Saturday, July 09, 2016

Things we like: Braxton/Stockhausen, Mary Halvorson

1) My recent immersion in Braxtonia has led inexorably back to his classical inspiration, Karlheinz Stockhausen. It's not just that there seem to be direct analogs for so many Stockhausen compositions in Brax's oeuvre: Composition No. 95 (For Two Pianos) = Mantra, Composition No. 82 (For Four Orchestras) = Gruppen, the Trillium opera cycle = the Licht opera cycle, etc. Or the fact that both men have highly idiosyncratic ways of thinking about music and the world. As daunting as it can be to read descriptions of their methodologies, their music offers rewards even to listeners who don't "understand" it. I've got a lot of listening to do before I'm ready (if ever) to write about Stockhausen. For now, I'll just say that Momente, with its varied tonal palette (soprano soloist with chorus that FZ enthusiasts will relate to 200 Motels, brass ensemble, and electric organs that seem to predict both Pink Floyd and electric Miles), is the most fully realized of his works I've heard to date.

2) I've been wanting to hear more of the guitarist Mary Halvorson after being impressed by her on a few other people's recs (her former Wesleyan prof Anthony Braxton, the drummers Ches Smith and Tom Rainey) and a track on Elliott Sharpe's first I Never Metaguitar comp. (She's currently on tour in Europe with Marc Ribot's TSOP homage, the Young Philadelphians.)

The best interview with her I've read includes this quote: "I do think a lot about clarity, and I like the idea of being in control of the instrument. So if I place a totally smeared, flabby-sounding line, I want that to be on purpose, not because I couldn’t execute something. It’s not like I have one hundred percent control, but I try to make those decisions purposeful." You can really hear that on her solo album Meltframe, released last year on Firehouse 12 (her label since 2008's Dragon's Head). The material -- which she road tested, opening for Melvins frontman King Buzzo on his solo tour, before recording -- is all composed by other people; I need to hear some of her own stuff, too. But the live-solo-guitar format provides the best opportunity to hear her approach I've encountered yet.

Halvorson's take on Oliver Nelson's "Cascades" combines precise articulation with nasty (ProCo Rat) distorted sound in the same way as classic Fripp or McLaughlin. On Ornette's "Sadness" (a fave of mine from his Town Hall Concert LP), what sounds at first like the guitar being detuned is actually a slide employed "over the top" on the bottom two strings; later in the piece, you can hear it rattling on the frets. Atypically for a "jazz" guitarist, Halvorson isn't shy about using pedals. On ballads like Duke Ellington's "Solitude" or Carla Bley's "Ida Lupino," she bathes her sound in shimmering tremolo, and she uses her Line 6 delay to create off-kilter pitch-shifter effects. Her base tone, though, comes from the combination of her big archtop Guild Artist Award's natural resonance, a warm amp tone, and an aggressive right hand attack. I only wish she'd included her version of Monk's "Ruby My Dear," perhaps my favorite jazz tune of all ti-i-ime, which she's apparently played solo live.


Post a Comment

<< Home