Friday, September 30, 2011

Paul Kikuchi's "Portable Sanctuary, Vol. 1"

On two previous releases -- this year's FLIGHTPATTERNS and last year's Hollow Lake, both with the ensemble Open Graves -- Seattle-based percussionist/composer/instrument builder/sound artist Paul Kikuchi impressed me mightily with his ability to craft hypnotic, non-linear sound fields. This new recording, by a group featuring Kikuchi and his Open Graves collaborators Stuart Dempster and Jesse Olsen Bay alongside percussionist Alex Vittum and guitarist Bill Horist, adds some new elements to his world of sounds.

On "Faster/Still," the sounds of tuned percussion and conches evoke both Javanese gamelan and traditional Japanese music. Horist reveals himself as a guitarist who employs effects and extended techniques in the manner of Nels Cline, opening his episode with chiming harmonics, overlaying sparse treated notes, using a slide to generate microtonal melodies, gradually building in urgency and intensity, shadowed by background electronics and Kikuchi's trap set, which sounds at times like Elvin thundering away behind Trane on Ascension. Then Dempster's trombone enters, playing somber long tones that contrast with Horist's squalls and skronks.

The clattering percussion on "Improvisation" recalls Varese, and contrasts with the textures of percussively-played slide guitar, irregularly-metered traps, and trombone interjections. The tension the instrumental interplay creates is never fully resolved. "Prelude" opens with breath sounds (through Dempster's trombone) and ceremonial-sounding gongs. It's a return to the sacred space of Kikuchi's work with Open Graves. The space is soon filled by Dempster's conch (demonstrating how expressive a single note can be, properly played), Kikuchi's loosely-tuned drums, and more tuned percussion. "Tomorrow's Flowers" is an elegiac melody, alternately essayed by trombone and guitar.

With this release, Kikuchi proves once again that he's one of the most interesting composing drummers currently working. (Tyshawn Sorey is the other one.) His ensembles consistently create some of the most varied and satisfying improvised music one can hear today. Cop via Present Sounds Recordings.


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