Sunday, October 11, 2020

Catching Up on Free Improvisation Albums on OutNow Recordings, Gauci Music and ESP-Disk'

Sometimes I wonder if this blog could serve as place that helps to spread the word about about free improvisation music, the radical kind that pushes the limits sonically. There very likely are bigger, more established, more consistant blogs out there that do a more extensive job of covering this noisy stuff. But it would cool to play some part in it: turning someone on to a musician or label, giving the player some more attention, having a couple CDs exchange hands, providing some encouragement to keep going. 

I'm not fishing for effusive comments here. (If you're so inclined, I'll take them, but I'm not hoping to get the equivalent of a bunch of "We LUVVVV you" messages like you see on FB anytime someone is down in the dumps.) The reason I bring this up is because sometimes I get a stack of CDs from independent musicians or label reps and I want to do my part to help spread the word about their efforts. That's really what I started blogging in the first place. I had more to write about than outlets for it. Having put out independent releases myself that got little or no press (except for the first one), I could relate too. 

One of the things about a forum like this is you don't have to worry about timeliness. It's cool when you're one of the first to write about a release, but if there's something that's been out for a while and you really like it, don't worry about the lag. An album can always use a bit of praise a few months down the line (though publicist might disagree).  I might be saying all this to myself to rationalize this post, but it's working so I shouldn't stop now. 

With all that, I give you three albums of frenzied free improvisation, two of which aren't new but are worthy of a belated perusal.

Tyshawn Sorey/Nadav Remez/Antonin Tri Hoang

OutNow Recordings is a label run by saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer, out of Brooklyn. A number of their albums have been reviewed on this blog, and can be found here. The label has released a lot of free blowing groups, often with Kretzmer's strong tenor as a featured soloist. His 2 Bass Quartet has done some strong work but there are others.

ELK3 arrived amongst a batch of new ones during the summer of 2019 and sat on my desk, calling to me. It comes from a 2014 performance by Tyshawn Sorey (drums, piano), Nadav Remez (guitar) and Antonin Tri Hoang (alto saxophone, bass clarinet) at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The album bands a continuous 39-minute performance into nine tracks, with breaks usually coming with a change in dynamics or sounds. The trio begins at a high intensity level, with Hoang bleating a single note over Sorey's spastic drums and Remez's guitar skronk that gradually blends together with the horn. 

The group never lets an idea get worn out and clearly responds to one another as things develop. In "Wapiti," Remez plays a cascading guitar line that sounds like the intro to Television's "Friction" but before long he builds some feedback in duet with Hoang's wailing alto. Sorey's use of open space in his own compositions plays out here too, allowing things to gently transition between movements. When he switches to piano during the last third of the set, he utilizes prepared effects for a percussive attack, with Hoang's bass clarinet latching on to it. Remez frequently plays with a bright twang, like the spirit of a surf guitarist is trying to overpower his instrument.

The trio exemplifies everything that makes free improvisation fun - strong interaction, equal amounts of frenzy and calm, exploration of all sonic possibilities. No wonder the audience waited a full 30 seconds after things died down before roaring theie approval.

Sean Conly/Michaël Attias/Tom Rainey
Live at the Bushwick Series
(Gauci Music) or on Bandcamp

Assuming that someday we will return to some normal state where it will be safe to visit a small performance space to see a band, I hope the Bushwick Public House in Brooklyn will still be thriving. Every Monday night saxophonist Stephen Gauci hosts about five or six bands (no lie) who each blow a short but usually sweet set of free music. 

Back in January I visited the Public House to check out one such night. At first I had trouble finding the entrance to the basement/lower level room where Gauci and his friends set up. It was as DIY as DIY comes but it was fun too. (Some details can be found here.) 

In addition to chronicling every week online, Gauci has also released several CDs of performances from the Bushwick series, as well as some studio sessions by some regulars. (A review of some earlier ones can be found here.)  Among the last batch that arrived on my desk before I saw the event live, the trio of Sean Conly (bass), Michaël Attias (alto saxophone) and Tom Rainey (drums) was one that hit the CD player and intrigued me. 

It captures the trio's set from a January 2019 performance, beginning like a composition where Conly embarks on a melodic line and Attias joins him in a countermelody. Unlike the ELK3 group, this trio sets out to take ideas and expand on them and seeing what kind of potential they have. The final piece of their set (banded together in track two, which is labeled "Improvisation 2" on your CD player) climaxes with the band going into a heavy 4/4 groove. Don't say that these guys can't swing.

Owl Xounds Exploding Galaxy
The Coalescence

Bassist Gene Janas and drummer Adam Kriney first starting performing under the name Owl Xounds in the early 2000s, producing a series of small run releases (cassettes, CDrs) and garnering a name for themselves among New York free fans. Janas is something of a veteran free player, having come up in the '60s, eventually playing with guitarist Bern Nix and trumpeter Dewey Johnson in the Sedition Ensemble. Kriney came to New York a bit later but proved an apt foil for Janas.

The addition of "Exploding Galaxy" to the Owl Xounds moniker has been likened to Sun Ra's frequent augmentation of his Arkestra name with addition syllables. In addition to words, the duo is also joined by second bassist Shayna Dulberger and saxophonist Mario Rechtern in a 2007 session which yielded a previous album, Splintered Visions on Blackest Rainbow Records.

Compared to the two above albums, The Coalescence is the most frenzied of the three. (It's also the shortest, clocking in at exactly 30 minutes, with three tracks.) There is a moment on "Aghast at Last" where one of the bassists attempts to lay down something of a two-note line, but that's clearly an exception. Kriney plays explosively from starts to finish, moving across his whole kit in a multi-directional Rashied Ali kind of way, slowing down only in the final moments with some cymbal crashes serving as final proclamations. He serves as the element to follow, holding things together in a way. Rechtern moves in and out of the music, usually beginning in a flurry of rabid notes on alto or soprano. It's only when he steps back that it becomes easier to discern that two basses are playing, with one usually plucking and the other bowing, often rattling it on the strings or scraping viciously.

On the first couple listens, the music just sounds chaotic; four people playing at the same time, though not necessarily together. But listening on earbuds brings out the subtleties of the music. Kriney's performance keeps the music flowing with a high level of energy. Before "Distillation" suddenly stops, Rechtern trades his wild tone for a sound closer to a swing player, with a plucky tone. He plays some unidentifiable instrument at the end of "Cavernous Ode" that might be an electronic reed instrument. The reverb on that track also plays up the divergent sounds of the two bassists. If you can't see this group live, block out everything else and give a close listen, imagining what it would look like in a live setting.

ESP originally released The Coalescence as an extremely limited edition LP. That's sold out but CDs and digital copies can be found on the label's Bandcamp page or website. 

Gauci continues to post music from previous Bushwick Public House shows on youtube, linking them on his FB page. There's even another set by Conly, Attias & Rainey on youtube. Pretty much all of the albums can be found on the Bandcamp page linked above.

The OutNow discography also seems to be up on Bandcamp now as well. 

Go find them. Tell them I sent you.

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