CD Reviews

Saturday 21st February

February 22, 2009

Last night I mentioned that over the past eighteen months or so I have to some degree reopened my ears to all kinds of improvised music again. That might be a slight exaggeration. I still have the same musical preferences but I have removed the idiotic blinkers that had caused me to reject out of hand anything that might I have considered “old-school.” What’s more, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to music every day over recent weeks and months, probably more than I have in a good few years. It just goes to show that if you open your mind and open your ears everything seems so much easier.

I mention this because today I listened to two albums of improvised music that are on the surface a long way apart, but I’ve enjoyed them both a lot. This morning I played the new disc called Kushikushism by Radu Malfatti and Taku Unami. The album contains two pieces, the first of which is a live improvisation by the pair recorded a little less than a year ago in Slovenia at a concert organised by the one and only Luka Zagoricnik. Titled Pre-Kushikushism, its beautiful, it really is. Having seen Radu improvising in this manner a few times over the past year or two its been a little disappointing that until now nothing in this style had made it out on disc. However this release will shortly be joined by another on Miguel Prado’s Taumaturgia label, and a free Mp3 of Malfatti and Unami joined by Klaus Filip can be donloaded from the Klingt site here.

Taku lets his random objects rattle about in this piece sparingly, but at precisely the right moments, and Radu is in places positively talkative as he drops little pieces of ever-so-soft notes around them. Anyone that has not heard Malfatti improvising recently may be forgiven for thinking his playing would contain only the same kind of extended notes spaced apart that dominate a good deal of his composed pieces, but that generally is not the case. Bracknell Breakdown is still a million miles away here but Pre-Kusikushism is all about the dialogue between Unami and Malfatti, albeit one held at low volume with a limited set of sounds.

The second piece, Post-Kushikushism is something different again, short silences interrupted by heavy sinetones hanging in the air that leave behind quiet little trombone (I think?… its the most un-trombone-like trombone I’ve ever heard) snippets that are barely audible. I’m not sure if this piece is improvised. It probably is, as I don’t detect the usual precision of a Malfatti score at work here but I may very easily be wrong. I should ask one of them, but first I should listen some more.

The other disc I’ve played a couple of times today and thoroughly enjoyed is Grazing, the 2006 release (that I shamefully only obtained this week) by Dom Lash and Bruno Guastalla, two thirds of the Teasel group I heard play a week or so back. I don’t know for certain, but I strongly suspect that Guastalla is a classically trained cellist that has turned towards improvisation, while bassist Lash I know has his roots in free jazz, an area he still works in a lot today, though his musical interests are diverse enough for him to cover the whole range of improv styles.

The group that Grazing reminds me of more than anything is IST, the late nineties improv strings trio of Mark Wastell, Simon Fell and Rhodri Davies, a cello/bass/harp group I loved a great deal back then. Don’t get me wrong, Lash and Guastalla are entirely their own musicians but I don’t hear many cello / bass improv groupings these days and so the comparison, albeit a lazy one is an inevitable one for me. Again its all about an intimate conversation between the musicians, the sounds they play and the spaces in between them. Its just a joy to sit quietly and involve yourself in the to and ‘fro here, all very delicately played, blending bowed and plucked notes without ever becoming overly excited, with a slow pace maintained throughout the two pieces. There is a nice mix of orthodox and unorthodox techniques here but nothing that doesn’t ever sound like either bass or cello. I am a complete sucker for improvised music played on chamber instruments and this is a really nice example.

Oh yes I did listen to one other piece of music today, walking to work in a bit of a hurry as I was running slightly late I found Takahiro Kawaguchi’s n the perfect companion. Listening to this collage of frantic clockwork sounds while walking is a weird feeling. You find yourself trying to take steps in pace with the music’s rhythms, as if it is the clicktrack of a pedometer in your ears. I made it to work on time anyway, so it kind of worked!

Comments (5)

  • benedictdrew

    February 22, 2009 at 9:10 am

    thank you for the klingt link, i almost forgot how much good stuff is up there .

  • lukaz

    February 22, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Great you find the recording from Ljubljana beautiful Richard. When i read it i had a friend w me who was on the event and asked him if he thinks the same about it and his recollection pretty much confirmed the feeling i had about much of the crowd’s experience at the gig- that most of the public (and there were more than 50 people there) was in a kind of clinch and that feeling sort of filled up the atmosphere in the gallery so there was a lot of tension and unease in the air (and that happened regardless of that Radu had an hour lecture on his work prior to the concert and that many people from the crowd were present on Taku Unami’s lecture / aimed on much of the Wandelweiser group’s work and works of his japanese contemporaries/ and his concert w Otomo a year before and on Filament concert a year before). Seeing Malfatti three times in different improvised settings (in a duo w Mattin and trio w Sugimoto & Filip) this moment had always occured. and which doesn’t really transfer on cd. Of course things can be quite different if a concert is taking place let’s say on Amplify festival or in a context where majority of public doesn’t really know Malfatti’s work … He wrote this sentence prior to his lecture: “I attempt to create realms in which the senses are bound up together; are alert and attentive ‹ resisting the desolation which our cultural environment seems to push upon us.” Still dind’t get the cd. I of course had an opportunity to get the recording way beyond it’s release but i am sort of glad that i didn’t and that i will hear them in a different context …

  • Richard Pinnell

    February 22, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    “I attempt to create realms in which the senses are bound up together; are alert and attentive ‹ resisting the desolation which our cultural environment seems to push upon us.”


    I listened again this evening. Such intense and yet simplistically beautiful music. I’ll get to see Radu improvise again in about a month. I’m counting the days…

  • jon abbey

    February 22, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    pretty sure Radu prefers the other live duo with Unami that’s about to come out, curious to hear that one. after a couple of listens to this one, I thought it was nice, but it didn’t seem to add up to more than the sum of the parts. that still puts it ahead of most of what’s coming out, but not fully satisfying IMO.

    to be fair, I’ve spent much of the last few days immersed in Radu/Klaus Filip duo recordings, trying to figure out where we stand in terms of a release. it’s a lot to get my head around (100 minutes), but the one thing that jumps out immediately is the close-miked sound quality courtesy of Christoph Amann, incredible bass from Radu’s trombone.

  • jon abbey

    February 22, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    oh, and I like that Kawaguchi a lot, probably my top release of the year so far, like four or five overdubbed Unamis…

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