Opprobrium, Bruce Russell
The 18th century air from which this disc takes its title was reputedly played by the military band leading Cornwalliss British forces out of Yorktown in defeat, the catastrophe that made inevitable Englands loss of the American colonies, and marked the end of many old certainties for Europe. Perhaps it is appropriate that such a band of determinedly new thing people, though none American, should take this as their rallying cry. Certainly the sounds which this disc celebrates are trying to tip up some old certainties in music, and inject a genuine breath of freedom into its practical working out in a public arena. To the uninitiated it may appear hermetic and closed, but there is some great to-and-fro mix with it stuff on this disc, which pits two very different improvising guitarists of different generations up against a one-man noise orchestra of percussion and triggered electronics. The sounds are strange but invigorating and predictably hard to assign in every case to their makers, though Sugimoto's limpid undulations of sound are perhaps pretty evident throughout. These provide a significant counterpoint to the predominantly electronic and percussive input of the others (and Rowe can be remarkably percussive and Müller more than electronic enough for most, thank you). It's the sort of thing you really listen into, as you find more and more you are expecting some outrushing of sonic drama that never quite happens by. The effect is seriously arresting, as the listener finds himself (in my case) unable to walk away to get that latté as something might happen which will throw the whole listening experience into new plane of context. No doubt many bought this for the Rowe/AMM connection, but as with the MIMEO disc, that may well be the least of reasons to spring clams for it. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts, and all those parts keep their end up. Müller has a lovely touch and a surety of direction that makes him a natural for working with the current generation of Japanese sound-wranglers, and of them, Sugimoto is perhaps the pre-eminent stylist on the guitar (not to disparage Akiyama et al). He brings a golden glow to every session he partakes in, having abandoned amped up noise in favour of a much more introspective and calligraphic style of play. The only jarring notes are the occasional moments when Rowe's radio actually tunes into something coherent, which generally sits uneasily with the wordless scrabble and slip of the rest of the outing. Beautifully recorded at a Paris show late in 1999, this fascinating disc has an equally beautiful primary-colour cover by Keith Rowe, and is all-round a top-notch example of small group electronic/assisted improv in the live setting. Get marching, you Redcoats there
The Wire, Will Montgomery
A document of a performance last autumn at Parisian Improv spot Instants Chavires, in which Günter Müller is flanked by two very different but distinctive users of the electric guitar. On one side of the stage is Keith Rowe, who's worked for half a lifetime to unsettle the boundaries between music and noise. On the other is the restrained presence of Taku Sugimoto, whose crabbed phrases waft above the shifting timbral networks laid down by the other two. The trio's music is dominated by rasps and scrapes, with snatches of moonlighting radio, furtive rustles in the undergrowth and troubled cloud formations. Müller drifts between abstracted interventions and nondirective percussion, while Rowe's fluttering drones swoop in and out. In contrast to such textural movement, Sugimoto's note-playing seems to involve a different vocabulary. Yet in the end, his patient exploration of single eddies in the flow of sound has him fitting snugly with the trio's emphasis on the play between movement and stillness. Sugimoto simply allows a note to hang suspended in the air, then repeats it. This is exquisitely unhurried playing, and it's the tension between this work and the more restless contributions of Rowe and Müller that makes this trio sound so good.
Resonance, Graham Halliwell
Recorded live at Les Instantes Chavires in Paris last year, this was the first performance of the trio comprising Keith Rowe (table top guitar and electronics), Günter Müller (electronics and selected drums), and Taku Sugimoto (guitar). Sugimoto is probably an unfamiliar name here, although he has a dedicated following on the underground scene in Japan. Rowe has elsewhere described him as Jim Hall meets Scelsi underlining Sugimoto's sparse and focused sensibility, an approach to the guitar that is devoid of outboard effects and relies almost entirely upon melodic and harmonic content. Comprising of two long improvisations, comparisons of this trio to AMM are bound to be made but this is a much softer, closer, almost claustrophobic soundworld. Sugimoto's spatially melodic phrases and gestures fit strangely and yet perfectly with Müller's more abrasive sound abstractions and Rowe's haunting, stratified sustain and pulse. A overall low volume aesthetic adds to the intensity and tension, and the listener's ear is drawn toward subtleties of timbre, texture, depth and space that can so easily be obscured at higher volume levels. Together these three create an abstract, eventful and rich tapestry of sound that is wholly engrossing. Packaged attractively with artwork by Rowe and Masae Tanabe, with recording quality that allows the music to breath, this an excellent and desirable release.
Magnet, Bill Meyer
Another multinational trio -- English tabletop guitarist Keith Rowe, Swiss percussionist Günter Müller, and Japanese guitarist Taku Sugimoto -- speaks in a language derived more from personal than national history on The World Turned Upside Down (Erstwhile). During Rowe's lengthy membership in AMM, he developed a unique instrumental voice that sets the encounter's ground rules. His rumbles, rattles and hums, augmented by electronics and shortwave-radio broadcasts, establish a meditative, absorbing field of sound. M¸ller's electronically processed scrapes score its fabric, while Sugimoto inks delicately melodic strokes across its surface.
Motion, Dan Hill
This fine release records the first meeting of this trio, and the first meeting ever between Keith Rowe and Taku Sugimoto, in concert at Les Instants ChavirÈs, Paris, in October '99. It's electroacoustic improvisation of the highest standard, by a trio whose differences complement their shared sensitivities beautifully. I was lucky enough to see Taku Sugimoto spin out his utterly beguiling, reflective guitar parts with Keith Rowe and Otomo Yoshihide at London's Spitz club a while ago. Pulling his hat tightly over his head, Sugimoto sat alone during the interval, drinking a pint and drawing on a cigarette - either contemplating the lightness of being, what to do next on his gorgeous red ES335, or what peculiar people turn up at improv gigs in London. Whatever, his demeanour reflects his playing. Or vice versa. He draws you in, through sheer care, detail, delicacy and sensitivity. The lack of percussion at that gig left Yoshihide to draw out dynamic space with intense feedback, which he used quite superbly. With Sugimoto operating at the other end of the spectrum, it was one of the quietest and loudest things I've seen/heard. Here M¸ller steps up to the breach, joining Rowe as two of the more prominent members of the European improv circuit. And he's awesome. At times conjuring the sound of the world being turned upside down (perhaps unwittingly contributing the title), a clattering, cacophony of gawd-knows-what, elsewhere providing spasmodically ticking rhythms, sawed gongs and drums, and sweeping washes of rusty metal. It's difficult to prize apart Keith Rowe and M¸ller's sound sometimes, as I guess Rowe sees his tabletop guitar and devices as a percussive playground as much as M¸ller sees his electronics and drums containing melodic/harmonic properties. Sugimoto's guitar stands alone, binding the sound of the others in his sparsely woven lines.
There are two pieces here: the first, Phase Two, lasts 34:44 and the second, Phase One, lasts 22:11, and feels slightly more reflective and understated perhaps indicating a growing understanding between the players. Phase One is quite a journey, beginning with Sugimoto's gentle probing but quickly becoming a noisy, animated discussion. Around 20 minutes in though, Phase One develops a peaceful beauty, and a gently pulsating rhythm, thrummed out by Sugimoto's guitar. M¸ller's percussion is quite lovely at this point, subtly and cleverly shifting focal points. Rowe has tuned his shortwave radio to some dramatically exotic gameshow and human voices spatter the mix, though at such low volume, they're unintelligible and abstracted. Rowe never overplays this device, a clear temptation with such a seductive technology - the awesome possibility of sonically reaching out across a world of voices requires experienced hands to avoid simple but ultimately short-term pleasure. This he does masterfully, mixing in random operatics and chance encounters with talkshow hosts to anchor the sound in humanity, amidst the abstraction. Eventually, the radio provides a bed of furry static for his compatriots to build upon, and here the joy of experiencing improvisation becomes evident, as you realise that the musicians have constructed something - a temporary architecture, shifting constantly during its short life, and ultimately disappearing without trace. Your memory of the piece is hazy, incomplete but somehow vivid. The recording is sharply detailed, edited and mastered by Günter M¸ller, and Erstwhile's booklet includes some lovely drawings and calligraphy from a tour diary kept by Masae Tanabe. Another strong release from this fine label documenting the many flavours of improvisation flourishing at present.