Thursday, September 18, 2008

diamond curtain wall is now




earlier in the summer (not that we had one of those in the u.k.) a short european tour was undertaken by anthony braxton and his experienced recent students/collaborators, taylor ho bynum and mary halvorson. the concerts were all from the diamond curtain wall series of compositions (the best known of which are probably comps. 323 a-c). dcw pieces are all characterised by the use of electronics, specifically reactive software (usually supercollider, in which b. was instructed by aaron siegel, his number one percussionist for a few years now). for some of the concerts the core trio was enhanced by the addition of bassoonist katherine young.

two concerts from the dcw quartet - in besançon and moscow - appeared on dime and were soon posted on inconstant sol, by tantris, who recently added this superb trio to fill out the picture some more. the two quartets took a couple of plays to worm their way into my ear, though besançon in particular (knotty, turbulent, positively fractious at times) has been played and replayed since then. but the trio, which is from the week after the quartet shows, is just an instant hit. not too much of a surprise, since with no new student on hand to be guided and encouraged through the music, these three (who really know each other's top game inside out by now) can simply let fly and go at it.

the beginning of the piece builds within seconds from delicate flutters on guitar to a full-on, metal-on-metal game of chicken as b. and bynum push their sustained attacks up against each other and do their best to inhabit the same space, hold the same line - it creates sparks, wild overtones, harsh smears (and for a moment sounds remarkably like comp. 23e at the moment just before transition, as captured in the studio) - and then the electronics kick in and both trajectories are now sharing space with metal and concrete. still the guitar flutters on, a simple and edgy continuity behind the lift-off that is the first thirty-odd seconds of the piece, before the first infinitesimal pause which ushers in - something else, the next complex image, the next card, whatever. (we know that graphics are very important for the dcw book... but i don't know much else yet!)

- because this entire set is constructed piecemeal, though organically: episode follows episode, territory changing as seen from a brisk train through suburbs, entire tiny worlds are opened up and explored and then slip into memory as the next follows without pause. a detailed map could be constructed likewise, outlining every single development; there would be seen no dead time, no hanging around waiting for someone else to do something interesting, these three just never stop: start the recording at any point and the open ear is hooked at once.

so let's not list the entire performance, at least not on this occasion..! as with gtm posts previously, i will share a few moments and observations from my informal session... but simply trust this man to show you something interesting every second, and there it is when you go in search of it... all it takes is to listen and listen ;-)

... just the first two minutes introduce a whole panoply of sounds and textures. tune in at 1.45 and see how much is happening! the extraordinary richness of the shared palette is so beautiful partly because the computer is kept well in check, never overwhelming the ensemble and frequently relegated to the background within it. just the three masters - one of god knows what level black belt by now, to continue my occasional martial-arts trope... one of probably third dan and maybe one of second - create a shared improvisational world which dazzles the mind time and again, enchants the ear. the electronics add all sorts of useful shading and echo, but these three have it got it well under control and never lose it the thread...

... typically, the intense opening build-up gives way just as quickly to the first brief water phase, the activity/rest dialectic extended throughout this set just as with so many others (most gtm, many previous, etc etc). but in the crucible that is this piece, whatever its number and symbology, all rest contains activity, just as there remain spaces unexplored within the latter...

... dale wasn't kidding (see comments on the sol trio post) - leading up to 13.30 and especially for the ensuing forty secs, b. really puts the monster through its paces (by now this is likely to be what's known as a contra-alto clarinet rather than the contrabass of the seventies, but a monster is a monster... the many tricks this one has include purring its way up through the registers into feedback territory, and fabulously rich, wrought-iron breath sculptures which b. drags out of the horn by use of the voice. more on this in a minute...

... though halvorson's youth is still constantly betrayed by her defiantly punky aesthetic, she's really well and truly on her way, and indeed it's during this performance that i realise she's fast becoming one of my favourite contemporary musicians (not that i know that many necessarily!). the more i hear her, the more i love her playing, and that's very unusual for me with a "jazz" guitarist (*1). she just never stops sounding interesting and she never stands still...

... around 18.20 b. seems to be setting up some direct quote or other, but... i lose it and it's swept away back into the water...

... 21.45-22ish, a long and twisted sax line once again touches some very deep and precise places through creative forcing of the breath... and winds on and on, the electronics rising then in a wave and being gradually pushed back under control by bynum and halvorson....

... from about 26.38, b. begins a demonstration (following what's already an extended virtuoso display, duetting against the computer at one point then fully solo for maximum impact) of the wind-within-a-wind technique he mastered some years ago and has been displaying at regular intervals ever since, very often in solo recitals, frequently in gtm too. (*2) this really has to be heard to be believed and, naturally, every time he does it the effect is subtly different... never less than amazing... this does not involve the computer...

...when he stops at 27.50, bynum is onto in a flash, runs away with it at once and halvorson in turn gets her cue from the brassman and takes flight... b. honks his support from the wings... 28.50 on, halvorson gets a little time to herself, whips out those messy punky attacks again, winds down suddenly and (with b.) opens up a free space, into which little darts and trails shoot from all corners...

...again, from 32.00 on, b's plaintive alto tone almost conjures references out of the air, but i can't be sure...

...forward to 34.15-35.00, see how well halvorson meshes with bynum to create a complex ballad texture... this summons a burst of furious altotude from the leader, long hanging support tones from the others, bynum seeming to mimic a herd of cattle at one (drawn-out) point to halvorson's mournful and reflective plunked chords... the alto races on and on all the while... finally by 38.15 only the brass and strings remain... till the sopranino appears now, mimicking the cornet...

... and 39.40 we're in the middle of one of those barnyard conversations, full blown, no doubt a little bit of electronic enhancement at work somewhere, but the three players make a tremendous fuss between them... marvellous!..

... forward to 52 mins, the monster is out again, and every time it gets me the same way, i just love to hear that beast purrrrrrr :) seems scarcely worth mentioning at this juncture but nonetheless, this occasion is just like the others, it's a sonic alchemist at work and the time gets duly noted...

... as we pass 54 mins, halvorson is working at something folky, and at 54.10ish she suddenly seems to suggest "oh when the saints..." and hence by extension albert ayler, also therefore (these days) a hotshot from the previous generation (and ayler worshipper), marc ribot. but the defiantly bent, fucked-up clockwork-toy-winding-down attacks she runs out from here probably owe as much to derek bailey... now round and round they all three go, in coils...

... as the hour comes up, sunlight catching long glass from halvorson...

... 61.45, it's bynum's outrageous vocalised blasphemies for a change, and not the leader's, which get my face working...

... lapse back into silence...

- and then, weirdly, as the leader begins his customary list of players thanking the audience and ending with himself, the crowd is onto it in a flash and smothers him, no cathartic yells of note but the inevitable whistles and appreciative claps, yet so eager to get on with it that they drown out the guitarist's name altogether. only a very short list this time, yet he doesn't even get halfway through it... what happened there? and when the recording fades out, was that really it, no short encore as was by now usually the case..?

* * *

mary halvorson - well, like i say, she's turning into one of my favourite current players (and i have hardly heard anything of her outside these contexts). she loves to sound like a turntablist at times, just one of many many tricks she has up her witchy sleeves.

and thb..? always there, the heir to the brass chair and the right hand man, yet i seldom seem to say much about him... trumpet and piano, what can i say, it's not so much where my ear is at apparently... not at this time anyway. still, i do frequently hear him and marvel at his tonal flexibility, the one quality above all that b. requires in a brass player since he switched wheeler for lewis.

the leader... i still have yet to hear this man play a duff solo never mind have a remotely off night. not him as a player, though the band may be a different matter... but that was in another country, and besides...

the music - other than the fact that it is scintillatingly imagistic, i still have very vague conceptions about how dcw scores work, how much is improvised - the entire thing, strung out like a gigantic and impossibly complicated set of continuous filaments, almost sounds as if it could be one seamless group improv but it very probably isn't, so no useful conclusions there. but i tell you what: never mind reheated 80s/90s pop-jazz ironic post-fusion masquerading as "cutting edge" music, this is the coalface right here, this is where the borders of creative music are being updated on a minute-by-minute basis, and it's happening as you sit there... celebrate the living... don't wait to honour this man in death, let us learn from him while he is still among us. there is so much music still in him, and many more minds to reach...


* see first comment

8 comments:

centrifuge said...

1. normally i get my guitar fix from heavy metal (etc), as some readers will know... this being the case i struggle most of the time to comprehend the point of uninflected electric guitar tone..! naturally there are jazz guitarists i like, but these are usually of the more aggressive variety (sonny sharrock etc). i don't know who exactly mary h. might be influenced by within the punk and metal fields but she certainly seems to have absorbed mannerisms from those idioms in a more organic and congruent way than, say, bill frisell did when he was required to (though he, too, did have his moments... for a while back there..!)

another jazz guitarist - no need for the inverted commas this time, either! - i'm really coming to like a lot is joe morris... those four duets with b. on clean feed are wonderful, so inventive and so listenable throughout, and i would think in terms of trying to write something about them but... i balk at the very idea right now! that's a lot of music in those four hours and some minutes....

2. i promised pablo (at folly ftsw) some text for the '83 daxberg solo concert, and still haven't coughed up... sorry man! you know what's preoccupying me... anyway, that set features a magnificent demonstration of this show-stopping technique (and it almost does stop the show, the audience is never quite the same afterwards)... but in the meantime you can hear it here too..!

centrifuge said...

check back in a few days, i might actually have put up the mp3 link by then ;-)

1009 said...

might beat you to the mp3s...

in the meantime, halvorson's work w/ the trevor dunn "trio convulsant" is highly recommended (by me). i saw the trio (ches smith drumming) open for the melvins in chicago & all the metalheads were just slack-jawed within about a minute. (although i'll say a melvins crowd is not yr typical group of metalheadz...)

centrifuge said...

melvins and trio convulsant... that sounds like a good one! i saw melvins in london, ooh, ten or eleven years ago now. that was good... but although i've seen trevor dunn twice (once with mr bungle, once in the "moonchild" trio), i still don't really know much about that band of his and i keep forgetting that mary halvorson is even a member, so thanks for reminding me!

(have you done your mp3 rip already, b? i have one done, just haven't uploaded it to the sharehost yet...)

1009 said...

I try to see the Melvins whenever I can, but the last time through Chicago they sold out the show, bless their hearts. (I have to highly recommend their latest incarnation, featuring two drummers & the occasional 4-part vocal harmony.) The show w/ the Dunn trio featured a cameo from Jello Biafra (before the album they did together).

The only Trio Convulsant record featuring Halvorson, so far as I know, is Sister Phantom Owl Fish, on Ipecac so easily available (even on emusic).

The mp3 rip is done but I've been traveling & relying on coffeeshop wireless connections, wch are pretty slow for uploading. I might not get to it until Sunday evening (US central time).

Sorry about all the Inconstant griping. Sometimes it gets to the point that it's just safer to "lurk" & pick up the occasional file, maybe dropping a "thanks." Or maybe it would all come across much differently if these exchanges occurred at a pub rather than in "print" form.

centrifuge said...

well, i'm not competing with you, b (1009) - if you are determined to get your mp3 rip up despite your current circumstantial limitations, that's fine with me :) makes sense to have the link at sol anyway. and speaking of sol... yes, well thanks for the sympathetic comments... not sure about how it would work out in a pub, a couple of the guys over at your place really don't like me much, but that's ok - just a bit weak when it spills over into what was theoretically a big communal effort. but below the radar will generally be the way forward for me, i think, just maybe the occasional comment, don't want to waste time and energy getting sucked into pointless arguments.

thanks for the rest of it too! that (on ipecac) would be the one for me to check out then... melvins have two drummers now? dale made enough noise for two on his own, i'm curious to know who had the balls to get in there with him! i haven't heard any of the band's albums for a while, even, i guess that whole scene (among others) began slipping away from me when i quit working in the record shop...

centrifuge said...

in the unlikely event that anyone is still waiting here for an mp3 rip of the tivoli concert, our chicagoan friend did indeed beat me to it... the link is now added at the end of the comments on the relevant i. sol post... (see link in my article)

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