Short Cuts 2: Fennesz, Akron/Family

More handy bite-sized reviews of recent shows I don’t have the time or the will to write more about.

Christian Fennesz, Vienna Radiokulturhaus, 2 November 2009

Very strong evening of guitar and laptop improvisations. The reason I love Fennesz so much is that he gives the lie to the idea that noise has to be ugly and atonal (not that that there’s anything wrong with atonality, done well). On the contrary, Fennesz’s music is dreamy, shimmering, and uplifting. And yes, it’s still noise. Beautiful.

Akron/Family, Vienna B72, 4 November 2009

A strange outfit, this. Their set was basically a long, free-flowing mix of dusty Americana, rabble-rousing vocal harmonies, eerie noise and guitar-driven progressive rock. Given this unusual blend, I can see why Michael Gira was so taken with them that he drafted them in to be his backing group. The great thing, though, was that the group allowed these disparate elements room to breathe and merge seamlessly into one another.

Carla Bozulich/Evangelista, Warsaw Powiększenie, 21 October 2009

A pleasure to find that my first visit to Warsaw coincided with a show by the highly innovative and talented Carla Bozulich. The Powiększenie is the place where folks like Brötzmann play when they hit town; indeed Sonore had just been there, and Ken Vandermark will return there soon with Paal Nilssen-Love. The upstairs bar was very cool but the performance space downstairs was kind of inhospitable, too long and narrow and on this night, bizarrely, seated. I grabbed a seat in the front row, which meant I had the pleasure of being in close proximity to Bozulich when she took a walk around the first few rows during the stunning “Baby That’s The Creeps”. In fact, she fell into my lap and pulled at my shirt, one of the many heartstopping moments that evening. Bozulich’s sound was driven by her extraordinary vocals, her aggressive approach to the guitar and by her group’s atmospheric cello and organ (the drums, I felt, were too lumpen and intrusive). I could have done without the occasional tedious dadaist tactics (bits of metal held up to the strings, a toy voice distortion box), but other than those, this was a hugely satisfying concert.

Sonore/The Thing, Vienna Blue Tomato, 15 October 2009

A truly blistering night of free jazz and improvisation from five of its finest exponents. Consisting of a series of combinations of the all-reeds trio Sonore (Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson) and Scandinavian power trio The Thing (Gustafsson plus Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on double bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums), the evening showed up the rock and noise crowds’ frequent claims to ‘extremity’ and ‘intensity’ for the empty boasts they are. With no guitars, no electronics and no amplification, these five gentlemen conclusively demonstrated that there is no music in the world more extreme and intense than the cry of a saxophone being flayed from the inside out, and the thunderous rumble of a drummer assaulting his kit into submission.

The concert began with a beautifully balanced set from Sonore, followed straight after by an incandescent duo set from Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love. Next up, Vandermark and Håker Flaten varied the mood and pace considerably. Vandermark showcased his sheer versatility, foregoing his usual Ayleresque attack with a bout of cerebral blowing that reminded me of Anthony Braxton. Håker Flaten remained onstage for The Thing’s set, during which Mats Gustafsson played sax with a jaw-droppingly physical ferocity. The inevitable conclusion saw all five men come together in a breathtaking show of mutual understanding, improvisational flair and deranged sonic attack.