|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Phil Durrant
Crak Festival Paris
By Ken Waxman
Completed in the mid-16th Century in the flamboyant gothic style, the mammoth and solid Eglise St-Merry characterizes the Beauborg area on the right bank of Paris as much as the nearby ornate 19th century Hôtel de Ville and the brutalist, high-tech architecture of 1977’s Centre Georges Pompidou. During the second annual Crak Festival September 26-29 however, St-Merry’s musty arches, pulpits and 30-foot-high ceilings served as an unexpected backdrop for sounds from the 20th and 21st centuries and beyond.
This year Crak, which is an onomatopoeic description of the continuous, evolutionary friction among musical genres, not only highlighted accomplished improvisers from the City of Light, but a cross section of players now in Berlin. Featured were two large ensembles, Berlin’s Splitter Orchestra and Paris’ L’Orchestre de Nouvelles Créations, Expérimentations et d’Improvisations Musicales (ONCEIM) plus numerous smaller groups.
Two of the more stimulating bands were Pan-European trios which turned expected ensemble roles on their proverbial heads. They were Trio Inédit that matched French drummer Antonin Gerbal, Austrian bassist Werner Dafeldecker and German inside-piano specialist Andrea Neumann; plus Trio Sowari with French tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler, German percussionist Burkhard Beins and British laptoppist Phil Durrant. Elusively accented, but hardly effete, Inédit’s on-going narratives put the drummer’s cuffed hi-hat and intermittent bass drum whaps upfront with the bassist’s individual string stretching and wood rubbing eschewing rhythm but providing coloration. Meanwhile Neuman’s bow-sawing on the edge of her instrument’s frame produced ostinatos which gave the performance its shape. Her solos subtly matched koto-like strums with exploration of single-string microtones. Contrarily, with rhythmic juddering from Durrant’s computer in the double bass role, Sowari hinted at jazz’s common sax-bass-drums groups, as Denzler’s side-of-mouth, balanced and meticulous delivery suggesting a new century Lester Young. However Beins’ cymbal scrubbing plus mallet smacks on horizontal floor tom and bass drums made no effort to swing on its own. So it was left to a percussionist and saxophonist collaboration to eventually turn the performance from menacing to melodic.
Another instance of interactive communication was Contest of Pleasures with German slide trumpeter Axel Dörner, French clarinetist Xavier Charles and British soprano and tenor saxophonist John Butcher. Having developed a strategy that depends on protracted pauses and intuitive three-pronged harmony, the results can be as upsetting as a sudden pistol shot or as calming as a lullaby. Overall, interaction trumped individuality even though at points each explored the furthest reach of his instrument. Similarly the rigorously self-created and applied experimental tuba timbres of the UK’s Robin Hayward brushed up against the strategies of Norwegian Morten J. Olsen on a horizontal bass drum during another set. With the percussionist constantly spinning his drum as he rapped on its top and sides with different sized mallets, the connection with Hayward’s blasts or breaths produced an effect that was as portentous as it was balanced.
Seventeen Berlin-based improvisers were present as were 23 Parisians on subsequent evenings to aptly demonstrate the opposing Gallic-Teutonic views of large ensemble improv. Interpreting a composition by guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage – whose bow-sawing and string pummeling solos were one of the highlights of a set with five other computer, electronic and noise-makers the final evening – the ONCEIM’s polyphonic group performance sounded completely notated. In truth each orchestra member interpreted written instructions that marked the duration and the clef within the person was to play. Mariage used hand signals to select the players in a final variation. Notable in its ability to sustain unhurried tension over a protracted period, the effect of the performance was almost agonizing, since except for a couple of quasi-lyrical motifs from the violinist, nothing else modified ONCEIM’s constant sonic pressure.
Arrayed so that they faced every which way on stage, the Splitter Ork’s performance also differed from ONCEIM’s traditional orchestral set up in other ways. It consisted of 30 minutes plus of free-form improvisation. With similar instruments paired and sub-divided into groups, the ensemble brought forward intimations of musical cultures ranging from rock and electronics to folkloric and free jazz, Splitter also had a wider dynamic range than its French counterpart. Here Hayward’s valve-twisting multiphonics shared space with unprecedented altissimo squeals from Chris Heenan’s contrabass clarinet; Dörner’s staccato slide trumpeting modified Liz Allbee’s pointillist tones on the standard trumpet; and quasi-lyrical linkages were propelled by the flute lines of Sabine Vogel and irregular sweeps from Anthea Caddy’s cello. As the performance reached a climax of intermingled timbres, it was further defined with a call-and-response section where Beins abrasive rubs on the drum top were paralleled by Olsen’s reverberating mallet pressure. Even electronic impulses were fully integrated into the piece. That meant that the resonances from Boris Baltschun’s computer, which were nearly inaudible in the sextet with Mariage; and the overt gestures of Berlin-based Mario De Vega, whose setting wire fires and snuffing them out with light-weight metal sheets was as visually arresting as the energetic antics of French noise-makers, circuitry and turntable parts-twister Arnaud Rivière in the same sextet; were fully integrated within Splitter.
Among the dour experimentation that characterized this second edition of Crak what was missing was a sense of humor. Luckily that was supplied in abundance on the final afternoon, with a tribute to the swing sextet of bassist John Kirby (1908-1952), which in its heyday featured trumpeter Charlie Shavers and alto saxophonist Russell Proscope. Running through a selection of the Kirby group’s repertoire, which included originals like “Jumpin’ at the Pump Room” and “Blues Petite”, warhorses like “Royal Garden Blues”: and swing versions of so-called classical themes like “Bounce of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” each brief tune was a gem of foot-tapping joy. With solos reduced to merry breaks, clear-toned trumpeter Louis Laurain and flutter-tongued alto saxophonist Benjamin Dousteyssier expressed themselves forthrightly, a change from their subdued dissonance in the ONCEIM.
As much of a contradiction this performance might imply compared to Crak’s other sets, the Kirby salute was really part and parcel of the same idea. Whether European and experimental or American and swinging the raison d’être of the festival is group expression rather than individual flashiness. Maintaining a mid-point between the two and lightening its entire tone will be the festival’s challenge in future editions.
--For The New York City Jazz Record November 2013
November 8, 2013
Józef Patkowski in Memorium
Bolt Records DUX 0812/13
Fascinating in its bravado, this set joins one CD of 1960s and 1970s recording of important musique concrete by five Polish composers with another CD of acoustic improvisations on these themes by three British and two Polish players. The result not only captures cerebral variants of the compositions but also affirms the originality of the sounds created in the days of bulky tape recorders and thick coaxial cables.
Honoring Józef Patkowski (1929-2005), co-founder of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio (PRES) in 1957 and its director for 28 years, the original recordings revisit the musical freedom offered by PRES during those Cold War years. For instance Krzystof Penderecki’s Psalmus (1961) uses electronic filtering and flanges to deconstruct vowels and constants initially created by the bel canto gurgles and quivering yodels of male and female singers. John Tilbury’s contemporary piano version is more chromatic, with vibrating and strumming strings resonating on top of basso keyboard rumbles. After the tune reaches satisfactory linearity, he shatters the mood by shrilling a lifeguard’s whistle.
Or compare Eugeniusz Rudnik’s 1967 recording of his Dixi with cellist Mikolaj Palosz’s reimagining of it four decades later. Originally a tape collage, the performance swells to forte as dissonant, processed delays almost visually pulsate then dissolves in gradually less audible undulations. Taking an opposite approach, Palosz’s variant mixes strident, spiccato string squeaks at different tempos, reaching raucous volume that sound as if the strings are being splintered as he plays and concluding with string popping fading into dissolving shrills.
Appropriately the final track is a Hommage to Boguslaw Schaffer’s Synphony. Here Tilbury, Palosz, violinist Phil Durrant, guitarist Maciej Śledziecki and percussionist Eddie Prévost combine to coalese stretched string glissandi, snare ratcheting and cymbal clangs plus faux-romantic piano chording into a ever-shifting performance, which like the Polish composers’ work is both aleatory and multiphonic.
--For Whole Note Vol. 17 #1
September 5, 2011
The King of Herrings
Jedso Records #3
Undulating, abrasive, concentrated and distanced textures characterize this live soundscape, conceived of and recorded in London by free improvisers from three different countries. Over the course of two 20-minute plus, and one shorter, tracks, laptoppist Phil Durrant from the United Kingdom, Canadian bassist Joe Williamson and Swede David Stackenäs using guitar and preparations, contrast and connect timbres, which are flanged, deconstructed and granulized in such a way as to present a completely unique interface. If there is any criticism of this strategy, it’s that only on the third track are the actual sonic qualities of the instruments’ audible for extended periods.
All the players have impeccable Free Music credentials, Williamson in Trapist and with Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg; Durrant with British improvisers such as saxophonist John Butcher and pianist Chris Burn; and Stackenäs with British saxophonist Evan Parker and Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. Both lengthy tracks are centred around a surging ostinato that mixes electronically created abrasive drones and piercing shrills that stretch chromatically throughout with brief respites for sul ponticello bass strokes and chiming guitar licks.
On “Encipherer” – someone who converts a message to a cipher – Williamson relies on methodical plucks and sul ponticello strokes to make his instrument heard among the signal-processed drones and stretched software reverberations, while Stackenäs’ slurred fingering and e-bow sustain exposes licks that likewise nearly vanish beneath distortion. When the guitarist’s licks take on echoing qualities that could arise from either a lute, a dobro or a dulcimer, they breach Durrant’s solipsistic electronics that clatter like a combination of jack hammer-like drilling and fortissimo fire alarm bells. Further emboldened, Stackenäs’ hand taps and steel-guitar-like rasgueado passages break through the sequences of wave-form propelled harsh buzzes. Stackenäs subsequently uses unyielding e-bow controlled whines to prod the players into conclusive silence.
Much shorter and more focused, the barely nine-minute “Parallel-O-Gram” confirms the string players’ contrapuntal interaction, with Durrant’s low-pitched electronic samples, shimmering underneath. There’s even a point at which the laptoppist appears to be flicking a switch on-and-off to produce louder drones. Upfront the bassist slaps, taps and resonates his taut strings as the guitarist adds other-directed twangs and dobro-like flat picking. As the computer’s blurry loops grind and pulsate, Stackenäs tightens his strings and hammers on them, while the bassist’s sul ponticello lines respond in kind.
While nowhere is it made clear who or what is the King of Herrings is, the oceanic series of inventive licks brought forward by all three players here, make them collectively at least Princes of Improv.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Encipherer 2. Controlled Remote Control 3. Parallel-O-Gram
Personnel: David Stackenäs (guitar and preparations); Joe Williamson (bass) and Phil Durrant (laptop)
January 3, 2011
NEWS FROM THE SHED
News From The Shed
By Ken Waxman
Twenty years after the News From The Shed quintet was first constituted and about a dozen since it stopped playing concerts for good, a CD like NEWS FROM THE SHED takes on historical as well as musical importance.
Released as an LP on reedist John Butchers own Acta label in 1989, the session confirmed that the second generation of British Free Improvisers had established themselves as firmly as the first. Perhaps its comparable to HORACE SILVER AND THE JAZZ MESSENGERS or Max Roach and Clifford Browns DAAHOUD of the 1950s, which served notice of a hard bop renaissance spearheaded by younger players.
This comparison is more apt then hyperbolic. For just as those 1950s sessions included veterans from the preceding era drummer Art Blakey on the first and drummer Roach on the second so not all the members of News From The Shed are neo-tyros. While Britons Butcher on soprano and tenor saxophones, Phil Durrant on violin and electronics and guitarist John Russell were just beginning to be noticed on their own, Austrian trombonist Radu Malfatti and German drummer Paul Lovens had decades of high-profile playing under their belts with, in the brassmans case, the London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO) and Brotherhood of Breath (BOB), and in the percussionists various projects with pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach.
Additionally, the CD, which has been beefed up with four previously unreleased tracks is now also as historical as say a Louis Armstrong Hot Five recording or perhaps one by a 1940s Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie combo. Put simply, FreeImprov doesnt sound this way any more. NEWS FROM THE SHED has a sort of staccato excitement encompassing raucous sonic vibrations which Malfatti, for one, has completely rejected. In 2006, both the saxophonists and the guitarists improvising is now more distilled and concentrated than it was in 1989 and Durrant focuses more on synthesizer and sampler software as well as site-specific projects. Only Lovens, in bands with von Schlippenbach and reedist Evan Parker, is basically still refining his mature style.
What this means is that while some of the oscillating whistles and triggered wave forms that would characterize the reduced parameters of late 20th Century improv appear, the dissolving silent pauses that make up early 21st century reductionist sounds are conspicuous by their absence. The pauses here are silences or quiet, not exaggerated statements given the same value as sound.
This is most noticeable on Sticks and Stones, where mid-way through the obvious wave-form reverberations from Durrant are treated as a reason to mute, not cease the others improvisations. Around it Butcher continues to sound double-tongued fluttering, Russell strummed guitar licks, Lovens claw-like cymbal scratches and Malfatti back-of-the-throat rubato plunger tones.
Similarly, on Whisstrionics, sharp, triggered pulses from Durrant are only one part of the sound picture. Also contributing in broken cadences are restrained, contrapuntal reed blowing, hocketing drum smacks and rubtao triplets that contrapuntally accelerate to ghostly shrieks and peeps.
Meanwhile, anyone familiar with the trombonists wholehearted adoption of the minimalist ethos might be tempered to wonder if he had a more raucous twin brother with the same name in the 1980s. Not as outgoing as his LJCO or BOB playing, theres still a point on the newly released The Clipper that his plunger work is so raucous that it almost moves into tailgate territory. Not to be outdone, the saxophonist adds tongue slaps, the guitarist splayed flat picking and the drummer bangs his cymbals and drum tops.
Its a good thing tracks like that were preserved, for Russell, who was in the midst of an apprenticeship in drummer John Stevens Spontaneous Music Ensemble, is frequently odd man out here when it comes to volume.. Corresponding to the violinist and electronic-manipulators struggle to be heard, only a few of the acoustic guitarists delicate below the bridge chromatics are audible. He fares better when he bears down with blunt, concentrated strumming.
As for Butcher, his polyphonic multi-tonguing, extended split tones fluttering irregular vibrations mixed with episodes of circular breathing mark the codification of his mature style. On this CD, however, the emphasis is on harmonic parallelism with the others extended technique. Today hes more likely to play solo, with broadening electronic pick-ups or as a part of much smaller bands.
These various strategies reach a crescendo on the appropriately titled Weaves. Here Russells constant rasgueado complements sul ponticello shrilling from Durrants violin and slap, snaps and smacks from Lovens bells, drum tops and unselected cymbals. Meantime Malfati produces sniggling tremolo slides and Butcher pitch vibrated overblowing.
A mixture of old news and new news, NEWS FROM THE SHED is still good news.
Track Listing: 1. News from the Shed 2. The Gabdash 3. Reading the River 4. Kickshaws 5. Everything Stops for tea 6. Sticks and Stones 7. Weaves 8. Whisstrionics 9. Mean Time 10. Peppers Ghost 11. The Clipper 12. Coracle 13. Crookes Dark Space 14. Inkle
Personnel: Radu Malfatti (trombone, zither and accessories); John Butcher (soprano and tenor saxophones); Phil Durrant (violin and electronics); John Russell (acoustic guitar); Paul Lovens (selected drums, cymbals and saw)
August 21, 2006
Rossbin RS 007
Silence and the overtones associated with near silence are the guiding factors of these CDs, which both include British cellist Mark Wastell. With textural space on show and protracted electro-acoustic wheezes characterizing many of the abstractions here, neither of the two chamber-style quartets could be confused with conventional jazz, rock or New music ensembles. Neither sounds like the other either. All of which proves that there are as many variations of near silence as there are types of noise.
Part of the growing coterie of younger performers wedded to understated near-inaudibility as a style, the London-based cellist is featured here in one very familiar and another literally alien setting. Assumed Possibilities (the band) is a working group filled out by Britons Chris Burn on piano and toy piano, violinist Phil Durrant and harpist Rhodri Davies. Each of the string players has a long history with one another, having intersected in a variety of groups as well as in bands with other sonic experimenters like saxophonists John Butcher and Evan Parker and bassist Simon H. Fell.
Antithetically, FOLDINGS is a live concert recording from January 2002, which mates the cellist with three local performers at Tokyos Off Site gallery. Many like-minded Japanese and European musicians have improvised in this setting since no-input mixing board specialist Toshimaru Nakamura, first organized the series in 1998. Resident collaborators are customarily guitarist Taku Sugimoto, best known abroad for duets with, British tabletop guitarist Keith Rowe and Swiss computer specialist Günter Müller; and Tetuzi Akiyama on turntables and air duster, a former guitarist who concertizes with saxophonist Masahiko Okura and synthesizer manipulator Utah Kawasaki as well as Sugimoto.
To really appreciate the output on either of these discs, turn the volume knob of your playback system up, probably 25 per cent louder than usual for STILL POINT and about 40 per cent for the other disc.
During the course of the nine pieces that make up the first CD, the most identifiable sounds that emerge from the droning vibrations and textural gestures of the four are Wastells cello and Burns toy piano tinkering. On Tyrin, for instance, abrasive scratches on the cellos strings and a later percussive bass line vie for sonic space with what sounds like a shrill, two-fingers-in-the-mouth whistle, a galactic screech from the violin and an unidentifiable buzzing tone.
Sharing the characteristics of a xylophone on the Wastell-composed Related Activity, the toy piano creates protracted glissandos and tinny keystrokes that to produce volume must have demanded more than usual finger pressure from Burns. Allied to that sound are pedal point cadenzas from the harp and intermittent cello plucks. When all the chamber ensemble strings are plinking out notes in unmatched and untempered patterns, the pianist produces a quasi-authentic clog dance on the sides and top of his veritable plaything.
All instruments here are acoustic, but somehow among the low frequency vibrations of the keyboard and the ghostly overtones from manipulated strings, the four also manage to come up with sounds that in other contexts would arise from electric instruments or at least sampling. Minimalist followers can identify when a bow takes a few swipes at a cello strings, or when a fingernail scratches taunt nylon. But surely no musician was stretching cellophane across the studio until it tore or ringing a tiny bell as some sonics suggest. Definitely too, the airplane motor drone you hear on one track, as well as the short wave radio static, police siren and reverberation of a subway train entering a station dont result from the presence of any of these objects.
FOLDINGS, recorded almost exactly a year later, can be heard as Ur-minimalism. In fact, as the sounds on the two long improvisations move in -- and more frequently out -- of aural focus, the Tokyo quartet starts to make Assumed Possibilities sound like Grand Funk Railroad or Motley Crue. Even with a volume boost much of the first track is almost out of earshot. Theres the crackle and drone of static, indeterminate cricket-like buzzes and the whining scrapes of whats probably Akiyamas air duster -- at least the performance space must be lint free. Less than isochronal flick of guitar strings and fuzzy cello strokes are also sometimes heard.
With suggestions that musical movement is taking place just outside of hearing range, this sound field isnt expanded until roughly midway through almost 29½ minutes of the second track. Wheezes and rumbles arising from Akiyama naked turntables and Nakamuras no-imput mixing board start to move into human hearing range as does the extreme pitches produced by Wastells cello. Soon, what could be the sound of crickets chirping in a field is superceded by whats likely the cellist deliberately hitting his contact mic. At last, a whippoorwill cry is succeeded by the sounds of some guitar flat-picking, a buzzing amplifier being turned on and off, and the feel of the bow bouncing against stopped strings. Textures created by a mechanized assembly line are prominent for a moment, as are intermittent string plucks and a complete chord from one of the string players. Then almost complete silence.
It may be redundant to say so, but a strong commitment to the principles of space and texture, plus an appreciation of the silences associated with microtonalism and minimalism should be brought to these discs, especially the Tokyo session. They certainly put the lie to those who characterize all abstract improvisations as noisy and ear splitting.
Whether the two groups succeed in producing microscopic sounds isnt up for discussion here. These CDs should be heard -- if you can do so without straining you ears, that is. But the question still remains if this type of monochromic structure cant be mixed with other sound sources to produce experimental music that offers more sonic colors along with the same intellectual rigor.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Still: 1. Kett 2. Tronig 3. Related Activity 4. Still Point 5. Starwyte 6. Needle 7. Tyrin 8. Ut 9. Riwe
Personnel: Still: Chris Burn (piano, toy piano); Phil Durrant (violin), Mark Wastell (cello); Rhodri Davies (harp)
Track Listing: Foldings: 1. First Fold 2. Second Fold
Personnel: Foldings: Taku Sugimoto (acoustic guitar, preparations); Mark Wastell (cello, preparations, contact mic, amplifier); Tetuzi Akiyama (turntables and air duster); Toshimaru Nakamura (no imput mixing board)
March 17, 2003