During late adolescence – in those hazy days before the Internet, I learned a valuable lesson – one which continues to guide my hunt for exciting sounds decades later. It’s hard to remember how difficult music (outside of mainstream interest) was to uncover during the late 80’s and very early 90’s. There was no Google. There were no streaming sites or blogs. Few magazines hinted that there was a world beyond their pages. Fanzine’s were harder to get your hands on than history now leads you to believe, and shops rarely carried what you wanted to hear. Information was passed by hand and mouth. A friend might tip you to a record – it was up to you to dub it, find it in obscure mail order catalogs, or wait until you could get to a specialty shop. Independent discovery was incredibly hard fought. During those years, I quickly learned that the bands I loved tended to share good company. Upon entering a new musical love affair, I would methodically explore its label’s discography – rarely to a disappointing end.
The arts are inclined to acknowledge artistic singularity. We think of great music as a rare eureka – something which record labels are lucky to participate with. We intuitively regard those who release and distribute music as secondary. What is crucial to recognize is that many labels, particularity independent ones, are run with an art equal to their releases. Their owners are explores, lovers, and curators, doing everything they can to form a better and more exiting vision of the world. In more cases than not, they are as singular as their artists, and what they release would not find an easy home anywhere else. We owe them a great (and continuously evolving) debt.
Over my years of collecting and exploring, as grateful as I am for all the wonderful sounds countless musicians have brought to my ears, I am equally thankful for the hard work and risk that their labels have embarked on. In more cases than not, it has been my loyalty to them – through explorations of their catalogs, that has allowed me to discover what I have.
We all have our favorites. The record labels which I anxiously watch are far too many to count, but residing at the top of my list is unquestionably Black Sweat. Since first coming across the imprint back in 2013, few labels have sent my heart skipping with such anxious anticipation – while equally fulfilling my hopes and exceptions with every coming release. Theirs is one of the most meticulous, beautiful, rewarding, and ambitious discographies I can call to mind. I own nearly everything they have issued, and what I don’t, nags at my soul. In addition to what I will cover here today, I happily recommend everything they have brought into the world.
Black Sweat was founded in a similar spirit to The Hum. It is a manifestation of the desire to share – to bring wonderful and neglected music (both new and old) into people’s lives. It was instigated by Davide Domenichini (Dome) of the incredible Al Doum & The Faryds, as a means to deliver the music he loved to the ears of the audience it rightfully deserved, and to help us all learn. In his hands, I have been guided toward discovery after discovery – a gift for which I cannot thank him enough.
Black Sweat has been busy in the last month or so – which hasn’t helped me much. I’m ridiculously behind in my record reviews. About a month ago they brought out three remarkable releases (one of which has a second expanded CD issue) and this week they have brought us two more. I figured I couldn’t delay, and should tackle them all before any more time slipped away. Dome has done it again. Each is an absolute must. You can pick them up directly from the label’s website, from their Bandcamp page, from SoundOhm in Europe or Forced Exposure in the States, and from most record shops near you.
Wayne Siegel – Autumn Resonance / Domino Figures (1983 / 2016)
Black Sweat’s issue of Wayne Siegel’s Autumn Resonance / Domino Figures is a little bittersweet. It is a record I never thought I would see reissued, spent years hunting for, and only came across my copy a year or so ago. I’ve been keeping it close to my chest – planning to write about it during future explorations of lesser known Minimalist triumphs. That said, I can’t express how happy I am to see it reemerge for a new audience. Had I seen it coming, I would have waited for it.
Wayne Siegel is an American composer who has lived and worked in Denmark since the late 70’s. Though he’s been fairly prolific over the course of his career, many cite this album as his most enduring release. It is incredible, containing two works of shimmering subtle brilliance. I have no idea why it isn’t more well known. It stands up with the best artifacts from this period. Siegel is part of a second wave of Minimalism (sometimes referred to as Post-Minimalism) that grew during the late 70’s and early 80’s, and stretched across the globe. Like many of his contemporaries, his work is characterized by an exploration of greater harmonic and structural complexity than the previous generation of composers. Though employing a great deal of constraint, the territory of approach and practice was greatly expanded. Minimalism laid a groundwork which was chopped up, recombined, and radically pushed forward. Both works featured on the LP exemplify this in very different ways – constructed through a process that delays and repeats every element in a certain measure, without intentional alteration. Domino Figures is an astounding work composed in 1979 for between 10 and 100 guitars – each player entering progressively one beat behind the next, building toward a rippling ambience. Though comparisons to Post-Minimalist composers for guitar ensembles like Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham are likely to arise – and there are some similarities, it’s important to recognize that Siegel’s approach was very different – particularity through its use of systemic structure, as well as in sonic pallet. Domino Figures is played on acoustic guitars and constructed from arpeggio patterns rather than strummed electric guitars – giving it an entirely different reality and effect. It is far more delicate and intricate than other works which might bear similarity – shifting between complete loss of instrumental source and total connection to it. Autumn Resonance, composed the same year, is an equally astounding work for piano and live electronics. It manages to surprise me and defy expectations every time I drop the needle and let it play through. It is the perfect example of the kind of ambition which younger composers began to embrace during this period. Where much of the previous generation tended to apply a compositional conceit across an entire work – favoring an even arc stretching over the totality, Siegel (with others from his generation) took more dynamic risk. Autumn Resonance is broken into movements which are forced into conjunction through fairly radical shifts – from ambient sheets, to percussive patterns, and back again. It might be described as the sonic territories explored by Charlemagne Palestine and Lubomyr Melnyk, pushed against that of Steve Reich, while run through electronic processing. The result is both disjointing and deeply rewarding – sculpting an album which is an absolute must for anyone interested in Minimal and Post-Minimal music. This is a reissue not to be missed for any reason – placing an all too neglected composer into the light where he always should have been.
Wayne Siegel – Early Works (2016)
Early Works is the expanded CD issue of Autumn Resonance / Domino Figures – nearly doubled in length by the addition of two previously unavailable early works by Siegel – Voices Recurrent and Music For 21 Clarinets. There are very few instances where I would recommend buying a CD issue over the vinyl, but this might be one. Truthfully, I’d say it’s worth picking up both – particularly because of the scarcity of recordings of Seigel’s works from this period. Each of the two unheard works takes us great lengths toward understanding the composers expanded practice and how it is distinct from from his peers and the generation who proceeded him. This is Minimalism taking a form which you are unlikely to recognize. They feature similar strategies to those employed in the album’s first two works, but embrace a much broader sonic pallet, greater range, and a more complex realization of structure. Siegel has a very interesting way of challenging his audience – shifting from intoxicating beauty to grinding dissonance and frantic meter. Through it, he manages to cover a full spectrum of human emotion, while equally realizing the entire potential of the structures which bring his works to life. You get the sense that nothing has been held back (something rare in Minimalism). What’s particularly striking about CD issue is the territory it manages to cover within a great deal of limitation. Each track is built around a different instrument – each utilized to push a specific attribute of compositional possibility. Through each respective instrument, particularly when placed in conjunction, a transparency emerges into the composer’s arching structures which might otherwise be unavailable. It is a brilliant piece of curation and album for the ear – one through which to push and challenge yourself as a listener, rewriting everything you think you know.
Gaetano Liguori Collective Orchestra – Gaetano Liguori Collective Orchestra (1976 2016)
Despite the sprawling character of my collection, and the fact that I run a music site, I don’t tend to make grand claims about my knowledge of recorded music. My years have taught me that no matter how much you discover, there is always plenty more waiting around the corner. In the case of Jazz – particularity Free and Spiritual Jazz, I’ve dug deep. It’s one of the great loves of my life. The expectation of uncovering new gems is fleeting and rare. I’ve been digging in the trenches for decades. This is why Black Sweat’s issue of Gaetano Liguori Collective Orchestra’s self titled LP from 1976 was such a shock. Not only did I have no idea it existed, I didn’t realize anyone in Italy had ever made music like this. Though Free-Jazz took root all over Europe during the 60’s and 70’s – finding new and distinct forms, documents from Italy are almost completely unknown to the world beyond. There seems to be a fairly simple reason for the gap in my knowledge. Unlike most of Europe, which saw a great deal of cross pollination between European players from diverse geographies with those from America – allowing fans to follow threads into more obscure realms, Jazz in Italy appears to have been fairly hermetic. As far as I can tell, there wasn’t a great deal of contact or collaboration with the outside world. I expect most fans will be as shocked as I was (if this album is any indication of the whole) regarding how incredible it seems to have been. Liguori has been a mainstay in Italian Jazz since the 70’s, but his Collective Orchestra appears to have been short lived. This is their only available recording. It stands up against the best of anything, made anywhere – presenting its singularity something of a tragedy. This is a serious record – not be dismissed. It’s a chugging, wild big band frenzy which enters my consciousness in the company of some of my all time favorites – the likes of Philip Cohran, Bill Dixon, Mtume Umoja Ensemble, Horace Tapscott, and John Carter, while sculpting a sonic world entirely its own. It takes the wild energy of Free-Jazz and focuses it to a razors edge, bound in complex structure which flirts with aspects of Spiritual Jazz, but never touches down long enough to be caught in easy definition. It writhes and storms into one of the most powerful revaluations in Jazz that I’ve had in a long time. Though we live in great moment for Jazz reissues, this is unquestionably not one to be passed over lightly.
I.P.Son Group – I.P.Son Group (1975 / 2106)
Like the Gaetano Liguori Collective Orchestra LP above, I.P.Son Group’s self-titled LP from 1975 was a revelation. I had no previous awareness of it, and though it took a little time for it to grow on me, when it did, a love affair quickly took root. Something to touch on regarding the Italian underground scene from the 1970’s, was that it often defied many of the standard trajectories we associate with counter-cultural music. Across most of the world, musicians tended to start in the underground (particularity during this period) and move toward the popular landscape. In Italy, musicians often went in the opposite direction. This sculpted a sound which is almost impossible to nail down, has almost no equivalent, and allowed for a great deal of intellectual cross-pollination which didn’t occur in other geographies. I.P.Son Group’s sole LP might be easily cast as the product of a Jazz ensemble with ethnic influences, but this would do it a disservice. The project is better understood within the broad musical landscape, outside of any particular genre. Italian music from this period is marked by hybridity – drawing from diverse musics around the world, as well as Jazz, Rock, and others. This LP is no exception. It isn’t Jazz. It isn’t Rock. It isn’t ethnic pastiche. It is its own thing, drawing as much on the spiritually tinged efforts of that came out of the groundwork laid by John Coltrane, as it does from rambling psychedelic jams, and music from the Middle East and Africa. It’s a sprawling ambitious affair that I expect will be rewarding to every listener who takes the time to understand its depths. Unquestionably a great addition the label’s astounding catalog, speaking volumes to what it’s all about.
Pit Piccinelli, Fred Gales, Walter Maioli – Amazonia 6891 (1985 / 2016)
Originally released as an incredibly rare cassette in 1985, my first listen to Amazonia 6891 was yet another slap to my sense of personal knowledge. I had no idea it existed. Though I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite from all the astounding releases featured here, this one was by far the greatest revelation. Walter Maioli is one of my favorite figures from the Italian avant-garde. He was a member of both Aktuala and Futuro Antico – unquestionably two of the most important projects to emerge from Italy’s underground music scene during the 70’s and 80’s. Pit Piccinelli and Fred Gales on the other hand, I had no previous awareness of. This is the only recorded document by either that I have encountered. Amazonia 6891 is an absolutely stunning piece of work – earth shattering and profound. Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine. There is almost nothing like it I can call to mind (at least from this era). The work, clocking in at just over an hour, is an extended electroacoustic work constructed from a collage of field recordings made in the jungle, treated to electronic processing – at first so discrete that you are unaware of it, to incredibly aggressive and interventionary. It is one of the most elegant and restrained masterpieces I have heard in recent memory. The beauty and chaos of nature brought to life and forced forward by three incredible artist’s hands. An absolute must!
Futuro Antico – Isole Del Suono (2016)