evan parker / derek bailey / han bennink | the topography of the lungs (1970)

topographyofthelungsThe Topography of the Lungs is one of the crucial early documents of European free improvisation. Recorded in July 1970, this lively, inventive trio record introduced a decade in which European free jazz would increasingly splinter from its American progenitors, developing a new branch with fewer overt roots in the jazz lineage. The album brings together British improvisers Evan Parker and Derek Bailey with Dutch drummer Han Bennink, cross-fertilizing between two of the most prominent national scenes that were pushing towards this attitudinal and aesthetic change in the late ’60s. Continue reading

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max neuhaus / john cage | fontana mix-feed (1966)

fontanamixfeedTechnically, this LP consists of four realizations of John Cage’s 1958 Fontana Mix, an indeterminate graphic score originally intended to be used for a tape piece, with or without additional instruments. To say that, though, is not really to capture the unique nature of this music, or the unique nature of percussionist and electronic music pioneer Max Neuhaus’ take on Cage’s material. In the mid-’60s, Neuhaus approached Fontana Mix with an interpretation so radical that it became a new piece altogether, a combination of Cage’s ideas with Neuhaus’ own. Fontana Mix-Feed, the resulting composite, wasn’t just a reworking of Cage, but a revolutionary step forward in electronic music that remains an exciting listen even though Neuhaus’ innovations have long since entered the musical lexicon as common elements. Continue reading

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fraufraulein | extinguishment (2015)

extinguishmentAnne Guthrie and Billy Gomberg have been playing together as Fraufraulein for years now, and have recorded a number of albums, but this is my first encounter with the duo. Guthrie is a French horn player, Gomberg plays bass guitar, and both musicians also work with field recordings and electronics. According to an informative interview, Extinguishment is based on improvised performances, collaging together studio sessions with live recordings from a 2014 tour and other materials. The result is a rewarding album that deals in some interesting, at times surprising ways with sounds and textures that are somewhat familiar from the last decade-plus of improvised music.

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radu malfatti | one man and a fly (2015)

onemanandaflyRadu Malfatti has covered a fair bit of ground over the years, from his early post-jazz/free improv playing to his ’90s reinvention as a Wandelweiser composer to his various collaborations with Mattin, Keith Rowe, and many others. One thing he’s apparently never done before, though, is release a solo improvised album; One Man and a Fly, recorded in June 2012, is his first. The trombonist/composer has documented himself solo playing his own compositions, and documented his improvisation in small combos (mostly duos) but this marks the first time he can be heard improvising solo on trombone.

It’s a welcome addition to Malfatti’s legacy, and doubly welcome for signalling the resurgence of Richard Pinnell’s Cathnor label, which has been dormant the last few years. This album consists of a single 50-minute piece, and as one would expect of Malfatti, it’s quiet and restrained, with the musician’s sounds melting into the ambiance of the room in which he played. And yet it’s also surprising in the particular ways that Malfatti uses surrounding noises as part of his performance. There’s a sly wit to his playing here that makes this a particularly engaging and thought-provoking example of this kind of ultra-minimalist improvisation. Continue reading

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richard abrams | levels and degrees of light (1967)

levelsanddegreesoflightMuhal Richards Abrams has always been a key figure for the AACM. One of the Chicago-based group’s co-founders, he was also a mentor and inspiration for many of the city’s younger musicians in the ’60s and beyond. Levels and Degrees of Light, recorded in late 1967, was Abrams’ recorded debut as a leader, but he’d been active in the Chicago music scene for a long time before this, first in the ’50s bop scene and later as the organizer of the Experimental Band, a workshop/rehearsal group that was one major antecedent for the AACM itself.

Abrams was of an earlier generation from most of the musicians who gathered around him and formed the core of the AACM. He had been an active bebop pianist as a young man in the ’50s, gradually drifting away from bop as he tried to develop a new music of his own. It was Abrams’ increasing emphasis on writing and composition that would help set apart the AACM from both the roots of ’60s jazz in bop – which minimized compositional elements to place the emphasis on extended solo improvisations – and from most contemporaneous free jazz. Continue reading

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joseph jarman | song for (1966)

songforFollowing Roscoe Mitchell’s Sound, alto saxophonist Joseph Jarman was the second AACM member to enter the studio with Delmark Records’ Chuck Nessa, emerging with Song For, his own contribution to the collective’s early legacy. Jarman’s band, as captured here, was one of the major regular working groups within the late ’60s AACM, along with Mitchell’s sextet and the Anthony Braxton/Leo Smith/Leroy Jenkins trio. Within a few years, Jarman would join the core of the Mitchell group to form the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and increasingly that group would become the public face and most popular manifestation of the AACM’s ideas and influence. In 1966, though, the collective was still mostly undocumented and unknown, especially outside of their Chicago hometown, and various regular and ad hoc groupings within the larger AACM were stretching out in all sorts of varied directions. Continue reading

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roscoe mitchell sextet | sound (1966)

soundSound was, and is, a tremendously important recording. It was the first document of the then-young Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), among the first recorded appearances for most of these musicians, and a first step towards the formation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago a few years later. Sound began the process of spreading the AACM aesthetic beyond Chicago, initiating what would become one of the most influential currents in jazz in the next decade. And though the AACM was by its nature aesthetically broad and eclectic, Sound does provide a satisfying cross-section of many of the innovations, ideas, and sounds that this collective introduced to the jazz lexicon. Continue reading

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musica elettronica viva | friday (1969)

mev_friday Musica Elettronica Viva was an odd and amorphous group whose vision of collective free improvisation, like that of their British peers AMM, presaged many of the developments of avant music in the ’70s and beyond. The group’s membership shifted constantly around a core of American expatriate composers living in Europe: particularly Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski, and Richard Teitelbaum. MEV had been active, in one form or another, since 1966, when they were formed in Rome by Rzewski, Jon Phetteplace, and Allan Bryant, with Curran and others joining soon after. Although initially an ensemble dedicated to performing compositions by the various members, they soon evolved towards free improvisation, playing live music that mixed primitive electronics, conventional instruments, and non-musical objects and devices. Continue reading

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anthony braxton | 3 compositions of new jazz (1968)

3compositionsofnewjazzAnthony Braxton’s debut LP introduced an unconventional, often controversial new talent whose career – spanning decades and still going, without nearly enough attention, today – has been one of the most fascinating in jazz. At the time this was recorded, Braxton was just under 23 years old, an affiliate of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), which had been active (but barely documented on record) since 1965. The boldly titled 3 Compositions of New Jazz was among the first statements of the group, preceded by AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams’ Levels and Degrees of Light (on which Braxton made his first recorded appearance; his own debut was his second) and some of the albums that would lead to the formation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, with records by Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman featuring the extended AACM family.

3 Compositions resonated with the aesthetic being forged on these late ’60s albums. This was a radical new sound in free jazz, paring back the unrelenting energy and frenzied blowing sessions that had become de rigueur in favor of space, extreme dynamics, humor, and versatility in both instrumentation and style. Continue reading

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marc baron | hidden tapes (2014)

ImpressionMarc Baron has entirely remade himself as a musician over the last few years. Once an improvising saxophonist, his uncompromising 2012 solo album caught him at what must have been the end of a transitional period. A resolutely abstract and confrontational work, it alternated uneasy silences with tones played on both sax and electronics, adding incidental noises of mostly uncertain origin. Minimal and unsettling, it could not easily be described as saxophone music of any sort, so it’s not entirely surprising that Baron has now given up the instrument. His latest album Hidden Tapes is a work of tape collage, assembling found cassette tapes, movie excerpts, and bits of sampled classical music into a mysterious, constantly evolving patchwork. Continue reading

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