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.)

Amao Quartet review for All About Jazz

My latest CD review for All About Jazz is of the Amao Quartet’s self-produced Improcreations. A beautiful example of free improvisation (here featuring four Brazilian electric guitarists) that is neither overbearing nor confrontational. Click on the cover to discover!


Keith Jarrett: Radiance (ECM 1960/61)


Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett piano
Radiance, Parts I-XIII
Recorded live, October 27, 2002 at Osaka Festival Hall
Radiance, Parts XIV-XVII
Recorded live, October 30, 2002 at Metropolitan Festival Hall, Tokyo
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Assistant engineer: Yoshihiro Suzuki

“We are all players and we are all being played.”
–Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett is a composer without a score, a melody with a body. He is a soul in constant transition. Such is life.

In his liner notes, Jarrett tells us he was trying something new with these solo improvised performances (his first in 15 years after an illness-ridden hiatus), forging paths for the most part devoid of melodic and motivic footholds, and fragmenting the epic journeys for which he’d come to be known. Durations of tracks—ranging from from a minute and a half (Parts IV, XI) to 14 minutes (Parts X, XIV, XVII)—speak to the program’s cellular makeup.

Parts I through XIII are cumulative, in the sense that each could not have existed without the other. Jarrett: “I was slightly shocked to notice that the concert had arranged itself into a musical structure despite my every effort to be oblivious to the overall outcome.” That such structure emerged at all is testament to his soul, which lives and breathes for the communication of his art, and to the music he unearths, all the more everlasting for being unplanned. One can hear him thinking through the notes as if they were words in a James Joyce novel, skimming just enough meaning off the top to tell a story but also leaving behind so much to discover during future listens. Passages of controlled frustration blend into heavenly resolutions, though one is always quick to succumb to the other. This is especially true in Part I, which sets a precedent for open reflection, shuffling honesty into a deck without spades.

Occasional mechanical rhythms (Parts II, VIII, and especially the vampy XII) demonstrate the unpredictability of Newton’s clockwork universe, sometimes digging so deep into the earth that they come out the other side and continue onward toward neighboring galaxies. Reveries, on the other hand, are fragrant and abundant (Parts III, VI, IX, XIII). In these Jarrett wanders like the traveler whose satchel has been emptied of its material artifacts yet which overflows with spiritual relics of the journey that emptied it. He takes in the sights along with the sounds, folds each into his tattered scrapbook, and stores their energy for the next concert. As effective as these snapshots are, even more so are the abstract and beguiling ones. In this respect, the heavily sustain-pedaled Part V is a masterful stretch. Here Jarrett turns the keys into putty and flexes the piano’s infrastructure to a breaking point. Part X, for its breadth and sheer melodic force, is another highlight that combines reverence with fearless distortions.

Parts XIV through XVII are excerpted from the concert recorded in full on ECM’s Tokyo Solo DVD, and demonstrate the vignette-oriented Jarrett to clearest effect. There is playfulness in these concluding acts, a dramaturgy of detail and respect for spontaneous character. So easy are they to get swept up in that the urge to sing along may be almost as strong as that which compels Jarrett to emote in just that way. That song becomes our tether to land as the tidal currents of Part XVII take us back to the Mother Ocean, where swims our shared love for the sounds that kept us from sinking in the first place.

Improvised Choral Music

In 2004 a close friend, Mary Porcari, passed away of ovarian cancer. In my grief I contemplated writing a requiem for her, but as I sat before pages of empty staves I found my mind devoid of music. Instead, I opened a simple mixing program on my computer and, with the Latin text in front of me, improvised the full mass at one sitting. I later transcribed the piece, which received its world premiere performance in Mary’s honor at Grace Church in Amherst, Massachusetts on November 5 of the following year. I have since continued to compose choral music in this same way, letting each text guide me where it will. Because this music is straight from the heart, it inevitably has drawn from much of what I listen to daily. In this regard the music of Arvo Pärt and the performance style of the Hilliard Ensemble have been undoubtable inspirations. I have recently created a MySpace page where one can hear my music, unrefined as it is. Seeing as it would not exist without ECM’s vital presence in my listening life, I felt it appropriate to post here.

Incidentally, Grady Harp has been kind enough to share the following thoughts on my music:

It seems close to impossible to believe that the music of Tyran Grillo is limited to his MySpace blog site.  Happening onto this music was almost an accidental discovery.  This is music that travels direct from one man’s heart and soul into the manipulation of sound and space that weds to some of the most exquisite, ethereal otherness this listener has experienced.  Apparently Grillo’s only instrument is his voice and he records directly into the computer without first writing notes on a staff of music paper or recreating the sounds in a way that other musicians can perform them.  According to the composer these ‘melodies’ came out of an experience of loss of a loved one, and if that is the fact then we have in our midst a man who has an incredible future should he decide to transform his vocal manipulations of his own voice (a voice that comfortably rings through a wide range) into performable format.

To this point there are ten compositions at his site: Magnificat, Stabat Mater I, II, and III, Rorate Coeli, Kyrie eleison, Officium, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Lacrimosa.  If pushed to the book of category these works are related to chants, but not the medieval chants that have lasted through the centuries and are heard at high holy days. No, these harmonies are very informed by Eastern music: some of these sound like mystical choirs hovering in the past of Egypt or Greece.  The lines do not repeat but instead hang in the air like vaporous transient clouds, like the afterburn of incense.  They are holy, they are sacred, they are from somewhere we have not been – except inside our souls.

This is important music, not a compilation of distant memories from other times, but very original murmurs of the heart.  I can only urge listeners to become acquainted with this work.  Hopefully someone will fund the production of this music on CDs so that more people can be transformed by this magic.