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Matt Barbier: Face|Resection
Populist Records

tholl / fogel / hoff: Conditional Tension
Populist Records

Anyone acquainted with textura probably will be familiar with Populist Records, too, as well as its penchant for contemporary classical releases. Be that as it may, Conditional Tension isn't a conventional contemporary classical recording, the key detail being that the debut album by violinist Andrew Tholl, percussionist Corey Fogel, and bassist Devin Hoff presents two extended improvisations performed at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California on the evening of November 30th, 2012. And not only does that improvised dimension distance the release from classical music per se, the album's pieces differ dramatically, too, with the trio executing the first using acoustic instruments and the second electric. Consistent with the diversity of the music are the backgrounds of the musicians, with Hoff associated with free jazz and avant-rock (Xiu Xiu, Cibo Matto, Carla Bozulich) and Tholl contemporary classical via his membership in wildUP and the Formalist Quartet.

Tholl, Fogel, and Hoff weren't strangers before convening at the Hammer Museum; in fact, they'd played together in various configurations for many years, including touring and recording stints with Julia Holter (their contributions can be heard on her Loud City Song and Have You In My Wilderness). As might be expected from settings lasting thirty-eight and twenty-seven minutes, “Sensitivity to Initial Conditions” and “Reasonable Strategies for Tense Conjugation” feature a generous amount of exploration, with the musicians feeling their way along from one moment to the next. The three participate equally, and though it's natural to hear the violin as the lead instrument, Hoff and Fogel are forceful presences, the bassist plucking and bowing aggressively and the percussionist punctuating his bandmates' expressions with incessant commentary. Brief solo spotlights emerge on occasion but in a way that feels organic rather than overly scripted, and the interactions unfold with constant momentum and drive.

It wouldn't be pushing it too far to say that the acoustic piece often resembles an AACM-styled improv, with Tholl assuming the Leroy Jenkins role in such a proceeding and the trio itself suggesting some modern-day analogue to his Revolutionary Ensemble. Even though the wilder second setting nudges the music further along the continuum towards free jazz and even rock (Hoff's heavy electric bass playing a key reason), Conditional Tension dissolves to a large degree the customary boundaries separating classical and jazz . One imagines that for Tholl in particular the evening's performance must have been satisfying in allowing him to set aside the notated score and play with abandon.

As audacious in an entirely different way is Matt Barbier's Face|Resection, a ten-inch, bright crimson vinyl release featuring provocative pieces for solo trombone by Nicholas Deyoe and Clint McCallum. Performed by gnarwhallaby member Barbier and recorded earlier this year at the Conrad Prebys Music Center, UCSD, the two seven-minute settings, pitched as “stud[ies] in mechanization and degradation, in inhuman tasks and the inherent human element always present in their production,” aren't so much played by Barbier as bodily generated—or so it at least sounds. Such an impression is in keeping with the release's concept, which has to do with testing the limits of what a trombone and trombonist can do; it's also worth noting that no processing treatments were applied and that Barbier executed the acoustic music using nothing except the trombone plus a harmon mute and pot lid.

In Deyoe's “Facesplitter,” Barbier growls through the instrument, ostensibly merging the processes of vocal expression with the trombone and treating the mechanical device as a bodily extension. Throughout its seven minutes, low-pitched grumbles alternate with high-pitched wails, the material altering emphasis between the sound of the instrument and its bodily locus of origin. Complementary to Deyoe's piece is McCallum's “Bowel Resection,” in which Barbier executes a shifting series of insistent split-tone pitches without interruption, the trombonist's audible sniffs pointing to the circular breathing technique enabling him to generate the long, blustery tones without interruption. Though it goes without saying that all parties involved are serious about the project, it's nice to see a bit of levity seeping into the project, too, by way of the “Bowel Resection” title and an accompanying note that states that even though the recording was designed to be played at 45 RPM, it's perfectly permissible to listen to it at 33.

January 2016