Posts Tagged ‘Jon Hassell’

For a week I have been trying to find time to write my impressions of the new Art As Catharsis release Unfound Places. What I realise I really needed was space.

Even moreso, I needed this sunny mid-Winter Sunday afternoon, with everyone out and me alone in the house. For this new music from Ben Marston and Hugh Barrett is made for the mid-Winter Sunday afternoon of the soul.

Shaped by Barrett’s acoustic and electric keys, and Marston’s trumpet and laptop manipulations/atmospheres the music is evocative of places and faces just out of reach – the haze of memory rather than the data of recollection. There is a difference and this exquisitely conjured music is its soundtrack.

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Soundtrack is the lazy genre-classification Unfound Places calls to mind, only because of the quietly cinematic breadth of tracks such as ‘The Quiet Hero’ (a very Eno title in its entirely accurate vagueness) – which grows and grows imperceptibly over a slowly meshing laptop texture. The pacing of the improvisations/compositions is deftly handled by the two, as the works’ often fragile skein of notes and underlying harmonies rest like fine glass on the air.

Opener ‘The Crisp Breath of Dawn’ has Marston’s trumpet pealing ominously/joyously (the moods are shadowy) over deep textures – his tone is not stridently Morricone yet also not quite as folded-in as Jon Hassell. Eno and Hassell of course come to mind, yet only in the most positive way, taking nothing at all away from Marston’s and Barrett’s vision. a3782214624_16.jpg

The music is not all mist and shadows – ‘Rock the Boat’ seems to have a rhythm and bass line until you realise the keys-bass and laptop tics are just a pattern of texture, unique among the many unique textures each track is played across.

‘The Northward March’ brings to mind the Bowie (and Eno) of Low‘s ambient side – its European sorrow evoking ‘Warsawa’ and bleak history with Hassell-harmony trumpet and the trudge of block chords. Birds fly through sleet overhead. Black birds.

Too often, open-ended works such as Unfound Places push melody down below other compositional qualities – maybe because the bold statement of melody threatens to nail the music down too tight, or can pull up an emotion that is too clear-edged, and the spell is broken. Marston and Barrett don’t shy away from melody – check the blues lines on ‘Sleepyhead’, blues lines which stray into Moorish noir – in fact they use melody, across Unfound Places, to amplify and expand the emotional palette, rather than constrict it.

It is beautiful work.

 

Unfound Places is available from https://benmarston.bandcamp.com/album/unfound-places

Art As Catharsis’ website is at http://www.artascatharsis.com

 

The improvising artist searching for his or her voice had led this listener down some intriguing paths.

Some are dead ends – the artist becoming so enraptured with the voice of their musical hero that they only imitate; brilliantly, yet still only imitation. Some are tangled thickets of intricately and beautifully carved and shaped vines – the trap of technique, all too common in jazz, a music that continues to mistake the meaning of virtuosity. Some paths fade out to weedy and stony ground, the path dissipated, all direction lost.

Sydney trumpeter Eamon Dilworth has always led this listener down a path that seems to become stronger and more defined with every release. His keen focus allows him to divert occassionally – as I write his most recent aside trip has been working with rockin’ Ed Kuepper in The Aints – yet, soon enough his sure foot is back on that good, sound path.

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A recent trip to Romania has helped Dilworth shine a light on the road ahead – he says: “The trip opened me up to consider who I am, where I come from and how I deal with experiences and challenges. My musical output changed from this day to seek a deeper connection through my music and performance…”

The result is his exquisite new album Viata. The title is taken from the Romanian word for Life, but a much more existential and accepting definition of life – life as simply being.

This more passive and spiritual idea colours the album’s performances. Each of the nine pieces are more “settings” than compositions, or even improvisations – settings for Dilworth to express this idea of vista/life, and his reaction to it.

And the voice he speaks with is undoubtedly his own. The band of Alistair Spence on piano, Carl Morgan on guitar, bassist Jon Zwartz and long time Dilworth collaborator, drummer Paul Derricott, work impeccably creating these ‘settings’, lending them drama and a theatricality that makes each piece a small universe of its own.Dilworth viata2

‘A Love Affair’ is a duet between trumpet and piano, Dilworth staying with the mid to lower registers of his instrument, and creating some lovely burnished tones in his playing. The band joins in for ‘Discomfort’, Morgan’s high pearly notes adding an open-sky ceiling to the sound. The trumpet here has a deep anguish to it, reminiscent of Miles Davis‘ ‘weeping’ tone on ‘Solea’ From Sketches

‘Eick’ has Dilworth declining long tones over a childrens’ song piano. Morgan here reminds of John Abercrombie in his anti-guitar playing. Many of the tunes on Viata have a European dissonance, a Bartokian slipping in and out of key and tone – not exactly dissonance, more the stretching of the envelope, a very human thing, tying it to the universality of the blues.

Dilworth’s use of long tones used here seem to come from the same place as Jon Hassell – a virtuosity of restraint and atmosphere. ‘Prelude Dreamtime’ is a floating world of dreamy, languid brass tones; the lady of ‘The Lady’ moves in and out of shadows indigo and blue-green.

Album closer ‘Toran’ exemplifies the European human-ness that is across Viata. The extended trumpet tones across a repeated minimal rhythm – occasionally interrupted by an angular rhythmic figure – have a strong folk feeling; and you realise that so much of Viata has a sense of folk form about it.

This folk favour is one element that is part of the depth of what Eamon Dilworth has done here – in reaching into himself and finding ways to express what he finds there in music, he has found a voice at once entirely individual and yet, universal. The path leads on…

 

Viata is available at https://eamondilworth.bandcamp.com

Eamon Dilworth’s website is http://www.eamondilworth.com

 

Immersive jazz such as Miles Davis‘ Big Fun and Live at The Fillmore East – with improvisations covering an entire vinyl side, sometimes two – seem to come from a place beyond titled and constrictions of any kind. To this day I can’t tell my ‘Selim’ from my ‘Sivad’, but I adore Live/Evil.

I mean, if you are ecstatically floating about in a jewel-blue ocean, do you really care what name some long ago cartographer gave it?

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Melbourne improv collective, I Hold The Lion’s Paw have released their debut, Abstract Playgrounds, and it is a bit like that. Even though the album is divided into titles tracks – and cleverly into an ‘A Side’ and a ‘B Side (more on that in a minute) – its immersive spirit pushes the listener into taking it all in, as one. Very much like Bitches Brew or, again, Big Fun.

I keep mentioning Miles’ work, but I shouldn’t: this work, obviously inspired by Miles’ electric 70s masterpieces (Miles gave more than one generation permission to freak out), is of its own world. IHTLP leader/composer, Melbourne trumpeter Reuben Lewis has conceived of this music as improvised compositions that can be then taken and re-edited into new forms. As Teo did, as hip-hop does. EAR020+I+Hold+the+Lions+Paw+-+Abstract+Playgrounds+-++-+web+viewing+-+600+x+600+pixels+at+300+dpi+-

This brings me back to the ‘A Side’ and a ‘B Side’ thing. The pieces here on ‘A’ are the recorded eight piece band improvisations; the ‘B’ side has bassist Mark Shepherd remixing the ‘A’ stuff and coming top with some remarkable results. So, three levels of composition are at work here: Lewis’ original ideas, the transformations brought about by the IHTLP jamming them out, and the mutations rendered through Shepherd’s remixing. It works beautifully, retaining an organic/evolving/searching spirit throughout.

The sound can be reminiscent of the churning Bitches Brew undercurrent at times – two double basses, with electric bass and guitar and two drum kits under the horns – then suddenly it is light as air, the horns (Lewis and trombonist Jordan Murray reading each other perfectly), Afro-funky with a Jon Hassell accent. The electronic intrusions and colours shock in the best way, cleaving the acoustic with the electric.

Is this exactly where jazz needed to have ended up in the year 2018? Future-primitive grooves – there are echoes of Radiohead, what Robert Plant is doing in rock and Sydney’s 20th Century Dog are doing in jazz. It is an exhilarating spirit that moves this collective, taking the best from the past, and from the future and grafting them to the present.

Wherever he is, Miles is smiling.

 

Abstract Playgrounds is available at https://www.earshift.com/news/2018/1/10/i-hold-the-lions-paw-abstract-playgrounds-out-feb-2

 

In an age of half-chewed soundbites and the relentless chatter of tiny tweets – of ever-decreasing attention and even shorter digestion – it is always gratifying, on a number of levels, to see art made that demands as much of your time as it needs.

Trumpeter Lee McIver‘s Polymorphic Orkestra makes music that demands that time – and rewards one for it, in spades. Together with vibraphone player Ed Goyer and drummer Ed Rodrigues, this three-man orchestra expands on the sounds of their instruments by adding digital elements to the acoustic, often combining the two into remarkable alloys.

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Both McIver and Rodrigues use laptop samples and FX to grow the possibilities of their own instruments, as well as adding external colours to the music – an intriguing use of the murmur of indistinct human voices, like a dream radio, or the sudden startling sting and snap of a plucked string.

Their latest album, Confluence, is made up of two long improvisations – the 40-minute ‘Stream’ and the 24- minute ‘Flow’. The titles are fitting, as this music has much in common with the nature of both water and of electricity: rushing between banks, bubbling over rapids, coming to rest calm and lake-serene, sparking, ever moving to a point of resolution or rest.f2494745717d52ed65af8ca9919e03d0df5380cc

‘Stream’ is the more free-form of the two – moments of purely acoustic playing, then moments of digital crackle and sheen, with often beautifully balanced hybrids of the two. The empathy is almost telepathic between McIver and the two Eds – rarely does one soloist rise above the others, and if so only fleetingly as if to point the way to a new path. ‘Stream’s 40 minutes goes by like seconds.

‘Flow’ appears more structured, yet retains the same ecstatic feeling of discovery that guides its longer twin. Beginning with a melody that is almost like a lost jazz standard, it moves into an ostinato bass pattern, and then off into points unknown (to us and to the players, both).

This is unique and rewarding music. The trumpet colours call to mind obviously Miles Davis‘ more expansive fusion sides, as well as the electric watercolours of Jon Hassell, yet the Polymorphic Orkestra has its own voice and vision, and it is perfectly realised here.

Give them an hour and they will give you a world.

 

The Polymorphic Orkestra’s website is here.

What does the term ‘experimental music’ mean? Forty years after Jon Hassell, sixty years after John Cage and Stockhausen, the term, like ‘indie’, is only a shell of its former, dangerous, meaning.

We lend half an ear without particularly ‘listening’ to its strange bleeps and glassy lunarscapes on video games, behind the action of blockbuster movies and – I could be wrong – I may have even heard some Cluster wafting across Aisle 5 at Coles last Thursday.

If the cultural blizzard/shitstorm of the Twentieth Century taught us anything, it is Music is Music. Sure, many cling to Genre as if it is a raft in a howling sea – Blues for example. But beyond those museum pieces, new music continues to be made. In one sense, anything that looks forward is experimental music.

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Sydney group Forenzics is a four piece improvising collective who make music that is full of heart and beauty – contradicting the charge that experimental music is cold, cerebral and can only be appreciated on a mathematical level. The fact that it is improvised puts it theoretically in the jazz camp, and the four – founding guitarists Matthew Syres and Dirk Kruithof, drummer John Wilton and trumpeter Joe Cummins – play telepathically together like a great be-bop band or, more accurately, like a smoking’ free jazz combo. They listen to and feed off each other, growing the music in intensity and trajectory as they go. But that is as close to jazz as it gets.

Their fourth album together is Malign. It is completely improvised in the studio, with no overdubs, edits or preconceptions. The mission statement of our intrepid auranauts is to “play what you feel without limits and boundaries, only that (the music) must be created there and then with no restrictions on genre, texture, format or structure”.

It could be a bloody mess. But of course it is not – Malign is beautiful.forenzics2

The influence of 70s ‘ambient’ (another scoured-out word) trumpet visionary, Jon Hassell is evident from opener ‘a dusk service/sun checks’. Behind Cummins’ darkly glowing trumpet the guitars roll and pitch. In fact, across Malign the guitars rarely sound like guitars; they are used as sound generators to give the effects something to chew on and spit out as drones, luminous shafts of sound or robotic breathing. The occasional chord or arpeggio breaks the alien surface now and again but it is mainly beautifully controlled textures that the two focus on.

Texture also is the approach of drummer John Wilton. Even though there is the occasional muffled African heartbeat – such is on the Afro-Hassell ‘you’re entitled’ – Wilton brilliantly uses his percussives to scratch, dent and mottle the smooth surface of the guitars. It is a hard call for a drummer to take away the dimension of pulse-rhythm from his playing – very few could do it this well.

The influence of Miles Davis‘ earth-shaking Bitches Brew also stretches across Forenzics’ music. Cummins’ trumpet is the humanising element that gives Malign much of its surprising accessibility. Never FXed into unrecognisability, his pure tone is harmonised on ‘song games’, heavily reverbed on ‘stone cold crazies’ and echoed-up on ‘cubists’ yet remains a bright yet subtle acoustic voice above the strangescapes beneath.

Cummins’ most affecting improvisation is the entirely unadorned elegy he plays over ‘acid nekk’. Beneath him, a distorted drone of dying machines blackens the earth. Electronic twitches and rattles and hums are the death throes of an electronic  junk pile. The slow and sombre trumpet line over this machine graveyard somehow sums up something about the way we live – something indefinable. Experimental music is not supposed to affect one this deeply.

But it does. In fact all of Malign does. Yes, like all good modern art it asks to be listened to on its own terms. Yet it does not push away but creates a place for the listener to go and to explore as it happens. Unlike too much ‘experimental’ music, it includes; it does not exclude.

Published March 2015 on australianjazz.net and theorangepress.net