Han-earl Park/Catherine Sikora/Nick Didkovsky/Josh Sinton
anomic aphasia


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 musicians.

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 Kar
l Jenkins used to compose and perform in early-period Nucleus. Fine Fripp by Didkovsky!

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

Beppe Colli 2015

CloudsandClocks.net | May 16, 2015