|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Morten J. Olsen
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
Mikroton CD 14/15/16
In the Beginning 1963-64
Drums and Dreams
Intakt CD 197
Connie Crothers - David Arner
Spontaneous Suite for Two Pianos
Something In The Air: Multiple Disc Sets for the Adventurous
By Ken Waxman
Defying doomsayers who predicted the death of the LP, the CD’s disappearance appears oversold. True music collectors prefer the physical presence and superior fidelity of a well-designd CD package and important material continues to released. Partisans of advanced music, for instance, can choose any one of these sets. The only saxophonist to be part of saxophonist John Coltrane’s working group, tenorist Pharoah Sanders is celebrated for his own highly rhythmic Energy Music. In the Beginning 1963-64 ESP-Disk ESP-4069, a four CD-package highlight his steady growth. Besides Sanders’ first album as leader, very much in the freebop tradition, as part of quintet of now obscure players, the other previously released sounds capture Sanders’ recordings in the Sun Ra Arkestra. More valuable is a CD of unissued tracks where Sanders asserts himself in quartets led by cornetist Don Cherry or Canadian pianist Paul Bley. The set is completed by short interviews with all of the leaders. Oddly enough, although they precede his solo debut, Sanders’ playing is most impressive with Bley and Cherry. With more of a regularized beat via bassist David Izenson and drummer J.C. Moses, Cherry’s tracks advance melody juxtaposition and parallel improvisations with Sanders’ harsh obbligato contrasted with the cornetist’s feisty flourishes; plus the darting lines and quick jabs of pianist Joe Scianni provides an unheralded pleasure. Bley’s economical comping and discursive patterning lead the saxophonist into solos filled with harsh tongue-twisting lines and jagged interval leaps. With Izenson’s screeching assent and drummer Paul Motion’s press rolls the quartet plays super fast without losing the melodic thread. Sun Ra is a different matter. Recorded in concert, the sets include helpings of space chants such as “Rocket #9” and “Next Stop Mars”; a feature for Black Harold’s talking log drums; showcases for blaring trombones, growling trumpets; plus the leader’s propulsive half-down-home and half-outer-space keyboard. Sharing honking and double-tonguing interludes with Arkestra saxists Pat Patrick and Marshall Allen, Sanders exhibits his characteristic stridency. Enjoyable for Sun Ra’s vision which is spectacular and jocular, these tracks suggest why the taciturn Sanders soon went on his own.
Partially in reaction to vocifeous American players like Sanders, by the 1970s European innovators developed a spacious and subdued take on improvisation. This can be sampled via the solo work of Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre, a model of taste and restraint on Drums and Dreams Intakt CD 197 is. Overall it’s 1972’s Abanaba which is the defining masterwork, with 1970’s Drum Conversation and 1978’s Mountain Wind, the build up and elaboration of maturity. Favre has such command of the sonorous properties of his expanded kit that he can use approximations of tones from unusual sources such as guiro, conches, unlathed cymbals, thunder sheets plus a regular kit without bombast or showiness. A track such as Kyoto is a fascinating duet between kettle drum and tuned gongs, expanded by Theremin-like resonations; while “Gerunonius” is an essay in abrasion, as textures created by sawing with a bow on drum rims are integrated with shakes, pops and pulls. “Roro” fastens on triple sticking at supersonic speeds, producing ringing tones from log drums, cymbals and gongs, while the final track demonstrates how aggression can be paced as bell trees ping and snares sizzle. CD1 establishes a framework for juxtapositions, with silences integrated with kinetic paradiddles and ruffs. Sounding at times like multiple players, Favre’s distinctive sounds are likely to arise by twisting mallets on aluminum bars as from blunt whacks on oversized gongs. By 1978, his rhythmic palate had expanded so, that he could replicate the sound of a telephone bell ring, Chinese temple bell with equal facility and without any loss in power.
This mixture of delicacy and strength is expanded to its pianistic limits on Spontaneous Suite for Two Pianos Rogueart R0G-037 These four CDs capture an entire recording session beginning with the evocative acceleration from feathery chording to anvil-like kinetic pressure on CD1, track 1, and conclude with key-clipping near player-piano continuum on CD4, track 7. Anyone who follow dual keyboardist like Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia or Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson will be staggered by the work here. Completely improvised, the nine interlocking suites expose almost all variations of what can be extracted from 166 keys. Technical wizardry plus jazz inflections are apparent in the playing of Connie Crothers and David Arner, yet focussed reductionism as well as spontaneity is also on tap. Piano guru Lennie Tristano’s most accomplished student, New York-based Crothers has recorder with jazzmen like drummer Max Roach. Up-state New York’s Arner is associated with choreographers such as Meredith Monk. Playing side-by-side with layered chords, palindromes or in counterpoint, the two evoke many aspects of piano literature while creating their own. For instance “The Hoofer” which bounces and taps as a terpsichorean fantasia is followed by “Blues and the Moving Image”. Despite low-pitched glissandi, this blues is polyrhythmic, depending on a dusting of high-frequency tremolo to provide the necessary emotion. “The Reckoning” is meditative and linear, while “Density 88X2” moves from jocular patterns to blunt syncopation. An extended sequence like “City Rhapsody” may unroll staccatissimo with soundboard rumbles and ringing cadenzas in equal measures, but it never unravels or loses connectivity. Overall the real connections this duo exhibits is with their own histories. Basso notes on “Swing Migration” and “Fool” both unearth Tristanto-like themes among the cumulative cascades and pitch-sliding vibrations.
With the German capital now home to a mass of creative musicians, it takes 40 selections on three-CD anthology Echtzeitmusik Berlin Miikroton CD 14/15/16) to try to define the scene. Although currents of free jazz, notated music, punk-rock and all sorts of electronic programming are universally accepted, echtzeitmusik is defined differently by each innovator. For instance the long pauses and foreshortened breaths from Robin Hayward’s microtonal tuba and intermittent plinks from Morten Olsen’s rotating bass drum on “Deep Skin” may come from the same reductionist base as “Versprechen” which mutates piano strings strums by Andera Neumann with linear trumpet breaths from Sabine Ercklentz. But the studio collage that’s Annette Krebs’ “In-between”, mutating ring-modulator whooshes, music samples and layered voices has little in common except density with Antoine Chessex’s “Errances” which inflates a single saxophone’s tremolo timbres to near organ-like cascades. So what defines the sounds? The key may be “Blues No. 5” by Perlonex. Guitar feedback, turntable scratches plus drum smacks and electronic quivers reach an intensity that equals the emotionalism of a blues singer. Consequently honesty and innovation supersede musical forms. Echtzeitmusik Berlin allows the listener to sample and choose.
-- For Whole Note Vol. 18 #4
December 15, 2012
Recording the Grain
Spectral and textural, Recording the Grain is a kinetic performance by an electro-acoustic sextet that sonically interconnects while contrasting and juxtaposing light and dark timbres, staccato and languid tones and basso and strident pitches. The friction, echoes, recaps, puffs, twitters, snaps, buzzes and other sounds that result from this calculated interaction, take shape from the six players’ contributions, which encompass backgrounds in improvised and notated acoustic and electronic music.
Dutch soprano and baritone saxophonist Dirk Bruinsma for instance, has been playing since the early 1980s in bands such as the Palinckx octet and with improvisers like bassist Barry Guy. Turkish, bass clarinetist Sakir Oguz Buyukberber participates in traditional projects on one hand, and on the other in improv formations with leaders such as conductor Butch Morris. Native of The Hague, bassist Koen Nutters is a founding member of the N Collective of which this CD is one production, and has played with Italian saxophonist/sound artist Alessando Bossetti. Stavanger-born percussionist Morton J Olsen has worked both with Bossetti and Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. Managing director of Amsterdam’s STEIM foundation, Robert van Heumen uses LiSa, STEIM’s live sampling software with different controllers to mix environmental, found and created sounds. Meanwhile American Jeff Carey uses his laptop with SuperCollider in live performance and has taught at STEIM.
Watery signal processing and flowing static interpolations from both computers characterize “Available Sources (Ex 1)”, the ensemble’s 25 minute-plus concluding track, as well as much of the music that precedes it. While the liquid oscillations, whooshing flutters and knob-twisting scrapes help define the creation, so too do bass clarinet squeaks and chalumeau blowing; mouth-sucked reed, tongue slaps and key percussion from the saxophonist; plus xylophone pings and bell-tree rattling from the percussionist. Reed chirping and curvaceous whoops matched with resounding drum beats which boomerang back into the mix, finally reach a climax of intermingled timbres. Eventually, a lyrical bass clarinet run gives way to a coda featuring the other reed man’s snapping tongue percussion plus the drummer’s backbeat shifts and rebounds.
Variants of these strategies adumbrate through the earlier, briefer tracks. Overall, pointillist daubs of sound brush up against one another to make an ever-shifting aural canvas. Like a flashing neon sculpture, different aspects of the tunes are illuminated at different times. At one point you concentrate on signal-processed wave forms advancing in double counterpoint with moderato and adagio string bites; at another underlying fluttering and pulsating reed trills; at a third instance, snare rebounds and curt tongue slaps and growls making common cause. Ever so often individual ticks like clarinet yelps, woody bass thumps or buzzing ring-modulator clangs surface, only to lock into place within the overall Klangfarbenmelodie.
Contrapuntal layering of all these effects provides Office-R (6) with distinctiveness – an ever-shifting interface that negates minimalist austerity while clasping on to its hypnotic effects.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. No Tones Around Two (STR 1+3) 2. Gold Part II (STR 5) 3. Split Breath Ending (STR 1) 4. The Repeats ((STR 1A) 5. Available Sources (Ex 1)
Personnel: Sakir Oguz Buyukberber (bass clarinet); Dirk Bruinsma (soprano and baritone saxophones); Koen Nutters (bass); Morten J Olsen (percussion); Robert van Heumen (laptop LiSa) and Jeff Carey (laptop Super Collider)
May 25, 2009
News from Holland - Volume 1
By Ken Waxman
November 8, 2004
Featuring a mix-and-match collection of players who are members of the n collective, this 10-track CD provides a snapshot of improvisational trends in the Netherlands. The collectives oeuvre involves structured improvisations and so-called liquid compositions from its members.
However, with the number of laptops on show, not to mention the electronics and amplified feedback in use, its as if many of these sound pictures were taken with a digital camera. Still, the improvisations created with the musical equivalent of mechanical camera -- acoustic instruments -- are just as striking, if not more so, sort of like high quality single reflex shots in a presentation full of digital images.
Case in point is the more than 10-minute working with the popular forces, whose extended scrapes, ratchets and wiggles come from four acoustic instruments. Involved are two guests plus two of the collectives founding members. Percussionist Morten J. Olsen and bassist Koen Nutters, who appear on five tracks each on NEWS, both live in Amsterdam. Guests are Spanish bass clarinetist Carlos Gálvez, who plays with such Dutch New music ensembles as Maarten Altenas and LOOS; and Berlin-based pianist Magda Mayas, whose experience includes improv with The Necks drummer Tony Buck.
Unsurprisingly involved with textures from both improv and New music, the tune takes its shape from irregularly pulsed bass clarinet arpeggios, machine gun-like percussion timbres, sprawling bass spiccato and Mayas dampening the internal action of her strings. A pointillist assortment of tones that coalesce into an organic whole, its a prime demonstration of how wooden marimba-like slaps, a ratcheting, irregular drum beat, and overblown altissimo smears from the reedist plus what sounds like walking footsteps -- not walking bass -- can be blended into a satisfying whole.
The others, without Mayas show up on structure no. 1 (with composed fragment), a large ensemble piece. Here unified trilling with glottal stops comes from three reedists: Gálvez, saxist Dirk Bruinsma -- who has played in bands like The Palinckx octet and with British bassist Barry Guy -- and Turkish-born bass clarinetist Sakir Oguz Buyukberber. Now a Dutch resident, Buyukberber, also provides the swirling tone vibrations and whistles that mesh with Olsens subtle drum accents and the swelling sound waves and samples from Robert van Heumens laptop to make the structure no. 1 (edit) -- a separate trio performance -- exceptional as well.
However on the first tune, shrill, fluttering timbres and motorized puttering plus samples of an American radio news broadcast contributed by van Heumen and fellow laptopist Jeff Carey, fit well with woodwind chirrups. All together these sounds meld with the pluck and sweep of ponticello strings from violist Gudrun Hrund Hardardottir and cellist Sasha Agranov. Alls well until electronic loops reach stentorian proportions, drowning the others, and forcing the percussionist to bang his traps like child demanding to be let in a door. This introduces a voice saying, stop by the club as the sounds vanish.
Some of the purported sine wave disturbances on other pieces result from feedback emanating from Bjørnar Habbestad over-amplified flute. Someone who has performed as a soloist at festivals and with orchestras, on other tracks Habbestads prepared axe adds mysterious pitches that are as cybernetic as acoustic. But even his unique, ratcheting tones cant save pleasant is good. The sets nadir, the mix find Olsen and Nicolas Field, another laptopist, creating electronic jiggles that morph into circular dance track beats that could easily come from simplistic drum machines and samplers.
The next track, the three-minute solitude sample by van Heumen, doesnt add to anyones luster either. Clicking electronic crackles, crunches and whooshes, the sampled French and German voices heard make you imagine hes spinning the short wave radio dial as he repairs his instruments.
Conceived to present flexible improvisations by an adaptable group of players, this limited-edition CD exposes some ill-conceived electro-acoustic experiments, as well as a majority of tracks that can be admired. On the evidence here, n collective lives up to its limited mandate.
November 8, 2004