1. Valerio Tricoli, Miserio Lares (PAN)

su wai

2. Su Wai, Gita Pon Yeik (Little Axe)

ian william craig

3. Ian William Craig, Turn Of Breath (Recital)


4. Zeitkratzer, Metal Machine Music (Karlrecords)


5. Oren Ambarchi, Quixotism (Editions Mego)


6. Grouper, Ruins (Kranky)


7. Lee Gamble, KOCH (PAN)


8. Lawrence English, Wilderness of Mirrors (Room 40)


9. Eric Holm, Andøya (Subtext)


10. Skogen, Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long (Another Timbre)


11. The Inward Circles, Nimrod is Lost in Orion and Osyris In The Doggestarre (Corbel Stone Press)


12. Fennesz, Bécs (Editions Mego)

pitre allen

13. Duane Pitre and Cory Allen, The Seeker And The Healer (Students Of Decay)


14. John Edwards, Mark Sanders and John Tilbury, A Field Perpetually At The Edge Of Disorder (Fataka)

p jorgensen

15. P Jørgensen, Gold Beach (Low Point)

hval susanna

16. Jenny Hval and Susanna, Meshes Of Voice (Susanna Sonata)


17. Robert Curgenven, SIRÉNE (Recorded Fields)


18. Peter Brötzmann & Jason Adasiewicz, Mollie’s In The Mood (Brö)


19. Rhodri Davies, An Air Swept Clear Of All Distance (Alt Vinyl)


20. John Chantler, Even Clean Hands Damage The Work (Room 40)


21. Andrea Belfi, Natura Morta (Miasmah)


22. Objekt, Flatland (PAN)


23. Hallock Hill, Kosloff Mansion (Hundred Acre Recordings)


24. Sir Richard Bishop, Solo Acoustic Volume Eight (VDSQ)


25. N.E.W., Motion (Dancing Wayang)



1 Rashad Becker – Traditional Music Of Notional Species Vol.1

dennis johnson

2 Dennis Johnson – November


3 Okkyung Lee – Ghil


4 Antti Tolvi – Pianoketo


5 Roscoe Mitchell, Tony Marsh and John Edwards – Improvisations


6 Max Loderbauer – Transparenz

tilbury ambarchi

7 John Tilbury and Oren Ambarchi – The Just Reproach


8 Paul Metzger – Tombeaux


9 Simon Fisher Turner – The Epic Of Everest


10 Pat Thomas – Al-Khwarizmi Variations


11 The Stranger – Watching Dead Empires In Decay


12 Idassane Wallet Mohamed – Issawat


13 The Necks – Open


14 Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet – Photographs


15 Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Evan Parker, John Edwards, Tony Marsh and John Butcher – Quintet-Sextet

chris watson

16 Chris Watson – In St Cuthbert’s Time


17 Paul Jebanasam – Rites


18 Bill Orcutt – A History Of Every One


19 Anthony Child – The Space Between People & Things


20 Stephan Mathieu and David Sylvian ‎– Wandermüde

Paul Dunmall and Tony Bianco’s Tribute to John Coltrane, live at Café Oto 16/7/13

As I write, it is 46 years to the day since John Coltrane’s death. In that near half-century, the root has grown stronger, and spread rhizome like into new fields, fresh shoots appearing not just in jazz but in the likes of rock and noise. Yet, despite the proliferation and accompanying mutation, the original source retains its fascination and its unique identity. The saxophonist’s music possesses to my ears an unmistakeably intense feeling of striving for something that remains tantalisingly unattainable. Musically, I hear this in the way he works through scales, builds and rebuilds phrases, plays with sounds, ever trying and discarding, always moving quickly onwards – but perhaps even more so in terms of a serious spirituality; I get the sense of someone reaching up for a light that can’t be grasped.

Given this very particular power, any decision to take on the Coltrane canon directly ranks somewhere between bold and downright foolhardy. Yet earlier this year, the British saxophonist Paul Dunmall and drummer Tony Bianco released a duo album drawn in the main from Coltrane’s more turbulent post-A Love Supreme output. Despite – or more likely because of – their sax/drum set-up, they avoided anything from Coltrane’s “last classic”, his 1967 duo recording with Rashied Ali Interstellar Space, favouring the full band records, a decision which forced them into a more creative space, having to rework rather than copy. On a sizzling night at Café Oto, they were to take these ingredients and more in an attempt to cook up something fresh enough to serve as a tribute to Coltrane.

From the later period Coltrane canon, the likes of opening piece “Ogunde” and “Sunship” were suitably fiery. Bianco plays in a manner reminiscent of Ali, seemingly going everywhere yet nowhere at once, thus affording Dunmall the space to go hunting where he wished, culminating in him gnawing on notes like he was stripping meat from a bone. However they tempered this heat with some surprise set inclusions. A cool “Naima” (first recorded by Coltrane in 1959, an earlier epoch in terms of his progression ) became ever more diffuse, like a river widening and dividing as it reached the sea, straight melodic channels dissolving into a spray. Dunmall’s tone was sublime, emotion-soaked and evocative – the way notes cracked in the upper register was reminiscent of the man himself. Dunmall even turned to the soprano to take a long run at Coltrane’s signature tune “My Favourite Things”, blurring the entire discography as he did into one continuous smear of sound.

“Peace On Earth” began with similar beauty to “Naima”, sax floating on a shimmering sea of cymbals, but the weather soon changed, turning this into a boiling torrent. At one point, a sweat-sodden Dunmall seemed to cut himself up, curtailing his melody with a series of furious rasps, and you got the sense that much was at stake here, both in terms of trying to do the material justice, and of trying to reimagine and reinvigorate it. However, as the storm subsided, the mask slipped, Dunmall puncturing the serious mood with a jocular reference to the track being “another of Coltrane’s hits”. As he did, I was left reflecting that, for all their effort, and as excellent as the playing was, there was perhaps an element of Coltrane’s music that was destined to remain just out of reach to the duo – and that their inability to attain it was, in its own way, an entirely appropriate tribute.

John Edwards and Okkyung Lee – White Cable Black Wires

As enjoyable as I’m sure they were, I was troubled by the way in which the recent Kraftwerk concerts in London, both in the choice of setting and mode of delivery, presented their music as a museum piece. Performing their music in that gallery space, in chronological order, with little deviation from the canonical versions, it was as if they wished their catalogue to be preserved forever in amber. Where once their music had forward momentum (whether through mechanical engine or pedal power), and a beating human heart, they now seem to have stalled, and are absenting themselves more and more from the creative process.

Such thoughts send me scurrying towards releases such as White Cables Black Wires (released on the still young Fataka label) by the improvising musicians John Edwards and Okkyung Lee, a duo unlikely to be melting the phonelines at Tate Modern any time soon. Here, I find that life, instrumentation, emotion, music, communication and creativity are all tangled up in a dense knot. Whereas that Kraftwerk show (and I’m picking on them a little, I could instead have mentioned new records by My Bloody Valentine or David Bowie) committed the crime of being exactly what you’d expect, no more and no less, this is, as life itself is, unpredictable and ever-changing. Even knowing the instruments they play – John Edwards the double bass, and Okkyung Lee the cello – can’t prepare you for what is to follow, as the two of them do much to extend the possibilities of those instruments beyond their classical roles.

After a brief clickety-clack morse code interchange, like a sort of analogue handshake, there follows a relentless stream of information, with ideas being exchanged, discussed, and built upon on the fly, and at great speed. Within the first few minutes, there are sounds that suggest John Edwards is jamming his bow under his strings, playing it like a schoolchild twanging a ruler on the edge of a desk, and is squeaking the body of his bass with a wet finger. Lee has sliced and crunched her strings, producing sounds that are by turns vocal and industrial. Blink, and they’ve swapped hats, with Edwards up among his highest notes, and Lee churning away at her lowest. By the end of that frenetic (and at times almost funky, in a fractured sort of way) first piece it sounds like there is a percussionist in the room with them, playing a snare with brushes, rapping the edge of a tom with a drumstick. Already, I’m forced to confront the fact that I’m not sure who is doing what, or how.

But never mind, who, what or how: why are they doing this? In White Cable Black Wires, the improvisational imperative feels so tightly bound to self-preservation, you might as well ask why we breathe. You can hear the vital signs of life in the second track, where Edwards’s bass pounds symbolically, like a heart in love: WHAMWHAM WHAMWHAM WHAMWHAM. The exchanges between Edwards and Lee at times seem heated and argumentative; elsewhere they are in accord, at ease, as one: indeed, the way in which pieces build in intensity and rhythms synchronise feels almost sexual. In those moments when Lee and Edwards’s strings become entwined, they swoop and sing in one voice like a flock of birds, or creak and crack like the interconnected branches of a tree in the wind. Evolving, living, breathing, fighting, fucking, creating: this is as far from petrification as it is possible to get.

The Thing at Cafe Oto, 9/2/13


In rock music, the riff is a distillation of the music’s base elements, reducing an already simple form to its crude essence. On one hand, it can be an exciting explosion of emotion [link to suggestive Youtube clip of gushing oil well goes here], but without the desire and the ability to dig any deeper, both the music and the listener can end up trapped in a very cramped and airless space. In this sense, the repeated riff seems to be the antithesis of the complex, ever-shifting and cerebral reputation of free jazz. Yet the riff has its place in improvised music, as even the most cursory acquaintance with the back catalogue of Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or even John Coltrane will tell you, never mind tracing some of their roots back to Africa. In this music, the riff can provide a platform for deep exploration. While tethered to this structure, the improviser can reach across to other worlds of sound, while keeping the tension high for the audience. And no-one, it seems, knows this more than The Thing.


Across this two night residency at Café Oto, the Norwegian/Swedish three-piece were joined by a number of special guests. The first night saw them being supported by the English/Japanese trio lll人 (San Nin – which translates, perhaps a little too literally, as Three People). They borrowed something from the sphere of rock too, albeit from its rough outer surfaces: the use of feedback as an intrinsic part of the music. Daichi Yoshikawa deployed a variety of vibrating objects, coils, cans, what have you, on a small snare drum in front of an amp. The noise rose from a tinny buzz to thick metal whine, like sharp shards of guitar from (Oto regular, and special guest on day two) Thurston Moore.

While I’m all for instrumental inventiveness and novel noise, the lll人 setup was intensely problematic. Not only were the sounds overly metallic in timbre, tooth-hurtingly so at times, but the frequency range was very restricted. This was even more of an issue given that alto saxophonist Seymour Wright constantly wanted to share that same small sonic area with Yoshikawa, wriggling in with a series of long, high, squeals. Only the drummer Paul Abbott remained in the free space outside, and the moments where he tempted Wright out of his enclosure to engage in flurries of dialogue provided the set’s few, disappointingly fleeting, highlights.


It didn’t take The Thing long to find their groove. After a frenetic, foot-finding intro, Mats Gustafsson was crouching, swaying back and forth, coiled tighter than one of Yoshikawa’s springs, blasting a two note riff from his baritone sax. Behind him, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten put his double bass down and grinned, while the drummer Paal Nilsen-Love just listened, nodded, and adjusted some of his cymbals. They left him toying with this simple figure, stretching it, chewing on it, for what seemed like several minutes, before Håker Flaten picked up an electric bass.

I’ve heard the Thing riffing on the rock canon (PJ Harvey, White Stripes) before, but I’ve never actually witnessed them actually going electric, so to speak. Any qualms quickly disappeared as Håker Flaten began to work into the saxophonist’s simple lines, bulking them out with rough-edged metal heft, creating a sort of fuzzy doom-funk. The ever-impressive Nilsen-Love scampered energetically in to the spaces they left, all sharp elbows and acute angles, making the gaps feel as wide as oceans.


From this base, they set out in a number of different directions, hinting at Coltrane’s classic “Olé” at one point, and toying with Ethiopian modes at another, passing riffs around, two notes this time, two bars next. When the bass and sax locked together in a big-armed embrace, we in the crowd whooped and rocked in our seats, driven into trance-like states by the relentless repetition. This was especially true during their second set, in which the alto of guest Martin Küchen (“the best saxophonist in Sweden now that I live in Austria”, quipped Gustafsson) was given license to dance on top. While he made all manner of awkward shapes up front, deftly bending and splitting notes like he was whittling wood, The Thing collected rhythmic material behind him like liquid in a dam, letting it escape in a trickle and then a torrent, finally sweeping him up on their wave-like riffs like a little toy boat. It was a powerful display which drew from a deep well of musical history, and refracted it, as if to say: this is it. This is what matters. This is The Thing.

Arve Henriksen – Solidification


As if the release of a new album by the esteemed Norwegian trumpeter, Supersilent member, and David Sylvian (to name one of many) collaborator Arve Henriksen didn’t have enough heft, Rune Grammofon have managed to create the weightiest of packages for it. Solidification is a beautiful, and very heavy, seven LP box set, which positions that new album, entitled Chron, alongside double LP sets of each of Henriksen’s three previous Rune Grammofon LPs, each with bonus tracks, along with high quality audio DVDs and a booklet. Anyone would think they were trying to make some sort of point.

Not just a point about how important they feel this music is (which they clearly do): the very title Solidification makes me think a bit more widely than the quality of the music, but instead of a gradual process, tectonic plates perhaps, about how all that has gone before has somehow led to this moment. It invites the listener to follow Arve on a journey, both temporal and geographical, to try to make sense of this particular catalogue (one which for these purposes excludes the 2008 ECM release Cartography), as a cohesive body of work.

That journey begins in Japan, in 2001, with the evocative Sakuteiki release. The album opens with Henriksen’s signature trumpet sound: soft, breathy, unprocessed smears of sound, owing something to Jon Hassell. The album and track titles disclose the fact that Henriksen is setting out to paint images of Japan, from temples to cherry blossom-laden trees, from tea houses to bamboo. He succeeds, partly by virtue of that trumpet sound, which resembles at times a shakuhachi, and elsewhere a hushed voice in prayer.

The more still and spacious compositions seem to draw from gagaku, that slow-paced and elegant Japanese court music, but elsewhere tracks edge out carefully into different, more experimental terrain. “White Gravel” is a beautiful recording of something – quite possibly gravel, quite possibly white in colour – being dropped onto a hard surface (for all its brevity, the crisp sounds in the piece reminded me of Francois Bayle’s INA-GRM piece Erosphere), while “Bonsai Ritual” has Arve banging delicately on a bit of metal. The huge, deep pedal point trumpet drones in bonus track “Samyaku” cast long dark shadows, and serve as an omen for what we’ll hear in future records, but the long overdue return to the places delineated in Sakuteiki is one of the bright spots in this collection.

2004’s Chiaroscuro feels much more escapist than Sakuteiki, as if Henriksen was seeking to depict a fantasy world, rather than anchoring his work in reality (I’m not sure how much I should read into the fact that the booklet mentions some unspecified trauma in his personal life at the time). You don’t get the sense of any particular place here, track titles give no clues, instruments such as hand drums appear, playing vaguely tribal if unrecognisable rhythms – and this, with the addition of some ambient electronics makes this feel like the closest satellite of Hassell’s Fourth World. But despite the lack of specific geographical fix, this still feels like a landscape, the electronics of Jan Bang and Erik Honore sketching out a a calm, breezy snowscape as viewed from above, with Arve’s trumpet lifting us up to that vantage point like a bird rising on thermals.

Despite this height, Chiaroscuro still manages to knock its knees on the coffee table at times. But there is much to appreciate here, in particular Henriksen’s debuting of his incredible singing voice on the record. When the whispering trumpet drops out of “Opening Image”, it is replaced, imperceptibly at first, by a soft voice, which from nowhere soars like that of a female soprano – I can still remember searching the credits the first time I heard this to work out who she was. Elsewhere, black shapes reappear to disrupt the ambience, with a couple of noir moments interrupting the snow-white flight: the static, vinyl crackle and drowned strings of “Scuro” bring to mind the output of Erik Skodvin’s Miasmah label.

After the airy detachment of Chiaroscuro, Arve’s decision to ground his 2007 release in his home town Strjon was perhaps to be welcomed.  Track titles reference the surrounding landscape, and parallel those on Sakuteiki: for “White Gravel” we have “Leaf and Rock”, for “Shrine” we have “Ancient and Accepted Rite”, for “Paths Around The Pond” we have “Green Lake”. But, specific location aside,  there is a key difference from Sakuteiki, which is apparent from the outset, in that that prior commitment to no processing, no effects, appears to be gone. And in doing so, perversely, Henriksen somehow manages to make more of an emotional connection than on previous releases, as if any too-smooth-to-feel surfaces have been sanded down, rendered more tactile and a little bit raw.

Much of this can be attributed to a change in collaborators: instead of Bang and Honore, Henriksen drafted in his Supersilent colleagues Helge Sten and Ståle Storløkken, not a twosome known for too much niceness. And so the keyboards in second track “Black Mountain” have darkness and dirt ground into them, while the pretty face of “Ascent” is cut into with some rough electronics. These aren’t the parts of town that tourists get to see. The tasteful quasi-tribal rhythms of Chiaroscuro are replaced by some angular prepared piano patterns, while Henriksen’s experimental sound collection extends to includes a muffled metallic clanging, like a ski lift swaying in off season. But it is the concluding black run from the title track to “Glacier Descent” which is probably the outstanding performance of Henriksen’s solo career so far; his voice weaving wordlessly over deep layers of trumpet, electronic and throat-singing drone.

And so to the new album, Chron. If the title of album and box set lead you to think that this might something of a chronological retrospective exercise, you’d be surprised by the fact that Chron appears to look forward more than it does back.  There is a noticeable lack of trumpet and singing voice in this; instead, it is the colours from around the perimeter of his previous pallete which he is playing with on Chron, resulting in his most experimental album to date.  While this can result in awe-inspiring wall to ceiling drones, as on the title track, and in tangled splashes of rhythmic concrète, as on the impressive opening piece “Proto-Earth”, elsewhere they feel frustratingly incomplete, like mere sketches for possible future works.

Chron’s liner notes reveal that it was recorded across a number of sessions – and in a number of geographical locations. Perhaps even more so than the intrinsic quality of the pieces themselves, it is that lack of connection, to time and to place (real or imaginary), that makes this feel fragmented. While I was expecting some sort of Solidification, the constituent parts of Chron feel like separate islands, rather than a contiguous piece of land. The direction of travel is very intriguing though, and with a bit more momentum, what comes next may yet be seismic.



1 Hildur Guðnadóttir – Leyfðu Ljósinu


2 Jacques Brodier – Filtre De Réalité


3 Actress – RIP


4 Pelt – Effigy


5 Joe McPhee and Eli Keszler – Ithaca


6 Lee Gamble – Dutch Tvashar Plumes


7 Hallock Hill – A Hem Of Evening


8 Grischa Lichtenberger – And.IV (inertia)


9 Richard Skelton – Verse Of Birds


10 Shackleton – Music For The Quiet Hour


11 Helm – Impossible Symmetry


12 Sebastian Lexer, Eddie Prévost & Seymour Wright – Impossibility in its Purest Form


13 Thomas Köner – Novaya Zemlya


14 Raime – Quarter Turns Over A Living Line


15 Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Motion Sickness of Time Travel


16 Icarus – Fake Fish Distribution


17 Keiji Haino, Oren Ambarchi and Jim O’Rourke – Imikuzushi


18 Sylvain Chauveau and Stephan Mathieu – Palimpsest


19 Tetras – Pareidolia


20 Superstorms – Superstorms