Saturday, July 19, 2008

Paul Lytton / Nate Wooley (Brokenresearch LP)

When the new run of Brokenresearch titles came out, the one that most surprised me was definitely this. Paul Lytton is a mainstay of European free improv as well as an electronic pioneer in his own right. Considering that he is a percussionist who has played with the likes of Evan Parker, Ken Vandermark and Marilyn Crispell, as well as being a founding member of the London Musicians' Cooperative, it seems a bit of a surprise to see him dueting with trumpeter Nate Wooley.

Of course Wooley ain't no slouch either. He's made his mark on the contemporary improv scene with Melee, a trio with Ben Hall and Hans Buetow, but has also played with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Chris Speed, and Nmperign member Bhob Rainey. Not bad for a guy with releases on labels as removed from the jazz scene as American Tapes, Arbor, and Meudiademorte.

So in a way, this duet could really be scene as a cross-generational bridge between a veteran interested in pushing the boundaries of jazz and electronic music and a relative newcomer who seeks to do exactly the same. Fundamentally then this is not jazz or noise or experimental or modern classical. It is improvisation, two men interacting in an open sound world where each instant is the key to the next. Pretty serious and thoughtful material.

Side one is basically just a stuttering and sputtering kinetic wash. Lytton's percussion opens, bouncing around the room with scraping erraticism. If you're looking for a real drum solo you're not going to find it here. With no clear pulse there is only movement, and plenty of it, as the two mesh their distinctly rhythmic stop-start approach. Hardly a shock to see this coming out on a label closely associated with Graveyards, and definitely not unlike the Jeff Arnal and Dietrich Eichmann album Brokenresearch put out either, this is thoughtful 21st century improvisation that takes into account so many sources its hard to decipher them. Clearly there is jazz, especially of the European and American improvised variety, but Karlheinz Stockhausen is in there, as are the noisier approaches of groups like Melee, though it's tough to get away with that one because so much of that style of experimental improvisation is coming from either Nate Wooley, Ben Hall, Hans Buetow or John Olson. Still though, they are shaping that world to some degree, and this is surely not unaware of that.

Side two really opens the album up. Here the electronic methods of both men make themselves extremely clear as full bass notes bounce in and out and the sounds of shuffling playing cards and fingers running across combs make their across the mics. Wooley lets his trumpet loose, really exploring the range of breathy tones he can get. It even gets quite violent at one point, with neither player holding back, before settling back down into the small sounds of whatever they seem to have lying around. It all takes a queue from the Art Ensemble of Chicago's little instruments, only fed through the aesthetics of like-minded percussionist and Lytton affiliate John Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Wooley's trumpet practically starts to speak, muttering and guffawing like a lamb under great duress as the smattering of Lytton's drums highlight the chilly movements. It's all very playful, with Wooley sometimes even reciting lines from some long lost Martian New Orleans big band. More often than not Lytton sounds like he's playing tin cans with knives or shaking up the old wine glasses from his parents wedding. Can't really tell what half of the sounds he's making stem from, but you can bet most of them are pretty typical household materials.

It's an extremely physical album, painterly as hell. At its loudest moments, it sounds like they're playing right into your ears, and at its softest you can practically feel the brushes on the drum skins or the air being pushed through Wooley's trumpet. You know that solo video of Han Bennink playing all those wild percussion instruments? This one? Well it's very much in that spirit, only with the Bill Dixon stylings of Nate Wooley on top. Virtuoso stuff without sounding the least bit pretentious.

Another beautiful black on white package from Brokenresearch, limited to 200. The website says it's still in stock, though who really knows. Absolutely worth a check though, this is one of the most beautiful releases in this oeuvre I've heard in a while.

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