Posts Tagged ‘Free Jazz’

Nakama Records – NKM014 – 23rd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The title sounds like a Radio 4 quiz, or perhaps some selections for ‘Call my Bluff’. The accompanying blurb outlines how the album consists of three nonsensical musical conversations between Malaysian nylon guitar player Goh Lee Kwang and Norwegian bass player Christian Meaas Svendson, and describes it as ‘the story of the first encounter between two different mindsets, nationalities and generations trying – and totally failing at – making any sensible dialogue with their respective musical languages.

Success and failure are relative, of course, and one may contend that there’s no success like failure. It’s in the disconnect between artistic vision and the material realisation that unexpected creative outcomes emerge. The three pieces – I would probably hesitate to describe them as ‘compositions’ given that they are, in effect, haphazard jumbles of notes played over and across one another – are indeed sonic babble. But it’s still just freeform jazz to my ears. And for once, this isn’t a complaint or criticism.

The description reminds me of those days when every conversation feels like a misfire, and you miscommunicate with everyone you encounter. Try as you might, you never connect as intended. A jovial quip lands as an insult, a reply to a simple question leaves your interlocutor nonplussed and you realise you’ve misunderstood or misspoken, or otherwise just gabbled a stream of random bollocks for no apparent reason. You question whether the fault lies with you, or the world at large. You burn with shame. You want to hide away, an avoid people for a while. I say ‘you’; I mean me, of course, and as usual.

It takes a certain – nay, special – ability to separate and absorb any shame or embarrassment to place a document of those misfires and disconnects out into the public arena with the free admission of failure. But then again, failure in intent does not necessarily equate to artistic failure. And the disjointed, discordant jumble of notes on the three pieces – respectively entitled ‘Gibberish’, ‘Balderdash’, and ‘Drivel’ are entertaining and stand as art in the sense that they document a collaborative creative process.

At the heart of Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel is an exploration of language, and the apparent obstacle of linguistic disparity. I’d long assumed -and believed – that the language of sound transcended linguistic boundaries. But on delving into the development of this skewed collaboration, I realise that while this may be broadly true, it is not a universal truth, and am reminded that context counts for a lot.

But the language itself matters. Dialogue doesn’t have to have explicit meaning or linear cohesion to convey something. It’s as much about interpretation as intention: the receiver / listener will inevitably bring their own perspective and one man’s throwaway nonsense is another’s serious art. The accompanying pencil for the owner to draw their own art into the blank white cover is a nice touch, which adds to the interactivity. The listener is inevitably – and incontrovertibly -implicated in the process, and this inclusion only serves to accentuate this point.

And for all its self-effacing flippancy, Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel stands as a work of art. The very word selection is telling. In dismissing its very own existence as lesser, it does so using elevated language, indicative of an advanced and expanded vocabulary, while also adhering to the rule of threes. This is not by any means an illiterate work. Quite the contrary, in fact: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel is a celebratory work.

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Goh Lee Kwang & Christian Meaas Svensen – Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel

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Hispid Records / PNL Records

Christopher Nosnibor

Another one lifted from the epic and eternal backlog, Pan-Scan Ensemble’s Air and Light and Time and Space is a document of the first live improvisation by this Scandinavian collective centred around the ever-active free jazz drumming luminary Paal Nilssen-Love. Perhaps as one would predict, the nine players, with two drummers, three trumpets, a piano, a whole slew of saxophones and a flute, contrive to create quite a dizzying racket.

There are just two pieces on the album: ‘Air and Light’ and ‘Time and Space’. The former is a punchy twelve minutes in duration, and after a calm beginning, with just sporadic clatters of soft percussion to punctuate the aural vista, all free jazz hell breaks loose around five minutes in. Discordant piano and wild brass fly in all directions simultaneously, different keys and time signatures clash. It’s not music that will help soothe a headache, that’s for certain.

On ‘Time and Space’, things begin in a calmer place, and the incidental rolls and rumbles are slow but jarring. It all seems quite restrained. However, by the six-minute mark, it’s a frenzied mayhem of horns and arrhythmic drums crashing and…. It’s a dizzying cacophony, and after a while, when they finally bring things back down a couple of notches, it’s quite a relief.

The second extended crescendo is slower, more deliberate, weightier, but no less dramatic. Finally, some twenty-five minutes in, something recognisable as a tune emerges. Dolorous piano rolls over a steady, insistent beat. The horns still run wild all over the place, but they’re held in check by the solid rhythm. It builds and builds to an immense climax.

I know that this type of free jazz improv is supposed to be ‘difficult’, and some works are more difficult than others. In the main – and this is purely my personal taste rather than a comment on its musical or artistic merit – I find it all too much. Air and Light and Time and Space is a bewildering tumult of chaos, busy, uncoordinated and in some respects wilfully unmusical. None of those things are bad in themselves, but I struggle to grasp the purpose beyond self-entertainment for the musicians in the room. Apart from the last seven minutes or so, when a certain sense of structure coalesces from out of the chaos, it’s not fun. Nevertheless, the passion of the players is unmistakable, and the way they do bounce off one another to evolve the ebbs and flows and monstrous crescendos is impressive.

Pan Scan Ensemble