat clarinet out from under its cousin’s shadow. The close-up duets of Peter Garland’s two-part Dancing On Water sets Walker down next to William Winant and David Johnson’s four-handed marimba. The music neatly folds Mexican folk melodies into minimalist discipline: the marimba clinks with sharp solemnity, both childlike and gamelan-esque. It’s a wily dance of toys, slicing the simple cadences up with unpredictable yet precise spaces. While the clarinet traces similar curves up through the arpeggios, Marty invests it with warmth plus infinitesmal bluesy slides and fades from small-group jazz: a wink in the midst of discipline. Moonlight is the meditation afterwards – a tremolo marimba twinkling like water underneath a much sleepier, dreamier clarinet, Marty coaxing utter expressiveness out of Garland’s clipped material.



 
On Daniel Lentz’s efflorescent Song(s) Of The Sirens, Marty’s ten overdubbed clarinets are matched by ten overdubbed pianos (played by Bryan Pezzone, another Cold Blue loyalist). But rather than being slaved to a rigid percussive regimentation, all twenty instruments are worked into Lentz’s familiar fascination with overlaid, overlapping vocal fragments. A sensuous undulation of slightly disfocussed pitches are linked by Pezzone’s summery, waterfalling spirals of virtuoso piano; a squadron of tiny icicles falling on the ear.

Amy Knoles’ sighing, narcotised voice (doppelgangered and folded into blurry harmonies and elisions, stacked like sated bodies) provides the siren’s role. This reaches us as a meandering stream of single spoken words – “lips”, “let”, “love”, “air”, “sweet”; “to”, “our”, “listen”, “touch”, “voices”, “you” – all of which are lifted and displaced from their sentences, suggesting an erotic, subliminal hypnosis. As digital manipulation slowly brings the intent into focus, full sentences and melodies coalesce from the haze. Marty’s role here, though, is simply as one (or ten) of the ensemble dreamers, voicing Lenz’s drowsy vision via the clarinet’s sleepy yawning tones. By the time of the stirring, ecstatic finale of piano rolls rumbling out of the trance, he’s not even there anymore.


 
In the end, it remains the bass clarinet that provides the best bridge between Marty Walker and the composers who seek him out. It’s on that instrument that his expressiveness achieves its most fascinating levels. Certainly it’s fascinated Michael Byron, whose composition Elegant Detours has the most obsessive interest in Marty’s abilities. Byron, however, seems more interested in Marty Walker as a performance mechanism rather than as an emoter. Trapped inside an implied run up a three-octave whole-tone scale, Elegant Detours scurries in super-compressed bursts to explore the possible patterns available. A workout of bass clarinet extremes (from tiny puffs of air to sweeps across its whole range) it ends in lung-bustingly sustained wails knifing the attention to the wall, almost physically painful to listen to. Marty rises superbly to the technical challenge, but it’s frantically clinical. The music seems to feast on itself; like competitive weightlifting, or like laying bets on the frantic mice attempting to escape from a lab maze.


 
Using far fewer games of structure, Jim Fox demonstrates that he understands the empathy in Marty’s playing. Fox usually works with quiet, beautifully ominous nightscapes and slow-creeping tonalities, and his piece – Among Simple Shadows – is no exception. Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith blows a transparent and hushed last-post of a tune, which Marty shadows like the last hum resonating from the throat of a gospel bass. Bryan Pezzone’s piano flaps weightlessly in the wind, and casts anxious repeating clots of melody after the mingled brass and woodwind as they move through a dark-blue spectrum of emotions from quiet grief to undefinable hope.


 
Of all the composers, Rick Cox might have the most fellow feeling for Marty Walker. After all, throughout On Tuesday that’s his own contra-alto clarinet playing in counterpoint to Marty’s bass model. This chokingly slow four-movement duet has more than a tinge of swamp-blues to it – like the last notes restlessly clinging onto the grass tussocks after the funeral procession is long gone and the coffin rests in its mausoleum, floating above the bayou. With both instruments burring and smearing towards the bottom of their ranges, there’s a sense of exhaustion. As with much to do with the blues, there’s also a feeling of unfinished business.


 
David Johnson (on vibraphone this time) returns to help Marty tackle Michael Jon Fink’s micro-concerto As Is Thought/Aurora. This time, they make a trio with orchestral harpist Susan Allen. A tense set of precise unison arpeggios, venturing warily out into space, are connected and soothed by Marty, whose jazz-inflected way with the shaping of his bridging phrases counters the music-box abruptness of the other instruments. As the piece’s initial trepidation melts, like the dissolution of fear, Allen’s harp comes more to the fore. Each instrument softens, progressively handing the others a tiny cadence of notes to repeat – a canon which clambers on like hands swapping grip-space on a rope, continuing to move outwards.


 
Overall, ‘Dancing On Water’ reaffirms Marty Walker’s excellence as an interpretative musician, providing a set of multiple masques – or masks – for him to excel in. Still, I’m left uncomfortably whetted and slightly unsatisfied. His generous illumination of the music of others draws me into hankering after other aspects of his musicality – the creator, the improviser; the Marty Walker who’s drawn on his own music to provide that illumination. Hints of this are dotted all over ‘Dancing On Water’ in every cunningly bent note, in every hint of intelligence drawn from outside – even in the times when he steps back into the ensemble, upstaged on his own record.

There’s power in a name. Perhaps Marty Walker’s name, and his musical identity, has become too powerful to let him play second fiddle on his recordings. ‘Dancing On Water’ certainly showcases his talents, but in comparison to other Cold Blue albums – each firmly stamped with a composer’s identity – it feels like a picture of a man grown just a bit too big to comfortably wear other people’s handed-over suits in his own house.

Marty Walker: ‘Dancing On Water’
Cold Blue Music, CB0005 (800413000525)
CD-only album
Released: 5th June 2001

Buy it from:
Cold Blue Music

Marty Walker online:
Homepage

February 2001 – album reviews – Jim Fox’s ‘Last Things’ (“like floodwater in the night”)

10 Feb

Jim Fox: 'Last Things'

Jim Fox: ‘Last Things’

Renewing his Cold Blue Music label for the millennium, Californian composer Jim Fox has set himself up as its figurehead, although not in a triumphal manner. Pomp and flamboyance wouldn’t sit well with Cold Blue’s explorations in New Music, and this first new release out of the Cold Blue bag doesn’t need to grab attention, anyway. The two Fox compositions on this album (slow-moving, implicatory, atmospheric and deliciously disturbing) surround you instead, like floodwater in the night.

With distractedly moving electronic traces making up the bulk of the music, The Copy Of The Drawing is rooted in chopped, diced and rearranged texts from letters sent to Mount Wilson Observatory between 1915 and 1955 while Los Angeles swelled from backwater to metropolis. These fragments are recited by Janyce Collins in a ice-queen whisper. Her cold lips brush your ear with a beautifully cool eroticism, its detachment only increasing its power. Often phrases are followed by glassy, ratcheting harmonic sound: as if a telescope, smoothly rotating on gimbals, is trying to take a fix on the target the words imply.

Slithering passes of moth-soft electronics slide around the words as if they’re unimportant, part of the ambient backchat in any place of science. Occasionally almost-vocal smudges of transparent noise ring up in (and fall away from) the foreground: although in some respects there is no foreground, just a slow sub-zero swirl of ambient hints, briefly smeared, like time-exposure photographs. Scrapes and subliminal swarms, jump-starting drifting thoughts in the narration; quick-drowning sounds like disturbances in ice-water or the imprints of decaying viola counterpoint and dying Gregorian chant.

Allegedly, The Copy Of The Drawing is non-dramatic. But Fox’s placement of these words, the stop/start fragments and interrupted clauses (“a jumbled mess – enough to give you an idea”) suggest otherwise. The phenomena of observed and notated science are often invoked with the reverence with which scientists replace religious awe, but sometimes as a kind of anchor (“light is always the same – water is H2O…”) against the misgivings whispered in brief passes elsewhere. “Self-deficient – diffused self – applied phenomena – name – danger lies in the abstract…” Before long we’ve heard statements of meticulous preparations (“I have put it in three different envelopes – airproof, fireproof, waterproof”) and chilly accounts of emotional hallucinations. “I still heard talking – I have heard babies crying and screaming – like in a photo – babies can hear me writing this – the pictures can talk to me – they’re not lonely – and it won’t stop…”


 
Explicit disturbance is rare, and Collins’ voice remains uniformly glacial whatever the content of her script. Nonetheless, anxiety and revelation are blended throughout, with the prismatic narrative musing on thoughts such as “No-one may ever have the same knowledge – everything running up and in and out.” Certainly there’s disintegration here – a loss of assurance, causality dissolving into “a possibility – there was such a thing – invisibility… before that – all history – it doesn’t seem possible… / it’s closer if you draw a line – on that line – all depends.” At one point, Collins recites a list which explicitly fails to reduce events, phenomena and states of existence to anything tidy. “Stuff – factors – motion – the perpendicularity – the process – the parts of things – the female principles of nature – etcetera – quite incomprehensible due to its invisibility – something that is true – close by – far…”

Covertly, Fox seems to be attempting to reconcile the cosmological with the personal. Collins’ narration of astronomers’ notes seem to take on revealingly intimate suggestions (“thousands of small pushes a second – inertia is very great”) and equates the paths of cosmic debris with those of people (“one of the incoming pieces of matter – there may be more – they may travel together…”) Maybe it’s a reflection of the gravity of cities like Los Angeles – pulling in immigrants, the lost and wandering, accreting mass as it does so. Maybe it’s an idea about scientists allowing the unsettling parallels of poetry and metaphor to sneak into their notebooks and resound in those working lives which they’ve obediently sealed away from personal concerns. This is observatory music, for certain. But the question of exactly what is being observed here is an open question. It’s one which ultimately leaves you without an answer; although perhaps it does leave you with a cold, indifferently sensuous kiss.

With Last Things itself, the sky is lowering. An ominous drop, as Fox conjures up not so much a drone of bass synth as a faraway envelope of it (massed over our heads like apocalyptic cloud) and then rings us round with a distant thunderous fence of bass-register piano, rumbling tectonically and eerily, like the harbinger of the great Californian earthquake. Trapped between stooping sky and unquiet ground, we bear witness to a passionate, wordless pieta in which the dominant instrumental voice (Marty Walker’s brilliantly tortuous bass clarinet) sounds famished, and as oppressed as we are by the press of sound. Walker’s control is remarkable – he travels between delicate, near-inaudible quivers of notes; great wide splits of sound that crack with emotion; and magnificent mournful coyote calls, summoning up visions of friendless desert vistas.


 
Relief, of a sort, comes from Chas Smith’s pedal steel guitar. Almost choral in its breadth, it’s the one truly calming element in Fox’s musical painting. It’s a Pacific palliative which voices itself as distant balm to Walker’s painful questioning, or as a glimmer of light on the crack of the horizon. At around the eight-and-a-half minute mark, sounds like distant foghorns appear in the murk to add their own skein of warning and disquiet. More ethereal, less hungry, but hardly less of a disturbing portent are the rubbing glass rods on Rick Cox’s treated guitar, hanging dying trails of luminescence in the middle distance.

When Last Things fades out, the hope of things resolved has given way to a kind of acceptance. We’ve come to terms with the fearsome displacement and anxiety in Fox’s California soundscapes to such a degree that we’ve probably failed to notice that he’s finally resolved the music with a chordal and dynamic shift so subtle as to almost escape notice – like life settling itself in, a warm beast, around the jags, harshnesses and daily warnings of a threatening environment.

Jim Fox: ‘Last Things’
Cold Blue Music, CB0001 (800413000129)
CD/download album
Released: 5th February 2001

Buy it from:
Cold Blue Music (CD) – various downloads available from Amazon and similar.

Jim Fox online:
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