Han-earl Park/Catherine Sikora/Nick Didkovsky/Josh Sinton
It was about four years ago that - totally by chance: I
found the CD in my mailbox - I listened to guitarist Han-earl Park for the very
first time. While at first I believed that the only featured musicians on the
album besides Park were Bruce Coates and Franziska Schroeder, a closer
examination revealed that, besides being the name of the album, the tag
"io 0.0.1 beta++" was also the name of the fourth member of the
line-up: a "musical automata" that was fully engaged in an
improvising role, in deep dialogue with those three "humans".
Something that, though not totally unprecedented - I'll only mention trombonist
George Lewis and his software program called Voyager - involved a lot of
interesting issues. I have to add that the work appeared interesting and
stimulating anyway, a feeling of quality staying with the listener well after
all those intellectual preoccupations had been thoroughly investigated.
Just like its predecessor, anomic aphasia suddenly
appeared in my mailbox. Given my background in sociology, I thought I
understood what "anomic aphasia" stood for, but had a look at the
dictionary anyway, and that's what I found: that while words such as
"anomie" and "anomy" are part of the vocabulary of social
sciences, the Medical meaning of the word "anomia" is "a form of
aphasia in which the patient is unable to recall the names of everyday
objects". Interested readers are invited to think about the ways in which
the above-mentioned definition and the questionnaire that appears in the CD
booklet - a series of questions which investigate important issues with a light
tone - relate to improvisation.
While in the previous work the only name I was familiar
with was that of Bruce Coates, this time the only one that rings a bell is Nick
Didkovsky, especially but not exclusively thanks to his involvement with US
"rock" group Doctor Nerve. Strange to say, the first time I listened
to Didkovsky was in an improvising context: a 1987 duo with Fred Frith in the
very hot room of the school where the afternoon sessions took place during the
"Rock in Opposition"-inspired Festival that was held in St. Remy de
Provence. This time, the unknown names for me are Catherine Sikora and Josh
Sinton, whose playing on this album - even not taking into account what's on
the Web - shows excellent technical skills. Which is only half of the story, of
course - otherwise, poor automata "io 0.0.1 beta++" would always be
defeated. What we have to take into account is the decision process.
The album features two different line-ups. The trio that
appears under the name Eris 136199 features Han-earl Park and Nick Didkovsky on
guitars, together with - or, better said: forced into submission by - Catherine
Sikora's tenor and soprano saxophones. Then there's the trio of Park and Sikora
plus Josh Sinton on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, a trio that on two
occasions employs "tactical macros" devised and specified by Park
himself bearing the name METIS 9. At first I thought that "macro"
stood for "meta-rule", but the "anomic" episode made me
interrogate my dictionary one more time, so I found a meaning of macro as
"a single instruction that expands automatically into a set of instructions
to perform a particular task". In fact, the transition from Monopod - the
long improvised track that opens the CD - to Pleonasm - a track that has
musicians making use of "tactical macros" - runs parallel to a
transition towards shared rules that are correctly understood by the featured
But how does it sound? Here things get complicated - also,
a lot simpler.
I don't know if this is due to her own stylistic approach,
or the fact of performing solo very often, Catherine Sikora - who without a
doubt has a great pair of lungs - feels the need to occupy a lot of space,
something which in my opinion doesn't go too well with what the collective
creation of music really needs. Definitely a "rock" guitarist when it
comes to timbre, Nick Didkovsky is not easily defeated, in so differently from
Han-earl Park, who in a previous occasion I semi-jokingly defined as "Joe
Pass meets Derek Bailey". One could say that sometimes people like Anthony
Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell play a lot, but here the key word is "sometimes".
What's more, Sikora's performing grammar reminds me more of "torrential
improvisers" such as David Murray - definitely not my favourite musician,
by the way - than of those who create structure "in the moment" such
as those I previously mentioned.
Let's have a fast look at those pieces anyway.
At 27' 19", Monopod is track #1. There's a fine
contrast between Didkovsky's "rock" approach and Park's more
percussive character - sometimes the pair acts as an additional chapter to
those Guitar Solos volumes released in the late 70s. Meanwhile, the tenor sax
appears to inhabit an "independent" dimension. There's a fine
"guitar window" from about 13' to about 15', when the soprano
replaces the tenor and has a solo moment. Listen to the very appropriate way -
at about 17' 40" - Didkovsky complements the soprano with a
nervous-sounding "violin-guitar". Starting from about 21' there's a
fine percussive-sounding moment by Han-earl Park, and a new "episode for
guitars" which at about 24' 45" is followed by the soprano playing a
"folk-like" air, which to me sounds quite similar to what Karl
Jenkins used to compose and perform in early-period Nucleus. Fine Fripp by
At about 17', Pleonasm is the longest track performed by
the trio which features Josh Sinton, here on baritone saxophone. As I already
argued above, here the "tactical macro" METIS 9 is employed: tenor
and baritone appear as working in an ensemble mode, with fine use of
"hocketing", and a "fractured" melody that reminded me of
Braxton and Mitchell, the guitar playing unison chords. One can also detect a
pinch of the old Rova Saxophone Quartet, but with a less developed sense of
concision. Starting from about 10' there are fewer notes from the saxophone,
with more space for the guitar; starting from about 14' 30" there's a
theme, followed by an episode for solo tenor.
A shorter track, Flying Rods goes under the tag METIS 9. A
thematic sketch for tenor, a pinch of guitar, then a pinch of bass clarinet. To
me, this performance sounds as having a better balance than the one that came
before, but it pays the price for falling on tired ears. My suggestion: play it
after track #1.
A short track, Hydraphon features the trio freely
improvising. There's a fine combination of bass clarinet and percussive guitar,
but once again the tenor forces the others in a submissive role. Fine ending by
the two reed instruments, with a thematic sketch.
At about 10', closing track Stopcock takes us back to the
trio featuring Didkovsky, who starts the piece with a fine episode for rhythm
guitar, Park's guitar having a go at about 1' 30", with fine use of
volume. Starting at about 3', the tenor adopts a "Free Jazz" strategy
(I caught myself trying to mentally substitute Didkovsky and Park with Sonny
Murray and Jimmy Garrison!).
© Beppe Colli 2015
| May 16, 2015