Posts Tagged ‘Improv’

Wonkystuff

What do Neuschlafen do? The York / Leeds collective which features member of myriad other bands and projects seem to exist more in the ether and in theory than as a tangible entity, despite the existence of a handful of recordings, most of which capture live improvisations in collaboration with other artists.

It’s been some time since the trio, comprising John Tuffen (guitar, synthesiser, vocals), Ash Sagar (bass, percussion, synthesiser, vocals) and Jason Wilson (drums, percussion, synthesiser) combined forces to release anything ‘proper’, although What We Do – a rehearsal room recording committee to (virtual) tape on a Tascam DR07-mkII (with no overdubs) at House Of Mook, Leeds on March 24th, 2019 adheres to their improvised, zero-budget, DIY ethos to the letter. Some of the sound is a little muffled and muddy, and the balance isn’t quite what studio ix would aim for, but it does capture the band’s essence and approach a vast expanse, before

With the exception of the twenty-five second ‘Breath #1’ the eight pieces here are all long-form explorations that sit toward the ten-minute mark. The first, ‘The Set-Up’ could be a literal rendition of its title and is more f a soundcheck than a song, with a wild crash and slash of cymbal mayhem and frenetic jazz percussion over a gloopy, strolling bass.

‘A Slow Hand’, with its wandering, repetitive motifs, has echoes of latter-day Earth and conjures a spaced-out-desert rock / folk hybrid played under sedation. It meanders along, before the playing becomes quieter, and it finally sort of peters out. And yet it doesn’t feel remotely disappointing, because it sounds somehow intentional.

The tracks tend to follow a similar flow in fundamental terms: the drums plod along with frequent and explosive, unpredictable fills punctuating the rhythmic line while the bass wanders around casually while returning to its root motif by way of an anchor just when things start to look like the structure is losing shape and the guitar lays down layers of abstraction and textured atmospherics rather than affecting any semblance of melody or tune.

The title track is a definite standout: landing at around the albums mid-point, it steps up the tempo and goes straight into a chunky jazz-tinged krautrock groove. It’s the rhythm section that dominates, while synths waft and ripple and heavily echoed guitar rings out crisp and clean but at a distance. And whereas the other pieces tend to drift, ‘What We Do’ drives and maintain a linear, forward-facing trajectory as it builds through successive slow-burning crescendos.

It’s the percussion that comes to the fore on the closing tryptic, with the 15-minute ‘Divisions’ constructed around a relentless rhythm around which pulsating synths grind and drone in way that calls to mind Suicide’s debut. Somewhere, maybe about halfway through, when the drums have hit an optimal thump and the cymbals are crashing all over, the bass boosts into an approximation of Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’, while monotone vocals, the words inaudible, drone away in the background as the instrumentation stretches out into a vast expanse, before the final cut, ‘to the end’ breaks loose with a thunderous clatter of freeform percussion and sprightly bass that bounds around freely and fluidly to conclude a set that’s simultaneously tense and mellow, an amalgamation of so many disparate elements that renders it difficult to place. And that’s all the more reason to rate this effort, that broadly sits in the brackets of avant-garde, experimental, jazz, and even post-rock and math-rock, albeit at their most minimal and most deconstructed. And that is what they do.

AA

Neuschlafen – What we do

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Gizeh Records – 10th November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This is certainly quite the collaborative lineup, featuring as it does Aidan Baker (Nadja / Caudal / B/B/S/), Simon Goff (Molecular, Bee & Flower), and Thor Harris (Swans, Shearwater, Thor & Friends). What renders Noplace all the more impressive is that it’s an improvised work, recorded in a single day.

As the press release recounts, ‘having known each other for a number of years and previously contributed to one another’s recordings this trio finally came together as a whole on May 7th 2017 at Redrum Studios in Berlin. In a short, improvised session of just a few hours they set about laying down as much material as possible which was then subsequently edited and re-worked (without overdubs) to form this album.’ And the results are quite something, and I very quickly manage to put aside the thought that the cover art reminds me of the film Up, minus the balloons.

Rippling strings quaver over softly swelling undercurrents while rolling percussion provides a subtle, unobtrusive rhythm as ‘Noplace I’ introduces the album before creeping into the darkness f counterpart piece ‘Noplace II’. And yet it’s very much only the beginning: having been moulded post-recording, the album’s seven individual pieces are structured and sequenced so as to lead the listener on an immersive journey which gradually and subtly moves from one place to entirely another.

‘Red Robin’ builds a pulsating, looping groove overlaid with creeping stealth. Its repetitious motif may owe something to the hypnotic cyclical forms of Swans, but its trance-inducing sonic sprawl also alludes to a hypnogogic reimagining of dance music – and this filters into the spacious ‘Noplace III’, which draws together expansive ambience and, in the distance, shuffling, tranced-out beats, to create something that stands in strange, murky Krautrock / dance territory. Yes, it sounds electronic. Yes, it sounds unique, but at the same time, yes, it sounds familiar in terms of the individual genre tropes. It’s ‘place’ is precisely ‘noplace,’ in that it belongs nowhere specific, yet appeals on many different levels and in many different ways.

Interweaving motifs continue to feature in ‘Tin Chapel,’, but the rhythm here is much more prominent, a weighty four-four bass/snare beat driving a linear road through the sweeping, strings that glide from mournful to tense. The locked-in psyche-hued desert rock bass groove pushes the piece forwards, while at the same time holding it firmly in one place. In turn, it tapers into the bleak, murky expanse that is ‘Northplace’.

The final composition, ‘Nighplace’, brings things down and almost full circle as the percussion retreats into the background amidst a wash of elongated drones which ebb and flow softly.

Noplace certainly doesn’t feel improvised, and while it’s remarkably cohesive, as well as possessing a strong sense of structure, it also reveals a remarkable range, both sonically and compositionally. And irrespective of any context, it’s an engaging and immersive aural experience.

AAA

GZH79-Baker-Goff-Harris-Noplace-Digital-Sleeve

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

Play Loud! Productions – PL063LP

Christopher Nosnibor

Mark E Smith is not Damo Suzuki. Only Damo Suzuki is Damo Suzuki. Damo Suzuki requires no introduction, of course. However, his vast and almost immeasurably influential output seems to exist almost in the ether, his own name and that of CAN being names to conjure with, but perhaps carrying more connotations than actual connection.

Suzuki’ status as an innovator and a one-off requires no comment, either. The fact he’s been going for multiple eternities, and continues to perform sets that are completely off the wall means his reputation remains unharmed, and this release – one more addition to already impressive body of work which essentially stands to define Krautrock – won’t dent that.

As the title suggests, this set was recorded live at Marie-Antoinette, Berlin, Germany, on 24th November 2011. Damo Suzuki was joined on stage by a stellar lineup, consisting of Dirk Dresselhaus (Schneider TM, Angel) on electric baritone guitar and effects; Ilpo Väisänen (Pan Sonic, Angel) on electronics and effects; Michael Beckett (kptmichigan, Super Reverb) on electric guitar and effects; Claas Großzeit (Saal-C) on drums and percussion, and Tomoko Nakasato (Mio, JINN) on dance and electric rake. No, I have no idea what an electric rake is, but on vinyl, each of the album’s half-hour tracks occupies a side of the two-disc set.

Ordinarily, live releases take the best cuts, or the single best night of a tour. Dirk Dresselhaus’ comments which accompany the release suggest that this recording doesn’t necessarily follow that rule, and instead presents an honest account of a singular event: “I find it fairly difficult to say something about how the music in this concert came about, cause we didn’t plan or rehearse anything and hardly were able to hear each other on stage. Wherever it came from, the energy and course of this concert is very much based on group dynamics and an almost telepathic sort of communication, like a swarm of fish. When I mixed the sound later on in the studio I discovered a lot of weird things on the separate tracks: for example Kptmichigan’s guitar signal is changing level for about +/-30 dB once in a while which is a lot and was probably caused by a broken microphone cable. Luckily the fucked up parts made the sound even heavier and more distorted instead of destroying it,” he says.

At times the lack of planning and rehearsal is apparent, but in the main, Live at Marie-Antoinette captures a collective who are capable of a rare musical intuitiveness. And whatever it may have sounded like on stage, and regardless of the occasional stab of feedback and errant extraneous intrusion, the recording captures a tense, atmospheric musical soundscape which transitions across the various parts with a creeping stealth.

To draw attention to any one passage would be to entirely misrepresent the overall arc of the performance. From the tribal chants to the undulating synth-like tones to the slow-building crescendos and the sustained sonic blitzkriegs which absolutely tear through the curtains of sonic decency, each and every aspect of the set is integral to the overall experience, which is built around a series of ebbs and flows, often rising from next to nothing to a whorling tempest quite unexpectedly. And it’s true that the colossal peaks are accentuated by the shuddering volume and crackling distortion they produce. Sometimes, fucked up is good.

This is all part and parcel of the live medium: while the studio affords total control over every aspect of every element of the sound, when playing live, anything can happen. The real test of a band’s capabilities is how they deal with the unexpected eventualities and how they deliver the show to a crowd under adverse circumstances. There is no audience sound on Live at Marie-Antoinette, which means it’s impossible to gauge the audience reaction to the show. But the sound balance suggests the audience were subjected to a punishingly loud and challenging set. It’s probably one of those rare live albums where the recording is more pleasurable than the actual event.

http://playloud.org/archiveandstore/trailers/damosuzuki/trailercode.html

 

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