If a saxophone falls and there’s no woman there to abuse a pedal steel guitar, is it still jazz? That’s a question I found myself pondering last week in Salford, as I witnessed free-jazz legend Peter Brötzmann misuse reeds alongside unorthodox pedal steel sorceress, Heather Leigh. Promoting the duo’s remarkable debut release, ‘Ears Are Filled With Wonder’ (Not Two Records), this unlikely pair enraptured a packed Islington Mill with their stunning concoctions of improvisational beauty, expanded from 2015’s ‘On The Road’ material. As Leigh veered from clean to distorted plucking, Brötzmann blew tenor, bass, and B-flat clarinet. Leigh’s pedal steel made like Rhodri Davies‘ harp circa ‘An Air Swept Clean Of All Distance’ at the front of the set, morphing towards ‘Wound Response’ by the close. Mesmerising throughout, this was a performance of majesty from masters/mistresses of their respective arts. Brötzmann is enjoying yet another renaissance: idolised in the mid-90s by the likes of Thurston Moore, seemingly seduced by Hamid Drake’s ear-shattering backbeat; later by the 3rd generation NY/Chicago avant garde (Vandermark, O’Rourke, etc); and later still by his old euro-mates, veterans from the glory days of free musics, the man has made more comebacks than Billy Childish! It was both a pleasure and a privilege to meet a true evolutionary hero of the counterculture, keeping it real into his 70s! Old is the new young, whippersnappers.
Having been glued to my television set for weeks throughout the early months of this year, enthralled by Icelandic noire gem, ‘Trapped’, I was beguiled enough by the program’s soundtrack to engage with it’s creators: Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hildur Guðnadóttir. Jóhannsson, an Icelandic composer, works in minimalist, neo-classical, drone and electronic disciplines, and has scored a host of impressive movie soundtracks, most notably for ‘Theory Of Everything’ and ‘Sicario’. Guðnadóttir, on the other hand, is a fellow Icelandic cello player and singer who emerged from the forefront of the experimental pop underground, originally as a member of Icelandic envelope-stretchers, múm. Her solo work draws a broad spectrum of sounds from her cello, ranging from intimate simplicity to huge Icelandic soundscapes, augmented by her unique vocals, and subtle shades of electronica. I’ve been immersed in Guðnadóttir’s fourth solo long player, ‘Saman’ (Touch, 2014), as a consequence of all this, and I find myself trapped in a vortex of resonance.
Both artists will be appearing at the Conway Hall, London, on 16/04/16, for a performance of Jóhannsson’s ’12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann’ by a quartet comprising: Thomas Gould (violin) Sara Wolstenhome (violin) Ruth Gibson (viola) and Peter Gregson (cello); and ‘Prepared Listening’, a solo contemplation composed and performed by Guðnadóttir.
Meanwhile, in another conceptual universe, alchemically created by welding Guðnadóttir’s ‘Saman’ to Áine O’Dwyer‘s ‘Music For Church Cleaners: Vol. I and II’ (MIE), Vanessa Amara, the duo of Birk Gjerlufsen and Victor Kjellerup, follow-up their 2014 vinyl debut, ‘Both of Us/King Machine’ (Posh Isolation), with ‘You’re Welcome Here’ (Posh Isolation), a work that exponentially exploits the already massive potential of their previous efforts to forge a veritable galaxy of wanderlust. Gainfully employing church organ, a string quartet, tape hiss, and a bank of justified but ancient synthesizers, ‘You’re Welcome Here’ is a suite of seven compositions that break new ground for contemporary chamber music. If much of Posh Isolation’s output has been dubbed ‘bubblegum industrial’, then this is ’emotional drone': immediate; arresting; intimidating; engaging; emotive; overwhelming; intense and affecting. This would already appear to be sold out direct from Posh Isolation, so do yourself a favour, and grab a copy from Boomkat, before it’s too late:
Finally, April is a month pregnant with expectation for this soldier, as I avidly await the arrival of the third long player from Fire! Orchestra: ‘Ritual’ (Rune Grammofon). When I met Mats Gustafsson briefly following the recent Fire! performance at Cafe Oto, he was positively gushing with excitement at its impending release. Earlier on stage that night, his self-depreciating sense of humour had lumped both the trio and the orchestra’s work into one homogenous basket, but that’s blatantly a massive over-simplification. According to Gustafson: “this one is the bomb!”. According to Rune Grammofon: “Fire! Orchestra have outdone themselves, and produced a beast of beauty and power: extremely well executed; beautifully recorded; and produced from only two days in the studio! Free improvisations, spontaneous horns, keyboard frenzy, abstract electronics, guitar mayhem and not to forgetting those glorious twin voices of Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg. It´s about mysteries and rituals; in music and in life”.