Freak Scene #28


This week Freak Scene takes on folk guitarists, JAMC descendants, Religious Knives side projects and mindblowing free jazz.




James Blackshaw is a name that has been coming up quite a bit in the new folk guitar conversations. Blackshaw has compiled an international compilation of stringed delights that shows us a bit more where he’s coming from called The Garden Of Forking Paths released by Important Records. The album is book-ended by two elegant Koto performances by Japanese composer Chieko Mori. Both pieces shimmer melodically in interesting spaces and textures echoing both eastern romanticism and western classicism. Blackshaw’s own contribution “The Broken Hourglass” is a raga-ballad that would make Basho proud in its splendor. Blackshaw can pull off the huge cathartic melodic resolutions of Fahey while remaining outside the direct American Primitive-isms. Any guitar fan will be pleased. Now even though I’ve never cared much for Espers, their members’ solo work leaves many treasures, including the drone chamber folk of cellist Helena Espvall who contributes a lengthly exploration of her instrument with a keen virtuosity (She has an excellent solo album on the Fire Museum label as well). Add a track from Lute player Jozef van Wissem and you have a dramatic comp of emotionally charged, stylistically varied instrumental music that makes sense as a total statement amidst the scope of the project. Someone buy this Blackshaw guy a drink on me.


On a different tip entirely, I got a killer self-released tape of cello/synth/drum machine dark-wave electro from Black Math, a duo from Chicago who present a dozen or so tracks that fit right in with the whole Weird Records scene. More than anything they sound like a more New-Wave version of mid period Jesus and Mary Chain at times. Interesting to see the new cassette culture spreading to more forgotten subgenres of underground music as I expected the tape to sound like either a car crash or a cloud as most of the tapes I get in the mail are. However Black Math got the tunes and hooks with minimal instrumentation and arrangements. The songs are split between male and female vocals although they are distant enough to not be distracting to the overall aesthetic of self-recorded basement dance dungeons. There’s a dark driving momentum to the songs that even in their nascent state of amateur first creations still give a nice pin-prick to the ears. Keeping my eyes on these two.


Speaking of cassettes, Heavy Tapes has released two cassettes simultaneously by Workbench, which is Mike Bernstein from Religious Knives solo work. As the project has evolved its focus has been less on drone and more of a general psychedelic nature. These two tapes, I believe are part of the Magical Puerto Rican Sessions, culled from recordings made therein. The material varies from the more sparse “Frequencies” which feature keyboard and delayed vocals to the more full on “Pipes” that sounds right in key with his recent RK work albeit a bit more dark. As always with Heavy Tapes, the artwork is handled on these by resident Heavy Taper Maya Miller, who always knows how to make a release stand out. Musically, Workbench is moving closer to extended song-form than in prior efforts. The further away from improv the better in my mind on this project as that territory has been covered already. So if you think you don’t need to hear this stuff, well you should probably think again, you may be surprised.


Lastly, we come to one of the titans of European free jazz, the one and only Peter Brotzmann, on the One Night in Burmantofts disc backed by Simon Fell on double bass, Alex Wilkinson on Sax and voice and Will Kellers on drums released on the BoWeevil label. For those new to Brotzmann, he is a true force on saxophone as well as the clarinet and has made seminal recordings with the Euro masters Derek Bailey, Evan Parker et all as well as the Americans like William Parker and Hamid Drake. Last year Brotzmann released a fantastic duo LP with Han Bennick on the Eremite label which is worth its musical gold. This quartet here plays the fire music though with restraint enough for a listen that has both power and listen-ability. Brotzmann plays his instruments the way a painter creates a portrait, with large and soft brush strokes. The resulting picture is both in the grand tradition of the classics with a modern touch. With the Albert Ayler documentary making the rounds, this is a record to feel how his impact has affected his descendents. Viva Brotzmann.

STEVE LOWENTHAL

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Freak Scene #28