jason bivins

The Necks — Unfold (Ideologic Organ)

There’s something delightful at seeing iTunes classifying the Necks as belonging to an “Unknown Genre.” One could certainly make the case that they’ve created one of their own, so steadily have they explored dreamy long-form music-making built on gradualism. With Unfold, though — telling title if ever there was one — we hear the Australian trio going deeper into some changes they’ve been exploring over their last several releases. Unlike the epic, hour-plus voyages they’re largely known for, Unfold consists of four taut (by their standards) performances that take pretty different approaches to the same landscape.  

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John Coltrane — Offering: Live at Temple University (Impulse)

On what would have been his 88th birthday, the late tenor saxophonist John Coltrane remains one of the most heavily written about and admired of all the luminaries in jazz’s pantheon. One of the very few heavyweights who gets name-checked by rappers, usually has a place in your average NPR listener’s collection (A Love Supreme, naturally), and nonetheless still inspires the most serious study and adulation among the cognoscenti, Coltrane remains singular. That said, his late work has remained among his more controversial music, particularly the torrential performances of his last working group featuring second tenorist Pharaoh Sanders, pianist Alice Coltrane, bassist Sonny Johnson (instead of stalwart Jimmy Garrison), and drummer Rashid Ali (a unit often supplemented by additional horns, a second bassist, and a smattering of extra percussion). The jaw-dropping Offering is, despite this vast body of expectation and interpretation, a genuine and joyful surprise. 

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William Parker — For Those Who Are, Still (Aum Fidelity)

This gorgeous three-disc box chronicles some of the indefatigable Parker’s long-form compositions for groups of varying sizes, some recent and some previously unreleased from earlier periods of the bassist/composer’s work. There’s quite a range of sound in this material, all of it balancing collective improvisation and notated materials (spotlighting the human voice) in ways listeners to Parker’s Little Huey (and related groups) will recognize and appreciate.

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Toshiya Tsunoda and Manfred Werder — Detour (Erstwhile)

Listening to the music of Toshiya Tsunoda demands a kind of heightened awareness and obsessiveness that must surely also be part of its making. His spate of recording in recent years has been welcome, since his sound-world is utterly compelling and entrancing, absorptive to the point that one actually starts to hear the world as a Tsunoda composition: the ambulance passing a quarter-mile away in perfect accompaniment to cicadas; a van door slammed emphatically against the sound of windblown leaves; the muffled conversation accompanying boiling water or frying oil.

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Marc Baron — Carnets (Glistening Examples)

Last year’s Hidden Tapes confirmed a few things about how the dazzlingly unpredictable Marc Baron works: jettison your expectations and let the thing happen. From his wide-ranging experiments with saxophones to his more recent engagement of tape as a format for collage and decay, Baron’s music has been marked by a dogged (and genuine) experimentalism. And if Hidden Tapes was about the abundance of what is buried beneath our basic perception — not just found objects but the unseen connections between things — then Carnets (on Jason Lescalleet’s imprint) might be the next step, almost like Baron’s methodology reflecting on itself. The basic ingredients are quite similar — found recordings and degraded tape — but the effects are new, less dense and with a different velocity.

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Michael Pisaro — White Metal (Makam)

Composer Michael Pisaro has been on something of a tear in the last several years. Following years of relative obscurity preparing works for the Timescraper label alongside other composers, like Jurg Frey and Antoine Beuger, associated with the Wandelweiser collective, Pisaro has been documenting his singular work more regularly on his own Gravity Wave imprint and elsewhere. In time, he’s intersected with many of the more adventurous souls emerging from various electroacoustic improvisational circles, and the result has been a series of fruitful collaborations. One of his most fruitful indeed has been with electronician/percussionist Greg Stuart, with whom Pisaro has recorded several iterations of his Hearing Metal series (among others).

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Jean-Luc Guionnet/Éric La Casa — Home: Handover (Potlatch)

A central problem in experimental music is the “voice,” both in the sense of the modernist conception of identity/authority and in the role (more specific to environmental recordings and musique concrète) of actual human voices as part of an audial milieu. Some of the most engaging recent work in the broad area of “field recordings” and the like has directly engaged the latter. Marc Baron, Jason Lescalleet and others have, in this, followed the example of John Cage and Robert Ashley. This extraordinary, bewildering four-disc document from longtime collaborators Guionnet and La Casa takes these interests to their extreme and constructs something altogether singular.

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Rhodri Davies — Pedwar (Alt.Vinyl)

Most listeners familiar with the work of Rhodri Davies likely encountered him first on some marvelous records in the company of IST, a bewitching trio which found the Welsh harpist in the company of bassist Simon H. Fell and cellist Mark Wastell. Performing on their own or in the company of figures like Derek Bailey, the group’s unusual instrumentation and increasing focus on dynamic restraint were widely remarked. Davies’ own transformations have found him not only expanding the instrumental language of his instrument — something he’s done with consistently surprising, impressive effects — but participating increasingly in electro-acoustic improvisation. His has been one of the most interesting arcs of development since the late 1990s, and he’s chronicled some important moments therein on four solo recordings now collected on Pedwar by Alt.Vinyl.

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