This has been a fun week at Squidco, with releaes on several favorite labels, particularly: psi, Tzadik, Cuneiform. (Comments on Moon June & Water reissues to follow!)
First and foremost, a new set of psi releases, Evan Parker's sublabel of Emanem, which has documented the great European Free Improv scene for decades. My favorite of the lot is Bark!, which has links to Furt and Stock, Hausen and Walkman. I don't hasten to add the last, only because the music comes from a different attitude, though SH&W's later works are much more experimental than their initial plunderphonic and humourous releases. Bark!, despite the instrumentation which might imply loud interactive sound, is actually quite subtle, a delicate interplay that requires intent listening; not anything you'll be snapping your fingers to, but really fun to listen to.
The Houle / E. Parker / Delbecq release La Lumière De Pierres is the most notable of the set. The real duo here is Delbecq and Houle: clarinetist Delbecq and prepared/pianist Houle have worked together since 1997. Delbecq approaches the piano as a "fabric", drawing on Cage and Ligeti for inspiration, and using African timbres and polyrhythms in his approach to the keys. Houle's work is informed by the work of Evan Parker or William O. Smith, as he creates multi-layered compositions that expand the possibilities and language of the clarinet. Delbecq and Houle have long had an interest in collaborating with a 3rd person, and in in 2005 were invited by composer Michel Frigon to perform at his Innovations concert series in Montréal with Evan Parker. Seeing an excellent opportunity to record this trio formation, the results are this release, on Evan Parker's own psi label, a distinctive sonic world and approach to improvised explorations.
New Tzadiks arrived yesterday, with two anticipated releases: Massacre's "Lonely Heart" and Death Ambient "Drunken Forest." Massacre started life in New York City in 1981, two years after Fred Frith moved to the city. This was an amazing time for music in the city, leading to bands like Material, New York Gong, Scritti Politti, Golden Palominos and No Safety. Given that, Massacre was originally very short lived, a trio of Bill Laswell on bass and Fred Maher on drums. The band released one album on Celluloid, Killing Time that was instantly remarkable for the opening number "Legs," a 'killer' track with an incredibly mean hook - Recommended Records revived the album last year. Most of the album is improvised rock in the Downtown NY mode, skronky and convoluted work that's a sonic display of great power and interest.
The original Massacre only lasted a year, but was brought back to life by swapping Fred Maher with Charles Hayward, one of the planet's most intense drummers. Hayward is probably best known from This Heat and Camberwell Now, but has also has a huge history of solo work and collaborations with many amazing players, including Peter Brotzmann, David Shea, John Edwards, Phil Manzanera, Percy Howard, Veron Reid, Trey Gunn, &c. Tzadik has now released 3 Massacre records: Funny Valentine, Meltdown, and now Lonely Heart. The first two are intensely amazing releases, Funny Valentine a studio effort from 1998 that is a massive work of improvised rock, a building work that shows the potential of the new group. Meltdown was recorded live in 2001 at Robert Wyatt's Meltdown Festival in London. The band plays in a more standard improv format, but given that it's Frith/Hayward/Laswell that's an amazing format with a ferocity and huge sound that few other trios could pull off. The live format being the natural state of this band, Lonely Heart takes us to the opening set for Metallica (!) at the Roskilde Rock Festival in Denmark, an open-air festival that attracts more than 80,000 fans. Apparently playing for metal-heads is a serious motivator for this band, because they pull out all stops to create 5 seriously scorching tracks. Frith in particular shows his often implied pyrotechnical abilities, while Laswell and Hayward play with an intensity that makes for a flat-out amazing release.
If you find ambient music exciting then the third installment of Kato Hideki's Death Ambient project is a cause for great and sombre joy! Japanese born Kato Hideki is a well rounded musician and conceptualist, who's interests include art and literature. Hideki spent the 80's in Japan, working with seminal figures Otomo Yoshihide as a founding memeber of Otomo Yoshihide's Ground Zero, Yamatsuka Eye of The Boredoms, Yoshida Tatsuya of Ruins and the great vocal improviser Koichi Makigami. After working with John Zorn and Makigami in 1991 on one of the latter's Toshiba EMI albums, Hideki decided to relocate to New York City. He quickly became an important part of the Downtown NY scene, recording with Marc Ribot, Zeena Parkins, Christian Marclay, and as an accompaniest for visiting artists such as Chris Cutler, and was named an artist-in-residence at Harvestworks.
Perhaps Hideki's most prominent project has been Death Ambient, which actually began life as the name of an album, the band simply credited to Hideki, Fred Frith and Ikue Mori. Mori and Hideki began working together in 1995, the year of the first Death Ambient release. The compatibility between these artists is apparent in both their interest in unusually structured music and the creation of fascinatingly textured sound. Fred Frith, then living in NYC, had worked with Mori since the mid-80's, after John Zorn introduced the then post-DNA drummer into the young Downtown scene. Hideki and Mori invited Frith to join them in creating "sounds and texture extravaganza," recorded in Brooklyn's Green Point Studio. The implication of the album is that it fits in the ambient/techno world, but in reality the association with that music is somewhat distant. All three musicians have extensive histories writing soundtracks and music for theatre, and that unobtrusive and subliminal approach comes through, using repeating dark and somewhat disturbing structures, though the 'ambient' aspects of the music are intermittently disturbed by improvisational interventions.
Death Ambient was very well received, and after their first tour in Germany under the Death Ambient name in 1998, the trio returned to NY and in 1999 recorded their second CD Synaesthesia, refining the darkly designed beauty of their form. Frith and Hideki create growling and grainy walls of guitar, while Mori's samplers accentuate and punctuate with her amazing palette of sound. My dictionary defines 'Synaesthesia' as the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body and the poetic description of a sense impression in terms of another sense, as in "a loud perfume" or "an icy voice." A fitting description for their hallucinatory series of sound perceptions and deceptions.
Active musicians all three, it's taken another eight years to get to the latest Death Ambient release: Drunken Forest. The trio is joined by another Downtown NY player, the phenomenal percussionist Jim Pugliese. The album has actually been in development for six years, and the care and detail of the release are undeniable. The instrumentation is extensive, including Mori's computer, Frith's guitar, and Hideki's guitar, analog synthesizer, violin, banjo, mandolin, accordion, ukelele, electric and lap steel guitar, vocals, recorder, glasses, ice and water(!) Despite this, the music is more mysterious and, actually, more uniformally ambient, more electronic and with few interventions. The results are submersive and encompassing, an eerie and wonderfully dusky sound, meticulously devised, an excellent late night album to accompany your darkest dreams.
Cuneiform also chimed in with three new releases, and not a weak one in the lot (it's hard to expect anything different from Steve Feigenbaum's). For the improv listener, the double release of Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd, with Jean-Jacques Avenel from Lacy's European trio and quintet settings. Lacy's work with Roswell Rudd had a long history, and the two were very like-minded musicians with similar tastes in jazz genres. These recordings were from the period 1999-2002, the first CD containing mostly Lacy originals with one Monk tune; the second CD presents both Rudd and Lacy compositions, along with Cecily Taylor and more Monk, including alternate takes. Lacy's young passing has left us with a wealth of unreleased material; kudos to Cuneiform for making this material available.