Music Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


November 16, 2019
Ten Excellent Records of 2019
In 2019, the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House continued to pursue an existence filled with music. In this review, they highlight ten exciting records containing various strains of non-idiomatic improvisation released in 2019.


Invitation to a Dream - Susan Alcorn, Joe McPhee & Ken Vandermark
Label: Astral Spirits
Catalog #: MF204/AS100
Location: Austin, Texas, United States
Release Date: 2019
Media: lp entry

This album features Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar, Joe McPhee on soprano saxophone and trumpet, and Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet. We hear an affinity by the musicians for each other in the natural ways in which the sounds of their instruments conform to each other in these improvisations. At times the extended, languid tones of Alcorn's steel guitar seem to emanate from the notes generated by the reed instruments, the difference becoming detectable only as the saxophones deviate from their initial sound.

Susan Alcorn appeared on several other recordings released in 2019, including a trio with Bill Nace and Chris Corsano, a quartet with Nate Wooley, Mary Halvorson and Ryan Sawyer, as well as a duet with Phillip Greenlief, all of which were improvisational musical explorations in very different veins. Of Alcorn's 2019 releases, Invitation to a Dream is the one that appealed most to our ears.


The Air Around Her - Ellen Fullman & Okkyung Lee
Label: 1703 Skivbolaget
Catalog #: 1703-3
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Release Date: January 16, 2019 (lp)
Media: lp, cd & digital entry

On The Air Around Her, the listener is treated to two tracks (side A & side B) of a performance featuring Ellen Fullman on her unique long-stringed instrument and Okkyung Lee on cello. We anticipated that this duo would create a collaborative music incorporating the polyphonic drones and songs of Fullman's instrument and the drones of Lee's cello in ways that allowed the two musicians to accentuate each other and lead to a music greater than the sum of the individual parts. We were not disappointed. The music is lovely and peaceful, but it is also dynamic. Because of the responses of each musician to the other, there is no tendency for the active listener to lose connection to the music and drift off, as could be imagined with extended pieces. To the contrary, we found each side (roughly twenty minutes apiece) to be over too soon. This was the first release we heard from the Swedish label, 1703 Skivbolaget, and it was a grand introduction indeed!

We were first drawn to Fullman's work when we heard Body Music (Experimental Intermedia Foundation, 1993). Our familiarity with the music of Okkyung Lee was much more limited and confined to appearances in the ensembles of figures such as Evan Parker and Michael Gira. On The Air Around Her, it was a delight to hear Lee give full expression to her instrument in the company of Fullman.

As a final comment, we note that we had earlier reviewed the long-stringed instrument & cello duet performance of Ellen Fullman and Theresa Wong at the nief-norf festival held at the University of Tennessee in June, 2017. It was very interesting and appealing to us to find that the change of cellist altered the nature of the music to a great degree, which is, of course, just as it should be.
[This review was originally uploaded January 26, 2019.]


Map of Liberation - Tiger Trio
Label: RogueArt
Catalog #: ROG-0093
Location: Paris, France
Release Date: July, 2019
Media: cd entry

This album features Joëlle Léandre on double bass, Myra Melford on piano and Nicole Mitchell on flute, alto flute and piccolo flute. This is the second release by this trio, following Unleashed in 2016. Any improvisational meeting of these three women is always inventive, original and compelling. It is hard to argue that there is an active ensemble in 2019 that better captures the spirit of contemporary non-idiomatic improvisation than this trio.


Thirty Ways To Avoid Talking - Michel Doneda & Lê Quan Ninh
Label: Relative Pitch Records
Catalog #: RPR1084
Location: New York, New York, United States
Release Date: July, 2019
Media: cd entry

This album features Lê Quan Ninh on surrounded bass drum and Michel Doneda on soprano saxophone, joined by Shunichiro Hisada on percussion and voice on one track. We love the percussion sensibilities of Lê Quan Ninh in any ensemble. He has expanded the boundaries surrounding the sonic territory of the bass drum. The improvisations with Doneda captured on this disc reveal the sensibilities, which are described in pleasingly obtuse ways in Lê Quan Ninh's book, Improvising Freely: The ABC's of an Experience, which the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House reviewed in 2014, upon the publication of the English translation. For the curious, there is a brief sample from this book in our archive of quotes presented in the PPPH blog.

Lê Quan Ninh has collaborated with Michel Doneda in various groups, including Aplomb (duo, Vand'Oeuvre, 2016), Une Chance Pour L'Ombre (quintet, Les Disques Victo, 2004), Brame (sextet, Ouïe-Dire, 2002), Montagne Noire (quartet, Ouïe-Dire, 1999), Les Diseurs De Musique (quartet, Vand'Oeuvre, 1998), Open Paper Tree (trio, FMP, 1995) and Concert Public (trio, Vand'Oeuvre, 1989). Thirty Ways To Avoid Talking serves both as a unique addition for those familiar with this pairing as well as an ideal jumping in point for those with ears uninitiated to the rites of the surrounded bass drum.


Inferences - Evan Parker, Lotte Anker & Torben Snekkestad
Label: Fundacja Słuchaj!
Catalog #: FSR 14|2019
Location: Warsaw, Poland
Release Date: September 14, 2019
Media: cd entry

This album features Evan Parker on soprano saxophone, Lotte Anker on soprano and tenor saxophones & Torben Snekkestad on soprano saxophone and trumpet. As we have said before, one of the pleasures of following a musician like Evan Parker is that other musicians actively seek out collaborations with him and he appears to readily accommodate these requests. There routinely appear recordings of ensembles in which Evan Parker is joined by musicians who are new voices to our (admittedly limited) ears. Such is the case here. We were unfamiliar with Lotte Anker, although a quick visit to website of the Danish saxophonist provides a portrait of an accomplished artist, active since the late 1980's, who has a substantial discography dotted with numerous notable collaborators. Oh, well, what can we say? The world is a big place and all wandering is ultimately provincial. Nor did we know the Norwegian saxophonist, Torben Snekkestad, though again his website presents an intriguing body of work. In any case, this trio was a fantastic introduction to them both. Parker, Anker & Snekkestad weave fleeting melodies seamlessly with each other. To be honest, so communal is the resulting music, that some of the pieces called to mind Parker's solo masterpiece, Time Lapse, in which he accompanies himself through multi-tracking.

We have listened to four recordings with Evan Parker released on the Polish label, Fundacja Słuchaj!, in the past few years. The other releases include a duo with Eddie Prévost, a duo with Joe Morris and a quartet with Mikołaj Trzaska, John Edwards and Mark Sanders. Of course, we found something to like in each of them, but this trio of saxophones on Inferences especially appealed to us.


A Loss Permitted To Open Its Eyes For But Three Hours And There Glimpsed, Finally In Focus A Mystery That Begs Earnestly, "Ask Me Nothing" Now, Once More The Problem Is Yours Alone - Keiji Haino & Charles Hayward
Label: ThirtyThree ThirtyThree Records
Catalog #: TTTT004
Location: London, England
Release Date: June 21, 2019
Media: lp entry

This album features Keiji Haino on electric guitar and voice and Charles Hayward on drums and piano. Hayward and Haino have crossed paths in previous decades. They played as a duo and as a trio with Peter Brötzmann in Tokyo in April of 1996. Hayward joined Haino for a set as the drummer in Fushitusha in London in May, 2000. This unstructured and free flowing improvisational set, recorded live on July 8, 2016, is a marked departure from any of the earlier Haino/Hayward encounters.

As a tangential aside: to our knowledge, Hayward has the distinction of being the only westerner to perform in Haino's signature trio, Fushitsusha. Fushitsusha has over time had a fluid lineup and has not necessarily always been a trio, especially in its infancy. The earliest recordings from 1978, described (retroactively?) as Fushitsusha, feature duos with Takahashi Ayuo (violin) and Shiraishi Tamio (synthesizer). The first official Fushitsusha release on the Japanese label, PSF, in 1989, is a quartet in which Haino is joined by a second guitarist, Maki Miura. Thereafter, Fushitsusha was a guitar/bass/drums trio with Yasushi Ozawa on bass. Longtime drummer, Ikuro Takahashi, left the band in early 2000. Thus Hayward joined Haino and Ozawa for the May, 2000 show. Thereafter, Fushitsusha was a guitar/bass duo until the death of Yasushi Ozawa in early 2008. After observing a three-year period of mourning, Haino reformed Fushitsusha as a trio, with a concert on January 14, 2011. Since then, the guitar/bass/drums format of Fushitsusha has remained a constant, though the personnel has varied. It should be noted that in the late 1990s (about the time that the trio with Greg Cohen and Joey Baron was released), Haino declared in an interview that any guitar/bass/drums trio that he formed could be called Fushitsusha. This particular note notwithstanding, the jazz trio with Cohen and Baron (who were working regularly as the rhythm section in John Zorn's Masada at the time) was not released under the name Fushitsusha. In a somewhat contradictory note, Haino pointed out at the time of a October 17, 2014 g/b/d trio performance with Yoshihiro Mochizuki (b) and Ironfist Tatsushima (d) that this was not a manifestation of Fushitsusha, despite the billing, and should instead be acknowledged as a "Haino Keiji Trio". The ensemble, Fushitsusha, has been reserved for Haino's more dense, rock-oriented experiments.

Haino released several records in 2019, including a follow-up release from the trio with Merzbow and Balázs Pándi, a quartet in which he joined the Canadian rock trio Sumac a second time, a fourth outing in the trio Sanhedrin with Tatsuya Yoshida and Mitsuru Nasuno, and a ninth effort in the trio with Oren Ambarchi and Jim O'Rourke. We enjoyed all of these releases. In our opinion, A Loss Permitted... is the least sonically dense, the least rock-influenced, the most improvisational, the most surprising and has the longest title. Based on these admittedly frivolous criteria, we especially appreciated this record.


Old New - Tomeka Reid Quartet
Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalog #: Rune 465
Location: Washington D.C., U.S.
Release Date: October 4, 2019
Media: cd entry

This album features Tomeka Reid on cello, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Jason Roebke on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. This is the second release by this quartet, following the eponymous offering from 2015. Ms. Reid and Ms. Halvorson demonstrate an affinity for responding to each other's playing accompanied by a rhythm section that provides exactly the environment where the two lead instruments are put in the optimal position to comfortably focus on creating their unique musical narratives.

Ms. Reid appeared on a couple other records released in 2019 which reached our ears. The duo with Filippo Monico we previously reviewed on March 19, 2019 when we looked at four recent duets on the Relative Pitch label. We also attended the concluding performance of the 2019 Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee earlier this year, which presented a greatly expanded incarnation of The Art Ensemble of Chicago, in which Ms. Reid was present, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary. A double cd release on PI Recordings with a similar composition also appeared in 2019. We picked Old New to be on this year-end highlights list not because of any alleged superiority to the other discs under consideration but because we especially enjoyed the combination of improvisation around the compositions of Ms. Reid.


Topographie Parisienne (Dunois, April 3d, 1981) - Derek Bailey, Han Bennink & Evan Parker
Label: Fou Records
Catalog #: FR - CD 34-35-36-37
Location: Paris, France
Release Date: May 17, 2019
Media: cdx4 entry

This album, recorded in April, 1981 and released for the first time in May, 2019, features Derek Bailey on guitar, Han Bennink on drums and Evan Parker on soprano and tenor saxophones. Perhaps to properly appreciate this record, you have to have lived through the decades after Topography of the Lungs was released as the first album on Incus records and before it was reissued on cd by Evan Parker in 2006, after the death of Derek Bailey. During this time, the seminal reputation of the album was evident but access to it was limited and the cost for any extant copies of the original lp, if you could find one at all, was prohibitive. Even now as Topography of the Lungs has been reissued not only on cd but on lp, the fact that suddenly, from out of the blue, four cds of largely contemporaneous music (1981) from this trio appeared is just piss-your-pants awesome. We choose not to patronize the reader with verbal hyperboles that attempt to describe the improvisational solos, duos and trios spread across these four discs.

For those who suppose that four hours of archival material is not enough, Honest Jon's Records continues to release on vinyl some reissues from the Incus label that Derek Bailey & Evan Parker cofounded, as well as some new material. There were seven double lp releases and one triple lp release in 2019, making for a total of fifteen releases in that series now. One of the 2017 releases was a Bailey/Bennink duet from 1972 (with one lp of reissued material and one lp of previously unreleased music!) One of the October, 2019 releases is a quartet from 1969 and 1970 with Bailey and Parker joined by Jamie Muir on percussion and Hugh Davies on electronics and organ.


November 2nd - November
Label: Gentleman Recordings
Catalog #: GR19001 (lp) GR39 (cd)
Location: Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Release Date: March 22, 2019
Media: lp & cd entry

Since the 1980's, we have loved the music of the indie band from Worcestershire, And Also the Trees. November is an electronic duet featuring Simon Huw Jones, the vocalist from AATT, and Bernard Trontin, who was a member of the Swiss punk band, The Young Gods, also formed in the 1980's. November 2nd is the (surprise!) second release from this duet, the first released in 2006. Both of these albums feature excellent songs. There is not a whit of non-idiomatic improvisation to be found on this disc. Oh well, the ears of the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House are not constrained to enjoy only one kind of music...

As an example of the lyricism of this release, we reproduce the lyrics from a two and a half minute melody, Mouettes (Seagulls).

I, for one, don't want to get old
Said a voice above me.
She sat down by my side.
I, for one, don't want to get old,
Living on this island.
That's what her face was telling me.
That's what her face was telling me.

I, for one, don't want to get old
The ferry calls. The seagulls leave.
Through the branches of the trees
the summer blows, the summer blows,
the summer blows, the summer blows.

I, for one, don't want to get old
And she stood there in her faded jeans,
Looking out across the cliffs,
Wind in her hair, hands on her hips.


Radish - Big Bend
Label: Ohie
Catalog #: none
Location: Ohio, United States
Release Date: May 10, 2019
Media: lp, digital entry

Big Bend is Nathan Phillips on voice and piano joined by a host of additional musicians making appearances on a track or too. We came to this album by following Susan Alcorn who makes a guest appearance on pedal steel guitar on two tracks. There are some lovely little songs on here that we have listened to a couple times a week in the months since this record came to our attention. Again, there is no non-idiomatic ground breaking in this record, but it seems foolish to reject a beautiful thing simply because our definition of beauty was too narrow.

We close this years reviews with the lyrics of Before, a track from Radish, which Alcorn does not appear on, but which appealed to us greatly.

I couldn't be alone.
Had to see what happened.
It just grew,
Chasing my mind,
Every corner I could find.
Fire splitting in two, Now spreading in five.
It's trying to stay alive.
Staying alive, staying alive, staying alive, staying alive,
Staying alive, staying alive, staying alive, staying alive,
Staying alive, staying alive, staying alive, staying alive,
Staying alive, staying alive, staying alive, staying alive,
Staying alive, staying alive, staying alive, staying alive,
Staying alive, staying alive, staying alive, staying alive,
Staying alive, staying alive, staying alive, staying alive,

You said keep going.
I wanted to know what you knew.
It just grew.
You closed every door.
I was fine before.
I was fine before I met you.
Chase that spirit out.
Staying alive, staying alive, staying alive, staying alive...



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