The Squid's Ear Magazine

Thollem (w/ Alex Cline / Susan Alcorn): Thollem's Astral Traveling Sessions (Astral Spirits)

In 2019 pianist Thollem McDonas toured the US -- 12 months and 25 albums worth of recordings -- joining collaborators from a vast spectrum of improvisers and performers, this album presenting two such recordings: one a duo with drummer/percussionist Alex Cline from a live concert in Santa Monica; the other a duo with guitarist Susan Alcorn recorded in Baltimore.

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product information:

Label: Astral Spirits
Catalog ID: AS153-08CD
Squidco Product Code: 30268

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2021
Country: USA
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Track 1 recorded live at the Santa Monica Library, in Santa Monica, California, on July 17th, 2019.

Tracks 3 to 7 recorded in Baltimore, Maryland, in December, 2019, by susan Alcorn.


Thollem McDonas-piano

Alex Cline-drums

Susan Alcorn-pedal steel

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"Who on earth-if he's even from this earth-is Thollem? I'll clue you in:Thollem is the ultimate enigma, a hardcore iconoclast and true original,in the musical, spiritual and other sense. A style-deconstructing soundexplorer who has feverishly gone against the grain throughout his careeras far as "genre" is concerned. Jazz? Experimental? New Music? Noise?Classical Contemporary? Drone? Improvised Music? It's none of the aboveand all of the above-usually at the same time.

Not only is pegging Thollem into the obligatory stylistic box anexercise in futility-but a good exercise at that-it's his unique personaand "the company he keeps" that help define his esthetic. His long listof collaborators, you ask? They are culled from across every spectrumand are his genre-obliterating kindred spirits. To name a smattering:the late great minimalist pioneer Pauline Oliveros, Wilco's Nels Cline,Jad Fair of outsider legends Half Japanese, the trailblazing composerand bassist William Parker, Sara Lund of post-hardcore heroes Unwound,Minutemen bassist and punk rock overlord Mike Watt, Thollem's life andcreative partner ACVilla (who provided the artwork for all the albumcovers). His jaw-dropping list of collaborators goes on and on.

Like the clenched-fisted ethos that Watt has lived and breathed by,Thollem abides, too. Master improviser, shamanistic mysterioso, roadwarrior, crooning art-pop tunesmith, bluesman, activist, writer,collaborator and more. I've written that Thollem is an improbable crossbetween Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor and Andy Kaufman, his superhuman hand-worka glorious maelstrom of mind-bendingly poetic and spray-painted notesthat transport everyone and anyone to unexplored sonic realms. It's bothserious as a heart attack (props to the Minutemen there) and loose asall limbed heft that he unleashes.

Which brings us to the present and arguably to his apotheosis-at leastfor now. The ever-freewheeling and free-swinging maestro's so fittinglytitled and so fitting new venture that is so cut from his very own clotharrives with the perfect title in partnership with the equallyadventurous Austin label Astral Spirits: Thollem's Astral TravelingSessions.

Like Thollem's sound and vision unto itself, it's BIG. A 12-month,25-album series of recordings of Thollem caught on tape in collaborationwith 70 different musicians over the course of his extensive touringschedule in 2019. It's a sublime, ongoing document of Thollem'ssingularly creative reach and the invaluable alliances across the globeof which he's formed with his fellow avant-garde peers.

Released to date are duo sets with Tatsuya Nakatani, ChristosYermenoglou, Raven Chacon, John Dieterich and Carmina Escobar andquartet dates with Michael Wimberly/William Parker/Nels Cline, PeterValsamis/Orlando Greenhill/Jacqueline Kim as well as AlessandroLibrio/Eva Geraci/Lelio Giannetto (who sadly passed away fromcomplications due to COVID-19 on December 19, 2020).

What you're gripping now (or reading digitally) is the newestinstallment of Thollem's Astral Traveling Sessions: an epic double albumsprawl. It features two remarkable and very disparate sets: a single40-minute collaboration that finds Thollem alongside the mighty drummerand composer Alex Cline (recorded at the Santa Monica Library in theMLK, Jr. Auditorium as part of the Soundwaves Series run by JaySchwartz) followed by a spiritually illuminating outing with pedal steelguitar extraordinaire, Susan Alcorn, captured at her home in Baltimore.A DEEP double bill of clinking, clattering and bangin' free jazz ecstasyand space-age twang from the cosmos.

Thollem is the Astral Traveling Man, riding the cosmic planes with hismusical soulmates in forward-looking sound and his Astral TravelingSessions are the ultimate testament to his perpetually heady quest. Hopon."-Brad Cohan, Brooklyn, N.Y., December, 2020

Artist Biographies

"Thollem is a pianist, keyboardist, organist, composer, improviser, singer-songwriter, activist, author and teacher. He's spent his life skirting and erasing the edges of boundaries musically, culturally, geographically. His work is ever changing, evolving and responding to the times and his experiences, both as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of artists across idioms and disciplines. Though Thollem's widely known as an acoustic piano player, he's also the lead vocalist for the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti and has recently branched out significantly into the world of electronics through a multitude of projects.

Thollem was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying the standard classical piano repertoire, composing and improvising since he was a young child and absorbing the myriad of sounds of his culturally diverse upbringing. After dedicating his 20s and 30s to grassroots political activism, he's refocused his attention these last 15 years on a breadth of musics that incorporate his myriad experiences and curiosities. In this last decade alone, he has played well over 1,000 concerts throughout N. America and Europe as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of musicians, dancers, and filmmakers. As leader or co-leader, he has released over 50 albums in that span on 22 different vanguard labels to international critical acclaim. "Thollem is an astounding pianist who understands the huge scope of the instrument" (Terry Riley) and who continues to delve into the furthest reaches and sub-genres of Post-Classical, Free Jazz, Noise, Punk, dance and film. A brief cross section of his many recent collaborators include William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Stefano Scodanibbio, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Rob Mazurek, Martha Colburn and ACVilla. He is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, a Mexican-American cross border ensemble for musical exchange as well as the lead singer of the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti. Presently Thollem is developing an audio/visual experience about America through an 8 month, 48 state odyssey with his partner the videographer ACVilla. He's also a published author about art, politics and his travels in The Anthology of Essays On Deep Listening, Full Moon Magazine (Prague) and First American Art Magazine."

-Thollem McDonas Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Alex Cline (born January 4, 1956) is an American jazz drummer.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Cline began playing drums with his twin brother, guitarist Nels Cline, at the age of 11. Their first band was called Homogenized Goo and included David Hirschman on guitar. Alex Cline began a musical association with woodwind artist Jamil Shabaka in 1976 as "Duo Infinity". In 1977, he became a member of Vinny Golia's group as well as the Julius Hemphill Trio (along with Baikida Carroll), formed the electric improvisational trio Spiral (with brother Nels and synthesizer player and multi-instrumentalist Brian Horner) and began performing solo percussion concerts.

In 1979, Alex and Nels Cline, along with bassist Eric von Essen and violinist Jeff Gauthier, formed "Quartet Music", a group that enjoyed continued success in its performances and four recordings over an eleven-year period and was awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council.

In 1982, Alex Cline made his solo debut with Not Alone (Nine Winds), a double LP of percussion music. In 1987, he recorded The Lamp and The Star (ECM), his first album as a bandleader-composer. As the leader of his own group, The Alex Cline Ensemble, he can be heard on Sparks Fly Upward and The Constant Flame, two releases on Cryptogramophone Records, an LA-based independent creative-jazz label. Cline's other improvisational collaborations include right of violet and The Other Shore, both with Jeff Gauthier and ex-Shadowfax guitarist G.E. Stinson, and Cloud Plate (Cryptogramophone) with Stinson, vocalist Kaoru and koto player Miya Masaoka.

Other groups Cline has led are Alex Cline's Band of the Moment and The Rain Trio (with Eric Barber and Scott Walton). He has also been involved in duo percussion collaborations with Ron George, Peter Erskine, Christopher Garcia, Andrea Centazzo, Gregg Bendian and Dan Morris, as well as involved in performing the works of composers such as Robert Eriksson, Harold Budd and David Means.

Cline has served as composer and/or performer for numerous modern dancers and dance companies in Los Angeles, including Margaret Schuette, Linda Fowler, the Momentum Company's "Soundspace" concerts, Dance/LA, the UCLA Dance Company and has enjoyed a longstanding involvement with Will Salmon's Open Gate Theatre company.

He has participated in performance collaborations with visual artists Yoshio Ikezaki, Norton Wisdom, Kio Griffith and 2-Tu. He has worked on feature and cable television film soundtracks, done numerous sound workshops and percussion clinics, plus lecture-demonstrations on Asian metal percussion instruments. Cline has also been the curator of the Open Gate Theatre's Sunday Evening Concerts series, a new music/creative jazz showcase held monthly in Eagle Rock, California (since 1997).

He also works as an interviewer/interview series developer-coordinator at the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research.

Cline has played on over eighty recordings, and has worked with Gregg Bendian, Tim Berne, Arthur Blythe, Bobby Bradford, John Wolf Brennan, John Carter, Buddy Collette, Mark Dresser, Marty Ehrlich, Vinny Golia, Henry Grimes, Charlie Haden, Joseph Jarman, Henry Kaiser, Yusef Lateef, Charles Lloyd, Myra Melford, Frank Morgan, Don Preston, Elliott Sharp, Wadada Leo Smith, Philip Gelb, Richard Grossman, and others."

-Wikipedia (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Susan Alcorn (born 1953) is an American composer, improvisor, and pedal steel guitarist. Having started out playing guitar at the age of twelve, she quickly immersed herself in folk music, blues, and the pop music of the 1960s. A chance encounter with blues musician Muddy Waters steered her towards playing slide guitar. By the time she was twenty-one, she had immersed herself in the pedal steel guitar, playing in country and western swing bands in Texas.

Soon, she began to combine the techniques of country-western pedal steel with her own extended techniques to form a personal style influenced by free jazz, avant-garde classical music, Indian ragas, Indigenous traditions, and various folk musics of the world. By the early 1990s her music began to show an influence of the holistic and feminist "deep listening" philosophies of Pauline Oliveros.

Though mostly a solo performer, Alcorn has collaborated with numerous artists including Pauline Oliveros, Eugene Chadbourne, Peter Kowald, Chris Cutler, Joe Giardullo, Caroline Kraabel, Earl Howard, Le Quan Ninh, Sean Meehan, Joe McPhee, LaDonna Smith, Mike Cooper, Walter Daniels, Ellen Fullman, Jandek, George Burt, Janel Leppin, Michael Formanek, Ellery Eskelin, Fred Frith, Maggie Nicols, Evan Parker, Johanna Varner, Zane Campbell and Mary Halvorson."

-Wikipedia (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

Track Listing:

1. Thollem / Alex Cline 38:33

2. Intermission 0:54

3. Thollem / Susan Alcorn 1 5:25

4. Thollem / Susan Alcorn 2 7:39

5. Thollem / Susan Alcorn 3 7:15

6. Thollem / Susan Alcorn 4 6:26

7. Thollem / Susan Alcorn 5 7:12

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation

Piano & Keyboards
Guitarists, &c.
Percussion & Drums
Duo Recordings

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