Stone Age HAA The Holy MAA

Stone Age HAA The Holy MAA

Writing - Noise - Magic

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Hello, friends! I've asked several friends to share three releases they've been listening to lately. Not all-time favorites, just what feels interesting right now. A few weeks ago I posted picks from Wyatt Howland and Mitch Ribis, and now here are picks from Tom Orange. Who is Tom Orange? Check out my June 2015 interview with this talented musician and organizer:TOM ORANGE 

Amanda, thanks for the invite to share some recordings I've recently found engaging. Despite your reassuring qualifications--just three selections, and they don't have to be recent, earth-shattering or otherwise definitive--I've been having a hard time with this. My biggest challenge was limiting it to three, since at any given moment there's usually a dozen or more releases that have my attention. But I've decided to settle in on one recording each (two new, one not) from three of my ongoing favorite idioms, from broadest to narrowest: world music, free jazz, and avant guitar rock.

When you think about it, "world music" is ridiculously broad and more than a little Eurocentric, since what is usually meant by the phrase is non-Western music. I can't imagine another "genre" that could include a greater variety of styles (instrumental and vocal), tonalities and rhythms. At the same time, I'm continually fascinated by the similarities that transcend often very distant geographic and cultural barriers. I mean, I've heard Southeast Asian string music that has pitch bends as wicked as the Delta blues stylings of guitarist Robert Pete Williams, while some Vietnamese instrumental music sounds like the craziest free jazz--and I'm pretty sure the musicians in question never even remotely crossed each others' paths. Investigating a "genre" so vast is intimidating at first but ultimately no different from any other: once you find something you like, look for other stuff from that style, region or record label. And we're blessed in Cleveland with a downtown public library with the largest collection of world music I've ever seen. Over the years, I've focused my interests regionally in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and instrumentally on reeds, strings and percussion.

Here's one I rediscovered on my hard drive a while back called Armenia: Traditional Musicians from Tavush, on the French label Inedit from 2002. From the liner notes, Tavush sounds like a beautiful place, heavily wooded with lots or rolling hills. It's in Northeastern Armenia, so Turkey is to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east and Iran to the south. In other words, right at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The CD offers mostly reed/flute and drum music played at public gatherings like weddings and funerals, with a long tradition going back to the 4th century CE. On first listen, the music probably sounds a little Middle Eastern and a little Turkish, which is pretty accurate. The flute is played in a manner much like the Turkish ney, with incredible breath control and deep pitch bends; the reed instruments, the zurna and duduk, are found by other names elsewhere (shehnai in India, mizmar in the Middle East, oboe in the West) and played with lots of subtle pitch bending. On this record, there are often two of these wind instruments played at once: the leader (in this case, a man named Benik Abovian) plays the melody, while the accompanist uses circular breathing to maintain a continuously sounded drone pitch, which many listeners associate with string music from India. So it's quite hypnotic, entrancing and beautiful stuff. And also sad when you think of the proximity to Turkey and the genocide the Turks exacted on the Armenian people just over 100 years ago (and Turkey still won't fully acknowledge). The music survives though, and in the words of Cleveland's Albert Ayler, is "the healing force of the universe."

Music in many places regrettably remains a man's world, and jazz is no exception. And when women have broken into the jazz world, it's almost exclusively been as vocalists or pianists. Fortunately that is changing. More women are performing and recording adventurous and compelling music on a variety of instruments than ever before: Ingrid Laubrock and Haley Niswanger on saxophones, Lina Allemano on trumpet, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Joelle Leandre on bass, Tomeka Reid on cello, Kate Gentile on drums to name just a few. (My god, that would make an incredible band! We've brought four of them to play Cleveland in the past two years.)

One of my favorite new labels for experimental music in the free jazz tradition is contributing to this in a major way by, as I see it, aggressively seeking women to record and promote. Relative Pitch Records was co-founded 4 years ago by my friend Kevin Reilly. We met through a mutual friend around 13 years ago, at a time when he had (and presumably still has) the largest collection of Bob Dylan recordings I'd ever seen. Like, a wall of them. He liked some jazz too, mostly classic Blue Note label hard bop, like Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter. But he started coming to free jazz shows with us and got hooked pretty quickly. And he never hesitated to engage the musicians in conversation after a performance. When I left the East Coast in 2007, I lost touch with Kevin, but a few years ago I saw these great recordings coming out of this new label and eventually realized this was his doing! We got back in touch, and he's been super generous donating CDs to our music library at WCSB. The latest batch he sent included 7 CDs, 4 of which have women playing prominently in them. That might not sound great, but I guarantee you it's way ahead of most labels.

That batch of 7 CDs was such a treat: some great players brand new to me, other familiar players in new and different contexts, and great crossover between otherwise different genres (like Dead Neanderthals, a Dutch sax-drum duo that's a perfect blend of free jazz and death metal). But there's one CD I couldn't wait to hear and didn't disappoint: All The Ghosts At Once. Chris Corsano is a drummer from Western Massachusetts who's got some well-deserved attention in 15 years of gigging and recording, particularly because of his early crossover into avant rock work with guitarists like Thurston Moore, Jim O'Rourke, Nels Cline, Ben Chasny and, closer to home, noisers like Mike Shiflet and Spencer Yeh. He's also recorded with an equally impressive list of veteran free sax players, and now we can welcome newcomer Mette Rasmussen to this list. She's Danish by birth but now lives in Norway, which has been a hotbed of free jazz ever since Albert Ayler first spent time over there in the early 1960s after his stint in the army. The Scandanavian players today are technically some real bad-ass dudes, but Rasmussen really steps up and shows the boys how it's done. Check out these videos: the first a Rassmussen solo set in what I can only assume is some European courtyard a duo, the second a duo with Corsano from a recent tour. And you can bet I'm gonna work hard to get them to play Cleveland when they tour the States!

The self-titled debut recording from Cleveland's Magnetic West has remained one of those CDs I can't take out of my player since the band released it 4 months ago. I first met these guys through the monthly OutLab open jams that Dan Wenninger and I have hosted for two years now, first at Mahall's and now at the Bop Stop. Joey Sopko I think I got to know first; he plays bass for MW but at the time I didn't know he played anything. He had been coming to free jazz shows here for a while, and one in particular was an OutLab in April 2014 that featured Glimpse Trio, with his guitar wizard brother Mike. (An aside: Mike was then so impressed with the music scene here that he moved back to town this summer!) The other two members of Magnetic West were also OutLab regulars. Where a lot of guitarists just plug in and crank up the volume, Evan Moran continually impressed me with his control and restraint, along with the dizzying array of effect pedals he typically brought. You know, as a sometimes guitar player I can comfortably say that we're easy to come by, dime-a-dozen, very challenging to stand out and really do something different like Evan does. Good drummers are also hard to find, but at this one OutLab, lacking drummers there as we sometimes are, this guy Mat, who looked like he might still be in high school, comes up to me on the break and says, "I play a some drums, is it ok if I sit in?" I handed him the sticks, and he went behind the kit and killed!

By late that summer or early that Fall, I needed a local opening act for a veteran touring guitar-bass-drum free jazz / avant rock crossover act, and I wrote Evan and asked, "Can you put a group together for this show?" And, like, the next day he wrote back and said that he, Joey and Mat were Magnetic West. It turned out to be a crazy night because the power went out at Now That's Class (and that whole stretch of Detroit Avenue actually) and there was serious doubt as to whether the show would happen at all, but it did, and their set that night and subsequent sets really impressed me. Then some months later they brought out the CD they'd recorded with Brian Straw (and with great screen-printed cover art by Evan's wife Carly), it instantly became a personal favorite. I don't know how much of the music was planned in advance or improvised on the spot, but it really runs the full spectrum from the gnarliest guitar rock to the achingly prettiest post-rock hooks I've ever heard. Pick up a copy straight from them, but in the meantime give their bandcamp a spin: track 1 for the gnarly, track 5 for the pretty.

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