Incredible Risks: New and Improvised Musics

Steve Koenig

[August 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:4.]

New releases are coming out quicker than you can say CD-R, both reissues of music considered risky decades ago, or of musicians still trying to both push the edges and absorb the traditions. The Do It Yourself ethos which vitalized the punk era (see the anthology “Homework” below) is doing the same for the newly-composed and improvised set, and with the same hits and misses. Nonetheless, surprisingly, all of the below are factory pressed unless noted. Dig in and enjoy. Next issue, more independent releases, straight from the artists.

Han Bennink. Nerve Beat.
(Atavistic Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP206CD, 42:25,

The clown prince of percussion in a one-man show recorded live in 1973. “Bumble Rumble” is half military tattoo, half batucada. The thirty-minute “Spooky Drums” is a tour de force of tapping, clicking, howling, what sounds like body slaps, and all kinds of vocals. In the final seventeen-minute title track, Bennink starts with a “rhythm-machine, anything/everything,” adds trombone, free-squeal clarinet, long silent spaces and slapstick percussive schtick. Anyone who’s seen Bennink perform can easily close his eyes and imagine a “video” of this performance. A most worthy resurrection, from the tapes of Radio Bremen.

Jane Ira Bloom. Sometimes The Magic.
(Arabesque AJ0155, 52:15,

Prejudices up front: I almost always like what this soprano player does, but cringe when she uses her electric pedals. Friends disagree and say I gotta get over it. Maybe this disc and her current ensemble will do it, for now I not only enjoy what she plays, but with Mark Dresser on bass, Bobby Previte drumming, and Vincent Bourgeyx on piano, even I couldn’t go wrong and I don’t play an instrument. This group impressed me mightily at the IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) conference this past spring, and here is the disc confirming it’s not a fluke. A highlight is a solo “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” The group gets deep in “Pacific,” and the bass vamp in “Truth In Timbre” is so varied within its steadiness it makes you fall in love with Dresser’s work all over again.

Danielson Famille
(Secretly Canadian, SC45, 40:54,

This Christian Rock family, of whom I’d read so much but never heard, easily falls into the quirk-pop category, and they don’t preach, they just have fun and love. Sing-songy tunes with sing-songy lyrics. The five-year olds in my family enjoy this as much as I do. A knowing innocence pervades this. Produced by Steve Albini, but it could easily be taken for a Kramer production, with its guitars and xylophones general glee. Now I have to seek out their previous releases.

The Du-Tels. No Knowledge of Music Required.
(Shimmy-Disc SHM 5103, 50:10,

Guitar wiz Gary Lucas pairs with Holy Modal Rounder’s Peter Stamfel in this collection seventeen wacko singalong tunes, from the “Rotten Family” to “Teletubbies say” Eh-Oh!’” Folkies, hillbillies, quirk-rockers, fingerpickers and you will love this, providing you sometimes look for fun in your music.

David Dvorin. With(in)Communicado.
(Pax PR90248, 49:10,

Sometimes premises aren’t all that clever; here we have each track opening with a sampled piece of answering machine message. Dvorin uses clever structures, but this doesn’t, for me, go beyond studies in form. Many of the chosen digitally-synthesized sounds irk me, no matter who uses them. I never was a fan of Wendy Carlos’ work, if that give you a sense of my taste. MIDI anything usually makes me run. If you’re a fan of Polansky’s “Idle Chatter” this disc might work for you, but I only like his original “Idle Chatter” and find the subsequent variations tedious. Dvorin uses retrograde melodies. Even before Bernstein’s Mass, “unorthodox use of guitar electronics” for canons and such were hardly unorthodox, nor is the bowed psaltery. Electric Prunes, anyone? (In several reissues, by the way.) The solo guitar pieces are pretty.

Esma, Queen of the Gypsies. Chaje Shukarije.
(Times Square/World Connections TSQ CD 9020, 62:02,

Okay, the cover photo and “queen” moniker are tacky but this woman can sing. The opening “Nikolco,” a capella, is stunning. The ensemble backing her on most tracks sounds less gypsy than Hawai’ian slack guitar meets cumbia, until the gypsy clarinet arrives. Esma Redzepova can sing, indeed, but she is also a showman. Some tracks are great, and others are merely fun. The recorded sound is often congested. No texts or translations. Lots of campy photos.

Brandon Evans. Recurring Moons: Quartet 1997.
(Parallactic PARACT01, 56:47)

Like his mentor Anthony Braxton, Evans likes organization for his improvisation. and a similar style of demarcation of date and ensemble. The notes, too, are roundabout. These three long tracks are quite interesting, though, especially when Evans eschews his saxes for the shenai or bass clarinet, and Catherine Bent’s warm cello and or George Cremnaschi’s arco bass weave lines of improvised (?) beauty. There are times his sax playing recalls the cycling of Evan Parker. Kevin Norton, who adapts to every conceivable style (I saw him again last week in David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness band and his seemingly simple drumming was the lynchpin to the group) here is heard on drums, percussion and vibes. Taylor Ho Bynum’s trumpet also is intrinsically intricate here. (Get his solo disc!)

Jad Fair and Daniel Johnson. It’s Spooky.
(Jagjaguwar JAG33, 69:16,

The two quirkiest entities in pop songwriting join forces in this reissue of the 1989 LP from 50 Skadillion Watts, with six added tracks, now totalling thirty-one. This is a good intro for those unfamiliar with these two or Fair’s Half-Japanese. The basic premise: two guys hanging out having fun making seemingly stream-of-consciousness songs, all fun. Many are still lives of American life, like “McDonalds on the Brain,” about two burgerboys on their fifteen minute break comparing and proud of their burn-scars, Sample lyric, from “Frankenstein”: “It looked good on paper.” Simple piano or guitar with drum instrumentation, and they mess with tape speed for a warped “Summer Time,” and guitar effects for the Beatles’ psychedelic tune “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Other covers include “Happy Talk,” Phil Ochs’ “Chords of Fame,” and the newly released tracks include Bacharach “What The World Needs Now.” Fans must pounce. I easily listen to the full seventy minutes each time. Don’t expect trained voices or anything but a good time and surprises. “Casper The Friendly Ghost” is not the cartoon theme song, and the Bacharach classic’s lyrics are slightly altered: “Lord knows we have enough pornography… crackhouses… atomic bombs. The world needs love.” There’s plenty here, and the closer is a send-up of Satan in a Butthole Surfers cover.

Tovah Feldshuh. Out of her Mind.
(Bright Angel Productions/Tovah 01-CD, 61;33,

Tallulah Hallelujah.
(Tovah 02-CD. 71:55)

What’s riskier than a one-woman show with songs written for you? One in which you play the life of a well known performer. Feldshuh’s well known as a fine actress, but her cabaret act is superb. She is a woman of many voices, and these funny tunes stand up to repeated listening. Standard cabaret-style, with piano accompaniment. Black humor abounds, such as “No Leg To Stand On,” which you can just imagine. When I saw Tallulah Hallelujah! live, I was mesmerized by Feldshuh’s ability to both embody and send up the much-mocked Bankhead. The scene where she did “Streetcar Named Desire” brought tears, because whether or not the real Alabama-born Bankhead could have handled the rôle , Feldshuh/Bankhead’s take on the scene brought tears to my eyes. The disc is recorded live with an audience, and she plays to them; it’s exciting. The bawdy humor and theater jokes work each time I play the disc. “I’ve always wanted to do Hamlet.”

(Secretly Canadian SC28, 46:22,

Havergal makes dreamy songs which uses sampled and manipulated tapes under simple guitar and drum. Imagine a type of Roy Harper with a simpler sensibility, using the drones of Flying Saucer Attack, and produced by Kramer. This stays in the permanent collection.

Woody Herman & His Orchestra. Blowing Up A Storm.
(Columbia Jazz Legacy C2K 65646, 61:11 + 68:07,

…and so they do, starting with “Apple Honey,” and continuing for nineteen tracks, including hits such as “Caldonia.” Ten are previously unreleased. I learned Benny Goodman at the knee of my father, but somehow I never really got to learn the other big bands, other than Duke’s and, recently, Basie and Kenton. This set is fantastic; every track exciting, in good sound, with vintage labels and repros of the 78 sleeves. I know so many of these songs, and didn’t realize how many originated with the Herman band. What a treat, especially Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, pieces dedicated to “Igor,” and a piece by Jimmy Giuffre, “Four Brothers.” Not only is this connecting links in my musical knowledge, it’s just plain good music, and those who normally eschew the swing era “big band” tag owe it to themselves to hear these amazing performances and orchestrations.

“Homework #1 and 1/2: Experimental/D.I.Y. 45s R-to-T.”
(Hyped To Death #9, CD-R,

This series is a real find. If you like groups like The Seeds, and thrall to the Nuggets anthologies, you must, and I mean must, purchase this series. The present volume has 24 tracks of names mostly unknown to me, small punk/garage/powerpop groups circa 1980. Radio Free Europe’s “Alien Day” sets the tone with its low-budget, high-passion do-it-yourself punkpop, and follows with Tom and Marty band’s “Debussy,” and instrumental of nifty electronic sliding guitar (or is it synth?) effects. Excellent programming, too. The Big Names are the Theoretical Girls and the Space Negros (sic), the others are unknown to me. Yay!

Immedia. 2/1.
(Line_002, 72:09,

Originally on two CD-Rs in editions limited to fifty, Immedia (Londeners Vicky Paniela and Darren Reynolds) work in the micro-glitch genre, yet they create sounds new to me. The first ten tracks are Virtual Recordings of Imagines Spaces, a reasonable title for created, not documented, environmental spaces. Each lasts about three minutes, and you perceive the changes of space. You could turn the volume way up and cuddle up to your loudspeaker to analyze it, but that would negate the premise of of listening attentively at the edge of audibility, hearing the sonic environments change. This might perhaps be more like Rothko’s paintings than Morton Feldman’s works ever could be, save that Feldman creates a stasis, giving you the reaction a Rothko might. This, instead, uses materials much the same way Rothko would. In that sense, this is art music, but it not “arty” music. The second set of works, In Audio, perhaps a pun on inaudible, also vibrates subliminally, but also uses clicks and crackles, taken from what my engineer friends call digital artifacts, which means errors. I play In Audio on fast forward sometimes, giving a sort of MSG effect to the higher-pitched sounds. After all, the notes do say these are open-ended works in progress, hinting that the remix crews are welcome. As you are at home, no doubt.

Joe Jones. Solar Music.
(? Records 01, 63:09,

Jones was a member of the Fluxus group of conceptual artists which flourished in the 1960s and beyond. I first heard of him when I was a teen, courtesy of Yoko Ono’s Fly album, which had a photo of his amazing self-created string and other instruments, much like Partch’s. Back then, I thought the Joe Jones Tone Deaf Music Company was a made-up construct, partly because the photo was a collage. (Grab the CD reissue on Ryko while you can; it’s one of my top ten discs of all time.) I was excited to chance upon Solar Music, from a German art gallery which has published several books I’ve bought which hold CDs of music from sound installations, the books being texts with photos of the sound installations. Jones’ set-up here is, and there are no liner notes save a list of the instruments: tinkly, plinky things and solar umbrellas, recorded in April of 1983. The recorded sound is clear; only slight hiss belies its unknown provenance. There are no photos, rather a diagram of a solar-cell powered umbrella which seems to be connected, via perhaps a contact mic, to string on a guitarlike box. Two long tracks, the first quietly mesmerizing, and the second wonderfully noisy, with slight distortion; a cross between an organ and a New York traffic jam. Get it while you can.

Kuwayama / Kijima.
(GG Records GG-01, 47:32,

At first you think this is going to be Variations On A Door and A Sigh, but soon a violin enters the space and next a cello, and you’re unsure if you’ve entered Xenakis territory in Japan. Three fifteen minute improvisations. This is the some of the strongest free improv east of Emanem and FMP. Highest recommendation to those who love gritty, intelligent, “difficult” music. Fans of Siegfried Palm, Marie-Frances Uitti, Barre Phillips and the like, this is for you without question. Kukwayama Kiyohara, cello; Kijima Rina, violin.

Andy Laster’s Hydra. Soft Shell.
(Knitting Factory KFW-281, 60:00,

The alto sax leader adds Herb Robertson’s trumpet, Drew Gress’ bass, and Tom Rainey’s drums to create Hydra. Laster’s structures frequently change time, and with these masters, it doesn’t sound like work. “Horripilate” stands out for Robertson’s soloing and interplay with Laster; Likewise the rhythm section is as tight here in its own genre as James Brown’s was on “Cold Sweat.” Yet, this isn’t dance music; it’s intelligent and repays close listening.

Lens Cleaner Trio. CD + Lens Cleaner
(The Ceiling CEIL023, LP,

This Argentine group recycles the music from side A by having C.D. (name not given) remix and regenerate (and improve) it on side B with roars and whooshes and reggae dub-like echoey clicks. An interesting cross; free improv, but with the reverb and synthesized sounds common to prog-rock. The musicians are credited with playing guitars, percussion, voices, synth, tape and mouse. Latin America is the home of recycled American autos and prog-rock, and they seem to make both work long past their times. A nice, quirky disc.

C. Lanzbom. Meditations.
(Desert Rock 26-4, 58:55,

Forget the new-agey title; this is good folkmusic a la John Renbourn solo guitar. Half are originals and half are by the legendary Schlomo Carlebach. Like Renbourn, some cuts add the usual folky flute, harp and guitars.

Ivan Lins, Chucho Valdés & Ikakere. Live In Cuba.
(Velas Cuba VLS-2001, 50:28,

This new label is bringing musics from Cuba and Brasil to the USA, their releases covering a wide range of styles. This one is pop-jazz; not fusion, but also not for hardcore mainstream jazzlovers. Fans of Valdés’ hardjazz are steered to his Blue Note releases. Fans of Lins will be pleased.

Frank Lowe and Eugene Chadbourne. Don’t Punk Out.
(Emanem 4043, 64:53,

I had just plunked down $25 for QED LP 995, thinking this would never come out on CD and sure enough, here it is, with and extra twenty minutes of old and new from the duo. Lowe’s tenor sax meets the mad guitarist in 1977 NYC, in this recording for which they had seriously rehearsed. The pair do very short pieces, and Chadbourne is more intent here than his is on his more recent comfy/lazy or hyper-manic discs and live gigs. Appended here are a twelve-minute “Inner Extremities Suite,” an introspective set penned by Lowe, recorded two years later, and three short tracks done in France, including tunes by Oliver Nelson and Don Cherry. Perhaps not the best intro for novices, but more than worthy, and requisite for fans of either. Do scout out Chadbourne’s self-released CD-R of marvelous duets with the lamented Charles Tyler while you can. Note to John Corbett, curator of Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series: How about The Frank Lowe Orchestra’s Lowe and Behold, from a 1977 Musicworks LP, including Zorn, Lindberg, Bang, Bradfield, Chadbourne, Butch Morris, Joseph Bowie, and other worthies. Lowe’s important ESP disc Black Beings is always around in some bootleg form or other.

Joe McPhee, Trinity.
(Atavistic Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP214CD,

With Mike Kull on piano electric and acoustic, and Harold E. Smith, the now famous McPhee gets the billing on the reissue of a rare LP by Trinity. Three long cuts, this is the missing link between freejazz and Miles electric. McPhee squeals free and melodic on tenor and soprano saxes, trumpet and pocket cornet.

“Midnight Rider.”
(Pay Per View series, Show #1, July/August,

I can’t decide if this show takes risks or plays it safe. The most significant part, to music lovers, of this first episode, is the video of John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band performing live in Toronto, the same as the complete first side of the Apple LP. Seeing this well known concert helped me reassess Yoko’s performance; I always loved her vocalizing, and was less pleased with her pop sense, lyric-wise. Adding her vocalizing to some rock standards, you see her on-the-dime timing; absolutely amazing, as she knows just when to come in and when to pause. A long film bio of entertainer (“I never said I was a comedian”) Andy Kaufman confirms my dislike of his work, but the bio also is fascinating and confirms my feeling that Kaufman’s work is of the Artaud school of the Theater of Cruelty. Both he and his friends allow that his performances “torture” the audience, and we see long segments which do just that. Regular features of Midnight Rider include some truly spectacular computer-generated graphic sequences, much juvenile sex and pot riffs (the show cleverly appeals to both older and younger dopeheads) and comedian-and-dummy Otto and George, a genuinely scary viscious, potty-mouthed dummy who by contrast makes Don Rickles look like Bill Cosby. Couldn’t take my eyes off this segment which parodies the TeleTubbies, here the TeleCrappies; it was like watching an accident happen. Amazing stuff.

Charles ‘Baron’ Mingus. West Coast, 1945-49.
(Uptown UPCD 27.48, 78:31)

First, the sound on these is great. Second, the presentation: slipcased with a 96-page book with essay, photos, original labels, etc. This is jazz as post-swing, pre-r&b, with vocalists and swing galore. Mingus’ bass chugs tunes like his “Shuffle Bass Boogie,” well known to those who love his later versions. This is, along with David X. Young’s Jazz Loft, perhaps the best-packaged and needed reissue of 2000.

“Naked She Lay: An Anthology of Classic Erotic Verse.”
(Naxos Audio Books NA 216812, 79:01 + 79:24)

Naxos continues to offer, at their usual budget price, new recordings of spoken word, both of famous non-copyrighted works, and well-selected anthologies such as this. This set of erotic poems lovingly includes all sexualities and attitudes, with authors ranging from unknown fourth century Chinese poems to Sappho and Whitman, Robert Graves, Byron, Marlowe, Rosetti, de Louys, Cummings, and Betjeman; sixty-nine pieces in all. The five British readers are entertaining and recorded without any of the boomy chest tones that often befall such undertakings. Snippets of appropriate Naxos music releases appear as interludes between groupings of poems. Perfect before bedtime, or if you’re like me, even better when you rise.

Pholde. Seal To Self.
(Panta Rhei, no catalog number, CD-R limited edition of 50, 55:44,

Using a new moniker, Alan Bloor of Toronto is best known as Knurl. He tells me that “the metal used on this recording is basically found scrap such as car springs, saw blades, old handfiles and various lengths of stainless steel that I found in the scrap containers where I work. Each piece of metal has a different tensile strength and when it is either scraped or bowed or hit in a certain way with another metal object, different sounds are produced. The recordings were produced live in one take with virtually no sound-altering devices such as distortion, delay, or pitch shifters.” These five pieces roar with thunder, and fade and overlap with each other. I advise close listening to fully appreciate the textures and evolution of sound. I wish I had a subwoofer.

Sawt el Atlas. Donia.
(Tinder 861002, 48:03,

This is Arabic music with a pop tinge, recorded, of course, in France. Fans of Algerian rai music would easily take to this collection of tunes which use a full traditional Arabic orchestra over a modern pop backing. The singers are very emotive. and although there are no texts, the titles are translated to English, confirming the feeling that these songs cover the same wide range that traditional Arabic poetry does: faith, love, land, loss. Some tracks such as “Andalusia,” with its flamenco guitar and bullfight trumpet, remind you of the close historical and geographic connections which in this disc makes ‘world music’ more than just a commercial phrase. “Cairo, Sevilla, Tanger.. our shared journey,” say the notes, which dedicate this disc to the people of Morocco. Rich stuff.

Spring Heel Jack. Masses (The Blue Series Continuum: A Collaboration).
(Thirsty Ear THI 57130-2, 52:09,

If you recall earlier editions of this column, I preferred SHJ’s disc of remixes to their own work. here we have collaborations with improvising musicians, the likes of which Roy Campbell and Daniel Carter, so you know there’s serious intent here. Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series is curated by pianist Matthew Shipp, and so you know there may be cross influences, but there will be no fluff. The first track is a piece with meandering up-and-down piano figures, and Roy Campbell’s dreamy trumpet going off in the distance, with scratchy noise and perhaps radio. The second has a plucky repeating riff that would be dull if not for Daniel Carter’s horn (the sound of his sax is captured clearly; I’d recognize it anywhere), with then all kinds of percussion raise the stakes, as does Carter, and the piece becomes very exciting. Carter soars off while the static rhythm keeps it in on a leash. Throughout, this mix of free improv horns and Matthew Shipp’s piano makes this a satisfying disc which can’t be easily tagged, because it manages to do both improv and the electronic and rhythm underpinnings so well.

Strings with Evan Parker.
(Emanem 4302, 72:31 + 57:29 + 63:52,

The strings are listed before Parker, as they play the major rôle . These include most the stalwarts of the strung improv scene: Kaffe Matthews, Phil Durrant, Hugh Davies, Marcios Mattos, Peter Cusick and a lot more. The premise: Parker set up the ensemble, but they were so good alone, here it is. Parker plays with some of the group, as well as smaller ensembles, and a half hour piece, “Double Headed Serpent” finds Parker overdubbing the Strings’ “Single Headed Serpent,” also here. I’ve seen this triple selling for the price of two. As Evan Parker never rests on his laurels and new releases of his different combos flow like David Murray’s used to a decade ago, do you need this? Fans do, and yes, others do too. The cicada of massed strings often rise up in a marvelous dense cloud. The pieces by the “chamber” subgroups are the works of masters. Just don’t make the same mistake I did: playing Disc A twice, by accident, and thinking, boy this sounds too similar.

Sun Ra Arkestra. Live at Praxis ‘84.
(Leo Golden Years GY 5/6, 57:42 + 60:56.

I’m mighty grateful to Leo Feigin for making these available for the first time in twenty years. I remember shopping at the lamented Soho Music gallery with John Zorn behind the desk, wanting this triple LPs and others in this concert series from the Greek label Praxis, but at that time twenty dollars a disc was way too steep. From a wonderful loopy “Mack The Knife” with gruff vocals a la Armstrong, The both discs find Sonny playing lots of stride piano. The closing track, one of his “hit” tunes “Enlightment,” combines stride piano with a typical Arkestra “jungle” rhythm and chant. Earlier on is a conga-and-chant version of “Nuclear War,” so wonderful and different from the version below. It cried out for someone to do a dance “remix,” though if you can’t dance to it as is, you need new legs. there are so many ra records out now, but this is indispensable, and in a wonderfully slim, sturdy, cardboard gatefold.

Sun Ra and His Outer Space Arkestra. Nuclear War.
(Atavistic Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP222, 42:25,

Man, I never thought I’d see this on silver. I cherish my vinyl copy of the title tune on El Saturn #1984SG-9/SAT GEM 19841, A Fireside Chat With Lucifer, which I bought at a Sun Ra performance at Squat. The LP of the present CD is different, and was issued by the London punk label, Y Records. The tune’s lyric is simplistically crude, but so is The Bomb. “If they push that button, you can kiss your ass goodbye. Whatcha gonna do without your ass?” Musically and lyrically, you see how ParliaFunkadelic and trance-funk bands of the era such as Charles Wright’s 103rd St. Rhythm Band were in tune with what the Arkestra was doing. The rest of the songs here are simple, blue or swinging, many are organ-hardbop. June Tyson’s “Sometimes I’m Happy” is flat, as she tends to be, but she fits in with this tight yet sloppy raggle-taggle band. Her take on the standard “Smile” is quite moving, as is Sonny’s piano, although her voice (not the recording) breaks up on the last chorus. Although this release is taken from a vinyl copy with a minor amount of crackle, the warm richness of the sound is fantastic.

“Tellus Tools.”
(Tellus TE-LP01, 2LP, gatefold jacket with picture inner sleeves,

HarvestWorks/PASS has a long history of being perhaps the first a place for multimedia artists to learn by doing and to rent studio time on an affordable basis. PASS is an acronym for Public Acess Synthesiser Studio . Tellus audio magazine, a cassette entity borne of PASS artist Joseph Nechvatal, brought the newest non-pop musics to those many of us who knew of it and were able to get copies; I have only a few of the 24 in my collection, plus all of the four CDs which followed. As in all collections, there were weaker and stronger works, but the music in Tellus was mightily varied, and the people who created their works there are now legendary, even if still alive. Each issue was thematic. To celebrate its twentieth anniversary, Tellus compiled a limited edition double elpee with artwork created by Christian Marclay, well known both for his aural and visual art. The last work of Marclay’s I saw was an installation, literally, of music on the floor; that is to say he had hundreds of 45’s shellacked onto the floor of P.S. 1, the art space in Long Island City. My first encounter with him was in an, ahem, adult pictorial magazine which featured his album cover collages; one which sticks in my mind had Herbie Mann fluting away in, I believe, Linda Ronstadt’s pink skirt.

Tools cleverly starts with an excerpt from Nicolas Collins’ Devil’s Music 1, which uses breakbeats and samples to create a non-hiphop slash and burn crashcourse in the art of sampling, Louise Lawler’s Birdcalls, with true humor uses the names of famous artists called out by purported parrot. Throughout, your ear is treated to the wide variety of the ways sound can be created and manipulated. There’s a piece by Fluxus artist Joe Jones, notes for creating his own instruments (look under Jones in this column for more).

The most amazing track comes from hiphop pioneer RammelZee and friends in an excerpt from a live broadcast from Isaac Jackson’s “Messages” show on WBAI, New York’s freeform Pacifica Station, which helped form my musical and other sensibilities in the 1960s and ‘70s and now, sadly, is on the verge of total commercialism. Ram raps, conversationally, “My military function is Ramm L Z. Zig Zag Zig. I represent mythological graffiti as an aspect of criminal[ly] ruined areas of New York City in the five boroughs” and then he gets cosmic, deconstructing his name and the underground, which includes the transit system. There was something special happening in that studio; it’s the burn of live art being created and we’re lucky to have it here. As the deejay conceit continues, I must point out that this double disc is twice the same record, for you to deejay mixes in your own home. (I recall a wonderful record release party Koch threw for its Cage: A Chance Operations two-CD tribute set, which was playing on multiple players throughout the studio, all set, of course, on random play.) Included at the end of side two are seven breakbeat sections; thirty-second snippets to use for sampling and creating rhythm tracks. Surely this edition limited to 500 will be more than worth its well-pressed weight in PVC soon; turntablists take note. People who claim that “the music of the 1980s sucks” surely were only listening to pop.

Aki Takase. Le Cahier du Bal.
(Leo CD LR 319, 69:58,

Little known in the states, pianist Takase has at least four excellent discs on Enja, with partners ranging from Reggie Workman and Alexander von Schlippenbach, and Sunny Murray to singer Maria Joao, also sadly unknown in the US. This solo outing, The Dance Notebooks, is not programmatic or one of those sorry discs of music created for composers which simply provide

vidnaObmana. Soundtrack for the Aquarium.
(Hypnos 71262, 67:48 + 44:15,

Hypnos is gradually developing a catalog of high quality music which is neither new age or noise, usually combining natural sounds with electronics. This disc contains seven tracks of water sounds with flute, rainsticks and voice. looped and processed for playback at the aquarium of the Antwerp Zoo in 1992. I think fishies do just fine without soundtracks, but this is the world we live in. In my home, I listen to whales singing, but I don’t pretend to know what they like. Tracks 2 and 6 work best for me because there is more use of noise and drastic changes of dynamics. The second disc is a 6 a.m. concert performance from Hamburg, processing the same materials, but with didjeridoo and shells added to the mix, and much more to my taste. My favorite parts sound like mechanical organs mixed with hissing stream pipes. This is drift music indeep; float on your you back with the sea mammals and whooshy sounds. Ideally heard while relaxing in the tub.

Vienna Art Orchestra. The Minimalism of Erik Satie.
(hatOLOGY 560, 75:11,

Of the dozen VAO discs I own, as well as a Vienna Art Special of duos and trios, this is the most subtle. These are inspired by Satie, rather than covers of his pieces. It’s quite delicate and beautiful. This reissue of hatART 2005, in hat’s love ‘em/hate ‘em series of thick cardboard boxes with twin, well-pressed LPs and postcard inserts, sadly and unnecessarily lacks one track from the original, “Gymnopédie No. 3,” a beautiful 2:10 trombone solo by Christian Radovan. The sonics of the CD are slightly tighter, of the vinyl slightly more open.

Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band. The Other Side.
(Jazzheads JH 11.39, 52:15,

Washburne is one of my favorite trombone players; whenever he plays with any group, the energy level goes up. His last disc left me luke-warm, and this took a few listens, but it’s grown on me and I now play it often. Good Latin jazz doesn’t have to smoke; like this, it’s a continuous slow burn, with intelligent and moving solos by Washburne and the See You On The Other Side Band. (Washburne has survived a rough scrape with cancer.) File under jazz or Latin. After you play it, file it in the other section just for fun.

X Alfonso. Real World.
(Velas Cuba VLS 2003-2,38:05,

This is a “rock” record, but it is Latin, and the musicians create like jazz musicians do. Spanish texts are included in the booklet; the songs are mostly about love or life in the city, but they don’t feel clichéed. The rhythms sway and lope, and uses= every rhythm from reggae dub to contemporary r’n’b with lotsa of space. Along with the Jill Scott, and the double-CD soundtrack to Amores Perros, this is among my favorite pop discs this year. Pronounce X in Spanish: Equis. This is his first solo disc, self arranged and produced.