The Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music, Vienna Celeste, 6 April 2009

This evening was just another example of how live music in Vienna has the capacity to constantly surprise and entertain. “The Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music” is the peculiar name of a free jazz/improv blow-out session that takes place every Monday at the Celeste bar in the fifth district. The setting is surprising enough in itself: you walk along a quiet, nondescript street, find the bar, go downstairs and suddenly, as if this were the most normal thing in the world, find yourself in the midst of a hundred-odd people, all enjoying the wilfully unco-operative music, the deliciously tasty food available and the general atmosphere of relaxed bonhomie.

Curated and championed by American-born, Austrian resident saxophonist Marco Eneidi, the session consists of a changing cast of jazz and improv musicians who take the stage in various duo, trio and group formats to blast their way through short sets of music. It’s rather like munching your way through a box of chocolates – it doesn’t matter if you come across one that’s not to your taste, because you’re sure to find one that you do like soon enough.

On this particular evening – my first visit to the session, and hopefully not my last – I arrived in the middle of a fairly frantic piece of blowing by Eneidi, accompanied by an agile and vigorous drummer. (Apologies for not knowing the names of most of those who played.) The evening became even more engrossing when Susanna Gartmeyer came along on the bass clarinet, joined by two guitarists and a drummer for a superb slice of bone-crunching improv. Things did go slightly awry next, courtesy of a sub-Haino guitar abuser with a rote, uninspired drummer who bafflingly stuck to one snare drum and one cymbal for pretty much the entire turn, but quickly looked up again with a delightful and infectious workout for burbling analogue synths.

After that, Marco Eneidi returned for another serpentine flare-up on the sax, joined this time by Didi Kern behind the kit. Next up, a fidgety yet compelling improv for guitar, bass and drums, Eric Arn (of Primordial Undermind) peeling off wave after wave of arcing bottleneck slide runs from his acoustic. That was closing time for me, but not for most of those present, who carried on long into the night.

Ether column, March 2009

Not much doubt in my mind about the concert of the month (although work commitments mean that I can’t be there, annoyingly) – an evening of blistering free jazz courtesy of The Thing, aka Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and Swedish bassist Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten. Regular readers of this column will not be surprised to learn that both Gustafsson and Nilssen-Love are frequent collaborators of the titanic German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, Gustafsson in the all-reeds trio Sonore, Nilssen-Love in various group formats. Together with Haker-Flaten they walk the precipice between free jazz, out-there rock and garage punk. Gustafsson channels the spirit of Fire Music legend Albert Ayler in his inspirational sax playing, while Nilssen-Love attacks his kit with savage ferocity and the bassist anchors the whole edifice with his rock-solid pizzicato work. Playing in the intimate surroundings of the Blue Tomato, The Thing will surely blast the roof off the place.

If The Thing represent modern European free jazz at its most extreme, saxophonist Paul Dunmall is an example of the kind of dedicated, unsung musician thrown up by the British free improvisation movement. Where Brötzmann and his ilk picked up the sound of American free jazz and took it even further out, Dunmall was part of a British scene that went in the other direction, towards abstraction and relative quiet. Best known for his membership of Mujician, a quartet led by the formidable English pianist Keith Tippett, Dunmall appears in Vienna with a trio that is effectively Mujician without Tippett, i.e. accompanied by Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums.

Intriguing evening in prospect – at least for those with good German, which counts me out – at the WUK this month, as Einstürzende Neubauten mainman Blixa Bargeld reads from his new book Europa Kreuzweise: Eine Litanei.  As an attempt to answer the question “what does it mean, to be on a non-stop concert tour for two months?”, the book describes the monotony of movement, interrupted by restaurants, readings and meetings. As I noted in my preview of Neubauten’s last Vienna appearance in April 2008, Bargeld is a lyricist of great skill and acuity, his texts replete with tumbling wordplay and caustic imagery. Between Neubauten activity in recent years, he has given solo vocal performances under the title Rede/Speech, in which he treats his voice with a variety of foot pedals and effects equipment. Expect this not to be a standard book reading.

Easter Quiz – winner and answers

I’m delighted to announce that the winner of my Easter picture quiz is Walter Robotka of (where else?) Vienna. Walter will be receiving a small pile of CDs (some of which he probably already owns, one or two of which he probably even put out himself) in the next few days.

In case you’re interested, here are the correct answers:

1. Neil Young
2. Einstürzende Neubauten
3. Heather Nova
4. Dead Can Dance
5. Okkervil River
6. Gillian Welch
7. The Band
8. Dido
9. Lloyd Cole
10. Albert Ayler
11. Lucinda Williams
12. Steven Stapleton (Nurse with Wound)
13. Esbjorn Svensson
14. The Dirty Three
15. Jarboe
16. Marissa Nadler
17. Douglas P (Death in June)
18. Ultravox!
19. Jandek
20. Kathleen Edwards

Many thanks to all those who sent in entries.

Man assaulted by police dies on the streets of London

I’m not in the habit of making this kind of post, but I’m sickened by this film of a man being assaulted on a London street by a so-called police officer. This vicious and unprovoked attack took place in the middle of a demonstration which the man himself was not taking part in. A few minutes later the man died of a heart attack, leaving a woman without her husband and a man without his father.

Easter Quiz 2009

Undeterred by the total lack of interest in my 2008 Easter quiz, I’ve decided to set another one this year. The difference is, this year there are prizes! Yes, I’ll send a (small) pile of CDs to the person who sends me the most right answers by the closing date of Easter Monday, 13 April. None of your rubbish, either. Good CDs, all unplayed.

If more than one person gets all the answers right, I’ll send those people a tie-breaker picture which will decide the winner.  So, get thinking and identify the 20 artists or groups in the pictures below, all of whom I think are fab, groovy and wonderful:

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