Drone Trio – Lantskap Logic (Clean Feed Records)
When one considers a trio of pipe organ, electric guitar, and saxophone, the initial expectation is not likely, “a minimal, dark-ambient masterpiece!” Alas, here we are with Lantskap Logic. Lovingly recorded in the chapel at Mills College in Oakland, California, Evelyn Davis, Fred Frith, and Phillip Greenlief deliver one of the most mesmerizing documents of improvised music in recent memory.
As the all-purpose group name “Drone Trio” might suggest, this was an ad hoc meeting, presumably executed with little or no preparation. This is all the more impressive considering the almost alien subtlety and responsiveness of the performances of Davis, Frith, and Greenlief: at times it’s impossible to discern three distinct instruments within the drone they are so in sync. Also, there is something about hearing music in a sacred space, performed by true masters, that is deeply affecting, and even through the medium of hi-res digital files, this is the present case. It is only at the tail end of LL, as sirens sound in the streets, that the spell is broken.
LL has transcendence in spades and I know I am not alone when I say, at the risk of sounding greedy, I could use another two hours of this asap.
Du Yun / International Contemporary Ensemble – Dinosaur Scar (Tundra Records)
Caveat: I am not an expert on 21st century orchestral music, or any other for that matter, but I do come across music written from a variety of perspectives and sometimes decide to write about it, so here goes…
Du Yun is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer and a founding collaborator with the International Contemporary Ensemble and Dinosaur Scar is a retrospective of sorts released on ICE’s own Tundra imprint documenting her time working closely with ICE the past decade or so. Characteristics that have become hallmarks of ICE are all present on DS: masterful execution, stagnation-averse, extended techniques, fearless expressivity, improvisatory, and aesthetically exceptional.
While there is so much to digest with DS, a few highlights, coincidentally, of the release’s lengthiest pieces, follow: “Air Glow”, here adapted for four trumpets, flugelhorn, and electric guitar/bass is irrefutably majestic, like some demented ritual music; “by, of … Lethean” is also stunning, presenting a confounding-ly woven tapestry, perhaps of forgetfulness – Lethean was the river in Greek mythology that caused those who drank from it oblivion – and features Du Yun performing on zheng; “Run in a Graveyard” features flautist and founder / former artistic / executive director of ICE, Claire Chase, at first skipping, then, um, running, through a slowly detonating landmine of electronics, and is a tense dynamo!
The most accurate description these unqualified ears can conjure of Du Yun’s music is “subtlety edgy”: it is no hurry to make its point, but it will bite you if necessary. Much more exploring of her work is undoubtedly forthcoming.
Timespine – Urban Season (Shhpuma Records)
Let’s just start with this: Urban Season is home to the most compelling use of field recordings this side of Steven Stapleton’s Nurse With Wound. Listening to US, I found myself physically leaning in in an attempt to uncover what in the world was happening sonically within its mysterious backdrop. Though the secret was never quite revealed, the attempt made for great sport.
The foreground of the 21st century string band Timespine is made up of zither player Adriana Sá, bassist John Klima, and guitarist Tó Trips, also of Portuguese band Dead Combo. There is a fascinating chemistry between the three musicians, who interpret Sá’s graphic scores with grand sensitivity and innovation. Though electronic manipulation is utilized in sculpting an inexplicable vibe, it never interferes with the fact that three musicians are interacting in a profoundly creative act.
Because such a substantial leap forward has been made from the Portuguese group’s eponymous debut release, also on Shhpuma, I can only imagine the volume of brains that will melt upon release #3. Excelente trabalho!
Flavio Zanuttini Opacipapa – Born Baby Born (Clean Feed Records)
The most essential question for a musician is how do I fill up this space with sound? Formulas have been devised for and dutifully used by groups of musicians about the “best” ways of doing this over the years involving who plays what and how. The issue is complicated when the group is “limited” by its membership, resulting in nearly as many outcomes as there are groups.
In the case of the bass instrument-less trio, Motian/Lovano/Frisell and Baron/Swell/Eskelin come to mind as having made some astoundingly effective decisions that have resulted in terrific if very different music. In this lineage, trumpeter Flavio Zanuttini has convened with eight of his tunes and saxophonist Piero Bittolo Bon and drummer Marco D’Orlando, collectively known as Opacipapa, to bravely accept and smash this personnel challenge. Born Baby Born is not only a total success with respect to making a go without the traditional notion of bass, but it is a jubilant frolic of a good time, not unlike a crafty and thrifty second line.
Each player is so dialed-in to the tunes and each other’s nuanced performances that the resultant whole is truly another galaxy apart from the few parts: no holes here, at all. Cranking BBB is a fantastic way to start anew in 2019!
Claudio Scolari, Daniele Cavalca & Simone Scolari – Natural Impulse (Principal Records)
There is a something old/ something new vibe to Natural Impulse: at times, particularly early in the disc’s just over 60 minute run time, familiarity of harmony and form acts as reliable comfort food of sorts. As NI continues though, drummer Claudio Scolari, multi-instrumentalist Daniele Cavalca, and trumpeter (Claudio’s son) Simone Scolari explore more and more interesting territory for the more adventurous palette….and to delicious effect!
NI is the third album released by the trio and finds them locating a happy place between acoustic and electronic sounds. The elder Scolari describes the group’s approach as “composing in real time with no rules”. The secret weapon here appears to be Cavalca who handles synths, rhodes, piano, vibraphone, bass, and occasionally, second drum kit!
Though I’m not sure how this project jibes as a live unit, this recording is an overdubbed or unnatural response to a natural impulse…and this is not a dig, because as always, technology in the right hands is very much an ally to creativity.