Talisman (Live In Nagoya)
Nov. 24th, 1994: 2002 Tzadik TZ 7342
- Batrachophrenoboocosmomachia 31: 55
- Transport Of Sorcerers 6:10
- Ahamkara 10: 00
John Zorn is a saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist composer and arranger and is considered a key figure in the downtown avant-garde which formed in the late Seventies/early Eighties in New York. Inspired by Japanese culture, film noir, and such music as Carl Stalling’s cartoon soundtracks, he is easily one of America’s most original and creative composers, also working with various gaming principles to determine his music’s direction in such works as the composition/game strategy COBRA which consists of a numbered of instructional cards and activities led by a conductor. He runs his own record label TZADIK, and is known for his high personal output of eclectic hybrid ensembles performing challenging, modern music, exemplified by his Masada and Naked City groups, and this particular recording (under the band name PainKiller )
This particular John Zorn project contains non-structured, un-metered freely improvised soloing mixed with Jamaican dub-styled bass playing and heavy metal drumming into an improvised performance that is equal parts all three, just as easily a freely improvised dub or heavy metal album if it was also promoted under either bassist Bill Laswell’s or drummer Mike Harris’ name. As the leader is Zorn though and he is known for his freely improvised, take-no prisoner’s approach to timbre and tonality, this is (arguably) an excellent example of free improvisation influenced by free jazz (though once again it must be stated that Zorn himself does not self-identify as any one kind of musician).
London Air Lift
December 20, 1996: 1997 Free Music Production FMPCD 89
- Fly Vision 15:48
- London Air Lift 5:14
- The Drop 12:39
- Neighbouring Instances 3:34
- Mayday 5:35
- One Thousands Clicks 9:34
- Half And Half 5:28
- Rough Diamond-Harry 5:16
This collective (Russell/Edwards/Sanders), led by Evan Parker, consists of guitar, double bass, drums and percussion, and Parker playing both soprano and tenor saxophone. It is an excellent example of Parker’s technical virtuosity in pitch and timbre variation, slap tonguing, circular breathing, and other contemporary techniques as he interacts with the others, all of which are associated with the London school connected to John Steven’s Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME), and the music reflects this influence (liner notes: pp. 5-6). This recoding is also an excellent example of the innovation of the British free improvisation scene and the difference between it and the American scene of the same period. While the American free improvisation scene during this time was organized around collective soloing, the SME were organized around the idea of music making as collective accompaniment, each musician contributing to an overall sound without any distinct individualistic ‘soloing’ (p. 5).
The music itself is typical of this ethos. On the opening track Fly Vision, the ensemble plays collectively and no one musician stands out. Parker’s tenor saxophone moves in and out, using dynamic volume variations while simultaneously adding various clicks and pops across several octaves, with almost no modal material that resembles anything suggesting a melody. Yet this technique creates “melodies of sound” (a term coined by violinist Malcolm Goldstein), no melodic intervals but a feeling of form and content similar to that of melody. When Parker begins playing a semi-thematic statement at 8:44 for example, the music sounds quite lyrical even though it is brief and based on no particular key or chordal structure.
The recording also demonstrates that free improvisation does not have to abandon the qualities of good musicianship in order to be iconoclastic, innovative, “new”, or experimental. Like any quality piece of flamenco, orchestral music, North Indian classical music, and such, Fly Vision has spontaneous dynamic variations, judicious usages of silence and sound, well conceived improvisations that add to the overall sound of the music, as well as a balance of forms with their opposites – fast/slow, high/low pitches, rhythmic symmetry and asymmetry, etc.
A Sounding Of Sources
2008, New World Records compilation: 80676-2
- Configurations In Darkness (Solo) 10:10
- Configurations In Darkness (Group) 25:51
- Ishi/timechangingspaces 20:08
- Ishi/”man waxati’Soundings 13:16
Violinist Malcolm Goldstein has been closely involved in Canadian and American new music and dance since 60’s, in New York City, as co-founder of the Tone Roads Ensemble and as participant in the Judson Dance Theater for example, as well as touring extensively. Goldstein’s idea of improvisation as a personal “sounding” has garnered him international attention for having extended the range of tonal/sound-texture, and expressive possibilities of the violin, including the use of vocalization and body movement as part of his playing.
In his book Sounding the Full Circle (self-published), Goldstein discusses sounding in relation to the idea of the “melodies of sound”, creating melodies of timbre, texture, and articulation (page 4). Although Arnold Schoenberg utilized this idea in distributing melody across multiple sections of the orchestra (klangfarbenmelodie), Goldstein’s concept is a radically different gesture of sound, gesture, and voice. As he puts it, melodies of sound “are created that evolve out of the interplay between the resonance of the violin and the gesture of the violinist” (page 87).
In the autumn of 2008 I had the good fortune of performing on the same bill as Goldstein at the Chelsea Museum in New York as part of the Notations 21* book launch. Goldstein’s performance, though not free jazz per se, contained a lot of emotive sound gestures similar to those of John Coltrane or saxophonist Eric Dolphy, with supportive vocalizations woven into the sound. Goldstein’s sound-melodies fit conceptually with the efforts of the free jazz energy players, if not the stylistic parameters, and this recording could be categorized as having a kind of kinship with both Cagean indeterminacy and freely improvised jazz. The emancipation of sound color as melody itself is clearly thriving in Goldstein’s music and philosophy, and A Sounding Of Sources is solid proof.
*anthology of graphic scores including works by Goldstein, Joan LaBarbera, KarlHeinz Stockhausen, myself, and others.