field report no.100419

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Kuzu

OBSERVATIONS:
Dave Rempis is a latter-day free jazz ambassador. A prodigious collaborator, he’s one of the only members of his storied Chicago jazz scene who still regularly tours the country (as if he were some kind of indie-rock band). Which is how Kuzu came to be, the trio of Rempis with the Asheville duo of guitarist Tashi Dorji and Taylor Damon. I’ve seen Dorji often: Asheville has a very small scene. If you’re going to any advanced jazz show, it’s a good bet Dorji’s is a part of one of the warm-up acts.

The Kuzu combination brings more out of Dorji—he’s seems more giving. It’s possible Rempis raises the game or at least provides a fresh sparring partner. Live, Dorji was even more nuanced than on record. Perhaps without Rempis amplified, Dorji dialed it back giving everyone more room to hear. Damon was also impressive—placing bells on his drum heads he evoked gamelan in one sequence, (and still managing to hit some of the drum head as well). Each of the players was pliable and intuitively responsive this night.

NOTES: Kuzu (Dave Rempis, Tashi Dorji, Tyler Damon); Bruce Lamont; Kevin Hufnagel
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.091618

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Actual Cloud Formations

OBSERVATIONS:
I stumbled upon Shane Parish as the opening act for one of the first shows I attended in Asheville. I’ve since found out he’s something of a hometown hero (not mentioning he has a number of records on John Zorn’s Tzadik label). He plays around town often enough, it’s downright negligent of me to have not seen him since. (In my defense, I’ve twice had tickets to see his avant rock band, Ahleuchatistas, but life got in the way.) It finally came together, though, for this show: a record-release show (of sorts) for his new ambient guitar solo tape.

Parish actually opened the show up, solo, playing material from the new tape. Cellist Emmalee Hunnicutt played the middle set, solo. The night ended with Actual Cloud Formations, a sort of improvised folk trio featuring Parish and Hunnicutt alongside Ahleuchatistas, Ryan Oslance, on drums.

After the show I went straight to Cloud Formations bandcamp page to pick up their album. Listening back to it, I’d say they’ve improved by leaps and bounds. The album features Sally Anne Morgan on violin instead of Hunnicutt, and perhaps that’s a switch that has made a substantial impact. It could be Hunnicutt is a better fit, or perhaps the cello doesn’t compete with the guitar as much, tonally. The improvisations this night seemed much more focused—amorphous still, but with a sort of thrust of purpose and logical through-line.

NOTES: Actual Cloud Formations; Emmalee Hunnicutt; Shane Parish
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.090618

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Mark Hosler

OBSERVATIONS:
I have to admit, I haven’t heard that much Negativland. While they are an institution, a foundational plunderphonics group—like most people, I became most aware of them while they were waist-deep in a legal tussle with a certain band that rhymes with ‘you, too.’ By the time they extricated themselves from said kerfuffle, I guess my own interests had moved on. In truth, the early 90s—as I just starting to travel the outer limits of electronics with Zoviet*France and John Oswald—would have been the perfect timing. But, like ships in the night, as they say.

I’ve also moved on from New York City (to remote North Carolina) and I don’t get nearly as many opportunities to catch gonzo live sets—especially an artist like Mark Hossler, who, through Negativland, has a 40+ year history in the avant garde.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t just sampledelica—which can be fun but also always strikes me with a whiff of ironic distance or heavy-handed politics (or both). Most of his sounds were far more purely electronic-generated tones + effects and filters. If their origins lay in sampling, they’d been scrubbed clean. Hosler’s rig of devices was interesting, shimmed so his boards were tilted slightly towards the audience, giving us a window into how he was creating what we heard.

NOTES: Mark Hosler; Toybox; Okapi
PRESENT: AMS; Lily M.; Jackson A.

field report no.041518

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Screaming Females

OBSERVATIONS:
There's something Insanely gratifying about Screaming Females. Sure, they're as reliable a live band as I've seen—always on point—but something more. Punk has been with us for well nigh 50 years. The template can start to seem very stale and predictable. Every now and again, though, a band comes along that manages to not reinvent the genre, but reinvigorate it. Screaming Females so wholly embody the racket they make, it comes alive. They've got solid songwriting, chops, and a distinctive voice—all it takes to stand out from the collective weight of history, but what makes them vital is how it always feels that they throw themselves in, bodily to what they are doing. Seen live, the energy you feel from the band is palpably mirrored in the crowd. It’s nearly impossible not to get swept up in it.

NOTES: Screaming Females; Thou; Hirs; Teenage Halloween
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.041018

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Circuit des Yeux

OBSERVATIONS:
A trusted friend inveighed upon me to give Circuit des Yeux a listen, and seeing they were coming through town shortly, I opted to have my first experience be a live one. My report back to her was summed up as, "if Angels of Light had been Jarboe’s post-Swans project instead of Gira’s." Hayley Fohr's low contralto, laden with vibrato serves as the a centerpiece of an acoustic din that slowly coalesces, martially about her.

It was one those rare nights where it was worth arriving early. Every band on the ticket was worth the time and travel. The Nathan Bowles Trio was better than the first time I'd seen him, working a much more hypnotic folk motorik. The use of banjo and upright bass, oddly, made think of the politically separation of pitches in the Minutemen (of all things). Marisa Anderson understands how to use the electric aspect of her guitar. Her set was in the same no-mans-land between American Primitive folk picking and Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack that I'd file Earth under.

NOTES: Circuit des Yeux; Yeux; Marisa Anderson: Nathan Bowles Trio
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.030718

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Shopping

OBSERVATIONS:
There's an art to making something like a simple rock trio come off as more than just some over-loud pop. There's a performative aspect that, overplayed, will seem just a campy gimmick. Shopping hits the sweet spot. They seem genuinely elated to be on stage, winning and cheering the crowd. Their live dynamic, trading lines in call-and-response, has echoes of the Beastie Boys interplay, hidden in a spiky wrapper of Gang of Four. After the bevy of post-punk-aping bands of the mid 2000s, Shopping's influences may feel familiar, but they have the wherewithal to keep the ball moving forward.

Their frontwoman, Rachel Aggs, is a powerhouse, also leading Trash Kit and Sacred Paws (and previously of Golden Grrrls), and each is a reliable go-to for me. 

NOTES: Shopping; French Vanilla; Konvoi
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.102817

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Hailu Mergia

OBSERVATIONS:
Moving from NYC to Asheville forced me to branch out. In New York, there was always something that fit the bill (as it were), but in Asheville I must, to some degree, take what's on offer. All the listing for Haliu Mergia needed to say was that he was an Ethiopian jazz musician from the 70s—I've devoured enough of the Éthiopiques album series enough to know what was in store.

It's a rare treat, anywhere, to see this form of groovy, traditional music presented by someone who was a part of its creation. Relying on the Fender Rhodes sets Mergia apart, though—most Ethio-jazz relies on tinny, biting organ sounds. The Rhodes' dulcet bell tones set a dreamier mood.  My favorite by far, though, was when Mergia switched to accordion. The pump action of the accordion mimicked the heavy, vibrato voicing I've come to associate with the 'Ethiopian Sound'. Aided by an able rhythm section, Hailu Mergia gave a small crowd in Asheville a master class in Ethio-jazz.

NOTES: Hailu Mergia Band; Lord King
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

field report no.100317

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Ballister

OBSERVATIONS:
A mere six months after catching Dave Rempis solo, his long-running trio, Ballister, rolled through Asheville. The group features fellow Vandermark 5 alum, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and tenor guitar, as well as the ubiquitous Norwegian, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Ballister's is a powerhouse sound, cast in the mold of bombastic FMP-era groups, but after 8 albums and 7 years of touring, they've developed a nuanced communication only well-heeled bands have access to.

In this raucous context, Rempis dips into his gut-bucket skronk more than he did on the solo set. Lonberg-Holm frequently plays the wildcard, pushing the trio over the precipice, sawing at the cello and running it through guitar pedals for a metallic edge. Nilssen-Love, for all his power, never just pummels his kit. He punctuates, deftly finding open spaces, even in an all out scrum.

NOTES: Ballister; Omnicaster
PRESENT: AMS

 

field report no.061217

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh duo

OBSERVATIONS:
22 years ago, I came to Chicago from Oregon for school. It ended up being a fortuitous time in Chicago jazz. Ken Vandermark was rallying the troops and the Atavistic label was creating connections with legends of European free jazz by reissuing a pile of classics from the FMP library. inexorably bound up in both parts of this renaissance was Peter Brötzmann, the true saxophone colossus.

The (probably) apocryphal tales of his intensity ill-prepared me for how I was to be excoriated that first night at the Empty Bottle, by the Brötzmann Octet (a precursor to his long-running Chicago Tentet). I've lost count of the times I've seen him live, but the frequency went down once I moved to NYC. When I moved on to Asheville, I didn't even entertain hope. But lo! The jazz barbarian did in fact come to raze our small village on what was speculated as perhaps his last US tour.

Since disbanding the Tentet, Brötzmann's favored small groups—trios and duos mostly. This swing through America was with lap-steel guitarist (and former Charalambide) Heather Leigh. Perhaps the greater jazz community's disregard for Peter Brötzmann's scorched Earth improvisations has made him more willing to reach out beyond jazz's narrow circles for partners. He diverse list of collaborators ranges from Last Exit to Middle Eastern folk musicians. Heather Leigh's history with the ecstatic-improvisation scene seems a readymade fit.

While the pairing is pitch-perfect, times have also changed, and Peter Brötzmann once again defied my expectations (in the best way). The evening was not molten peals, split reeds and broken strings, though I would never call it plaintive. Not to say he no longer has it in him: Brötzmann let loose some frightening cries, but it was not a sustained blitz.

The duo created what could best be described a 'volatile ambience'. Leigh summoned a bed of held and distorted tones, swelling to answer Brötzmann's reeds. Since the lap-steel uses a slide, it gave Leigh ready access to a wealth microtonal dissonances, giving everything a disharmonic edge.

NOTES: Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh; Thom Nguyen
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.043017

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Mind Over Mirrors

OBSERVATIONS:
The best transportive music can result in a feeling of lost time. It's not the boredom of staring out the train window—more like an out of body experience. You arrive at your destination wondering how you got there, where the middle went. Time flies when you're having fun, as they say.

I've seen Mind Over Mirrors three times now, and at each I've only a vague recollection of what transpired. Within minutes, their music cocooned me within it. Jaime Fennelly's project first made an impression on me with The Voice Rolling, a psychedelic album of solo harmonium (plus effects). He has slowly expanded the project into an ensemble, incorporating percussion and strings, but a swirling dream-state remains it's spiritual center.

Opener, Brokeback, has steadily grown as well. Starting as solo project for Tortoise bassist, Douglas McCombs, it's now full-blown band. They manage an expressionist sort of instrumental rock with minimalist means, leaning heavily on Ennio Morricone's western atmospherics. 

NOTES: Mind Over Mirrors (ensemble); Brokeback; Smelt Roe
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.042417

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Dave Rempis

OBSERVATIONS:
Rock-n-Roll is a young man's game. Most pop stars over 50 are required to remind everyone why they matter whilst simultaneously not embarrassing themselves or tarnishing their legacy. Jazz, though, has a model more based on apprenticeship. Truly talented, unknown phenoms are rare beasts. Most up-and-comers are over 30, having spent a decade or more gigging as sideman with a wide variety of more established players.

For 12+ years, Dave Rempis was best known as a member of the Vandermark 5, which he joined in 1999. Since I was an avid follower of Ken Vandermark from my years in Chicago, I've been hearing Rempis' playing for well over a decade. He's been leading groups since the turn of the century but I took serious note of his extracurricular activities upon hearing Ballister, his trio with avant-cellist Fred Lonbgerg-Holm (fellow V5 alum) and the ubiquitous free jazz drummer, Paal Nilssen-Love (the Thing). From there it was off to the races—I've tried to keep up with his release schedule ever since. Rempis' duo with electrician Lasse Marhaug made my best-of-2014 list, and I've been keen to catch him live (again) for some time.

Where his old boss, Ken Vandermark, seems to have sworn off touring the US in favor of the more hospitable climes of Europe, Rempis has taken up the 'get-in-the-van-and-drive' mantle. I caught him this night, on a solo trek across the country. Rempis can be a fiery saxophonist—with a vocabulary full of loud honks and pinched squeals—but like many bombastic free players, he shows a more melodic side when playing solo.

Any sense of narrative within the tune, invention or change in dynamics and texture are all down to the individual, making a solo performance a rite of passage for even the most accomplished player. It's a test Dave Rempis passed easily. I mean, he's been training for this for years. I look forward to hearing the album these nights on the road were workshopping towards.

NOTES: Dave Rempis; Tashi Dorji
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.041917

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: New Rain Duets by Mac McCaughan & Mary Lattimore

OBSERVATIONS:
Such a little thing can make such a difference…Billing this concert by Mac McCaughan and Mary Lattimore as 'an evening of semi-improvised music for harp and analog synthesizer' set all the wrong expectations. It might seem trifling to prefer a more accurate variation, like 'post-rock-tinged, ambient instrumentals', but the distinction matters. The tools to judge improvised music and ambient composition are vastly different. As the latter, it was a surprisingly successful set.

Mac McCaughan is indie-rock royalty: leader of Superchunk and Portastatic and co-founder of Merge Records—one of the most stalwart independent labels around. His latest release was a swell set of synth-driven, lower-case pop tunes. Here, he manned a handful of analogue synthesizers. I was not familiar with Mary Lattimore going into the evening, but she's featured on labels from small cassette outfits to the established electronica purveryor, Ghostly International. Their structures allowed some spontaneity—they managed to surprise each other a couple of times throughout the evening. While the format, perhaps, didn't play squarely into either artists' strengths, it's especially rewarding to see established artists willing to work outside their lane. 

NOTES: Mac McCaughan / Mary Lattimore duet; Oriana
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.041817

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso UFO

OBSERVATIONS:
Any given show by Acid Mothers Temple is less a discreet performance and more a random sampling, an excerpt of an unending one. That's not to say each concert is identical. Those scorched guitar ecstasies may be cut from the same cloth, but it's like wading into a ever-shifting cascade of sound—the same river twice, and all that. Halfway through this particular night, the group began leaning hard into disco-vamp rhythms. When merged with their trademark heavy psych excesses, their throbbing groove of metallic rock scaled peaks the likes of Hawkwind were trying to climb in the early 80s.

NOTES: Acid Mothers Temple; Babylon
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.031817

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Hans-Joachim Roedelius

OBSERVATIONS:
It's a bit of quandary, reviewing this show. At 82, Hans-Joachim Roedelius is nothing short of legendary: a member of the original Krautrock movement—among such luminaries as Neu!, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Between Cluster (with a C, K or Q), solo and countless, diverse collaborations (from Brian Eno and Lloyd Cole), his discography is now unfathomably deep. Since his earliest recordings he's maintained a dedication to improvised electronic music—a concept that was so far ahead of its time in the early 70s, it's still a tricky concept, 40 years later.

Roedelius is an oddly casual innovator, though, and his music's gentle abstraction obscures its advances. So Cluster doesn't inspire the rabid worship and rampant emulation that Kraftwerk and Neu! have. Of that first class though, Roedelius (and his partner in Cluster, Moebius) were the only ones to continue constantly and consistently pushing forward through the decades that followed.

That kind of quiet persistence and explains why this couldn't be a mind-blowing experience. Roedelius' music does not knock you sideways—it stays with you, instead. It endures. All the hallmarks of his work were there: bits of field recordings mingled were shaded by clouds of abstract electronics, all brightened by meandering but beguiling melodies. While it's never less than beautiful, Roedelius deftly sidesteps new age schmaltz. The amorphous nature of his music isn't settled and predictable enough to be trite. He ended with a short piano improvisation—and handled a short technical difficulty with class.

For a handful of years now, I've nurtured a growing appreciation for Roedelius (and Cluster). They are, easily, now my favorites from that particular burst of German creativity. I never imagined I'd get to him live (a feeling compounded when Dieter Moebius passed last year), let alone see him in Asheville, North Carolina. 

NOTES: Hans-Joachim Roedelius; Xambuca
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

field report no.031217

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Priests

OBSERVATIONS:
Priests have largely received glowing reviews, but the one thing that pushed me from simply noticing that fact to giving their album some time was a nod from the Dischord records newsletter. While the bulk of Dischord's activity has moved to archival, they still figure large in my personal aesthetic development—their stamp of approval still matters (to me).

Priests album, Nothing Feels Natural, is exceptionally well performed. Even when feels a tad too familiar, the influences on their sleeve include bands I too have obsessed over: I hear a lot of the Au Pairs and Essential Logic in their post-punk stew. With the title track however, by mixing a slight bit of Siouxsie and the Banshee's gothic melodicism to their angular, muscular post-punk, they make a more striking hybrid.

Seeing them live, I believe they'll buy the time to develop even further. Along with solid songs and good press, they have a charismatic front-woman who is capable of engaging and holding an audience. Performances like hers make you resent all the dull, rote rock performances you've sat through.

NOTES: Priests; Flasher
PRESENT: AMS

field report 020217

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Lonnie Holley

OBSERVATIONS:
On first hearing Lonnie a number of people I know have asked, essentially: "Is this a joke?" As an outsider artist, his music has doesn't fit any spectrum of context you want to apply to it. More than that, though, he's just so damn sincere. That makes for uncomfortable listening. We in modern America are ill-equipped to understand or accept someone who comes to us without a shred of ironic detachment.

If you're willing to take it at face value, and set aside aesthetic preconceptions, Lonnie Holley's work is utterly enchanting. Keyboards gurgle as he improvises his way through invocations halfway between rambling soul murmurs and spaced-out trance mantras. Though notably lacking in irony, he isn't without whimsy: welcoming us to his show with a short meditation, solely mulling the phrase "Good Evening." It acted as both a greeting and an invitation to enter his peculiar space. 

NOTES: Lonnie Holley; Villages; Christopher Paul Stelling
PRESENT: AMS