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.

 

 

 

Zonk-Machine

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. 

 

Dapp-Da

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. 

 

Bassomat

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)

 

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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.

 

 

UD

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”. 

 

Nelle

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. 

 

Geuzenlied

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. 

 

Granvelle

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. 

 

Sabina

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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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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Michael LYTLE, Will PARSONS et al: “Iowa Ear Music” *****

Recorded 1967-1976

 

 

Many Europeans, and indeed some coastal Americans, tend to believe that little of artistic value has been produced between Lower East Side and Haight Ashbury.  But the country is too large, people too well educated and communications too easy for the hinterland to remain perennially barren.  Still, you would not be too far off the mark to assume that the consonant-less State of Iowa has made fewer musical contributions than, say, Colorado.

 

And yet, jewels do crop up if you plough the cornfield before the blister phase.  This compilation of recordings collected by Michael Lytle, Will Parsons, Jon English and several others seriously questions the aforementioned “coastal” dogmatism.  The material ranges from cacophonous free form improvisations to vintage synthesizer excursions.  At their most intriguing, the musicians experimented with aleatoric forms, forcing the participants to limit their musical communication during the recording session. 

 

One of the interesting features on this record is that often the pieces quiet down, masked by louder sections presented as separate tracks.  However, the preceding composition does continue underneath, drowned by the successor bolstered with higher decibel content.  Instruments whose projection is stronger in an orchestral setting – both acoustic and electronic – sometimes betray this ingenious proceeding.  The stratiform treatment never disturbs, on the contrary. 

 

Little else has been heard from these musicians.  I suppose that some of them ended up in academic circles.  Michael Lytle moved to New York, just in time, and caught up with George Cartwright and Mark Dresser.  He deserves his share of the fame and respect lavished over the years on Doctor Nerve.  His clarinet contributions made Didkovsky’s project sound like a hyperspeed big band. 

 

 

 

Pete’s Beet

In what is essentially a solo track, Will Parsons combines his penchant for percussive skitter, hand drum snaps and disoriented shakers with pulsating plastic clicks from moog sequencer.

 

Anton’s Chickenyard

The first group piece based on atonal recipes for dampened prepared piano sounds (Parsons), lowly trombone (Jon English), shredded guitar chords (John Leake) and electronically processed cello (Eric Jensen).  Tom Wilcox’s trumpet gets lost somewhere in the abstract cross-pollination of timbres.

 

Basschurn

The amalgam of talents turns its attention to color and value formations, through random organization of unusual contrasts – Gary Gray’s mbira may be given a key part to play, but never too far away from temporizing steel drums and tender cello pizzicato.  As many as three bass players (Paul Berner, Jon English and Don Roach) paint a poetic sunset of musing polychroma.  Circumspect trumpet legatos sweep around in a show of restraint.

 

Degroot #13

A piece captured live opens with spry piccolo intrusions by Pat Purswell.  The delicate tapestry of electronics (Peter Lewis) and marimba (Parsons) barely distract from the spotlight on the Ornettish horn but delivered on… trombone (Jon English).  This intuition will later be rewarded on side B…

 

Unseen Walls (waltz?)

Michael Lytle appears for the first time here on his signature clarinet.  He is seconded by Eric Roalson whose deep, midnight piano clusters sound almost as wooly as Permutative Distortion…  Bruce Wirwin’s violin crowds the space before we recess into…

 

The World’s Most Impossible Silence

…nothing.  This is vinyl time, so such moments of ‘silence’ are much more expensive than the frequent oases of silent self-indulgence that mass producers of CDRs are flooding us with these days.  Luckily, it does not last long. 

 

Crusader

Michael Lytle dishes out a modernist pop song, cooked up in the moog, but terrestrial in nature.  It is naively ‘complete’ with a pre-determined bass throb and pointlessly groovy solos compressed to high register.  But he deserves to be absolved.  This is 1971.

 

Phase Leake

Leake does appear and it is a phase-guitar piece, flanked by two basses – one acoustic and one electric (Parsons’s favorite trick?).  The rhythm section imparts an ethnic jazz feel, but the shifting guitar phases splash land from another world.  Despite an orchard full of shakers, the moog from the previous track can still be distinguished from the guitar-fronted jazzy mass.

 

Bent End

In what appears as the continuation of the previous cut, a guitar sustain and double bass tremolos seek correlations with ultra-fast cymbal runs.  The braying guitar is of no help for the bass, lost in painful search of the right chord. 

 

The Sands of the Time Reborn

An archival recording, apparently from 1967.  Vintage electronics mingle with swoozing “voices”.  The drummer (Parsons) is content with punctuating selected beats, leaving the remaining auralspace to phantom effects and the bass player (John Wilmet).  Half-present Ken Cohea offers a few half-blows on his sax. 

 

Bull Elewhale

Eight years on and Lytle rejoins on a very earthy clarinet in perpetual overblows.  Eager to fly right into the top of the range he often loses projection and clarity.  Roalson “helps” by scraping cymbals.

 

… Now Deceased

One of the more memorable moments on the record is shaped unhurriedly through the otherworldly juxtaposition of woodenly-resonating mbira and chromatic harmonica.  In this meeting between the cattle rangers from the wild West and the civilized West Africa, the dépaysement is complete.  Pat Hazell’s tonguings on harmonica twiddle, scan and reproduce the images of parched spaciousness.  Parsons adds a sparse marimba touch, in support of the mbira (Gary Gray).  They are accompanied by a cello drone (Jensen) and an unlikely third idiophone – (Michael Meyers on vibraphone).  The band lapses into an elegant tremolo and disappears.  It was too short.

 

The Leo Trio

A viola and marimba duo with some help from harp (Motter Forman).  William Hibbard operates his viola with a slurred staccato.  At the end of each slice, the marimba (Parsons) throws in a pithy commentary.

 

Iowa Night’s Bloom

This is the first of two or three fragments that bear an eerie resemblance to the loft-jazz masterpieces from Rivbea…  The guitar-bass-drums trio of Leake-Paul Berner and Parsons is joined here by two saxophonists (Larry Easter and Don Edelbrock) and two pianists (Pat Hazell on acoustic piano and Lynn Willard on electric piano).  Beautifully fostered by piano tremolos the two soprano saxophones constitute a svelte duo – self-replicating between the left and right channel.  The electric aura gives this fragment a “free-jazz-rock” character, aptly constrained by the musicians’ good taste: delicate hi-hat, cloudy guitar, softly arpeggiated electric piano.  There is some timbral cross-dressing here.  The guitar plays the electric piano part and the soprano squeezes into the guitar’s pants.  This abstract canvas could extend over an entire LP side, but it does not. 

 

Waiting for Grace

This is apparently Parsons on vibraphone, but little, if anything can be heard.  This sure ain’t Robert Wood.

 

Back to the Playground

A group noise piece opened by scattered piano sounds, voices, a wand patting on a piece of furniture.  Lytle’s bass clarinet gropes for intonation.  Mike Brawner adds extra noise on rubber hose.  Clarinet, voice and piano are settling down within this makeshift, purposefully directionless amalgamate.

 

Freedom’s Not Something Someone Tells (the Way to Live)

A short song featuring Candace Natveig’s nice voice, trombone and vibraphone.

 

Falsestart, Falsestart, Falsestart

A rehearsal snippet – one piano chord returns over and over again.  Cymbal overtones are multi-layered beyond measure and drown it all out.

 

An Infinite Regression

A multi-tracked racket for electric bass, organ, voice, trombone, trumpet, percussion and drums – all looped around and thrown into the bucket.  This apparent output of many sessions (1972-76) is not shaken, but rather carefully rotated in analog manner, as it were. 

 

First Rites, Before

John Patterson’s guitar solo vies for our attention, but it’s a foregone conclusion that our ears will rather collude with the cellulosic warmth of Parsons’s mbira.  Monosyllabic vocal and gummy, wavering flute (Grace Bell) add little extra texture.

 

Solomon’s Mines, Birth

Hot on the heels of some uncredited bowed strings, multiple vocal polyphonies sound rather accidental.  Mark Solomon’s flute yanks and zigzags away when the drummer picks up speed, with Lynn Willard’s piano emulating the effort. 

 

Peace Like a Football Growth

This accumulation of sources spanning four years begins with long notes on tenor sax (Jon Monick) interbreeding with some bowing on acoustic bass and articulate cymbal work from Parsons.  The saxophone’s improvisational scampering is mostly dissonant and it invites a whole bag of background racket. 

 

Moment of First Choice, Freedom

Here’s a contest – who will blow/bow higher – Charles West on his clarinet or Bruce Erwin on his violin?  The assistants are at the ready to help.  The violin does sound folksy, yet the clarinet steers away confidently from any klezmerite connotations.  Not uninteresting.

 

Choice Abandoned, Get a Job!

Will Parsons joins the line-up in a Steve Miller-type piano accompaniment.  The trouble is, Lol Coxhill’s role has been usurped by a rather traditional Dixie clarinet playing by Charles West.  In one lyrical violin solo Bruce Erwin appears to relish his short E-string detachés.  The piano shuts down the nostalgia, brusquely.

 

Where Karma Curdles & Hurts, Dharma

A surreptitious Jon English on trombone and Carolyn Berdahl on cello roam in the presence of listless bass and cymbal ostinato.

 

With Sun Inside, Maturity

After an Arkestra-style expressionist tutti of soprano saxophone, trombone, tenor, flute and fluegelhorn, Will Parsons impersonates Don Moye – savoring the slow, grand buildup of percussive microtones.  Don Edelbrock’s soprano sax appears the most agile in the pack and departs from the increasingly riffing surge.  Gary Gray’s mbira appears in a more structural role here than previously.  Tom Wilcox’s fluegelhorn goes solo, polished, mezzotint, creamy, cup- or harmon-muted.  There is a sense of polyrhythmic relaxation is there.  Linda Dillon’s flute and the saxophones converse with dignity.  The atmosphere of “Wildeflowers” is with us again. 

 

Clarabelle Interlude, Self Explanatory

The same, extended line-up but different music: liturgical clucking, rubbery preachings, synthesized bubbles.  The random distribution of outcomes leaves one perplexed. 

 

Last Wrongs, Death

A collection of excerpts from Parsons’s library of pieces for voice and “impakt percussion synthesizer”.  What we get here is a dense swirl of cricket shimmer and some assorted percussion.  Buzzing dragonflies, bumble bees, orthoptera and other airborne anthropods have all conspired to crap their sizzle in three or four simultaneous, multiplex layers.  Bells, cymbals and triangles initially keep this concert almost “human”, but even these are later subjected to tape speed processing. 

 

The Knight of Swords, Comes & Cuts Away One By One All the Things You Cling to, Until You’re Left with Only One

These tape compositions by Lytle (1968-70) and Parsons (1976) are interesting in their use of vintage Buchla, Synthi and Moog Mark II synthesizers which were available in various academic institutions at that time. 

 

Lonely Woman, Ornette Coleman

In a complete change of mood, Jon English invites us to adjust our set of expectations to his echoed trombone performing one of the 20th century musical monuments.  Some sequenced “piano” sound peeps from a synthesizer, manned here by Peter Lewis.  He peppers his keyboard with shortlived echo-arpeggios.  Finally, perpendicular transgressions modulate the classic climate with dissonant dirt.  Only the repetitive electronic throb stays on.  This 1973 version is well worth investigating by all Ornette Coleman’s fans.  And just about anyone else.

 

Decay of Mayamusic

A barely audible ditto for violin, clarinet and flute. 

 

Decay of Shivadrone

Michael Lytle closes the record with a line on Moog Mark III.

 

 

***

 

This record is unique and there is little else that compares favorably.  Lytle’s small format recordings from the New York period are, by comparison, pedestrian. 

 

LYTLE, PARSONS, ENGLISH, ROACH, GRAY, LEAKE:“Iowa Ear Music” (1967-76)

 

LYTLE-CARTWRIGHT-MOSS: “Meltable Snaps It” (1980)

Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 9:52 pm  Comments (7)  
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ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Se upp! för livet” *****

Recorded 1976

 

The long-running Swedish ensemble was founded in 1968 by saxophone player Roland Keijser and trumpeter Torsten Eckerman.  During the early years, the leaders searched the perfect modus operandi between their emotional attachment to Nordic melodiousness and their talent for folk-jazz thematic developments.  The departures of key personnel after the first two records pushed the band even further into straddling these strongly divergent musical pathways.  The results were, most of time, satisfactory, especially in live format.  During concerts, the band often indulged in longer forms, ingeniously stringing familiar themes together and interspersing them with tentative improvisational departures.  At the same time, the utilization of traditional folk motifs expanded into other cultures – the Balkans, the Baltics and Asia Minor. 

 

The radical transformation came after the founders’ departure in 1975.  A+F were then joined by two veterans anointed with Sweden’s most celebrated “psychedelic” pedigree – Torbjörn Abelli and Thomas Mera Gartz.  Both had previously been involved in a continuously evolving jamming vehicle known under a variety of monikers: Pärson Sound, International Harvester, Harvester and, last but not least, Träd Gräs och Stenar.  Their arrival critically affected Arbete och Fritid’s sound and pushed the band towards a bolder form of rock jam. 

 

Although the two records created by this line-up are among Sweden’s most accomplished experimental rock statements from the era, they do show signs of stylistic strain.  The psych-jam format proved largely incompatible with the lingering affection for Scandinavian folk. 

 

Roland Keijser’s and Kjell Westling’s subsequent ‘return’ resulted in the recording of a deeply sentimental, charming acoustic document that remained in stark contrast to the wild A+F of the late 1970s. 

 

Multi-instrumentalist Ove Karlsson was the only member of A+F who played with the band throughout its entire existence.  Only his direct testimony could reveal the compromises behind the band’s double life.

 

 

Födelsemusik

From deep silence, Ove Karlsson’s furtive cello adsorbs airy, sustained notes on the C-string.  Thomas Gartz’s indifferent mallets stumble on the large tom-tom.  One by one, spacey guitars lurk from their dens, howling like a pack of orphaned wolves.  True to this pictorial metaphor, Tord Bengtsson’s and Ove Karlsson’s strings recede in tremolos, but advance in glissandos.  Meanwhile, the mallets progression remains frail and ineffectual, affecting the overall atmosphere of this lazy jam.  Whenever the energy does swell up, it dies down almost instantly, taking the joule content to negligible levels.  Finally, the multiple guitar barking becomes more intrusive, densifying the texture with echo, fuzz and wah-wah.  Although the drummer maintains the simplistic meter, the tempo picks up, and the shadow of Träd Gräs och Stenar’s is upon us.  Supported by bass and guitar tremolos, Bengtsson construes an irradiant, magnetic ascension.  The pace stays languorously laid-back, à la Grateful Dead, and dangerously epigonic by 1976.  The utopistic pathos of guitar-led anthem is, however, dense enough to escape the pretentiousness of the 1970s’ rock.  When the volume increases a flute saves the band from too conventional a climax (Who is this?  The mysterious Jan Zetterquist credited on the cover?  We know that neither Keijser nor Westling appear in this session).  Transparent flute runs subjugate mallet-drum rolls and a guitar drone.  The ensemble slowly climbs down the dynamic slope, leaving the cumulonimbus of feedback behind them.  The final fade-out is as slow as the fade-in was.  It is down to Ove Karlsson on the cello again…

 

Fantasins lov

a.Väldernärså stor

b.Skogen

c.Ljugerivisan

This time, an Indian-sounding flute intones a morning tune to reckless banjo strumming and hollow sounds on clay pots.  When someone (Ove Karlsson?  Ulf Lauthers?) begins a puja-styled incantation, the memory of Don Cherry returns to Stockholm’s NMW Studios.  Having dodged familiar tuning, shimmering strings join the thumb piano to sublimate the oddly transgressive harmonics.  As the kalimba prances around, the leader whistles and then commences an emotional recitation in Swedish.  In fact, the droning voices evoke more likely a carefree bonfire sing-along than a concentrated Tibetan throat singing or Mongolian khoomei.  A percussive vocabulary apportions additional splashes of color.

 

Dansa i ring

Bells and Tord Bengtsson’s fiddle jolt around in an upbeat Nordic dance.  Years later, the gammaldans stomping does force armchair listener’s feet off the ground.

 

Jag vet inte så noga

Chunky organ and a rather pedestrian hi-hat do not augur well for something that sounds like a 1970s’ TV commercial.  It soon turns out to be a very terrestrial pop song for two, untrained tenors.  If it’s a parody, then it does not quite work, despite their incessant repetition: “Not so exactly”.   Today, Karlsson’s ballroom-styled organ trivia would qualify for a retro jewel and land on the special shelf along Aavikko.  And if karaoke had existed back in 1976, then “Jag vet inte så noga” would have ruled in deep north’s KTV parlors.  In effect, it is achieves neither.

 

Jag bär min smärta

As much as we would wish the pristine guitar and piano hymn intro to guide us into a Popol Vuh pilgrimage, the vocal soon ruins it, turning the song into a Dylan-type grumble.  Gartz’s violin joins the crooner’s ode to “pain”.  It lingers rather conventionally, with a dose of harmonica making it even more rural.

 

Knoga och knega (Framtid)

For the first time on this record, a heavy vibrato makes an appearance.  Jews harp?  Hard-boiled guitar?  A tone generator’s husky hum?  Here again, Gartz’s skins are subjected to soft, felted treatment.  A chanted phrase is repeated ad nauseam to some low-pitched rumble and non-resonant bells.   The result is rather spooky as the low-end, speculative ultrasound seems to be generated by something more ominous than Torbjörn Abelli’s bass.  The chant is unhurried, though audibly tired by the oppressive jungle filled with animal fracas. 

 

Porrpaketet

Cheap organ looms in the back of some country barn party.  A master of ceremonies half-sings to the inconsequential chords from Karlsson’s weary keyboard.  Someway between a Scandinavian Fred Lane and an antediluvian version of Bad Statistics, he preaches something about the depravity of sex and drugs.  The logorrheic, garrulous performance sounds like an undesirable, drunken lecture.  But it does seem to constitute one of Ulf Lauthers’s key elements in the overall concept of the record – a meta-commentary on societal changes in the confusing decade of 1970s.

 

Jag är inte som andra (kaos eller ordning)

Cosmic guitars swirl in helical fashion with Abelli’s pulsating bass, captured occasionally by clutches from petulant cowbells.  Karlsson obsesses about one specific key on his organ, but when one of the guitars begins to howl again in the distance, an eerie half-whisper startles us right in front of us.  Only the organ survives the shock.

 

Jag vägrar va’ me’

Another of those bonfire songs with just acoustic guitar strumming and a tambourine.  It is folksy.  It is elementary.  It is secular.  It is primitive.  The band members clearly cannot sing, but they do insist.  Despite some attempts to orchestrate the piece (a deeply underadjusted violin) the song was clearly penned with guitar in the hand.   Instead of a refrain, the song is stuffed with infantile echolalia. 

 

Lev hårt – dö ung!

A working class, grungey festival number delivered with a hoarse, angry, anti-musical voice and all of the guitars in a proto-punk rhythmic role.  The effect is not unlike Mighty Baby or Pink Fairies further West.

 

Avdelnig – indelning (giv akt!)

In one of the more intriguing moments on the record, a multi-xylophone and ‘clockwork cuckoo’ galore pollutes vulnerable horror movie buildups.  Jan Zetterquist must have had a hand in this intense, bulimic, invariant assault on the top register.  It is up to the listener to establish any metric sense in this.  Half-way through, some sloganeering kicks in and the piece distills into a haughty lecture against social control.  It is refined into an engaged Radiospiel and closes with quasi-military commands. 

 

Nu måste jag välja!

Mellow 1960s pop guitar arpeggios spangle the spectrum almost like the Ventures.  Only shadowy glissandos remind us that this was taped 15 years later, in a completely different era.  Several singers deliver the text in their untrained unison: “I choose”…   But rather than evoking a protest, it all sounds rather polite and non-confrontational. 

 

Spel i soluppgången

Second significant jam on the record.  This time, Gartz employs his cymbals extensively, while guitars’ wah-wah quacks from a distance.  It seems that some of the guitars are treated with the bow (or it could be Karlsson’s electrically processed cello).  With just enough echo applied to the bowed and sawed guitar/cello, the rhythm section does a great job by keeping it focused and on-target.  Bengtsson’s bass is perfectly aligned with Gartz and disciplined enough to allow for the two guitarists to enjoy their freedom.  The cello repetition gets an almost systemic regularity – not unlike Arthur Russell’s recordings some 6 years later.  Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the jam surges in volume.  The cymbals crash, and the violin goes fiddly, almost bluegrassy.  From this inflection point, the whole band accelerates to the point where one would not expect any psych jam to go – at devilish, bluegrass speed.  Either Gartz or Bengtsson steals the show on Charlie Daniels.  A highly original and successful marriage of unlikely inputs. 

 

Kärlekssång

On this slow-paced, violin-based ballad, the fiddle allocates some voluble rudiments.  This is perfectly justified by the title (Love Song).  But in the higher register the repetitions make its brief cycles almost Karnatic. 

 

Gotlandsmusik

An affable Jerry Garcia-like guitar lead spins and traipses, letting the other guitarist operate the isometric, almost metronomic rhythm.  The lead guitar hikes up and solos freely without showing off.  During this exquisite passage, Arbete och Fritid sound like a compressed slurry from Heldon, Spacecraft, Verto or Peter Green’s first solo – an organized set of guitar solos perfectly enveloped within rhythmic multidividers.  There are no superfluous fireworks, no swagger, just an exhibit of classy guitar vorticism.  The pace remains tight and disciplined throughout.  If this is truly music of Gotland, then why did we not hear more?

 

Älskade barn (tiller alla)

Double violin drone and regular zither arpeggios tee it off for a verbal litany.  One violin soars into the photosphere.  The other stays earthbound, buried in vascular drone.

 

Brudmarsch från Vågå i Norge

This form of a plaintive, but auspicious mazurka would later fill most of LP “Sen dansar vi ut”.  It could be the reason why the heroic theme sounds familiar its anecdotal delinquency.  Violins, drums and guitars dredge a languid, rustic motif as if overheard at a large, provincial get-together.  It would fit the forged innocence of pre-1968 Czech movie.  And that is not the only cinematic reminiscence…

 

Berget

When a soliloquy in Swedish gets wrapped in bird chirping, I can’t help thinking about the contemplative visions of Isak Borg in Bergman’s 1957 classic “Wild Strawberries“…  Plagued by the prominence of unrelated, black-and-white images, I barely notice the drifting infusion of psych jam.  Against the reverberating wails, birds warble, violins oxidize and drums flagellate with cold regularity.  The band reconfigures these sources into loosely hanging tassels of accidental counterpoints.  At the repugnantly caustic edge of our perceptual apparatus, a wild bird whistles in full-blown contrast with the “rock” side of the band, latent inside a deep, narrowing tunnel.  There is no guitar fronting, just the obsessive violin systemism and haunted wailing from deep in the valley.  When the smelting guitars finally emerge, the jam is over and we are freed into an immobility of an aviary saturated with twitter, warble and tweet.  Great listen for long northern winters. 

 

Stora David Bagare

This is an old traditional rondo, arranged by the band for acoustic guitar, violin and multiple voices.  After the heady jamming apex, this acts as a seductive, joyful refrain.  Scurrilous yodeling, offbeat chorus, polyphonic multi-voices, and plain ludic shouting follow incoherently.

 

Nu är det dax

The record closes with this drunken waltz led by the violins of Tord Bengtsson and Thomas Mera Gartz. 

 

 

***

 

 

Positions 7 and 9 are most highly recommended, but 4 and 5 include many excellent moments as well. 

 

1. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Arbete och fritid” (1970)

2. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Andra LP” (1971)

3. ARBETE OCH FRITID & Rolf LUNDQVIST: “Slottsbergets hambo & andra valser“ (1972)

4. ARBETE OCH FRITID / KUNSTBANDET “Club Jazz 6” (1972)

5. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Arbete och fritid” (1973)

6. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Ur spår” (1974)

7. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Se upp! för livet” 2LP (1976)

8. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Sen dansar vi ut” 2LP (1977)

9. ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Hallandan” (1978-79)

 

The band also made a record with Margareta Söderberg, which I have never heard:

 

Margareta SÖDERBERG & ARBETE OCH FRITID: “Käringstand” (1976)

 

Shortly after A+F’s closing chapter, Ove Karlsson’s next band recorded a legendary LP – a highly successful relay between the musical sensibilities of the two – very different – decades:

 

NYA LJUDBOLAGET: “Nya Ljudbolaget“ (1980)

 

Jiří STIVÍN: “Zvěrokruh” ******

Recorded 1976

 

 

The decade of 1970s was replete with various fusion styles.  Jazz was illegally married with rock.  Rock flirted with symphonies and suites.  And analog electronics pervaded all styles of music.  Much of the surge in creativity actually reflected the ferment of the 1960s, and by 1974 the thrill was gone.

 

But there are exceptions.  Prague flutist Jiří Stivín made rare inroads into syncretic forms virtually untested elsewhere.  His cogent approach to classical, experimental and free jazz music facilitated his exposure to London’s improvised scene, including Scratch Orchestra and Cornelius Cardew. 

 

In an era when many Czech and Slovak jazz musicians faced significant obstruction by the Communist regime, Stivín’s cross-border activity may be surprising, but the results were nonetheless spectacular.  His Jazz Q quartet recorded a trailblazing session with Radim Hladik’s Blue Effect.  Later collaboration with guitarist Rudolf Dašek also gained notoriety on the continent.

 

By mid-1970s, Stivín achieved a remarkable level of synthesis between electric jazz and baroque music.  He used his versatility to create a poetic idiom of the highest standard.  For many, such shameful heterodoxy would amount to little more than an artistic cul de sac.  Yet Stivín’s luxurious arrangements are not only cosmopolitan and multifarious, but often entirely counterintuitive.  It is therefore not surprising that in later years Stivín specialized in Vivaldi’s and Telemann’s repertoire. 

 

 

Oheň

The first four sections are iconophonic illustrations of the four elements.  Beginning with “Fire”, after a brief anaphora from the chorus (Kühnův Smíšený Sbor), the saxophone flirts with a swift upward run.  The mixed gender chorus part is enunciatory and lofty.  Against this non-formulaic, befuddling introduction, Slovakian pianist Gabriel Jonàš’s entry is comfortably jazzy – recurrent bass figure serving right hand improvisation.  Stivín occupies himself with cymbals and delivers elegant, discrete drumwork.  Then he picks up his alto sax, turning the concept into a virtual trio of modal, very European (Namysłowski?) character.  The tonal organization of the chorus owes a lot to George Russell’s achievements, with a strong emphasis on modern chromatic harmonies placed in a quasi-medieval context.  The tenors keep repeating the original phrase, while the sopranos enjoy more freedom.  A gong overtone and sopranos stringendo close this first eavesdrop into Stivín’s vision.

 

Voda

Water – “acqua, fluves, fluvia”, or so echoes the sprightly dialogue between male and female members of the Kühn chorus.  Gabriel Jonàš’s piano emerges from this celebratory atmosphere in a more Jarrettian mode (in particular his pedal work).  The chorus vanishes slowly, leaving the pianist to twirl solo, but soon resuming its haunting, watery line.  The multifunctionality of the pianistic contribution is remarkable.  Jonàš provides a repetitive figure for Stivín’s flute, and then, brighter and blither, his keyboard prances around, occasionally inviting the chorus to return with its acquatic message.  The flute’s solo is smooth, classical, well-rounded and never overly florid.  Whenever the chorus’s call and response reappears, Jonàš confines himself to courteously hand out a reliable bass line.  Stivín’s circular blowing ends on a high note, not unlike in Corea’s Andalusian themes.

 

Vzduch

“Air” commences with breathy, melismatic vocal.  Cosmic panpipes (actually a syrinx) and mixed male/female Sprechgesang unfold in a multi-layered, jaunty argument.  The panpipes are used here in a neo-classic, rather than folksy (Andean or Carpathian) mode, but the overall mood is bacchanal, even zestful.  Stivín exploits velvety, mushy melismas to warble and tweet on his piccolo.  The simple two-chord configuration suffices to make the composition swing like a school break see-saw on a windy day.  It imparts a sense of mirth, despite, or rather because of the meticulous scoring for strained voices, guttural and plosive effects, scat, clicks and water bottles.  Some of these effects express relief, others – ecstasy.  The looped syrinx recurs with the regularity of a suburban maneige.  We leave the composer, his piccolo soloing and his gasping on alto flute.

 

Země

“Earth” deceives.  From a madrigal-like polyphonic carol exuding declamatory pathos there snakes out Stivín’s alto flute.  Unexpectedly, hand drums and a very mechanical sounding drum crop up (one could almost believe it is a rhythm machine, but is this possible in Czechoslovakia barely 4 years after Kingdom Come’s LP “Journey”?).  The piano part is conservatively syncopated, with the accents perfectly positioned for the rushing flute solo.  By now the chorus is long gone – and “Earth” becomes a mere ‘fusion’ trio of flute, piano and fast motion (Stivín is actually quite impressive on the bongos).  An enigmatic piano window shuts all too soon and “Earth” wins hands down as the most mundane of the four elements.  The final choral rentrée does not alter this impression.

 

Flegmatici

The second quadruple set of compositions features a String quartet (Talichovo Kvarteto).  The cellist intones a romantic line, only sparsely actualized by the partners.  Jonàš’s electric piano is a living testimony to the most commonly usurped sound of the decade.  The strings’ phrasing is beguiling, but entirely predictable, allowing Jonàš to fill in all the available space.  Deservedly or not, an avant-garde jazz rock combo set against a neo-classical string quartet will forever bring back the memories of Quoatuor Margand on Yochk’o Seffer’s trilogy ‘Neffesh Music’. 

 

Sanvinici

This is a busier, nervy track staged for a duet between jolly piano and nonchalant piccolo, piqued against a stately (albeit brief) string quartet intro.  Its plucked meter suggests a ragtime substructure, but one with inbuilt classical commentaries by the Talich Quartet.  Stivín’s piccolo frolics with apelike agility, even though it sends us back 60 years in the history of jazz. 

 

Melancholici

Imagine a deeply melancholic flute, misanthropic electric piano and pastoral strings – bundled together, all this sounds, looks, tastes and smells like a 1970s’ soundtrack.  The key ingredients are all present: the track is downtempo, decorated with an interminable legato and a lonely, mellow melodic line hung loosely above it.  To be fair, there are actually two flute lines multitracked by Stivín, but this is only made apparent when the prolonged complaint forlornly laid out by the romantic strings eventually perishes.  How come Lelouch or Chabrol never made use of such highly lachrymatory commercial potential?

 

Cholerici

In a stunning aboutface, the Talich Quartet sprouts like Soldier String Quartet in Elliott Sharp’s strident hands.  Realism descends only when Stivín’s reeds and Jonàš’s arpeggiated cembalo begin to coruscate like Pierrot Lunaire’s classic masterpiece.  Undisturbed, the quartet keeps sawing as if obeying marching orders.  This groundbreaking experiment would be entirely satisfactory even without the multilayered saxophone finish.

 

Zvěrokruh

This longer track crowns the proceedings.  This is also the only occasion to hear simultaneously the chorus and the string quartet.  The ever lyrical violins rise, immediately doubled up by the chorus.  Once again, Stivín exposes his predilection for seeking out unique tone colors – here on marimba juxtaposed with cembalo tremolos.  The chromospheric flute governs the melodic content; the harmony emanates from the acoustic piano.  With tense string backdrop, tenors and sopranos alternate, pronouncing the Latin names of the zodiac.  This is much more effective than the spoken word on Cosmic Sounds’ LP “Zodiac” (1967) and it is doubtful whether Stivín was familiar with that record.  A rather domesticated saxophone returns in a solo, dragging back the piano from obscurity.   The obsessive tremolo on clavicembalo, in and out of auralscape, never tires.  If there is anything remotely ‘jazzy’ on this unclassifiable piece, then it stems from the piano part and will still fall short of purists’ expectations.  The two players swap roles whenever Stivín’s marimba infuses just enough harmonic support for a pianistic solo.  When the watershed moment finally comes, the entire “band” is at the ready – the flutes, the saxophone, vocal snippets, piano, cembalo, marimba and the strings – peaking in ecstasy redolent of Keith Tippett’s large ensembles.  For a moment, Stivín’s saxophone turns torrid, his phrasing gets shorter.  The apotheosis ends when the Andean piccolo flutters away in complete solitude.  Spectacular. 

 

 

***

 

 

BLUE EFFECT & JAZZ Q: “Coniunctio” (1970)

STIVÍN-DAŠEK-PHILLIPS-SEIFERT-VITOCH-VEJVODA: “5 ran do cepice” (1972)

Jiří STIVÍN – Rudolf DAŠEK: “Our System Tandem” (1974)

Jiří STIVÍN – Rudolf DAŠEK: “System Tandem” (1975)

SYSTEM TANDEM: “Koncert v Lublani” (1976)

Jiří STIVÍN: “Zvěrokruh” (1976)

 

Jiri Stivín’s discography is much more extensive.  Note, however, that he does not feature on any of the Jazz Q records that followed the revolutionary “Coniunctio”.  Although “Coniunctio” and “Zvěrokruh” are in a class of their own, the remaining recordings listed above are also of interest for those who have developed a taste for European borderline avant-jazz of the 1970s.  His later sessions with Pierre Favre were reputedly of equally high quality.

 

Published in: on August 11, 2008 at 9:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Albert MARCOEUR: “Album à colorier” ******

Recorded 1976

 

 

Originally from Normandy, Albert Marcoeur defuses all attempts to classify his art.  In the Anglo-Saxon world, his loquacious, non-linear style is most often compared to Zappa or Captain Beefheart.  Elsewhere, faute de mieux, he is sometimes thrown into the RIO category.  The reasons could be historical (for example his legendary concerts with Zamla Mammaz Manna), but are nonetheless misleading.  It is known, for example, that Marcoeur has been rather critical of Chris Cutler’s ideology (or drumming) and reserved vis à vis improvisation. 

 

And in France?  In France he has been an irritant.  Many years ago, when I was still on the prowl for the elusive “Armes et cycles”, I enquired about his records at one of Paris’s premier second hand jazz shops, not far away from Pantheon.  “Ah non!” exclaimed the jazz buff.  “Non, et non.  Albert Marcoeur, c’est de la variété française!!!”.  Yet, this denigration is as questionable as those RIO or Zappa parallels.  Certainly Marcoeur never shared the glossy stages of France’s arch-moronic pop media. 

 

Although Marcoeur’s beginnings were in party music, he developed his style by experimenting spontaneously in studio.  The results were short, but tightly structured mosaics of rhythmic turns, capsizing harmonics, atmospheric contrasts, melancholic interjections and self-deprecating gags.

 

He certainly cannot sing, and therefore does not even try.  Instead he recites, half-sings, murmurs, comments and digresses.  But from his lyrics emerges a fragile, fidgety, naive mind questioning the absurdities of daily life.  His commonsensical attacks on non-reflective schematism are witty and engrossing.  His poetry, as his music, draws its vitality from brevity.  What we express in entire symphonies, Marcoeur encapsulates in a stanza.  Our epics are his aphorisms. 

 

 

Monsieur Lepousse

This ode to crowded loneliness greets us with street honking.  Everyone avoids Monsieur Lepousse, or so we learn throughout this saccadé, nervous number.  Christian Leroux’s signature guitar beadwork is endorsed here by a male chorus and clarinets courtesy Pierre Vermeire and Albert Marcoeur himself.  Marcoeur’s half-devoiced “singing” introduces us to the universe of the solitary character.  The structure of the song is fractured several times and when the narrator “steps over to the other sidewalk” to avoid Monsieur Lepousse, the time signature changes abruptly.  This bold, vigorous introduction grinds to a halt when a retarded radio commercial cuts in with a meaty Hammond organ. 

 

Le fugitif

A embarrassing story that could draw many interpretations.  It opens with a party talk, until a Mark Boston-like angular bass (Pascal Arroyo) rivets our attention to the periples of the narrator seeking refuge in the restrooms of coffee shops.  Despite the full-blown orchestration encompassing guitar (François Ovide), bassoon (Denis Brély), soprano saxophone (François Lassale), bass clarinet (Pierre Vermeire) and alto saxophone (Albert himself), the lead vocal has been mixed up front, à la française.  The dominance of the voice in the mix and the revolutionary character of Marcoeur’s infantile Weltanschauung generated exorbitant expectations at the time of these recordings.  But the cult following that his poetry accrued was later disavowed by the artist.  Here, he delivers the dark-humored text at hyper-speed.  Back in the restroom, the narrator is startled: “someone wants to enter” – his panic is accentuated by a vicious wind section fanfare which sounds like proto-punk jazz avant la lettre.  Were it not for the vocal mix, this could be Doctor Nerve’s downtown greeting. 

Our character is told that the café will close soon; he picks up a bundle of used toilet paper and leaves the premises.  Nobody noticed that where he was – or so we are told by a comforting trio of bass, guitar and saxophone.  He moves to another café, followed by a voyeuristic phrase from the saxophone. 

 

Le nécessaire à chaussures

Le nécessaire à contrastes…  Between a plaintive murmur and an ultra fast, anguished vocal eruption that prefigures punk.  Against an incessant, jerky fusion bass (Pierre Vermeire), two drums (Gérard and Claude Marcoeur) and guitar, Marcoeur spits out his story of an onset of depression after the loss of the shoeshine set and the partner’s indifference to the character’s plight.  The piece develops around a pathological clash between the hushed abandon of the storyteller and explosive vandalism from trumpet (Gérard Nouvel), trombone (Pierre Vermeire) and clarinet (Albert Marcoeur).

 

Le père Grimoine

With acoustic piano, Marcoeur delivers, sotto voce, a melancholical elegy for an old man who dies in his bed, witnessed only by his orphaned, thirsty plants.  The bass and drum duo of Pascal Arroyo and Claude Marcoeur is pleasantly impressionistic and emollient.  An effete, wimpish chorus sidesteps the satirical minefield and the heartfelt mood is further enhanced by Marcoeur’s breaking voice.  He quavers down to an Italian-style recitative with acoustic piano, only to receive a calibrated support, again, from the mellow rhythm section, the underwhelming chorus and bandoneon (Michel Cousin). 

 

Doctorine

This begins with an exotica-styled percussive intro, quickly overturned by a Middle Eastern flute (François Lasalle).  Imperceptibly, the dynamic surges, culminating dubiously with an overblown, strained bass clarinet sforzando and a chorus of pseudo-castrati.  This will remain an instrumental étude, distinguishing between a melodious climax, an overdrive bass and the ever vulnerable, sheepish chorus.  Despite its over-reliance on sentimental tail-offs, it works.

 

Le jus d’abricot

After a brief guitar and bass opening, a fanfare of fake jazz saxophones and balafon snaps with a force of a category five hurricane.  But a surprise is just around the bar.  Were it not for the obsessional, husky sax screech, we would probably be beguiled that la chanson française n’est pas loin.  In fact, Marcoeur’s non-melodic, ultra-rapid recitation is sequestred by a refrain of cleanly soaring notes that could turn him into a radio personality.  What saves him from the ignominy is the Microscopic Septet-like arrangement for strident horns (Peter McGregor, Marc Duconseille, Gérard Nouvel, Pierre Vermeire) balafon and bongos (Gérard Marcoeur).  You have to go back to Michel Portal’s early recordings (e.g. “Splendid Yzlment”) to find a similarly dissenting reed orchestration in France.

 

La cueillette de noix

The absurd text about a nut collector, obsessed with his annual ritual, eventually turns into a Marcoeurian version of Nicene Creed…  The texture of the composition is entirely subjugated to the power of the text.  It adumbrates, illustrates, contrasts and obscures the surrealist narrative.  Guitar, bass and baritone saxophone enter impassively, camminando.  The lullaby-like tenderness sounds somewhat fallacious, doubled with dissonant piccolos, reed pipes (Lassalle and Vermeire) and a choir of naughty boys.  As often in Marcoeur’s “songs”, constancy and continuity are poor bets.  All of a sudden, guitars and a rhythms section pick up in a distinctly ‘fusion’ mode.  François Ovide’s narration is equally transient.  A barrage of flutes and guitars strikes, tangentially accompanied by a very liberal percussion.  The bizarre ending of the “prayer” is lined with very secular saxophones.

 

Elle était belle

One of Marcoeur’s most memorable stories is rendered atemporal as a ballad of infatuation.  The narrator – a young saxophone player – fancies a club-going beauty, but his emotions are distinctly fragile and girlish.  Whereas in other songs, Marcoeur’s observations partake a whiff of fresh infantilism, the expressive confessions of this narrator are almost vaginal.  The male choruses reiterate the character’s longing after an inaccessible object of desire.  But then, Marcoeur’s rendition falls into a quasi-comical opera buffo territory.  “What is the name of the instrument that you play?” she asks.  “I play saxophone.  It’s ugly, she says, I like guitar better”.  The plasticity of the male chorus throws us back to the 1960s style, yet avoids the farcical reefs of doo-woop hoods or surf-‘n’beach far niente.

 

Fermez la porte

Pierre Vermeire’s only composition on this record is a juxtaposition of eavesdropping on a conversation, door slamming and a fin de siècle-type brass band crowned with a puerile piccolo.

 

La d’dans

The band’s tour de force.  The group is finally revealed as a potent dynamo of woodwind power and guitars.  Marcoeur shouts out a bizarre story of a workman whose face was covered with dirt that turned into a veritable mask, until the day it fell off and he had to look for a new job.  In a deranged exhibit of metatextual self-deprecation, the ramshackle chorus begins to quarrel, but the recording engineer encourages the gang to plod on.  We will never know if the musicians really tell us something or just play, maybe play at playing themselves.  The amusing mirror images distort Marcoeur “singing”, so closely shadowed by the guitar and exquisite drumming from Marcoeur brothers (Claude and Gérard).  The raw power of the ferocious, brazen reed section commands respect.

 

Ouvre-toi

In a 180 degrees reversion, a very sugary brass band illustrates the conative monologue.  “Open yourself, but close the door”, supplicates the author. 

 

***

 

If you understand French, or can get hold of the translations, then you’ll never tire of Marcoeur’s talent as a composer and a lyricist.  For everyone else, I recommend in particular positions 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7.  Position 12 is a marvelous, albeit short, animated film graced with one of Marcoeur’s familiar themes.  The most recent addition is, unfortunately, less convincing.

 

1. Albert MARCOEUR: “Albert Marcoeur” (1972-73)

2. Albert MARCOEUR: “Album à colorier” (1976)

3. Albert MARCOEUR: “Armes et cycles” (1979)

4. Albert MARCOEUR / THIS HEAT: “Revue cassette Tago Mago” MC (1979)

5. Albert MARCOEUR: “Celui où y’a Joseph” (1983)

6. Albert MARCOEUR: “Compte rendu d’analyse” SP (1984)

7. Albert MARCOEUR: “Ma vie avec elles” (1985-90)

8. Albert MARCOEUR: “Sports et percussions” (1992-93)

9. Albert MARCOEUR: “M.a.r. et cœur comme le coeur” (1982-94)

10. Albert MARCOEUR: “Plusieurs cas de figure” (1998-2000)

11. Albert MARCOEUR: “L’apostrophe” (2004)

12. Albert MARCOEUR: “Bus 24” DVD (2006)

13. Albert MARCOEUR: “Travaux pratiques” (2007)

 

One of Marcoeur’s pieces can also be heard on the compilation entitled ”Pièces pour standards et répondeurs téléphoniques”.

 

Over many years, Marcoeur created dozens of musical scripts for performances and other media, but, unlike, say, Amy Denio, the artist has decided not to publish them in any form.  On the other hand, Sonic Asymmetry clings to the hope that the concerts that led to the creation of Von Zamla will eventually be published one day. 

 

Early in his career Marcoeur appeared on François Bréant’s records, but this was a very different music.  However, three members of Bréant’s early band joined Marcoeur’s sessions. 

Published in: on July 26, 2008 at 8:24 am  Comments (6)  
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Günter SCHICKERT: “Samtvogel“ ******

Recorded 1974

 

Berlin-based Günter Schickert has made a lasting contribution to the art of metric multiplication through masterful control of rhythm and pitch patterns on his echoing devices.

 

Trained as a trumpetist, Schickert’s opted for electric guitar as his main instrument.  Whereas academic and downtown artists resorted to mathematical sources of inspiration (e.g. Fibonacci series), Schickert remained an intuitionist – layering coherent scales by playing several tracks at the same time.  His results are to mathematics what Möbius strip may be to visual art. 

 

Schickert avoided the pitfalls of sequencer automatism, which reigned supreme in the mid-1970s.  Although other German musicians eventually attained similar results, Schickert single-handedly created and destroyed an entire musical genre.  Few of his followers ever matched the uncanny precision of his concatenated rhythms and pitches. 

 

He was joined by Axel Struck and Michael Leske to form GAM in the second half of 1970s.  It is not clear if Schickert has been musically active since the early 1990s.  His recordings have remained undeservedly obscure. 

 

 

 

Apricot Brandy

Like an amalgam of hypnagogic visions, “Apricot Brandy” relies on an unlikely combination of molecular meters, bubbled up by Schickert’s guitar and the maestro’s pickled, ineffectual voice.  The spiderweb of his guitar-generated waves gradually fills up with masses of sluggish echoes and counter-echoes.  Some accelerate into a short-lived dash and eject like bolides. Others slither leisurely and ferment into mucus of inexorable retardation.  From this incessant vortex emerge self-reflecting voices and an increasingly rectilinear, almost staccato guitar reverb.  Schickert’s voice is multilayered – warm, close and incomprehensible, but more distinctive in the background.  The blurred images submerge the spellbound listener until the 6-note theme recurs shortly before the recess.  It rounds off this magical moment of rock avant-garde and raises the question whether later artists who strayed into similar territory (DDAA, Trembling Strain, Gilles Rieder, Frajerman) were cognizant of Schickert’s groundbreaking statement here. 

 

Kriegsmaschinen, fahrt zur Hölle. 

This 16-minute composition begins with a faint shadow of rotating blades – a rotor, or maybe flywheels.  Two or three high pitch sounds flicker indifferent to inconsequential sonic effects that leak and ebb away without follow-up – an occasional guitar chord, an anemic tinkle, a paltry subterfuge.  Such sonic incommunicados are finally conquered by Schickert’s trademark – a resonating cascade built from a multiplication of legible, carefully defined pitches.  On this foundation, the “rotor” reverb constructs a quilt for a sequenced “melody”.  Schickert’s manipulation of echoes will cause fantasmic auditory misperceptions.  It sounds as if as many as 3 or 4 guitars were playing together – either in unison or in some redefined harmonic arrangement.  The prevailing beat is crowded with additive fill-ins, leading to an illusion increased tempo – a mere illusion only, as in a 16-bar Indian tintal.  Most of time, Schickert’s vowels resound without any apparent semantic content, but when the dynamic slumps, he repeats heavily sequenced slogans directed against “war machines”.  The dominant pattern is of abrupt dynamic swells and a more measured de-emphasis.  These shifts in dynamics are coupled with intra-meter echoing, generating pleasantly disorienting, almost hallucinogenic sensations.  The sheer avalanche of helical superposition makes it impossible to build expectations on when the next cascade will materialize.  If there is a broadly linear trend, it lies in the guitar assaults, which multiply and increase the pitch range at each return. 

 

Wald

“The Forest” is a more meditative piece, organized around a mysterious, bionic call-and-response, drenched in inimitable echo.  In this tender, almost pastoral setting, the undulating effects are glassy, endowed with sleek resonance.  Somewhere behind, lurks the now familiar “propeller”, but it does not (yet) disturb the arborescent, cheery aura.  After several iterations a bass line ominously surges underneath.  A fast alternating tremolo of high notes steps in, then vanishes only to return without resonance.  The proceeding is at the antipodes of the woolly, comfy notes that cradled the first several minutes of “Wald”.  The track gains in impetus and sonorousness.  Low-end “rotor” sound whipsaws, alternating with higher pitched notes, but without dissonance.  Throughout, Schickert sticks to his picking style – eschewing the automatism of analogue sequencer that dominated much of Berlin music at that time.

 

***

 

“Samtvogel” left over a primacy effect that was difficult to overcome.  Still, the formula retained its attractiveness on the other recordings as well.

 

Günter SCHICKERT: “Samtvogel” (1974)

GAM: “1976“ (1976)

GAM: “Eiszeit“ (1978)

Günter SCHICKERT: “Überfällig” (1979)

Günter SCHICKERT: “In den Zeichen von Sabine Franek-Koch“ (SP) (1981)

Günter SCHICKERT: “Kinder in der Wildinis” (1983)

Günter SCHICKERT: “Somnambul“ (1980-1994)

 

Schickert participated in other obscure bands in Berlin – Ziguri Ego Zoo and UFOrchestra, the former of which mutated into No Zen Orchestra, leaving over one, highly recommended experimental rock record:

 

NO ZEN ORCHESTRA: “Invisible College“ (1987)

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 8:22 pm  Comments (4)  
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ARCHIMEDES BADKAR: “II” *****

Recorded 1974-76

 

 

Archimedes Badkar were a sizable conglomerate of highly talented Swedish musicians who enjoyed straddling the uncertain ground between European folk traditions, unjazzy improvisation and exotic panethnicity.  Although on vinyl few of their compositions extended 10 minutes, the free-flowing form of these pieces indicates that their musical adventures must have been more lengthy affairs.  

 

The band’s debut was recorded in a movable line-up of Per Tjernberg (keyboards), Peter Rönnberg (guitar), Matts Hellqvist (guitar and bass), Christer Bjernelind (bass), Kjell Andersson (drums), Tommy Adolfsson (trumpet), Jörgen Adolfsson (saxophone) and Pysen Eriksson (percussion).  Multi-instrumentalist Ingvar Karkoff later replaced Rönnberg, but only appeared on the second LP.  By the time Archimedes Badkar recorded its third LP, Bengt Berger and Peter Ragnarsson took responsibility for the increasingly complex polyrhythmic exoticism. 

 

Clearly, Archimedes Badkar fully digested the seeds planted in Sweden by Don Cherry in the early 1970s.  Despite the various influences – Balkan, Indian, or West African – the band’s unquestionable musical literacy always allowed them to maintain a sense of balance.  It remains a fresh and engaging experience over three decades later.

 

 

 

Förtryckets sista timme

The double LP begins with a riddle.  Ottoman-sounding lute will weave its gentle threads throughout this first piece, but we are not sure who the player is.  The original LP mentions Anita Livstrand as the officiating tambura player, but some later tracks convince us that she probably handles the droning Indian tambura, not the long-necked Iranian tambura or Yugoslav namesake derived from Turkish saz…  Whoever the virtuoso of this oud-sounding lute is does a heck of a job.  The drone ration is provided by Jörgen Alofsson on static viola.  Pysen Eriksson adds his hand drums with divagations transplanted from raga scales.  As discrete accompaniment is being procreated from an intercourse of tambourine and electric bass, the “oud” lays out uplifting, floating, quasi-improvised beadwork.  Then the viola drone and rhythmic tiles whittle down, allowing the “oud” to handle the spotlight with C-tunings.  The track picks up pace and sidewinds with Christer Bjernelind’s locked-in bass becoming more prominent.  This sublime example of damascened ethno-jazz-folk was written by Christér Bothen, one of Don Cherry’s disciples.

 

Efter regnet

Peter Ragnarsson on digressive tabla and Christer Bjernelind on glimmering, breezy mandola anchor the rest of the band.  Somewhat laconic and parsimonious, the viola lurks behind, overshadowed by faint, subharmonic vocalizations.  Tangential (Indian) tambura plays a very marginal role here – only occasionally pitching in a short phrase.  Throughout the piece, the sensorial and subtle timbral organization evokes the Italian band Aktuala which featured a very young Trilok Gurtu around the same time.  When violin and mandola finally intone a springtime tune, things get progressively denser, with superimposition of patterns moving in various directions. 

 

Vattenfall

This sequel, recorded several months later, is a much faster acoustic guitar theme that evolves into a pleasant theme for multiple lutes and bass. 

 

Rebecca

A sprightly folk song is played on clarinet solo (Kjell Andersson) and mandolin.  After the competent intro, an unwieldy recorder and triangle add some enhancing accents. 

 

Jorden

Sleigh bells invite us to a Nordic ride.  Polarized drone emerges from electric guitars, painting static aquarelle circles.  The bells and coppery jangle occasionally bulge from inside the drone, some generated by faster handiwork and some by dissolute pick scrapes.  At the end, only sleigh bells bid farewell.

 

”Charmante Yérévan” en lät från Armenien

This traditional Armenian song was arranged by Per Tjernberg and Kjell Westling of Arbete och Fritid.  Westling, who had recently recorded with Bengt Berger in Spjärnsvallet, appears here on flutes, disambiguating the melodic lines.  The remaining instruments – electric piano, mandola, acoustic piano, drum and bass – conform to the Sweden’s vintage ‘world music’ style of that era and comparisons with Arbete och Fritid cannot be easily avoided.  When Per Tjernberg’s clavinet rolls into the cusps of twists and hooks, Samla Mammas Manna’s tongue-in-cheek playfulness comes to mind as well.  There are even more references when the duo of Tommy & Jörgen Adolfsson on trumpet and saxophone takes over.  This album was recorded barely four months after Tommy Adolfsson participated in the recording of Berits Halsband’s eponymous LP.  From all this personal distraction emerges an intoxicating classic of European folk.  The candid cascade is finally cut off by the bass and electric piano.

 

Afreaka II

This track prepares us for the abstract sound that Jörgen Adolfsson would soon develop on Iskra’s monumental avant-garde jazz recordings, with bells, chimes, free form acoustic guitar and excursions into piano morphology.  Drumsticks hurt themselves against a metal frame, while less bruised participants embark on a timbral research of mandola and mandolin (Jörgen Adolfsson).  After a short silence, sparse scraps of isolated notes contend with hollow bamboo clacking and half-mute gongs.  Unexpectedly, acoustic guitar quilts a West African-sounding picking line, quickly falling into a groove and gaining support from an army of shakers, rattles and vibraslap.  The resulting, obsessive drumming on woodblocks (Bengt Berger) reminds me of a raucous, percussive trip on a Senegalese ferry not long ago…  Here, Archimedes Badkar engages with passion in a tribal jam, fading out all too soon.

 

Radio Tibet

The first question is – “is it a tuba, or is it a Tibetan trumpet”?  Recalling my own visits to Tibetan monasteries, this sounds rather quiet and unobtrusive by comparison.  Crash cymbals resonate, with long sustain before we can identify the horn sound to be (most probably) Bb bass trumpet.  It is endowed with a round, full sound – way more responsive than the long Tibetan trumpets and more easily likened to a trombone.  When Ingvar Karkoff’s electric guitar tinkers gently with reverb, he is ends up being entirely swallowed by the resulting echo.  Meanwhile, crotals shimmer fluently, ebbing and flowing in and out of focus.  The layers accumulate, impasto style – Pysen Eriksson pitches in on palo de agua and some metallic tubes send out graceful overtones.  By now Karkoff’s guitar turns into a Günter Schickert-like echo guitar, albeit sans its rock rhythm.

 

Tvä världar

Surprisingly, this is formed around additive rhythms on acoustic piano, reminiscent of Steve Reich’s easily recognizable style, and complete with invading horn waves.  Only mandolin’s barely tangible clipping adds a differing shade.  We have sitar and chimes with splashes of liquefied color; and a soprano saxophone sketching a melancholic line.  In a bow to systemic syncretism, the violin chips in in a more Paul Zukofsky-like manner (more active, squeezing many more notes per measure).  These claddings are carried on loops of various lengths and begin to diverge just when a straight-ahead rock drum intervenes.  Once, twice.  Then nothing.  Thrice.  Is this going to be another rock version of classical American minimalism?  L’infonie’s “Vol.33” (1970) comes to mind – the very first of many rock adaptations of Terry Riley’s most famous composition.  But Archimedes Badkar is not launching into rewriting the rules of the genre.  The band will incorporate a salient trumpet, a feeble piano and the Indian tambura forever condemned to its background role. 

 

Jugoslavisk dansk

This is a merry “Yugoslav” dance scored for saxophone, tambourine and solo clarinet.  With some additional ingredients from reticent acoustic piano and bass, the band spins endlessly – there so much buoyancy with just a couple measures!  We would have to wait for Matt Darriau’s Paradox Trio to get a real mouthful of these Balkan hooks. 

 

Indisk folkmelodi och ett tema av Ingvar

Indian tambura drone translates for us the Swedish title (Indian folk melody).  Very un-Indian recorders replace subcontinental shawms and clavinet substitutes for…  well only Ingvar Karkoff would know for what.  The rhythmic framework is maintained by Moroccan bandir and tambourine.  In a fluid, conversational development, Per Tjernberg syncopates on his acoustic piano within the limits of the upbeat theme.  Archimedes Badkar perfected a thematic evolution in which melodious prayers are born from exotic percussive foam, something that this piece does very well.

 

Tvä hundra stolta är

The closing track is a very distinct affair, opening with non-realist cello bowing.  All the other contributions will remain contingent on this – electronic organ overtones, violin squeals and mourning.  It is a highly intense piece of improvisation zooming on a rather unusual instrumental combination.  The violin and cello will seek some classical cues, but to no avail; the exploration will remain free form.  Kjell Anderson scrapes and grates his drums but dares not to beat them.  The plaintive violin brings back the ghost of Dave Cross. 

 

 

***

 

Archimedes Badkar climaxed around the time of “II”, but their first LP is equally recommended. 

 

ARCHIMEDES BADKAR: “Badrock för barn i alla åldrar” (1974)

ARCHIMEDES BADKAR: “II” 2LP (1974-76)

ARCHIMEDES BADKAR: “Tre” (1977)

ARCHIMEDES BADKAR: “Bado kidogo” (1979)

 

For those who enjoy the ethno-jazz side of Archimedes Badkar, several early efforts by Bengt Berger are also worth tracking down:

 

RENA RAMA: “Rena Rama” (1973)

SPJÄRNSVALLET: “Spjärnsvallet” (1975)

Bengt BERGER: “Bitter Funeral Beer” (1981)

BITTER FUNERAL BEER BAND: “Live in Nürnberg“ (1984)

 

Jörgen Adolfsson’s Iskra developed a very different, free form style that at first approach may seem sterile.  These records do, however, reward listeners’ commitment.  You do not have to be the lover of European free jazz to enjoy them.

 

ISKRA: “Jazz i Sverige 1975“ 2LP (1975)

ISKRA: “Allemansrätt“ (1976-77)

ISKRA: “Besvärjelser“ (1979)

 

As mentioned before, Tommy Adolfsson starred on Berits Halsband’s eponymous LP.  The band’s music falls more into avant-fusion category.  It is highly rewarding and has aged very well.

 

BERITS HALSBAND: “Berits Halsband” (1975)

 

Archimedes Badkar’s extended line-up overlaps partly with the ever eclectic Arbete och Fritid and with Don Cherry’s Swedish formations.  Both will qualify for separate treatment.