Kyoko Kitamura’s Tidepool Fauna: Protean Labyrinth

Protean Labyrinth

Protean Labyrinth is a tunnel burrowing into the linguistic soil from which we all sprout. It’s a sensation best expressed in a handful of tracks bearing the title “Push.” Of these, “Push Four” is the most emblematic, a spontaneous ramble, which, like the album as a whole, achieves coherence by virtue of its passage through time—pushing indeed against the temptation of meaning in favor of instinctive understanding. At the center of this aphasia is vocalist Kyoko Kitamura, who doesn’t so much lead the band as strike it like flint on rock. Tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Dayeon Seok are chemically bound to her at every moment, tasting the air of possibility like a three-pronged tongue.

Despite the guiding scores from which the music is drawn, the quartet undermines any purchase of exposition. What starts as a bright groove one moment might morph into throaty sinews of darkness the next. That such changes occur without force or hierarchical touch is testament to these musicians’ willingness to smash their compass the moment it’s calibrated. The finest turns are “Deadbolt” and “No Exit,” both masterful containments of wildness. Each is a glass house filled with vocal stones—not thrown but handled so much that they’ve become rounded with care.

Kitamura’s voice, brimming with fierce humility, is central to these goings on. In “Lure,” each of her utterances is an Ouroboros of potential meaning sacrificed on the altar of its own becoming and in “Slide” she breaks out the vocal champagne, bubbling and frothing her way through a subterranean mythos. This is the underside of language, a sonic entity that grows and moves of its own accord.

(This review, in its original form, appeared in the December 2018 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Circle: Paris Concert (ECM 1018/19)

Circle
Paris Concert

Anthony Braxton reeds, percussion
Chick Corea piano
Dave Holland bass, cello
Barry Altschul percussion
Recorded February 21, 1971 at the Maison de l’O.R.T.F, Paris
Engineer: Jean Delron
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The short-lived Chick Corea outfit outdoes itself in this 1971 live recording. A delicate piano intro primes us for an extended rendition of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertitti” to start. Once Braxton throws himself on top of incoming bass and drums, however, what began as contemplative awakening quickly turns into a spastic jaunt into more upbeat territory. The gnarled unity of the quartet paints in bold strokes, all the while flirting with total breakdown. Braxton’s perpetual motion and uncompromising tone make a superb tune out of a great one. “Song For The Newborn” gives Holland a moment in the spotlight. Swaddled in all the innocence of its title and bound by a mature sense of structure, this is an engaging interlude to the Braxton/Corea duet that follows. Corea’s frenetic style in the latter works its way through a host of rhythmic options before settling into a row of block chords. Braxton’s heady phrasing tears a page from the book of Coltrane, while his solitary diversions crackle with the urgency of a broken mirror, as yet unframed by the bastion of mundanity. Altschul delights in “Lookout Farm,” in which he dives headfirst into his percussive arsenal. The tinkling of icicles and cowbells in an open field give way to an extended solo, thus providing ample segue into “73 506 Kelvin 8,” a beautifully convoluted organism that could only come from the mind of Braxton. Below its cacophonous surface pulsates a vast network of instrumental veins, through which flows the passionate immediacy that is Circle’s lifeblood, and from which Holland’s rapture sings with detail and imagination. “Toy Room ­ Q&A” (Holland) boasts Corea in notably fine form, leaving plenty of elbowroom for Braxton to flex his reeds. The freer aesthetic crashes in on itself by the end, leaving us craving a familiar foothold. This, we get in the standard “No Greater Love,” capping things off with notable turns from all.

Corea busts out with some of his most captivating fingerwork, proving himself finely attuned to the mechanisms of his caravan at every rest stop along the way; Braxton’s “Pharaonic” sound titillates the ear; and one could hardly ask for a tighter rhythm section at one’s side. As a collective unit, Circle doesn’t so much make music out of as inhabit its raw melodic materials. This recording is a lasting testament to a vibrant formative period for ECM. The audience’s enthusiastic reactions give the listener the feeling of being present in the making of history.

Marion Brown: Afternoon Of A Georgia Faun (ECM 1004)

1004

Marion Brown
Afternoon Of A Georgia Faun

Marion Brown alto saxophone, zomari, percussion
Anthony Braxton alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, contrabass clarinet, Chinese musette, flute, percussion
Bennie Maupin tenor saxophone, alto flute, bass clarinet, acorn, bells, wooden flute, percussion
Chick Corea piano, bells, gong, percussion
Andrew Cyrille percussion
Jeanne Lee voice, percussion
Jack Gregg bass, percussion
Gayle Palmoré voice, piano, percussion
William Green top o’lin, percussion
Billy Malone African drum
Larry Curtis percussion
Recorded August 10, 1970 at Sound Ideas Studio, New York City
Engineer: George Klabin
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: November 15, 1971

A subtle congregation of clicks, pops, breaths, and whistles eases us into this challenging yet rewarding recording from a mobile group of musicians, many of whom—Jeanne Lee, Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, Bennie Maupin, and Marion Brown himself—are now household names in the avant-garde circuit. Over 35 minutes we are treated to a distilled experience that jumps, flies, and slithers its way through a forest of sounds. The arrangements are heavy on reeds and percussion, with star turns from one severely abused piano and a smattering of aphasic human voices who seem bent on reducing all communication to wit and circumstance. The music is indeterminate and uncompromising and unleashes its full torrent only in the second movement, “Djinji’s Corner.” Slide whistles, snares, and bass join in the cacophony as a voice intones, “Listen to me. Can you hear?”—at last giving us some vocabulary to latch on to as we suffocate under a voracious avalanche.

Not an album for the faint of heart, Afternoon is indicative of the brave decisions ECM was already making on its fourth release, and on it one begins to hear inklings of the space for which ECM would soon come to be known. It is also meticulously recorded. Every detail comes through (for example, when a percussionist picks up bell and rings it, we clearly hear it being returned to a cloth-dampened surface). Describing the sound of this album is, I imagine, as difficult as it was to lay it down in the studio. The sheer range of implied space is impressive, made all the more so for its organic textures. A masterpiece of free jazz and well worth the chance for the adventurous listener.


Original cover

Dave Holland Quartet: Conference of the Birds (ECM 1027)

Dave Holland Quartet
Conference of the Birds

Dave Holland bass
Sam Rivers reeds, flute
Anthony Braxton reeds, flute
Barry Altschul percussion, marimba
Recorded November 30, 1972 at Allegro Studio, New York City
Engineer: Tony May
Produced by Manfred Eicher

As someone who began with ECM New Series releases long before easing into the world of ECM proper, my initial explorations of the latter led me to decidedly contemporary avenues of jazz and to a particular fondness for the many Norwegian projects represented by the label. Only in recent years have I begun to pan for gold in the massive back catalog that was produced before I was born, and among the many fine nuggets to emerge from the sediment is this most splendid effort.

Phenomenal wind work from Braxton and Rivers makes this a decadent studio treat, grinding out equally captivating solos, whether over a tight rhythm section or in the throes of a looser backdrop. Though easily billed as a “free jazz” album, Conference of the Birds remains a fine testament to a relatively accessible strand of the form. A child of the post-bop generation, Holland takes the back seat for the most part and lets his reedmen take center stage. Whimsical elements such as the unexpected coach’s whistle in “Q & A” comingle with the solid relay races of “Four Winds” and “See-Saw.” The title track provides the most delicate textures on the album with its effortless flourishes and gorgeous bass intro, acting as a fragrant palate-cleanser before launching us into the ecstatic free-for-all that is “Interception.” Each cut has its own distinct flavor, lending a vibrant anticipation to every break.

Conference of the Birds is special to me for at least three reasons: (1) It evokes an important period of musical and political transition that I will never experience directly. Moods are wrought in iron and blown glass, so that no matter how many times the structure is destroyed, one can always melt the pieces down again into something new. This was a time in which the entire world was either on its knees or throwing off the shackles of normalcy in favor of unrestricted forms of expression. This duplicitous spirit of oppression and liberation is embodied perfectly in the sounds. (2) One can trace a dark and lasting thread from Holland’s early work to the present. This set in particular allows us to see his foundational strength, the whimsical order for which he has become so well known. (3) This album is, for me at least, one example of what makes jazz so uplifting: a spirit of shared knowledge, a hermetic seal ruptured for the sake of communal awareness, and the letting go of one’s own inhibitions amid an unforgiving social order.

Offer it your hand, and you may be surprised where it leads.