Rob SCHWIMMER – Uri CAINE – Mark FELDMAN: “Theremin noir“ *****


Recorded 1999



This record is a charming one off.  A collection of romantic musical poems was the brainchild of pianist Rob Schwimmer, who at that time experimented with non-mainstream instruments ranging from theremin to daxophone.  He co-opted to the project two stars of cerebral East Coast jazz of the 1990s. 


Theremin never flirted successfully with jazz, but Mark Feldman and Uri Caine were no strangers to classical audience.  In fact, Caine accumulated quite an impressive library of rather pretentious renditions of classics ranging from Mahler to Wagner.  In the process, he confounded his audience and almost squandered his talent in shameless eclecticism. 


Feldman fared better.  His trio Arcado was among the very few successful attempts to fuse jazz aesthetic with contemporary classical composition.  He broadened his range with baritone violin, but never went far enough to build compositions around the lower pitch, as did Mat Maneri.  Feldman’s virtuosic ability earned him a regular seat with Zorn’s classicizing formations – Bar Kokhba and Masada String Trio. 


Adopting some themes written by Bernard Herrmann (famous for his soundtrack to Welles’ and Hitchcock’s movies), the trio achieved the peak of neo-romantic elegy in what could yet be celebrated as the most poignant tribute to Clara Rockmore, the ultimate diva of theremin.  But, as if overwhelmed by the chromatic wealth of his apparatus, Schwimmer himself, and his theremin, often took the back seat in the production and arrangement of the compositions included on this disc.  He has since returned to recording cerebral piano compositions. 



schwimmer6Twilight Landscape

This first poem opens with a Mahlerian violin intro, softened further by Schwimmer’s misty contours on the theremin.  The atmosphere is one of unperfumed, honest romanticism.  When the inchoate, sparse piano notes wink at us, Feldman’s violin shifts to a higher range, leading a hesitant dance with the somewhat gawky theremin.  Feldman substitutes his initial brushstrokes for a more confident, almost Seifert-an martelé.  This could be unintentional, but the effect is similar to those unforgettable moments when Seifert transposed Coltrane’s tumultuous explorations into his virtuosic medium.  Feldman’s exposé pushes Caine’s piano into low register, but does not marginalize it into an allegedly predictable ostinato.  Indeed, the poem remains free, also rhythm-free.  It will end caressing the extremes of aural perception (high and low), leaving glaring vacancy in the middle.


Waltz for Clara

In this piece, written on the day of Clara Rockmore’s death, Schwimmer opts for the instrument’s ‘haunted’ sound which we associate so easily with the famed ambassador of this unique musical device.  Schwimmer doubles with urban (European) accordion in a most innovative fashion.  Aptly transporting us into Clara’s bygone era, Feldman’s romance adopts a gypsy mantle, distinctly nostalgic for pre-war innocence.  His instrument is pitched below the accordion until it frees itself into a flying solo.  Soon after, the theremin takes over the lead, suffusing it with an elegiac lament, consoled by the harmonic duo of piano and accordion.  A far more articulate violin always apportions a measure of penetrating drama, here further underwritten by the piano’s changing amplitude. 


The Neighbors

In this short intermezzo, Caine opens with a much faster routine, followed by Feldman’s bowed non-sequiturs.  The violin briefly mimics Paul Zukofsky’s caesura-ridden attacks so strongly associated with the first act from “Einstein on the Beach”.  Caine seeks a romantic ornament when it is over. 


Fireflies in Tainan

I am not sure if Uri Caine, who penned this neo-classical composition, referred in the title to the quiet town in Southern Taiwan (I know for a fact that there are fireflies there).  The track opens with a low-end rumble on the piano.  A solo on violin is alluringly enriched with subtle nuances from both theremin and piano, but soon blazes into a scalding high pitch.  This climactic experience does not prevent Feldman from resuming, mine de rien, in concerto mode, pathétique style.  Only Schwimmer’s eternally formless theremin adds shades of sepia.  This flame of neo-classicism does not last and an increasingly free-form piano phrasing turns the piece back into its heavy rumbling stasis.  Feldman’s violin ferments sweetly before scaling up to a pitch of whistle quality.  Fading ritornellos close the piece. 



Bernard Herrmann’s theme for “Marnie” is an Apolline song scored for violin lead and an accompanying piano.  A very cinematic (though not quite sci-fi) theremin develops a secondary theme, again interwoven with a delicate, secondary piano line.  The violin brings back a sense of elusive structural predictability, but suddenly (and for the first time on this CD), Uri Caine assumes a more forceful role.  In a post-hard bop, self-organizing venture, Caine improvises delightfully until the theremin pushes airily through an eerie transition.  Caine descends from the plateau, but continues to develop the complex theme.  Towards the end, the high pitched violin solo manages to successfully reconcile the dramatic tension of romantic pathos with parametric syncopation. 



A dynamic about-face startles us with a basaltic, delinquent piano ostinato and daring, visceral violin attack.  Schwimmer’s unlikely, electronic swirl injects a welcome, planispheric element into this aggressive foundry.  Feldman’s portatos are a little over the top here, juxtaposed with intense, grilling noise.  His variations – between classical cleanliness and über-pitched nervousness will carry this piece till the last splashes of grandiose piano ostinato.  


Carlotta’s Portrait  / Farewell

Another of Herrmann’s musical poems, this time from “Vertigo”.  Feldman’s violin legatos stick to higher register, eventually yielding the melodic role to the hitherto discrete theremin.  Feldman is never far, circulating, maneuvering and burrowing a faint line.  Schwimmer ditches his theremin for daxophone.  His initial forays are frail and twiddly like a mix between a squealing puppy and liquid whirl.  Too bad – he could have done more with this amazingly versatile piece of wooden lute-making. 


The Nightmare / The Tower

As most of the shorter vignettes on this record, this one eschews the poetic tones of the longer pieces and thrusts the listener into a more free-form universe.  Amid nervous violin riffing, the frenetically tight piano arpeggios place Caine beyond Cecil Taylor’s cogent anti-classicism (de facto, rather than de iure).  His honest, agitated eruptions drown out most of the violin part.  Meanwhile, the forlorn daxophone wheezes deep in the background, but one has to be very attentive to notice that. 


Scène D’Amour

At nearly 10 minutes, “Scène” scores as the longest composition on this record.  It all begins with serene theremin polygons.  After this intro, a succession of bird-like voices emanates from pointillist exchanges between the piano and the violin.  This (accidental?) nod to Olivier Messiaen eventually sinks into theremin’s wooly, mood shifting blankets.  Feldman is particularly virtuosic here, easily catching up with speedy piano outbursts.  Their climaxes are typical for European composition – violin’s projection wins in higher pitch, the piano forces up the volume.  Feldman’s astounds with the sensitivity of his touch and his fluent shifts in articulation.  His romantic legatos are brought alight by the returning theremin, weeping with melancholy. 


Tesla’s Blues

Tesla – the genius engineer of ‘Yugoslav’ origin should be remembered by music fans, at the very least, for the reel tape recorder churned out by the Czechoslovak subsidiaries.  This “blues” starts with an analog-sounding electronic circuitry, then some scraping and occasional, non-figurative piano notes.


The Fly

This second intermission is performed by amplified daxophone and violin.  This is the closest we can ever get to revive the spirit of the legendary Cora/Reichel collaborations. 


Real Joe

Mark Feldman’s only composition here initially appears rigidly classical, placed in concerto setting, with the piano in a subjugated role.  While velocity changes are sudden, decelerations inevitably bring back the comfy shading by theremin.  Its feminine chorus-like configuration frames perfectly the high notes that suddenly spill from Caine’s piano.  Harmonic shadowing with the violin adds some mordents to the nocturnal pensiveness of the piece. 


The Bookstore

Theremin waves in yet another loosely structured, cinematic theme.  Violin repetitions and piano figures correlate perfectly, leading into another fidgety missive from the daxophone.


Parade on Mars

The wheezing intro on daxophone seems to be amplified through a digital device (DX7 ?).  The instrument responds to the multi-directional impetus of the brutal attack from violin and piano with its celebrated, fretted innocence.  But the trio format soon falls apart, leaving us with Caine’s deadpan voice and the squiggly mayhem of acoustic live improvisation.


Paralysis / Circle Song

Another composition by Schwimmer opens with arpeggiated piano figures that slowly mutate into schizophrenic tremolos.  A rather sedate theremin salvages this tender, brooding psalm, with the piano as the only accompaniment.  This brocade passage eventually unleashes Feldman into the one last exercise in default hierarchy.  A bike horn ends this in an ungainly, but counter-intuitively fitting manner. 




SCHWIMMER-CAINE-FELDMAN: “Theremin noir” (1999)


Although deprived of any theremin, and less colorful, the Arcado Trio of Mark Feldman, Hank Roberts and Mark Dresser arguably reached the pinnacle of the 20th century classical cum jazz fusion.  



ARCADO: “Behind the Myth” (1990)

ARCADO: “For Three Strings and Orchestra” (1991)

ARCADO: “Live in Europe” (1994)


The trio appeared previously together in a larger setting with Tim Berne, but it was very different music.


Published in: on November 16, 2008 at 7:31 am  Comments (4)  
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Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Erise no me“ ****


Recorded 2001


Even before the unprepared listener has a chance to delve into the symbolism of Tomokawa’s lyrics, s/he is bound to be elegantly nudged off balance by the singer’s oxymoronic style.  Zestful melancholia, brusque intimacy and abrasive pastoralism bite softly from his violent ballads.  And yes, he makes all this possible. 


Over the years, Tomokawa maintained the unique character of his art while transforming and adapting his musical persona.  He managed to steer away from the mainstream yet seems to be aware of the changes that must have – and did – affect his audience.  From an underground singer songwriter of early 1970s, Tomokawa re-emerged as a progressive acid folk bard of the late 1970s, and acoustic poet of the 1980 and an avant-folk cabaret star of the 1990s.  Since the beginning of this century, he further expanded his activity into film making and bolder promotion of his charmingly emotional, primitivist paintings. 


Operating predominantly in the acoustic realm since the mid-1980s, Tomokawa has been fortunate enough to attract heavyweights of Japan’s improvised, jazz and avant-folk scenes.  Bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa appeared on several of his recordings in the 1990s.  Keiji Haino, Chihiro S of Lacrymosa, Toshiaki Ishizuka of Cinorama and Vajra, and Takero Sekijima of Compostela have all recorded with Tomokawa.  He replaced the earlier trio of acoustic guitar, bass and percussion with a particularly rewarding guitar-piano-percussion format, relying heavily on Masato Nagahata, one of his most loyal collaborators.


Tomokawa has been a keen interpreter of works penned in the 1920s by symbolist and dada poet Chuya Nakahara.  Considered the Rimbaud of Japanese literature, Nakahara is highly regarded for the musical quality he apportioned to the rhythmic syllabism of Japanese language.  Tomokawa often appears to have captured Nakahara’s spirit in his own hyperbolic 5- and 7-syllable liners. 


Seldom does Tomokawa seem to be perfectly satisfied with his records.  Oftentimes, he returns repeatedly to some of his flagship themes, usually with satisfying results. 


Swimming with ease between the general indifference and devoted cult following, he has crafted for himself a lasting niche. 



tomokawaJean Genet ni kike

A chromite tryad welcomes us to the spangling fretwork of high pitched mandolin (Masato Nagahata), acoustic guitar (Tomokawa) and drums (Toshiaki Ishizuka).  Cracking melodic lozenges into airborne confetti, the trio imposes its lustrous effervescence evoking the most irradiant Stormy Six circa “Cliché”.  Nagahata’s brisé style rushes hasty variations bordering on mini-fantasias.  Not unlike Jean-Paul Sartre, Tomokawa refers to Jean Genet as a ‘saint’.  But whereas Sartre focused openly on his character’s homosexuality, taste for betrayal and quest for evil, Tomokawa remains oblique and discrete in the banal enumeration of daily chores and equally banal midnight phantoms.  This emphasis on extreme contrast is reflected in the parsimony of acoustic tools.  The snare runs may evoke a 1940s march, but they waddle in the resplendence of pristine Mediterranean, not the urban grime of George Grosz or Otto Dix. 


Erise no me

Nagahata’s accordion swells with robust sustain, stepping down seamlessly along a gracious diminuendo.  Tomokawa adopts here his trademark gi’en (chanted recitation) style, remaining in full dynamic control.  Taroh Kanai joins the band on his lithe, alluvial nylon string guitar.  His instrument makes some tight-lipped commentaries on Tomokawa’s verse.  The singer’s command of self-style vowel contraction may require a closer study of the attached lyric sheet, but Tomokawa’s diction allows him to cram much more into each line than any metrical form would normally accommodate.  The lyrics betray the failed attempt to freeze a memorable moment “Ichibu shiju mite ita nowa erise no me” – forever contemplated eyes of Erise… 


Suichû megane
This music has been composed to a deeply sensorial poem by Masato Katoo.  Tomokawa draws vivid images of a beach and breaking surf.  Kanai’s guitar exudes fireplace warmth and teams up with Nagahata’s searing mandolin.  The narration exploits sudden juxtapositions of emotionally conflictive imagery.


Bô suru hi
There are many modes fitting for a waltz – the pathos of grande valse, macabresque abandon, Groundhog-day type circularity.  Tomokawa opts for a comedian’s waltz and chokes with his clandestine shriek at the end of each stanza.  His self-gagged style is dutifully accompanied by accordion, woodblocks and acoustic guitar.  In its circumambulation, the band turns up the volume, but remains disciplined under the rattle of alpine-sounding spoons.  The composition of the poem betrays reliance on free association. 


Do fish sleep in the sea?” – asks Tomokawa, before sending us on a gallop jaunt with piano arpeggios and guitar chords.  Engineer Takeshi Yoshida turned here the instrumental interludes into veritable orchestral cocktails of free electric guitar and abstract, taut bongos, with results reminiscent of the fibrous seams laid down by Francis Gorgé (Birgé-Gorgé-Shiroc) and Lee Underwood (Tim Buckley).  The entire band swells again when the refrain comes back, with mandolin bisbigliandos, free piano and chromatic drums galore.  The intensity of these improvised instrumentals mimics Tomokawa-the-singer’s dynamic extremes.  His polar approach has long deleted the inelastic and conformist dynamic middle. 


Fuyu no chômonkyo
Chuya Nakahara’s poem is introduced by a very ‘De Falla’-inspired Spanish guitar.  The lattice of siliceous notes is sunny, cayenne, supple.  “Samui samui hi nari ki” – a cold, very cold day is coming.  Tomokawa’s basic chords on regular guitar are no match for the dolce plucking of Kanai’s nylon strings. 


Tomokawa’s modified haikus retain 7-syllable and 5-syllable verses, but squish them into frequently overboiling emotionalism which is at the antipodes of the detached, spiritual suggestiveness of the genre.  This text, with its references to Jim Morrison, is a rather average folk rock trade with two guitars and an accordion. 



This tongue-in-cheek political statement could appeal to young Japanese, long disaffected by the purely notional character of the country’s democracy.  Tomokawa “proposes” foundation of a new party for the rich and poor alike – named humorously Public Chief Liberty Democratic Guarantee Party, or something to this effect.


Ranke kokkara mai
The preceding two tracks have disturbed the flow of this collection, but the three closing compositions are the record’s saving grace.  On “Ranke…”, Keiji Haino incinerates cobwebs of mystery, single-handedly plunging Tomokawa’s combo into a much roomier, yet invariably claustrophobic space.  The singer’s acoustic guitar merely functions here as a rump percussion, while Haino’s liquid, annealing style is redolent of his most anguished of spells (e.g. “Mazu wa iro wo nakusoo”).  Someone plays harmonica as Tomokawa pukes his increasingly dramatic lines against Haino’s soaring lines of karmic beauty.  A descend from these heights leads down an open, inanimate, deserted slope – with skeletal acoustic guitar as our only companion. 


Ikyo no tori
Only a handful of singer-songwriters managed to fuse their percussive piano style with a lasting sense of personal drama – Brel, Grechuta, Alvaro come to mind.  Tomokawa’s melodramatic exposé doubles the tension with the use of a march-like drum, which releases the acoustic keyboard into a concerto scale resonance.  Fluent slide touch from Kanai on his Spanish guitar again enriches this tight metric with a measure of improvised individualism.  This interplay of Nagahata’s grand dramatism on the piano with the cozy guitar whispers is mediated by the excellent stick work on slash cymbal work by Ishizuka.  “At the bifurcation of the skies (…), the vividness lasts forever”. 


Chichi o kau

The finale takes us into a supermundane territory.  On this track, Haino’s guitar work moves closer to his Fushitsusha nights – awash with drilling thrusts and throttles.  Free, lateral drumming and spasmodic recitation of an agonizingly patrilineal text by Yutaka Kikuchi transform this piece into a stormy tide of seething avant-rock.  In this mostly atonal environment, Tomokawa privileges chaos, allowing Ishizuka to deploy his panoply of tools in an aperiodic, vector-free fashion.  Tomokawa strangles the tortured strings of his acoustic guitar with abandon worthy of Kan Mikami.  Against the background of Haino’s brutal guitar malice, Tomokawa’s screams gravitate – unusually for him – towards the lower register.  Ishizuka’s colorful use of cymbals avoids any interaction with the waves of guitar feedback.  Haino ends this epic chapter with an impromptu staccato. 






Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Yatto ichimaime” (1975)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Nikusei” (1976)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Ore no uchi de nariymanai uta, Nakamura Chuya sakuhinshû” (1978)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Inu – Akita Concert Live” (1978)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Senbazuru wo kuchi ni kuwaeta hibi“ (1979)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Sakura no kuni no chiru naka wo” (1980)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Umi shizuka, koe wa yami” (1981)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Muzan no bi” (1985)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Hanabana no kashitsu” (1992)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Live Manda-La Special” (1993)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Maboroshi to asobu” (1994)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Hitori bon-odori” (1995)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA & Kan MIKAMI: “Go-en. Live In Nihon Seinenkan“ (1995)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Shibuya Apia Document” (1993-95)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Zeiniku No Asa” (1996)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Yume Wa Hibi Genki Ni Shinde Yuku” (1998)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Sora no Sakana” (1999)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Akai Polyan” (2000)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Erise no me” (2001)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Kenshin no Ichigeki” (2002)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Itsuka toku mite ta” (2004)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Satoru” (2005)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Live 2005 Osaka Banana Hall” (2005)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Aoi mizu, akai mizu” (2007)


There are also several compilations, and collections of previously published, but rearranged works.  Tomokawa’s earliest singles (solo and with Downtown Boogiewoogie Band) can be found Toshiba sampler “Neko ga nemutte iru“ (1974).  He also appears on compilation “International Sad Hits Volume 1”.


For those who wish to step into his fascinating world, I particularly recommend the CDs recorded in the 1990s, even though the artistic breakthrough probably came with “Muzan no bi”, whose title song could be one of Tomokawa’s best compositions ever. 


Since the beginning of this century, Tomokawa has benefitted from increased name recognition and most of his recent output consists of re-recorded earlier material and live documents.  He also plunged into collaboration with filmmakers (Koji Wakamatsu, Takashi Miike and Rokuro Mochizuki), inevitably leading to slowdown in his activity as a composer of new material.

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 10:51 pm  Comments (3)  
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SPACEBOX: “Spacebox” ******

Recorded 1979


Fans of krautrock, Canterbury music and ‘frogressive’ rock avant-garde often underestimate the extent to which these leading currents of the 1970s were influenced by the jazz giants of the 1960s.  Berlin-based, but Swiss-related Guru Guru were among the bands whose key figures were critically exposed to free jazz, improvisation and Indian ragas.  By the time rock music electrified Mani Neumeier’s and Uli Trepte’s ideas, their musical education was all but complete.  Barely a month after its foundation, Guru Guru opened at a Festival in Essen.  The Fugs closed the evening.


In 1972, Trepte left Guru Guru and over the next three years worked with Neu!, toured with Faust, auditioned for Henry Cow and played with Release Music Orchestra.  He eventually settled to record some material with two musicians from northern Germany – drummer Carsten Bohn (ex-Dennis) and reed player Willi Pape, formerly of Thirsty Moon.  Joined by like-minded musicians from Embryo, the formation cut several compositions at Conny Plank’s studio, but failed to formalize its existence.  It was not until 1975 that two more musicians joined Trepte & Co to form the short-lived Kickbit Information.  Within this format Trepte pursued his original (and allegedly “central European”) ideas of placing the melody content into the minor modal lower voice.  He later spent some time in England, working, among others, with Daevid Allen and Lol Coxhill.


It took two more years before Trepte’s new formation could be consolidated.  Supported by saxophonist Edgar Hoffman of Embryo and Julius Golombeck on guitar, the studio-phase Spacebox co-opted drummer Lotus Schmidt.  The music, reliant on forceful speed control, was marked by dissonance and distortion generated with Trepte’s “spacebox” – a basic yet highly effective contraption containing a multiple input device, a filter and an echoplex.  The result was power-fusion of the highest caliber.  Although the packaging was electric avant-rock, the microstructure was heavily improvised.  It is astounding that free jazz buffs entirely missed out on these recordings.


A self-declared existential musician, Trepte later experimented with modal blues, but never regained the artistic heights achieved in Spacebox.  Stephen Stapleton repeatedly endeavored to document his unique talent, with little success.  Opinions vary as for the exact reasons of Trepte’s eventual musical demise – some stress his frustration with art commercialism and with the pariah status of underground lifestyle, others point out problems with substance abuse, yet others blame his geographic dispersion and lack of focus.  His output deserves attention beyond the walled circles of krautrock aficionados.





We are instantly confronted with Trepte’s claustrophobic vocal processing.  As if confined to a metallic box, his voice contends with licentiously astringent soprano saxophone fingered by the inimitable Edgar Hofmann.  Lotus Schmidt assumes full responsibility for the Vortrekker-type ‘caravan’ drumming.  A little later the fourth – and equally unexpected – ingredient joins: Julius Golombeck’s electric guitar clangs lacerate the power chords in Jody Harris’s & Contortions’ style.  Still, Golombeck’s Neigung is more jazz and less ‘punk’ than James Chance’s contemporaneous New York band and he will limit here his programmatic anger to spicy tremolos.  By now the plodding “caravan” is in full bloom.  Hofmann’s soprano gesture is nearly histrionic, with little, if any, of Embryo’s tarred, spicy exoticisms.  The march of “Zonk Machine” is getting louder, courtesy Trepte’s ‘spacebox’ device, which mixes in savage blasts with short wave radio and tape switchbacks. 


Sue ist ein

Here Edgar Hofmann appears on shenai (an Indian shawm).  Its Rajasthani echoes bake the images of scorched, rusty desolation, in a shocking contrast to Trepte’s obsessively rolled “r”, borrowed from a South German dialect…  Golombeck’s anxious, frustrated guitar continues to evince an anti-jazz bellicosity, but the rest of the band glides through this trap.  Half way through, the ensemble erupts into a fast run, with abrasive, gut-wrenching vocal and cluttery junk noise.


Ich bin süchtig

The piece, dedicated to William S. Burroughs, opens with a flute part worthy of Yusef Lateef’s proto-Eastern, spiritual affirmation.  Intimately tender guitar chords, sizzling cymbals and dry, tightened drumwork all tune up to the sensation of sandalwood fondness.  It is Trepte’s Sprechstimme that abruptly changes the mood into an interrogation, as if exasperated by sudden time signature changes.  Were it not for his vocal revulsion, the cascade of meter changes would recall classic Brainstorm.  None of that referential comfort lasts.  Spacebox overshoots into a raw, blinding blow-out.  It takes Schmidt’s heavy drum roll to stabilize the band, which defaults back to the leadership of the orientalizing flute.  Trepte mostly speaks, but when he raises his voice, the speed change is almost instantaneous.  Thus far, the flute and guitar have been mixed in quite distinctively, but the spaceboxed vocal now densifies the texture.  These noisy blow-outs mask the underlying structure and it is impossible to tell if the original ideas were antiphonal or entirely free-form. 



The ‘spacebox’ device offers a mélange of radio snippets, 1960s’ cool jazz, 1970s’ Schlager and such like non-sequiturs.  A lethargic, loose groove throbs on, with a squealing shenai exploiting the relative dynamic freedom of this passage.  Golombeck’s guitar hesitates between harmonizing and straight-on improvisation.  Indistinctive, muffled tapes of male and female voices emanate through the ‘spacebox’.  Drumming takes the cue from Trepte’s quasi-melodic bass, which seems to be straying into higher pitches, above G.  Golombeck saws some slides, scrapes fast tremolos and yanks E-twangs on the bottom string.  Some quaint voice tapes close the track. 


Sing Sung Song

What begins like a skit in a Scandinavian language transmutes into Trepte’s incomprehensible harangue, stewed in a heavy anti-blues.  This track is highly distinctive through its use of a fuzzed out mouth organ.  Trepte’s shamanistic call-outs drag the rest of the band through velocity pick-ups and drop-outs.  Zonked-out and wacked through, the band secretes a sense of subplinian drama.  The drums knock and the mouth organ whinnies tragically with an intensity that even Don Van Vliet had never attained. 


Tape Talk

Spacebox’s 14-minute long tour de force is an amazing story of fits and starts.  Tumultuous and unpredictable, this highly improvised piece opens with Hofmann’s intoxicated violin and Trepte’s self-assured recitation.  I suspect that it is here that Winfried Beck joins on congas.  Hofmann’s sustained legato notes on his epiphytic violin are struggling to avoid conflict with guitar outbursts à la Sonny Sharrock.  Trepte induces slow, clamorous uplifts with his lair-dwelling, growling, feline bass.  Lotus Schmidt and Beck double up on drumsets when Hofmann’s portatos take on a discordant, riffy quality.  The basic beat is abandoned, resumed, waved off again.  In this purposive bedlam, replete with tragic energy, the ride cymbal misleads us into expecting an eventual take-off.  When it fails to materialize, a jazzy bass figure steps in, now ratified by a flute instead of the violin.  Here again, Trepte’s “lyrics” end many lines with his rrrrolled “r”, whereby he successfully turns his dampened voice into a raspy, scraggly instrument.  While the relentless drum pounding continues, a kamikaze guitar tremolo screeches right through the metallic shout.  The guitar solo eventually skids into a tube distortion, yielding the top spot to the well-projected flute.  Trepte’s tapes mingle with his live vocal input, in direct contrast with a loungey saxophone patina.  Free fusion rock finally lifts off when the sax turns shrieky.  Trepte proves that he can pluck his bass fast enough to keep the multifarious noise machine in check, yet without subjugating all of its cogs. 



Here’s the last statement from this riled, impulsive, curmedgeonly display of animalistic free rock.  The shamanistic voice distortion, the saxophone’s rancorous guzzle, the multi-percussive hail-like fracas and the ultra-fast Sharrockan guitar stitches all meet one last time to proclaim their emotional schizophrenia.  Trepte’s declamation sounds passionate yet bored.  The instrumental attack, sustain and decay impart both anger and indifference.  The guitaristic wall of fuzz dodges any temptation to grandstanding.  I am reminded of Pharoah Sanders’s “Izipho-Zam” – another piece of free mayhem which projected conflicting emotional signals through instinctive abstract expressionism.  Until the very last drop of audible amplitudes, the saxophone soars, the drums roll and the guitar handcrafts its distinctive grunts. 





Irene SCHWEIZER: “Jazz Meets India” (1967)

GURU GURU: “UFO“ (1970)

GURU GURU: “Essen 1970“ (1970)

GURU GURU: “Hinten“ (1971)

GURU GURU: “Der Zonk-In“ (1971)

GURU GURU: “30 Jahre Live“ 3CD (1971, 1998)

GURU GURU: “Känguru“ (1972)

GURU GURU/Uli TREPTE “Live 72.  Session 74“ or “Hot on Spot / In Between“ (1972, 1974)

KICKBIT INFORMATION: “Bitkicks“ (1975)

SPACEBOX: “Spacebox“ (1979)

SPACEBOX: “Kick Up“ (1983)

Uli TREPTE: “Phenotype” MC (1987)

Uli TREPTE: “Jazz Modalities” (1989-90)

Uli TREPTE: “Real Time Music“ (1990-91)


I have never heard the last three positions listed here, but everything else is well worth investigating.


Early Spacebox also appears on compilation “Umsonst und Draussen. Porta Wesvorhica” (1978, unreleased elsewhere).  Early Guru Guru can be found on “Ohrenschmaus – neue Popmusik aus Deutschland” (1970).  


During the period separating the two Spacebox LPs, Trepte spent some time in the US and in Japan, but, to my knowledge, no recordings exist from this period.  In the meantime, Lotus Schmidt appeared with Mani Neumeier and Edgar Hofmann in a highly recommended one-off known as LS Bearforce:


LS BEARFORCE: “LS Bearforce” (1983)


Published in: on October 29, 2008 at 10:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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Khan JAMAL CREATIVE ART ENSEMBLE: “Drum Dance to the Motherland” *****

Recorded 1972


Khan Jamal is a well-known jazz vibraphonist from Philadelphia, but it was only recently that most listeners could discover his long lost piece of avant-garde afro-jazz pre-history: a live recording made with a psychedelic dub quintet Creative Art Ensemble. 


Critics were quick to attribute the innovative style to the influence that Sun Ra wielded over Philadelphia’s scene in the early 1970s.  It is true that after losing the lease of Sun Studios, the Arkestra moved to the house owned by Marshall Allen’s father in Germantown.  But as we know, Sun Ra never reconciled himself with the loss of his foothold in New York City (who would be?) and by 1972, the Arkestra was probably spending more time touring than at home.  Although Steve Buchanan (of ‘Tiny Grimes’ fame) once told me fascinating stories about Sun Ra followers in Philly, the extent to which Arkestra exerted direct influence on Khan Jamal and his young cohorts is rather difficult to measure. 


Jamal initially honed his skills in his band Sounds of Liberation, which also included Byard Lancaster.  He later perfected his climactic style with the greats of free jazz drumming: Sunny Murray – the ultimate destroyer of time-keeping dogmatism and Ronald Shannon Jackson, the man who reintroduced tense melodism into the harmolodic canon.  Yet none of these later recordings prepared the backtracking listener for this 1972 jewel. 


I have no idea what the original LP looked like and have reproduced above the poorly executed CD cover ‘graced’ with Caribbean-looking artwork and mixed- in references to the Djoser Pyramid in Saqqara. 




Cosmic Echoes

There is something singularly makeshift about the way this live recording opens, as if caught in mid-flight.  Amidst ramshackle ruckus, dubbed out percussion and thrifty, tinny cowbells, there rears its bell a reverberating clarinet wheeze.  Copious swellings pour in en masse, while downcycles focus on a rather atheist drumset and cymbal overtones.  It is such binary selection to run either a snare or a cymbal that betrays Sunny Murray’s pervasive influence.  After a less dynamic passage, the volume springs up, but is quickly dispersed with a highly reflective reverb.  The illusion of warm space comfortably nestles a ride cymbal or a tenor tom tom drum.  An electronic blip makes elliptic rounds somewhere at the back.  Jamal’s vibraphone enters the fray in a similar way: initially pedestrian but soon smeared out in moist, swampy echoes.  Jamal concentrates on color exploration, leaning towards the high end of the range.  Then he suddenly changes the course and runs full scales with excitement of a child who grabbed its first xylophone.  Since the entire combo is profusely drenched in the dub reverb, Jamal eschews any agogic accents and he seems to keep his foot well away from the vibraphone pedal.  The drummers – Dwight James and Alex Ellison remain very discrete throughout.  Finally, Monnette Sudler’s liquid guitar surfaces, awakening the cymbal-bound Ellison.  A bubbly electronic swirl adds some mystery to this deceptively random and stubbornly non-evolutive exercise in climate control.


Drum Dance to the Motherland

Simple hi-hat beat struts in, flanked by spontaneous handclaps and clarinet dashes into the shrill C-territory.   This leads to inevitable blowouts, but such audacity notwithstanding, the overall atmosphere remains relaxed.  Vocal calls and the shaking/clapping galore occasionally step into cheeky dub potholes.  The unorthodox clarinet is consistently shrieky, rounded only by such defensive reverb.  Ellison’s planispheric drumming is multiperiodic and anticyclical.  The entire percussive machine reminds us of the most African side of the AACM’s classics.  Dwight James’s second clarinet respires uncorrelated to Jamal’s hysterical flaunts.  When the leader sets aside the clarinet and focuses on his marimba, the hovering tribe follows with a classic rhythm set, hand drums and a plethora of ubiquitous shakers.  Soon Jamal goes pentatonic, reclaiming the blazing Western African heritage.  Ellison’s drumming never crowds out the main idiophone’s fragile resonators, even though some of his cymbal work clearly predates the free jazz lessons of the previous decade.  It is quite astounding how deep a texture these musicians manage to extract from what remains a purely percussive journey.


Inner Peace

Bill Mills’s bass rumbles deep, sculpting a robust, tensile core to spiraling shakers.  These extremes of high and low range are further expanded through the reverb.  Sudler’s germinative, delicate guitar solo weaves into this tissue with a telepathic interdependence reminiscent of George Benson’s inroads into Davis’s universe on “Miles in the Sky” or “Circle in the Round”.  In stark contrast, Jamal’s clarinet bleats like an orphaned goat marooned afar from its herd.  The recurrent dub hijack may vary in density but is almost omnipotent and only the bass survives it intact.  Each time the kidnapped clarinet frees itself from the echo treatments it reasserts itself without a triumphalist fortissimo and instead disguises itself as if to avoid the abduction next time around.  The jazzy guitar notes are short and unscrambled in a highly concentrated fashion amidst the maze of carpeted reverb formulas.  The walking pulse becomes hypnotically predictable, with the vibes usurping a fender piano role, sewing a double helix around the bass figure.  But the development is directional, marked by a barely perceptible growth in tension, courtesy Ellison’s insistent cymbal work.  This is a smoky psychedelic out-jazz at its most colloquial and trippy.  Regrettably, it is at this point that this exhilarating, interstellar adventure is cut off.


Breath of Life

A heavy dose of Jamaican-style switch-backs between deep reverb and upfront realism eerily modularizes the percussive apparatus.  It is Jamal’s vibes that set this intense accumulation of reboant percussive layers apart from cosmic kraut-folk experiments that swayed contemporaneous West Germany’s underground audience.  Sudler’s unadulterated guitar figure eventually sweeps into the opiate groove by suspending its bluesy progressions.  She is on the verge of elaborating a nascent theme when the reel runs out. 




I am only aware of two other recordings made by Khan Jamal in the 1970s.  The cosmic interplays of the vibraphone/marimba duos with Bill Lewis are certainly recommended.  He has been pursuing successful duo formats ever since.


Khan JAMAL CREATIVE ART ENSEMBLE: “Drum Dance to the Motherland” (1972)

Khan JAMAL: “Give the Vibes Some” (1974)

Khan JAMAL & Bill LEWIS: “The River” (1978)


Jamal’s output has blossomed since the 1980s, but my familiarity with these records is insufficient to provide reliable reference.

Published in: on October 27, 2008 at 10:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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Daniel SCHELL & Dick ANNEGARN: ”Egmont and the ff Boom” ****

Recorded 1976-78


Along with Marc Hollander and Daniel Denis, Daniel Schell belongs to the most talented Belgian musicians of the generation that arrived in 1970s, but managed to outgrow the stylistic constraints of that era.  He debuted in band Classroom, which subsequently transmuted into Cos.  This highly revered Belgian band commingled European fusion and Zeuhl influences, which were often saved by Pascale Son’s airy, sensually modulated yet permanently girlish vocalizes.  In later years, the band retained its name but slid towards perilous eclecticism, desperately seeking new audience. 


Schell later dabbled in several idiosyncratic projects before discovering the charms of Chapman Stick, which underpinned the rhythmic pointillism of his band Karo.  His cheery, exhilarating bacchanals engendered an early form of arithmetic chamber rock, delivered with freshness and disciplined fragility of a musical origami.  The result was often comparable with the then flourishing Swiss ‘Alpine’ avant-rock. 


Schell has since focused on film music and little of his compositional talent has been documented in a form available internationally.  His overall output, considered allopatric and uneven, reflects an extraordinary range of moods and styles – from deeply reflective to almost buffoonish, from confidently pragmatic to nervously frequentist.  In one case, described below, he realized a minor gem of conceptual folk-rock drama.  In this venture, Schell was supported by Dick Annegarn, a popular Dutch singer who returned in recent years with a tribute to Jacques Brel.




If romantic Greeks looked up to Theodoros Kolokotronis and the Poles dreamed of Konrad Wallenrod, then the Flemish reminisced about Egmont.  This 16th century prince was a vassal of Carlos V and Felipe II, but opposed Spanish invasion of the Low Countries.  The story was immortalized by Johann Wolfgang Goethe two centuries later.  In Goethe’s play, the tragically beheaded hero leaves behind a mourning mistress, who eventually takes her life.  Dick Annegarn and Daniel Schell built their homage to this romantic edifice through a deft juxtaposition of ancient and modern, acoustic and fusion ingredients.  The record opens with short, crisp notes polished delicately by Schell on oud.  Soon enough, an image of a village party emerges, as if transposed directly from Bruegel’s folkloric scene.  A Breton circle dancing could be the closest comparison, with its light stomping time, purely acoustic setting and simple accents on shakers. 


Piume al vento

Dirk Bogart, formerly of Pazop, presents this traditional song in Italian with a light, raspy vibrato.  The verse repetitions increase in velocity, maintaining all the proportions and a steady pitch.  The main theme is reciprocated with acoustic guitar and alternating male and female vocals, but these quasi-instinctive reactions become patchier when the thematic repetitions plunge with an intemperate pace.  This estampie closes with a savage howl and metallic clutter.  And we learn that the hero “sa che vincera – pui non tornera”. 



Dick Annegarn sings this hesitant ballad in French to a homely accompaniment on acoustic guitar.  Then a flaming guitar transition imports an unassertively pastoral fragment.  But the melodic lead vacillates and soon defaults to the stammering intro.  A dustier, chewier secondary theme is brought up by Schell’s 12-string guitar, hummed along satirically.  The lyrics mock foolhardy patriotism, the pace is slow and consensual, the articulation affiliative and supple. 


Sabina and First Variation

“Sabina” is the first act of the trilingual, polyphonic Souterlied performed by Dirk Bogart (tenor and bass) and Pascale Son (soprano and alto).  The medievalism of this metric psalm – composed by Egmont’s contemporary Clemens Non Papa – is subverted by Son’s quartzite, pre-puberty chorus.  Sabina sobs over her imprisoned husband.  A short solo on acoustic guitar adds some alteration to the basic cantus firmus.


La ballade du Zwin

This is a more archetypal singer-songwriter ballad, cushioned by the chamber-like purity of a duo of Daniel Schell on 13-string guitar and Michel Berckmans of Univers Zéro on oboe.  The slight echo added to Berckmans’ double-reed distracts it from Pascale Son’s parallel vocalize.  The translucent airiness of the passage evokes Kay Hoffmann’s unforgettable “Floret Silva”, which bathed in similarly medieval moats around the same time.  Here, Pavel Haza’s cello adds a disciplined improvisation with an appropriately solemn, pining intonation. 



Dick Annegarn sings here a 16th century Flemish poem.  The elegiac theme, proclaiming that “Egmont is dood”, is allocated with the elegance of a spangling acoustic guitar and vernally wooden sticks.  It is this pliant, lissome percussion that recalls Schell’s compatriots Aksak Maboul.  Félix Simtaine’s constantly shifting percussive toolkit switches gear between the stanzas.  Half way through the song, a Nordic solo on sinewy electric guitar materializes, packaged by a suddenly menacing bass (Jean-Louis Baudoin).  The boreal guitar, commonly associated with Terje Rypdal’s groundbreaking recordings earlier in the decade, adds unexpected suspense to the narrative.  Félix Simtaine’s adroitly impressionistic hi-hat work sets the stage for a seductively symmetrical flow.  “Godt zal die wrake verhalen van die grave van Egmont – God will remember the count of Egmont”. 


Un instant sous la hache

The scene of decapitation is laid out by Dirk Bogart on flute and Daniel Schell on 12-string guitar.  It is a classic chamber folk duo with predetermined roles; the volant flute exploits its structural freedom with ascending breathiness.  Flickering hand drum dives into the guitar’s soaring arpeggios, but the resulting tension is quickly released by a sharpened, mid-flight flute section. 



Dick Annegarn adopts here the half-spoken mannerism of Serge Gainsbourg, stressing his syllables with bored insolence – “I rebel against your second hand deaths”.  The narrator eschews direct irony, even though Schell and Annegarn share their own vision of Egmont as a reluctant hero, an antithesis of Goethean creation.  “Granvelle” is essentially a rock song with a slinky fusion backing, stenciled with a jazzy guitar and suppliant drumming.  Pascale Son makes some harmonically consonant bypasses on oboe, leaving behind a somewhat hapless guitar solo.  Her instrument is highly pitched and lyrical, but limited in energy and almost breathless in legatos.  The long awaited Ilona Chale squeezes little more than a desperate proclamation of a life terminated.  


Sabina and Second Variation

The second act of the “Sabina” triplet.  We revisit here the polyphonic singing in French, Italian and Flemish with an ecclesiastical touch.  Pascale Son’s innocuous voice has been deservedly likened to Haco’s.  The theme closes with a solo guitar side-track.


Ein kleiner Mann

Parading her infantile innocence, Pascale Son declaims a nursery rhyme about a little man.  This piece, a variation on a march from Wortel, collects pleasant verse suspensions and proceeds unassumingly aboard whistles and an electric guitar in its Nordic, nostalgic mantle.  While the rhythm section syncopates, a jangly acoustic guitar wobbles drunken, as if parachuted from an ESP anti-folk recording.  After this variegated interlude, Pascale Son returns, hushing out again the verses about the little Man who sacrificed his life. 



Back to the polyphonic voices, huddled somewhere under the architrave.  Unfortunately, the somewhat strangled tenors marginalize the female counterparts into mere Nebenstimme role. 


The ff BOOM

The tragic story is memorably rounded off by these 12 minutes of quintessentially European cosmic jazz.  It is as if the final, Aristotelian catharsis provided a necessary closure for the tragic story of human misfortune.  Jean-Louis Baudoin clutches his acoustic bass with deft fingering, in expression ranging from dry and pungent to semi sweet and voluble.  Félix Simtaine opts for Jon Christensen-like cymbal ubiquity.  Schell’s elaborations on electric guitar appear topologically simple yet highly fluid.  Windy effects haunt us from the back until a synthesizer glissando interrupts this flow.  Underpopulated by skin’n’cymbal rattle and distant groans, the trio audibly searches for clues.  When Baudoin eventually re-establishes the ostinato, we face not one, but two guitar tracks – a funky quack, and a gnarly amp-distorted rock solo.  Drumming has now become segmented and metronomically basic.  Taking advantage of this hysteresis, the grimy guitar hashes up the remaining material until the gusty effects cleave the rhythmic procession. 




COS: “Postaeolian Train Robbery” (1974)

COS: “Viva Boma” (1976)

COS: “Babel” (1978)

Daniel SCHELL & Dick ANNEGARN: “Egmont and the FF Boom” (1976-78)

COS: “Swiβ Chalet” (1979)

COS: “Pasiones” (1983)

COS: “Hotel Atlantic” MLP (1984)

Daniel SCHELL & KARO: “If Windows They Have” (1986)

Daniel SCHELL & KARO: “The Secret of Bwlch” (1990)

Daniel SCHELL & KARO: “Gira Girasole” (1993)


Schell’s knack for easy melodiousness too often misled him into wacky terrains.  The only other positions I can fully recommend are the first two Cos Lps and the first two Karo records. 


Published in: on October 22, 2008 at 7:34 pm  Comments (15)  
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VARIOUS ARTISTS: “Folk Music of Afghanistan Vol.1” ****

Recorded 1966-67


Coming under Sogdian, Bactrian, Greek, Parthian, Persian, Arab, Seljuk, Mongolian, Samanid and Ghaznavid rule, the mountainous region is an unlikely host to a plethora of cultures and languages – Pashto, Baluchi, Tajik, Dari, Koroshi, Sarawani, Moghol, Turkmen and Uzbek.  For the rest of the world, the people using those linguistic codes are usually referred to as Afghans.


This month marks seven years since the Western invasion of Afghanistan which initially succeeded in ousting the Taliban after 5 years of brutal – and hysterically anti-musical – fundamentalist rule.  This conflict is proving today as inconclusive as the three Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th and early 20th century.  But the musical traditions of this country – forever an obligatory crossroads for east-west trade and north-south power plays – have survived it all – the violent destruction and the pervasive cultural influences from Iran, Turkey and India. 


These recordings, captured at a time when travel was still relatively safe in Afghanistan, document the extraordinary eclecticism of local troubadours.  I lack any particular ethnomusicological expertise, but this particular LP struck me with its raw originality and rough passions captured in Central Asia’s poetry.  Local artists’ evident obsession with Persian imagery and the relative ease of versification yield songs of nightingales, flowers and love.  Not quite the Afghanistan we know from our TV screens…



Pashtu Landay

This first piece is performed on dambura (or dombra or dhamboura), a long-necked, slender lute plucked with fingernails and popular further north in the Turkic nations of the former Soviet Union.  Female voices (by Alladad and Painda Gul) call out, eliciting a lone or a chorus response.  Irregular clapping, coughing and the fragile flow of the track have almost Syd Barrett-ish quality.


Pashtu Ghazal

This fast, rocking piece is performed by Zahir Jan on rebab, with the meter bolstered by a metallic, percussive clank.  Rebab (or rubab) is a short-necked, carved lute with sympathetic strings and a u-shaped scroll.  Musa Jan’s voice performance lays out an affective narrative with an even number of verses. 


Pashtu Ensemble

This is probably a wedding song.  Compared to the Spartan simplicity of the previous settings, the use of hand-pumped harmonium (‘armoniya’) extends the textural possibilities of the composition.  The song takes off and breaks off several times, with rebab (Yar Mohammad) and the popular in Kabul tabla (Baz Mohammad) interbreeding with zerbaghali.  This clay goblet drum, operated here by Shahzad, is a crossbreed between Persian Tonbak and a table, from which it borrowed an black spot on its membrane.  The playing technique, on the other hand, is a hybrid between tabla and darbouka fingering.   Indian influence is also evident in the phrasing adopted by the lead (female) singer.  The harmonium improvises during transitions between stanzas, making hasty commentaries and echoing the closing fragments of the singer’s melody.



This is a somewhat confused piece for dambura (dhamboura) the lute, a female vocal ensemble of Alladad and Painda Gul and some dusty coughing.  One could almost mistake this mood for a nomadic song from Northern Africa.  A mildly polyphonic (or simply disjointed?) group ploughs on with a singularly monothematic dambura as the sole accompaniment.  The track is cut off sharply. 


Song from Nangarhar

Plaintive solo male voice with a hard Pakhtu accent ensures that no confusion with northern Indian music is possible.  Two harmoniums are used – one sustains the leading melody, the other interjects improvised accelerations between the fragments of the text.  Rebab and tabla maintain the modal and metrical order, respectively.


Sorna and Dhol

A very different male dance track scored for a high-pitched oboe sorna (played by Saydo) and cylindrical drum dhol, played by Baydo.  The notes sprouting from sorna are strident but airborne like Afghan kites.  The wooden stick punctures the drum with a seemingly unsteady beat, wrapped up with ubiquitous rattle injected by a twig which squeezes in-between-beats.  The duo is performed by Jats – Afghanistan’s gypsies who traditionally perform the roles of jesters, wedding musicians, entertainers and sex professionals.  Their instruments must not be touched by non-Jats.


Char Bayti

A vibrato vocal piece performed by a woman (Habibullah). 


Herat Ensemble

Without any proof, I suspect that this is piece is an example of Tajik music.  It is performed by Khan Mohammed on dotar – a lute of Persian origin, Ghausuddin on zerbaghali and Mohammad Rahim on tas (a copper bowl covered with skin membrane).  The trio cuts a spirited dance with a pointed beat and an effusive lyrical content.  As in Northern Indian music, the rhythm accelerates in between the various elements of the story. 


Olang Olang

Baba Moqim brings daira, a large Persian frame drum, apparently sanctioned by the Qur’an.  Were it not for the theatrical impersonations by the singer, the parched membrane drum could twist the complex rhythm into a shamanic event. 


Song from Norhtern Herat

Mullah Haqdad sings and accompanies himself on dotar.  His initial vocal introduction is forceful and dramatic, almost “Ottoman”, blotting out the symmetric dotar accompaniment.  He quiets down in the following section, allowing for some free exploration on the dotar. 



Mohammad Akbar plays tula – a mid-sized recorder.  The repertoire smells of rosy, springtime optimism of Persian design.  Despite such fleeting comparisons, the composition betrays none of the structural rhythmic/non-rhythmic alternance that defines much of Persian music.


Ghichak and Zerbaghali

The duo of Abdul Qadir on zerbaghali and Mohammad Nazar on ghichak is passionate, intense and lost in its devoted repetition of the main vocal line.  Ghichak (or richak) is a two-string bowed fiddle, similar to Indian sarangi.  This excellent song is one of the highlights of the collection.


Ensemble of Northern Afghanistan

The zerbaghali maestro Mohammad Rahim returns here with a different line-up, composed of Khaistamir on dambura and Sazid Murad on tas.  The trio develops a metronomic tempo that could be likened to some early industrial bands owing to its tinny metallic accent and adjoined cluster percussive effect.  I bet Brian Jones of Muslimgauze was familiar with this classic.  A rather young male voice recounts his story and a listener can barely escape the insistent reflection…  What happened to these artists in the years that separate us from the date of this recording? 





To my knowledge, Lyrichord published two more LPs devoted to Afghan music in the late 1960s and early 1970s:







The first positions two were recorded by Tom and Hiromi Lorraine Sakata.  The third collection was collected by Verna Gillis.  The fourth position, issued by Nonesuch, contains radio recordings documented by Peter Ten Hoopen. 


On a very irregular basis, Sonic Asymmetry will devote some space to similarly salient monuments to non-Western musical cultures. 

Published in: on October 17, 2008 at 9:15 pm  Comments (8)  
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C.W. VRTACEK: “When Heaven Comes to Town” *****

Recorded 1988



Multi-instrumentalist C.W. Vrtacek aka Chuck Vrtacek aka Charles O’Meara surfaced on the independent American scene in the early 1980s.  As a self-declared “President of the Avant-garde”, he created a stir in underground distribution networks with his first two LPs and a cassette parodying the Residents’ mannerism.  Conflicting coverage in the then trend-setting magazine Option proves that Vrtacek’s music was often misunderstood, even by his own audience.


He then unexpectedly turned to brief, tightly sewn, levellist rock forms.  Ever since, his musical output followed a dual path.  On the one hand, he sought to localize the perfect format for graphically transparent avant-rock ‘songs’.  Rhythmically eclectic and often fiery, his guitar-based trios and quartets eventually led in 1989 to the foundation of Forever Einstein, self-proclaimed as an exponent of ‘cubist country progressive’.  Drummer John Roulat has accompanied Vrtacek in this adventure since the beginning.


By contrast, in his piano compositions Vrtacek expounded uncanny flair for nostalgic melodism.  Flashes of genius cannot conceal the fact that he is well acquainted with both Eric Satie and ZNR – the legendary eminences grises of experimental melancholia.  


Early in his career, Vrtacek was capable of combining these nascent, apparently contradictory threads with evocative and often whimsical musical illustrations.  These figurative collages, facilitated by early versions of samplers, proved highly rewarding at a time when many other avant-garde artists were also exploring the genre with memorable effects (e.g. Motor Totemist Guild, John Zorn, Alfred 23 Harth). 


Since the late 1980s, Vrtacek has also been a member of Colorado-based collective Biota. 



Minus My Friend

The record opens with a Satiesque nursery melody.  The stippled piano motif is intimate, but playfully pastel in character.  It springs charitably, thanks to a pre-school left hand ostinato.  The perfectly terrestrial melodic vector plunges us into the dominant mood of acclimatized longing. 


History of the Heart, Mystery of the Mind

With its foundation in classical guitar, the dusky, ruminative harmony marinates in objectless nostalgia.  A harp tiptoes around, like Nino Rota’s sad marionettes from Fellini’s confessional ‘Casanova’.  Equally regrettably, what promises to take us on an odyssey is almost instantly suspended without conclusion.


Part of Me Here, Part of Me with You, Always

Vrtacek underwrites this vignette with a DX7 keyboard and manages to sinter through it colorful hesitations, demurrals and waivers.  The piano solo is saddled with a heavy responsibility to deliver a thematic development of Klimperei – like levity.  The composer passes the test.


Stone Steps

Another piece with the harmony and tempo defined by the acoustic guitar.  An aphoristic piano rhapsody will spin here with the lightness of a newborn butterfly. 


Preparing the Bridge (for Heaven)

From here on, Vrtacek will gradually densify the atmosphere.  Brown noise effects gnarl at a distance until highly pitched synthesizer glissando drapes over the lyrical majesty of large, open spaces.  Irregular, inarticulate cracks barely distract us from the cinematic, cloudy, non-denominationally mystic ambience.  Nor will electric discharges and thunderous backdrop prevent the liturgic metaphor from evolving inside the electric lumpen-organ.


Saying Goodbye to the Beauty and Complexity of Life on Earth

Accustomed now to the merger of the organic with the naturalistic, the listener wakes up to dulled keyboard chords stuck in incessant, metronomic manacles.  The Pierre Bastien-like regularity is too muffled to be directly cross-textual.  The electronic romanticism of rainy glissandos recurs, underlined by a bass line growling between its whiskers. 


When Heaven Comes to Town

Chuck invites us to an American diner.  What a national institution; noisy, cluttered, predictable, staffed with waitresses on the edge of poverty, rife with the busy smell of people in a rush.  The coffee is weak.  The eggs filling.  The service über-hasty.  And furtive diner recordings are just too irresistible to be infrequent.  The doors swing, the cutlery cutlers, the voices cluck.  And then?  Then a piano intones a sketchy, dangling sub-theme.  But, rather than conjugating nostalgic reminiscences, Vrtacek changes the course with static, noises, tunnel-echoed black soul singers, street din and ballroom piano poetry.  All will compete for space in the multi-layered, overcrowded kaleidoscope of sounds.  The composer of this collage will hesitate whether to confine us to the jostled eatery or to let us venture outside, where footsteps, announcements, fizzing liquids and frizzling burns coexist unaware of each other.  The piano is now replaced by a clavinet-sounding keyboard and kalimba-style idiophonic scale.   A more joyful, non-linear melodic attempt succeeds when a jangly, percussive zither solo bypasses the main spotlight.  The composer attentively regulates the spigot of the electro-burr before leading us back to the piano solo.  He betrays his preference for representational aspects, known from his first two records.  When melodica and a throbbing keyboard rhythm induce some suspense, it is instantly devastated by the fast forward of an analog tape swishing by an oversensitive recording tape.  Radio knob petting showcases meaningless shards – news in English, Spanish telenovelas, classical music, old-time jazz, resonant timbales, mariachi-type fanfares, Spanish-language commercials, English talk radio, Mexican radionoticias, soul crooners and the like.  As this pageant of auditory borderland begins to wear off, percussive effects envelop the physical space.  A triste, lonesome piano nocturne makes a comeback through the sizzling haze, a supra-imposed romantic orchestra and a humming factory.  The piano never really shakes off the man-made stridor of the industry and classical concert halls.  Although the quasi-aleatoric proceeding experiments with funk and Latin dance interferences, this last chapter is mainly marked by a bold, muscular, proud tango.  Its exalted melodrama strides on cheap piano keys, light drumstick snare and glissando electronics, sneaking around an urban landscape with its windy, wet streets, random voices, the brattle of glass and marginal ventures into ragtime and Debussy.  The leading threads decompose into increasingly pointillistic miscellany of kettles, sniffing, commuter crowds and their causeries recorded at New York’s eternal Grand Central Station. 

Vrtacek finally rediscovers the form of a suite, allowing the opening theme to return in a bout of melancholia overpopulated with the familiar sonic faces of the rude waitresses, spoiled teenagers, and all that confused bedlam from… the diner.




C.W. VRTACEK: “Victory through Grace” (1980-81)

C.W. VRTACEK: “Days And Days” (1980, 1982)

C.W. VRTACEK: “Now Available” MC (1983)

C.W. VRTACEK & DANCING LESSONS: “Monkey on a Hard Roll” (1984)

C.W. VRTACEK: “Learning to Be Silent” (1985-86)

C.W. VRTACEK: “When Heaven Comes to Town” (1988)

FOREVER EINSTEIN: “Artificial Horizon” (1990)

FOREVER EINSTEIN: “Opportunity Crosses the Bridge” (1991)

C.W. VRTACEK – Chris CUTLER – Thomas DiMUZIO: “Preacher in Naked Chase Guilty” (1993)

C.W. VRTACEK: “Fifteen Mnemonic Devices” (1986-1994)

FOREVER EINSTEIN: “One Thing After Another” (1997)

FOREVER EINSTEIN: “Down with Gravity” (1999)

FOREVER EINSTEIN: “Racket Science” (2004)

Nick DIDKOVSKY-Steve MACLEAN-C.W.VRTACEK: “Flies in the Face of Logic” (2006)


Both C.W. Vrtacek and his Forever Einstein also appear on compilation “Unsettled Scores”, performing compositions by Erik Lindgren and George Cartwright.


I have a particular meta-nostalgia for the first two positions in Vrtacek’s discography.


Published in: on October 14, 2008 at 9:19 pm  Comments (8)  
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GAP: “Gap” ***

Recorded 1976-77



Gap, the trio of Masami Tada, Kiyohiko Sano and Takashi Soga is often associated with the dominant school of Japanese improvisation.  Erroneously, pundits usually line up Gap in a single sentence with the likes of Taj Mahal Travellers and East Bionic Symphonia.  Even though Masami Tada participated in the sessions that resulted in East Bionic’s LP, there is little that connects it, musically, with Gap.  East Bionic inherited from Taj Mahal Travellers the predilection for pelagic timelessness and spaceleness of resonant loops, propelled by phase lags and sprinkled with capricious tunings.  To this day, those legendary recordings inundate the listener with a sense of mystical experience.


Gap, active between 1974 and 1979, could not be more dissimilar.  The trio programmatically avoided any trace of interactionism or self-organization which dominated group improvisation in non-aleatoric formats.  Tada & Co steered towards emotionless essentialism, which was not only abstract and nonmetric, but entirely stripped down to absolute basics.  There is no velocity, no continuity, no patterning.  Articulation seems suppressed even throughout considerable dynamic changes.  It is a disorienting experience and no pathways are provided for our perceptual map. 


Their only record appeared on Yukio Kojima’s Alm Records and comprises two live documents, different enough to fend off any accusation of homomorphism.  Halfway through this period, Masami Tada participated in Takehisa Kosugi’s workshops at ART school.  He was also involved in the establishment of a music school for children and later ensconced himself on the gallery circuit. 


He returned 20 years later as member of Kazuo Imai’s Marginal Consort – a sublime improvisational collective that successfully resumed the lessons of the 1970s, incorporating both the mystical and anti-formalist traditions of Japanese free form playing.




1977.11.30. Chuo University 203 Room.

Jabs of sharp electric organ clusters squeeze a wedge between a squeaking trumpet and a fibrous electronic drone.  The trumpet is muted down to hoarseness, protesting with self-styled kisses.  Imperceptibly, the drone is leaching into lower regions, oblivious to the trumpet’s muffled advances.  The brass instrument wheezes, as if dragged on a rough surface.  A Sun Ra-style ‘rocksichord’ drone becomes more organic and intensional.  A percussive element appears, initially in a non-ascriptive role.  Then it suddenly begins to apportion discrete packets of sketchy, wooden clutter.  In a backfill effect, some metal sheets are disturbed with microtonal scratches.  A pre-conceptual contrast is building up between tiny woodblock skitter up front and deep installation noise in the background.  Soon after that a real drum catalyzes the party, although bird-like whistles will temper the reign of low register.  Gap is now a trio of metal boxes, a large drum and whistles – sonic aspects that remain elusive, almost noetic in their distaste for organization.  The shadowy acceleration of these elements progresses in a most non-parametric manner.  The effect is almost sequential – central percussive factors gain prominence, while the whistles languish.  Later, the scampering whistles usurp the terrain with minor vibrato and a large, loose membrane reverberates somewhere with a restraint of a retired shaman.  Unannounced, summertime insect buzz ionizes an environmentally friendly toy xylophone.  In the most mechanistic passage yet, xylophone and metal percussion absolutize total stasis.  Ceramic guitar glissandos – soon to be popularized by Chas Smith – are a distant, foreign guest, lost among triangles, Japanese percussion and undulating electronics.  More personalized guitar clangs are blotted out by melodica’s sustained notes and a chanchiki drum.  This fragment is semi-stationary, speckled with non-referential, percussive parariddles.  Circular grinding noise stumbles against coincidental guitar twangs and paralytic shakuhachi moods.  The mortar churn advances apace until an apparent dispute opens between the sound objects.  Their plastic, leather, wood and stone forms speak at various intervals.  If extended, this fragment could compete with Fred Frith’s soundtrack to a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy.


1976.12.3. Ars Nova Studio

From a slow fade-in, a short-breathed melodica maneuvers in a longitudinal fashion against a determined, dry percussion clank.  Heavy gongs and electronic feedback provide a more comforting background than the deafening silence of the previous track.  The texture is rounder and more exoteric, even though the sound quality is rather muffled.  An isostatic harmonica (?) competes with the melodica, while context-independent dull clang of invariant resonance hides behind a corner.  Unexpectedly, pathogenic piano chords peer into the fray, cut off repeatedly by an ungainly caesura, smudged with some brown noise.  Not surprisingly, the player must have listened to Yuji Takahashi’s recordings, and delineates his originality through unlikely, almost atmospheric de-biasing.  Electro-milling is sintered by nervous piano arpeggios and – admittedly jarring – sawtooth repetitions on infantile melodica.  Slowly, the strikingly divergent piano populates the space.  It is anti-melodic but served without Cecil Taylor’s frantic physicalism.  Sustained organ chords of ‘rocksichord-type’ and the mortar burr make their return, making the overall performance a notch denser.  Piano clusters and strewing notes proliferate, almost sidetracking us into believing that this build-up would eventually lead to a climax.  Muri desu yo.  Instead, amplified bass stutters like a schizophrenic, tying together bridge trestles for the next section of scrape, whistle and feedback.  No sooner do we overhear a distant conversation than the level of dynamics falls to stethoscopic levels.  A curiously suppressed recorder pilots clumsily amidst the clutter.  Although the live microphones capture clacking at various distances, the output does not induce dichotic listening.  The vocabulary is abstruse, scattered, non-objective and if the message was textual, we could not decipher its semantic content due to print losses.  The closing fragment is dominated by shifting tempos of rattling spokes, operated with a mechanistic imprecision of Jean Tinguely’s sculptures.  Eventually, the tempo rises, enhanced by humanly powered percussion and impotent flutes.  The clutter of spokes reverses and pauses.  The performance tails off. 





EAST BIONIC SYMPHONIA: “East Bionic Symphonia” (1976)

GAP: “Gap” (1976-77)

MARGINAL CONSORT: “Collective Improvisation” (1997)

MARGINAL CONSORT: “Marginal Consort” 4CD (2003-04)


Masami Tada has issued many CDs from various gallery performances.  My knowledge of these recordings is poor. 


Published in: on October 12, 2008 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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ALVARO: “Is the Garment Ready?” ****

Recorded 1988



Chilean born pianist and singer Alvaro Peña-Rojas achieved underground fame after his exile in Europe.  Although his scandalously entitled debut was recorded in London, Alvaro based himself in Germany, cranking out outsider recordings long before European audiences heard of Jandek. 


Salvaged from obscurity by the Recommended Records’ distribution network in Europe, Alvaro carved for himself a new niche.  In the 1980s, his Spartan recordings became the synonyms of fiery, chaotic and often ostentatiously amateurish songcraft.  During this period, his songs displayed programmatic scorn for large instrumentation, but the structure of his compositions was always unpredictable and remained outside any musical tradition, European or otherwise.  Not surprisingly, Alvaro’s obra is usually considered unclassifiable, separated from isolationist folk by the use of piano, rather than guitar, in both the composition and performance.


Recording both in English and in Spanish, Alvaro offered a metaphoric social commentary on emigrant’s daily life in an epigrammatic, dispassionate manner.  A heavy, hanging cloud of Western Europe’s long winters separated him from the formidable Andean vistas and he scarcely reached out for material evoking South American musical traditions.  His staunchly left-wing exoticism was original precisely because it was deprived of declamatory and folkloristic pander that affected, for better or worse, like-minded jazz musicians from Frankfurt to New York to Tokyo. 



Part One

From the opening seconds of the record, Alvaro’s tremulous voice literally throws at us his downcast, liturgic lament.  A scattering of insulated piano keys follows.  Short silence.  The entire proceeding repeats.  The piano notes are instantly muted, heartfelt and lonesome.  By contrast, there is a slight echo attached to the voice track, enhancing Alvaro’s trademark nasal croon.  His intonation occasionally evokes snippets of a Middle Eastern Tajweed, but the association could be unintentional.  Since the chorus is limited to the piano, the spiritual atmosphere of the crooner’s calls is repudiated by the bare, skeletal piano response.  “The sweetness of this song might drift them away from me”, worries the narrator.  At this point he is joined by drummer Giorgos Notaras and bass player Jens Volk.  The march-like percussion is mixed out at a certain distance.  The bass is pitched high, even above Ferdinand Richard’s G-bass – a reference at that time.  The trio’s fast passage appears to have been just an intermezzo. 


Part Two

The same text will be repeated in “Part Two”, but this time with a rhythm section in neo-punk mode.  The drumming is competent, enveloped with rubbery, elastic bass figures in seemingly endless repetition.  A nine note piano piece is highly melodic, placed in major scale, but it takes at least three turns before unmasking a much more realistic (and less nasal) Alvaro.  This is his osseous opus “Tea and Toast”.  The rhythm section is so dependable in its fast-paced bass ostinato and drum reflexivity that a linear piano improvisation is inevitable.  This departure is simple, unassuming and ultimately convincing in its simplicity.  The chewy bass line invites the drummer to toy around with his snare, the tom-tom and the bass drum, but Volk never transgresses the metric confines determined by the bass player.  This bass and drum duo holds our attention long enough to welcome the return of the instantly hummable main theme.  It is punctured by single piano notes but remains indifferently melodic, stripped down to three syllables and devoid of any profound meaning beyond the denotation of a cheap European breakfast.  Finally, like an old, tired locomotive, the “tea, tea, tea, tea, tea, tea, tea and toast” wagons slow down to a crawl and finally, predictably, stop.


Part Three

A stern piano overture imports some bass divagation.  The slowly unfolding and folding bass is apathetic, misanthropic, low-pitched and barely audible, almost concealed in the comforting vinyl noise.  The instrument burrows, commutes, flexes and wiggles, sometimes only interrupted by the return of the scowling, upright piano overture.  The bass guitar’s low-end freedom contrasts strikingly with the rigidity of the (unchanging) piano notes.  This section recurs several times.  In later stages of the composition, the bass resurfaces more decisively into the audible sphere, but the dynamic contrast with the insistent, jagged piano line makes us too apprehensive to delve again into that avuncular, nestling, sensorial universe of the woolly bass.  Finally, after yet another piano intervention, the bass formulates its own destiny, making fidgety forays into some higher notes.  Finally the entire trio meets in an obsessive ostinato, from which decisive piano salvos break out until the life and death question is nervously asked: “Is the garment ready?  They’re already knocking”.  Could this be more than a tailor’s nightmare?


Part Four

“Part four” is a 1960s style rumba, and a summary collecting the scraps of the lyrics heard throughout the first three parts.  Now it all comes together, reorganized and cohesive.  It is as if Alvaro had composed and anti-suite, which began with reprises and ended by formulating the leading theme.  Half-paralyzed and sloppy, the idle rumba encodes a chronicle of stubborn identity preservation amidst a friendless world of alienation.  The singing never gets overly dramatic or mawkish and the fretless bass keeps the spine well oiled.  But the overall image exudes reluctant romanticism, prefiguring working class anti-heroes from Aki Kaurismäki’s films.  The “Garment Ready” is a metaphor for an introvert’s efforts to connect with the outside world, so indifferent to his cries for inner peace.  “I am ready” yells Alvaro repeatedly towards the end.





I am not familiar with Alvaro’s later recordings, although he seems to have continued his musical career way past his 50th birthday, sometimes venturing into adaptations of American and Latin classics. 


ALVARO: “Drinkin’ My Own Sperm” (1977)

ALVARO: “Mums Milk Powder” (1979)

ALVARO: “The Working Class” (1980)

ALVARO: “Four Sad Songs” (1981)

ALVARO: “Mariposa” SP (1981)

ALVARO: “Repetition Kills” (1982)

ALVARO: “Is the Garment Ready” (1988)


“Garment” remains my favorite. 

Published in: on October 10, 2008 at 8:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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PIED DE POULE: “Café noir” *****

Recorded 1991



Chanteuse and lyricist Dominique Fonfrède, accordionist Michèle Buirette and contrabassist Geneviève Cabannes first recorded together in 1986, before adopting the self-deprecatingly ironic name “Pied de poule”.  For about ten years, these three French women knit together cryptocrystalline pearls of sublime avant-garde chanson.  Although their background was in jazz, classical and improvisational music, the sum of the parts turned out to be much more than simple amalgam of their extraordinary talent. 


Melancholy reigns in the texts and resounds in the individualistic, reflective tone of this highly sensual, feminine creation.  Whenever their lyrical path invited comedy or irony, the melodic line, or theatrical rendition countered the half-smile with a palinode of pensive mood and reflection.  While they certainly did not invent the genre, their unique mélange of witty lines and quirky melodies was always delivered with panache, tasseled with dolorous observations of mature womanhood.


On later recordings, Pied de Poule were often supported by two members of Un Drame Musical Instantané – saxophonist and flutist Youenn Le Berre and percussionist extraordinaire Gérard Siracusa. 



Café noir

Female voice smooth as enamel opens in a constative mode, prodded by accordion’s precise, short phrases and some rapid quarter notes.  Although this opening was penned by the bassist Geneviève Cabannes, she does not appear until later.  This resolutely jumpy chanson plumps the first cubes of melancholy into our musical café break.  Dominique Fonfrède invites us to her world with pithy verse libre.  Her irregular meter and rhyme would allow the semantic content to glide across the lines, increasing the potential for surprise and multiplying the unexpected pointes.  After a short interruption, acoustic bass joins the fray and multi-voice polyphony resumes this short story of the solitude of a café-going woman, always recognized by the waiter.  When the coda comes, it is delivered with an exquisite accordion line, bowed acoustic bass and a canzona-like singing pitched above the preceding theme.  Only isolated phonemes reach us, though, melismatically wrapping random scraps of the now familiar text. 


Le rat

The rat, scurrying about rice and radish baits appears too sly to miss the step imposed by Gérard Siracusa’s extraordinarily nimble drumsticks.  Michèle Buirette’s fast bellow shakes and some rodent calls turn this piece into a pleasing satire.  The dramatic vocal slides could evoke contemporary opera type, but the light stick rattle on hand drums and tambourines distract us by impersonating the shining movement of the adorable, furry animal.  Comic jibes at the rat that refuses to catch the bait bring little result (“Will it, or will it not?”).  The little beast is too astute.  Suspensful accordion and percussive crescendo eventually collapse into a disorderly crowd of rat-like talking heads. 


La banlieue

Dominique Fonfrède’s initial declamation is slowly being transformed into proper melody by a swinging, almost bandoneon-sounding Buirette and an appropriately smoky, walking bass line.  Yet the attempts to construe a proper “song” fail and a more directly conversational form resurfaces, with the Sprechstimme monologue occasionally interrupted by insistent commentaries from Buirette and Cabannes.  This is a dubious tribute to “banlieue” – desolate French sleeptowns, described here with uncharacteristically non-metaphoric candor: “no commerce, no factories, no offices, no cows, no fields, no villages”.


Cha cha gourmand

A refreshingly epicurean Caribbean step with a ‘gavroche’-type wink-wink accordion accents and bowed bass.  A histrionic guffaw at the end of the track invalidates the lightness of its dance-like structure.


Le malfrat

The composition begins with parallel street observations by Dominique Fonfrède and Carlos Zingaro.  When an interrogative chanson commences, Zingaro’s violin introduces a dramatic, focused theme.  Buirette’s accordion appears first in a harmonic role but they part ways when the metric element dissipates and Fonfrède’s performance descends into recitative accompagnato.  Her initially anodyne commentary turns existentialist, harnessing operatic levels energy.  We then hear Youenn Le Berre on flute.  His full, sultry tone softens considerably the lyrical content, but not necessarily the melodic sonorities.  As an aside, one could expect such contrapuntal combination of accordion and flute to be highly promising in the hands of an accomplished arranger.  Joseph Racaille, Frank Pahl, Jean Derome and David Garland each used it with considerable success, but many others tried and failed.  More recently Belgian band Aranis has successfully incorporated such timbral and structural juxtaposition into its orchestrations. 


Les sept mains

This is a multi-tracked solo on double bass.  Dr Jekyll Cabannes appears somewhat hesitant, meting out wooly, investigative pizzicatos on E-string.  Mrs Hyde Cabannes is a romantic, handling adroitly detaché bowing with short, yet reflexively autumnal phrases. 


Liseron I, matin de juin

A remarkably condensed deconstruction of a very private early morning hustle recounted here in passé simple.  The narrative collapses into three competing voices.  Le Berre’s flute and Buirette’s accordion couple with deep successive strokes on acoustic bass and allow Fonfrède to recite the text with a speed of a machine-gun.  Her diction is impeccable, smooth, free-floating.  A reedy, polyphonic solo on accordion engrosses, holding us warmly between the grooves of its bellows, and cradling our heads into abandon.  All this charm was deployed here to tell us some home truths about… a cold shower and a morning coffee… 


Les guêpes

This cantata opens comfortably with a dependable basso continuo and fast, though texturally thick accordion lines.  Fonfrède’s art is to singing what Conlon Nancarrow was to keyboards.  As a result, it is impractical to even attempt to follow the semantic content of the rapid-fire syllables without reading the attached sheet.  It then turns out that her proceeding relies on stammer-like repetition.  The words (hardly about the “wasps” from the title) must have been selected for their phonetic quality and above all for the apparent overabundance of bilabial nasals, ultimately the first consonants we all humans emit with some time after birth.  When the ‘song’ attains its dramatic climax, the tension is soon released through a steady, peaceful decrescendo.  Somewhat superfluously, the trio interjects descriptive elements (vacillating stomps from behind a corner, a decisive accordion-bass dash across the courtyard).  Hyperbolic, coarse moans of devoiced agony side with an arco in audible despair.  In full denial, springtime sentimentality closes the track with inanely banal ‘la-la-la’.


La duchesse de Guermantes

Dominique Fonfrède adapted Marcel Proust’s text and interprets it here in a caricatural, stilted, indignant manner.  A Shelley Hirsch-like homophonic doubling ushers in a slow, matter-of-factly presentation of the same lyrical content.  Hysterical, nervous laughter interrupts the uncertain flow. 


Liseron II, matin de septembre

The track begins as a trio for accordion, flute and recitative.  The flute flutters blithely around accordion’s reliable harmonic stasis.  In one of the most classical moments, the flute and soprano vocal take off for a feathery flight.  The theme is never developed.  Instead, the accordion shifts into an uptempo mode and Dominique Fonfrède’s vocal salvos become grandiose, further enhanced by Carlos Zingaro’s violin.  The instrumental trio of accordion, flute and violin configures a couple of short notes, while Fonfrède descends from her soprano into ungainly shout and pedantic warble. 



This delicate, elegant tango has its caminada tempo well-defined by a plucked bass.  Buirette and Fonfrède exchange roles, achieving the classic Pied de Poule style.  This is twilight nostalgia at its most poignant, yet with none of Borgesian coraje.  The track’s witty twists and unusual phrasing are as feminine as the beauty of any Porteña’s feline steps.



Hot and wet.  The midsummer theme expresses ego-doubts of a cat, with a bowed bass, assertive voice and an accordion.  It is the accordion that feels its way diminuendo around the twisted yellow-lit streets of the 5ème arrondissement or maybe la Recoleta, the emblematic neighborhoods of two cities marked forever by the experienced, urban face of this instrument and its close cousins. 


Les dinosaures

In a welcome departure from the avant-chanson style, the trio plunges into an improvisation awash with riffy bass bowing, robotic panting, susurrando and Angst-whispering.  The frenetic pace and incandescent interpenetration of contrasting elements recalls Steve Hillage’s equally impromptu intermezzo “Fish”.


Destinée I

This most complex composition on the record begins with a Balkan-sounding polyphonic vocal trio.  Slowly the constraints of the French language (the stress on the last syllable) betray the singers’ origins.  When Le Berre intervenes on his unusually highly pitched cornemuse (French bagpipe), the character of the piece suddenly changes.  The French variant of this instrument usually has a small drone and Le Berre always astounded me in his long-winded, spine-chilling contributions to the recordings documented by Un Drame Musical Instantané.  The two bellows-dependent instruments – accordion and bagpipe take us here on a trail with youthful, vivacious, upbeat intentions.  Then the duo steadies for a moment of reflection, extracting unusual harmonies from the air reservoirs (how often do we hear bagpipes and accordion seeking unison?).  Carlos Zingaro’s violin rejoins shortly in one of the more lyrical moments on the record. 


Coda ad hoc

The closing statement for voice and accordion. 




PIED DE POULE: “Indiscrétion” (1988)

PIED DE POULE: “Café noir” (1991)

PIED DE POULE: “Jamais tranquille!  Rude journée pour les mouflets” (1993)

PIED DE POULE: “Confection et articles divers” (1997)


The trio can also be found on compilations “Douze pour un vol.2” (1986) and “Bunt” (1991).  All of these records are of the highest quality.  The avant-gardish tension of the early recordings mellowed slightly with time, but in a highly praiseworthy manner.


One could trace the origin of ideas first developed by the trio to Michèle Buirette’s debut LP, on which all the three artists appeared (although never together on any of the tracks).  It was with great joy that we could rediscover Buirette’s world of intelligent and fresh songs four years ago.


Michèle BUIRETTE: “La mise en plis” (1985)

Michèle BUIRETTE: “Le panapé de Caméla” (2004)


One song can also be found on compilation “Bad Alchemy Nr 4” (1986).