Thursday, 31 January 2013

Bill Dixon - 'Collection' (Cadence)

There's a major problem with my copy of Bill Dixon's Collection, and that's disc 1 is actually disc 2. Though the printing on the face indicates that it is in fact the first disc, it's actually a second copy of disc 2. Which means that when I look at the track listing, I can only wonder what solo trumpet magic must occur on tracks such as 'The Long Walk', 'Tracings II', and 'When Winter Comes'. So instead, I'll listen to disc two twice. This is all solo trumpet, recorded in the mid-70s, and it shows all sides of Mr. Dixon. We get a bluesy, expressionistic Dixon on 'The Long Line' and an abstract, elliptical one on 'Swirls'. There's some percussion accompaniment on 'Summerdance or Judith Dunn - Pt. One', and this cavernous sound recalls some hip 1960's sci-fi soundtrack, or some Eurospy flick. It's a highlight - despite the rumbling drums, it's still very much Dixon's show, and some of squawks and shrieks are purely NWW-list sounding. Dixon's more soft, wooly recordings are preferable to the straight-ahead production, when the mic is places more close. I have quite a few records of solo saxophone, solo drums, etc on these shelves and while I rarely get the urge to pull them out, I'm always drawn to them conceptually - from a free/improv/jazz angle, the solo record is the ultimate statement (even if you make a bunch of them), as well as a uniquely egotistic thing. This is what I do, and here it is without any dressing. It's a bit brave, but also focused. 30 years later Greg Kelley will mine similar territory, and I'm sure Dixon's work is somewhat of an influence. This CD is plainly packaged and I always forget I have it (and definitely forgot about the missing disc 1) but there's a lot of beauty within.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Disco Operating System - 'Ultrasonic Bath' (Lotta Continua)

Among the dustbins of culture are so many self-released CDs, jewelcases stacking up to Saturn, and here's one more that probably no one has thought about in years, including its creator. Disco Operating System is Gareth Bibby of Manchester, UK, and the reason I own this is because he handed it to me at some point in the past decade. I've forgotten now exactly when and why and I assume I saw him perform this mishmash of electronica - too abstract to fall into the IDM category, but too, I dunno, 'straight' to get lumped in with irr.apt.(ext) and that sort of thing. There are tracks such as 'Boom-bip every trip' which reveal Bibby's background, surely as a dance/club kid (or maybe that's my stereotype of British people) - but then the very next song, 'Goblins be Thine', could be a Nurse With Wound outtake from circa the A Sucked Orange period. Bibby is clearly adept at using a computer - this is an excellent, if nondescript work of assemblage - and it relies on loops/repetition a bit too much, throwing up some easy surrealism and moving on. But this is a type of music to find almost no audience. It's not fun enough for a mass audience, but it's thoughtful/brainy approach tends too much towards easy rhythms and thus would alienate fans of pure electronic abstraction. There aren't many organic sounds here, but a warm feeling like those great Boards of Canada records, so it's not totally cold. But ultimately I stop paying attention and I wonder if I will listen to it ever again (as I probably only did once in the past decade).

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Directing Hand - 'Bells for Augustine Lesage' (Secret Eye)

Alex Neilson exploded with a flurry of musical activity about seven years back, playing suddenly with everyone from Alasdair Roberts to Jandek to Current 93. Often overlooked was his own solo project, Directing Hand, which was some part noisy free improv and some part traditional British folk re-interpretations. This CD on Secret Eye, a relatively early release in the Directing Hand saga, is somewhere in-between. Made up of Neilson plus many compatriots from his old band Scatter, this features a mix of loosely interpreted, casually sung traditionals (at the end of the disc, both the immortal Anne Briggs 'Lowlands' and the less known, Kentucky-based Jean Ritchie's 'Hangman') and some quiet, Jeweled Antler-styled drone pieces. With a name like Directing Hand you'd expect confidence but this is really music of trepidation. The vocals are constantly in retreat, and the various organs, brass instruments, strings and I think harmoniums carefully eek out notes only after everyone else has stepped forwards. It's a bizarre type of improv and Neilson's own voice is clear from a musical perspective even if his vocalics are often mixed low. But it's charming; that warm, enveloping sound made those overlooked Scatter CDs so wonderful to bathe in, and there's plenty of that here, even if the structure is somewhat more rampaging. At times Neilson feels almost like he is trying to channel as much energy as possible into low-volume music, an approach that is relatively successful.