Incredible Risks: New and Improvised Music

Steve Koenig

[January 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:2.]

I’ve been eschewing the live scene for a few month to take stock, literally, of the new releases happily flooding the market. So much good stuff, and as always in this world, only some is indispensable, yet much to be savored by those with the time and will. Although the major labels and distributors risk little, financially, by reissuing long out of print material, small guys like Atavistic, Leo and Emanem are doing a major service by releasing so much obscure and never-before-issued music, with high-quality packaging including detailed notes and original art, avoiding the necessity for the CD-rs so (necessarily) rampant by home production. Remember, quality of music is not measured by its availability nor its popularity. Most great music was never recorded in the first place, so we must be grateful, and also not neglect the live scene.

Ralph Alessi. Hissy Fit.
(Loveslave lvslv 102, 51:34, lvslv.com)

The trumpeter is new to me, but won’t stay that way, Hank Roberts’ cello usually appears only in the best company, and lately I keep finding Peter Epstein’s sax perking me up on whatever record he’s on, and there have been a lot: a consistent quality. The leader-written opener “Irony” is less ironic than a dirge full of dry wit, Alessi’s soloing against the constant of Roberts’ cello line, and a tightly-controlled dance, thanks to Shane Endsley’s drum tattoo. This opening track is cinematographic in mood and motion. The group collaboration “My Worst Habit” displays tight interplay and Alessi’s soloing reminds me in quality, not in imitation, of Leo Smith’s playing with New Dalta Akhri. Poet Carl Walker’s text is clever in that he uses his phrasing and dynamic range like a horn. I’m assuming he wrote the texts; he is only listed as “voice.” These texts are somewhat in the “jazz poetry” mode, but worthy of repeated listenings within this music. Although Alessi’s notes protest that this group, called Modular Theatre, was not “making a CD,” just documenting the “music of the moment,” he is quite wrong, even if it was recorded live, and in good sound. This is a disc with flow, substance, quality and coherence. The booklet’s back page prints an essay “Music & Honey Bees” by one Steve Coleman. If this is the M-BASE sax player, I prefer his writing to its musical manifestation.

Eddie Allen. Summer Days.
(Enja/Koch ENJ-93882, 62:45)

I still recall fondly one summer night one at a Y on New York’s east side, a rooftop concert with the as-yet-unknown-to-me trumpeter Eddie Allen. Not my usual free-improv kinda thing, but only one more a curmudgeon than myself could not enjoy such great head-solo-head playing. Many great trumpeters came up that night for guest solos, a tribute to Allen’s talent and humor. I continue to enjoy his previous Enja releases “R’n’B” and “Another’s Point Of View.” Allen’s latest, Summer Days, is a good disc in the same vein. His own soloing is the key to the disc, and Anthony Wonsey’s piano; The rest of the band I have to give faint praise. Richie Goods’ bass and Cindy Blackman’s drums are all right and Dan Faulk’s sax is the weak link. Trombonist Steve Turre guests on four tracks. (Always catch Turre live, but as leader on disc, he’s iffy: the must-have is “Sanctified Shells.”)

Bird of Tin / Mechanism. Scapegrace
(2 CDs; 102, 42:42 +50:09, manifoldrecords.com)

Improvised discs. The first (I think) one, begins with a loop of a disc skipping at the end groove, with various low frequency grinds coming in, the texture thickening with whistle, gurgling and electronic rattles throughout this single-work side. I first was impressed by Birds of Tin in their split with Augur, Strange Seeds Come From Odd Flowers, still in print from Manifold (without the limited, deluxe, burlap packaging with two extra cassettes.) The second starts out with a type of electronic snoring slide with metallic percussion, as if Alberich were falling asleep at the forge. Brooke Oates, a/k/a Bird of Tin, wrote to me that “The Scapegrace CD was a collaborative project. Each CD was recorded live in my home studio. Both pieces were completely improvised and there was no post recording editing at all.” Recommended to those who like the electronic and sound-texture part of improvisation, such as fans of Erstwhile and Intransitive releases. Oh, and great packaging: two CDrs facing each other with notes on a CD-shaped celluloid film and soft sandpaper between the discs, held together with a nut and both.

Carla Bley and Paul Haines. Escalator Over The Hill: A Film by Steve Gebhardt.
(Musicus Media; 83:00, VHS videotape, MusicusMedia.com)

Long before Einstein was beached, Carla Bley took Paul Haines texts and a circus of performers including all the jazz greats plus Warhol superstar Viva and lesser-known singers like Linda Ronstadt to create a 3 LP “chronotransduction” called Escalator Over The Hill. Filmmaker Gebhardt was given free reign, and what he gives us is not a document but a filmed album itself; there are no interviews, just studio shots of the performances, mostly;y closeups, of takes and retakes, all heads figuring out how to achieve what Bley had in mind, and how she let her musicians use their own ideas. Anyone who loves Escalator must get this without hesitation, as it clarifies and extends your conception of their conception, and it is cinematically constructed for maximum interest. Unlike most documentaries, this will be played in your home as often as a disc would. The film is sharp, not “archival,” and the audio too is excellent. Bley and Robert Wyatt fans pounce.

Anthony Braxton. Composition No. 94.
(Leo Golden Years of Jazz GY3, 78:00, atlas.co.uk/leorecords/)

The subtitle reads “for three instrumentalists (1980).” Forget how these two sets recorded live in Bologna in 1980 with Braxton, Ray Anderson and James Emery were constructed (the notes state “fabrics” and “tapestries”), just be grateful they’re here. Not the best of Braxton (there are a hundred available discs to choose from) but this one shows Anderson in a slightly different light with his alto and tenor ’bones, cornet and slide trumpet. Guitarist Emery, whose work I know only from the String Trio of New York, reminds me here of Eugene Chadbourne’s guitar and banjo picking, Emery on acoustic and electric, plus unspecified electronics. The two pieces start off pointillistic and gurgling, then pick up major heads of steam. Only semi-sore point: the first six minutes of the second set were damaged and not used; if this were a shorter disc I’d have insisted on its inclusion anyway. Excellent notes by Braxton-clarifier Graham Lock. Excellent thin, sturdy cardboard package.

Anthony Braxton. Composition No. 174.
(Leo CD LR 217, 44:57, atlas.co.uk/leorecords/)

The subtitle reads “for ten percussionists, slide projections, constructed environment and tape.” The review reads: for fantastic percussion sections continually interrupted by severely pretentious text about a tour, perhaps in outer space. “For M-class travellers, scale the ridge sectors.” I’ll take the karaoke version, please. Makes Stockhausen look down-to-Earth. Of course, both composers have written for interplanetary ensembles. Then again, Stockhausen writes in German so much can be overlooked. Would that they were as forward-looking as Sun Ra and has merely been intergalactic. Nonetheless, kudos to Leo for making this available for the Braxton completist. I wonder if he’ll put out a DVD; the visuals are sorely lacking, though the plot remains the same.

Anthony Braxton. Knitting Factory (Piano/Quartet) 1994, Vol. 2.
(Leo CD LR 297/298, 60:23 + 74:19, atlas.co.uk/leorecords/)

Braxton on piano, that is. There’s a great debate among his fans whether he should be shunned for his piano sets, As the man is meticulous in his labelling of album titles, as you can see here, there is nothing to fear unless you make the egregious error of expecting his piano to be like his horn. It’s not. The indomitable Marty Ehrlich takes on all the blowers here: alto, soprano, and clarinet. Joe Fonda takes bass and Pheeroan akLaff drums; I’ve never been let down by these masters, nor am I here: this swings. These are all standards, averaging fifteen minutes apiece. Braxton sometimes to be merely comping, but then you’ll notice the chords are not what a ’normal’ pianist would give. Then he takes flight in tight control that sounds somewhat like a modified Crispell. A colleague insists I rethink this: ” If nothing else, Dave Brubeck with a nervous system disorder. Listen again and see if you agree.” I confess I know nothing of Brubeck other than “Take 5″ and so I’ll gladly remain in delight with this concert where standards melt into other standards, and every once in a rare while there are slow ecstatic holds. My Jarrett “Standards” outings have long since hit the dust save the live Blue Note box. Although I think of this more as an Ehrlich record, this will remain on my Braxton shelf with pleasure. I think it stronger than the Live at Yoshi’s four-CD set on M&A.

Willem Breuker Kollektief. Celebrating 25 Years On The Road
(BVHaast CD 9914 + 9915, 75:02 + 77:19, cadencebuilding.com)

My favorite large orchestra, with spirit and control enough to be insane, treats us to a large size book with a two-disc overview of recordings, a great deal of them out of print. Check previous columns for other Breuker raves, but this compilation serves both fans and newbies well. For each year of the band’s life, there are pages chock full of photos and a list of that year’s personnel, most who’ve been lifelong members. For newcomers, Breuker’s Kollektief has a penchant for taking deliberate liberties with standards ranging from Weill and Satie to “Sensemayá,” “Porgy and Bess,” and “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Breuker has composed many works for theater and film as well, not to mention a penchant for theatrical works of his own. Color photos of every WBK disc and poster plus a complete discography with track listings make this indispensable for all Breuker fans. At last fall’s anniversary concert at York’s Tonic (tonic.103.com) I was able to get autographs from all extant members. Yes, I’m bragging. Buy one of these for the freejazzer who finds no contradiction in technical skill, emotional depth and freewheeling, wacky fun.

Peter Brötzmann. Nipples.
(Atavistic UMS/ALP205CD, 33:30, atavistic.com)

Recorded the year after Machine Gun, Nipples uses Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Han Bennink, Buschi Niebergall, and Han Bennink through their high-energy paces, or so it seems at first. Fred van Hove’s piano shines through the melee, and there are tender, quiet chamber moments. This is a major coup for Atavistic’s Unheard Music series, returning this 1969 Calig LP to us, with original labels and original plus updated notes and photos. Exemplary production.

Eugene Chadbourne and Paul Lovens. Young At Heart/Forgiven.
(Leo CD LR 293/294, 69:16 +65:07, atlas.co.uk/leorecords/)

The two masters of improvised strings and percussion, respectively, in a ’living room’ type set, some solo Chadbourne, most duo. Chadbourne is our living repository of American popular and country song. Unpolished, intuitive, fun. Those who know the pair needn’t hesitate.

Adam Chao. 90 Minute Chao.
(Madame Chao Productions 5-00; 90:00, VHS, adamchao@hotmail.com; 212.726.FONG)

You won’t find this is stores, boys and girls. Those of you into Experimental Intermedia or noize or ambient; looka here. If you can. An amazing kaleidoscope of non-abstract, rapid images flashing before your eyes in a distinct repetitive pattern. Remember Spirograph? Patterns within patterns, many taken from Asian genre-flicks. Aly McBeal effects are crass; Chao is a master. This VHS grabs you, indeed, could give you seizures. The soundtrack is matches the video. Fans of Christian Marclay and Otomo Yoshihide need to pounce on this immediately; it is a visual counterpart to what they do with sound. The sound here is loud, noisy and witty. This wrings the neck off the Ultra Milkmaids’ puerile abstract video “Chickens In The Kitchen.”

Sculpting from Drake, Volume One
(Elsie + Jack 010, 52:00, elsieandjack.com)

Tribute compilations usually pay homage to cult figures, the one in question folkie suicide Nick Drake, whose complete works are now in a four-disc chunk-box on Hannibal, the LP-sized one now sold out. I like Drake, but never felt the same connection I do to other disturbed folk(ies) such as Richard Thompson or Tim Buckley. (Eugene Chadbourne, covered here and in previous columns frequently covers Buckley material.) The artists are varied and are frequently but not exclusively in the Drake moody guitar-twinkle mode, and singers both male and female singing in the passive voice. I’m unfamiliar with any of the artists on this compilation, but should point out that this label offers other artists ranging from noisemeisters Aube and Shift (Franz de Waard) to this moving collection, and all have an exemplary packaging. No one who owns an Elsie + Jack disc would ever dream of kid-napstering a copy; there is pleasure in the physical objêt as well as the music. Cleverly, the label gifted the press with specially personalized copies and graphics, but needn’t fear us parting with them. I confess having expected avant-interpretations when I first heard about this CD; only Electroscope with Zurich’s “Things Behind The Sun” presents a lovely droney work which sounds like Mazzacane/Langille-meets-”10,000 Light Years from Home.” Several following songs too are more spacey than dreamy. Drake fans should pounce.

Knitting on the Roof.
(J.A.M/Knitting Factory KFW-260, 56:42, knittingfactory.com)

This is more than a trendoid tribute. The New Orleans Klezmer AllStars give a rollicking “Tradition,” despite silly lyric addition. The Residents’ take on “Matchmaker” bring them back to top form, altering the theme to pyromania. “Tevye’s Dream” was brilliantly given to sample-maniacs Negativland, who have made a wonderful radio-play collage of this magnificent work. L’chaim! Only one or two tracks are slack, like a phone-call version of “Do You Love Me?” by Come. David Ware’s and Elliot Sharp’s contributions are good music, but far removed from the fiddling theme. For Fiddler freaks, try Fiddling with Tradition, by the oldman-Jewish rappers MC Moishe and Easy Irving, under the moniker 2 Live Jews, (Kosher/Hot HTCD 3339), and a much harder-to-find original Mexican cast LP from 1970, Violinista en el Tejada (EMI SLEM 221), sung in Spanish (not Ladino).

Brett Larner. Telemetry Transmission: Gyroscopes When Set In Motion.
(Sparkling Beatnik SBR 0009, 64:36, sparklingbeatnik.com)

The title tells nearly all, except that the gyroscopes are set in motion between the strings of a koto, and that Larner has an impressive pedigree on that instrument, having studied and performed with with Kazue and Tadao Sawai as well as Anthony Braxton, and that an earlier version of this was released on a cassette by Seth Misterka’s then SoundProbe now Newsonic (see last issue) label. None of which means anything except that this music is exceptional: it is not the traditional long-string drones of yore. These gyros each create their own sound and the hour-long piece is constantly varying due to additions and subtractions of sound, and this is anything but “space” music. I don’t know how he does it, but it has a compositional form which rewards listening as the sole activity. A major surprise and treat. If you can, dig up Kazue Sawai’s Japanese releases Eye to Eye (Republic AFP-001) with works by Yuji Takahashi and Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band, and Three Pieces (My Record COL-003) with works by Cage and Christian Wolff. I don’t know of other discs using gyroscopes.

Gary Lucas. Rare Lumière 1980-2000.
(Knitting Factory KFW-265, 70:17, garylucas.com)

Guitarist Gary Lucas has been unfairly cursed and blessed by his tenure with Capt. Beefheart’s band. He has his diehard fans, and deserves them, but I’ve been iffy about his discs, which vary in style and quality. I highly recommend this compilation not as an overview but as it’s own fine disc, with nary a week track. His acoustic guitar playing could be likened to an American Bert Jansch with a strong blues streak. Partners here include Nick Cave, Mary Margaret O’Hara, DJ Spooky, David Johansen, and Eric Mingus. If this were someone’s debut, you’d say they’re showing off, but this is the portfolio of a master. Certifiable rave review. Few of the 18 tracks have been released before, and nit one bum cut, so any Lucas fan need get this immediately. Although Beefheart appears on one track, the cut with Cave is more Beefheart-like in text. Get this first, then Skeleton at the Feast (Enemy) and Busy Being Born (Tzadik). New ones due momentarily, so check his Website above. See Cucamonga below.

Captain Beefheart. Cucamonga. Photography and text by Rudy Vanderlans.
(Emigre Books ECD 018, 16:51, emigre.com)

If you’re a Beefheart freak, as I am, this hardcover book with CD is an unexpected treat. It’s a sort of still life tribute to the air where the Captain Don Van Vliet grew up, musically speaking. To non-fans, this will just be a book of excellent photography, but Vanderlans has an eye for mood. His moods are not “moody,” but simple, clear shots of places Beefheart lived and recorded. The first cut on the CD is a field recording of an L.A. highway intersection. One can feel and breathe that air, that moment. Following are individual new, exclusive tracks by members of the of the Beefheart band. Gary Lucas offers an acoustic solo on his Gibson. John French’s track is a solo overdubbed fest of guitar, MIDI bass, marimba and piano, evoking the sound of 1970s Zappa and Beefheart. (When will someone reissue French’s duo with Diamanda Galas from a 1750 Arch LP?) Zoot Horn Rollo gives us a blues on baritone guitar and bass programming, countrified midway by violinist Brian Price. Closing out the CD is a field recording outside the house where Trout Mask Replica was recorded. The important thing here, though, are the photos which illuminate not an artist or music, but an environment, and are powerful in that context.

Kevin Mahogany. Pussy Cat Dues: The Music of Charles Mingus
(Enja/Koch ENJ-9316-2, 51:34, enjarecords.com)

Mahogany is a most excellent jazz singer; a great big man with a rich, deep voice. That voice, live at the lamented club Visiones when his first two Enja discs, Double Rainbow and Songs and Moments, came out, made me swoon. Warners picked him up for two surprisingly fine discs, (I expected him to be sugared by Burbank) and now it’s good to see him back at Enja. When I saw the title, I freaked: this was going to be great. Not so much. Five Mingus tunes and one medley, and Mahogany takes a back seat and on one, no seat at all. Charles McPherson on alto and Jimmy Knepper on ’bone add to the excitement, but the charts, played by the WDR Big Band, come off more like Frank Foster, which can be a good thing, but not for Mingus. Get Mahogany’s other discs, definitely, and hope someone else tackles the idea of doing a Mingus discus vocalus and doing it right. Mahogany’s record-release gig at New York’s Jazz Standard was solid, and mostly standards, lacking Mingus. Although the food was pricey, it was exceptionally good, and you could easily have chosen get away cheaper than I did. The entire staff offered exemplary service and courtesy, from the phone receptionist giving travel directions to the waitstaff (I was not known to anyone there as a press person). I look forward to returning.

Mat Maneri. Blue Decco.
(Thirsty Ear THI 57092-2, 48:58, thirstyear.com)

Very enjoyable, if not my favorite MM disc. The interplay between bassist William Parker and the lead violinist is extraordinary, especially in “It’s #2.” Pianist Craig Tabborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver are no slouches, but it’s the Maneri/Parker unity that controls here. Fans need not fear. For now, my favorite Mat Maneri remains Fever Bed and Fifty-One Sorrows, with his trio, and a duo with pianist Steven Lantner, Reaching, all on Leo. Still, this one keeps growing on me. My favorite Maneri moment remains a live slashing duo of relatively short pieces with longtime partner Randy Peterson, unrecorded at the Brecht Forum.

David “Fathead” Newman. Captain Buckles.
(Label M 5712, 33:55, LabelM.com)

Label M continues its revival of worthy Atlantic Records material. From Cotillion AMCY-1291, a fine funk-jazz session much in line with the type of excellent music such as Kool and Gang’s pre-disco Live at PJ’s or Booker T’s Abbey Road tribute, McLemore Avenue (Newman sweetly does George Harrison’s “Something”). “Blue Caper” cleverly mutates “Blue Moon” in Rio. Listenable, sometimes danceable, intelligent and with soul, but not wallpaper fodder. Some have fades way too soon. If you like the genre, this one’s tasty. The players are known for both jazz and rhythm: Bernard Purdie, Steve Novosel, Blue Mitchell and Eric Gale. (Gale’s actually good here.) No dates; I guess 1969 or 1970.

nmperign. this is nmperign’s second cd.
(Twisted Village TW 1049, 44:57, forcedexposure.com)

The second release is not as audacious as last year’s debut, which made my top five of 1999, yet more sure-footed. Greg Kelley and Bhob (no typo) Rainey play at the edges of sound, both scalar and dynamic. These reedists are joined on one track by tapelooper Jason Lescalleet, who joined them for a mindblowing show at the AlterKnit last year, and that piece is the best on the disc. Phil Gelb on shakuhachi and Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion also join on the final track, the latter banger a full partner on nmperign’s first disc. Each of these musicians have garnered praise in my previous columns. In some sense these guys create the improviser’s equivalent to Berio’s Sequenzas, testing not merely the boundaries of the instruments, but the musical parameters as well.

nmperign / Jason Lescalleet.
(Intransitive 010, 43:33, visionload.com/intransitive)

One track by Lescalleet on computer, four Kelley and Rainey duos, and one by the trio. By a nose, I’d choose this over the above release, but I’d be loathe to be without either. Lescalleet makes wonderful analog-type sounds, gurgles, noises with his loops and is a most wonderful complement to nmperign, who now seem to play with less thought and exploration than diving head-in to the mix; they’re fully in their zone. The fifteen-minute computer piece is fantastic, ranging from whooshing roars that will test the strongest subwoofers to touchingly gentle mixes of timbre that make your heart pulse without a directed rhythm.

Steve Lacy. Hooky : Solo in Montreal 1976.
(Emanem 4042, 78:40, emanemdisc.com)

Emanem continues to document the European improvising scene, past and present and as a long-time expatriate living in France, Lacy qualified as one of the significant worthies. This reissues all of the rare Quark LP 9998, plus six pieces from Lacy’s “Tao” series, plus three others. Producer Davidson is to be again praised for making this available anew, for adding more worthwhile material, and for writing liner notes that simply describe the context for the performance and technical aspects of the recording. The reverberation in L’Eglise St Jean l’Evangeliste is perfect for Lacy; resonant, but not cavernous, and no sense of waiting for an echo to do a self-duet. Instead, prime Lacy, exploring seemingly-simple themes from all angles, powerful both emotionally and intellectually.

Steve Lacy. Snips
(Jazz Magnet JAM-2001, 45:58 + 41:04, jazzmagnet.com)

Producer Jim Eigo has been unearthing the most heavenly finds in the fields of jazz and blues, this gig recorded at Environ in 1976, equal in musical, though not audio, quality to Hooky, the solo Montreal disc from Emanem reviewed here too. “Hooky” is the first piece in this concert too. “Don’t go to school,” he intones twice, then plays the melody and goes off on it. Historically, this is important as Lacy’s first solo concert in America. Add this to my favorites of 2000. Intelligently packaged in a thin, double-gatefold cardboard jacket with picture labels of Lacy and his horn. Because of sound quality, you might choose Hookey first, but both are requisite. Steve Lacy’s own Website is www.senators.free.fr.

Derek Bailey and Steve Lacy. Outcome
(Potlatch P 299, 60:16, potlatch.digiweb.fr)

Clever album title, as each of the five tracks, recorded live at Dunois, is called “Input.” The outcome of this, sadly, is lesser than the sum of the players. Lacy plays trademark repetitive figures, but to no particular ends, and Bailey plinks away with spirit, but the pieces just don’t cohere. The liner notes claim that indeed, the two players are not trying to do any interrelated playing, in itself no crime, but the “antagonism” of styles praised here shows no clash or tension. This is the first Potlatch duo I’ve encountered that wasn’t an instant classic. Instead, try their Denman Maroney/Hans Tammen, Joelle Léandre/ , and the Parker/Rowe below.

Derek Bailey and Alex Ward. LOCationAL
(Incus CD37, 48:46, incusrecords.force9.co.uk)

A nice variation from “typical” Bailey. Clarinetist Ward wriggles his sound upward, and Bailey rings high tones that reach up, eventually seconding Ward’s plea, and neither fall from this high wire. Another track has Bailey’s “vertical” guitar playing sounding much like a banjo while Ward does multiphonics, the both flickering sound yet spinning a clear long-line. the two home recordings are more pointillistic, while the live track, recorded at a distance, is high energy freeplay. An exceptionally accessible, that is to say, warm disc within Bailey’s oeuvre.

Mats Gustafsson. Windows: The Music of Steve Lacy.
(Blue Chopsticks BC4, 48:30, dragcity.com/bluechopsticks)

Interesting. The sound is the Lacy that sounds like duck calls, explorings little bursts of sound yet it flows like bebop. Gustafsson is much more subtle in his intensity than Lacy. In some ways his own pieces remind one more of Evan Parker, exploring tonality rather than all possible aspects of a melodic fragment. Three tunes by Lacy, two originals, and Cecil T.’s “Louise.” Lacy himself wrote the liner notes, and it’s coproduced by Gustafsson and John Corbett, the Chicago journalist we have to thank for the Unheard Music reissue series on Atavistic.

Evan Parker and Keith Rowe. Dark Rags.
(Potlatch P 200, 77:45, potlatch.digiweb.fr)

Tenor Parker is at another peak here, with the energy of Conic Section, and AMM’s Keith Rowe providing a second voice with electronics showing both at their interactive best. One of the top ten of 2000. Short review, lifelong pleasure.

The Remote Viewers. Persuasive With Aliens.
(Leo LAB CD 067, 44:57, atlas.co.uk/leorecords/)

This trio fascinates because it creates its own genre, using lots of sax free blowing, Carla Bleyish songs, with rhythm courtesy of the jazzier prog-rock scene. All three contribute electronics courtesy of things called pocket Theremins and a wasp synth, and even a Roland. David Petts, Adrian Northover and Louise Petts all saxify; Louise Petts sings too. Some cuts have that saxophone quartet sound, others feature that Robert 5/Dagmar Krauss flavor of jazz-prog songs. Two covers work smashingly: Bowie’s “jump They Say” and Portishead’s “All Mine.” This joins their previous Leo release Obliques Before Pale Skin, with its Madonna and Dmitri Tiomkin covers, on my permanent shelf.

John Tchicai – Irène Schweizer Group. Willi The Pig: Live at the Willisau Jazz Festival.
(Atavistic UMS/ALP210CD, 48:50, atavistic.com)

High energy output with major emotional strains, thanks to Tchicai’s passionate horn, and Schweizer’s telepathic alongside path. Bassist Buschi Niebergall and drummer Makaya Ntshoko are excellent partners on this outing from 1975, continuing the Unheard Music series, with original covers and labels from Willisau Live LP WIL-1. Some truly emotive soloing from Niebergall, a staple in the early Euro improv scene until his untimely death. High energy doesn’t always mean loud and fast. Another must-have.

Charles Waters. 10+4[59.99]
(Nuboutique unnumbered, 19:34, nurecords@hotmail.com)

This clarinetist, amazing in the Gold Sparkle Band (see earlier columns), here presents fourteen improvised works. The liner notes are a bit obtuse, a la Braxton, but the music too, a la Braxton, is clear and powerful in its vision. The first is multiphonic extreme: loud and noisy; foghorns. (Remember Braxton’s “Series F Improvisations”? It has a similar energy.) Then comes an exploration of the clarinet which, only after you are moved by its lyrical beauty do you realize it also is stretching boundaries of expectations. The rest too are born of Benny, Brax and Brötz: man, that’s the kind of ’out’ I thrill to. Major good stuff. The disc is short, but this kind of material isn’t measured by the yard. Me, I just play it twice anyway. Who’s Benny, you asked?

Heiner Stadler. Jazz Alchemy
(Labor LAB 7024-2, 70:08, LaborRec@aol.com)

My first Stadler experience was an amazing twenty-minute piece called “Love In The Middle of the Air” which I heard on WBAI and so I rushed to the Soho Music Gallery to pick it up back when John Zorn was the knowledgeable clerk; yes, that’s some decades ago. That piece, a duo for Reggie Workman and singer DeeDee Bridgewater, was released on two different takes on two different LPs and they still are in my lifetime top-discs list. This surprised me in the mailbox recently and it slams. This time the bassist is Richard Davis, with Charles McGhee on trumpets, with Brian Blake on drums, in a series of six compositions called “Jazz Alchemy,” here interspersed with a series called “Jazz Problems,” performed alternately by Joshua Piece, or the duo of Reggie Workman with Marilyn Crispell. Though these have been in the can since 1974, the sound quality is stunningly realistic and visceral. I never heard the original release, except two tracks on Stadler’s Retrospective, and I’m delighted it’s back.