Stockhausen/Andersen/Héral/Rypdal: Kartā (ECM 1704)



Markus Stockhausen trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn
Terje Rypdal electric guitar
Arild Andersen double-bass
Patrice Héral drums, percussion, live electronics
Recorded December 1999 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Although the title of Markus Stockhausen’s Kartā is Sanskrit for “higher power,” the music serving it suggests a path of regression from bird to egg. The trumpeter-composer fronts a superb trio that includes Arild Andersen and Patrice Héral (a percussionist whom Andersen characterizes as “a European equivalent to Nana Vasconcelos” and who can also be heard the bassist’s concept album, Electra). Guitarist Terje Rypdal guests, adding swirls of Technicolor to the band’s monochrome. True to collective spirit, much of the pre-arranged material was jettisoned in favor of the spontaneous improvisations that ensued for the recording session’s first ninety minutes. From this came the lion’s share of an 11-part set list. Of the four composed pieces that made the final cut, Andersen and Stockhausen each contributed two.

Looking out from “Legacy” (a sweet breaking of bread that evokes late-night Miles) at the album’s center, one sees Andersen’s pieces at the farthest reaches. Where “Sezopen” allures with its droning cries and floats Rypdal’s autumnal heart murmurs with ease, “Lighthouse” draws powerful arco lines, evoking not the structure itself but the rays of promise it emits and the vessels they rock to sleep. The resulting traction leaves us with a time-lapse photograph to cherish. One layer inward, in either penultimate position, are Stockhausen’s tunes, which between the rubato “Flower Of Now” and the amorphous “Choral” open various doorways of possibility into the ad-libbed nexus.

In said nexus reside creatures of great dexterity (viz: Andersen’s fingerwork in “Wood And Naphta” and Rypdal’s in the fiercely programmatic “Wild Cat”) and natural girth (“Sway”). Yet it is in freer tracks such as “Auma,” “Invocation,” and “Emanation” where the musicians’ sacred touchstones appear. Together they form the weight of a Foucault’s pendulum spun in resourceful filament. At times they reach fevered pitch at the suggestion of Andersen’s ebony ululations, while at others they slip into ghostly blur. Whatever the climate, they hold fast to their timekeeping in constantly shifting clockwork with admirable constancy.

Stockhausen is a player who bathes in outer space, finding freedom in the darkness between the stars. With Kartā he has crumpled a nebula back to its planetary state.

Aparis: Despite the fire-fighters’ efforts… (ECM 1496)

Despite the fire fighters’ efforts…

Markus Stockhausen trumpets, fluegelhorn
Simon Stockhausen keyboards, soprano saxophone
Jo Thönes acoustic and electronic drums
Recorded July 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Aparis

Three years after a self-titled debut, the trio known as Aparis set out for its second of two albums for ECM. Much of the sweep of the first can be found slithering throughout Despite the fire-fighters’ efforts…, only here trumpeter Markus Stockhausen’s lines swim eel-like in an even deeper ocean of electronics, courtesy of brother Simon (who also plays soprano sax). Drummer Jo Thönes is gorgeously present at key moments, as in the high-octane intensity that concludes the opening track, “Sunrice.” Before this we are surrounded by dawn-drenched ruins. We see a hilly landscape licked bare by a forest of orange tongues. A sequencer describes the tragedy with shape-shifting rhetoric, opening like the rainbow bridge to Valhalla. A flanged voice spreads its song over the ashen fields and brings with it the promise of new sustenance before closing its eyes amid the drone and swizzle of cymbals. With the tastes of this 13-minute paean still lingering on the tongue, we pass through the botanical portal of “Waveterms.” This scurrying and colorful portrait of the forest floor eases us into “Welcome,” which drops a liquid soprano into a laid-back and sultry groove, night music for the Blade Runner demimonde. The call of sirens oozes from the city’s skin like plasma in search of closure. Trumpet joins soprano in chorus, as if bonding to the truth of reality, in which swims the slippery little fish of our alienation from hands that were never designed to grasp it. From trickle to flood, this music pairs shadows and swords of light in an epic masquerade, paling at last into “Fire.” The jazziest grape on this vine, it recalls the classic strains of ECM’s heyday, modish synth and all. The electronics do take a more environmentally sound position, however, in “Green Piece.” Markus’s precise underlining gives weight to the fleeting and imprints the biodiversity of “Orange,” in which Simon’s keyboards achieve operatic ecstasy. Last is “Hannibal,” which runs through ages of underbrush like the pads of a dreaming dog. Markus’s mournful song carries across burning trees and anthemic drumming with the conviction of a fantasy made real, drunk out of sight like fresh water from a spring.

In this soundscape we are but eyes on the walls, blinking into the glare of a solar heart. It is a light show of the mind, a sonic doily laced into radial perfection. If, by the album’s conclusion, its title is not clear, we need only listen again.

<< Bowers-Broadbent/Leonard: Górecki/Satie/Milhaud/Bryars (ECM 1495 NS)
>> Peter Erskine Trio: You Never Know (ECM 1497)

Aparis: s/t (ECM 1404)


Markus Stockhausen trumpets, fluegelhorn
Simon Stockhausen synthesizers, saxophone
Jo Thönes acoustic and electronic drums
Recorded August 1989 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The time has come that you shall remember who you are.
Forever have you been and shall eternally be.
You have come to feel the joy of creation,
to see its beauty and infinitely love all there is.
For all is thyself.
Each moment you create yourself and a thousand worlds around.
Your being is bliss, perfection, and light.
Rejoice, my friend, rejoice!

Aparis was an ephemeral band comprised of trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, his brother Simon (a sound artist and composer), and percussionist Jo Thönes. Although Markus does, of course, bring his characteristic sweep to nearly every stretch he plays, it is Simon whose contributions shine brightest in this atmospheric set of six. In them one may locate a range of influences, spanning the ECM spectrum from Pat Metheny (“Rejoice”) and Terje Rypdal (“Aparis”) to Oregon (“Carnaval”) and a smattering of Jon Hassell here and there for good measure. That being said, the results are fresh and original and bob with a decidedly aquatic sense of temporal space.

The nearly 17-minute title track is by far the most effective. It begins in a cavern of icicles amid looming shadows as Markus’s lone voice oozes from the stone like an afterlife. With the addition of bass and drum lines, steady yet ever ambient, that trumpet jumps through even airier hoops in flanged clothing. A sequencer resolves from the mists, soprano sax in tow. As if to confirm Rypdal’s possible involvement, a synth electric guitar rises toward the end. Next is “Poseidon,” which after an opening state of frenetic group activity launches into a synth-driven ride, a preamble to the expansive territories painted by Markus in the colors of night. “Rejoice” links back to the album’s opening strains, discovering along its winding roads that the journey is already the destination. Distorted recitations over a bed of sonic nails curl themselves into a protective ball and roll into the sun with all the surety of a dreamer awakened, leaving “Peach” to cry with lyrical finality, careening across the horizon with a focused song and impressions of a clear day.

Aparis is not without its missteps (the synth-heaviness of “High Ride,” for example, detracts from its punch), but overall its impressions seeps through you smoothly and at the speed of life. Like the flames on the album’s cover, they bleed from a scar in the air, hanging souls like ethereal laundry. Together, they are a marriage of creationism and evolution in sound.

<< Shankar: M.R.C.S. (ECM 1403)
>> ECM New Series Anthology (ECM 1405 NS)

Markus Stockhausen: Cosi Lontano … Quasi Dentro (ECM 1371)

Markus Stockhausen
Cosi Lontano … Quasi Dentro

Markus Stockhausen trumpet, fluegelhorn, synthesizer
Gary Peacock bass
Fabrizio Ottaviucci piano
Zoro Babel drums
Recorded March 1988 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Trumpeter Markus Stockhausen follows, not leads, this haunting improvisation session with Gary Peacock on bass, Fabrizio Ottaviucci on piano, and Zoro Babel on drums. The colors are as rich as the names on the roster, and work their way through eight improvisatory spaces with varying degrees of clarity. “So Far,” for instance, begins like fingers groping along the wall of a pitch-dark room, awakening after an undisclosed period of unconsciousness. Like you, it doesn’t know where it is. You hear drums, cymbals, a bass, can feel the rattling of a piano in your ribcage. There is resolution only in that last morsel of starvation, where Peacock’s gentle scramble over a drone of horns in “Forward” bursts like a play of light and shadow while Babel plays 52 Pickup on the periphery. “Late” features a rare arco turn from Peacock, who scratches a treatise’s worth of indecipherable letters at the center of every galaxy Stockhausen traces around him. Yet the proceedings aren’t all slip and slide, for “Across Bridges” gives us a hefty dose of traction, as if throwing a final memory our way before capture. Bass and drums dance in a free conversation with Stockhausen, who lays down a refracted song “In Parallel.” This blossoming of after-midnight sentiments and avenues pales into “Breaking,” a concise staccato package unwrapped as if by a child at the base of a toppling Christmas tree. Babel sits out “Through,” another excursion into starlight, rising only upon the latter waves of “Almost Inside,” which over an inescapable hum rise and fall like eventide on the shoreline of a desolate island.

You’re not going to find your foot tapping to this one, but your mind will already know its rhythms before the first note graces your ears.

<< Arvo Pärt: Passio (ECM 1370 NS)
>> Alex Cline: The Lamp And The Star (ECM 1372)

Karlheinz Stockhausen: MICHAELs REISE (ECM New Series 1406)

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Markus Stockhausen trumpet
Suzanne Stephens bassett-horn
Ian Stuart clarinet
Lesley Schatzberger clarinet, bassett-horn
Michael Svoboda trombone, baritone horn
Kathinka Pasveer alto flute
Andreas Boettger percussion
Isao Nakamura percussion
Michael Obst synthesizer
Simon Stockhausen synthesizer
Karlheinz Stockhausen sound projection
Recorded December 1989, Nedeltschev Studio, Cologne
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s MICHAELs REISE (Michael’s Journey) makes up the second act of Donnerstag aus Licht (Thursday from Light), the first opera in the German composer’s 29-hour Licht cycle, and follows the archangel Michael as he treks across this mortal coil. In this 1984 version for soloists we are treated to a more reductive, though no less effective, take on what was originally a larger orchestral affair. A percolating opening statement from a varied brass section introduces the potency of Stockhausen’s highly mathematical approach. From this cacophonous opening we get a string of drones, pulled like taffy until it slowly sags into the yawning mouth of oblivion. A muted trumpet raises its hand to be recognized, breaking the surrounding silence with affirmation. We find ourselves in a street where the signs have been forgotten, a place where language no longer applies, and only the numerically inclined may press on—and indeed, at key points the musicians offer whispered numbers to the ether. There is anger in the air, but its source is long extinguished; smoke where there was never a fire. The journey seems infinite but is over in the blink of an eye. Cobblestone streets overlap with skyscrapers and uninhabited tundras; children fade into wolves, village elders, and back into children; music becomes one with speech and time. And throughout this melding of dimensions, every instrument holds on to its equation as if it were a secret to be coveted.

A perusal of the instrumentation is enough to give one a sense of the tonal colors to be expected, and I can only hope the above describes the feeling of the recording more than its sound. Stockhausen, sadly lost to the world in 2007, has been accused of being many things: everything from brilliant (“One of the most important composers of the twentieth century”) to overly ambitious (“A 29-hour opera cycle?!”) to utterly self-indulgent (see, for example, critical reactions to his Helicopter Quartet). For me, his risks were always supported by a steady dedication to his craft, turning seemingly gimmicky conceptual arrangements into acts of wonder. True to his aleatoric roots, Stockhausen never failed to pursue a line of thought to its most logical conclusion. His son Markus, who would go on to create a handful of inventive albums for ECM, is cosmic here on the trumpet. Then again, as the center of such an astrologically oriented piece, one would almost have to be. The same goes for his “teammates,” each of whom exhibits an intimate understanding of the composer’s great vision. Anyone unsure of how to approach Stockhausen’s music from the outside in may wish to start here, from the inside out.

<< ECM New Series Anthology (ECM 1405 NS)
>> Shankar: Pancha Nadai Pallavi (ECM 1407)