NWWL#9: Bes – Bru

‘They look like sonic scientists, ready to take music to its outer limits.’

I’m still rescuing the blog from the catastrophic mis-alphabetisation that I identified in post #8, but hopefully after this one we’ll be back on track.

The artists on the NWW List tend to fall into one of two categories: those with great longevity and expansive back catalogues, and those who had a brief burst of productivity (sometimes only a sole album) before either branching out into other avenues or fading into obscurity. The last post was heavy on the longevity / expansiveness end of things; this one has a bit more balance, featuring the lengthy careers of Philippe Besombes and Raymond Boni but also some artists whose moment in the sun (such as it was) was all too brief…

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Philippe Besombes (photo from his Bandcamp page)

Philippe Besombes
Born in 1946 in Saint-Denis, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, Besombes was a post-graduate researcher in chemistry whose early experiments in electronic music were undertaken on equipment he borrowed from a neighbouring physics lab in the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. In 1972, he became the technical director of the La Rochelle Contemporary Music Festival, which led to him working with Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Ennio Morricone.

Libra – Un Film Du Groupe Pattern (back cover)

In 1974, he recorded a soundtrack for the movie Libra, which was released in 1975.  Shot in 1973 by a group of French filmmakers called The Pattern Group, Libra was ‘a 90-minute film with no dialogue, depict[ing] the story of four youngsters living in communion with nature, an idyllic life that is drastically changed when a U.S. satellite crashes in the area’. Originally, they had used tracks from Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother for the soundtrack, but wanted some original music in order to be able to release the film officially. They were turned down by Jean-Michel Jarre, who instead recommended Bescombe, whom he had met in 1972.

Bescombe was tasked with creating music similar in approach to Pink Floyd, a brief which he fulfilled admirably. ‘Rugby’, for example deploys thunderous drumming reminiscent of ‘Astronomy Domine‘; the portentous, haunting organ chords of  ‘Ceremonie‘ also have a distinctly Floydian tone. Libra is far more than a Pink Floyd tribute album, however. It’s bursting with sonic invention, an eclectic cocktail of tape-loops, meandering sitars, haunting drones and synth squiggles, with the occasional spot of psych-rock and free jazz thrown in for good measure.

La Plage‘ is a bleak, Tangerine Dream-esque soundscape overlaid with a disturbingly distraught wordless vocal; ‘Les Diapos‘ and ‘Avecandista‘ are ominous, atonal horror-soundtrack drones; ‘Jaune’ is an exhilarating blend of exuberant psychedelia and throbbing electronica.

As this Pitchfork review rightly identifies, the four (out of seventeen) tracks that weren’t written by Besombes are weaker and more derivative (‘Boogimmick’ is a rather bog-standard 12-bar blues, for example; ‘Hache 06’ is a somewhat obvious piece of spacey jazz-rock). Nonetheless, Libra is highly recommended collection of dazzlingly inventive and disparate tunes.

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Pôle (front and back cover)

Also released in 1975, double LP Pôle was a collaboration between Besombes and Jean-Louis Rizet. A review of a 2015 reissue by the Quietus identifies how well the cover matches the LP’s contents:

‘Just one furtive glance at the evocative cover art for Pôle… and you can almost smell what it sounds like. Besombes and Rizet converge under the sepia-tinged psychedelia of the facade, one wooly-haired in rollneck sweater smoking a fag, the other bespectacled with pipe in chops, sporting fur trim, cravat and turquoise chemise. It’s a conducive meeting of minds, visages and tobacco choices in soft focus walnut brown, while in the distance, the pair wander through bucolic pastures, perhaps on the qui vive for champignons magiques. They look like sonic scientists, ready to take music to its outer limits.’

And that is exactly what the duo do. Pôle is fantastic, a sweeping, epic collection of undulating, oscillating and constantly intriguing pieces. Opener ‘Haute Pression‘ is eleven minutes of dreamy, hypnotic synth-psych-krautrock (underpinned by Jacky Vander Elstraete’s lithe but restrained drumming) that sounds like Gong and Tangerine Dream re-imagining the theme to Dr Who. ‘Armature Double‘, which, at 18 minutes, took up the entirety of side two, is an austere, reflective track, a curiously effective collision of mechanistic and pastoral elements. ‘Rock À Montauban‘ is just plain weird, a dislocated, lurching mix of choppy, guitar-driven pop, burbling synth and a chorus of disparately unhinged vocals. 

Side four is taken up by the twenty-minute epic ‘Synthi Soit-Il’, a relentlessly driving, phased and flanged wig-out cosmic psych jam. A contributor to Julian Cope’s Head Heritage site provides a detailed appreciation of the album here.

In 1976, Besombes formed Hydravion (‘Seaplane’) with guitarist Cooky Rhinoceros (Serge Sordoillet) and bassist Christ Saint Roch. Their eponymous 1977 album is a pleasant enough but unremarkable lightweight synth-prog affair. Follow up Stratos Airlines (1979) featured quirky funk/electro-pop influences and has not aged well.

Ceci Est Celà (1979) was a collection of music Besombe created for ballet, stage, and theatrical performances, recorded between 1972-1979. It’s an odd mix. ‘Geant’ is a curiously overblown combination of Jarre-esque synth and Western soundtrack; ‘Seul’ is an abstract, fractured meander; ‘Princess Lolita’ is a frankly disturbing j-Pop/funk hybrid; ‘Pawa 1‘ throws together what sounds like a random assortment of studio out-takes to create a ragged, disjointed cacophony. The highlight is the expansive title track, a pulsating mix of swirling synth, mutant jazz-funk, ethereal vocals and full-on space-rock freak-out.

La Guerre Des Animaux (“Animal’s War”), released in 1982, is a collection of brisk but bland synth-rock tunes. In the 80s and 90s, Besombes concentrated on studio management. In the early 00s (and I’m not making this up) he focused on making albums for babies, such as Bébé Noël and Bébé Nature.

 

 

 

Raymond Boni

Raymond Boni
Another Frenchman, Boni was born in 1947 in Toulon. He first studied the piano, and then moved to the harmonica, but is best known as an improvising guitarist. His first release was L’oiseau L’arbre Le Béton (‘The Bird, The Tree, The Concrete’) in 1971.

A collection of three lengthy, fidgety guitar improvisations (such as the side-long ‘L’oiseau L’Arbre‘), it’s only moderately engaging. Boni’s guitar work is often fluid and imaginative, but not always sufficiently so to carry the considerable length of the pieces on its own.

Rêve En Couleurs (1976) takes a similar approach, although the sound is more layered and less stark. ‘Chanson Pour Indio’, for example, features a range of scratchy, brittle effects that underpin the main, meandering guitar part. There’s also more variety: ‘Les Clowns’ almost entirely abandons traditional guitar soloing in favour of abrasive, abstract experimentation; ‘Tu Viens Bastien’ is a concise flourish of romantic classicism. The 20-minute title track starts out in a similar vein to ‘Tu Viens Bastien’ before dissolving into waves of fractured reverberation.

Also released in 1976, Nommo – Dans Le Caprice Amer Des Sables saw Boni collaborate with saxophonist André Jaume and percussionist Gérard Siracusa. Comprised of two 23-minute improvisations, it’s a free-jazz workout that never stays with one tempo or mood for more than a couple of minutes. There are several affecting passages – 18 minutes into ‘Avant Propos De L’Écrevisse À Reculons, À Reculons’, for example, there’s a nicely measured piece of thoughtful interplay between bluesy sax, randomly recurring snare rolls and spidery guitar – but overall it feels like it falls between two stools. It needs either some underlying theme(s) to bring coherence or a bit more of an explosively improvisational spark. It’s still worth a listen though.

Boni recorded Pot-Pourri Pour Parce Que (1978) with saxophonist Claude Bernard. Like its predecessor, it’s made up of lengthy improvisations, but it’s far more satisfactory. Although it’s just as disparate and random as Nommo, it all hangs together much more coherently. Despite the fact that there are only two musicians this time, there’s somehow a fuller, more fleshed-out sound, and it sounds genuinely, joyfully and fluidly inventive as opposed to the slightly forced feel of the previous LP.

1981 was a busy year for Boni, one in which he appeared on four different collaborative albums with the likes of André Jaume, English saxophonist Lol Coxhill and Joe McPhee. Chantenay 80 is a live recording from the Chantenay-Villedieu Jazz Festival, featuring Coxhill and Dutch violinist Maurice Horsthuis. The extended, skittering improvisations are not an easy listen: there’s a thin, bleak astringency about them, and whilst the three musicians often head off on interesting tangents, there are only brief passages where there seems to be much communication or understanding between them.

sauti-muuaji: André Jaume / Joe McPhee featuring Raymond Boni ...

Tales And Prophecies was a double album recorded with Jaume and McPhee. It takes a similar approach to Chantenay, but the first half is even thinner and bleaker; some passages dissolve into little more than brief snatches of shrill squeaks and ghostly rattles. Boni only appears on the second half of the LP, which has more warmth about it. The title track and Song For The Gypsy’ both include some gentle, understated interplay between sax, trombone and guitar, although they occasional break out into bursts of aggressively atonal free jazz.

L’Homme Étoilé was released in 1983. I haven’t been able to track it down anywhere, so all I can tell you is that it is comprised of eleven solo guitar pieces recorded live in May 1981 at Musée d’Angouléme. In 1985, he again collaborated with André Jaume, this time on a tribute album to Django ReinhardtPour Django is considerably more accessible than much of Boni’s previous material, featuring nine (relatively concise) smokey, laid-back jazz meanders. The CD version concludes with a lovely reading of Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’.

Boni worked with Max Eastley (guitar and vocals) and Terry Day (vocals, sax and flute) on 1986’s Les Mistrals.

It’s an entertainingly bizarre and random mix, taking in wry, flamenco-tinged café-bar jazz (‘Art Moderna Cha Cha Cha’), warped scat abstraction (‘Niglou’), aggressive, trebly shout-punk (‘Coco Hache Le Show’), ominous dark ambience (‘Il Signore Fregoli’, ‘Paysage En Or’) and inebriated psychedelia (‘It’s Romantique’). Definitely worth a listen.

Boni has continued to be prolific, releasing over 30 albums since the mid-80s, including collaborations with a wide range of jazz artists. I can’t hope to cover them all fully, so the remainder of this section is no more than a sample.

Songs And Dances (1987) was recorded at the Le Mans Europa Jazz Festival, and saw Boni playing once again with André Jaume and Joë McPhee. It opens with a wonderfully odd cosmic jam take on ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’. Ornette Coleman’s ‘Blues Connotation‘ gets a similarly Gong/Hawkwind-jazz treatment; Boni’s own ‘L’Homme Etoile’ is delicately nuanced, Jaume’s sax soaring elegantly over Boni’s frantic chords; Benny Goodman’s ‘Stompin’ At The Savoy‘ is fed acid and magic mushrooms and left in the woods to babble to itself.

Boni recorded 2005’s Next To You with McPhee, saxophonist Daunik Lazro and double bass player Claude Tchamitchian. It’s rather shrill and frantic, and often feels like like the musicians are focused on competition rather than collaboration. The highlight is the concise, brittle drone of ‘Softitude’.

Joe McPhee appeared once again with Boni on The Paris Concert (2016) – this time accompanied by Jean Marc Foussat on synth – which was recorded in May 2015 in a 5th floor Paris apartment. Foussat adds an interestingly cosmic tone in places, and at times there’s a rewarding collision between measured sax, frantic guitar and burbling synth. In general, there’s an instinctive understanding between the musicians, although they drift away from each other occasionally to plough their own furrow.

Soft Eyes (back cover)

Soft Eyes (also released in 2016) featured French percussionist Didier Lasserre, who was only three when Boni recorded Libra. Boni’s familiar style – frantically strummed flamenco-ish chords that veer in and out of frenetic runs up and down the fret board, interwoven with hesitant, delicate solos – is well matched by Lasserre’s sparse, austere percussion. Boni also contributes harmonica, for example on the hauntingly barren ‘And Mysteries‘; ‘Soubresauts‘ sees the duo dip into dark ambient territory. In addition, they pull off an imaginative and surprisingly tender cover of ‘Nature Boy’, made famous by Nat King Cole.

Boni’s latest releases include 2017’s Improvisations: 8 Pièces Pour Guitares et Percussions, a collaboration with French percussionist Gilles Dalbis (there are 30-second samples of the tracks here) and Visions Of Sound (2018), about which I can tell you no more than it was recorded with guitarist Jean Claude (JC) Jones.

 

 

Don Bradshaw-Leather
There are several artists on the List whose recording careers are the epitome of obscurity and mystery, but few more so than this one.

Don Bradshaw-Leather released only one album, Distance Between Us, in 1972. The cover and label contain virtually no information. To add to the confusion, as can be seen above, the front cover actually credits the album to Don Bradsham-Leather. It’s also not clear whether the demented-looking, demonic black-faced character (who also appears in several disturbing photos on the inner sleeve) is Don himself. Moreover, nobody seemed to know who DBL actually was. It has been rumoured that he was a member of Barclay-James Harvest or that he was a pseudonym of Robert John Godfrey of 70s prog outfit The Enid.

dbl

Some information was eventually provided by his sister, according this blog post from 2011 (although the link to the blog where her email was allegedly posted is now dead). She said:

‘Don Bradshaw-Leather was born in 1948 and raised within a respectable Jewish family – he grew with and into music more by genetic destiny than environmental consequence. He became a classically trained musician of the highest level… [He] approached a major record label (CBS) circa 1970 with basic recordings of his own playing and was awarded the financial means to develop an album – at this point he was staying in Essex (his hometown) but soon used the funds to create a large studio in Sussex with many instruments including an actual church organ. Here, on his own without the use of any electronic sequencing equipment he recorded “Distance Between Us” using simple multi-track tape by layering each part of the composition to form the completed piece.’

If it is true that some forward-thinking A&R man at CBS saw fit to give Bradshaw-Leather a substantial advance, then it seems likely that the label would have quickly developed cold feet upon hearing the recordings. In the end, it was released on the Distance label, which appears to be have been set up solely for the purpose of releasing Distance Between Us. It’s not clear exactly how many were pressed, but a mint copy of the album will set you back around £500 these days.

The album comprises four tracks of around twenty minutes each, which this review describes accurately as ‘dense, swirling, and hellish tapestries of blurred instrumentation, squawking voices buried in the mix, and seemingly no layout of progression from point A to point B in various movements (i.e. it’s all a giant progression, but almost like a dog chasing its tail in a mad frenzy).’ Another sees it as a ‘peyote-induced Gothic fever dream’.

It’s a uniquely unhinged epic, a delusional masterpiece of warped grandiosity, and one of my favourite albums from the list so far.

 

 

Brave New World
A short-lived krautrock outfit from Hamburg made up of  Reinhart Firchow, Lucas Lindholm, Dicky Tarrach, Herb Geller and Esther Daniels and Irishman John O’Brien-Docker. Their only release was 1972’s Impressions On Reading Aldous Huxley. It’s another rare one: a copy of the original vinyl will set you back around £350.

Inspired by Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel, Impressions is a hazy, summery blend of krautrock, jazz, blues and folk. ‘Soma’ (named after the ‘happiness drug’ in the novel) is a delicious, gently dizzying psychedelic-folk whirl.

‘Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon…Ford’ and ‘Lenina‘ are similarly woozy psychedelic pieces, both featuring prominent flute work from Firchow and Geller. The centrepiece of the LP is the seventeen-minute epic ‘The End’, a complex, extravagant yet understated pastoral electronic jazz-prog symphony.

I love this album for its beautifully considered elegance and ingenuity; like Distance Between Us, it’s a particular favourite.

 

 

Brühwarm Theatre
‘Brühwarm’ – which means ‘red hot’ (hot as in ‘hot off the press’) – were a German theatre group who teamed up with political krautrock band Ton Steine Scherben for two albums in the late 70s, Mannstoll (1977) and Entartet! (1979). (Ton Steine Scherben were also included on the List, so more on them later.)

bruh

Both LPs were apparently concept albums about homosexuality (‘Mannstoll’ translates as ‘man mad’; ‘Entartet’ as ‘degenerate’) although my lack of German prevents me from making any comment about the lyrical content. Musically, it’s hard to pin down, but it’s probably best described as cabaret-krautrock.

Both albums make for an interesting enough listen, but the lyrics are clearly the main focus, and if you don’t speak German then it’s hard not to feel that you’re missing the point.

 

 

NWWL Mix #09

I do not own the rights to any of this music, and will happily remove anything if asked by anyone who does.

Philippe Besombes / Jean-Louis Rizet – Haute Pression (Pôle, 1975)
Brühwarm Theater & Ton Steine Scherben – Fummelrock (Mannstoll, 1977)
Boni / Eastley / Day – Visions Fugitives (Les Mistrals, 1986)
Brave New World – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon… Ford (Impressions On Reading Aldous Huxley, 1972)
Don Bradshaw-Leather – Dance of the Goblins (edit) (Distance Between Us, 1972)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NWWL#8: Bal – Ber

“I wasn’t an expert and I’m still not.”

The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that my alphabetical order has, embarrassingly, gone somewhat awry already (when I’m still in the Bs!). This mishap – caused by a spreadsheet malfunction – means that Ash-Big (#6) and Bir-Bra (#7) are going to be followed by a set of artists that should have been included earlier.

Even I am not quite OCD enough to go back and reorder the prior posts, so I’m just going to have to grit my teeth and proceed. Still, I’m sure I’ll be able to sort it all out before this blog is eventually published as a lavish coffee-table book/guide to experimental music…

Anyway, this post has taken a substantial amount of time to put together, as four of the five artists involved have a seriously substantial back catalogue.

Il Balletto di Bronzo

Il Balletto di Bronzo
Originally named Battitori Selvaggi (‘Wild Beaters’), Neapolitans Marco Cecioni (vocals, guitar), Lino Ajello (guitar), Michele Cupaiuolo (bass) and Giancarlo Stinga (drums) became Il Balletto di Bronzo (‘The Ballet of Bronze’) in 1969.

Sirio 2222 (back cover)

Although they came to be lauded as one of the pioneers of Italian prog, their 1970 debut Sirio 2222 saw them still rooted in the sounds of the 60s. Although Sirio undoubtedly has its moments, it’s more flower-power psychedelic pop with a dash of blues-rock (e.g. on opener ‘Un Posto‘) than actual prog. ‘Neve Calda‘, for example, features passages of slightly limp and wobbly pastoral pop, although these are interspersed with more robust, rocky moments. ‘Meditazione‘ is largely an overwrought, string-laden piece of balladeering that wouldn’t be out of place in a stage musical, although there is a brief passage of psych-rock.

Missione Sirio 2222‘, the lengthy suite that closes the album, is the closest thing to actual prog, but for me the highlight is ‘Incantesimo’, the only other long track. It’s a lumbering, murky beast, with more than a touch of early Sabbath about it.

Sirio is enjoyable enough, but rather patchy and derivative; the group’s follow up, Ys (1971) sees them make a quantum leap forwards.  Keyboard player and vocalist Gianni Leone – formerly a member of Città Frontale – had joined during the recording of Sirio (although uncredited, he contributed keyboards to several tracks). Cecioni and Cupaiuolo departed, and Vito Manzari took over the role of bassist. Leone’s introduction was undoubtedly significant, as his vocals and keyboard work dominate the album.

Many see Ys as an early masterpiece in the field of symphonic prog, although opinion is far from undivided. I would stop short of calling it a masterpiece, but it’s definitely an impressively dense and complex piece of work. The weak point for me (and for several other reviewers) is Leone’s vocal style, which verges on the bombastic in places, even dipping into rock/metal histrionics on occasion. Musically, though, it’s a belter. Often insanely intense, it features passages of angular, complicated aggression that are sometimes breathtakingly effective.

The 11 minute ‘Epilogo‘ is a joy: a dark, ominous cocktail of King Crimson, doom-rock and warped jazz. ‘Terzo Incontro’ is a crisp, frenetic slice of overblown, operatic prog.

The album’s name comes from a mythical city in Brittany; allegedly, the group started to record an English-language version that was never completed.

Il Balletto di Bronzo split in 1973. In the mid-90s, Leone reformed the band with bassist Romolo Amici and drummer Ugo Vantini from the neo-prog group Divae. In 1997, they released a live album Trys, recorded at the Progressivamente Rock Festival in Rome in 1996. It’s a competent but rather arid collection of synth-driven ELP-style prog.

Cuma 2016 DC, released under the Il Balletto Di Bronzo name in 2016, featured (minimal) contributions from Leone, Ajello and Cecioni. It’s a shocker: banal emo-hard-rock that includes some versions of the group’s old tunes that verge on the blasphemous.

 

 

Franco Battiato

Franco Battiato
Born in Sicily in 1945, Battiato moved to Rome and then Milan in the mid-60s. His earliest releases included light pop tunes ‘E Più Ti Amo‘ and ‘La Torre‘. His career took a very different direction after meeting experimental musician Juri Camisasca in 1970. He released two albums in 1972. Fetus is an eclectic mix of fractured rhythms, swirling synth, café-bar folk, abstract electronica and gentle but earnest crooning.

Pollution is more experimental and varied, ranging from the concise noise of ‘Areknames’ to the robotic synth-prog of ‘Beta‘ to the peculiar, delicate ambience of ‘Ti Sei Mai Chiesto Quale Funzione Hai?’

Sulle Corde Di Aries (1973) opens with the 16-minute ‘Sequenze E Frequenze‘, an Oldfield-esque piece of hypnotic electronica. The briefer tracks on side two take a more understated, folky approach. Clic (1974) mixes passages of bleak, fragile electronica with randomly chopped vocals, mutated strings, Tangerine Dream-esque sequencers and dark ambient noise. Highly recommended.

M.elle Le “Gladiator” (1975) sees Battiato veer into even more abstract and experimental territory, seemingly influenced by Cage and Stockhausen. Much of the album was dominated by a church organ, which he recorded in Monreale Cathedral in Palermo. The first half of the 13-minute opening track, ‘Goûtez Et Comparez‘ is a collage of snippets of speech and music from TV and radio (plus some spoken word from Battiato himself) which then morphs into twinkly synth-driven krautrock. The final three minutes are dominated by the organ, which is the key feature of the remaining two tracks, ‘Canto Fermo’ and ‘Orient Effects’.

M.elle Le “Gladiator” (back cover)

The album has its critics: it has one of his lowest scores on progarchives and Italian music site ondarock suggests that it ‘represents a large and pretentious failed idea, or if on the contrary it is simply a disc made of “experimental fills” aimed at masking, if not the lack of ideas, at least the author’s transitory phase’. Whilst Gladiator does sound like a collection of disparate ideas and improvisations that don’t quite hang together as a coherent whole, I found much to enjoy in the organ’s grandiose, hypnotic swirl and ‘Goûtez”s cut and paste mayhem.

After releasing his first five albums on Italian independent label Bla Bla, Battiato moved to classical label Ricordi for his next three LPs. ondarock‘s comment that Gladiator was part of a ‘transitory phase’ was accurate, as Franco Battiato (1977) and 1978’s L’Egitto Prima Delle Sabbie (‘Egypt Before the Sands’, which won the Stockhausen award for contemporary music) saw the electronica/krautrock jettisoned in favour of piano-led modern classical minimalism. ‘‘ (from the first) is a particularly sparse and astringent piece, a 20-minute exploration of a single chord; ‘Sud Afternoon‘ (from the second) takes a similar approach, but the use of a delay effect creates a lighter, less harsh atmosphere.

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Battiato’s three Ricordi LPs (1977-1978)

Whilst these two releases both consisted of two side-long pieces, his other album for the label, Juke Box (1978), was much more concise, featuring six tracks that take up less than half an hour. Conceived as the soundtrack (although never used) to a TV movie about Filippo Brunelleschi, the architect of the dome of Florence Cathedral, it still focused on sparse, ponderous piano melodies, but contained more variety and texture than the previous two albums. Soprano Alide Maria Salvetta and violinist Giusto Pio helped to broaden the sound, although it’s still far from an easy listen. ‘Hiver’ has an intriguingly icy fragility, but ‘Telegrafi‘ is a somewhat exhausting atonal violin improvisation.

Having moved through phases of electronica, avant garde experimentation and classical minimalism, Battiato took a radical left turn in 1979. Having been dropped by Ricordi, he was signed by EMI and released L’Era Del Cinghiale Bianco (‘The Era Of White Wild Boar’) which saw him return to the commercial pop approach of his 60s singles. The album is a blend of melodic euro-pop and smooth jazz-rock, and whilst it’s undoubtedly tuneful and competently executed, I find it rather insipid. There isn’t a single song that wouldn’t feel out of place as a Eurovision entry; worst of the bunch is possibly the stodgy, syrupy ‘Il Re Del Mondo’.

A series of similar albums emerged regularly throughout the 80s. A particular low point was the re-recording of ‘La Torre’ on 1982’s L’Arca Di Noè. The original 1967 single was fluffy and inconsequential, but at least had a bit of groove and feeling about it; here, it’s rendered into a cheesy hi-energy disco-pop horror.

In 1984, his new style found its natural home as the Italian Eurovision entry. ‘I Treni di Tozeur’ was performed by Battiato and Alice. It came fifth.

The 90s saw Battiato shift to a more down-tempo, ballad style, although this is no more appealing than the previous decade’s disco-pop-rock. Gommalacca (1998) adopted a more rocky approach, but is still pretty grim. His latest release was 2019’s Torneremo Ancora, a saccharine concoction recorded with The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

Franco Battiato has had a remarkable career. It’s hard to square the experimentalism of PollutionClic and Gladiator with the endless stream of bland pop-rock that makes up about 80% of his recorded work. Far be it for me to begrudge him the commercial success that he attained from the 80s onward, but you can’t help but wonder where his musical journey might have taken him…

 

Han Bennink
Bennink was born in Zaandam in North Holland in 1942. According to the bio on his website:

‘His first percussion instrument was a kitchen chair. Later his father, an orchestra percussionist, supplied him with a more conventional outfit, but Han never lost his taste for coaxing sounds from unlikely objects he finds backstage at concerts. He is still very fond of playing chairs.’

Bennink plays clarinet, violin, banjo and piano, but is best known as a percussionist. His output is prodigious (he has appeared on nearly a hundred albums that span six decades) so I have focused mainly on his solo releases.

In the 60s, he played with jazz artists such as Sonny Rollins, Wes Montgomery and Dexter Gordon. His first recorded appearance was in 1964 on Last Date, an Eric Dolphy album that also involved Jacques Schols and Misha Mengelberg.

In 1967 he co-founded the Instant Composers Pool with Mengelberg and saxophonist Willem Breuker. He collaborated with Evan Parker and Derek Bailey on The Topography Of The Lungs (1970), a frantic, scratchy piece of improv-jazz.

The first release under his own name was Solo (1972). Bennink recorded all the sounds at his home studio and even designed the artwork himself.

The majority of the tracks are brief, brittle snatches of frantic percussion, although ‘Fiddleelddif’ is a lengthy, jagged piece of sawing, abrasive noise and ‘Listen The Birds’ is a dark, squealing distortion. It’s a challenging album that’s full of fascinating ideas but has a touch of self-indulgence about it.

Nerve Beats was recorded live in 1973, but wasn’t released until 2001. It’s dominated by the 26-minute ‘Spooky Drums‘, which features not just an assortment of percussive passages of varying tempo and ferocity, but also gibbering and grunting wordless vocals, tootling clarinet, ghostly piano, wobbly sci-fi effects and what sounds like someone sawing through a plank of wood. It’s all a bit shapeless, and again feels self-indulgent. The briefer (a mere 16 minutes) title track is more satisfying, especially the opening six minutes, a mix of skronky free jazz and Kraftwerk played through a broken Tannoy.

Bennink performed on a variety of collaborative Instant Composers Pool albums in the late 70s, playing with artists such as Steve Lacy, Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann. His next solo release was 1979’s Solo – West/East. Again, Bennink played everything on the album, which included (according to the label) megaphone, sounds (stones, typewriter, watch, sticks, ladder), conch shell and bullroarer.

The first side of the LP (‘West’)  is taken up with relatively brief pieces of sparse improv, sometimes focused mainly on one instrument (‘Viola’, ‘Banjo’). ‘La Strada’, whilst frequently abrasive, also contains passages of playfully almost straight-jazz clarinet. The second (‘East’) side consists of the 21-minute ‘Und So Leiter’ (where the typewriter makes its appearance). For me, this is much more successful than many of his other lengthy pieces. Whilst still skitteringly random and often challenging, there’s a more balanced dynamic and an underlying sense of humour that works well.

Tempo Comodo was recorded live in 1982. Featuring 15 tracks, only one of which passes the five minute mark, it largely eschews the non-percussive instruments of his previously releases and focuses on brisk, agile drum workouts that occasionally (‘Brushes/Airdrumming‘, ‘Sticktrick’) verge on traditional drum solos. Only a couple of tracks deviate from this approach: ‘De Krieps’ features a mutilated clarinet (?); ‘Stroef’ is a bracing, scratchy shriek in which it’s challenging to pin down exactly which instruments are being tortured (the sleeve only identifies that Bennink plays ‘drums + other stuff’). The album displays plenty of invention and impressive virtuosity, but it’s a little one-paced and becomes somewhat wearing over 42 minutes.

The 80s and 90s saw Bennink continue to make frequent appearances on collaborative albums, including with Steve Beresford (see below). In 1996, he recorded Serpentine with American trumpeter Dave Douglas.

The duo complement each other very effectively, both veering between hard bop and free-experimental styles, not always at the same time. ‘Too Close For Comfort‘ finds both taking a more traditional tack, Bennink providing an understated swing that underpins Douglas’ smoky solo. ‘Neck Four’ is quite the opposite, both providing frenetic, urgent improvisations that somehow sound simultaneously dislocated and in tune with each other. Lengthy centrepiece ‘Alap‘ sees Douglas meander beautifully over Bennink’s dislocated percussion. ‘Young And Foolish’ is especially good: Porgy And Bess-era Miles Davis spiked with splashes of vitreous percussion.

Amplified Trio (2007) featured John Coxon and Ashley Wales of Spring Heel Jack. It’s a distorted, distended riot of free-jazz-improv-psych-rock that sounds like a drugged-up jam session attended by Whitehouse, Boredoms, Sonic Youth and the Butthole Surfers. It’s impressive in a pummelling, relentless fashion, although perhaps not the sort of thing that you’d wade through in its entirety very often.

Parken (2009) was released under the name Han Bennink Trio, and featured Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet and Simon Toldam on piano. It’s a nicely balanced mix of melodic jazz and full-on freak-out. At one end of the spectrum, ‘Lady Of The Lavender Mist‘ is loose, bluesy ballad and ‘Fleurette Africaine‘ is a nimble toe-tapper. At the other, ‘Flemische March‘ is a ragged, jittering cacophony and ‘After The March‘ is brittle, proggish jazz. The album closes with the achingly beautiful title track, which features exquisite vocals from Dutch singer Qarin Wikström.

As well as his various jazz-related collaborations, Bennink also played with Dutch post-punk band The Ex, appearing on their 1995 album Instant.

Photo by Rick Malkin, posted on Drummerworld

I have undoubtedly only scratched the surface of Bennink’s vast body of work. This website provides a plethora of links should you wish to investigate further (it also includes pictures of him playing a ‘cheese drum set’). Like Franco Battiato, he has produced an incredibly diverse range of music, although their careers took very different directions. To conclude, this is him performing, aged 70, at London’s Bishopsgate Institute in 2012:

 

Steve Beresford
Another prolific artist. Born in Shropshire in 1950, multi-instrumentalist Beresford has performed on around 60 albums over the last 47 years. Like Han Bennink, many of these LPs were collaborative, and once again the breadth of his body of work means that I am only able to sample and summarise.

Steve Beresford photograph copyright Barbara Hediger Müller
Steve Beresford (photograph by Barbara Hediger Müller)

His earliest appearance was on a 1973 album by Trevor Wishart called Journey Into Space, a double LP of electroacoustic musique concrète. It was recorded at the University of York’s music department; Beresford was identified as one of the 47 contributors who ‘were involved in performing or improvising source-materials on found-objects, instruments or voices, for driving cars and motor-bikes, or for technical assistance in mixing and recording operations’.

He also appeared on two releases by The Portsmouth Sinfonia, Plays The Popular Classics (1973) and Hallelujah (1974), both of which were produced by Brian Eno. The Portsmouth Sinfonia, founded by double bassist Gavin Bryars (who went on to compose the remarkable ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet‘ which was rerecorded with Tom Waits in 1993) was made up of people with no musical training, and developed a cult following in the 70s.

In 1975, he collaborated with Garry Todd, Dave Solomon,  John Russell and Nigel Coombes on Teatime, a collection of scratchy, urgent improv pieces.

Later in the decade, Beresford played with David Cunningham’s Flying Lizards, which led to him making an unlikely appearance on Top Of The Pops (The Flying Lizards are also on the NWW List, so more on them later).

Whirled Music (1980) was recorded with Max Eastley, Paul Burwell and David Toop. It’s not as consistently manic as Teatime (although it has its moments), and has a more spacious, abstract sound. ‘LMC (a)’, for example, opens with a barrage of tinny rattling before settling into a ghostly, barren soundscape. ‘Suffolk’ is a faint, asthmatic rendering of the BBC radiophonic workshop. ‘Butlers Wharf’ (like ‘Suffolk’, recorded outdoors) is a bleak, strangely mesmerising collage of field recordings.

Also released in 1980, The Bath Of Surprise was the first album credited to Beresford alone.

It’s an eclectic mix of found sounds mixed with a variety of unusual instrumentation, such as (according to the sleeve) toy piano, bath water, nailbrush, cowbox, musical toothbrush, duck call, electronic bird, squeaky chops and chicken box. As entertaining as this list sounds, for me it too often crosses the line between ‘playfully inventive’ and ‘aimlessly pissing about’.

Yet another 1980 release, White String’s Attached, saw Beresford collaborate once again with violinist Nigel Coombes. Consisting of three lengthy pieces, it’s a relatively straightforward (in comparison to the previous albums) piece of piano-violin jazz improvisation. Imitation Of Life (a 1981 collaboration with cellist Tristan Honsinger, trumpeter Toshinori Kondo and Flying Lizard David Toop) is shrill and acerbic, although it also features occasional snippets of lively, bluesy trad-jazz.

Double Indemnity (another 1981 collaboration, this time just with Honsinger) was similarly manic and angular and also features vocal contributions from the cellist. In ‘Pre-Echo‘, for example, Honsinger discusses an unnamed woman’s approach to making salad dressing and his need for a haircut over brusque stabs of piano and flugelhorn. ‘Stolen Time‘ is a brief, discordant drone which Honsinger overlays with a disturbingly mutant scat. The lengthy title track, which takes up the entirety of side two, is an inventive piece of meandering, jagged improvisation which ebbs and flows in intensity and tempo and remains engaging throughout its 24 minutes.

The cover of 1986’s Dancing The Line places it firmly in the mid-80s.

Just as Battiato had done in 1979, Beresford took a surprising diversion with this album, which veered into cocktail-jazz-synth-pop territory. It was billed as a collaboration with Anne Marie Beretta, a French fashion designer who contributed some of the vocals. Kazuko Hohki of Frank Chickens (who is married to Smiths/Fall/Billy Bragg producer Grant Showbiz) also sang on the album, as (somewhat hesitantly) did Beresford himself. Dancing The Line is smoothly executed, undoubtedly, but it’s most definitely not my cup of tea.

David Toop played on Dancing The Line and also featured on Deadly Weapons (1986), alongside John Zorn and French actress and director Tonie Marshall, who provided spoken-word vocals. Conceived as a soundtrack to an imaginary film noir, it’s a curious but highly rewarding concoction of bluesy trad-jazz, electronica and avant-garde reflection.

In 1987, Beresford recorded an LP with Han Bennink. Directly To Pyjamas opens with the gentle swing of ‘Contradiction, Please’; the following fifteen-minute ‘Mr. Knife Miss Fork’ combines passages of gentle, pretty jazz with bursts of freak-out improv. The rest of the album follows this schizophrenic pattern, interweaving laid-back, melodic jazz with chaotic, atonal outbursts. Whilst the constant shifts in approach are rarely without interest, the overall effect is one of slight frustration, as the two of them don’t seem to be able to settle on what they want to achieve and it falls uncomfortably between two stools. It also has a particularly grim cover.

Signals For Tea (1995) was Beresford’s first release of the 90s. It’s a collection of rather  predictable straight jazz tunes, many of which feature Beresford’s bland vocals. The lyrics are a little cringeworthy too. In particular, ‘Unremarkable’ sets a very high (low) bar for embarrassingly forced rhymes: ‘a piece of string / a rubber ring; a tissue box / a pair of socks; a muddy place / an untied lace; a hairy scar / a clean jam jar’.

In 1997, Beresford reunited with British violinist Nigel Coombes. Two To Tangle was a live recording of the duo playing in London and is a return to form. The five lengthy pieces have more spark and invention about them than was the case in most of his late 80s / early 90s work, although over 75 minutes the sparse piano/violin approach does begin to feel a little stretched.

Foxes Fox (1999) finds Beresford on even firmer footing, playing with a strong cast of innovative collaborators. Evan Parker’s sax work on ‘Amoebic Mystery’, for example, is exemplary (see the mix below). However, although the individual contributions are excellent, it’s the merging of strengths that make this such an effective album.

Beresford’s first release of the 21st century was another collaboration, this time with British pianists Pat Thomas and Veryan Weston. On nine of the twelve improvised tracks, Beresford can be heard in the left channel, Weston in the right, with Thomas sitting in the centre. (With pleasing symmetry, the remaining three are duets which cover each of the possible combinations and see each performer take a turn in either channel.)

3piano

The trio extract about as much as is possible from the format, each finding a careful balance between responding sympathetically to their fellow performers and heading into new tangents and shifts in tempo. Although some might find it a little dry, it pulls off the impressive feat of being one of those albums that you can either let drift over you or absorb yourself in its detail.

Beresford’s output remained prolific in the early 00s – he appeared on no less than eight LPs between 2002-2004 alone. One of them, B + B, saw him collaborate with Han Bennink again. Like Directly To Pyjamas, it mixes relatively traditional jazz with passages of warped experimentation, but is more inclined to the latter. It merges the two approaches more successfully; ‘Crumb In Bed’, for example, is a 22-minute cocktail of manic free-jazz-electronica twists and swirls, hyperactive staccato blues and laid-back swing.

I Shall Become A Bat (2004) was recorded with saxophonist John Butcher. It’s a collection of sharp, granular pieces of electro-acoustic improvisation that are unsettling and challenging, full of abrasive spikes. It’s an uncomfortable listen for sure, but the 25-minute title track is a particularly impressive piece of pulsing mayhem.

Beresford continued to be prolific in the 10s, releasing albums with Noël Akchoté, Matt Wilson and Stephen Flinn. One of his most notable releases was 2012’s Indeterminacy.

John Cage, a pioneer of the approach, defined indeterminacy as ‘the ability of a piece to be performed in substantially different ways’. Put very simply, it involves a concept / structure that is identified by the composer but the arrangement, tone and rhythm are left to the determination of the performer. Cage’s recorded version of Indeterminacy, which he performed with pianist and composer David Tudor, was released in 1959. It featured Cage reading out 90 short stories, making each one last exactly one minute which entailed considerable variation in the tempo of his delivery. Tudor produced the musical accompaniment in another room, the two of them being unable to hear each other.

In 2010, Beresford and interdisciplinary improviser Tania Chen decided to revive the piece, and asked British comedian Stewart Lee to perform the readings. Beresford felt that Lee was an ideal choice for the role, given the ‘very obsessive, analytic nature of [his] comedy’ (for example his dissection of the strange phenomenon of the worship of Del Boy’s fall through the bar in Only Fools and Horses). Lee saw his role as akin to that of the tramp whose looped vocal formed the basis for Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet:

‘I’m a resource. The only Cage piece I really knew was 4’33”. I wasn’t an expert and I’m still not. I tried not to find out about John Cage, so as to come to it clean. A lot of his strategies seem to be quite conceptualised, academic ways of approaching the unfamiliar. So actually being unfamiliar with his stuff I thought would be very helpful.’

There’s a live recording of a 2012 performance here; the sound quality is dubious, but it gives you a flavour of how the whole thing worked. The clip below is an excerpt from the 2012 LP, taken from the performance at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch on 2 June 2010.

Indeterminacy was revived in 2016.

Beresford has continued to be prolific, despite turning 70 this year, releasing five albums in the first half of 2020 alone. His most recent release was What Blue, a collaboration with Blanca Regina.

 

 

Jacques Berrocal
Yet another highly prolific artist, trumpeter/composer Berrocal was born in 1946 in Saint-Jean-d’Angély in Western France.

His first release was Musiq Musik (1973), recorded with Dominique Coster and Roger Ferlet, a selection of sparse, fragile pieces that are intriguing if a little hesitant and underdeveloped.

Parallèles (1976) is desolate and ghostly. ‘Galimatias’ is a bleak cornet solo; ‘Rock’n Roll Station‘ a pulsating, unnerving narrative (that would later be covered by Nurse With Wound); the 24-minute ‘Bric-à-brac (To Russolo)’ is a fractured, meandering and astringent soundscape. ‘Post-Card’ feels like a despairing glimpse of the end of the world.

Catalogue (1979) is comprised of 17 concise pieces (only three make it beyond three minutes). It’s a jagged collage of spliced dialogue, truncated melodies and bursts of blues, jazz and new wave. It lacks coherence, but you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer volume of ideas being thrown together.

Berrocal played on Nurse With Wound’s To The Quiet Men From A Tiny Girl in 1980, and also contributed ‘Conseil De Ministres‘ to the United Dairies compilation An Afflicted Man’s Musica Box (1982).

Catalogue

His next release was as part of a group called Catalogue, which he formed with Gilbert Artman (see post #5) and French guitarist Jean-François Pauvros. Pénétration (1982) was recorded at a Swiss music festival.

Pénétration is an absolute blast, a joyfully chaotic collision of post-punk, avant-garde and free jazz. ‘Khomeiny Twist’ merges distorted psych-fuzz guitar and twinkling krautrock synth and is topped with Berrocal’s unhinged vocals.

Absolution‘ is a hectic mix of Suicide, Can, The Velvet Underground and wailing sax; ‘Stop Stress’ throws in Elvis, The Ramones and percussive coughing; ‘The End‘ is a 14-minute improvised wig-out that occasionally teeters on the edge of self-indulgence but always manages to claw its way into new and interesting territory. According to Berrocal, people didn’t really know what to make of the LP:

‘The punks thought we were strange, the jazz community hated it, and the rock press said it wasn’t rock’n’roll.’

Catalogue released one further studio album, Insomnie, in 1987. Like Pénétration, it draws from a wide range of  influences – cool, sparse jazz (‘Nocturne’), gruff trip-hop (‘Le Chat’), angular electro-pop (‘Je Pars Pour Rome‘), urgent and funky post-punk (‘Keep Cool Calme’) – but it’s all a little too disparate and doesn’t quite hang together as well as its predecessor.

Hotel Hotel (1986) saw Berrocal dip into a lighter, more ambient approach, which he described as ‘more pop… motorway music, music to drive to’. Although there’s a haunting quality to songs such as ‘Minuit La Nuit‘ and ‘Nuit de la Troisième Lune‘, overall it feels rather lightweight and ephemeral. The highlight is ‘Seltsame Brücke’, a dark, ambient piece featuring vocals from Krista Leuck.

La Nuit Est Au Courant (recorded live in 1989 and 1990 and released in 1991) is a collection of spacey but overly polite jazz tunes. Several collaborative LPs followed in the mid-90s, the last of which was The Oblique Sessions (1997), featuring Pascal Comelade, Pierre Bastien and Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit.

Liebezeit’s presence has a significant impact on proceedings, and in places – for example the fidgety, folky ‘Jours Tranquilles A Rodez‘ and the re-working of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Station‘ that transforms the track into a crisp, driving piece of Krautrock – it could easily be mistaken for a Can album. It’s more diverse than that suggests, however, taking in a range of styles: the playful ‘Ant’ Walz‘, the jazzy murk of ‘Morceau En Forme De Pinces‘, the laid-back fuzz-guitar Mariachi of ‘A Mexican Spaghetti Strangler‘.

The album also includes a delicate, strangely moving instrumental take on Neil Young’s ‘Prime Of Life‘.

There was a fifteen-year gap between The Oblique Sessions and Berrocal’s next album, Superdisque, recorded with Ghédalia Tazartès and David Fenech.

It’s a pleasingly odd blend of French folk, smokey jazz, jagged electronica and understated post-rock guitar. How much you enjoy it will depend on your feelings about Tazartès’ guttural vocals, which might be a little overwrought for some tastes. The highlight is the CD bonus track ‘Zilveli’, which layers ghostly trumpet over waves of delay-pedal / distorted guitar.

MDLV (2014) was Berrocal’s first solo release in 23 years. Many of the tracks are very brief: several are less than a minute long, and only the slurred version of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman‘ makes it beyond five minutes. This gives the album a rather fragmentary feel, exacerbated by a typically scatter-gun approach to tone and genre.

MDLV (Vinyl, LP, Limited Edition) album cover

Prière‘ answers the question ‘what would Slint have sounded like if they’d been born by the banks of the Seine?’; ‘Aether‘ combines haunting trumpet lines with pulsing Four Tet-esque electronica; ‘Metallic Bay‘ sounds like The Stooges having a stab at free jazz; ‘Ministres En Conseil‘ is a stately, glacial piece of synth-driven modern classicism. It’s an impressively ambitious work. The most peculiar moments are ‘Ultim Arlene’ and ‘Signe Particulier’, avant-garde takes on the Dead Kennedys.

Despite being well into his 70s, Berrocal is still going strong, and has released six albums in the last five years. Ice Exposure (2019) saw him collaborate with Feneche again, as well as Vincent Epplay, and finds him (and his associates) still capable of creating intriguing and inventive music.

His latest album, released in June 2020, is Xmas In March. It’s another collaboration with David Fenech, and also involves Jason Willett. The only song I’ve heard from it is ‘Cocoquanthusiastic’, which I discovered via Fenech’s website. Featuring a guest appearance from Vincent Epplay, it’s beautifully poignant and evocative.

 

NWWL Mix #08

I do not own the rights to any of this music, and will happily remove anything if asked by anyone who does.

Pascal Comelade, Pierre Bastien, Jac Berrocal & Jaki Liebezeit – Shikaku Maru Ten (The Oblique Sessions, 1997)
Foxes Fox (featuring Steve Beresford) – Amoebic Mystery (excerpt) (Foxes Fox, 1999)
Il Balletto di Bronzo – Secondo Incontro (Ys, 1971)
Franco Battiato – I Cancelli Della Memoria (Clic, 1974)
Han Bennink, John Coxon, Ashley Wales – AT 7 (Amplified Trio, 2007)

NWWL#7: Bir – Bra

“Strummed and struck! Slicing and gently sliding!”

A multinational mix this time: France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Japan. It also includes a release that is obscure even by NWWL standards…

Jean-Jacques Birgé, 1979 (from drame.org)

Birgé Gorgé Shiroc
Jean-Jacques Birgé and Francis Gorgé were both born in Paris in the early 50s. They became best known for their work with Un Drame Musical Instantané, which they formed in 1976 with fellow Parisian Bernard Vitet. Before this, they recorded one album as Birgé Gorgé Shiroc – Shiroc being a French percussionist (his full name seems to be a mystery) who had previously played in Jazz-prog fusion outfit Speed Limit, who released a couple of albums in 1974 and 1975.

Shiroc

The trio’s sole album was released in 1975 on Birgé’s own GRRR label. Défense De opens with ‘Crever‘, a brief, whirling mix of scampering guitar, sci-fi sequencer, random sound effects and skronky sax supplied by Antoine Duvernet of Urban Sax (see Gilbert Artman, post #5).

Défense De, back cover

Most of the of the album is taken up by two lengthy pieces, ‘La Bulle Opprimante’ and ‘Le Réveil’. Both take a similar approach to ‘Crever’, and are extended electronic-free-jazz improvisations that give more than a passing nod to Herbie Hancock’s early 70s work, although with a more fractured, avant-garde tone. ‘Le Réveil’ sounds like Gong and Tangerine Dream collaborating on the soundtrack of a mid-70s episode of Dr Who.

A 2003 reissue of the album included nearly six hours’ worth of out-takes and live recordings.

Un Drame Musical Instantané recorded prolifically from 1976 onwards. Since 2010, they have released over 140 hours of freely-downloadable music via their website. The most recent recording, Omni-Vermille, was released in April 2020.

 

 

Blue Sun

Blue Sun
Our travels take us to Denmark for the first time. Formed in 1969 in Copenhagen, Blue Sun were a jazz-rock group heavily influenced by free jazz, American blues and African music. Their debut album, Peace Be Unto You (1970) consisted of four lengthy pieces recorded live at Tagskægget, a jazz venue sited in an old chocolate factory in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city.

Much of the album consists of loose, slow-building, swirling free-jazz improvisations such as ‘Aum’ and the title track. ‘Lyset’, composed by saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen, sees the group tip into full freak-out skronk mode.

‘John Henry’ is a bit of an outlier, a rattling, exhilarating piece of funky, sax/harmonica-driven blues based on the eponymous African American folk hero (a theme that has been explored by a wide range of artists including Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen).

Blue Son’s eponymous second album, studio-recorded and released in 1971, had one of the grooviest covers you’ll ever see.

Opening track ‘Working Man‘ follows the approach of ‘John Henry’, a joyfully exuberant ten-minute jazz-blues-funk shuffle. Most of the other songs are relatively concise: ‘Velkomst’ is a delicate piece of psychedelic pop; ‘Kære Irene’ is an intense slice of hectic, Doors-ish blues-rock; ‘På Fjeldet’ ventures into shrill folk; ‘Afro Blue’ is a piece of Latin-tinged jazz swing.

After 1971, the group split and reformed several times. They released It’s All Money Johnny in 1976, which is, sadly, even weaker than the title suggests, a clunky and ham-fisted attempt at radio-friendly funky blues rock featuring Jytte Pilloni on vocals. The low point is possibly ‘Afraid’, which makes ‘Deadringer For Love‘ feel like a masterclass in subtle understatement.

Information about ’73, which was released in 1992, is scarce. It would appear to be a collection of unreleased studio recordings. It’s certainly an improvement on Johnny, but is still a rather flat and uninspiring collection of straight jazz-rock tunes.

At some point (nobody seems to know when), a live album called Live 70 was released. Recorded in Aarhus and Copenhagen, it captures the group on good form, mixing slow, free-form jazz (‘Tokalash’) with lively work-outs such as ‘Suset’.

Blue Sun split permanently in 1981. Several members went on to play in Latin jazz / world music ensemble NADA, although if you can find any evidence of their work online then you’re a better man than I…

 

 

Brainstorm
Back to Germany. Brainstorm formed in Baden-Baden in the early 70s and were originally called Fashion Pricks and then Fashion Pink. Their debut album, Smile A While (1972) had an interesting cover…

Smile A While is Canterbury/Krautrock fusion with a dash of Zappa that’s dense and complex, but is underpinned throughout by a sense of humour . The title track is a lengthy, complicated prog-jazz suite, full of manic flute and sax; ‘You Are What’s Gonna Make It Last‘ is a more straightforward piece of funky psych-blues; ‘Bosco Biati Weib Alles’ is an exemplary freak-jazz-prog workout.

A 2009 reissue of the album included a handful of tracks recorded under the name Fashion Pink, including ‘Einzug Der Elefanten’, a lithe, flute-driven number that erupts into a frenetic ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ style finale.

Second Smile (1973) ploughs a similar furrow, albeit with a slightly folkier and more spacy tone. ‘There Was A Time…‘ ventures into free jazz territory; ‘Marilyn Monroe’ opens in a smooth-jazz style, bursts into urgent rock ‘n’ roll, settles into a loose, spoken-word jazz groove, then erupts into a joyfully complicated jazz-rock workout.

Last Smile, released in 2001, is a high-quality live recording from 1974. Bremen 1973, another live recording, was released in 2002. It includes an excellent 20-minute rendition of ‘Himwind’, a mad whirlwind of intense yet playful psych-prog.

 

 

 

Brainticket
Brainticket were founded by Belgian pianist Joel Vandroogenbroeck. Vandroogenbroeck was a bit of a prodigy: classically trained, he soon turned to jazz and performed with the Quincy Jones Orchestra when he was only fifteen.

Joel Vandroogenbroeck

Inspired by krautrock acts such as Amon Düül II and Tangerine Dream, he recruited a multinational line-up (percussionist Wolfgang Paap and bassist Werner Frohlich were German; drummer Cosimo Lampis and keyboard player Hellmuth Kolbe were Swiss; guitarist Ron Bryer and vocalist Dawn Muir were British) that released their debut album, Cottonwoodhill, in 1971.

The album is a weird and wonderful barrage of hypnotic psychedelia. Thick, jazzy Hammond organ chords and choppy funk guitar lock onto extended grooves that are embellished by random sound effects and Muir’s ghostly, dispassionate vocals. It’s outstanding.

Brainticket’s second album, Psychonaut (also released in 1971) featured a radically different line-up, with only Vandroogenbroeck remaining. It is much more gentle and relaxed; Vandroogenbroeck’s flute is more prominent, and there’s a greater emphasis on folk and Eastern influences. Whilst opener ‘Radagacuca’ culminates in a freak-prog workout and ‘Watchin’ You’ is a heavy psych-rock shuffle, ‘One Morning’ is a delicate, fractured piece of ambient jazz-folk and ‘Feel The Wind Blow‘ is sparsely melodic. ‘Coc’o Mary’ marries the two approaches effectively, combining thunderous drums, bluesy organ and guitar and brittle percussion.

Celestial Ocean (1973) was a trippier affair, taking its inspiration from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It has an experimental, abstract tone, for example in ‘The Space Between’, which features layers of disjointed vocals, warped synth and rumbling percussion.

It would be another seven years before Brainticket released another album.

Adventure (1980) consists of two side-length pieces that attempt to merge Tangerine Dream-style sequencers with loose, meandering jazz. It doesn’t quite work somehow, feeling rather forced and awkward and tending towards new age blandness. Voyage (1982) follows a similar pattern, often sounding like an unholy alliance of Mike Oldfield and Jean-Michel Jarre.

Vandroogenbroeck resurrected the Brainticket name for the 2000 album Alchemic Universe, a rather tame and uneventful piece of cosmic trance. He spent the last thirty years of his life in Mexico, and died in December 2019.

Joel VDB gives a concert in the woods in the mile-high community where he lived in Jalisco.

 

 

Brast Burn
Despite their Germanic-sounding name, the last artist in this batch sees us add Japan to our list of destinations. There are several brief descriptions of the group available online, but what they all agree on is that nobody really knows anything about them.

Only one album was ever released under the Brast Burn name, Debon, and even then sources disagree about whether it came out in 1974 or 1975. The sleeve and label provide virtually no information. Progarchives suggest that the album was the work of one Michiro Sakurai, but if this is true, even Google doesn’t know who he is/was.

Debon front cover

The album consists of two side-long pieces, simply called ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2’ that, like the name, sound more German then Japanese. The closest reference points are Faust and Damo-era Can. The album, despite (or perhaps because of) its obscurity, has attracted more than its fair share of extravagant, enthusiastic and breathless description.

Rateyourmusic:

 ‘A mandala of jingling loops, multitracked and harmonized lamasery chants, Kenji “Damo” Suzuki-styled declamations, electronic glimmers, gongs, sacred bells, and fuzzed-out synthesizers. Brast Burn further plaits Debon with breathless flutes and recorders, subtle musique concrète embellishments, percussive shudders, and guitars, guitars, guitars – electric and acoustic! clean and lavishly effects-laden! strummed and struck! slicing and gently sliding!’

Dangerous Minds:

‘An intricate con catenation of cascading sleigh bells and hand drums, windswept Himalayan acid atmospherics, bottleneck acoustic-guitar twiddle and Damo Suzuki-like mantric babble. All of the above is held aloft by a synthesist with a terminal case of pitch wheel woozies and is strategically embellished with outbursts of tumbling bass drums, spiralling flutes and recorders, and some exquisitely hallucinogenic electric guitar. Coming on like an eternal cosmic caravan, the whole damn thing is soaked in a higher-key music of the spheres vibe.’

Unsurprisingly, Julian Cope is also a fan:

‘This virtually unknown free chant’n’ritual ensemble made one brilliant LP DEBON for Voice Records in 1974, before disappearing back whence they came. Often compared to Faust, they actually come across more like some Cajun inbreds at a cannibal sacrifice, the chanting exhibiting an apocalyptic bluesy quality somewhat akin to Exuma the Obeah Man, or Captain Beefheart circa STRICTLY PERSONAL and MIRROR MAN. Hand drums, sleigh bells, tambourines, blues harp, and many many vocals go into the sonic stew that makes the sound of Brast Burn.’

Several sources suggest that Alomoni 1985 by Karuna Khyal, released around the same time as Debon (on the same obscure Japanese label, Voice Records) was performed by the same set of musicians.

The Brast Burn and Karuna Khyal albums were both reissued on CD in 1998; original vinyl copies will set you back around £300 each.

NWWL Mix #07

Birge, Gorge, Shiroc – La Bulle Opprimante (excerpt) (Defense De, 1975)
Brainstorm – Zwick Zwick (Smile A While, 1972)
Brainticket – Brainticket Pt2 (excerpt) (Cottonwoodhill, 1971)
Blue Sun – John Henry (Peace Be Unto You, 1970)
Brast Burn – Debon Part 2 (excerpt) (Debon, 1974/5)

 

 

NWWL#6: Ash – Big

“A methodical breaking down of all your senses until you are crushed and insensible.”

I am slowly getting used to the whole different rhythm that this project entails. Posts are tending to be around a week to ten days apart, rather than the three or four days I settled into with the Fall blogs. Whilst The Fall undoubtedly have one of the most diverse back catalogues in existence, even they can’t compare to the experience of running through a selection of artists that might take in complex Italian prog, American opera, spaced-out krautrock, avant-garde minimalism and abrasive free jazz in the space of one ‘batch’.

There is some continuity, though: my wife and children think that it is all, just like The Fall, a bloody racket!

As ever, any opportunity you might have to share this post to anyone who might have an interest in the wonderful and frightening world of the NWW List would be much appreciated. Reaching the second letter of the alphabet feels like a notable achievement!

Ash Ra Tempel

Ash Ra Tempel
Ash Ra Tempel were founded in Berlin in 1971 by Manuel Göttsching (guitar), Klaus Schulze (keyboards/drums) and bassist Hartmut Enke. All three had previously played in improvisational outfit Eruption, formed by Conrad Schniztler who – alongside Schulze – had been in the Tangerine Dream line-up 1969-70.

Ash Ra Tempel, 1971

Their eponymous debut album, released in 1971 on Ohr, featured two side-long tracks. ‘Amboss’ (‘Anvil’) is a heady, swirling mix of acid rock and psychedelic jamming that Julian Cope described as ‘a methodical breaking down of all your senses until you are crushed and insensible’. ‘Traummaschine‘ (‘Dream Machine’) features hazy, ambient drone that alternates with dense, fuzzy psych-rock.

Schulze left the band to record a solo album, Irrlicht; he was replaced by Wolfgang Müller on Ash Ra Tempel’s second LP, Schwingungen (‘Vibrations’), released in 1972. ‘Look At Your Sun‘ is a lazy, Doors-like blues number, featuring quavering vocals from John L (aka Manfred Brück, who also performed with Agitation Free). ‘Darkness: Flowers Must Die‘ is a tense, twitchy amalgamation of PiL, Gong and Damo-era Can. Side 2 is taken up by the title track, which has a gentle, spacey jazz-prog vibe.

Their third album, Seven Up (1973), saw the group collaborate with Timothy Leary. It was recorded in Switzerland, where Leary was living in exile at the time, and features vocals from Leary and a variety of other contributors. It would appear that a great deal of acid was consumed during the recording process, and it certainly shows. There’s a wildly unhinged tone to the whole thing, but it’s a little unfocused and meandering; not entirely surprising given the amount of hallucinogenics involved.

Join Inn (1973) saw Klaus Schulze rejoin the band, and his reappearance has a significant influence on the album, his taut, agile drumming providing a focus that Seven Up, despite its inventiveness, was lacking. Opening side ‘Freak ‘N’ Roll’ is a tour de force of frentic, hard-edged krautrock. In typical fashion, the second side (‘Jenseits‘) is a more open, ambient piece.

By the time Starring Rosi was released (also in 1973), Schulze had disappeared again and Enke had also departed, making the album largely a Göttsching solo project. The ‘Rosi’ in question was his partner Rosemarie Müller, who contributed vocals. ‘Schizo’ has a dark, ominous edge to it, and ‘Interplay Of Forces’ is a tidy piece of folkish prog; however, overall it’s all a little flimsy and inconsequential.

Göttsching went on to release a solo album called Inventions for Electric Guitar in 1975, an exhilarating piece that consists of layers of sequenced guitar and synths.  Released nine years later, E2-E4 arguably played an important role in the development of house and techno. After producing the soundtrack for 1976 film Le Berceau de Cristal, the group morphed into Ashra, basically a solo outlet for Göttsching’s electronica work.

 

Association P.C.
Pierre Courbois was a Dutch drummer who was one of the first European musicians to experiment with free jazz. In the early 60s, he formed the Original Dutch Free Jazz Quartet and then the Free Music Quintet; the latter released the furiously chaotic Free Music One And Two in 1968.

Pierre Courbois, 1984

In 1969, Courbois formed Association, along with fellow Dutchmen Jasper Van’t Hof on keyboards and bassist Peter Krijnen, as well as German guitarist Toto Blanke.

Jasper Van’t Hof

Krijnen left the group during the recording of Association’s debut LP Earwax (1970); he appears on side A, whilst his replacement, German Sigi Busch, plays on the second side. Opener ‘Spider’ is a fairly run of the mill piece of jazz-rock; the lengthy following track, ‘Hit The P. Tit‘, is more interesting, featuring some coruscating psych guitar from Blanke, although like much of the album it settles into a rather comfortable and predictable jazz-rock groove in places. The most striking piece is ‘Round A’Bout Nine’, a disjointed ramble framed around Busch’s throbbing bass that features bracing atonal guitar work from Blanke.

Sun Rotation (1972) saw ‘P.C.’ (Courbois’ initials) appended to the group’s name, possibly to distinguish them from US psych-pop outfit The Association.

Once again, the opening track (‘Idee A’) doesn’t exactly push the boundaries, being a light, twinkly bit of straightforward jazz-rock. Thereafter, however, the album loosens up and heads off in a number of intriguing cosmic fusion directions. The lengthy ‘Totemism‘, for example, is a languid funk/prog hybrid; ‘Neuteboom’ is a gently wonky space jam.

A live album, Erna Morena, was released in 1973. The addition of Heiner Wiberny on sax and clarinet broadened the group’s sound, and also saw them take a more free jazz direction. Incredibly frenetic, it features an array of impressively exciting soloing, although there’s a slight lack of coherence overall.

Rock Around The Cock (also released in 1973) is surely a contender for both worst ever album title and worst ever cover. Hof had departed to form Pork Pie, and was replaced by Joachim Kühn.

The album is, frankly, a bit of a mess. Opening duo ‘Phenis’ and ‘Polar Anna’ are busy but aimless, the former featuring a lengthy and uninspiring drum solo; ‘Shirocco’ is tunelessly self-indulgent; the closing trio of the title track, ‘Autumn in March’ and ‘Cap Carneval’ are ham-fisted attempts at Beefheart-esque jazz-rock. The only successful piece is the ominous drone of ‘ Mirrored Dimensions’.

The group’s final release was Mama Kuku, a 1973 live recording that was released in 1974, featuring American Jeremy Steig on flute.

How much you enjoy the album will depend on how much you love the sound of the flute, as Steig’s performance, although undoubtedly fluent and impressive, rather dominates proceedings. As one reviewer on Progarchives commented, ‘when he starts to play it’s like the band stops to listen’.

Association P.C. disbanded in 1975. From the 90s onwards, Courbois has performed in a variety of mainstream jazz acts.

 

Anton Bruhin
The Jew’s harp (for which Bruhin is best known), according to Wikipedia, is ‘also known as the jaw harp, mouth harp, gewgaw, guimbard, khomus, trump, Ozark harp, Galician harp, or murchunga’ and ‘is a lamellophone instrument, consisting of a flexible metal or bamboo tongue or reed attached to a frame’.

To put it more simply, it’s that twangy thing occasionally used by, for example, The Who, Neil Young and the Bay City Rollers.

Anton Bruhin music, videos, stats, and photos | Last.fm
Anton Bruhin

Bruhin was born in Lachen, Switzerland in 1949. From the 60s, he produced poetry and paintings prolifically, and took part in a range of ‘happenings’, but it is his performances on the Jew’s harp that led to his inclusion on the List. The first album released under his name was 1969’s Von Goldabfischer.

Von Goldabfischer

Von Goldabfischer is one of the rarer titles on the List, copies apparently selling for as much as $900. Recorded in a remote Swiss mountain location, Bruhin plays not only the Jew’s harp but harmonica, flute, violin and the ‘ch-phon’ (an instrument he invented,constructed from a PVC tube and saxophone reed). Accompanied by Stefan Wittwer on electric guitar and Cristian Koradi on bass and cello, he produced twenty sparse, brittle pieces of freak-folk that have been described as a ‘demented fragmentary dadaist songform disembowelment of… post-Zappa/Beefheart meets Futura Records’.

The album takes in an impressively bewildering array of styles. ‘Alpine Blues‘ is a fragmented harmonica blues augmented by electronic effects and the brief appearance of a cuckoo clock; ‘Okima Tula’ is a concise blast of woozy skronk; ‘Lack Mer’ is an off-kilter piece of ragged skiffle; ‘Em Fecker’ is a spare bongo/flute folk-psych ramble; ‘Winterlied‘ partners Bruhin’s broken croon with a warm, mellow folk-jazz guitar part that gives a nod to Brubeck’s ‘Take Five‘.

It wasn’t until 1977 that another Bruhin album appeared. 11 Heldengesänge & 3 Gedichte (’11 heroic songs and 3 poems’) was very different to Von Goldabfischer: released as a deluxe double 10″ with a 48 page booklet containing drawings and poems by Bruhin, it was a work of ‘sound poetry’ that was one of the earliest examples of the art of sampling. He commented that:

‘I conceived each hero speaking a different invented dialect and coming from a different fictional geographical region. I also wanted to give each hero his own music as a companion. I have used various musical materials and played a variety of instruments, but also taken parts from existing musics and manipulated them.’

A dizzying mix of spoken word, sound effects, disjointed samples, electronics, strings and several different flavours of jazz, my enjoyment of it was only curtailed by my almost non-existent grasp of German. As none of it is online, I’ve put together this four-track sample:

In 1978, Bruhin released Neun Improvisierte Stücke 1974 / Rotomotor 1978. The first side consists of six short pieces recorded with Stephan Wittwer. Although occasionally pleasing in a spiky and angular fashion, they’re generally a bit obvious in their quiet/loud approach. The 28-minute ‘Rotomotor, Ein Motorisches Idiotikon 1978‘, another piece of sound poetry, filled the second side. It features Bruhin chant a list of words, each one being one letter different from the previous one, looped via a delay pedal. It’s original and mesmerising, although becomes rather hard work over nearly half an hour.

There wouldn’t be another Bruhin release until 1996. Anton Bruhin Spilt ‘S Trümpi (literally, ‘Anton Bruhin plays the Jew’s harp’) contains 29 brief – nearly half of them are less than a minute long – and jaunty folkish tunes. Unless you’re a big big fan of the twang of the Jew’s harp, you may – as I did – tire of this pretty quickly.

InOut (featuring recordings from 1976-1981, although not released until 1998) is a very different proposition again. The title track is a manic piece of tape manipulation; it’s certainly inventive, but becomes tiresome over 23 minutes. The second track, ‘Musik, Vielleicht Für Sie‘ (‘Music, Perhaps For You’) is similarly lengthy and bonkers, but is more organic, featuring extended passages of sax/clarinet doodling. ‘Wochenwende‘ (a mere ten minutes long) is a caustic cacophony; ‘Die Welt’ – apparently recorded ‘on a cassette recorder equipped with almost used up batteries’ – seems to consist of a demonic chipmunk attempting to recreate the soundtrack to Cabaret on a broken toy piano.

2001’s Rotomotor also featured recordings from the late 70s. ‘Orax‘ is a barrage of grainy noise; ‘Lange Töne‘ is ten minutes of bleak, reedy drone; ‘Paul is 35’ is a barren, fractured, dystopian soundscape.

Deux Pipes (2010) saw Bruhin improvise Jew’s harp over lo-fi Casio keyboard loops. Vogelsang/Vogelsong/Vogelsung/Vögelsäng (recorded in 1977) was released as a 4-CD box set in 2015: Bruhin recorded birdsong from his house, and then manipulated it into shrieking, distorted, disturbing loops. He was still performing in 2018.

 

 

Banten
A Dutch experimental jazz-rock band formed in 1971. Its members – Rob van den Broeck (keyboards), Ernst Reijseger (cello), Jurre Haanstra (drums), Henny Vonk (kazoo and percussion) and Arnold Dooyeweerd (double bass) – all went on to perform in notable jazz-fusion outfits such as The Chris Hinze Combination and Napalis.

They released a sole, eponymous LP in 1972. It’s a disparate yet consistently entertaining album, fusing a wide range of jazz/avant-garde/classical approaches. ‘Music For Nita And Bert’ opens with a meandering kazoo over a loose, free-jazz background; ‘Dig Dick‘ is a subtly frenetic workout underpinned by elastic bass and haunting cello.

‘Henna Song’ is curious cabaret ballad featuring an unidentified female vocal; ‘Monk’s Mood’ is a straight, concise take on a Thelonius Monk tune. The album concludes with ‘Korving’, a brief, sparse jazzy meander.

It’s an intriguing album, although one that doesn’t quite pull together its contrasting influences into a fully coherent whole.

 

Biglietto per l’Inferno
Biglietto per l’Inferno (‘Ticket To Hell’) were an Italian prog band formed in Lecco, near Milan, in 1972. Their eponymous debut album was released in 1974.

Released on Trident Records, it’s an exemplary piece of complex, mid-70s European prog, fusing classical piano, portentous organ, distorted guitar, overwrought vocals, tight drumming, gently pastoral passages and the deft use of an array of time signatures. The epic, lengthy ‘L’Amico Suicida’ is a particularly effective example.

They recorded a follow up album, Il Tempo Della Semina, in 1975, but the collapse of the Trident label meant that it remained unreleased until 1992. The ten-minute title track is another piece of taut, classically complex prog:

The album was, however, rather uneven in comparison to their debut. Relatively short pieces such as ‘Mente Sola – Mente’ and ‘L’Arte Sublime Di Un Giusto Regnare’ feel rather aimless and incomplete; ‘Solo Ma Vivo‘ has its lively moments, but is blighted by passages of dreary sub-ELP wailing. Overall, the album sounds like a group unsure of where to go next.

An eponymous box set was released in 2003 which included the two studio albums, a live CD, a DVD called Biglietto Story and a 116-page booklet. The live CD was also released separately as Live 1974. Recorded in their hometown Lecco during the group’s tour with British hard rock outfit UFO, it mainly consists of songs from the debut album. There’s nothing wrong with the performance, but the sound quality is thin and ragged; it’s not exactly an essential purchase.

Three of the original members reformed the band in 2007, adding the suffix ‘.folk’ to the group’s name. In 2009, they released Tra L’Assurdo E La Ragione (‘Between the Absurd and the Reason’). The majority of tracks were reworkings of songs from the debut album, although they also revisited ‘Il Tempo Della Semina‘ and included a couple of new compositions such as the title track.  In general, the reworked tracks, are not actually that folky, although they do add some flute, recorder and accordion. Instead, they sound like ‘smoothed-out’ versions of their old songs, throwing in some clichéd metal guitar and rather breathless and overwrought vocals supplied by Mariolina Sala. 2015’s Vivi. Lotta. Pensa. took a similar approach.

 

NWWL Mix #06

Biglietto Per l’Inferno – Una Strana Regina (Biglietto Per l’Inferno, 1974)
Banten – Dig Dick (Banten, 1972)
Anton Bruhin – Tropefisch Q. / Wann T Maya Wi (Von Goldabfischer, 1969)
Association P.C. – Scorpion (Sun Rotation, 1972)
Ash Ra Tempel – Darkness: Flowers Must Die (Schwingungen, 1972)

NWWL#5: Are – Ash

“People just throw, in a few seconds time, their unbearable lives away.”

This has taken a while (by my standards, anyway), owing to the complexity of some of the artists’ back catalogues (I think it”ll take me a long while to get my head around Robert Ashley’s body of work in particular) but also because I was diverted by a sudden urge to write about Pere Ubu.

A quick request before we embark on this set of NWWL artists: The Fall blogs had a very distinct audience which was (relatively) straightforward to build. This, obviously, is a little more challenging to promote. So, if you know of any individuals, Facebook groups, etc. that might have an interest in the weird and wonderful world of the NWW List, then I’d be really appreciative if you could share links to this blog. It would be much appreciated. Right, onwards!

Area

Area
After several visits to Germany, France and Sweden, we find ourselves in Italy for the first of this batch. Area formed in Milan in 1972, the original line-up being Demetrio Stratos (vocals / organ), Patrizio Fariselli (keyboards), Paolo Tofani (guitar), Belgian Victor Busnello (sax), Frenchman Yan Patrick Djivas (bass) and Guilio Capiozzo (drums).

The group were notable for their strong socialist stance; also, like Albrecht/d, they were influenced by Fluxus. Another key feature was Stratos’ vocals. An Egyptian-born Greek, several online sources suggest that he could reach 7000 Hz (I have to confess that I don’t really know what this means specifically, but it sounds impressive) and was able to perform diplophony (being able to produce two sounds of a different pitch) and even triplophony and quadrophony. Stratos, like Fariselli and Tofani, received his own separate entry in the NWW List.

Demetrio Stratos
Demetrio Stratos

Debut album Arbeit Macht Frei was released on Cramps Records (the label’s first release) in 1973. The title is German for ‘work sets you free’: the phrase was coined by German writer Lorenz Diefenbach as the title of a 1873 novel, but is most renowned for appearing at the entrance of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

Arbeit Macht Frei, inside cover

The album is a hard-edged, exuberant take on jazz-rock and the Canterbury sound. A mixture of tight, intricate passages (often led by the intertwining of Fariselli’s keyboards with Busnello’s sax) and looser, more avant-garde moments, it’s impressively concise (36 minutes) and focused; playful and experimental without ever being self-indulgent. The title track gives a good impression of the album’s range of dynamic approaches: opening with a brief drum solo, it morphs into lightly jazzy passage accompanied by woozy sci-fi effects before breaking out into a taut, energetic guitar/keys/sax motif that momentarily dips into free-jazz chaos before settling into a heavy blues-rock riff. Towards the end, there’s even a spot of fierce, angular King Crimson thrown in.

 

Stratos’ vocals, although perhaps a bit of an acquired taste, are one of the album’s defining features. His unique voice is expressive and dramatic throughout, deployed in an almost bewildering array of styles, for example on ‘Le Labbra del Tempo‘ (‘The Lips of Time’), the closing couple of minutes which seems him take in muscial theatre, opera and hard rock bellowing. Closing track ‘L’Abbattimento dello Zeppelin’ (‘The Killing of the Zeppelin’) is the most avant-garde piece here, an oppressive fusion of brittle free-jazz improvisation, funk-prog, blistering psych-rock and more remarkable operatic gymnastics from Stratos. (Tofani’s echoing of ‘Whole Lotta Love‘ in his solo was apparently inspired by a gig where the band were asked to play a cover of the Led Zep tune, but played this instead which resulted in them being asked to leave.)

 

 

Caution Radiation Area, back cover

By the time Area recorded their follow-up album, Caution Radiation Area (1974), Djivas (who joined PFM, and was replaced by Ares Tavolazzi) and Busnello had departed. Again very concise (only just over half an hour) it’s a heavier, more direct and aggressive album than its predecessor, and gives freer rein to the group’s avant-garde tendencies. ‘Brujo’, for example, sees them still deploy frenetic bursts of complex Crimson-esque riffs, but these are intercut with eerie, downtempo passages and splashes of hectic free jazz. Stratos’ voice is used as another instrument rather than a vehicle for expressing lyrical meaning, through a cocktail of demonic groans, wails, whispers and croons.

 

The lengthy ‘MIRage? Mirage!‘ is similarly deranged and inventive. Closing track ‘Lobotomia‘ provides four minutes of shrill, unrelenting distorted synth.

Crac! (1975) was the group’s longest album yet, although at 38 minutes it was still no Topographic Oceans. Overall, it was more accessible than the first two LP, or at least as accessible anything with Stratos on vocals could be. ‘Gioia e Rivoluzione‘ even sees the group venture into something resemble a pop song: after Stratos’ ululating introduction, it settles into a jaunty jangle-guitar groove supported by barroom piano, a gentle synth melody and polite hand claps; Stratos even delivers something like a conventional vocal most of the time. ‘Megalopoli‘ and ‘Implosion’ touch on a mid/late 70s Genesis sound.

Although the album takes a relatively straightforward approach to progressive jazz-rock fusion (with an added dose of funk thanks to Tavolazzi’s fluid bass), it’s not devoid of experimentation. Closing track ‘Area 5’ is sparse, skittering bit of free jazz, Stratos contributing a form of wordless scat-yodelling. The first half of ‘La Mela di Odessa (1920)’ is another slice of polished prog-fusion, but it then takes a sideways turn into a funky, stuttering synth riff punctuated by atonal blasts from what sounds like a drunken and/or deranged marching band, all accompanied by Stratos’ cackles shrieks and what sounds unnervingly like a Jimmy Saville impersonation.

 

Several online reviews suggest Crac! as an entry point for investigating the band, and this is a fairly sensible suggestion. However, for me it lacks some of the wildly uninhibited invention that makes the first two LPs so rewarding.

Are(A)zione, also released in 1975, featured live recordings of the group’s Italian tour of that year. A pretty good quality recording, its most notable for the 15-minute semi-improvisational title track and a quirkily jazzy take on the socialist anthem ‘L’Internazionale’.

Maledetti (Maudits) (1976) featured guest appearances from saxophonist Steve Lacy (a frequent collaborator with Thelonius Monk, Lacy is another who has his own separate entry on the List) and English free jazz percussionist Paul Lytton. A concept album of a political / dystopian sci-fi nature (there’s a detailed account of the various themes in the review by ‘andrea’ halfway down this page), it leans more heavily towards free jazz and avant-garde than prog. ‘Caos (Parte Seconda)‘ is a challengingly abrasive and meandering nine-minute experimental piece; ‘Scum’ features Stratos reading the words of Valerie Solanis (the radical feminist who attempted to murder Andy Warhol) over a bleak, synthesised background. Whilst it has its moments, Maldetti is rather uneven and sounds at times like a group unsure of its direction.

Paolo Tofani left the group after Maledetti and was not replaced, so although Tavolazzi contributed some acoustic, 1978’s 1978 Gli Dei Se Ne Vanno, Gli Arrabbiati Restano! (‘The gods depart, the angry remain!’) was largely guitar-free. This gives the LP a lighter, less intense sound, and it’s much more jazz-fusion in tone. The tracks are much shorter here (only closer ‘Vodka Cola’ breaks the seven-minute mark) and there’s a somewhat fragmentary tone, some of the songs feeling like underdeveloped ideas. Tavolazzi is a great bass player, but the absence of guitar leads him to overcompensate. Some tracks are distinctly poppy and lightweight: ‘Hommage à Violette Nozières‘, if it weren’t for Stratos’ characteristic warbling, could have been an Italian Eurovision entry; ‘Ici On Dance!‘ is an uncomfortably ham-fisted piece of jazz-funk-pop.

Stratos left Area in 1979. Shortly afterwards, he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. A charity concert was organised to raise funds for his medical treatment, but he died the day before it took place.

Demetrio Stratos, 1945-1979

Shortly after Stratos’ death, Cramps released the live album Event ’76. Featuring a slimmed-down line-up of Stratos, Fariselli and Tofani (Tavolazzi and Capiozzo had temporarily left the band at this point) accompanied by Lacy and Lytton, it’s a bleak and rather aimless improvised performance.

Fariselli, Tavolazzi and Capiozzo returned to the studio in 1980 – accompanied by saxophonist Larry Nocella – to record Tic & Tac. Forty minutes of smooth, polished jazz-rock fusion, it’s a million miles away from the challenging innovation of the group’s early work.

Area disbanded in 1983. Giulio Capiozzo recorded a couple of albums with session musicians under the name ‘Area II’ in the late 80s (it sounds pretty awful). A few of the original members reunited in the 90s to perform live and record Area’s final album Chernobyl 7991 (1997).  It’s marginally better than Tic & Tac – ‘Deriva (Sogni Sognanti Vendesi)‘, for example, has a bit of an angular spark about it – but it’s still a pale shadow of what went before.

A final reunion line-up was put together in 2010 – Fariselli, Tavolazzi and Tofani being joined by rummer Walter Paoli – who were still performing in 2019. A double CD was released in 2012.

 

 

 

Art Bears
Formed in the wake of the disintegration of Henry Cow (who also feature on the List), Art Bears comprised Chris Cutler, Dagmar Krause and Fred Frith (who also has a solo entry on the List – all this cross-referencing is going to keep me on my toes). During 1978, divisions had arisen amongst the members of Henry Cow regarding the group’s direction: Cutler and Frith wished to record some shorter songs; the others wanted to focus on lengthier, instrumental material. As a result, Cutler and Frith’s songs (with Krause on vocals) were released as Hopes And Fears. Intended as a short-term project, Art Bears went on to record two further albums over the following three years.

Art Bears: Cutler, Frith, Krause.

Hopes And Fears (1978) was released under the name Art Bears, but included contributions from other Henry Cow members such as Lindsay Cooper and Tim Hodgkinson.

The album opens with ‘On Suicide‘, which is every bit as emotive as the title suggests. Krause’s vocal style – influenced by Lotte Lenya (who was married (twice) to Kurt Weill) – is an acquired taste, and I have to confess that I sometimes struggle with it. Here, however, her delivery, supported by delicate strings and woodwind, is perfect for the plaintive, melancholy lyrics:

‘In such a country and at such a time,
There should be no melancholy evenings,
Even high bridges over the rivers,
And the hours between the night and morning,
And the long winter time as well:
All these are dangerous.
For in view of all the misery,
People just throw, in a few seconds time,
Their unbearable lives away.’

The Dividing Line‘ continues the oppressively melancholy tone, Krause’s somewhat overwrought delivery being carefully balanced with the desolate, understated musical accompaniment. ‘Joan’ takes Joan of Arc as its subject (‘Was I a witch? / In the dark days I heard voices’) and has a touch of King Crimson about it, especially in Frith’s Fripp-esque guitar work.

Elsewhere, the album takes in gently proggy folk (‘Terrain‘), semi-operatic balladry (‘The Pirate Song‘) and dark folk ambience (‘Piers’). For me, the highlight is the album’s longest piece, ‘In Two Minds’. A dark, gothic collision between Rumours and ‘Supper’s Ready’, it’s a subtly twisted take on 70s prog, and in places is simply spellbinding.

 

A 1992 reissue of the album included three bonus tracks. ‘Collapse’ sees Krause wail over a rumbling, ambient backdrop; ‘All Hail!’ is a sparse, abrasive, percussion-led piece; live recording ‘Coda To Man And Boy‘ sees Frith wrestle a variety of unholy noises from his guitar.

In 1978, Nick Hobbs, Henry Cow’s manager, invited several European groups (including Etron Fou Leloublan, yet another also on the NWW List) to play in the UK under the banner ‘Rock in Opposition’. Using the slogan ‘The music the record companies don’t want you to hear’, and benefiting from a £1000 grant from the British Arts Council, a festival was held at the New London Theatre, on 12 March 1978. Chris Cutler, on his website, commented that: ‘about 450 people turned out for it. We still lost money. In every other respect, however, the whole thing was an immediate success. There was a lot of press around the world.’

In December 1978, a meeting of the musicians involved set out criteria for involvement in RIO, and three artists were elected to represent the movement: Art Bears, Aksak Maboul and Art Zoyd (to be covered in post #58). Although further festivals ensued, the organisation, as Chris Cutler put it, soon ‘fell into desuetude’. However, a ‘Rock In Opposition festival‘ has regularly taken place in France since 2007.

Hopes And Fears had been, to some extent, a hybrid album; Winter Songs (1979) was a ‘proper’ Art Bears LP. Recorded in two weeks in late 1978, Cutler’s lyrics were inspired by carvings on Amiens Cathedral.

Winter Songs is brittle, delicate and quite cold in tone. This isn’t a criticism, as there’s much to enjoy about it, but there’s something very bleak about it, even when it breaks out into energetic freak-out, for example ‘Rats And Monkeys‘, which sounds like a manic European art house take on Melt-Banana. ‘Man And Boy’ is a darkly ambient soundscape; ‘Three Figures’ layers Krause’s vocals over scratchy math-rock.

Their final album, The World As It Is Today (1981) has a slightly warmer feel than its predecessor, but retains an awkward and challenging tone. ‘Freedom‘ is an angular piece of off-kilter psych-folk, embellished with Krause’s wordless moans and Frith’s metallic soloing; ‘Democracy‘ is a concise yet extravagant symphonic-prog workout. Closing instrumental ‘Albion Awake!’ apparently took that form because Krause objected to the violent nature of the proposed lyrics. It works very well as an instrumental piece, however, mixing industrial noise with atonal synth/guitar and ominous piano chords.

 

 

 

Gilbert Artman
French multi-instrumentalist Gilbert Artman was born in Livarot, Normandy in 1944. I can tell you nothing of the first 26 years of his life (any info on a postcard please), but in 1970 he formed the band which he is best known for, Lard Free. (Lard Free, inevitably, are also on the List.) He also played with fellow List artists Operation Rhino and Komintern (although he didn’t appear on the latter’s sole album). As all of these acts will, of course, have their own entry: here I will focus on his other well-known ensemble Urban Sax, plus his various other collaborations.

Gilbert Artman 1972-73.jpg
Gilbert Artman (photo by Pascal Chassin, guitarist in Komintern)

Clearlight was an Anglo-French project founded by Paris-born pianist and composer Cyrille Verdeaux. Verdeaux was the only constant member, the albums containing a revolving cast of musicians, including Steve Hillage and other Gong members. Artman appeared on three 1975 Clearlight-related releases. Clearlight Symphony, on which he played drums and vibraphone, came out on Virgin, the label possibly seeing its symphonic style and two side-long pieces structure as a way of capitalising of the success of Tubular Bells, released two years earlier.  The first side (which featured Hillage, Blake and Malherbe of Gong) is a mix of classical and space-rock; the second (on which Artman plays) leans towards jazzy prog. Their next album, Forever Blowing Bubbles, consisted of shorter pieces and was more straightforwardly prog in tone.

 

A third 1975 release came out under the name Delired Cameleon Family, but it was to all intents and purposes a Verdeaux/Clearlight album. Musique Du Film “Visa De Censure N°X” De Pierre Clementi was the soundtrack to an experimental film directed by French actor Clementi which one reviewer described as, ‘somewhere between “let’s turn the camera on while we take drugs” and “let’s perform weird occult tableau for the camera while we take drugs”. This clip would seem to confirm this assessment.

 

Artman certainly kept himself busy in 1975, also contributing to a track on French electronic/prog outfit Heldon‘s Third “It’s Always Rock’n’Roll” album. He drummed on ‘Mechamment Rock’, an ominously abrasive piece dominated Richard Pinhaus’ Fripp-esque guitar.

 

 

usax
Urban Sax in performance

Artman began the Urban Sax project in 1973. Their first performance took place at a classical music festival at Menton in the south of France, and involved 8 (or 18, depending on which source you look at) saxophonists, strategically placed around the village in order to flood its streets with continuous sound. More of an ongoing sound experiment than a group, the numbers involved grew exponentially over the years, and according to the Urban Sax website, eventually consisted of 30 saxophonists, 10 choristers, 3 percussionists, 1 bass player and 2 dancers, although literally hundreds of people have contributed over the years. There’s an impressive video of a 2011 performance here. The website describes the Urban Sax experience:

‘Each performance is spectacular because the group literally invades the space. Saxophonists are hung on buildings, others are on the roofs, behind the windows, some arrive by land, others by waterway…

Thanks to the transceivers, some musicians can be located several hundred
meters without this being a problem. The spectator is always surrounded by images and sounds, often even there can be musicians and dancers suspended above him. The semi-repetitive and modal music, sprung from the mouths of the saxophones and redistributed ad infinitum, modifies the consciousness and awakens the perceptions of the listeners. This is how Urban Sax recreates, in its own way, the urban landscape and forever changes the relationship of inhabitants with their city.’

Urban Sax, 1977

The first (eponymous) Urban Sax album was released in 1977. Consisting of two side-long tracks, it’s an impressively hypnotic experience. You might have expected an experimental multi-saxophonist  project to feature bursts of free jazz, but the emphasis is very much on the drone rather than the skronk. ‘Part 1’ is a throbbing, semi-industrial ambient piece; ‘Part 2’ is slightly lighter in tone, underpinned by a gently spiralling motif.

Urban Sax 2, 1978

Urban Sax 2, released the following year, has a similar structure and strikes a similar tone. ‘Part 3’ is even darker in tone than the first album, featuring understated but malevolent chanting, punctuated by a reverberating gong. Once again, the second half of the album is lighter and more melodic, the layers of sound revolving around a simple four-note phrase, but in a shifting, undulating, evolving manner that easily bears its 17-minute length.

 

The next Urban Sax LP was a collaboration with Pierre Henry (yet another List artist). Released in 1982, Paradise Lost is an intriguing collision of Henry’s abstract experimentation and the massed ranks of saxophonists, who are generally much more percussive and up-tempo here. Opener ‘Paradise of Fools’  starts with a familiar sax drone before erupting into a mutant electro-hard bop. ‘Chaos’ layers a tight sax riff over fractured electronics. ‘Pandemonium’ does exactly what it says on the tin.

 

Another Urban Sax release would not appear until 1991’s Spiral, which consists of shorter pieces that are more straightforwardly jazz-like and featured a slight Eastern influence as well as operatic touches. In the meantime, Artman collaborated with – guess what – yet another List artist, Jac Berrocal, appearing on Catalogue’s two 1980s studio albums, Pénétration (1982) and Insomnie (1987). I’ll return to these albums in post #9, when I get to Berrocal, but here’s a flavour:

 

Artman was still making music in 2019, when he released an album with French saxophonist Étienne Jaumet.

 

Arzachel
A much simpler back catalogue than that of Gilbert Artman (Arzachel only released one album), this time the complications come instead from the names of the band and the musicians.

Arzachel | Discography | Discogs

Blues-rock band Uriel were founded in London in 1967 by City of London School friends Steve Hillage and Mont Campbell (born Hugo Martin Montgomery Campbell, he also went by the name Dirk Campbell). They were subsequently joined by Dave Stewart (not the Eurythmics one, but the one had a 1981 UK number one single, ‘It’s My Party‘, in collaboration with Barbara Gaskin – he also went on to play join Hatfield and The North). Stewart was originally an aspiring guitarist, but moved to organ when he realised how much more accomplished Hillage was. The line-up was completed by drummer Clive Brooks, who was recruited via a Melody Maker ad.

Uriel (the name was taken from Paradise Lost) started out playing Hendrix, Cream and The Nice covers in youth clubs and similar venues, and spent the summer of 1968 performing at the Ryde Castle Hotel on the Isle of Wight. The residency turned out to be not quite as glamorous as they’d anticipated – the hotel landlady refused to let them stay in the hotel on account of their long hair, leaving them to sleep in their van – although they did get to play with Fairport Convention and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

Egg
Egg

The end of the summer also saw the end of Uriel, as Hillage left to go to university. The remaining trio decided to ditch the blues-rock numbers and take a (guitarless) prog-classical approach. They renamed themselves Egg (they were advised that Uriel was too weird and sounded too much like ‘urinal’) and managed to secure a deal with Decca.

In 1969, the group met studio owner Peter Wicker in a Soho coffee bar. He offered them the chance to record a psychedelic album (the genre now beginning to offer profitable possibilities) at his Studio 19. To give the group a more psychedelic sound, Hillage rejoined the group during his summer break from university. As Egg were under contract to Decca, they adopted the name Arzachel (pronounced ‘Ar-zackle’, and taken from the name of one of the moon’s craters) and all four members adopted pseudonyms. Hillage became ‘Simon Sasparella’, Campbell was ‘Njerogi Gategaka’, Brooks adopted ‘Basil Dowling’ (his hated maths teacher) and Stewart became ‘Sam Lee-Uff’ (another detested teacher).

Arzachel, 1969

The budget was only £250, so the whole album was recorded and mixed in one afternoon. It has become highly sought after, and an original vinyl will set you back around double the recording costs. Whether it’s worth £500 is arguable, but it certainly is a prime slice of late 60s psych-prog-rock.

 

Opener ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ is a full-blown piece of organ-led psychedelia that sees the band return to their original influences, tipping a clear nod to The Nice. The lyrics are very 1969: ‘It is a sweet delicious morn / where day is breeding, never born / it is a meadow yet unshorn / which thousand flowers do adorn’.

Azathoth‘ is a hypnotic slow-burner that erupts into slashing, atonal noise; ‘Soul Thing (Queen Street Gang Theme)‘ (a tune written by Keith Mansfield, who also composed the theme tunes for Grandstand and the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage) is a smokey organ blues with a melody akin to The Kinks’ ‘Lola’. ‘Leg’ is a particularly effective piece of thunderous blues-rock that echoes Robert Johnson’s ‘Rollin’ & Tumblin’‘.

 

The album finale is ‘Metempsychosis‘, a 17-minute wig-out psychedelic jam in the style of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’-era Pink Floyd. In the sleeve notes of the 1994 CD reissue of the album, Dave Stewart says that:

‘We had to make [it] long enough to fill up side 2, so we held the last chord for ages while watching the studio clock tick round – as soon as it reached quarter past, we stopped playing.’

Arzachel (Collectors Edition), 2007

A further reissue in 2007, Arzachel (Collectors Edition), included six bonus tracks. ‘Introducing The Bass Guitarist’ is a random little snippet recorded in Kenya by Campbell’s parents; ‘Egoman‘ is a ragged, stomping piece of prog-pop; ‘Swooping Bill‘ verges on avant-garde/free jazz; ‘ Saturn, The Bringer Of Old Age‘ and ‘The Stumble’ are ropy but interesting live recordings of the group from 1968.

 

Robert Ashley
Experimental composer Robert Ashley was born in Michigan in 1930. After studying at the Manhattan School of Music, he co-founded the ONCE group, a collective of music and film makers that curated the ONCE Festival of New Music in Ann Arbor between 1961 and 1966.

Composers gather
Participants in the original ONCE festival, 1961

In 1963 Ashley wrote and produced the first of his ‘mixed-media operas’, In Memoriam… Kit Carson. He also provided soundtrack music for a variety of films.

The first album released under Ashley’s name was In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women (1974). It was based on a book-length poem by little-known poet John Barton Wolgamot, who Ashley and academic and poet Keith Waldrop had tracked down in 1973.

 

It’s a truly original and captivating piece of work, although I expect not to the taste of many. Over a bubbling electronica backdrop, Ashley calmly recites the entirety of Wolgamot’s looping, repetitive poem (the whole text is in the ‘tracked down’ link above, around halfway down). The opening paragraphs are:

‘In its very truly great manners of Ludwig van Beethoven very heroically the very cruelly ancestral death of Sara Powell Haardt had very ironically come amongst his very really grand men and women to Rafael Sabatini, George Ade, Margaret Storm Jameson, Ford Madox Hueffer, Jean-Jacques Bernard, Louis Bromfield, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and Helen Brown Norden very titanically.

‘In her very truly great manners of John Barton Wolgamot very heroically Helen Brown Norden had very originally come amongst his very really grand men and women to Lodovico Ariosto, Solon, Matteo Maria Bojardo, Philo Judaeus, Roger Bacon, Longus, Simeon Strunsky and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe very titanically.’

Thereafter, the poem references pretty much every culturally and intellectually notable figure from throughout history, repeated adverbs such as ‘heroically’ and ‘titanically’ forming a rhythmic baseline around which the piece revolves.

 

Private Parts (1978) is similar in structure to In Sara… in that it finds Ashley reciting over a repetitive bed of music, but it has a more tranquil and contemplative tone. The gently understated musical backing is provided by pianist ‘Blue’ Gene Tyranny and tabla player Krishna Bhatt. ‘The Park‘s protagonist sits in a motel room, reflecting on obedience, ‘outsideness’ and ‘differentness’. The language is opaque and inscrutable, but beautifully crafted:

And there is some machine approaching
Wider than it is high, as they say
A pack of motorcycles, a herd of elephants, a tribe of Bedouins
Something from the east
Barely moving in a cloud of heat and dust
In utmost tunnel photo
Cold and green and flat
The idea of the split
The eye of the needle

Side 2, ‘The Backyard‘, is also sparsely evocative and moving. Again, I suspect some might find the two lengthy pieces pretentious and/or monotonous, but I find them beautifully hypnotic and relaxing.

 

Automatic Writing (1979) took Ashley five years to complete and is a very lengthy (46 minutes), complex and brittle piece. An unassuming keyboard floats unobtrusively in the background; fragile, hesitant percussion flits in and out; manipulated samples of Ashley’s voice bubble up; Mimi Johnson (Ashley’s wife) contributes ethereal whispers. It’s so damn quiet in places that it forces you to lean in and focus; it’s also much more jagged and challenging than the previous two recordings, but again I think it’s stunning.

When the album was reissued on CD in 1996, it included two bonus tracks. ‘She Was A Visitor‘ was recorded in 1967 and had been released on a compilation called Extended Voices. It features a loop of an Ivor Cutler-like voice repeating the song’s title over a bed of shifting, minimal noise. More notable was ‘Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon’, which had also previously appeared on a compilation – Electric Sound (1972).

‘Purposeful’ is one of the most disturbing things you’ll ever hear. Over a bleak, minimal background, incongruously punctuated by a tinkling bell, Cynthia Liddell (a ONCE performer) recounts the experience of a rape victim. The description is harrowing enough, but her dispassionate, almost casual delivery makes the experience even more chilling.

 

In 1980, Ashley was commissioned to write an opera for television. First broadcast on Channel 4 in 1984, Perfect Lives‘ subject matter was described as ‘bank robbery, cocktail lounges, geriatric love, adolescent elopement… in the American Midwest’; or, as the dialogue itself expressed: ‘these are songs about the Corn Belt and some of the people in it’.

Fanfare magazine considered it to be ‘nothing less than the first American opera, written within an American language utilizing various American attention spans: snippets for the channel switchers, layers of meaning for the smart-alecks, something for everyone…’ John Cage allegedly said of it, ‘What about the Bible? And the Koran? It doesn’t matter. We have Perfect Lives‘. A 3-CD compilation of all seven episodes was released in 1991. Director Peter Greenaway produced a 1983 documentary about Ashley which focused on Perfect Lives and is well worth watching.

The first and last of the seven episodes revisited ‘The Park’ and ‘The Backyard’ respectively (episode 2 is here; episode 3 here). A earlier version of episode 4 had been released in 1980 as Perfect Lives (Private Parts): The Bar.

More light-hearted than the previous albums, the tale of Perfect Lives‘ main protagonists Raoul and Buddy’s encounter with Rodney the bartender (‘we don’t serve fine wine in half-pints buddy’) is delivered in Ashley inimitable relentless yet laid-back style over Gene Tyranny’s nimble, jazzy piano and organ.

 

Music Word Fire And I Would Do It Again (Coo Coo), released in 1981, featured relatively brief variations on some of the music that would appear in Perfect Lives. It takes a more ambient/electronica approach, utilising warped sequencers, twisted drum patterns and dubby vocals, many of which were provided by Jill Kroesen.

 

Thereafter, Ashley’s work becomes increasingly difficult to get your head around, owing to its ambitious scope and his tendency to revisit and rework previous pieces.

A recording of another of his operas Atalanta (Acts Of God) was released in 1985: a sprawling, two and a quarter hour epic that veers dizzyingly between dozens of genres. Yellow Man With Heart With Wings (1990) is an hour-long two-track minimalist work featuring Spanish dialogue by Guillermo Grenier on side one and ambient synth-drone in the second halfImprovement (1992) is another opera that I must confess reminds me of Linda Smith’s assessment of the genre in places.

Superior Seven / Tract (1995) is a modern classical piece with flecks of electronica. Dust (2000) is another opera that for me has similar flaws to Improvement. Wolfman (2003) is more to my taste, an aggressively abrasive piece of electronic experimentation.

 

Tap Dancing In The Sand (2007) sees Ashley return to the style of his earliest albums, his fluid monologue sitting awkwardly over a sultry free(ish) jazz background. (The ‘awkwardly’ is not a criticism: far from it, to my mind Ashley’s work is at its best when his voice and the music are at odds with each other.)

 

Robert Ashley died in 2014 at the age of 83. Whilst some of his operatic work doesn’t work for me (or, arguably, goes over my head) he left behind a legacy of unique, innovative and frequently astonishing music and was a remarkable talent. RIP.

 

NWWL Mix #05

I do not own the rights to any of this music, and will happily remove anything if asked by anyone who does.

Arzachel – Azathoth (Arzachel, 1969)
Art Bears – The Song Of The Monopolists (Winter Songs, 1979)
Area – Consapevolezza (Arbeit Macht Frei, 1973)
Pierre Henry & Urban Sax – Chaos (Paradise Lost, 1982)
Robert Ashley – The Backyard (excerpt) (Private Parts, 1978)

 

 

NWWL#4: Ann – Arc

“A mysterious hovercraft / spaceship which announced the forthcoming return of Atlantis.”

This one follows fairly rapidly on the heels of the last post, primarily because of a bank holiday weekend, but also due to the fact that none of these artists had an especially large back catalogue; three of them only managed four albums between them.

Annexus Quam, c.1971 (photo from It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine)

Annexus Quam
For the first of this batch, we find ourselves in Germany once again. Originally named ‘Ambition of Music’, the band formed in 1967 in Kamp-Lintfort near Düsseldorf. They soon renamed themselves Annexus Quam (in a 2019 interview with founder members Ove Volquartz and Hans Kämper, neither could recall the reasons why). The sleeve notes of their debut album (according to a Discogs contributor who ran them through Google translate) say that the name is Latin for ‘connection’; other sites/translators suggest it might more accurately translate as ‘like a connection’ or ‘how to/we connect’. If there are any Latin scholars out there, please advise!

Originally a seven-piece line-up, AQ were influenced by composers Stockhausen and Pierre Henry, free jazz artists like Peter Brötzmann and improv performers such as Evan Parker and Derek Bailey. They recorded their debut album for key krautrock label Ohr in 1970. According to Volquartz and Kämper, Ohr boss Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser gave them a deal as the result of Timothy Leary‘s enthusiasm regarding their demo tape. However, several sources (e.g. this one) suggest that Kaiser and Leary didn’t meet until 1972, so perhaps they have misremembered.

Osmose, 1970

Osmose – as you can just about make out in the picture above – featured an unusual multi-fold cover, where the triangular panels could be rearranged to make different visual combinations. Recorded in only two days, the four tracks (simply named 1-4) were all improvised, giving the music a loose, meandering feel, but it is never without focus and avoids any descent into self-indulgence. As was the case with several krautrock artists of this period, there’s a clear flavour of Pink Floyd c.1968-69 – the laid-back, undulating ‘3’, for example, has echoes of ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene‘.

‘1’ takes a similar approach, the ominous groove gradually dissolving into reverberating psychedelic squiggles. The band were much more than Floyd copyists, however. ‘2’ sees them adopt a much more uptempo approach, the song being driven by an insistent cowbell, Ray Manzarek-style organ and unearthly, wordless moans. Side-long final track ‘4‘ sees them at their most ambitious and innovative. The sleeve notes identified that the name change signified AQ’s intention to ‘try to connect existing and new forms of music to each other on the basis of collective improvisation’, and this manifests itself most clearly here. Whilst there’s still evidence of a bluesy psych-rock groove, the band interpolate their jazz influences throughout, especially through Hans Kämper’s deft trombone work, Uwe Bick’s nimble drumming and the free-jazz motifs that gradually emerge throughout the second half.

Beziehungen, 1972

An increasing focus on a jazz-influenced, experimental approach led to a change in line-up. By the time AQ recorded their second and final album, Beziehungen (‘Relationships’) in 1972, Bick, clarinettist Werner Hostermann and bassist Jürgen Jonuschies had departed, the latter being replaced by Martin Habenicht.

Also recorded in only a couple of days or so, Beziehungen was a significant departure. The Floyd-esque psych-grooves were gone, and the free-jazz experimentation hinted at in ‘Osmose 4’ was pushed into the limelight.

Hans Kämper, Harald Klemm and Peter Werner, c.1971 (photo from It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine)

Volquartz’s sax forms an effective counterpoint to Kämper’s trombone throughout opener ‘Trobluhs El Ë Isch‘, which also features flamboyant guitar flourishes and oddly aquatic background effects. ‘Leyenburg 1’ sees them go full-on free-jazz; it’s not without invention, but feels rather like an obvious homage to Parker and Bailey. ‘Dreh Dich Nicht Um’ sees Volquartz’s flute throw a spot of folk into the mix in the first half; in the second, his sax is again to the fore as the track fragments into sparse improvisation before the insistent folk groove returns. The album closes with ‘Leyenburg 2’, three and a half minutes of fidgety cello, trombone and wah-wah guitar.

Beziehungen, back cover

The band seem to have just sort of fallen away thereafter. Various members have been involved with projects with other artists such as Tadashi Endo, Luc Bouquet and Peer Schlechta, but Annexus Quam themselves seemed to just… stop.

It’s a shame. Whilst both albums are richly rewarding (Osmose especially), there’s a slightly derivative feel to both. It would have been fascinating to see if they could have progressed to a successful marriage of their psych/free-jazz tendencies. Nonetheless, they left behind two LPs that are both well worth a listen.

 

Arbete och Fritid
Our travels now take us to Sweden. Arbete och Fritid (‘Work & Leisure’) were born out of  60s jazz band the Roland Keijser Quartet (Roland Keijser was a Swedish saxophonist who died in 2019, but was still performing up to 2018). Founded in 1969, they gigged prolifically around the Scandinavian festival scene, combining traditional Swedish folk with jazz and avant-garde influences, particularly Terry Riley.

Arbete Och Fritid, 1970

Their eponymous debut album was released in 1970. It’s an intoxicating blend of folk, jazz and psychedelia. Opener ‘Damen I Svart’ begins with an ominously sparse mix of violin/cello/piano that builds in momentum and intensity, adding percussion and brass as it develops. The title track begins in a similar fashion, but ups the energy and rattles along on a wave of clattering drums, hammered piano and skronky sax.

‘Mora-Nisses Vallåt’ and ‘Esso Motor Hotel’ are up-tempo numbers that almost have a trad-jazz flavour about them; ‘Garbergsbrudens Dödsmarsch’ is a traditionally folky violin piece. The highlight is ‘Engelska Kanalen’, which opens with a cautious, off-beat piano figure and then builds into a raucous, abandoned piece of improvisation (see the mix below).

Andra (1971) is more obviously folk-focused, although it throws in some in curiosities, such as ‘Pam-Pam’, which has a Flamenco/Mariachi flavour, and ‘Två Grekiska Låtar’ which verges on lounge-jazz. Slottsbergets Hambo Å Andra Valser (1972) was recorded with poet Rolf Lundqvist, who contributes spoken verse over a selection of traditional folk tunes and also delivers solo dialogues. ‘Sveriges Undervattensbåt’ combines his vocals with some curiously off-hand rock ‘n’ roll swing.

Another eponymous album was released in in 1973. The folk influence is even more predominant, for example in opener ‘Ganglat Efter Lejsme Per Larsson, Malung’, which has a distinct ‘everyone drunkenly throwing their arms around each other at the end of a hard day’s drinking’ vibe.

Whilst the folkish slant dominates the album, there are stylistic diversions: Petrokemi Det Kan Man Inte Bada I‘ is a driving, scuzzy piece of space-rock; ‘Ostpusten – Vastpusten’ (which originally appeared on a split LP with Kustbandet called Club Jazz 6 and was a bonus track on the 2003 reissue of the album) is a lengthy Gong-style folk-jazz-cosmic jam.

Ur Spår! (1975) consisted of two side-long jams (side Aside B) of flowing folk/free-jazz improvisation; the second side dipping into joyful, swinging rock ‘n’ roll abandon before morphing into a hypnotic camp-fire chant. Käringtand (1976) was recorded with Swedish singer Margareta Söderberg.

Double album Se Upp För Livet (1977) opens with ‘Födelsemusik’, a wonderfully meandering 16-minute piece of guitar driven cosmic psych.

The rest of the album consists of mostly short pieces that take in a bewildering array of styles, including garage punk, abstract experimentation, pastoral folk, 60s-style psych-pop, acoustic ballad and murky psych-drone. It’s a sprawling, rather incoherent mess, but a fascinating listen.

…Sen Dansar Vi Ut, also released in 1977, was a double album that saw the group focus solely on traditional folk.

…Sen Dansar Vi Ut, 1977

Their final release, Håll Andan (1979) is a bizarre mix of corny rock ‘n’ roll (‘Harmageddon Boogie‘), raucous garage punk (‘Jag Föddes En Dag‘), gentle folk-rock (‘Kopparna På Bordet’) and frenetic psych-rock (‘Thulcandra’).

A fascinating band, with a sprawling, disparate back catalogue that I can heartily recommend you dip into.

 

Arcane V
A French jazz group who have been toughest artist to research thus far (my thanks, not for the first time, go to dannyno and his forensic research skills). Formed in 1977, Arcane V consisted of Jean ‘Nano’ Peylet (sax/clarinet/flute), Philippe Gumplowicz (guitar) and Youval Micenmacher (drums). Gumplowicz and Micenmacher had been in  ‘experimental ethnic fusion outfit’ Sonorhc, who had released Purf in 1972. (Sonorhc – it’s ‘Chronos’ backwards, if you hadn’t twigged – went on to have a metronomic if less than prolific recording history, releasing Outreland in 1982 and K’An in 1992.) Peylet had composed music for a Lyon theatre in the early 70s before moving to Paris and playing for Yiddish singer Talila.

Arcane V’s sole release was 1978’s Marron Dingue (‘Crazy Brown’), which also featured Michel Saulnier on double bass. It’s a playful and entertaining though not especially remarkable 45 minutes of free(ish) jazz flavoured with elements of Klezmer. The lengthy title track is a crisp and energetic jazz/prog mix that has echoes of early King Crimson. ‘Yoyo’ is a pleasant if undemanding slice of relatively ‘straight’ jazz that features some nimble percussion from Micenmacher. ‘Qui est à l’appareil?’ has an engagingly laid-back groove.

In 1987, Gumplowicz and Micenmacher wrote a musical play called Joueurs de Jazz, which they first performed, alongside Peylet and Saulnier, at the Marne la Vallée Jazz Festival. The play recounted the history of jazz from the viewpoint of a group of Central European Jewish musicians who emigrate to the US in 1909. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of recording of the play, but the group were still performing it in 1989 at the Grenoble Jazz Festival.

jdj

Gumplowicz moved into academia and wrote several books and articles about music. (One of his books has an acknowledgements page that refers to fond memories of the ‘justly forgotten’ group.) Micenmacher has had a widely varied career in music and acting. Peylet went on to play with a variety of artists, such as Roma-folk-jazz act Bratsch.

 

Archaïa
Another French band, another who only recorded one album and another where details are hard to come by, other than they were a short-lived outfit based in Paris. Their eponymous LP, released in 1977, was an example of the Zeuhl approach to prog, a bombastic, operatic style popularised by Magma. Archaïa isn’t as densely complex as Magma’s work, although it’s still a rich and fascinating piece.

The line-up was Pierrick Le Bras (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Michel Munier (bass) and Philippe Bersan (vocals, keyboards). There was no drummer (many online reviews describe the album as a ‘drumless Zeuhl’), although Bersan provided percussion.

Opener ‘Soleil Noir’ is based around an oscillating bass riff and fuzz-psych guitar, the ghostly, dispassionate vocals providing an effective counterpoint.

‘Sur Les Traces Du Vieux Roy’ is a gently insistent piece of psychedelia that sounds like Gong covering Pink Floyd’s ‘Run Like Hell‘. ‘La Roue’ is a curious funk/prog mix; ‘Le Grand Secret’ features ghostly vocals over a bed of fuzzy guitar and spooky Twilight Zone synths. ‘Vol du Phenix’ is a gently hypnotic piece of bongo-driven acid-psych.

The original LP is a highly-prized rarity amongst collectors; if one does pop up, be prepared to part with at least £200. It got a CD reissue in 1998 on the French Soleil Zeuhl label, but even this will leave you with little change from £80. It included a booklet in which Le Bras and Munier explained that the origins of the album lay in an encounter (that they apparently had during a trip to England) with a mysterious hovercraft / spaceship which announced the forthcoming return of Atlantis.

M./ore importantly, the CD included three bonus tracks. ‘Armaggedon’ lives up to its name, murky, doom-laden chant filled with layers of demonic voices.  The two remaining songs were recorded live in Paris in 1978, and feature Patrick Renard on drums and Alain Evrard on percussion. ‘Robots Dans Le Formol’ (‘Robots In Formalin’) is similar to ‘Armaggedon’ in approach, but the addition of Renard’s excellent drumming edges it closer to a true Zeuhl style. ‘Chronos‘ is a more straightforward – although equally good – piece of psychedelic, bluesy prog with a nicely apocalyptic finale.

Like Annexus Quam, Archaïa just seem to have vanished.

 

Archimedes Badkar
After a spell in France, we find ourselves back in Sweden. Archimedes Badkar (‘Archimedes’ bathtub’) were formed in Stockholm in 1972 by percussionist Per Tjernberg. Consisting of an extensive line-up (as can be seen from the Badrock picture and credits below), there was some overlap in personnel with Arbete och Fritid; in fact in the late 70s the two groups occasionally performed together under the name ArbArch. Several members of the group had travelled extensively in Africa and India, and the African influence especially was frequently a key feature of their work.

Their first record was the 1973 self-released Rumpstek single. Limited to 100 copies, it’s another rarity that will put a significant dent in your bank balance should you be determined to acquire it. I have been unable to track it down online.

Their debut album, released in 1975 on the MNW label, was Badrock För Barn I Alla Åldrar (Google translate suggests ‘Bathrobe For Kids Of All Ages’, although I’m not convinced about ‘bathrobe’!).

It’s a diverse mix of prog, folk, jazz and Eastern/African influences. Opener ‘Det Stod En Kärring Uppå Torget’ is a tight, agile almost poppy piece that has a touch of Frank Zappa about it. ‘Sweet Love’ combines nimble psych-pop with free-jazz sax and trumpet soloing. The lengthy ‘Wago-Gozeze’ builds slowly, underpinned by a hypnotic keyboard motif and featuring meandering sax before the drums eventually kick in two-thirds of the way through. leading to a ragged, abandoned finale.

One of the album’s highlights is the group’s smokey, laid-back take on Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, which segues beautifully into the twitchy wah-wah funk-rock of ‘Järnet!’

The double album Archimedes Badkar II followed in 1976. In general, the songs were lengthier and the Eastern influence was more prevalent, for example on the raga-like opener ‘Förtryckets Sista Timme‘. There was still a great deal of diversity, however: the sparse, traditional folk of ‘Rebecca’; the hypnotic, delay-soaked ambience of ‘Radio Tibet’; the scratchy, brittle free-jazz/folk hybrid ‘Två Hundra Stolta År’; ‘Jorden‘s dark ambient drone.

Tre (1977) saw the group continue to meld Eastern, folk, jazz and prog influences with  invention. ‘Desert Band‘ contrasts a busy tabla rhythm against a lugubrious clarinet; ‘Slum’ features a haunting recorder melody before building into a bluesy sax solo; ‘Akombah‘ is a skittering piece of Rio carnival-style samba. Opener ‘Badidoom’ saw them focus on the jazz side of things:

Archimedes Badkar’s final release was a collaboration with Tanzanian band Afro 70, released in 1978.

 

NWWL Mix #04

I do not own the rights to any of this music, and will happily remove anything if asked by anyone who does so.

Arbete Och Fritid – Engelska Kanalen (from Arbete Och Fritid, 1970)
Archimedes Badkar – Sweet Loves (from Badrock För Barn I Alla Åldrar, 1975)
Annexus Quam – Dreh Dich Nicht Um (from Beziehungen, 1972)
Archaïa – Soleil Noir (from Archaïa, 1972)
Arcane V – Marron Dingue (from Marron Dingue, 1978)

NWWL#3: Amm – Ani

“A poor to mediocre player, with a granite sense of rhythm and a similarly rigid approach to melody.”

Many thanks again for the likes, shares, retweets for the first two posts. Obviously the subject material is less mainstream here than was the case with The Fall, so any way that readers can think of to share the blog with others who might be interested in the odd sounds featured would be much appreciated! Anyway, on with instalment three, which starts in the UK, then heads to Germany, taking in an American interlude…

AMM, 1968 (photo from an AMM exhibition, part of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2015, reproduced in The Wire)

AMM
Named as ‘AMM Music’ on the NWW List itself (actually the title of their debut album), AMM were founded in London in 1965 by Eddie Prévost (drums), Keith Rowe (guitar) and Lou Gare (sax). In a 2001 interview, Rowe stated that ‘the letters AMM stand for something, but… it’s a secret!’

All three had a jazz background (Rowe and Gare were members of Mike Westbrook’s jazz band; Gare also played alongside Prévost in a hard bop quintet), but had become frustrated by what they saw as the limitations of the genre. Rowe: ‘We wanted to move on from what jazz was about. We were inspired by what black American musicians had done, but we found the jazz form terribly limiting.’

Whilst at Plymouth Art School (where Westbrook was a fellow student), Rowe had an epiphany in painting class:

‘In painting school, you have to find our who you are, what is unique about you, what you have to say. You can’t take a canvas and paint a Georges Braque, or a Picasso, someone else’s paintings.. it’s an impossibility. One of the great lessons for me was the professor pointing right into my nose saying, “Rowe, you cannot paint a Caravaggio. Only Caravaggio can paint Caravaggio.” Suddenly trying to play guitar like Jim Hall seemed quite wrong… Who am I? What do I have to say?’

Inspired by Jackson Pollock’s radical approach to painting technique and John Cage’s prepared piano, he began to experiment with ‘tabletop guitar‘, a technique first deployed by Bjørn Fongaard. Laying the guitar flat on a table, Rowe placed springs, alligator clips and an assortment of other random objects on the strings in order to manipulate the sound.

Rowe, undated (from The Wire – see above)

Before they had a name or a proper group identity, Gare, Rowe, and Prévost came together to play experimental workshops at London’s Royal College of Art in 1965. Other musicians either sat in with the group or observed proceedings; both Paul McCartney and Ornette Coleman attended sessions (Coleman was asked to leave for talking during the performance). At the same time, Spontaneous Music Ensemble (whose fluid line-up occasionally included Derek Bailey and Evan Parker) were developing a similar approach. Although Rowe suggests that there was little contact between the two ensembles, Prévost asserts that ‘SME generously invited AMM to perform from time to time at the Little Theatre Club, Monmouth Street, in London’s West End’.

Sheaff, Prévost, Rowe and Cardew, 1966 (From Melody Maker)

By 1966, the name AMM had been settled upon and the line-up had been augmented by bassist Lawrence Sheaff (also from Westbrook’s band) and Cornelius Cardew on piano and cello.

Their first album, 1967’s AMMMUSIC, consisted of two twenty-minute improvisations, ‘Later During A Flaming Riviera Sunset‘ and ‘After Rapidly Circling The Plaza‘, recorded in June 1966. Despite the musicians’ backgrounds, there’s little sense of jazz in ‘Riveria Sunset’ until the last few minutes, when Gare’s sax breaks out into occasional bursts of something approaching conventional free jazz. The majority of the track is an astringent, reedy drone, where it’s often difficult (a deliberate strategy) to identify which musician is making which harsh and jagged noise. ‘Plaza’ has – in some places at least – a more percussive focus, and favours aggressive stabs of noise rather then relentless drone.

The Crypt 

The Crypt – 12 June 1968, recorded in Notting Hill Gate, saw percussionist Christopher Hobbs added to the line-up (Sheaff left after AMMMUSIC, and seems to have dropped out of music altogether thereafter). Regarded by many as the group’s seminal work, it wasn’t released until 1981. In places, it truly pushes at the boundaries of what is actually listenable, veering between the horrifying, the hypnotic and the ridiculous. Even Rowe considered it ‘impenetrable’, although he also compared it to a vintage wine: ‘It took an incredibly long time for it to be drinkable. It’s very tough.’

Throughout the 1970s, the line-up fluctuated: Prévost was (and would continue to be) the only constant; Rowe and Gare flitted in and out. This was partly due to tensions in the group – especially between Prévost and Rowe – over their political standpoint. (This review of a book by Prévost suggests that he can be a rather irascible character.) To Hear And Back Again (1978) saw Prévost and Gare knock out two extended pieces of fluent if not especially innovative sax and drums jazz, although the 1994 reissue added some more experimental material.  In 1980, Prévost and Rowe produced It Had Been An Ordinary Enough Day In Pueblo, Colorado.

Keith Rowe during the recording sessions for Pueblo, Colorado, 1979 (from The Wire – see above)

It’s very much the equivalent of To Hear And Back Again, but with Gare’s sax replaced by Rowe’s surprisingly conventional fuzzy free-jazz/prog soloing. Opening track ‘Radio Activity’ also sees Rowe using radio samples, an approach that he began to use frequently in live performances, using his guitar pick-ups to pick up local radio stations.

In the 80s, pianist John Tilbury – a previously occasional collaborator – joined the group on a permanent basis. The Rowe / Tilbury / Prévost line-up formed the basis of the band (augmented by guest appearances from the likes of Evan Parker) until 2004, when Rowe departed, although he rejoined in 2015.

Prévost, Tilbury and Rowe, mid-80s (from The Wire – see above)

The group remained relatively prolific from the 80s onwards. Tilbury’s influence saw them take a more minimalist approach, for example on Generative Themes (1983), which saw Rowe’s radio samples ebb and flow over a bed of sparsely discreet instrumentation.

The Inexhaustible Document (1987) was stripped back even further over its first half, although the second side throws in some more aggressive dissonance. Before Driving To The Chapel We Took Coffee With Rick And Jennifer Reed (1997) also mixes scratchy, cracked guitar, rumbling percussion and piano that veers between the delicate and thunderous over the occasional understated but relentless drone.

From 2005, following Rowe’s departure, the group operated largely as a Tilbury – Prévost duo, releasing an album every couple of years, nearly all on the Matchless label. The duo were occasionally joined by guests such as Evan Parker and Christian Wolff, the latter of which had first collaborated with AMM as far back as 1976.

AMM with John Butcher ‎– Trinity (2008)

One such collaboration was 2008’s Trinity, featuring saxophonist John Butcher. Like much of AMM’s later output, it takes a very sparse and sedate approach (closing track ‘Conduit’ almost completely vanishes in places), although ‘One Tree Hill’ sporadically builds into menacing drones, punctuated by Butcher’s guttural sax.

Uncovered Correspondence – A Postcard From Jasło (2010), recorded live in Poland by the duo alone, is even more extreme in its minimalism. Silence is almost an important an instrument as Tilbury’s piano and Prévost’s percussion and noise manipulation. It’s not for the impatient listener, certainly, and if you’re not in the right frame of mind for it then it can feel frustratingly hesitant and ponderous in places. However, if you can let yourself ‘drift’ and go with it, you’re rewarded by an immersive, complex experience created by two performers with an intuitive understanding born out of decades of collaboration.

AMM - Uncovered Correspondence - A Postcard From Jasło (2010, CD ...

Sounding Music (also released in 2010) features, by AMM standards, an extravagantly large line-up, Prévost and Tilbury being joined by Butcher, Wolff and cellist Ute Kanngiesser. Her cello, very subtly, brings an intriguing extra dimension to the sound, but even though it’s a quintet performance, the one lengthy piece is still incredibly spare, brittle and delicate. Rowe rejoined AMM for their performance at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (see above); he also played on the 2015 and 2016 performances collected on the triple CD An Unintended Legacy, released in 2018. The CD booklet was dedicated to Lou Gare, who died in 2017.

 

Amon Düül
In some ways, Amon Düül are the most significant group on the List. Their 1969 debut album, Psychedelic Underground, was the first album that Steven Stapleton bought; in the sleeve notes for Strain Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume One, he explains:

‘The reason [I bought it] was the amazing tripped-out cover art, unlike anything I had ever seen and then I heard the music it contained and it, as they say, “blew my mind”. This started me on a journey of investigation and discovery.’

Amon Düül’s origins lay in a left-wing, libertarian commune in Munich that developed in 1967. In a 2015 article for The Quietus, David Stubbs describes them as representing ‘a philosophy, a means of getting away from the patriarchal, nuclear family structure, a way in which young people, some of whom were post-war orphans, could find new ways of organising themselves socially, engaging in self-discovery and a new sense of identity as young Germans.’

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Membership was fluid, and their inclusive policy that valued enthusiasm over proficiency (even the commune’s children joined in) was a precursor to punk’s DIY ‘here are three chords, now form a band’ approach. They were invited to perform at the September 1968 Internationale Essener Songtage festival (the line-up of which included Tangerine Dream, Guru Guru and Frank Zappa), but in the days leading up to the performance, a schism developed between those who wished to maintain inclusivity and those such as Chris Karrer and John Weinzierl who wanted to adopt a more conventional and commercially viable approach. The latter faction became Amon Düül II (see below).

Those who were resistant to the commercial/conventional attitude (or as David Stubbs puts it, those ‘who merely wished to sit in circles playing bongos at varying speeds’) went into a recording studio in late 1968 and spent several days recording lengthy, improvised jams that would go on to form the bulk of Amon Düül’s output.

Psychedelic Underground, released in 1969, opens with the 17-minute ‘Ein Wunderschönes Mädchen Träumt Von Sandosa‘, a distorted, heavily percussion-driven mantra. The whole album is raw, ragged, blaring; it verges on the aimless and self-indulgent, but there’s something admirable about its commitment and unified sense of purpose (even if it’s not entirely clear what that purpose might be). Julian Cope, in his book Krautrocksampler, suggests that the track’Mama Düül Und Ihre Sauerkrautband Spielt Auf’ (which translates as ‘Mama Düül And Her Sauerkraut Band Plays On’) is the origin of the British press’s use of the term krautrock.

Much of the rest of the group’s back catalogue was cobbled together from the original, lengthy sessions. Collapsing Singvögel Rückwärts & Co. (also released in 1969) mainly consists of shorter pieces than its predecessor, but is no less astringent and unfocused. It throws in a bit of special effects and tape manipulation that doesn’t add a great deal, and the whole thing has an out-takes/rehearsals/bonus disc feel about it. There are, however, a few moments of effectively aggressive clatter, such as ‘Big Sound’.

Paradieswärts Düül, recorded and released in 1970, was the first and only of the group’s albums not to be taken from the 1968 jam sessions. In comparison to the first two albums, it’s startlingly coherent, gentle and conventional. Opener ‘Love Is Peace’ maintains the group’s commitment to lengthy repetition, but this time it’s in the context of a lithe, fluid groove that meanders randomly but gracefully.

The original ’68 freak-out jam sessions must have been epic in length, as 1972 saw a third album (this time a double LP) compiled from the recordings. To many kraut/prog aficionados, Disaster (Lüüd Noma) was appositely titled, although it isn’t without its admirers. Julian Cope called Disaster, Underground and Collapse ‘extraordinary classics… relentless, uplifting and full of the crudest gimmicks that all work perfectly’, although notably he only included Paradieswärts Düül in his ‘Krautrock top 50’.

The sound is, unsurprisingly, very similar to that on Psychedelic Underground – remorseless, abrasive and very much of the ‘sit in circles playing bongos’ approach. Lengthy jams like ‘Frequency‘, ‘Drum Things’ and ‘Broken’ tread a fine line between hypnotic and monotonous, and mostly sound like a group of stoned teenagers endlessly rehearsing ‘Sister Ray’ in a garage. ‘Somnium’ offers a little more variety, including a semi-poppy guitar strum, some comparatively gentle and understated sections as well as a (very) brief snippet of skronky sax right at the end. (It’s not clear what the sax player might have been doing throughout the rest of these marathon sessions.) ‘Asynchron’ and ‘Autonomes’, however, are lumbering and awkward; ‘Yea Yea Yea‘ is an oddly flippant take on The Beatles’ ‘I Should Have Known Better’ that has the distinct air of a house party at the ‘foreign liqueurs from the back of the cupboard’ stage where someone has unwisely fetched the host’s guitar and bongos downstairs.

Remarkably, a fourth album – and another double – was squeezed out of the ’68 sessions. Experimente (1984) is in many ways much of the same, although the sound quality is actually a little better than the other three, presumably due to 15 years more up-to-date technology. The big difference is that these are snippets – many only one or two minutes long – rather than lengthy jams. As one reviewer on Prog Archives puts it:

‘It scrapes the crusty dregs from a long-empty barrel… the momentum of every groove is killed at each arbitrary splice, with 23 cuts over 67 total minutes, all of them with the painful shock of a tooth being pulled, minus any anaesthetic.’

That said, he does go on to say that:

‘The grooves themselves, plodding as they are, possess an almost ambient purity to them, like caveman party music before the discovery of fire.’

Of course, according to guitarist John Weinzierl, one of the musically proficient commune members who went on to form Amon Düül II, ‘Amon Düül I’ never even existed. After the schism, the ‘non-musician members’ went into the studio until they were kicked out by the producer for ‘recording useless shit’. The recordings were discarded (bizarrely, Weinzierl describes them as being ‘thrown into a dungeon’, although this might be an error of translation) until an unscrupulous producer dug them out to cash in on Amon Düül II’s fame. ‘Every time we released an album, he cut an album’s worth of those tapes and brought it to the market to use our success.’ The guitarist certainly does not share Julian Cope’s enthusiasm for the material: ‘the sad thing is that some people like this shit’. There is, however, no place in his narrative for Paradieswärts Düül.

 

Amon Düül II
As described above, Amon Düül II was born out of the split between those in the commune who wanted to maintain an ‘everyone is a musician’ ethos and those who, according to Julian Cope, ‘couldn’t bear to see the commune’s music falling into a free-form freakout of bongos and acoustic guitars only’. This latter group included Chris Karrer (guitar/violin), John Weinzierl (guitar/bass), Renate Knaup (vocals), Peter Leopold (drums) ‘Shrat’ (aka Christian Thiele – bongos/vocals) and Dieter Serfas (drums).

For their debut album, they were joined by artist Falk-Ulrich Rogner on organ (Rogner would design much of the band’s cover art) and Englishman Dave Anderson on bass. (Anderson would go on to play in Hawkwind then found Foel Studios in mid-Wales, where The Fall recorded their 1980 single ‘Fiery Jack‘).

Cover of the German issue of the LP; the UK version was more extravagantly psychedelic.

Phallus Dei (which literally means ‘God’s penis’) was released in 1969. The first side (some editions seem to label it as side 2) features four tracks that take you on a dizzying, eclectic ride, opening with ‘Kanaan’s B-move Western soundtrack style drums and concluding with the quasi-operatic vocals and militaristic snare pattern of ‘Henriette Krötenschwanz’. In between, there are urgent passages of spacey prog, frantic bluesy guitar, splashes of jazzy vibraphone (courtesy of Christian Burchard of Embryo), jazz-funk(ish) bass, folky violin, sections of atonal almost math-rock guitar and tinges of Eastern mysticism. The vocals (not, admittedly the album’s strongest feature) range from ethereal, wordless moans (from Knaup) to dispassionate spoken word to manic whooping; there’s even (towards the end of ‘Dem Guten, Schönen, Wahren’) a megaphone-style rant that may well have inspired Mark E. Smith.

Excitingly varied as it is, this half of the album doesn’t quite pull together the band’s multitude of ideas and approaches with consistently coherent quality. Far superior is the epic 20-minute title track that fills the other side. Here, their invention coalesces into a thrillingly inventive and carefully-paced blend of psych-prog-experimental styles; it even contains a nod to their communal past in a frantic ‘sit round playing bongos’ passage halfway through. A 2000 reissue included 20 minutes worth of Hawkwind-esque space-rock; a 2006 remaster added two somewhat inessential ten-minute out-takes.

Their follow up, Yeti (1970) is regarded by many as their best, and almost always features towards the top end of ‘best of krautrock’ lists. Julian Cope, who chose the album’s striking artwork (again by Rogner) as the cover of Krautrocksampler, describes the double LP as ‘possibly the Ur-Kraut’ album of All’.

Over the first disc, they tone down the rather impulsive eclecticism of Phallus Dei in order to craft a much more focused set of arranged material. That’s not to say it’s without variety, though: amongst the familiar prog-psych passages, there nestles semi-operatic weirdness (‘Gulp a Sonata‘), galloping acoustic folk (‘Cerberus‘) and abrasive, industrial doom (‘Pale Gallery‘). And in ‘Archangels Thunderbird’ (released as a single) the group created a manic, bona fide hard rock classic. (The song was often played live by Kim Deal’s The Breeders.)

Disc 2 consists of three lengthy, sprawling improvised tracks. The first two – the title track and ‘Yeti Talks To Yogi’ – are similar in approach to Saucerful of Secrets-era Pink Floyd (especially ‘Yogi’) but are far from derivative. The loose structure gives the musicians space to express themselves freely, but neither are ever self-indulgent. The closing track, ‘Sandoz In The Rain’ (Sandoz was the company in Switzerland that produced LSD) is lower key, almost delicately folky. The fact that three members of the ‘other’ AD participated can be felt in the loose, jammy feel.

Tanz der Lemminge (Dance of the Lemmings) was released in 1971. Anderson, who had left to join Hawkwind, was replaced by Lothar Meid, and the album featured a relatively slim five-piece line-up. The ambition certainly wasn’t slimmed-down, however: another double album (again featuring beautifully surreal artwork from Rogner), it generally took a classic prog side-long suite approach. Side 1’s ‘Syntelman’s March Of The Roaring Seventies‘ has echoes of Genesis, King Crimson and Pink Floyd, and includes a deft, fluid mix of acoustic, electronic and electric approaches. Flip-side ‘Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child’ veers between fuzzy Beefheart blues, ominous sitar-driven rock, shards of abrasive abstraction, crazed psych-rock with manically babbling vocals, Sabbath-style riffing and overwrought folky melodrama. Overall, disc one is a masterpiece of eclectic invention.

Disc 2 (or at least part of it) was used as the soundtrack to Veit Relin’s 1972 film Chamsin. The film was a re-working of The Bride of Messina, a 19th century tragedy by Friedrich Schiller. (There’s a clip of it here, which features ‘Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight’ from side 4 – it’s not exactly hardcore, but still NSFW. It also – in terms of acting and dialogue – looks bloody awful.)

The received wisdom is that by side 3 (‘The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church‘), the album starts to lose its way. However, there’s a lot to value in ‘Marilyn’, an understated, ethereal piece that, although it doesn’t provide the thrilling peaks of the first disc, provides a very different but equally satisfying blend of atmospheric, occasionally atonal abstraction. By the final side, however, the album does start to feel a little stretched. There’s nothing wrong with the three loose-limbed bluesy jams in themselves, but they feel somewhat out of step with the rest of Tanz, and feel like a set of studio out-takes bolted on to an ‘expanded’ reissue as bonus tracks. My personal modernised preference would be for a three-track, 53-minute CD: ‘Seventies’ / ‘Marilyn’ / ‘Restless’.

Carnival in Babylon (1972) saw the group take a more concise approach, with only two of the six tracks straying beyond seven minutes. There’s a much more gentle, folky and hippy-ish tone throughout, albeit one that’s infused with occasional bursts of fuzz-guitar. Renate Knaup’s vocals are much more prominent than in previous releases. It’s all pleasant enough, but for me it lacks the level of innovation seen previously.

The group’s second album of 1972, Wolf City, saw them continue to take a more commercial approach. Opener ‘Surrounded By The Stars‘ is a tuneful piece of earnest, folkish pop-rock, again focused on Knaup’s vocals. Although it has its moments (‘Jail-House-Frog‘ is a strangely quirky slice of cabaret-prog; ‘Deutsch Nepal‘ an ominous burst of mellotron grandiosity) Wolf City feels rather lightweight overall. Arguably, the most interesting thing about the album is the story of its cover art.

Wolf City cover

There are many ADII fans who prefer the later period of their material, finding it more melodic and polished. As a matter of personal taste, I have to say that these are the exact reasons that I prefer the 1969-71 albums. To me, neither Vive La Trance (1973) or Hijack (1974) are especially inspiring; both feature rather awkward excursions into a mainstream blues-rock sound, such as ‘Pig Man‘ and ‘Mirror‘ and feel overall like the group had lost its way.

Made In Germany, original German cover (it was released in the US as a single LP with a different cover

Made in Germany (1975) was a more interesting diversion, a concept album that saw the group diving headlong into a curious cocktail of bold, cabaret/stage musical numbers mixed with funk-blues-rock-pop variations. The Groucho Marx-style ‘interview’ with Adolf Hitler, ‘5.5.55‘, was undoubtedly a brave move at the time, but the highlight is the downright peculiar ‘Mr. Kraut’s Jinx’.

By the time Pyragony X was released in 1976, only Leopold, Weinzierl and Karrer remained from the earlier line-ups. It’s a very patchy affair. ‘Flower of the Orient’ is a decent enough bit of MOR-prog, but overall there’s just too much half-hearted, lightweight and aimless pop-rock for me, as illustrated by fey, hesitant love song ‘Capuccino‘. Only Human (1978) was an unholy union of Steely Dan, Supertramp and Weather Report. Amon Düül II officially disbanded in 1981, although they have continued to record and perform in various combinations thereafter.

Whatever they might have recorded afterwards, Amon Düül II’s work from 1969-71 was truly remarkable. Not only was it exciting and innovative, but it was one step ahead of their contemporaries. There were equally good krautrock releases in the golden period of the early 70s, but Amon Düül II had already produced Phallus Dei and Yeti before the decade had barely got underway. As Julian Cope put it, ‘of all the great Krautrock groups, Amon Düül II were surely the most true to the trail’. 

 

 

Anal Magic and Reverend Dwight Frizzell
This has been, thus far, probably the hardest to research (not least because ‘anal magic’ is, obviously, something you have to be very careful about googling). If anyone knows anything that I have omitted or got completely wrong, then do let me know. Anyway, as far as I can tell…

Dwight Frizzell was born (no one seems to know when) and brought up in Independence, Missouri, the home town of US president Harry S. Truman (we’ll come back to him later). He became (although it’s not entirely clear when) a minister in the Universal Life Church, a non-denominational religious organisation whose USP is allowing pretty much anyone who wishes to to become an ordained minster. (Those who have taken advantage of this opportunity include – according to Wikipedia – Richard Branson, David Byrne, Benedict Cumberbatch, George Harrison, John Lennon, Courtney Love, Ian McKellen, Alanis Morissette and Vanilla Ice.)

The only release under the name Anal Magic & Rev. Dwight Frizzell was Beyond The Black Crack (1976). Only 200 copies were pressed originally, and a vinyl copy will set you back around £300.

If you don’t have £300 to spare, the album is available to download via Bandcamp for only £7. The Bandcamp page contains this description, which is repeated on several other sites:

‘Recorded between 1974 and 1976 in locations as diverse as factories, the pyramid opposite Harry Truman’s grave site as well as more ‘conventional’ concert settings.’

The album credits give you a flavour of the contents:

Rev. Dwight Frizzell – tenor saxophone, clarinet, audio oscillator, chair, trash can, pins, soy beans
Mike Roach – clarinet, vocals with laughs, tenor saxophone, dancing
Kurt Eckhardt – mouth flute, percussion, pins, soy, alteration.

It opens with ‘Black Crack And The Sole Survivors‘, a fractured and disjointed 12-minute journey through distended, overlapping rhythms, bebop sax, unearthly moans, jaunty piano and reverberating tape loops. It is, frankly, marvellous. ‘Get It Out Of Your System’ sounds like a high school marching band descending into an acid-induced frenzy; ‘Journey of Turtles’ and ‘Pre-Transfromation Of Turtle To Bird’ are full of murky, twitchy percussion and hyperactive children, underpinned by smoky, off-hand sax.

Concluding track ‘O What A Joy It Is To Know You Have A Turtle Heart’ features a coiling, double-tracked sax that slowly disintegrates into a gently discordant, crackling loop. A 1998 reissue included 20 minutes of bonus material, the highlight of which is ‘Family, Birth Of Helio And Selene’, seven minutes of almost timid, reserved free jazz.

Frizzell worked as an editor for The Pitch in the early 80s. He conducted a series of interviews (over ten years) with Sun Ra that featured in John Szwed’s book, Space is the Place: the Lives and Times of Sun Ra. He went on to form the Black Crack Revue, an ‘Afro-nuclear wave funk swing reggae Turska band’.

In 2000, he released Natural Selection, a sparse collection of field recordings, gentle electronica and vintage dialogue. The following year’s Bullfrog Devildog President featured samples of Harry S. Truman’s piano playing (according to this review, ‘Truman was a poor to mediocre player, with a granite sense of rhythm and a similarly rigid approach to melody’). Truman’s undeniably stilted piano work is spread across the album in the form of five versions of ‘Black Hawk Waltz‘ (composed by Mary E. Walsh c.1880), with which Frizzell takes increasing liberties as he moves from version 1 to 5, adding layers of whistling,  percussion, skittering guitar and synthesised prog soloing.

Other tracks such as ‘The Irish Wilderness’ and ‘Scrat’ are sonic collages of cathedral organs, running water, machine gun percussion, bluegrass violin, breathless vocal samples, twitchy electronica and distorted radio static. (The cover described the album as ‘Séances-in-sound using folk music, archival recordings, voiced texts, bio-electronics and Ozark soundscapes’). The highlight is ‘Devildog (Double Quartet Version)’, which opens with understated violin/sax skronk overlayed with radio dialogue before bursting into Gong-style space-jazz that becomes progressively and impressively unhinged.

 

 

Anima
Percussionist Limpe Fuchs was born in Munich in 1941. She studied music at the Munich conservatory where she met and then married sculptor Paul Fuchs. Under the name Anima-Sound, they recorded Stürmischer Himmel, which was released in 1971.

Anima, 1971 (photo by Lothar Schifer)

Stürmischer Himmel opens with the sound of sheep bleating on a blustery hillside before descending into a aimless, jerky cacophony that sounds like a stripped-down, extended version of the intro to Pink Floyd’s ‘Astronomy Domine‘. It continues in the same vein for the next 40 minutes or so, randomly thumping, squawking and warbling away in what feels like a single take. For me, it falls on the wrong side of the innovative, challenging improvisation / tedious self-indulgence line; there are some interesting ideas and motifs lurking in here, but overall it’s just too shapeless and incoherent.

Under the name Anima, Paul and Limpe released an eponymous album in 1972. The line-up was augmented by Friedrich Gulda on piano and J. A. Rettenbacher on bass. Anima consists of two side-long pieces, ‘Meeting In The Studio’ and ‘Anima-Live’. According to the sleeve, ‘The music contained herein is totally improvised. Nothing has been premeditated or decided beforehand.’ The addition of Gulda and Rettenbacher certainly fills out the sound, and the album avoids the monotony of their previous release. Gulda’s piano adds a jazzy tone, there’s more dynamic variation, and it includes splashes of chaotic invention. However, Limpe’s wordless vocals are definitely an acquired taste and at 48 minutes, it feels overly stretched.

Monte Alto (1977) again features two side-long pieces. The first, the title track, reverts to Paul and Limpe as a duo, playing home-made instruments such as the ‘fuchshorn’ and ‘fuchszither’. It’s much sparser than the previous releases, and benefits from it, although it rather runs out of steam and starts to drag in the middle. It’s rescued to some extent by Paul’s free-jazz style ‘fuchshorn’, and there’s a pleasingly understated, modulating coda; however, once again, you can’t help feeling that a judicious edit (perhaps taking it down from 24 minutes to 12-15) might have been in order.

The flip side is the 23-minute ‘Piano Toscana’, an improvised solo piano piece by Limpe. It’s surprisingly conventional, almost (although not quite) nudging into Keith Jarrett territory in places. It’s also the first Anima piece that, for me, justifies its extravagant length; Limpe pulls off the impressive feat of deftly maintaining interest over 23 minutes of carefully paced and inventive solo piano.

In 1982, Anima produced a double album, Der Regt Mich Auf / A Controversy, which saw Paul and Limpe’s son Zoro join the line-up on drums. The first disc featured six tracks of (by their standards) concise length. That said, opener ‘Der Regt Mich Auf’ – a frantic, disjointed piano/bass/drums workout – still clocks in at fifteen minutes, although none of it feels wasted. Also, there’s more variation in terms of the sound palette across these six tracks than had been the case on previous albums. The percussive ‘Außengalopp’ manages somehow to be simultaneously sparse and dense, with a hint of jazz-funk bass; ‘Mit Absicht’ features a mutated Hawaiian-style guitar; ‘Tatsachen’ deploys what sounds like a hyperactive marching band over the drum track from ‘Wipe Out‘.

contoversey
Inner sleeve of Der Regt Mich Auf / A Controversy (1982)

The second disc saw them return to the side-long track approach. ‘A Controversy’ begins as a rather shrill, dislocated and abrasive percussive piece before morphing into an ominous, grainy drone, flecked with murky slide guitar. ‘Freeano Forte’ is forgettable, a haphazard collection of disparate noodlings.

Via (1987) featured seven tracks, none of which, for once, broke the ten-minute barrier. It was actually a Limpe Fuchs solo album in all but name. There’s a much greater focus on electronics, several tracks being underpinned by pulsing synths; Limpe’s idiosyncratic vocals are also prominent.

Via was the final Anima release, although Limpe has continued to release music under her own name, for example Nur Mar Mus (1999) and Pianobody 2002 (2006), the latter of which features brief shards of abstract piano and Japanese-style guitar as well as a lovely piece of ambient drone:

She also performed with Evan Parker, releasing a live recording in 2017. Her most recent release was Walker Street 55 (2019).

NWWL Mix #03

I do not own the rights to any of this music, and will happily remove anything if asked by anyone who does so.

  1. Anima – ‘Tatsachen’ (from Der Regt Mich Auf, 1982)
  2. Amon Düül II – ‘Freak Out Requiem I’ (bonus track from 2000 reissue of Phalus Dei, 1969)
  3. Anal Magic & Rev. Dwight Frizzell – ‘Journey Of Turtles’ (from Beyond The Black Crack, 1976)
  4. AMM – ‘Musette’ (from Before Driving To The Chapel We Took Coffee With Rick And Jennifer Reed, 1996)
  5. Amon Duul – ‘Snow Your Thurst and Sun Your Open Mouth’ (from Paradieswärts Düül, 1970)

 

NWWL#2: Alc – Ame

‘Clumsy, often moving and continually embarrassing.’

Many thanks to all who liked / retweeted / made positive comments on the first instalment.  For those who you who followed my previous blog about The Fall, I have to warn you that I won’t be able to bang out posts like I did with You Must Get Them All – there’s considerably more music to listen to and greater research required!

Alcatraz
Founded in Hamburg in 1970, Alcatraz were originally  Ruediger Berghahn (vocals), Klaus Holst (guitar), Ronny Wilson (bass) and Jan Rieck (drums). Klaus Nagurski (flute/sax) joined in 1971.

Alcatraz, 1972.

Their debut album, Vampire State Building, was released in 1972. Opener ‘Simple Headphone Mind’ (a title that NWW would recycle 25 years later in a collaboration with Stereolab) is a lengthy mix of calm, jazzy flute, bluesy guitar solos and free jazz sax.

The rest of the album follows a similar pattern, blending blues-rock and jazz in a generally effective manner, although Holst’s solos are a little domineering in places, and nobody really needs or wants the three-minute drum solo in the title track.

By the time the band’s second album, Energie Programm In Rock, emerged in 1978, things had changed radically. Wilson had left for a career in commercial music and Nagurski went into military service; Ed Schulze joined on bass.

Although opening track ‘Energiereicher Auftakt’ (see sample mix below) is a crisp, punchy burst of King Crimson-esque prog, overall the album is a patchy affair. Nagurski’s flute/sax textures are sorely missed; Berghahn’s attempts to make the vocals quirky and humorous are laboured; there are some ill-advised ventures into a poppier sound; and Holst’s rather ragged solos are often far too high in the mix.

In 1980, following the departure of Schulze and Berghahn, the band adopted an instrumental approach and reverted to its earlier jazz-blues-psych rock sound. Live (Trockeneis Zum Frühstück) saw Ralf Twellamn join on bass and also featured Rainer Hansen on sax and flute.  It finds the band on a much surer footing, Hansen’s contributions in particular broadening the sound.

By 1982, the group were reduced to a trio: Holst and Rieck, with Mike Kann on bass. They self-released an LP called No.4, the two sides of which were labelled ‘Rock’ and ‘Jazz’. Both sides feel a little forced and bereft of ideas, and the crude use of ‘slap’ bass rapidly becomes irksome.

There wouldn’t be anther Alcatraz album for sixteen years. On 1998’s Holm, Rieck, Holst and Kann were joined by Matthias Petzel on guitar and  vocalist Phama John. It was another radical departure: there’s a much harder edge to the sound, and Phama John’s vocals in particular make it a far more aggressive offering than their previous albums. ‘Last Station’ is a curiously effective slowed-down mix of early AC/DC and Beefheart.

The group’s final release was 2013’s Made In Germania, a live recording from 1976. Whilst they made a wide range of interesting recordings over the course of their lengthy career, this album captures them doing what they did best: bluesy psych/krautrock.

 

 

Älgarnas Trädgård
Älgarnas Trädgård (Swedish for ‘Garden of the Elks’) formed in 1969. They were active in the Swedish free festival scene at the time, and recorded an album, Framtiden Är Ett Svävande Skepp, Förankrat I Forntiden (which translates as ‘The future is a floating ship, anchored to antiquity’) in 1972.

Photo from progarchives.com (date unknown)

Framtiden is a remarkable album, an intriguing blend of psychedelic krautrock and medieval/folk influences. The first track, the thirteen-minute ‘Two Hours Over Two Blue Mountains With A Cuckoo On Each Side, Of The Hours …That Is’ opens with church bells before morphing into bleeping electronica, undercut with melancholy, spacey guitar; this then leads into a sombre, menacing viola-led passage that might have influenced Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The final third of the song features deep, ominous vocal chants and ponderous strings that descend into fractured psych/electronic weirdness. The following ‘There Is A Time For Everything, There Is A Time When Even Time Will Meet’ takes a similarly eclectic approach, also throwing in sitar and tabla.

The whole album is deliciously weird, free-form and challenging; a carefully-blended mix of folk, rock and psychedelia that’s consistently both unsettling and entertaining.

The band recorded a second album in 1973-74, but it wasn’t until 2001 that it was mixed and released as Delayed. Heavier and crisper then Framtiden, it’s a more than decent piece of psych-prog; although it doesn’t quite have the unusual inventiveness of its predecessor, it’s well worth acquiring.

All 7-70 (Ritual All 770)
Alan Sondheim is an American poet, critic, musician, artist and cyberspace theorist. He was also the leader of the first artist included on the NWW list, although his internet presence doesn’t exactly promote this aspect of his work. As such, it was a little challenging to unearth much detail about the three recordings that make up this part of the list.

The website of ESP-Disk (the label on which two of the three recordings were released) has this to say:

‘Alan Sondheim was the young, exuberant leader of a pack of improvisers living in a communal loft in Providence, Rhode Island. Undaunted by attempts to categorize electronic music as the province of academic tinkerers — a cold, unfriendly realm, with its own authorities, audiences and mystique — they plunged fearlessly, joyously and unselfconsciously into the medium, discovering new way to express their ideas. Their ESP cds, ESP 1048, RITUAL-ALL-7-70 and ESP 1082, T’OTHER LITTLE TUNE, merge free improvisation and electronic instrumentation.’

Their first released recording was actually The Songs, on the Riverboat label. It’s unclear as to when this came out originally (it didn’t receive a CD release until 2005), but it was recorded in March 1967. According to the sleeve notes of the 2005 reissue, it was ‘a single improvised performance… the vocalists were not told how to sing it.’ Sondheim himself played nineteen different instruments, including a suling (Indonesian flute), shenai (Indian oboe), chimta (Indian percussion instrument) and bansari (Indian flute). Barry Sugarman added tabla and dholak (Indian hand drums) and naquerra (Moroccan kettledrums); a further five musicians (including two vocalists) were involved.

It doesn’t really work for me. There’s just too much thrown at you; nothing has a chance to breathe or develop; the sheer number of instruments involved seems to be the principal focus, overriding the aesthetic outcome.

Ritual-All-7-70, released in 1967, is more sparse and more successful. Although it still contains passages of frantic, urgent improvisation, the pace is more considered and there’s a balance that The Songs lacked.

T’Other Little Tune (1968) is, for me, by far the best of the three releases. There’s a much more experimental approach in terms of the recording, and the improvisation feels looser and less self-conscious. ‘Rock‘ throws shards of jagged reverb at a jazz-blues riff; ‘Breathe’ gives a skronky sax space to wander expansively; ‘Think Synk’ is a heady mix of glitchy beats, reverb-laden horns, demonic boogie-woogie piano and ugly stabs of electronica.

 

 

Alternative TV
Mark Perry first came to public attention as the editor of punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue, which he founded in July 1976. (It is often cited as the source of the famous ‘This is a chord / this is another / this is a third / now form a band’ image, although this actually appeared in a different fanzine, Sideburns.) It only ran for twelve issues, the final one, in September 1977, featuring a flexi-disc that marked the first recorded appearance of Perry’s band Alternative TV, ‘Love Lies Limp’.

In a 1978 interview with the NME, Perry confessed that he had always seen Sniffin’ Glue as his avenue into the music business: ‘I always wanted to be in a band’. He had formed Alternative TV with Alex Fergusson, whom he had met in the Rough Trade record shop, the pair discovering a shared love of the Velvet Underground. They became friendly with Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P Orridge, and used TG’s rehearsal rooms at Martello Street (see the entry on Albrecht/d in the previous post).

Recordings of these sessions (with Genesis P-Orridge on drums) were released in 1996 as The Industrial Sessions. They’re not especially enlightening, mainly consisting of studio chatter and scratchy, skeletal early versions. The most interesting track is the discordantly warped jam, ‘Industrial Porridge’.

The earliest incarnation of ATV featured Tyrone Thomas on bass and John Towe (previously a member of Generation X) on drums. By the time that the band played London’s Rat Club on 14 September 1977, Towe had been replaced by Chris Bennett. The gig was released as Live At The Rat Club ’77 in 1979. Audio-wise, it’s a terrible recording (the Discogs entry notes, somewhat generously, that ‘this recording was made on a portable mono cassette player, and therefore is not of conventional sound quality’).

Horribly muffled as it is, Rat Club is still historically interesting. The ‘Love Lies Limp’ flexi had already marked ATV out as different from the punk herd, its cod-reggae/ska approach being some distance away from The Damned or The Sex Pistols. Rat Club reinforces this. Opening song ‘Memphis’, (notionally a Chuck Berry cover) sounds like a ragged Velvet Underground recording from c. 1966 until Perry’s vocals kick in. Particularly pertinent is the pairing of ‘Alternatives To NATO’ and ‘You Bastard’. The former, a lumbering, eight-minute atonal mess (which doffs a cap to Beefheart’s ‘Dropout Boogie‘) features Perry indulge in an extended rant where he reads out an anarchist pamphlet and describes an imaginary Soviet invasion; this suddenly morphs into the two-minute ‘You Bastard’, which is every bit as generic-shout-punk as its title suggests.

A ‘proper’ single, ‘How Much Longer’, followed. It followed a much more orthodox punk approach musically; the lyrics, however, sneered at ‘Nazi armbands’, ‘safety pins’ and ‘talk about anarchy, fascism and boredom’ (although they also mocked the hippies’ ‘long and stringy’ hair, ‘Jesus boots’ and ‘peace signs’).

Fergusson left the band at the end of 1977, going on to play in Psychic TV with Genesis P-Orridge. ATV’s next single was the curiously slight, dub-influenced ‘Life After Life‘. This was released on Deptford Fun City Records, a label set up by Miles Copeland (brother of The Police’s Stewart Copeland; another of his labels, Step Forward, released the first two Fall albums). Deptford Fun City was also the home of Squeeze, and their keyboard player Jools Holland played on ‘Life’. He also made brief but notable contributions to ATV’s debut album.

The Image Has Cracked cover.jpg

Those who knew of Perry via Sniffin’ Glue might have expected straightforward DIY punk thrash. However, whilst a couple of songs did fulfil that brief – ‘Action Time Vision‘ is a crisp, poppier take on the Sex Pistols; ‘Why Don’t You Do Me Right‘, although a Frank Zappa cover, filters it through a Sham 69 lens – their expectations would be confounded. The album was a mix of studio recordings and a performance at the 100 Club from February 1978. It opens with the sort of grandiose prog-style introduction (with synth provided by Holland) that punk had sought to destroy. ‘Alternatives’ (the ‘to NATO’ and the anarchist pamphlet by now absent) then settles into a gentle groove over which Perry encourages audience members to come on stage and ‘say what they want about a particular subject’. In Perry’s press release for the album, he said that:

‘The full piece concerns the presentation of ideas to the audience, and an attempt to break down spectacle/spectator barriers, by allowing audience participation. It works to a certain extent but the conclusion – chaos – is inevitable.’

This is a rather positive reading. What actually happens is that ‘Ivor Drumstick’ (who sounds very much like Gareth from The Office) invites people to audition as a singer for his band, a woman shrieks sporadically, someone asks the audience what their favourite TV programme is, another berates them for being scared of skinheads and then a fight breaks out. At this point we cut briefly to some dialogue from BBC2’s Open Door before returning to the 100 Club recording and Perry’s dismissal of punk’s breakthrough into mainstream media – ‘diluted shit’. It’s one of the most remarkable opening ten minutes to an album, somehow managing to be simultaneously banal, fascinating, inventive, entertaining and cack-handed.

The rest of the album is an utter mess, albeit an intriguing and often rewarding one. ‘Still Life’ sounds like up-tempo Slint; ‘Viva La Rock ‘n’ Roll’ opens with incongruous boogie-woogie piano from Holland, references Jim Morrison and Rimbaud over a driving garage-punk rhythm, then concludes with choral backing vocals and extravagant classical piano; ‘Nasty Little Lonely’ is a slow, bluesy number that takes a left turn into Black Sabbath halfway through; ‘Red’ is a startlingly ham-fisted take on Tony Iommi’s self-indulgent ‘FX‘.

Perhaps the most impressive track is the oppressive, paranoid ‘Splitting In Two’, which Perry described as being ‘about an individual in a completely confused and nervous state’.

It would be an understatement to describe the album as a little divisive. This is illustrated by the contrasting reviews of Record Mirror‘s Chris Westwood and Danny Baker, writing for Zigzag (you can read both here). Westwood thought it ‘one God almighty hotsy of the first degree, a 100 proof no bull killer which shows the second raters just where to get off’. Baker begged to differ, calling it a ‘pretentious bit of indulgence’ and a ‘disastrous LP’.

Despite the hippy-bating of ‘How Much Longer’, Perry’s next confounding side-step was to tour with Gong offshoot Here And Now (they even played at Stonehenge). The liaison resulted in a split live LP, What You See… Is What You Are.

This, however, was nothing compared to radical departure of ATV’s second album, Vibing Up the Senile Man (Part One). By this stage, Perry was the sole original member; he and Dennis Burns (who had joined just before ‘Image’ was recorded) played virtually everything on the album (although Genesis P-Orridge contributed to three songs) and apparently every track was recorded in a single take. Senile Man wasn’t as divisive as its predecessor as pretty much everyone hated it.  The closest to a positive comment came from the NME‘s Paul Morley: ‘clumsy, often moving and continually embarrassing’.

For anyone who bought it on the strength of ‘Loves Lie Limp’ or ‘Action Time Vision’, Senile Man must have been a considerable shock. Perry had been listening to artists such as Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and it shows. Not only are there no sharp, hooky punk tunes, the whole album is a sprawling piece of abstract, atonal experimentation. The incongruous juxtaposition of Perry’s strong cockney accent against the fragmentary, atonal sounds makes for an even more bizarre effect. (I have to confess that – as a matter of personal taste – his accent does occasionally grate on my ears). The weirdly touching ‘Facing Up To The Facts‘ is the only track that has anything like a recognisable melody; the sole use of coherent or conventional percussion comes on ‘Graves of Deluxe Green‘, which sees the band once again delve into Black Sabbath territory.

Senile Man‘s excursion into the avant-garde is brave, admirable and inventive. Perry doesn’t always quite pull it off, however, as his lyrics occasionally fall short of the poetic abstraction for which he seems to be aiming. This is most notable in ‘The Radio Story’, which seems to be striving for something like the Velvet Underground’s ‘The Gift‘ but is let down by his clunky, prosaic lyrics – perhaps a result of the determinedly ‘first-take’ approach.

After a further resolutely noncommercial single, ‘The Force Is Blind‘ (featuring vocals by Anno from Here And Now), Perry decided to disband ATV.

‘There’s too many bands already playing their greatest hits on stage without A.T.V doing it as well. I mean it would be taking advantage of people if we went on playing stuff like Action Time Vision and getting away with it. We thought that audiences would appreciate the fact that ATV were trying to progress and we’re trying to write new music on stage.’

Perry changed the group’s name to The Good Missionaries. A C60 release, Scars On Sunday, featured ATV’s penultimate gig (recorded at Greenwich Theatre in April 1979) on one side, and The Good Missionaries’ debut performance at the Lyceum in May on the other. The A side sees the band attempting to capture Senile Man‘s approach on stage, with variable results. Perry is in confrontational mood, telling a member of the audience questioning the length of the songs that ‘the next one is going to last a couple of weeks’. The last couple of minutes captures a chaotic stage invasion.

The three Lyceum tracks on the b-side are improvised jams. ‘Bottom Of The World’ is muffled, aimless and self-indulgent. The 17-minute ‘Good Missionary Goes For A Walk’ has a bit more edge and drive about it, but still feels as if it’s being played for the benefit of the band rather than the audience. ‘The Morning They Took Me Away’ is a fractured punk/dub/space-rock hybrid.

Perry was nothing if not productive, and a full-length Good Missionaries LP, Fire From Heaven, emerged before 1979 was over. Recorded live in May and June, it maintains the avant-rock approach of Scars, but is much more tight and focused. Henry Badowski’s sax work also broadens the texture. (Side A / Side B)

Perry released his first solo album in 1980. Snappy Turns opens with the title track, a crisp, syncopated, almost jazzy number. Things become distinctly more experimental thereafter, but overall Perry hits a generally successful balance between the avant-garde and conventional. The vocals on ‘Inside’ are a little painful in places, but ‘At War’ is an excellent Beefheart-esque freak-out, and ‘Quagga’s Last Stand‘ is a lovely mix of jazz sax and meandering electronica. The album is arguably one of Perry’s best pieces of work.

Alternative TV made a surprise return in 1981. Strange Kicks was released on IRS, another of Miles Copeland’s labels, home to the first few REM albums. It’s accessible, mainstream and verges on the insipid. The diversions into electro-pop (such as ‘Communicate‘) were ill-advised. Perry had many talents, but his grasp of melody was not one of them, and this set of conventional tunes leaves his singing painfully exposed in places, for example on the awkward ‘Mirror Boy‘. 1987’s Peep Show was a solid enough if not especially inspiring set of post-punk tunes; My Life As A Child Star (1994) was rather ordinary. Apollo, released in 1999, flirted with big-beat/electro rhythms and has its interesting moments.

Revolution, released in 2001, opens with a title track that sounds like Motorhead. Thereafter it flirts occasionally with a spot of dub, but is dominated by predictable new wave chug. Their final album, Opposing Forces (2015), takes a couple of engaging diversions (‘Dream’ and ‘Stars‘, for example), but once again is too often generic.

 

 

Ame Son
In 1968, Marc Blanc and Patrick Fontaine played in the Bananamoon Band alongside Daevid Allen (between him leaving Soft Machine and founding Gong). In 1969, Blanc and Fontaine were joined by François Garrel (flute) and Bernard Lavialle (guitar) and formed Ame Son.

Catalyse (1970) back cover

Their debut album, Catalyse, was released in 1970. (N.B. The Discogs entry for the album suggests that there is some confusion across the various issues of the album regarding track information; this is notable with several of the videos available on YouTube. Apologies if I have mismatched any!)

The album is a refreshing mix of jazzy prog, French pop and space-rock; the Gong connection is certainly audible on several tracks, for example ‘Seventh Time Key’ (here incorrectly titled as ‘Hein, Quant a Tai’).

‘Enclosion’ (or at least what this issue claims to be ‘Enclosion’) features a pleasing mix of restrained free-jazz improvisation, melodic, bluesy wah-wah prog and early Genesis-style pastoral gentleness.

Catalyse is not completely flawless. The vocals in particular are rather hit and miss, and the musicianship is not always fluid enough to pull off the range of styles attempted. That said, the occasional lapses into amateurishness are endearing rather than irritating, and it provides an historically interesting insight into the late 60s/early 70s underground French prog scene.

A 2016 Russian reissue included nearly an hour’s worth of bonus material. One highlight is the poppy, skittering 1969 single, ‘Je Veux Juste Dire’; another is a sprawling, 25 minute demo version of the same song.

Ame Son disbanded in 1971. Prog Archives suggests that they reformed in 1973 ‘and are still playing together from time to time’, although I can’t find much evidence of this other than the fact that the sleeve notes to Primitive Expression allude to a couple of tracks being recorded in 1975-76.

Primitive Expression, released in 1998, compiles a range of unreleased outtakes and live tracks from 1969-1976. Much of it consists of the lengthy demo of ‘Je Veux Juste Dire’ split into several separate tracks (one of which is in the sample mix below), but it also includes a 1975 recording of ‘Sweet Georgia’. This was written by Bernard Stisi who, along with Blanc, Fontaine and Lavialle was in pre-Ame Son outfit Les Primitivs.

From the Primitive Expression CD booklet. Michel Fillon was not mentioned in the sleeve notes.

The sleeve notes point out the Yardbirds influence apparent on ‘Sweet Georgia’, a decent enough slice of 60s blues/garage-pop, also notable for the odd pronunciation (‘sweet jaw-jigh-ah’) of the the title character.

Live recording ‘Le dédale‘, from 1976, is a slow, smokey blues with an Eastern tinge, recorded by an incarnation of the band where only Blanc remained from the original line-up.

 

NWWL Mix #02

I do not own the rights to any of this music, and will happily remove anything if asked by anyone who does so.

 

NWWL#1: Agi – Alb

“A naked woman indignantly shielding her sheep’s eyes from the sight of a proudly tumescent gentleman.”

AFree
Agitation Free, date unknown – from Michael Günther’s website

I deliberated for some time as to whether I should approach this in the order of The List itself or in an alphabetical fashion. In the end I plumped for the latter on the basis that it [a] fitted better with my OCD tendencies and [b] gave me (and those readers less accustomed to some the quirkier delights on The List) a less challenging entry point – Agitation Free being a little easier to get your head around than (Ritual) ALL-7-70.

[I should state at this point that this blog will feature a lot of links to and mixes of many of the songs produced by List artists and I obviously don’t own the rights to any of them (or the pictures). Should anyone who does own them wish me to remove anything, then please contact me via the menu at the top the page.]

R-365067-1294385483.jpeg

Agitation Free
As well as being one of the more accessible acts on The List (relatively speaking anyway – nobody completely straightforward and easy on the ears was ever going to make it on there by definition), Agitation Free also provide me with a welcome opportunity to ease myself into the blog gently. This is by dint of the fact that I know their material well already and there’s plenty of information available about them. Founder member Michael “Fame” Günther’s website in particular provides a wealth of detailed first-hand evidence. (He seems to have last updated the site in around 1999; its layout definitely places it in the GeoCities era.)

The band’s origins lay in two Berlin-based teenage Beatles/R&B covers bands (one of which was called The Sentries) who merged in autumn 1967 to form Agitation, the name being chosen randomly from a dictionary. The original line-up consisted of Günther on bass, Christophe Franke (later of Tangerine Dream) on drums and guitarists Lutz ‘Lüül’ Ulbrich and Lutz ‘Ludwig’ Kramer.

For a brief period, vocalist Manfred Brück (aka John L) appeared occasionally on vocals, although according to Günther his performances were more notable for his on-stage antics (‘he recited lyrics and danced, usually naked (but with painted penis), on the stage and in the audience’) rather than his singing (‘he couldn’t sing a note’). Known to the local press as ‘the Hippy King of Berlin’, John L would go on to contribute to Ash Ra Tempel’s 1972 album Schwingungen.

The Sentries
The Sentries c. 1967. Lutz Ulbrich is seated in the middle; Christoph Franke is behind the drum kit. (From Michael Günther’s website.)

Although the band generally performed cover versions to begin with, lengthy improvisational passages increasingly became a feature of their work, and performances often included Pink Floyd-style psychedelic visuals. They frequently played on the same bill as Cluster and Tangerine Dream. A name change was required when the band discovered that there was another Berlin outfit called Agitation. The solution presented itself when they played a free gig at the Quasimodo Club.

Poster for Zodiak
Not the poster from the Quasimodo Club, as I don’t have a picture – this gives you the idea though.

Kramer left the band in 1970. He had opposed any variation from a purely improvisational style, and had also become more focused on drugs and politics than music. Axel Genrich (later of Guru Guru) stepped in temporarily before being replaced by Jörg Schwenke. The following year, Franke joined Tangerine Dream. His place was taken by Burghard Rausch, who was introduced to the band by Klaus Schulze. Michael Hoenig (who would also go on to play in Tangerine Dream) joined on keyboards.

This was the line-up that would record Agitation Free’s debut LP Malesch, released in 1972. The album’s sound was heavily influenced by the band’s tour of Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus and Greece that had been sponsored by the Goethe Institute. A film clip of the group in Saqqara (an ancient burial ground) sees them musically and visually indebted to Pink Floyd.

The Arabic word ‘malesh’ translates loosely as ‘never mind’ or ‘don’t sweat it’. It’s easy to see why the band chose it, as there’s a calm, languid atmosphere to much of the album. It melds Eastern themes with krautrock improvisation, for example on the gently undulating ‘Khan El Khalili’, the oppressively clattering ‘Pulse‘ and the sinister, abstract ‘Sahara City‘. The eastern influence can also be seen in the LP’s artwork:

malesch

Jörg Schwenke’s heroin habit led to his sacking in 1973, although not before he contributed to the band’s blistering set for French TV show Rock En Stock. He was replaced by Stefan Diez, who played on their second album, imaginatively entitled 2nd.

Whilst there’s still a certain amount of woozy dreaminess to 2nd, it’s much more taut and focused in comparison to the band’s debut. Whereas the Malesch tracks ran into each other, linked by abstract soundscapes, the songs here are more clearly defined. Little of the Eastern mysticism remains; 2nd is much more in line with what most would expect from an early 70s krautrock album. Opener ‘First Communication’ is a deliciously hazy blues jam; ‘Laila, Part II’ an assertive piece of jazz-infused soloing; ‘Haunted Island‘ a creepy, atmospheric bit of prog that erupts into some exemplary solo guitar.

After the album’s recording, Diez was replaced by Gustl Lütjens, but the group found themselves drifting apart and they disbanded at the end of 1974. Günther and Lütjens made a last-ditch approach to save the band by recording a set of jazz-rock material that was eventually released in 1999 as The Other Sides Of Agitation Free. It’s not great: an insipid take on Weather Report.

Agitation Free reunited in 1998. River Of Return, released in 1999, finds them distinctly mellowed by age, the album sounding like a rather soporific amalgamation of Dire Straits, Billy Joel and Santana. Much more satisfying are live albums Last, Fragments and At The Cliffs Of River Rhine.

 

 

Pekka Airaksinen
Airaksinen, along with performance artist Mattijuhani Koponen, founded the notorious Finnish band The Sperm in the late 60s. Their appearances were intended to challenge sexual taboos; Koponen was at one point imprisoned for six months for having sex on stage with a woman lying on a grand piano. I shall return to The Sperm later (not a phrase I ever expected to find myself typing) as they are also on The List.

Airaksinen released his debut solo album, One Point Music, in 1972. It’s by no means an easy listen, but a rewarding one, full of grainy textures and abrasive rhythms.  

After abandoning music for Buddhism for several years, he released Buddhas Of Golden Light in 1984, a mix of proto-Aphex Twin and ‘Rockit’-era Herbie Hancock overlayed with skronky sax.

After another lengthy gap, he founded his own label, Dharmakustannus, in 1994. Milk Sea, the first CD released on the label, saw him turn to ambient synths, undulating sequencers and delicate instrumentation with an Eastern tinge.

Having taken 22 years to produce three albums, Airaksinen went on to be notably prolific over the next couple of decades, producing work in a wide variety of styles. Inner Galaxies (1996) added thoughtful, understated drum machine patterns to the ambient background; the closing pair of ‘JSSX’ and ‘JSFF’ saw him experiment with a type of synth-chamber music.

Mangala (1997) took a more disjointed and abstract approach, particularly in the lengthy pieces ‘Visvabhu‘ and ‘Mangala – Good Sign’. 1998’s Pink Bodies was much more percussion-focused and flirted with techno in places, the fifteen-minute title track nudging into Orbital/Orb territory.

Karmapa, also released in 1998, is a particular highlight, a richly diverse and absorbing album. It opens with the 13-minute ‘There Are Rainbow Clouds On Top Of Our Heads‘, whose skittering rhythms dip into Aphex Twin irregularity. ‘He Is Dancing Down’ matches frantic classical piano with coarse electronic scrapes; ‘Spreading Up And Down’ sees a tinkling, warped synth fight to be heard over ominous staccato strings;  ‘Black Crown’ pits a rubbery funk bass line against grandiose piano chords, a gently shuffling drum machine, flashes of warped electronics and a nagging, fuzzy glitch pattern.

Highlights from the latter part of his career include Other Power (2012), an energetic jazz-techno-glitch-improv concoction and the bleak, dystopian murk of 2015’s Afrodipankara.

His 2014 collaboration with Finnish free jazz outfit Taco Bells, recorded in Helsinki, was released as Taco Bells With Pekka Airaksinen the following year. It’s comprised of two lengthy pieces of twitchy, frenetic improvisation that are impressive if a little exhausting.

Buddhism always remained central to Airaksinen’s creative processes. In a 2018 interview with The Wire‘s Matt Wuethrich, he explained: ‘I came up with a system where I converted these names [of Buddhas] into mathematical information and then into musical equivalents that I used for compositions.’ Airaksinen died on 6 May 2019.

Pekka Airaksinen - Wikipedia
Pekka Airaksinen (1945-2019), Sonic Circuits Festival, September 2009

 

 

Airway
This is where it starts to get complicated. Many List artists were interlinked in often complex ways with others on the list (and beyond) and/or were part of a wider collective or movement, something that I’m already beginning to see is going to provide me with some substantial challenges…

In 1973, Rick Potts, Joe Potts, and Chip Chapman began to record material under the name Patients and then Le Forte Four (the latter of which is also on The List). Inspired by Zappa, Beefheart and improv performers such as Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, they experimented with tape manipulation, improvised playing and sampling from records and TV cartoons. They used the name Los Angeles Free Music Society for the first time in 1974 when applying to play at the Høvikkoden Electronic Music Festival in Norway, believing that it was more likely to be taken seriously than Le Forte Four. (It wasn’t: the rejection letter said, ‘Free ears and minds are one thing, but what about aesthetics?’)

LAFMS
LAFMS at the Raymond Building, Pasadena. Tom Recchion, Dennis Duck, Chip Chapman, Harold Schroeder, Joe Potts, Tom Potts, Fredrik Nilsen, Juan Gomez, Rick Potts. Photograph: Fredrik Nilsen (taken from Frieze, 20 January 2017)

LAFMS based themselves in the decrepit Raymond building in Pasadena. Poo Bah Records was on the ground floor, where Tom Recchion (of Doo-Dooettes, also on The List) worked and an assortment of musicians, artists and instrument-builders (including members of Smegma, another List band) regularly hung out. The first LAFMS release was Bikini Tennis Shoes, a Le Forte Four album that I’ll return to later. LAFMS #002 – I.D. Art #2 – was the result of Joe Potts inviting local artists to participate in a various artists LP, the going rate being two dollars for every 15 minutes. It’s the very definition of eclectic.

Thereafter, LAFMS became an umbrella for a loose, broad collective of experimental artists.

‘”The term Free Music Society started as a joke”, Joe Potts confirms. But thanks to Recchion’s intervention it became “a means to unify several independent circles of mutual friends who were all experimenting with sound from a similar (non-)aesthetic viewpoint.”

Le Forte Four’s spastic mix of electronics, free reeds, and cultural detritus was augmented by the scattered percussion and demented chanting of Recchion and Harold Schroeder’s Doo-Dooettes, the drone-based freak-outs of Eric Stewart’s Smegma (“the band without musicians”), and an almost uncountable number of other more-or-less temporary groupings, assembled on the fly from whoever happened to be around.

New sounds and new means of making sounds were found by attaching hinges to the necks of guitars, putting bassoon reeds in the mouthpiece of trumpets, sticking nails and springs into hunks of wood, screwing and scrunching up found flexidiscs, and dropping things randomly to the floor.’1

One of these ‘groupings’ was Airway, a noise-rock offshoot fronted by Joe Potts. In 1977, a 7″ was released, credited to Potts, that was simply called ‘Airway’. According to ‘Crisis of Taste’, who posted it on YouTube, the recording served as Potts’ graduate art school thesis.

In August 1978, Potts led an Airway performance at the Lace Gallery in LA, which was released as Live At Lace. It’s a pummelling, unforgiving performance; not one for the faint-hearted. It’s worth persevering with though: around the 13 minute mark the relentless drone fractures and warps into a rasping, quizzical feedback; and if you can immerse yourself in it fully (it took me a couple of goes, I must confess) it provides a kind of out of body experience.

A 10 CD box set, LAFMS: The Lowest Form Of Music (released in 1996) included the Lace recording as well as ‘Perpendicular Thrust’ (four minutes of thumping psych rock), an unnamed and undated live recording and a bizarre take on Springsteen’s ‘Racing In The Street’. All three featured vocals from Vetza McGill (who also performed in Smegma).

In 2010, an Airway performance from The Gramercy Theatre, New York on 22 October 2009 was released as part of a split LP with Japanese noise band Hijokaidan.

 

 

Aksak Maboul (Aqsak Maboul)
Aksak Maboul were a Belgian band founded in 1977 by Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis. Their debut album, released in the same year, was called Onze Danses Pour Combattre la Migraine (‘Eleven Dances for Fighting Migraines’) and also featured Chris Joris (who would go on to found Afro-European Jazz outfit The Chris Joris Experience) on keyboards and sax.

‘(Mit 1) Saure Gurke (Aus 1 Urwald Gelockt)’ sounds like a warped cabaret version of Tangerine Dream:

Milano per Caso‘ is a piece of languid jazz that you might expect to hear in a Parisian café; ‘Mastoul Alakefak‘ pulses hypnotically for five minutes before gradually transforming into minimalist lo-fi krautrock skronk; ‘Three Epileptic Folk Dances’ is more than aptly described by its title:

Reviewing a 2003 reissue of the album, Mojo described it as ‘a stew of imaginary world music, rock, electronics and proto-techno’. The word ‘stew’ is apposite – Onze Danses wanders across a kaleidoscope of styles – but it still retains a sense of coherence. Highly recommended.

Their second album, Un Peu de l’Âme des Bandits (‘A Little of the Bandit Spirit’), released in January 1980, had a cover that featured (and I find it hard to believe that I’m typing this) a naked woman indignantly shielding her sheep’s eyes from the sight of a proudly tumescent gentleman. The band were called, according to the label, ‘Aqsak Maboul’, although subsequent reissues reverted to the original spelling. Kenis was not a part of the band by this point, although he arranged a couple of tracks; Henry Cow’s Fred Frith and Chris Cutler contributed to many of the songs, their involvement helping to bring the album to wider attention.

Un peu de l'âme des bandits | Aksak Maboul

Bandits is a much more aggressive and abrasive affair than Onze Danses. Opener ‘A Modern Lesson’ is an urgent piece of off-kilter Beefheart-ism that features wildly gibbering vocals from Catherine Jauniaux (the song also contains a recording of her playing pinball).

Another highlight is ‘Inoculating Rabies‘, a two minute blast of angry bassoon punk that really doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard before. The album’s crowning glory, however, is ‘Cinema’ a 23 minute epic that encompasses dark drones, fidgety percussion and electronica, psych-prog workouts, atonal jazz noodlings and NWW-style voice samples. Simply marvellous.

Marc Hollander went on to found Crammed Discs in 1980, a label renowned for promoting artists from across the globe. He also reunited with Vincent Kenis to join The Honeymoon Killers. They recorded an LP entitled Ex​-​Futur Album that was eventually released in 2014. Although touted by some as the great lost third Aksak Maboul album, it’s actually a fairly ordinary piece of polite electro-pop. However, this shouldn’t detract from the two hugely inventive and impressive albums that they produced in 1977-80.

 

 

Albrecht/d
Born Dietrich Albrecht in 1944 in Nordhausen (soon to become part of East Germany). His mother left the GDR in to live in Stuttgart in 1955 and he went to live with her there three years later. Influenced by the Fluxus community, he began to produce mail art in the mid-60s, cutting up his abstract works and posting them to friends. In 1968 he set up a label called Reflection Press and an arts publication, flug / flux. Together with conceptual artist Günter Sarée and Wolf Vostell (reputedly the first ever artist to integrate a television set into a work of art), he founded the ‘Independent Olympic Committee’, which aimed provide an alternative arts program for the opening of the 1972 Munich Olympics. This apparently included (if the translation is to be believed) an Olympic anthem constructed ‘out of laughter’.

Image from Discogs, date unknown.

Albrecht/d’s first appearance on record was on Die Abartigen, a collaborative album released on Reflection Press in 1972; the other artists listed include Vostell, Sarée, Allan Kaprow (who first used the term ‘happening’ to describe performance art), prescient South Korean artist Nam June Paik and Jean Toche. It’s a fascinating thing; fragmentary and ghostly, akin to flicking through obscure local radio stations whilst on a long. lonely journey on a dark, deserted highway.

Albrecht developed a musical approach called ‘endless music’, which was heavily influenced by Balinese and Buddhist culture and involved him constructing his own instruments. He explained the concept and demonstrated one of the instruments in a 1988 interview. A solo album, Endless Music, followed in 1974.

His collaboration with avant-garde artist Joseph Beuys, recorded at London’s ICA in November 1974 as part of the Art into Society – Society into Art exhibition, was released in 1976. It’s a sparse and rather ponderous performance to begin with, featuring tentative drumming and a squeaky recorder, although it picks up a little in the second half with the introduction of a cast of disparate, floating voices.

At the ICA show, Albrecht met Throbbing Gristle, at that time still working under the name COUM. In the summer of 1976, he stayed with them in London and sat in on drums on sessions at their studio at 10, Martello Street. On his return to Stuttgart, Albrecht released the material on Reflection Press via cassette: Music From The Death Factory and Live at 10, Martello St, Hackney, London. The recordings (the first to appear under the name Throbbing Gristle) are bleak, muffled and fragmentary. In places, Martello St. sounds like little more than a tape deck running in the corner of the room whilst everyone plugs in and tunes up; it flirts with a dissonant, lumbering psych-jam around three-quarters of the way through, but rather peters out towards the end. Death Factory is more satisfying, featuring a series of jagged, gritty passages reminiscent of the farther reaches of Gong, Hawkwind and early Tangerine Dream.

Photo from the Roots And Traces blog

Abstract Energy, released in 1985, compiled recordings from across Albrecht’s career. Thereafter he went quiet on the musical front for several years, until a handful of CD-R releases appeared in 2003 on the Break The Line! label. Klänx 29=27, a selection of brief, brittle, mainly percussive pieces, can be downloaded here.

He released a spoken word LP, Fast Ein Telefonat (an ‘abstract telephone assemblage‘) in 2012, limited to only two (!) copies. This was produced in collaboration with Kommissar Hjuler (real name Detlev Hjuler), a German artist who mostly records under the name Kommissar Hjuler Und Frau alongside his wife Mama Bär. One copy of the album apparently sold for 300 Euros in 2014. I have not been able to track down a recording anywhere online.

Albrecht was found dead in his apartment on February 12, 2013. Three years later, material he recorded in 1990-91 was released as an album entitled Far East And Out on Dead Mind Records. Consisting of four untitled tracks, it’s basically half an hour of uninspiring tinkling and clanging; not the most edifying postscript to an intriguing career.

Albrecht/d. (1944-2013); photo from Discogs (date unknown)

NWWL Mix #01

I aim to provide a sampler mix of the five artists featured at the end of each post. To repeat: I do not own the rights to any of this music, and will happily remove anything if asked by anyone who does so.

Enjoy!

Notes

1The Rest Was Noise – Forty years of the Los Angeles Free Music Society‘, Robert Barry, Frieze, 20 January 2017

 

 

 

Introduction: The Nurse With Wound List

“Categories strain, crack and sometimes break, under their burden – step out of the space provided.”

Steven Stapleton performs his Sleep Concert this month in Newcastle
Photo from The Independent, 2 March 2012

The Nurse With Wound back catalogue is a daunting beast. Whilst it doesn’t contain quite the myriad of overlapping compilation and (especially) live albums that make up The Fall’s body of work or match the frankly insane productivity of, say, Merzbow, it represents a dizzyingly diverse range of sounds, genres and approaches, often even within an individual album. Add to this the bewildering array of collaborations, compilation appearances and general miscellany, then you have you have the very definition of ‘where to even begin?’ It is, as Nick Soulsby identifies in this useful primer published by The Vinyl Factory, ‘a challenging, amorphous entity’.

NWW’s music is often tagged with labels such as experimental, industrial, avant-garde, musique concrète, dark ambient, noise and drone. Whilst all of these terms provide a satisfactory if loose fit for many aspects of the work, trying to establish any sort of overall description of NWW’s sound is an utterly futile endeavour. Consider, for example, these three randomly chosen tracks:

Thankfully, my task here is not to analyse the imposing body of work created by NWW (although who knows – I may return to that at some point in the future…) However, before we embark upon the NWW List journey, some context is necessary.

“?????”

NWW’s first release, 1979’s Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella1, featured Steven Stapleton, John Fothergill and Heman Pathak; Nick Rogers, the studio engineer, also added some guitar. The album’s abrasive, chopped-up improvisations, recorded in only a few hours, flummoxed Sounds, which abandoned its usual five star system by awarding the album “?????”. Although original and inventive in places, Chance Meeting was too often overly dominated by studio engineer Rogers’ extended psych-blues guitar soloing (possibly only included because he offered the studio time for free). 

The following year saw the release of To the Quiet Men from a Tiny Girl, the last to be made by the founding trio of Stapleton, Fothergill and Pathak. Although it contains flashes of inspiration, there’s a sense of dislocation and aimlessness about the album, possibly the result of growing tensions between the three members. Merzbild Schwet, released only four months after its predecessor, is a far more satisfying concoction. It finds Stapleton starting to display the playful confidence with sampling and sound manipulation that would be a hallmark of NWW.

The fourth NWW album, Insect and Individual Silenced, released in 1981, was subsequently disowned by Stapleton. Like Tiny Girl, it lacks coherence and feels like a selection of potentially interesting samples thrown together with little thought. Homotopy to Marie, released in 1982, was – as far as Steven Stapleton was concerned – the first ‘proper’ Nurse With Wound album. Stapleton was responsible for almost all of the album’s contents, and in, for example, the looping, fascistic chants and layers of kibbled Spanish dialogue of ‘The Schmürz (Unsullied By Suckling)‘ one can sense a funnelling of his vision into a finally coherent approach. 

From this point onward, Nurse With Wound went on to create an immense and disparate body of work. But for the purposes of this blog, we need to rewind to 1979 and the release of Chance Meeting...

‘Strange and unusual or peculiar and bizarre.’

Fur
Wolfgang Dauner, Für, 1969

The notion of listing influences on the sleeve was inspired by German jazz pianist Wolfgang Dauner (Stapleton described him as ‘the tragically unsung hero of Krautrock’) who used the approach on his 1969 album Für. Stapleton had built up his knowledge of outsider music through countless hours of record shopping:

‘I was just totally into outlandish music… Stuff that was strange and unusual or peculiar and bizarre. I found the best place to find this stuff was second hand stores. London was fantastic for them at the time. I worked in Soho and there were a dozen within a 10 minute walk. So every lunchtime I would go and I got to know the people there and they would save anything that looked unusual.’2

It was through this endless rummaging through racks of obscure LPs that Stapleton met NWW co-founder John Fothergill, who was on a similar quest. 

‘It took us about 8 years of constant searching, travelling and discovery to get to the stage where we had enough knowledge to put this list together, of course there are holes and omissions, looking back I am amazed at who was left off, back then information on any left field artists just did not exist except for a chosen few usually slagged off in the conservative music press.’3

Finalising the list was not taken lightly: it took the two of them six months to agree on its contents.4 What they settled on was their anthology of music that had ‘broken barriers and been outlandish, or was completely and utterly original’.

Chance Meeting List
The list as seen on Chance Meeting…

There were some familiar names on the list, such as Can, King Crimson, Kraftwerk, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, Robert Wyatt and Frank Zappa. Most of the list, however, was a cornucopia of the obscure, filled with ‘French prog, British improv, outré Italian pop, post-punk, noise music, and stuff that doesn’t easily fit anywhere’.6

The original list included 234 artists (or 235 if you include the Nihilist Spasm Band, who – as can be seen above – had the sleeve notes dedicated to them). To the Quiet Men from a Tiny Girl featured an expanded list of 291 (including Nihilist Spasm Band, who had moved up into the list proper).

Tiny Girl
The expanded list, from To the Quiet Men…

Although Stapleton asserted that at the time ‘nobody gave a shit, basically’7, the list proved to be remarkably durable. Its influence began to become noticeable during the 90s, helped by the fact that Chance Meeting… (the first pressing of which was limited to 500 copies) became available on CD in 1990, both as a separate release and as part of the Psilotripitaka box set.

‘I started to notice it about fifteen to twenty years later… Nobody initially thought the list was of any interest at all, really. Then at record fairs and things you’d start to see stickers on albums saying part of the NWW List. Then weird things started happening, like reissues of artists that were featured on the list would have stickers on the front, or in the sleeve notes it would be saying it became known because of the list. It was like, wow, because of this little obscure thing we did stuff is really taking off. Then it went global. I’ve been in record shops in America that have sections just of albums featured in the Nurse With Wound list.’8

‘I am amazed and delighted at how popular and influential it has become… I am constantly meeting folk whose minds have been blown by some of the more obscure items they have managed to track down.’9

‘Strain Crack & Break’

In 2019, Finders Keepers Records released Strain Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume One, a compilation which focused on French artists from the list. ‘Strain, Crack, Break’ was also the title of the bonus track that was included on the 2001 reissue of Chance Meeting – it featured a cut-up recording of David Tibet reading out the list.

a3526392432_10

 

The sheer obscurity of many of the artists named on the list led to speculation that some were inventions. This rumour was occasionally fuelled mischievously by Stapleton himself (‘They all exist but I just wanted to throw a bit of intrigue into the mix’10), but they did indeed ‘all exist’. As this blog will go on to demonstrate…

 

 

Notes

1The title was taken from the surrealist poetic novel Les Chants de Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont, the nom de plume of French author Isidore-Lucien Ducasse.

2An A-Z of the most obscure acts on the infamous Nurse With Wound list‘, Daniel Dylan Wray, Loud And Quiet, 18 Oct 2019

3Interview with Andrew Liles

4Wray, Loud And Quiet

5-7Got any Horrific Child? Discover the list of the world’s 291 weirdest bands‘, Jennifer Lucy Allan, The Guardian, 24 Sep 2019

8Wray, Loud And Quiet

9Interview with Andrew Liles

10Wray, Loud And Quiet