Three from Eh?

Three from Eh?

I'm especially excited to showcase some records from this awesome label with long-standing Midwest connections. Public Eyesore, founded by creative improviser and instrument designer Bryan Day, will turn 15 later this year! Public Eyesore has been a home for a wide variety of recordings, "progressive and regressive," from artists all over the world, and they added a second line of CDR-based releases around four years ago under the Eh? imprint. In my opinion, they're a particularly important label to follow if you're interested in free improv and EAI music, but they also release music from a wide range of other disciplines, giving voice to the feral edges of pop, rock, jazz, and classical musics.

Full disclosure: PE released an album of mine back in 2006. But I had already been a long-time fan of the label, having released some of my favorite records from artists like Blue Collar (Nate Wooley/Steve Swell/Tatsuya Nakatani), Jesse Krakow, Mike Pride, Amy Denio, and many more. PE is a label that will consistently surprise you--one never knows what kind of auditory surprises might be awaiting you when you put on a random release of theirs. Recently I've covered a couple of their new albums from Philip Gayle and Ydestroyde, and here's another batch of compelling recent releases. All three of these are officially under the "Eh?" imprint, shipped as CDRs in paper sleeves with poly jackets--not the most fancy packaging, but it gets this music into the world, which is the most important thing. There were similarly spartan releases earlier in the "proper" PE catalog, but nowadays those have gotten fancy packaging--I'll be covering a couple of those releases in the near future as well (awesome job on the Anderson/Pepper/Tamura/Petit release!). I'm especially excited about the upcoming Normal Love full-length being co-released by Weasel Walter's ugEXPLODE, and the Cactus Truck album sounds promising, too...

KBD(uo) - Any Port in a Storm
This release features the "principal agents" behind the KBD Sonic Cooperative, with Michael Kimaid on percussion and electronics, and Gabe Beam on guitar and electronics. This is the second Eh? release from these folks, minus Ryan Dohm who also appeared on the earlier "Four Plus One" album. This time around, we get six more untitled tracks of EAI, very cleanly recorded in a very "controlled" sounding, intimate room. The music is produced with percussion (including a lot of bowed cymbals/gongs), guitar (which mostly sounds like "tabletop guitar" with effects), and an arsenal of electronics.

The music evolves slowly in these pieces, usually letting ideas overlap one another for a long time. The first two tracks focus on long tones and sustained atmospheres, and the third piece starts to introduce contrasting ideas, made mostly of short, pointillistic bursts. Polyrhythms of sorts are featured in the fourth piece, with oscillations against softly-repeated drums that come and go amidst subtle guitar manipulations. Like their previous release, the final track is a live performance around 25 minutes in length: while the album mostly works with gentle, carefully unfolding textures, things can get much louder and more intense in live performance, briefly building up to a wall of sound around the six minute mark. But that's an exception, and most of the live set stays well below fortissimo as well, thoughtfully blending a variety of axillary percussion tools, cymbals, gongs, and occasional undercurrents of sizzling electronic drones.

Hag - Moist Areas
Like KBD, Hag's name comes from the last names of the musicians involved: in this case, Brad Henkel on trumpet, Sean Ali on bass, and David Grollman on snare drum. This Brooklyn trio plays a fine brand of meditative free improv, working with layers of texture rather than any kind of trad jazz vocabulary. Henkel's trumpet work sometimes reminds me of Nate Wooley's catalog of otherworldly sounds, and David Grollman's snare drum work similarly deconstructs his instrument of choice--I don't think there's a moment on the album where I would've pinpointed what I'm hearing as coming from a snare. Instead he works with scraping, rubbing, and (I'm pretty sure) blowing directly on the drum head, as there are moments where it sounds like there are two horns playing. Sean Ali's bass playing is the closest to convention on the album, with occasional cascades of chromatically ascending or descending lines and even brief passages of bowed work, but he too works to draw extended sounds from his bass.

My favorite track is also the longest, "Moist Again," placed in the center of the album. It shows off how well the group listens to one another, each member getting moments where they lead the ensemble, coming to the front of the mix and moving the group into new variations in texture. It also features an especially wide dynamic range, contrasting not just loud and quiet sections in terms of volume but also with variations in density at both ends of the volume spectrum. The title track, which closes the album, also features some of the louder passages on the record, as well as some trumpet lines played with considerable crunch in the instrument's lower range, sounding surprisingly like a woodwind instrument instead of brass.

Psychotic Quartet - Spherelon
My favorite of this batch of Eh? releases, Psychotic Quartet is a Philly-based group that brings together a number of really exciting musicians from one of my favorite music scenes in a free improvisation context. Trombonist Dan Blacksberg also plays in Archer Spade with guitarist Nick Milleovi (whose own recent contribution to an Eh? release will be covered soon), bassist Evan Lipson plays in one of my favorite bands, Normal Love (and was probably the only person who could successfully follow Jesse Krakow in Dynamite Club), and violinist Kat Hernandez (who recently relocated to Sweden) specializes in microtonal and alternate tuning systems, a recent obsession of mine. They're joined by NYC drummer Michael Evans for five rounds of complex improvisation referencing a wide range of musical traditions.

Microtonal doesn't necessarily equate with "out of tune," of course. While it can mean touching quarter tones or making waves of weird noise, it also points to playing music that can be even more "in tune" than is possible within equal temperament. I was excited to note that all three melodic instruments working on this album have the potential to play outside of the constraints of ET with little effort, and I found myself re-listening to this album many times with my attention directed at subtle adjustments in pitch happening organically as a simple side effect of listening carefully to one another. And the group keeps things interesting with moments of duo and trio playing, too. The music breathes with the kind of control many groups can only get through composition, but this is what you can achieve when you put four virtuosos who all have their own compositional chops together: cooperation truly equals instant composition.

This is much more note-oriented than the other two releases covered here, which more closely follows my own musical obsessions. Though it is a very "free" affair, there are allusions to various musical genres, especially jazz and even bits of swing violin, that can give listeners moments of stylistic context which slide around in interesting ways that frequently reminded me of very early Anthony Braxton ensemble playing. And that's a high compliment--parts of this sound like a kind of extension of Braxton's BYG Actual 6 album from '69, one of my favorite records, and that's a style that just didn't get enough love for my ears. While sections of this music can be very "serious," there is also a great sense of humor, humility, and fun running throughout the record. You can tell the musicians are having a great time playing together, and they've been kind enough to invite us to listen in. I'm looking forward to the next invitation.

--also published at Killed in Cars

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