Creativity is one of humanity’s greatest assets. If not for the imagination, our world would grow stagnant and dull. Art is a counterbalance to forces that blunt and degrade the mind and spirit. We’re fortunate to be part of an artistic community that seems always in bloom, and has remained especially so throughout the pandemic, responding to crisis with poetry, dance and astounding audio works. We’ve encountered projects that engage all five of the senses ~ yes, even taste and smell! We didn’t have to wait for the pandemic to end to feel hope; the artists we cover have been providing it all along.
And now, let’s delve into the experimental music slate for early spring!
Brooklyn’s 577 Records is the first of two labels to be highlighted in this section. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, 577 chose its name from the address of the house where early concerts took place. Since then they have expanded beyond concerts and introduced an offshoot label, Orbit577. With a baker’s dozen releases already on pre-order, it’s clear that the label is well-organized, with a solid promotional arm and an ear for variety.
It seems fair to include “noise violinist” Sana Nagano, as her album is released on the last day of winter, while the next 577 album is released on the first day of spring. The music of this raucous quintet is epitomized by the crazy art pictured above. Smashing Humans includes fun titles like “Loud Dinner Wanted”! The eight-strong Playfield follows with Playfield Vol. 1, the first of three planned volumes, offering “the music of possibility” to a community rocked by the pandemic and plunged into social protest. A week later, Yuma Uesaka, Cat Toren and Colin Hinton join forces for the tender Ocelot, with an additional level of warmth and hope added by the fact that Cat was pregnant during the entire process (March 26). The next day (we sense a pattern), E. Jason Gibbs offers Wolves of Heaven, an acoustic guitar session inspired by folklore and Fahey.
Enter April and the new series Educated Guess, whose first volume is comprised solely of “The New Normal, Parts 1 & 2.” Dave Tucker, Pat Thomas, Thurston Moore and Mark Sanders join forces for this abstract excursion (April 2). The fourth volume of Nick Sanders‘s curated series Walk My Way is available the next day, showcasing the work of nine different composers. The jazzy, soulful Phantasmagoria follows on April 9, and does include some vocals, but we’re including it in an effort to remain comprehensive. Roses & Roaches (Rose Tang) is less straightforward with her vocal delivery, scatting, trilling and reciting poetry in the wild and wooly And Yet We Ain’t Alone (April 10). Next up: a 20-year reissue of the classic improv album Onosante, more bittersweet in light of the passing of Keith Tippett, whose sounds are preserved here along with Paul Dunmall, Philip Gibbs and Pete Fairclough (April 16). Playfield Vol 2 follows the next day, chased by Michael Sarian and Matthew Putman‘s A Lifeboat (Part 1): keyboard, trumpet, flugelhorn and poetry in a cramped lockdown apartment (April 23). E. Jason Gibbs returns the following day with Nat Baldwin to present Microstates, a day of improvisations on guitar and double bass. The month draws to a close with Ian Sinclair and London Experimental Ensemble‘s spoken word story of a whalebone box (bet you’ve never heard that one before!). Dark Before Dark is released April 30, followed by the avant chamber sounds of Treesearch, who present Birdward just as the last of the birds are returning home and having children (May 7). Based on this release schedule, we can expect at least half a dozen more albums to appear in the 577 family by the start of summer.
Astral Spirits is another label setting a standard. Earlier this month, they added a new meaning to their name by releasing a beer with a playlist! Astral Spirits meets Unseen Creatures: The Beer Playlist is the free digital sampler whose code is found on the India Pale Ale. In addition, four albums are already up for preorder, beginning with [Ahmed]‘s Nights on Saturn (communication), a fusion of African and African-American jazz (March 26). Wadada Leo Smith / Douglas R. Ewart / Mike Reed follow with Sun Beans of Shimmering Light (yes, beans), an improv set that encompasses the sun, moon and stars (April 16). Then Rob Frye leads a nine-piece band to Exoplanet, fusing the contributions of drummers, improvisors, synthesizers and local birds: a playful album with an evocative cover, pictured to the right (April 23). Also announced: Chris Schlarb & Chad Taylor‘s Time No Changes, a joint release with Big Ego featuring mbira, synth, organ, guitar, and drums (May 7).
Akron (Ohio)’s Rubber City Noise has a pair of releases on the docket for April Fool’s Day. Dennis Franz Kafka, which is in reality a quartet, offers electro-acoustic “psychojazz” abstractions on its self-titled tape, while Bran(…)Pos / DJ Head Boggle works with switches and knobs on their split Shrewd Wads / MPC Demo, sounding occasionally like a calliope gone awry. On the same day, NYC label Neither/Nor will unveil a trio of new releases. Joe Moffet‘s Stress Positions reflects the mangled emotions of lockdown, while Carlo Costa‘s single piece Silos was recorded in a grain silo and utilizes only the objects found near and about. Sean Ali combines bass and spoken word on A Blink in the Sun, which builds up to a dramatic conclusion.
Melodic jazz improv decorates the walls of Asp Nimbus. Cellist Christopher Hoffman leads the quintet, made distinctive by its vibraphone (Out of Your Head, March 26). After a 25-year break, jazz guitarist Lorne Lofsky resurfaces with the aptly-titled This Song Is New (Modica Music, April 2). Coltrane-esque jazz band Dopalarians, now a sextet, returns on April 2 with The Bond, their first release after the untimely death of their original drummer. The set twists and turns while honoring the memory of their fallen comrade (Mahakala Music). Natural Information Society with Evan Parker presents one long jam in four sides on the double descension (Out of Our Constrictions). The guimbri makes a special appearance (Aguirre/Eremite Records, April 16). Once a quartet and now a trio, Nuke Watch got together one day during the COVID summer to record Live in NY, a declaration of solidarity under the worst of conditions (Moon Glyph, March 25).
On Mesures, Simon Provencher paints with clarinet, guitar, synth and drum; the cover image is a colorful representation of the sounds within (Michel Records, March 26, pictured left). The ensemble The House of Bedlam delivers chamber experiments from a wide selection of artists. Enclosure is out March 26 on NMC. On April 16, Nate Wooley offers Mutual Aid Music, which is not just an album, but an invitation. The eight ensemble concertos invite musicians to “jump off musical cliffs together,” and in so doing to provide a sense of community spirit (Pleasure of the Text).
Keyboards and percussion create spacious landscapes on Real Real World, where the spaces between the notes are as important as the notes themselves. Will Guthrie and James Rushford use everything from detuned organ to dragged objects to gongs, occasionally bursting into full song (Black Truffle, May 7). Nathan Yell‘s Synchronized Stratification is an exercise in creative curiosity, the artist keen on experimenting with permutations of percussion and guitar (Biblioteka Records, March 25). Strange voices emerge from the ether on Gaute Granli‘s Blusens Fasong, a particularly peculiar album, even for the experimental genre (Ultra Eczema, 26 March). The voices heard on Souvenirs Cachés are much more palatable, textural elements from the electro-acoustic minds of Beatriz Ferrayra and Natasha Barrett (Persistence of Sound, March 26).
Sculpted sax and electronics form the base of the self-titled album from Pavel Milyakov and Bendik Giske. These splintered compositions seem at times to reflect the light (Smalltown Supersound, March 26). Sax and bass intertwine on THUNDA, a collaboration between longtime friends Noah Preminger and Kim Cass. The album is released April 2, just in time for April showers, ironically on Dry Bridge Records. Binker Golding, John Edwards and Steve Noble take a free jazz journey to the moon on Moon Day, with a laudable consistency of concept. Each piece approaches from a different angle, from an 1835 moon conspiracy to Laika and Buzz Aldrin; Golding also contributes the cover art (Byrd Out, April 9). Alto saxophonist Daniele Germani debuts with a tight quartet on A Congregation of Folks, uniting musicians from Italy, South Korea and the United States. These new compositions vibrate with warmth (Gleam, March 26). Are you ready for the sound of thirteen alto saxophones? Julien Malaussena thinks so. The volume of Articulated sound energy is not as loud as one might guess, although the cover art displays a fiery experience (enmeshed, March 26). Those who would rather hear nineteen clarinets are directed to Niels Lyhne Lokkagaard‘s Saturations; we aim to please (Important Records, April 2)!
The always fascinating IOKOI outdoes herself on Tales of Another Felt Sense of Self, releasing the album with a 208-page book of stills and fragments, along with a vial of scent. Field recordings, piano and spoken word create an atmosphere of mysery (~OUS, March 26). Amazingly, it’s not the only release this season to bear perfume; human heads‘ soundscape set, in the afternoon, is available in a tape-and-scent edition. The tape embeds stream-of-consciousness monologues and electronic curiosities; we think / hope / pray it does not smell like human heads (Fractal Meat Cuts, March 20). Caterina Barbieri scored our Album of the Year award in 2019 with Ecstatic Computation, and now a wide array of experimental producers offer unique interpretations of the album’s signature piece. Fantas Variations includes versions for organ, voice, saxophone and guitar, presented by Kali Malone, Kara-Lis Coverdale and more (Editions Mego, April 2). Naoko Sakata‘s piano improvisations are delicate and spiritual, a reflection of the church in which they were recorded. As the title and cover art indicate, Dancing Spirits is an invitation to body movement, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the album adopted by a modern dance company (Pomperipossa, March 26). The diverse second volume of Phantom Limb’s Imaginal Soundtracking series invites five artists (including Ami Dang, Midori Hirano and Sabiwa) to offer their personal takes on Kihachiro Kawamoto’s 1972 stop-motion puppet work 鬼 (The Demon). We’re pretty sure you don’t have anything like this in your collection (April 16).
This May, Blackford Hill will release a vinyl version of Rob St. John‘s previously-reviewed Surface Tension, now on eco-mix vinyl (May 14). Two days later, the label is releasing Blackford Hill Transmissions Vol. 1, a 31-track compilation that arrives on the heels of last year’s Test Transmission. The compilation will give fans the opportunity to catch up with old favorites and to meet new ones knee-deep in the recording of upcoming projects.
SUGAI KEN & Lieven Martens team up for Kagiroi, a collection of field recordings augmented by bass and percussion. The album reflects the famous folklore festivals held in Japan (Edições CN, March 29). After composing a piece for the Robotic Gamelan of Casa da Música, @c revisited their original recordings and added modifications, as well as a brand new coda. The results can be found on GML Variations, out March 23 on Cronica. Although no gamelan can be found on Liquid, Phicus produces a similar tone with stuck percussion. The album was originally intended to be “louder and sludgier” than the prior effort, but ended up contemplative and deliberate instead (Tripticks Tapes, March 26).