Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
“In Minute Particulars Prevost spends a good detail of time discussing the virtues of a communitarian approach to making improvised music. Certainly the values and ethics of this approach are clear to see in the way the weekly Improv Workshops are run, and the impact that this group of mainly young people has had on the London improvised music scene over recent months has supported this, with London right now a vibrant, questioning, but socially and creative supportive environment for improvised music. One question I have always wondered about Prevost’s theory of music as a way of practicing and moving towards a more communitarian, self-supporting society, is where the role of the listener, or worse, the music critic fits into all of this. Are we part of that community? and if so what is our role within it? Do we matter? Or would the music go on regardless? Like Seymour Wright’s project with Benedict Drew and Paul Abbott I have felt that Control and its Opposites is in many ways just a glimpse (albeit it quite a long one) of one of many ongoing musical partnerships taking place in London right now that exist purely for the ongoing musical exploration, and would continue just the same if nobody was actually listening. Over recent years, in general there has been a swing towards musicians playing together just with the thought of recording a CD, some kind of solid statement always at the back of their minds. This trio, typical of the mindset common to attendees of the Prevost Workshops just don’t think that way. Coleman, Wright and Kasyansky are all fine, thoughtful, mature musicians with a close, ongoing musical relationship that is built upon frequent meetings to play together, often just in someone’s front room, with no attempt made to record proceedings. Control and its Opposites is a rare record then, made by Simon Reynell in a London church late in April 2009. It reveals the fluid, flourishing musical dialogue between these three musicians, its eighty minutes like a kind of slice taken from a larger pie. Although the recording session was set up with a CD release in mind, this is not evident from the music.
Listening through to Control… in one sitting is tough going. Across its full length a lot happens, ranging from the relative comfort of the layered textures that open the album through to near silent pregnant moments to screeching blasts of sound to angry little tussles between two or more musicians where the acoustics of Coleman’s trumpet and Wright’s sax are met squarely by the acute placement of Kasyansky’s minimal but powerful electronics. There is an intimacy and a tension right through the disc’s full length, which makes for a tiring listen. Staying focussed throughout the entire piece feels like I am intruding somehow on this close dialogue between the three. Trying to dissect the inspiration or emotion driving any one musician at any one time seems not only difficult but also completely the wrong thing to do. It is not that the music, or musicians are above criticism or appraisal in any way, far from it, but it just feels like (even more than usual) whatever I have to say just doesn’t matter. The music presented feels incredibly organic. honest and clean, untainted by the rules and expectations of an audience, be it in person in the church as they played, or at the other end of the musician to CD listener divide. In places the music really grabs you, pulling you along on the journey with its creators, and at other moments it is harder to penetrate, the individual contributors less easy to identify, the wild fluctuations in dynamic and volume adding extra intrigue.
In general Coleman mainly blows through or onto his instrument, but rarely producing a note as such. Wright is as likely to play his sax as a percussive instrument as much as a wind one, and Kasyansky adds blips, scrapes and hard tones in equal amounts. All three know their instrumentation well however, and the content of the music, rather than its style is what matters here. The music feels very tactile, recently formed, like a sculpture fresh with the fingerprints of its creators before going into the kiln to be fired, before being transformed into a vaguely marketable object. As a listener you are asked to try and join the musicians’ dialogue, try and find a way to meet them and their music at a level that feels comfortable. The onus is on the listener though. While the music on Control… is not harsh or demanding from a purely aesthetic perspective it also assumes a degree of effort that is required of the listener. there is no easy entry point or easy soundbites to get a hold of.
Reviewing Control and its Opposites then feels pointless. Certainly it can be argued that by releasing this music as a CD rather than just performing quietly together out of the public eye the musicians should expect their work, once placed on public view to be assessed, analysed, pulled apart. The thing is, any further analysis beyond recognition and assessment of the music within its context as part of an ongoing musical relationship probably misses the point. It feels like I am projecting a degree of arrogance onto the musicians here by suggesting that they would play no differently if they thought nobody would hear the music but it is not about ego, more about an ongoing relationship that began before the CD started playing, and continued after. Certainly this could be said for many an improvising group, but this sense of continual discovery through frequent playing, with just an excerpt from one stage of this shown here is, I think a central theme to this release. Its a fine disc anyway, not as a polished object, and not really as a work in progress, as that suggests some kind of finished end product is the eventual goal, which it is not. As a simple view of three fine, close musicians playing together, and nothing more than that however, Control and its Opposites is as good as it gets.” - Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“Finally, some rapid turnaround from inception to release. Recorded in April of this year, Control and Its Opposites is among the latest in the Byways cd-r series on Another Timbre. The disc captures the London-based trio of Jamie Coleman (trumpet, objects), Grundik Kasyansky (electronics), and Seymour Wright (alto sax, objects) in a single 80-minute improvisation that is not for those with short attention spans.
The music opens amid the ambient sounds outside the church where the music was recorded - the occasional chirping of birds and the quiet, low-frequency rumble of street straffic are more-than-fitting accompaniment to the sounds that follow. With Wright on the stereo left, Coleman on the right, and Kasyansky in the middle, the music navigates from jagged sparsity to quiet group interplay, but with each musician seemingly at the helm of his own vehicle. It’s an interesting ride from these three, and not at all what I’d expected. They’ve played and interacted together over the last 18 months in and outside of local workshops, enough times that one might expect a common language to be on display. On recorded media and apart from live performance, it can be difficult for the observer to get a sense of communication, and here it’s not made to be easy on us. What’s common among the three is the sheer individuality in their contributions to the music. I’ve sat twice through complete (however interrupted, occasionally) runs of this disc, and some short investigative revisitations, and each time it was as if I’d heard three independent performances of the same duration, layered neatly atop one another, and as if the musicians might have been working from the same time- and intensity-based score. But we know that’s not the case. The sounds work perfectly well with one another, harmoniously (for lack of a better term), and situated neatly within the greater acoustic space. Eighty minutes is a long time to sit with a single piece of music, but the run isn’t without its moments of magic. At certain points radio transmissions whisper out from inside Wright’s alto, only to be - at the point of reaching intelligibility - choked out by the saxophonist with divertive sputters and fast rushes of air. Coleman burbles along as if his instrument were ineffectual beyond its mouthpiece, and here he finds occasional passing accompaniment by a passing truck outside the church. The segments of unison in the trio are among the most listenable, particularly when Kasyansky is employing mechanical devices vice the obligatory, perhaps accidental, high-pitched tones that escape his electronics rig. It’s a record constructed predominantly of extended techniques, with only the occasional recognizable tone as a centerpiece to a given progression - most recognizable are Wright’s loud alto catcalls of late, which I’ve come to like for their divorcing from similar, chaotic emissions heard in European free improv, and for the lyrical quality Wright is able to affect in them. For a current snapshot of where Wright and Coleman sit with their own playing - so far removed from 9!’s none(-t), or Wright’s duo with Ross Lambert, Lucky Rabbit - this is a great disc to visit. It should also make a nice intro to the relatively new voice of Kasyansky, who has an empathetic and non-intrusive style in collaboration. He’s also an imaginative player, well-suited to this particular trio.”
- Alan Jones, Bagatellen
Since the inception of the Another Timbre label a few years back, Simon Reynell has
been producing consistently absorbing and challenging releases of European advanced
improvisation with overlap into areas of contemporary composition. While he has looked
toward France, Spain, Germany – and even the US for a recent recording by Kyle Bruckmann
and Ernst Karel – he has resolutely focused on music being made in and around London.
What makes London particularly intriguing at the moment is the commitment toward
exploration and cross-fertilization of multiple generations of free improvisers,
with the likes of Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost, Max Eastley, Clive Bell and John Butcher
collaborating with Tom Chant, John Edwards, Rhodri and Angharad Davies, Mark Wastell,
and Graham Halliwell. And increasingly, a new generation is starting to get some
visibility. Seymour Wright, Jamie Coleman, Sebastian Lexer, and Ross Lambert, who’ve
been documented on a handful of releases on Prévost’s Matchless label over the last
decade, are being joined by a number of musicians who are settling around London.
These musicians are finding an outlet at venues like Café Otó, and small DIY series
presented at churches and store-fronts, as well as festivals like Freedom of the
City and Reynell’s Unnamed Music Festival.
They have come to London from many different locations, and to improvisation from differing backgrounds. Phil Julian comments, “I think that there are some very strong younger improvising players in London at the moment and it's very interesting for me as someone slightly outside of the environment to step in and be welcomed immediately. There's no sense of 'well, who's this noisy laptop guy who's suddenly arrived? not sure we want him around' – it's a very open group open to new ideas, and that's exciting.”
For many of them, Eddie Prevost's improvisation workshop, which has been taking place in Southwark every Friday evening for over a decade, now provides a central laboratory. Some are regulars while others drift in and out. Grundik Kasyansky describes it nicely: “At the workshop we play a bit, but mostly we listen to other people playing (15 – 20 people playing mostly in duos and trios and we have only two hours for all that). Anybody can arrive – a rocker, a jazzman, a non-musician, a goofy “superstar”, a scholar, a drunken clochard, so you learn to accept anything, and deal with it. Slowly you learn to keep your mind open and concentration high. You learn to agree, to disagree, to hold, to continue, to stop, to wait, to listen, to push, to let things go and to bring them back. It is constant challenge, hard work and serious fun.”
Reynell has been a steadfast supporter of these musicians. He recollects that “when I started the Another Timbre label I was very much aware that a new generation of players was emerging within the UK, and they interested me a lot. The new players were hardly represented on disc and I was keen to present their work in two ways: either by linking them on CDs with more established players (as on discs such as Hum, Dun and Midhopestones) or simply playing with each other on CDRs (CDs would unfortunately be financial suicide). So the desire to profile the work of this new generation was fundamental to the label from the start. Representing the music was quite tricky because, firstly, the groupings are so fluid, and there are very few longer-term groups, and secondly the music of this generation is constantly changing and evolving in different ways. Over the course of 2008 I did several recordings with the Coleman-Kasyansky-Wright trio (one of the few long-term groupings), and each recording was very different from the next; the musicians felt that the recordings had become out of date within weeks. It happened that spring was a very slack time for work for me, so I decided to use it to do several recordings in London, and thought it could be interesting to issue a small series of discs that would, together, give a kind of snapshot of that generation's music at one particular moment.”
It is that notion of a snapshot that makes these CDRs so compelling. The series was meticulously curated by Reynell over the course of a few weeks in the Spring of 2009, selecting a handful of the London-based musicians he's been following, and taking advantage of the fact that French musicians Mathias Forge (photo) and Leo Dumont were passing through London on their way back to France from the IandE festival in Dublin to arrange a series of recording sessions over the course of a few weeks in the Spring of 2009. Carefully choosing churches around London that had favorable acoustics, he organised one concert with an audience as well as two separate recording sessions (with no audience present). Most of the groups were first-time meetings, pulling together musicians Reynell thought would click. What is common amongst the sets is a fascination of the timbral qualities of the intersection of acoustic and electronic sound sources. But most importantly, there is the notion that technique and vocabulary are not enough – one must use those foundational elements for the formulation of a personal and ensemble language.
The trio recording with Seymour Wright (saxophone), Jamie Coleman (trumpet), and Grundik Kasyansky (electronics) stands apart from the other releases discussed above, in several ways. Firstly, this is the only group that is an ongoing concern – the three have been working together since 2007. Secondly, there is the sheer length of this performance. At 80 minutes, the long-form nature of the improvisation elicits a different type of listening and interaction. Wright’s singular sound continues to reveal one of the most striking approaches to the saxophone in recent memory. Here, his language of masterful control and astonishing range of inflection is in good company. Coleman’s burred breathiness and pinched tones provide coloristic counter to the saxophonist’s harder-edged attack and articulation, and Kasyansky’s often strident electronics and mechanical activities fit in like the final piece to a puzzle. Wright also weaves in wafts of radio snippets which he controls with his horn, adding yet another layer, as the piece unfolds across a linked series of events. As it progresses, the listener becomes aware of how the three break up any sense of immersive flow, weaving together skeins of active gesture, striations of pulsating overtones and electronic whine, allowing momentum and density to build before breaking off and allowing the ambience of the room and sounds from outside to encroach (on one of the earlier recordings Reynell made with the trio in a busy part of South London, they insisted that they play with the windows wide open and microphones pointing outside). It's demanding listening, but well worth the attention required.
Considering this series of recordings as a group, it's tempting to jump to neat conclusions about a new "thing": a new scene, a new sound, a new community. That is particularly true for those listening to this music geographically removed from London. But Seymour Wright responds cautiously when asked about whether these musicians, are part of a particularly musical community. “Actually [there are] many different communities – social, musical, moral… real, and probably mostly, imagined, in London. The workshop is a nexus for some of them, as is Café Otó at present. Yes, of course there is a very warm social group around these two different fulcra, but it is far more complexly knit and limber in its unity than may be thought and imagined. There are, more helpfully, also what I think of as schools of musical operation and it may be the case that any three people playing together in one of these settings are engaged in fundamentally different, albeit simultaneous, activities. I am tempted to go as far as to suggest that the number of communities and perhaps schools is a factor of the number of individuals involved, but I am not sure.”
So those looking for a harbinger of the next "new thing" can keep searching, then. Everyone involved in these recordings cautions about the codification and / or commoditization that can come from documents which, by their very nature are a snapshot of a particular point in time. A glimpse at the websites of any of these musicians reveals that they've been playing in a broad variety of contexts with increasing regularity, and haven't been particularly interested in documenting their work. Many of them see the process of exploration and discovery as more central to their music making than recording. Even so, these four CDRs provide an essential dispatch from the front line, from a group of musicians who are worth keeping on your radar.
Michael Rosenstein, Paris Transatlantic
“Eighty minutes of trumpet/electronics and alto sax. Here, the length works in its favor. An advantage, oddly, to listening at home (and reading the back of the sleeve): You know it's 80 minutes long so you "read" it as such, as it's happening, sitting back a bit, seeking a wider focus. Wright gets nicely strident here and there, Coleman generally staying with breath tones early on, getting more vociferous later, Kasyansky hither and yon, doing a fine job integrating and coloring. There's a break almost an hour in and one wouldn't have been surprised or disappointed had it ended there, but happily it does not, the ensuing 20 or so minutes taking on a kind of AMMish quality (replete with brief Sheryl Crow and "Blue Moon" captures), all subdued tension. Rather rare, that, after a relatively lengthy set. Good job.” - Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
“Another Timbre is one of those labels with a name – like Blue Note, Impulse! Or AUM Fidelity – that resonates with the sound of the music it releases. Founded in 2007 by Simon Reynell, a television sound recordist disillusioned at the state of broadcast media (especially in his own field of documentary making), the label has developed a robust core identity with a catalogue of 19 discs with as many distinct perspectives on quiet, lowercase Improv.
Except, of course, the full picture is more complicated. Reynell has also issued composed music by John Cage and Frank Denyer, while Improvisations for Shakuhachi and Ney finds Clive Bell and Bechir Saade building around another cultural construct altogether. But Reynell's nuanced, detailed approach to recording has had the effect of prompting improvisors into exploring uncharted margins of atomised sound, secure in the knowledge that their explorations will be faithfully reproduced. This sequence of four releases, all recorded in London during March and April this year, comes under the Another Timbre Byways tag – a satellite series of CD-R recordings designed as a sort of inexpensive audio blog documenting a specific moment in time.
Control and its Opposites featuring Jamie Coleman (trumpet), Grundik Kasyansky (electronics) and Seymour Wright (alto saxophone) is a typical Another Timbre project. Recorded at the Church of St.James the Great in Friern Barnet, North London, the disc opens with the exterior ambience of faint traffic rumble and leaves blowing on trees framing a context for the music to come: Coleman's marvellously chameleon-like trumpet zones into the bountiful harmony of this external background, his supple, breathy overtones weaving around textures and timbres spotlighted by the immaculate recording. Kasyansky's electronic rig occasionally blurts out ear-splitting shockers, but otherwise probes the emerging continuum. In the latter stages of this 80-minute improvisation, Wright sporadically punctures the flow with seemingly incongruous Fire Music-like shrieks. But listen closer and you realise that he has managed to harness the impetus behind the sound, while ditching the stylistic reference itself. Yes, another timbre.
The church acoustic figures once again in Meshes, featuring French trombonist Mathias Forge with Phil Julian (electronics) and David Papapostolou (cello), also recorded in Friern Barnet, with a second 'live' track cut a few days previously. Forge's burping trombone, Papapostolou's percussive cello and Julian's electronics stutter onwards in a procession of knocks and rattles that ricochet against the resonant acoustic. While, in another context, those same gestures might imply velocity and speed, these acoustic realities divert the music towards a more meandering, leisurely paced structure that is intriguingly at odds with its material.
On Loiter Volcano Ute Kanngiesser approaches the cello with a wholly other mindset to Papapostolou's. A striking sequence of high-register pizzicato notes is heard against the twanging cartoon violence of Léo Dumont's percussion and Paul Abbott's electronics. As the Heath Robinson mechanism unwinds, her drones and arpeggiations move with the grain of her instrument. But she hijacks that grain, twisting cello mannerisms into distorted shapes as she processes the electronic and percussion onslaught. Scrub, violinist Matt Milton's duo with Léo Dumont, isn't bad, but feels more like generic free Improv than the other three. But it does underscore how exacting a language Reynell's concepts of recording improvised music have provoked, and in such a short time.” - Philip Clark, The Wire
“Since its inception Another Timbre has regularly released low-priced CD-Rs (on its Byways imprint) to supplement its main CD catalogue. The label has used its latest batch of CD-Rs to document musicians living in or passing through London in March and April of 2009, so they function as a kind of audio diary or sketchbook. The London improvising scene is vibrant and dynamic, so such documentation plays a valuable role in capturing it before it moves on.
Although they are released in modest packaging, with monochrome sleeve designs, proprietor Simon Reynell stresses that the CD-Rs can be issued very cheaply as he does the recording and mastering himself. In fact, the latest batch was recorded in churches in and around London. They are not compromised in terms of musical quality and Reynell wants them to be as strong as the CD catalogue. The music here bears this out.
Like Paul Abbott and Ute Kanngiesser, above, all three members of this trio are participants in drummer and percussionist Eddie Prevost’s weekly Friday Workshop which seems to provide a continuous supply of fresh inventive improvisers to the London scene. Here they produce one unbroken 80 minute improvisation. The three are equal partners despite trumpeter Jamie Coleman and alto saxophonist Seymour Wright being more experienced than electronicist Grundik Kasyansky. Initially, the soundscape is comparatively sparse, with individual contributions being restrained—maybe out of caution about the resonances of the church where it was recorded. Each of the three dips in and out throughout the piece and they rarely all play together. As the piece progresses, individual contributions become more garrulous. But the three rarely make obvious reactions to each other, so this feels less like a collective improvisation, more like three simultaneous solo improvisations that take care not to get in each other's way. The combination of its duration and restraint enable this music to be "just there" for long periods, only occasional details demanding attention before fading away again. So, as the title suggests, much control is in evidence but few signs of its opposites (whatever they may be.) Yes, ambient improv..“ - John Eyles, All About Jazz
“The instrumentation comprises trumpet, electronic and alto saxophone but here, more
than everywhere else, I struggled a bit to focus on the correct individuation of
the sources. This is also the recording in which the incidence of external intromissions
(car engines, airplanes, birds) is working rather efficiently as actual complement
to the music, finely structured per se and researched from the inside with palpable
purpose. In general, this trio represents the entity that furnishes my ears with
the best idea of a stream of activity directly related to anything having to do with
life, both in a purely physical meaning and as an extension of simple gestures which
in turn can originate reactions, convenient or less. Speaking of the timbral palette,
there’s an obvious prevalence of soiled vibrations (mostly deriving from Coleman
and Wright’s preparations, clearly audible as they get implemented on the spot),
long-held pitches (predominantly in the piping-and-shrilling regions), buzzing groans
and occasional aching laments – a wonderful series of the latter, almost animal in
their intensity, starts about half a hour into the set – meshing with the classic
saliva-drenched, pressurized sounds that have become an EAI trademark, this time
successfully circumstantiated and dosed, delivered only at the due moment. Protracted
silences emerge every once in a while, the artists apparently stopping to swiftly
reconsider the work done and find a new starting point; in those instants the cityscape
is heard quite well, and it’s just beautiful. The intelligently parsimonious use
of a radio is a plus, a splendid juxtaposition of ruthlessly sharp tones and “Blue
Moon” probably the album’s top in terms of coincidental brilliance and unintentional
sarcasm. One needs persistence to penetrate the essence of Control And Its Opposites
and, believe me, once you manage to do it those 80 minutes literally fly. Don’t neglect
this unassuming masterpiece.” - Massimo Ricci, Temporary Fault
at-b04 control and its opposites
Jamie Coleman - trumpet
Grundik Kasyansky - electronics
Seymour Wright - alto saxophone
recorded in London, April 2009