Sunday, 7 November 2010

Thomas Koner, A New Modern Jazz Quartet & more...

I started an ‘Improv’ series and realised that to continue it in numbered form would require keeping track of how many I’d done and so it was abandoned.
   From unnumbered to untitled and Thomas Koner’s ‘Nunatak album, which I’m currently listening to - all of the tracks are untitled, an idea I like very much since it frees the listener from the suggestion inherent in a title, does it not? The cover does, however, depict mountain-climbers, and I learn that a nunatak (from Inuit nunataq) ‘is an exposed, often rocky element of a ridge, mountain, or peak not covered with ice or snow within (or at the edge of) an ice field or glacier’. And so despite the absence of titles we are lead to believe the sounds relate somehow to the vast emptiness of Antarctica, perhaps an explorer’s feeling of isolation or insignificance within the context of nature writ large and raw. The music could, however, be associated with anything you like...except sunny days in the park...teddy bears...romance...and other cuddly things.
   Konerland is akin to Antarctica, to barren landscapes in which, given time, you may start to hallucinate, or question the meaning of your very existence. It would be typical of any other artist to frame these sounds in either outer space or the industrial wasteland, but then again, track 6 does feature what sounds like an animal of some kind...a whale? Lovesick polar bear? Whatever, something unnerving amongst the ethereal drone. I’m finding the album strangely addictive having opened myself up to it, as you must in order to allow it’s magic to work, to succumb to the spell of quiet menace, or shadowy ambience. Koner’s brand of tones and drones are not designed to assault your nerves, but seduce you by stealth.
   Music library set to ‘shuffle’ I get Sam McCloughlin and Alison Cooper’s ‘The Dell’ from ‘Supernatural Lancashire’, which ties in nicely with the Anworth Kirk album and other spellbinding sounds I’ve enjoyed. It is only a flute piece yet, going back to title sand what they imply, I cannot help but think that in this dell there’s a ceremony going on designed to evoke something dark, and seduce children, or adults, by way of ritualistic dancing and evocations in Latin.
   It’s spooky up North, on the moors, and in Scotland, where Sergeant Howie met his end at the hands of pagans. With bonfire night just gone, instead of burning Guy Fawkes, perhaps building wicker men would be better and provide a cathartic experience if the right subjects were chosen. I suggest celebrities, and the first that springs to mind is Davina McCall...or perhaps Graham Norton. We’ll all have our favourite nominees, no doubt.
   What’s next? ‘Visions Of A Sand Drinker’ by Paul Schutze, which starts fantastically and continues in an exotic vibraphonic ambient mode with waves of ominous sound and rattlesnake percussion – ah, very good – but I can’t hear the vibraphone without thinking of Milt Jackson, specifically, the Modern Jazz Quartet who, as you know, created some of the most wonderful, transcendental music ever made.
   I wonder, what would my ideal modern jazz quartet consist of today? First, the bass, which I’m thinking of purely in technological mode, therefore I suggest Jens Massel (Senking). Percussion? Well, it might be interesting to contrast the techno-rhythm with a real drummer, playing a very basic kit thus eliminating the possibility of power drumming, ideally the candidate would be Billy Higgins, and since I can’t name a current jazz drummer, he’ll do. Now I’ cheating already. Anyway, what else? A synth player, definitely, that’s a player, as in someone capable of soloing, but not in the mode of Jazz-Rock muso muscularity, but more Sun Ra free expression. Yes. And finally? Oh, alright, yes, a saxophonist, therefore qualifying the band as ‘jazz’ whilst in fact pushing the boundaries and hopefully travelling way beyond them. A saxophonist capable of playing tenor, alto, baritone and soprano. One who can swing and stretch out, as they all must be capable of doing. A tall order, perhaps, but this is my fantasy and I’ll have what I want. But what will they be called? Ubik? (too obvious a PKD reference?). The Unlimited Dream Company? Not bad. I dunno...perhaps Untitled...


  1. Have you heard of a band called Radian? "Their" drummer Martin Brandlmayr is a pretty great contemporary drummer in semi-improvised settings. Often keeps it pretty metronomic and like he's trying to sound a bit like a machine, but really expressive and diverse. He's got a fairly good album with Fennesz and (double) bass player Walter Dafeldecker, has at least three other bands, plays with lots of different people...

    Jan Jelinek self-released an album this year with a Japanese vibes player. It's quite lovely, in an ambient mode, sounds like he (the vibes man) was trying to do more than be "jazzy".

    Any suggestions on a Modern Jazz Quartet starting point?

  2. Haven't heard of Radian so I'll check them out. I like Jelinek's work. The 'Bird, Lake Works' album is a good representation of what can be done with vibes and electronics.
    As for the MJQ, the cheap-as-chips four-album, 2-CD Avid Jazz collection is the place to start. It's just called 'Four Classic Albums', which says it all.

  3. Nice, cheers for that.

    I should say Radian aren't "jazz" to my ears at all, but then if you're off talking about Senking... :)


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