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The Necks: Vertigo (Northern Spy)

The Necks 18th album finds the trio of drummer/percussionist Tony Buck, bassist Lloyd Swanton and pianist/keyboardist Chris Abrahams in a vertiginous 44 minute dark excursion punctuated by cliff hanging moments through homemade instruments and unusual textures. ... Click to View

The Necks: Vertigo [VINYL] (Northern Spy)

The Necks 18th album finds the trio of drummer/percussionist Tony Buck, bassist Lloyd Swanton and pianist/keyboardist Chris Abrahams in a vertiginous 44 minute dark excursion punctuated by cliff hanging moments through homemade instruments and unusual textures. ... Click to View

Raoul Bjorkenheim / eCsTaSy: Out Of The Blue (Cuneiform)

Ecstatic modern improvised music from electric guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheims quartet with drummer Markku Ounaskari, bassist Jori Huhtala, and saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, in their second album blending complex time signatures with beautiful sonic environments. ... Click to View

Evan Parker: The Snake Decides [REPRESS] (psi)

Re-issuing UK improvising saxophonist Evan Parker's stunning 2003 solo release on soprano sax, recorded in 1986 in St. Paul's Church, Oxford by the late Michael Gerzon--"a giant in the field of audio"--using the natural resonance of the space augments Parker's stunning technique. ... Click to View

Evan Parker / Schlippenbach / Lytton: America 2003 [2 CDs] REPRESS (psi)

Concert recordings from the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans and the Seattle Asian Arts Museum from the trio of Evan Parker (sax), Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano) and Paul Lytton (percussion), 2 CDs of stunning and surprising improv from three masters of the form. ... Click to View

Thomas Heberer / Achim Kaufmann / Ken Filiano: Interstices (Nuscope)

... Click to View

Kevin Drumm / Jason Lescalleet: Busman's Holiday (erstwhile)

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Takahiro Kawaguchi / Utah Kawasaki: Amorphous Spores (erstwhile)

Unusual sound work from the Japanese duo of Takahiro Kawaguchi and Utah Kawasaki (Astro Twin), using self-made instruments and electronics to create unexpected sonic emissions that follow curious paths that are separated by periods of quiet or textural sound. ... Click to View

Zs (Hillmer / Fox / Higgins): XE (Northern Spy)

Sam Hillmer's NY based Z's in a trio format, with Hillmer on sax & electronics, Patrick Higgins on guitar & electronics, and Greg Fox on percussion & electronics, for an album of energetic and often abstracted beats, hyperkinetic electronics, and strange tonal music. ... Click to View

Van Hove / Jacquemyn / Smith: Burns Longer (Balance Point Acoustics)

European Free improvising legend Fred Van Hove performing on piano and accordion with two bassists--fellow Belgian Peter Jacquemyn, and West Coast bassist Damon Smith--for an album of dizzying flights and growling bass turning convention on its side in sensational ways. ... Click to View

Trot A Mouse (Simon Jermyn): Pictorial Atlas Of Mammals (Skirl)

With Tom Rainey on drums, Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Mat Maneri on viola and leader Simon Jermyn on 6 string electric bass, Trot a Mouse's 2nd album is a sophisticated NY band blending lyrical and free approaches to a diverse set set of modern creative jazz compositions. ... Click to View

Kenny Wheeler / John Taylor: On The Way To Two (CamJazz)

A tribute to the passing of both trumpet and flugelhorn Kenny Wheeler and long-time collaborator, pianist John Taylor, in a subtle conversation of two partners of superb skill and taste "suggesting, agreeing, mildly disagreeing, but never at cross purposes". ... Click to View

Midnight Doctors: Through A Screen And Into A Hole (Ourodisc)

A long-term studio project/mutant big band merging collage, scored pieces, structured improvisations, cut-up jams, hi- and lo-fi textures, electroacoustic work, and location recording into large and wonderfully unpredictable compositions with few boundaries. ... Click to View

Midnight Doctors: (Ourodisc)

A long-term studio project/mutant big band merging collage, scored pieces, structured improvisations, cut-up jams, hi- and lo-fi textures, electroacoustic work, and location recording into large and wonderfully unpredictable compositions with few boundaries. ... Click to View

Musicworks: #123 Fall 2015 [MAGAZINE + CD] (Musicworks)

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Komuna// Warszawa: plays Luc Ferrari Tautologos III (Bolt)

A fascinating rendering of Ferrari's Tautology--everyday activities enacted in gesture, noises, words, &c.--used as a framework for a chamber work where the performers recorded their parts independently, which were then overlapped and played alongside Ferrari's tapes and narration. ... Click to View

Kare Kolberg : Attitudes (Bolt)

Kare Kolberg was a pioneer of electroacoustic music in Norway, having written the first Norwegian work for computers in 1973; this CD presents froms from 1969-2003 written for the Polish Radio Experimentral Studio blending and expanding on concepts of concrete music. ... Click to View

MIRT: Solitaire (Bolt)

Tomek Mirt resurrects the memory of the Norwegian composer Arne Nordheimie through this five part work of slowly shifting electronics, tense atmospheres, and gentle murmurs, detailed work that reveals its meditative depth through repeated listenings. ... Click to View

Goh Kawng Lee / Julien Ottavi: Pukul Berapa? (Herbal International)

Goh Lee Kwang performing on a no input mixer meets Julien Ottavi on TamTam, bass drum and a computer running Puredata and Apodio 10 for an album of electronic improvisation recorded in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Nantes, France that balances agressive and meditative sound. ... Click to View

Christopher Riggs / Carl Testa: Sn (S to the power of n, or Sⁿ) (Gold Bolus Recordings)

New Haven instrumentalist Carl Testa and Chicago guitarist Christopher Riggs in a large composition for prepared electric guitar and live electronic processing that references Ashley, Stockhausen and Braxton while manipulating one's sense of time, space, and memory. ... Click to View

Steerage: Entropy Is What The State Makes Of It (Caduc)

An album of tones and tonal environments from Barry Chabala and A.F. Jones, using guitars and effects to create slowly moving sound punctuated with unusual sounds of unknown origin; rich and curiously non-specific sound that lives in the back- and foreground. ... Click to View

Cecil Taylor : Garden, 2nd Set (Hatology)

The second set of Cecil Taylor's superb live set at Grosser Saal Volkshaus, in Basel, Switzerland in 1981, performing solo over five improvisations, presented for the first time in the original concert sequence. ... Click to View

Anthony Braxton : Quartet (Santa Cruz) 1993, 2nd Set (Hatology)

Remaster of the exhilarating second set from saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton's concert at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, CA, 1993, one of 7 nights performing with the quartet of Marilyn Crispell on piano, Mark Dresser on bass, and Gerry Hemingway on percussion. ... Click to View

Claudio Sanna : Ammentos (Hatology)

Sardinian pianist Claudio Sanna, versed equally in the classical, jazz, and electroacoustic traditions, in his debut recording of 8 original compositions blending composition and improvisation, revealing an enthusiastic and curious approach to music. ... Click to View

Uwe Oberg : Work (Hatology)

German pianist Uwe Oberg (Lacy Pool, Uwe Oberg Quartet, Kooperative New Jazz) in a solo album performing works of Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk and his own original work, applying a diverse set of approaches rooted in jazz tradition. ... Click to View

Anthony Braxton / Derek Bailey: First Duo Concert (London 1974) (Emanem)

A much-need reissue of the 1974 Emanem LP presenting saxophonist Anthony Baxton, also on flute, with guitarist Derek Bailey on acoustic and electric, performing at London's Wigmore Hall for twelve duets of a diverse, playful, and accesible character. ... Click to View

Veryan Weston / Jon Rose / Hannah Marshall: Tuning Out [2 CDs] (Emanem)

Improvised pieces for tracker action organs and strings recorded in five English churches from the trio of violinist Jon Rose, Veryan Weston on tracker action organ, and cellist Hannah Marshall, inviting the public to re-imagine the nature of pitch relationships. ... Click to View

Steve Lacy Quintet: Last Tour (2004) (Emanem)

The Steve Lacy Quintet's final tour with vocalist Irene Aebi, trombonist George Lewis, bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch, performing live in Boston for an impressive set punctuated with words from Burroughs, Waldman, Kaufman, Creeley & Schelling. ... Click to View

Larry Ochs: The Fictive Five (Tzadik)

West Coast multi-reedist and founding member of the Rova Sax Quartet Larry Ochs leads this impressive free improvising quintet patterned after the New York Contemporary Five, with the superb lineup of Nate Wooley, Harris Eisenstadt, Pascal Niggenkemper, and Ken Filiano. ... Click to View

John Zorn: James Moore Plays The Book Of Heads (CD/DVD) Of A Film By Stephen Taylor (Tzadik)

Zorn's "The Book of Heads" is performed by guitarist James Moore, heard on CD and seen in a DVD by Stephen Taylor, using prepared guitar to interpret Zorn's hermetic language of meticulously notated sounds inspired by contemporary classical extended techniques. ... Click to View


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  Singing at the Threshold  

Kali Fasteau's Lifetime of Listening and Playing

By James Keepnews 2003-12-15

I lived on four continents to experience many concepts of the divine in music. Sound creates reality as it moves through time. It is important for me to let the life energy create freely in the full magic of the moment without premeditating on form. Musicians study form to learn how to embody sound with grace and energy. The ultimate goal is formlessness, to manifest grace and energy in all our actions, and to offer the gift of a fresh expression of the infinite present with love and compassion. The form of the music can be seen after the fact of its creation. I choose to perform on the threshold of the unknown. - Kali Z. Fasteau

I should know better than to trust a map to find her.

In our email correspondence leading up to my visit, Fasteau offered to give me directions but Natty Bumpo insisted on a prevalent inelegance, viz. the transformation of websites into verbs, and tried to find her house by "Mapquesting" its address. My bad - turn-offs can't be found, roads meant to be turned onto after previous turns show up early, etc. Backtracking, with more hope than intuition, Brought me into the Orange County backwoods of the perfectly-named Balmville, NY and, eventually to her home.

"Her" being Kali Z. Fasteau, as she is known today. Discographers, record collectors and other lovers of fine art and its alphabetizing might still know her best, if at all, as Zusaan Kali Fasteau, as she was billed on her recordings as recently as 1997. To musicians, however, she's always been Kali Fasteau, and she laughs when I remark on the name change on her albums - it's a conscious effort on her part and, soon, she insists, "all that will be left is 'Kali.Z'!".

However she is named, Kali Fasteau is an inimitable presence is creative music. In a music whose appreciation of its female practitioners is still rare, Kali is all the more unique, but her contributions resist easy pigeonholing, much as finding her residence resisted cartography. To call her one of the most accomplished female multi-instrumentalists in free music specifically, and musics associated with "jazz" generally, still feels like putting too fine a point on her abilities. For starters, those multiple instruments aren’t your standard jazzers’ swapping of reeds, either, but a worldwide collection of reeds, keyboards, string instruments and percussion from many different cultures - a short list would read soprano saxophone, piano, cello, ney, balafon, kaval, mizmar, shakuhachi, moursin, sanza, sheng, drums and the incomparable vocal stylings she characterizes as “international vocalese.” Her global odyssey, one seemingly as spiritual as it was musical, across two decades, where she lived and studied in many different countries, including Haiti, Turkey, India, Nepal, and many European nations makes her a singular authority on musical practice across those cultures; the degree to which these cultures have helped shape her range of expression is nearly immeasurable. There's also her early embrace of musican-owned record labels with Flying Note. These distinctions are fueled by a deep appreciation of the divine in all aspects her musical process, leavened with a radical political consciousness also developed and practiced over the decades. There's no one quite like her in any music, anywhere.

Fasteau was gracious as she greeted me, and almost apologetically invited me into her marvelous home. "I'm used to sleeping on the shores of the Indian Ocean," she said with a calm smile. "This is still new for me." Laid out in an open, quasi-Japanese single level, replete with long rooms surrounded by windows which look out upon her sylvan property, the outside feels inside, and the inside out. The analogy is inevitable.

Metaphors are probably too easy to come by with an artist of Kali's accomplishment and global perspective - but they're there for anyone to see. Her music is an uncanny distillation of traditional and spontaneous, refinement and fire, inside and out. And no single map can guide you there - ragas on soprano saxophone can lead to blues on the Turkish flute (or ney) leading to feral vocalized wails that can descend, precisely, into pitch. Far from a scattered aesthetic, Fasteau has absorbed her extraordinarily far-flung experience to make a bracing, unified and emotionally sophisticated music that doesn't lack for resources, spiritual or instrumental.

Raised in Paris to an accomplished musical family, Fasteau recalled a youth filled with music and music making.

“My mother’s father was a cellist in the New Jersey Symphony, and had also played cornet in the Russian army," she said. "His oldest daughter, my mother’s sister, was an opera singer, composer and conductor, which was very rare back in those days. She did programs at Carnegie Hall. My first year and a half I lived in my grandfather's house, and so I heard and saw the cello being played, right in front me, as an infant. That was, I think, very important - I mean, the sound of the cello, and the bass and strings is very close to me.”

Her formal musical training started at a very early age on piano. By fourth grade, she was studying cello; by seventh, she began flute, while maintaining her studies on the other instruments. Multi-instrumentalism, then, played a decisive aspect early in Kali's musical development, and her facility on these and subsequent instruments, she said, isn't unusual as a result. “It's like when children grow up speaking several languages, it's normal for them to switch languages - it's like nothing. So, the same being a multi-instrumentalist as a kid. It's not a big thing to change from one to another.”

Along with the Western classical influences surrounding her from an early age, Fasteau had the opportunity to hear music closer to the sensibilities she would develop over the years. “My girlfriend when I was in second grade, she had some records of Miriam Makeba," she said. "She turned me on to Miriam Makeba when I was 7 or 8 and I just loved her music. That was my first experience with non-Western music, as far as I can consciously recall. That was a really important influence. My brother had alot of jazz records, too -- Bobby Timmons, Miles, Ahmad Jamal, he had a lot of good records. So, I feel a feeling for jazz early, too."

She also recalls an experience featuring the bedrock of her musical style today and one that strikes fear in the heart of most “formally-trained” musicians: improvisation. “When I was about fourteen, I had a dream that I was playing at a recital -- classical music, playing some Bach -- and I forgot what I was supposed to play and I just made up some music on the spot, and it worked out fine. I dreamt that I was improvising. And then, the next day, I tried it, and I started to figure out how to improvise.”

Her politics slowly began to reveal a radical edge, sharpened by her attendance at the legendary March on Washington in 1963. The following year, she attended Reed College, where she earned a degree in social anthropology while minoring in music. Certain students helped shape her understanding of jazz and r&b and spending summers in Georgia and Louisiana as part of voter drives organized by such radical student groups as CORE and SCLC helped shape her emerging revolutionary consciousness. By 1968, she had already spent time working with the Oakland branch of the Black Panthers and went from that experience to graduate school in music at Wesleyan University. The culture shock was enormous. One wonders whether any traditional Western educational system could have provided Kali with a satisfactory pedagogy with the direction her life was going but, as Fasteau described it, just being in Middletown, CT for her studies was only too redolent of her days with CORE.

“I had this really rebellious spirit," she said. "I almost didn't even go to graduate school, I was really in this revolutionary mode. So, when I got to Wesleyan...Middletown, CT was set up like a southern town, with a black part and a white part, there were hardly any women there, very few women in the grad program. It was too retro for me.”

Still, she did have a chance to study music from other cultures, as well as contemporary classical music. Moreover, Middletown's proximity to New York meant that she had a chance to take in so much of what was available there as the 60s gave way to 1970, when Kali eventually graduated and moved to the city. She left for San Francisco in late 1971 where she met Donald Rafael Garett, the multi-instrumentalist best known for his contributions to a series of West Coast recordings by John Coltrane (Om, Live in Seattle, Kulu Se Mama and Selflessness) on which he played both bass and bass clarinet.

It was, says Kali, "love at first sight – lightning struck and everything!" Speaking about him today, Kali's abiding love and respect for the late musician, composer, philosopher and polymath is palpable.

“He was very advanced,” Kali recalls, “Rafael was a genius in many areas of intellectual life. He taught me how to make bamboo flutes, shakuhachi, he taught me T'ai Chi Chuan, macrobiotic cooking, he was up on many of the latest philosophies of the time, like Gurdjieff. The way he was, he was always sharing his knowledge with whoever was around.”

They began playing together immediately, eventually recording Kali's first appearance on record, the ESP-Disk release by the Sea Ensemble, aka Rafael and Kali. By 1974, they were married and their global journey had begun, having already lived in France, Zaire, Senegal, Morocco, Haiti, as well as New York.

"When I met Rafael in 1971, feminism was enjoying a surge of development and I was certainly was encouraged by that, and Rafael definitely considered himself a feminist," she said. "When he met me, he was very supportive and had me in his band right away. He was very happy to be playing with a woman and with someone who had similar ideas about music. We could really be equals in creativity.

The music of the Sea Ensemble - occasionally expanding to a quartet with the addition of the late saxophonist Glenn Spearman and drummer Jay Oliver - is boundlessly lyrical and a template for Kali's later work. Like many small groups of the period, they were resourceful orchestrators, with the ability to create the illusion of a far larger group with their varied instrumentation. Their approach to performance also seemed to transcend Western notions of composition, pacing and even, at points, an easily discernable jazz element -- theirs was a nascent global improvisatory music where melody flowed organically from one piece and grouping of instruments into an entirely different one. Memoirs of a Dream (Flying Note, 2000), a 2-cd set of music which Fasteau carefully shepherded over years of travel (including a concert in Ankara, Turkey in 1977, during which Garrett gently encourages the listeners to "chew their food") is a revelation, a carefully preserved document of Fasteau and Garett's extrasensory interplay and pancultural ritual expression through improvisation, sounded from Holland to Turkey.

The duo played several tours opening for, and playing with, Archie Shepp, as well as a performance with Sun Ra in Amsterdam. Yet, by 1977, the two had parted, and she returned to Paris for three years, beginning a solo career and working as a bandleader. She moved to India in 1981, with a Selmer Mark VI soprano saxophone added to her arsenal, to study Hindustani vocal music with Mangala Mishra.

"I stayed at [Mangala's] father's house, and she would come over at 6 in the morning. They started playing [recorded] music there at 4 in the morning. Everyone gets up early in tropical countries - that's the coolest time of the day. It was beautiful and I learned so much." She then moved on to Chennai (Madras) in South India, where she lived in an “untouchable” fishermen’s village on the coast for six months, traveled all around the region, and earned money making film soundtracks, and performing concerts.


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