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The Watchful Ear
by Richard Pinnell

Given that the same old discussions about the impact of overt politics in experimental music have resurfaced on the internet again today, this is a timely (though coincidental) CD to be writing about this evening. Casa Corp is the title of a trio release on the Dromos label by Edén Carrasco, (alto sax) Christof Kurzmann (laptop and voice) and Leonel Kaplan (trumpet). It contains a single thirty-three minute long (mostly) improvised piece recorded a little more than a year ago in Buenos Aries. On the whole, its a very lovely disc of slithering, burbling electroacoustic improvisation. However at a couple of points on the release Kurzmann, out of nowhere sings verses from the leftist protest song The Red Flag.

Now I’m not going to further labour the point about Kurzmann’s singing voice. I’m not a fan of it, and can’t see that changing any time soon. From the minute I saw the ‘voice’ credit beside his name on this release however I made a conscious effort to try and get past it and try and enjoy the album in spite of whatever Kurzmann’s singing brought to it. For the majority of the time, this is easy to do then, because the vocals are only present for a small portion of what is otherwise a very nicely put together (if slightly muddily recorded) improv session. The impact of the vocals however is enormous. Not only because the vocals sound awkward and completely out of place, but also because of the chosen song. Why was this particular piece of left wing history chosen? A reference to a situation in Argentina? A reminder that avant garde music has political responsibilities? Certainly it has brought the question of how politics are infused into experimental music to the front of my thoughts again, but was there any need? Personally I think the addition of the two bursts of The Red Flag here- one at the start of the piece, once it gets going after two or three minutes of near silence, and again at the end, ruin the album. Honestly its like sitting in the garden early one wintry morning admiring how the frost highlights a beautiful, intricate spider’s web, only for a copy of the Socialist Worker to blow over the fence and rip right through it. Its nice to be reminded of the good fight every so often. But not now. Not here. I was enjoying that album.

If the inclusion of The Red Flag here was indeed a politically motivated gesture, I wonder what it hoped to achieve? Surely this CD will sell a maximum of about two hundred copies? Surely those copies will be bought by (almost entirely) those who already align themselves to some degree at least with the left side of the political spectrum? I cannot believe I am the only one that considers all improvising musicians to have a default starting position of being aligned to the left. What did hearing this song amongst an otherwise really energising, captivating half an hour of free improvisation hope to achieve beyond reaffirming what we already think? There is nothing wrong with the message, but to my ears this was a poor choice of vehicle through which to send it. Maybe the inclusion of the song wasn’t a political move at all. In which case its annoying and confusing rather than annoying and intriguing. So, yes, I tried to make a conscious effort to get past Kurzmann’s singing on this album. Don’t think it worked out…

The rest of the album though, is really enjoyable. The two minute wait for anything to happen is a nice touch. When sounds appear, breathy gushes build over a short period into the gently pulsing, slightly droning, but mostly texturally layered music. It all feels fragile and human, the sounds of exhaling through metal pipes underpinned by Kurzmann’s very nice electronic groans and tones. The trio work well together but also keep the music tilting on an edge, constantly feeling like it will all fall apart, held together by the limitations of the human lungs and the processing power of a computer. It stays interesting, and keeps the listener fixed for its half an hour length (increasingly I am considering thirty minutes to be the optimum length for music of this type) and, if it wasn’t for the vocal bookends would be a very fine album indeed. As it is, I probably won’t play it again in a hurry, which is a shame, to me at least.

On a separate note, one of the most beautiful CD sleeves I’ve seen in a while, a delicate, photo-mechanical print that naturally decays as the sleeve goes about its intended purpose. Very nice.

all about jazz
by John Eyles

Casa Corp is the second release by the Buenos Aires-based trio of Argentine trumpeter Leonel Kaplan, Chilean alto saxophonist Edén Carrasco, and Austrian vocalist Christof Kurzmann. It follows Una Casa / Observatorio (2011), on Kaplan's own Three Chairs Recordings label. Kaplan and Carrasco were also on the Dromos label's first release in 2009, Moments of Falling Petals, in a trio completed by guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama. In common with all releases on Dromos, Casa Corp is released in a limited edition, each one housed in a unique sleeve featuring an original piece of art work, in this case a print of an original oil painting made by American artist Thuy-Van Vu.

The music consists of one 33-minute track recorded in December, 2011 at Buenos Aires' Casa Co. It opens so quietly that it might appear that there's a sound system malfunction; only after two minutes have elapsed are any kind of sounds detectable—the most minimal traces of breathing, passing through instruments, coupled with electronic noise. This opening effectively functions as a Cageian silence, only being broken (just before the 4' 33" mark, incidentally) by Kurzmann's voice intoning "The Red Flag," accompanied by textural sounds—more breath, and key popping from Carrasco and Kaplan. As always, Kurzmann's instantly recognizable vocals are stylized but extremely affecting in a well-matched combination of voice, electronics and instrumental sounds.

After the vocals end, the piece continues as a three-way improvisation in which the trumpet and saxophone intersperse conventional notes with breathy sounds, combining with Kurzmann's electronic tones into an atmospheric soundscape rich in detail and depth. Some five minutes from the end, Kurzmann reprises his vocal performance of "The Red Flag" before a final coda of silence brings the piece to a satisfyingly symmetrical close. As a whole, Casa Corp is well-constructed and equally well-performed, the kind of piece that will handsomely repay repeated listening.

by Ken Waxman

Two horn-based trios explore the outer edges of morphed volume control and time synthesis on these releases, testing and defining sonic limits. Essentially a cumulative record of undifferentiated expelled air, Berlin-based Trigger mixes nephritic intonation from American Chris Heenan’s contrabass clarinet with the shivering or calculated pitches of Nils Ostendorf’s trumpet plus Matthias Müller’s trombone, during eight mid-length tracks. In contrast, the Buenos Aires-based threesome on Casa Corp aims for a varied aesthetic, moving from the nearly inaudible to the practically unbearable during a single 33-minute improvisation. The players are less homogenous as well. Although trumpeter Leonel is native Argentinean, alto saxophonist Edén Carrasco is from Chile; and Christof Kurzmann who uses the live-improvising, interactive ppooll software is a transplanted Austrian.

The South Americans, who have also played at points with guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama, trumpeter Birgit Ulher and saxophonist Michel Doneda, are obsessed with patching, spinning and whistling air sourced from within their horns’ body tubes, usually without valve or key movement. The result can be guess-the-source textures or dense, blurry tones that appear to be impenetrable. At the same time some of the spatially-centred and quivering pumps and presses arise from Kurzmann’s networked Max patches. In fact when what sounds like claw-hammer string strums from a balalaika are heard between hissing modulations or thunderous reverb, the source is probably the ppooll. It’s also these times when Carrasco’s and Kaplan’s otherwise extended techniques turn to recognizable tropes, with brassy grace notes from one axe, plus reed slurs and tongue slaps from the other.

Oddly at the same time as the computer generator’s signal-processed rhythmic undercurrent or motor-driven flanges set out to shove the program into pure abstraction, Kurzmann, to signal the performance’s end, intermittently and conclusively recites agit-prop lyrics. Unusually sang to the melody of “O Tannenbaum”, Kurzmann’s off-handed sing-speech version of Jim Connell’s 1889 song “We’ll keep the Red Flag Flying”, anthem of the British and Irish labor parties, may have a different resonance in South American situations. Suggesting that “beneath its folds we’ll live and die though cowards flinch and traitors sneer” he brandishes hyper-realistic sentiments that may resonate in countries such as Chile and Argentina which have suffered under harsh dictatorships. Then again he recites the lyrics in English rather than Spanish or Portuguese.

Changing locales and continents, Trigger’s harsh spatial expansion seems strictly non-political and overwhelmingly committed to sound experimentation for its own sake. By the same token while the narrative cohesion is tighter than that expressed by Kaplan, Kurzmann and Carrasco, Ostendorf, Müller and Heenan often have to work overtime to source individual tones and prevent each track from sounding too similar to the previous or subsequent ones. Sporadically as well, at times the straightforward wave forms, oscillated slurs and strident squeals output by the players accelerate to agitated, undifferentiated sludge. More often than that, a textural shift on one or another of the musicians’ part(s) avoids that trap.

Most notable are narratives such as “Anchialine” and “Talus”. On the first, pedal-point torque from Heenan’s horn shudders with tremolo lows as Müller snorts and Ostendorf blows unaccented air through his horn. Following Heenan inflating his tone to strident timbres, he suddenly cuts off his sounds as the other two percussively smack their instruments’ metal with their palms. Earlier, “Talus” demonstrates how the trombonist, who elsewhere works with the likes of guitarist Olaf Rupp, can speedily slide from clear plunger tones to those which provide a rhythmic ostinato. Meanwhile the trumpeter whistles and chirps, as Heenan, freed from the usual arrangement of his tones on the bottom, has the freedom to output watery reed kisses and tongue stop with only a bit of irregular vibrato. In general though, the stand-out track may be “Littoral” which is anything but a literal replication of usual horn blending. Instead after the three improvisers compress textures into what appears to be a mulched, strident and concentrated drone, a wriggling, distinctive narrative eventually breaks out.

Unconventional instrument connections lead to inimitable programs. While neither trio reaches a fully satisfying conclusion, each program calls for deep listening to understand how the participants structure their responses to sonic challenges.

Improv Sphere
by Julien Héraud

Après Una casa/Observatorio, Casa Corp est la deuxième publication de ce trio. On retrouve donc les mêmes musiciens avec les mêmes instruments, c'est-à-dire Leonel Kaplan à la trompette, Christof Kurzmann au lloopp, et Edén Carrasco au saxophone alto.

Sur cet enregistrement, le trio propose une unique session improvisée d'une trentaine de minutes. La pièce débute avec un silence d'environ trois minutes, suivi du souffle des vents et d'un refrain d'une chanson gauchiste interprétée par Kurzmann évidemment, et la conclusion du disque est symétrique. Cette ébauche de structure est un peu formelle et convenue, la plus intéressant se trouve plutôt entre cette introduction et cette conclusion à mon avis. Comme sur leur premier disque, c'est toujours la sensibilité et la créativité du trompettiste Leonel Kaplan qui retiennent le plus mon attention. Ceci-dit, l'interaction entre les techniques étendues abstraites de la trompette, le minimalisme discret de Carrasco et les boucles numériques de Kurzmann valent largement le coup d'oreille. On est constamment balloté entre la musique populaire, l'expérimentation réductionniste et l'improvisation réactive. Les musiciens sont très attentifs les uns aux autres, mélangent les sources et distinguent leur voix au gré des humeurs, tout en proposant une musique singulière et sensible. C'est calme, sensible, poétique et créatif, une belle session en somme.