When Cyro Baptista moved to New York in 1980 from his home city of São Paulo, he brought with him an arsenal of percussion instruments, including the cuica (friction drum), surdo (the booming bass drum associated with samba), berimbau (single-string bow with resonating gourd), and cabasas galore, in the next few years deploying them most notably in numerous ensembles curated by John Zorn, who helped set up this studio session in 1982.
As you might expect from someone whose infectious grooves have graced the work of Herbie Hancock, Astrud Gilberto and Cassandra Wilson, Baptista expertly fires off cunning polyrhythms, even traces of thumping samba, with restless fluency. Bailey the wily old fox skirts and eschews the bait, which is quickly conjured away and newly fashioned. The guitarist homes in on the delicious squeaks of the cuica and the twanging drones of the berimbau with truly awesome tonal precision. You could sing along if you wanted, after a caipirinha or two. And he gets almost as many different sounds from his instrument as Baptista can from his kit – check out the stratospheric plings and string-length fret-sweeps of Tonto, which sound more like a prepared piano than an acoustic guitar.
Wonders abound, from the berimbau/bent-string exchanges that open Quanto Tempo to the delightful collision of howling cuica and spiky bebop on Polvo, and the spare, preposterous Webernian samba of Improvisation 3. These days, ‘improvisation’ often appears without its customary qualifier ‘free’. If there were ever a case to be made for its reinstatement, this album is the best supporting evidence. Freedom means you’re free to get into the groove, free not to, free to play with each other, free to play against each other. Sometimes frustrating, even scary, but more often than not in the hands of these two great masters it’s hilarious, exhilarating and utterly irresistible.
Epiphany i-ˈpi-fə-nē (1) a manifestation of the essential nature of something (usually sudden) (2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (usually simple and striking) (3) an illuminating discovery or disclosure.
All three definitions apply perfectly to this span of music recorded at London’s ICA in July 1982. It’s a miracle of group interaction, wonderfully paced, moving steadily between moments of mounting intensity and tension. The passage about halfway through — when Derek Bailey’s harmonics ring out above a sheen of inside piano tremolos and shimmering electronics, topped off by Julie Tippetts’ soaring vocalese — is simply sublime. After which it’s fun to try and tell the two pianists apart. Are those runs Ursula Oppens, with her formidable technique honed from years performing some of the twentieth century’s most difficult notated new music, or are those Keith Tippett’s crunchy jazz zigzags? Are those intriguing twangs from one of Akio Suzuki’s invented instruments or could they be Fred Frith’s or Phil Wachsmann’s electronics? Bah, who cares?
There’s plenty of room for the more delicate instruments too, like Anne LeBaron’s harp picking its way gingerly through a pin-cushion of pings and scratches from Bailey and bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa. Of course, some performers are instantly recognisable: Tippetts, as lyrical and flighty on flute as when she sings, Phil Wachsmann, sinuous and sensitive on violin, and trombonist George Lewis, who, as John Zorn once put it, swings his motherfucking ass off.
So many magical moments abound, from the opening dawn chorus of Tippetts’ voice and Frith’s guitar swooping through a rainforest of exquisite piano cascades, to the Zen calm of the closing moments.
EM Records again shines the spotlight on legendary Thai producer Surin Phaksiri in this second edition of his classic productions from the 1960s-80s. The first edition, released in 2019, focused on his innovative productions in the luk thung (*1) style. This 2022 release features his stellar, glowing molam (*2) gems from the 60s-80s, drawn mainly from his golden era in the late 70s and early 80s. Surin Phaksiri is a highly esteemed figure in Thai music, rooted deeply in his native region of Isan in northeast Thailand, a producer with a deep respect for the traditional artistry of his culture, yet always moving forward, looking outward, listening ahead. The molam style of Thai music showcases the voice; indeed, the genre’s name means “expert singer”, and Thailand is blessed with an abundance of experts, singers with amazing control, grace, vitality and finesse. This collection of 22 songs (18 only for digital download) features 15 singers, ranging from venerated legends to unjustly unheralded masters of the art. These songs were recorded and released after the era of the 7-inch single; with the advent of the cassette boom in Thai music, most producers adopted a quantity-over-quality conveyer belt production style, churning out soundalike material to fill the expanded length of cassette tape. Phaksiri resisted these tides and continued to work with a single-song mindset, tailoring each production’s instrumentation and arrangement to precisely fit each singer and song. This care and integrity can be clearly heard in this sweetly groovy collection. These gems, originally released on 7-inch vinyl, are all first-time official reissues, a project years in the making. Compiled by Soi48, who also provide liner notes. Cover art by Shinsuke Takagi (Soi48).
1) Luk thung: A musical genre whose name means ʻcountry personʼs songʼ or ʻchildren of the fieldʼ . The name became established in the latter half of the 1960s and now has the status of a national genre of popular song unique to Thailand. The lyrics of luk thung songs deal mainly with the rural idyll, comparisons between the city and the countryside, life in the big city and current affairs. There are certain typical traits to the music, but no official musical form.
2) Molam: "mo" is an expert and "lam" is a kind of performance art where the artist tells a story using tonal inflexions. In other words, the term molam refers to both the singer and art form. Molam pieces are not strictly speaking "songs".
A split sided album on clear vinyl with Chris Watson and Georgia Rodgers, pairing two artists whose works here show different but complementary new forms in the use of field recording in composition. Both were originally multi-channel installations before the release of these stereo versions.
Notes From The Forest Floor was originally premiered in a different form in July 2015 at the ICA as part of an evenings event dedicated to the work of Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi. It was recorded in La Selva tropical rain forest reserve in Costa Rica.
Line Of Parts was originally premiered at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2019 as part of the Huddersfield Professional Development Programme for Female Composers of Electronic Music project. It was recorded in the Cairngorms and North London.
artwork by Chris Bigg
photography by Chris Watson/Georgia Rodgers
A cassette work of a project called Futuro Antico. A meditation synth and a bewitching flute unfold, which is good because it has a gentle, violent, piercing sound. It's also reminiscent of Terry Riley and Don Cherry's legendary live performances in Cologne.