Reviews that mention Alvin Curran

October 26, 2020


Leo Records CD LR 872

By Ken Waxman

Not a formal suite, but anything but formless jamming, the four interlocking improvisations that make up Rome-ing confirm creative unity among sophisticated musicians. Doyen of the quartet is American composer Alvin Curran, long a Rome resident, on piano and sampler. His associates are Swiss soprano/tenor saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, German guitarist Andreas Willers and Italian drummer Fabrizio Spera

Although pioneered in the 1960s by Curran in MEV, his samples and Willers’s electronics are used sparingly. There are vague suggestions of a muezzin’s adhan sharing space with accelerating reed whistles and oud-like strums on “Part III”, while a sampled lyric soprano voice warbles intermittently throughout the disc often ornamenting the narrative when pressurized licks from anyone become too harsh. MORE

March 19, 2020

Jon Rose & Alvin Curran

Café Grand Abyss
ReR Megacorp ReRJRAC

By Ken Waxman

Busmen’s holidays for American pianist Alvin Curran and Australian violinist Jon Rose the two navigate a program of improvisations that also reference Curran’s experiments with electronics and Rose’s habit of stretching the fiddle’s expected characteristics for offbeat music making.

Both are possessed of a sardonic sense of humor. For instance, they end the disc with a brief singing saw and keyboard clipping variant on “Tea for Two” and precede that with a pseudo-blues where at every turn wide multi-string violin squeaks burlesque the jittery piano syncopation beside it. But this café’s main courses are extended duets where amplified tenor violin sweeps expose unexpected techniques answered succinctly by keyboard colors plus wave form drones or sampled sounds. MORE

March 8, 2019

Alvin Curran

Endangered Species
New World Records 80804-2

By Ken Waxman

Famed as a member of Musica Elettronica Viva, the pioneering improvising electro-acoustic ensemble is American composer Alvin Curran. Yet in his 80th year he has revived his primary musical experiences, playing American Songbook standards. But since this is Curran and this is the 21st Century, this two-CD set of classic tunes arrives with a twist. Besides his subtle piano improvisations that impressively re-imagine the tunes, he employs a Yamaha Disklavier. Resembling a grand piano, but actually a blend of acoustic keyboard, player piano and digital computer, the Disklavier allows him to append any manner of previously recorded sounds to the tracks. MORE

May 7, 2018

Curran/Schiaffini/C. Neto/Armaroli

From The Alvin Curran Fakebook
Dodicilune Dischi Ed 886

By Ken Waxman

Turning the use of a “fakebook” on its head, instead of improvising on famous standards’ lead sheets, Rome-based American composer Alvin Curran and his Italian associates use 13 of Curran’s composition as the basis for creativity. Known for his pioneering electro-acoustic soundscapes for Musica Elettronica Viva, Curran, plus trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini, multi-reedist Alipio C Neto, vibist/percussionist Sergio Armaroli, bassist Marcello Testa and drummer Nicola Stranieri create two-CDs of music that sounds both aleatory and arranged. MORE

September 5, 2017

Météo Mulhouse Music Festival

August 22 to August 26, 2017

A consistent French tradition like chewy baguettes, fine Camembert or Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Mulhouse, France’s Météo Festival, now in its 35th year, continues to present exemplary musicians in concert, without the program ever becoming homogeneous. What this means is that while the festival which took place August 22-August 26, was introduced and reached a climax with absorbing and innovative with sets by veteran Imptov saxophonists Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann, performances which encompassed minimalism, hard-core Free Jazz, electronics, Rock, notated and folkloric music were part of the schedule. MORE

July 8, 2017

Musica Elettronica Viva

Symphony No. 106
Victo cd 129

By Ken Waxman

A milestone itself, Symphony No. 106 captures one of the infrequent regroupings of Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV), almost 40 years after its three founders – Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum – organized it in Rome. Recorded at last year’s festival International du Musique Actuelle du Victoriaville in Quebec the 62-minute piece is scarcely anyone’s idea of a twilight leave taking. Pioneers of electronic interface and non-jazz-sourced improvisation, the three sophisticatedly adapt computer processing and patches plus multi-keyboard crackles and jiggles to their own ends. Like modernist printers who also use precision hand presses for certain projects, the single track’s narration at point is given mournful fillip by blasts from the furthest reaches of Curran’s shofar, while connecting motifs are produced by processional melodies from Rzewski’s piano. MORE

August 16, 2016

MMM Quartet

RogueArt Rog-0063

Starting late in the past century and moving speedily into the new millennium the acceptance of Free Music has been such that what was formerly a so-called difficult subsection of Jazz and notated music has become a standard part of many musicians vocabulary. Improvisation is now taught at the post-secondary level, with symposia and revues dedicated to it

Acceptance doesn’t mean popularity however. While many musicians give lip service (sic) to the concept, few commit most their career to free playing. Observing profound improvisational strategies used by the MMM Quartet compared to some others is like comparing the exertions of young composition students to the achievements of Les Six. None of the veteran four are experimental music dilettantes. Plus, as another indication of the application of aleatory texture, not one was ever a straight-ahead Jazz musician. Alvin Curran, who plays piano, synthesizer and samples here is an academic and so-called classical composer, best-known for his membership in Musica Elettronica Viva; guitarist Fred Frith, now teaching at Mills College, is associated with Avant-Rock bands like Henry Cow. Over the years saxophonist Urs Leimgruber moved from the Jazz-Rock band OM, to concentrate on avant sounds alongside the likes of bassist Barre Phillips. Concurrently after specializing in the interpretation of compositions by John Cage and others, bassist Joëlle Léandre plungd full form into Free Music, hooking up musically with other explorers from pianist Irène Schweizer to reedist Anthony Braxton MORE

June 20, 2014

Festival Report

Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon
By Ken Waxman

Wood fabrication in many forms, from house renovation to cabinetry, is one of the industries in the area surrounding the small Austrian town of Ulrichberg. Appropriately enough this year’s 29th Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon May 1 to 3, featured a wood-based instrument in nearly every performance.

First among equals were French double bassist Joëlle Léandre, performing in a quartet with Swiss soprano and tenor saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, Austrian guitarist Burkhard Stangl and Rome-based, American composer Alvin Curran who played piano and electronics. An experienced improviser since his time with Musica Elettronica Viva in the ‘60s, Curran’s tapping on piano strings prepared with cymbals made a perfect percussive counterpoint to Leimgruber’s key slaps and Stangl’s vertical rubbing of a violin bow on guitar strings. Léandre’s typically disruptive response to this was semi-romantic bowing. Later on, when Curran’s wheezy harmonica and steady piano chording referenced “St. James Infirmary”, she reversed course to slap a bass line as Stangl strummed appropriately. When not showcasing high-velocity string sawing which complemented Leimgruber’s extended techniques, Léandre’s ascending, pseudo-operatic cries and throat gurgles kept the program constantly fascinating to the extent that the 45-minute performance seemed to flash by in an instant. MORE

September 16, 2012

MMM Quartet

Live at the Metz Arsenal
Leo Records CD LR 631

Stone Quartet

Live at the Vision Festival

Ayler Records aylCD 124

Two high-quality CDs, recorded in a live setting with French bassist Joëlle Léandre as the unifying factor, are superficially similar in intent and personnel. Yet the multiple strategies each quartet brings to the extended selections demonstrate how unique sounds can result even in the most comfortable of surroundings.

Live at the Vision Festival captures the triumphant performance of what might be called Léandre’s New York quartet, filled out by trumpeter/flutist Roy Campbell, pianist Marilyn Crispell and violist Mat Maneri. Although recorded in France, Live at the Metz Arsenal, joins the bassist with two colleagues who teach at California’s Mills College – Alvin Curran on electronics and piano, best known for his notated work and membership in the MEV ensemble, and guitarist Fred Frith, whose entry into improv came through his Art-Rock bands like Henry Cow. Although MMM could stand for “MillsMusicMafia”, some Continental spice joins the West Coast greenery in the presence of Swiss soprano and tenor saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, who has been in other bands with Léandre, including Quartet Noir which also included Crispell. MORE

March 8, 2010

Sound Commitments Avant-Garde Music and the Sixties

Edited by Robert Adlington
Oxford University Press

“If you remember the Sixties, it means you weren’t there” is a cliché with a kernel of truth in it – especially the insistence that rock sounds subsumed other music then. Yet the Sixties also saw mass acceptance of New and electronic music, while jazz’s most radical sounds divorced it from its role as entertainment.

Sound Commitments aims to redefine that momentous decade in a dozen essays about advanced sonic experimentation that tried to negotiate the currents between political movements and individual expression. On the evidence, triumph of the later over the former created the longest lasting sounds. MORE

July 3, 2009

Musica Elettronica Viva

MEV 40
New World Records 80675-2

Consisting of a nucleus of academically trained composers who promoted free improvisation and group interaction, Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV) was the sort of musical aggregation that could only have been born in the 1960s.

Yet as this absorbing four-CD set of MEV performances – from its beginning in 1967, to its 40th anniversary – proves, the group’s triumphs are musically sophisticated as well as sociologically notable. Willingly subsuming the vaulted tradition of a single composer into group interaction, MEV’s most notable pieces added the smarts of jazz improvisers and the sonic versatility of increasingly complex electronic instruments to the compositional stew. Furthermore, the group has survived all these years because it never allowed electronics to submerge its initial humanistic and populist approach. MORE