September 13, 2008
Intakt CD 132
Expanding the long-running Maybe Monday (MM) trio to seven musicians – most of whom manipulate electronics as well as acoustic instruments – adds an additional layer of polyphony to the proceedings, creating distinct and unique dimensions. Still, the five instant compositions here are only memorably realized because the septet members are canny enough to place waveform pulsation into an already established context.
Anchor for these tracks is the initial trio, which has been together since 1997. Voltage expression was organically introduced to MM before this CD, due to the electric guitar adaptations from Fred Frith plus the electronics linked to Miya Masaoka’s 25-string koto. Although sopranino and tenor saxophonist Larry Ochs is the only acoustic hold-out, he has demonstrated his familiarity with electronic interface in his past orchestral works and often as a veteran member of the ROVA saxophone quartet.
Recorded in New York, since MM member Masaoka now lives there – Frith and Ochs are still in the Bay area – Unsquare’s guests impart a mixed East-West sensibility to their improvisations. Transplanted westerner fiddler Carla Kihlstedt, at points replicates the role cellist Joan Jeanrenaud filled in an earlier MM session – adding traditional string harmonies when her instrument is paired with the guitar and koto. Elsewhere however wave-form add-ons create the sort of spiccato runs and multiphonics that associate her instrument’s subsequent output with the pitch mutation and careening tones that are emanating from New Yorker Zeena Parkins’ electric harp and electronics.
Concentrating on her laptop and samples, fellow Manhattanite Ikue Mori – who fulfills equivalent roles in bands led by saxophonist John Zorn and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier – is firmly wedded to the transformative impulses created by her machines. It’s a compliment to the others’ instrumental versatility however that her electronic triggered flutters and drones often can’t be distinguished from the mutated electro-acoustic timbres of the other players.
Completing the bi-coastal interaction, is another easterner, percussionist Gerry Hemingway, whose comfort level with patches and signals has been expressed in other sessions involving synthesizer players such as Earl Howard and Thomas Lehn. Irregular thumps and splattering ruffs peeping through the humming and clicking drones on this session sporadically announce the percussionist’s presence. Eschewing time keeping and flashy solos, Hemingway busies himself with moving the proceedings forward using contrasting pulses or moderated rhythmic suggestions.
Layered and focused intonation appears most intricately and extensively on “Unturned”, which initially seems to cluster every electronic whoosh and flanged oscillation into one extended piercing chord. Luckily, soon afterwards, the miasma dispels enough to expose diaphragm-vibrating reed timbres and chromatic slack-key guitar runs, plus abraded tones that sound as if they’re produced by scuffling a collection of scrub brushes against the massed strings.
As the triggered pulsations retreat, Ochs introduces high-pitched split tones, Frith trebly, single-string snaps and Masaoka gentling runs. Cat-gut heft is added to the guitar-koto duet when Kihlstedt appends flowing fiddle harmonies. Meantime, Masaoka’s attempts to replicate the violinist’s single-string action is detoured by strident canine-like splutters from the electronics, with tuning static and just-out-of-earshot radio voices further interjecting unexpected timbres. Shoring up the koto’s output, Hemingway adds ruffs, bounces and pops from his kit, that are then checked-mated by triggered circuitry that eventually strips out their human-created textures and transforming them into further percussive impulses. Plugged in as well, one of the string players – perhaps Masaoka – bonds these signals with watery echoes that mirror similar timbres on “G”, the introductory track. A concluding postlude reintroduces fluttering electronic wave forms. But these oscillator-like hums soon take on the properties of low-frequency electric piano-like pulsations, music-box-like tinkling and machine-driven splutters.
Other tracks emphasize reed multiphonics, pressured guitar frails, plus fungible contrapuntal textures among the strings. For the duration of the CD, particular resonances lock into appropriate places in the performances. Overall however, the shifting spatial arrangement necessitated by the introduction of more instrumental sound patches suggests an uncompleted gelling process, and that MM’s definite sound is still in flux.
Still an expanded MM is an interesting departure for the group. Metaphorically as well, this CD demonstrates how varied note clusters and pulses from three established and four newly introduced players can merged in such a way that the result is more than un-square – more like a hip circle. Or as the saxophonist phrases it: “way cool music”.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. G 2. Nitrogen 3. Saptharishi Mandalam 4. Septentrion 5.Unturned
Personnel: Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones); Fred Frith (guitar); Miya Masaoka (25-string koto and electronics); Carla Kihlstedt (electric and acoustic violins); Zeena Parkins (electric harp and electronics); Gerry Hemingway (drums, percussion and voice) and Ikue Mori (electronics)