I’m continually surprised at the rate with which Ernesto Rodrigues releases discs on his superb Creative Sources imprint. As most folks reading this know, the excellent viola/violin/electronics improviser began to document Portuguese and Spanish improvisation several years back and has quickly developed his label into one of the premier outlets for improvisation at the intersection of European free music, electroacoustics, and new music. I recently opened up my mailbox to find a package stuffed with seven of the label’s latest goodies. All told, it’s a strong batch.
Istmo (CS 023) features the fantastic trio of Ferran Fages (acoustic turntable), Ruth Barberán (trumpet), Alfredo Costa Monteiro (accordion), whose initial release Atolón (on Rossbin) was a jarringly noisy slice of reality. On this followup – consisting of two tracks recorded in the fall of 2003 in Toledo and Barcelona – the grit and alien organics of the trio’s debut are back, but the music is slightly less relentless and has a wider textural palette. One of the new elements is Barberán’s wonderful, didgeridoo-like low end ruminations on her trumpet. Her range is really growing these days and this gnarly, crackling trio – with the insane colors Fages whips up often being the least predictable – is the perfect setting for her. But the group language is growing too, now including passages where they ease back on the throttle and assemble relatively delicate layers of tonality. The key figure here is Monteiro, who really shapes this music with his silences, his wheezing, his aggression, and his ever-so-occasional lyric gesture. Tough, fascinating, and wonderfully unpredictable stuff.
In April 2004, Claudio Rochetti (turntable, small percussions, radio), Fhievel (field recordings, objects), and Luca Sigurta (cymbals, objects, toys) got together to record the two improvisations comprising Pocket Progressive (CS024). What distinguishes this recording from the others in this batch is Fhievel’s use of field recordings. In some ways, this recalls Jason Kahn’s and Greg Kelley’s recent experiments with these materials. But this trio works in an area that is more expansive than Kahn’s Songs for Nicolas Ross and less caustic than Kelley’s I Don’t Want to Live Forever. Muffled street and animal noises float in and out while flinty percussive and metallic noises squirm together as if craving release from some containment. Much of the first track sounds like a bunch of crinkled-up aluminum foil straightening itself out. And while the second piece retains a roughly similar feel, the very closing minutes open up a huge echo-drenched space followed by the tiny sounds of skittering electronic mice and sine tones. What really compels during these pieces is how distinct this trio sounds, considering the instrumentation (you’d be hard pressed to pick out just where those toys and radio and so forth are at work). Almost like the fragment of a Xenakis piece distilled to its essence and improvised over the course of 35 minutes, this crackling, sizzling trio is excellent. They have a clear focus on specific sounds and areas of the music, and they let things develop patiently.
One of Creative Sources’ sub-genres is the solo winds recording (check out Bertrand Gauguet’s recent Etwa). Wade Matthews is a new name to me, though he has apparently been an active presence in Europe over the last few years. On Aspirations & Inspirations (CS026) he sticks to alto flute and bass clarinet alone, using close miking to conjure up some wild, unearthly sounds – often he produces overtones, sympathetic vibrations and the like which suggest overdubbing has occurred (it hasn’t). Feedback hums, pinched breath noises, radio static, and more all emit from Matthews’ lungs and mouth. Recorded between 2002 and 2004, these nine studies of breath (dig the etymology in the title?) are each compellingly atmospheric. Some highlights include “Remembering William” (where Matthews generates a pretty wild pulse track with his fingering, layering rough breathy slashes atop it), “Discontinuing continua” (with its soft chirrups and rustles from bass clarinet), and “Cassandra Wakes Up and Thinks for Herself” (with Robert Dick-like flute magic from drops in the pond all the way to spitty choruses). My favorite is “Scappa Flow,” the most seriously breathy of these pieces, almost like a Berio Sequenza for amplifier hiss and wah pedal. Nice stuff.
Sunday Sundaes (CS030) is an altogether more declarative and caustic solo reeds performance, by the veteran Stefan Keune (who here plays alto and sopranino saxophones). Covering a lot of bases, these eleven tracks (recorded from August – September 2004) concentrate on the saxophones’ harsher properties: squeals, wails, hollers, and blurts. From the opening “Conically Speaking” – where Keune seemingly tries to force as much air through the bell as possible, in almost Gustafsson-like voice – you know you’re in a different territory than one usually occupies on a Creative Sources release. “The Mole” and the long “Fric Frac” concentrate on overblowing and split tones almost exclusively; as an essay on harshness, this is pretty effective stuff (particularly the super-intense tracks like “Ambit Gambit”). But it’s not really where my ears are these days.
Several years on from their first release Luwa (on Rossbin), Ailack (CS027) finds Tetuzi Akiyama (tape delayed electric guitar), Jason Kahn (analogue synthesizer, percussion), and Utah Kawasaki (dismantled Roland synthesizer, cell phone) in an altogether more provocative place than their earlier music. Fan that I am of these musicians, I felt like Luwa wasn’t as successful as it could have been. This recording – a single, 35-minute track recorded in April 2004 at Tokyo’s Kid Ailack Art Hall – benefits from a better acoustic, a better recording, and better empathy among the players. The main musical relationship is between the vast reverberation (which often flirts with tonality) that permeates much of the beginning, and various rude noises that slash, shove, and kick at the drift towards settled meditative space. To me, the central presence here is Akiyama; he gets quite deep into his twisted, fractured blues, which emerges here like some alien language. But nothing really gets complacent in this music, as during the second half of the piece things get quite dense and loud (a surprise given the players involved), and the music starts to sounds like a giant piece of tuned metal expanding outward. One of the best discs of this batch.
Kenon (CS028) features a trio of up and coming Japanese improvisers: Kazushige Kinoshita on violin, Masahiko Okura on alto saxophone and tubes, and – the best-known of the three – Masafumi Ezaki on trumpet and metals. The disc opens with metallic clangs that almost recall Threadgill’s hubkaphone or the early improvisations of the Creative Construction Company (albeit with different musical sensibilities). Like a door which opens slowly to reveal the room within, the two long improvisations (from June 2004) reveal themselves cautiously, one fragment at a time, as metals and tubes establish the space within which Kinoshita can roughly press his bow on the bridge, Okura and Ezaki can wheeze and spit and hiss. The first track is mostly percussive – scrapings, clicks, and pops that bring the music to boil, occasionally letting off steam. The second is slightly more active, both in terms of density and the occasional tonality that creeps in (I was reminded of early Partch studies somehow). An unpredictable, satisfying disc.
Finally, one of the strongest, most beguiling releases of this batch is Amber (CS031). A wickedly good quartet – Rhodri Davies (harp), Robin Hayward (tuba), Julia Eckhardt (viola), and Lucio Capecce (soprano saxophone, bass clarinet) – deliver two rich improvisations, recorded in April 2004 in Berlin. Four acoustic instruments are reduced to their granular essence, and these instrumentalists reconstruct sound through their expert, knowing use of breath and articulation. The huge round sound from Hayward’s tuba, the gentle hiss and release from lightly bowed strings or reedwork, and the always unpredictable Davies work in concert to create a singular sound. Whether bowed, breathed, plucked, or struck, the instruments slowly merge into one another to produce a rich palette where tones blend, colors combine, and shapes shift. What’s even better is the way in which the quartet frequently achieves – through exactly this kind of blending – a sound that is very close to electronic music, with nuances of feedback, sine tones, and so forth (I suspect Davies may be using an Ebow here). In general the mood is very still and quiet, so that the few passages of raucousness and aggression have more power. One of the better discs I’ve heard so far this year.
Taken together, this septet of discs is worthy not just for their quality but also for their documentation of this music (and some of its lesser known players). Rodrigues already has a new batch out. In the meantime, however, don’t miss out on some of these gems.
~ Jason Bivins