Thursday, February 18, 2021

Adam Rudolph – Focus and Field (Meta Records)

Visionary composer and percussionist Adam Rudolph draws inspiration from Jo Ha Kyu, the spiritual concept behind Japanese Noh theater, for imaginative new album

Focus and Field, via Meta Records, features a stunning 8-piece offshoot from Rudolph’s ground-breaking Go: Organic Orchestra

Throughout his storied career, visionary percussionist and composer Adam Rudolph has continually ventured into unexplored regions of sound – some of them real, as his studies and travels have taken him around the world and into diverse cultures; and many of them imaginary, as he melds wide-ranging traditions into startlingly original music or conjures fantastic realms that he both envisions and investigates. As Rudolph describes his approach, “With every record and every concert, I’m always trying to do something I’ve never done before.”
Rudolph accomplishes that daunting goal yet again with his breathtaking new album Focus and Field, due out December 4, 2020 via the percussionist’s own Meta Records label. The new eight-piece ensemble, an offshoot of his Go: Organic Orchestra, gathered for a mesmerizing performance at New York City’s Roulette in March, mere days before the world seemed to stop with the impact of the global pandemic. The fragile yet utterly captivating mood summoned by Rudolph and his ensemble seems in retrospect to be prescient, a stunning showcase of the healing and communal powers of spontaneous composition.
“The performance that night felt like one inhalation and one exhalation, shared by musicians and the audience,” Rudolph recalls. “The music is geared towards the interconnectedness of what we would call ‘things’ in western thought, and everybody at the concert was tuned in with a powerful focus. It was a really magic night, and my goal was to hold the magic of that space for as long as we could without breaking the spell.”
The stunning possibilities of Rudolph’s restless inventiveness have never been more evident than in his most recent releases. With his 2019 masterwork Ragmala: A Garland of Ragas, he combined his Go: Organic Orchestra with the Indian classical musicians of Brooklyn Raga Massive to create what DownBeat called “a gorgeously complex tapestry of sounds, hues and sensations.” He followed that with Imaginary Archipelago, an album strikingly different in concept, scale and sound, teaming with longstanding collaborators Hamid Drake and Ralph M. Jones to venture into an undiscovered country of sonic invention, fusing the influence of ancient traditions, real and imagined, with modern technology and techniques.
Focus and Field takes yet another unexpected turn into elusive territory, of a piece with the arc of Rudolph’s work but wholly distinctive. Given the instrumentation, which combines western classical instruments like viola, bassoon and clarinet with Japanese and Asian instruments (shinobue, taiko drums, piri, saenghwang, shakuhachi, etc.), it would be tempting for the uninitiated to characterize the album as a meeting of eastern and western traditions. But Rudolph is quick to reject such “travelogue” intentions; the ensemble was inspired by what the composer hoped would be a scintillating chemistry between the individual musicians and the unique palette provided by the collected sounds – but always with his own singular compositional/conducting concept to direct them.
Taking a new approach to his original style of conducting, Rudolph was inspired by the concept of Jo Ha Kyu, which has its origins in ancient Japanese Gagaku court music and is central to Noh theatre. Each part of the concept represents a stage in the expansion and contraction of energy: Jo the origination, Ha the breakdown and disordering, Kyu the acceleration towards a conclusion. 

“Jo Ha Kyu is an overarching way of understanding the relationship of how things move in nature with the arts,” Rudolph describes. It’s really about the expansion and contraction of energy, which also relates to the idea of yin and yang. It’s a simple but profound idea, because it gives you a framework for the process.”
The core elements that Rudolph employs on Focus and Field will be familiar to followers of Go: Organic Orchestra – Cosmograms, the evocative scores that resemble the spiral arms of a sonic galaxy and work like harmonic puzzles able to be assembled and reassembled in various combinations; Ostinatos of Circularity, the layered polyrhythms that give the music its propulsive motion and complexity; along with illuminating passages written in traditional western notation, which can be cued at key moments but played with remarkable freedom of expression.
But the pieces employed on Focus and Field are entirely new and keyed to the Jo Ha Kyu concept, which creates something identifiably Rudolph’s but intriguingly fresh. At times the music summons comparisons, if merely conceptual ones, to anomalous antecedents from Toru Takemitsu to Morton Feldman to the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Rudolph’s peerless mentors, Yusef Lateef and Don Cherry.
The music maintains a thrilling tension throughout, a held breath remarkably sustained until the final cathartic release. The centerpiece of the album is the nearly 30-minute opening track, “Tsuzumi,” which features the powerful and dramatic vocals and shamisen playing of Sumie Kaneko, one of three new collaborators. Also new to the fold are piri and saenghwang player gamin, esteemed as a national treasure in her native Korea, and the great Kodo dancer Chieko Kojima, who of course can’t be heard on the album but whose presence was key to shaping the music during the concert’s second half.
The lyrics that Kaneko chose for “Tsuzumi” are from a 12th-century poem by Ryojin Hisho, relating the journey of a female shaman to bring the drum to her people. It’s an apt choice, of course, given the centrality of the hand drum to Rudolph’s music (he’s often likened his approach to conducting his ensembles to playing his arsenal of drums) and results in an evocative, sweeping narrative rife with mystery and vivid mental imagery. “It became this incredible opera,” Rudolph describes, still in awe. “It was so powerful that she was able to summon the courage and the imagination to go into these incredible realms with us.”
The rest of the ensemble members are longtime collaborators or members of the amorphous Go: Organic Orchestra. Renowned flutist and percussionist Kaoru Watanabe, with whom Rudolph originated the project, has been a member of the Orchestra since the inauguration of its New York incarnation in 2005. Rudolph’s relationship with multi-woodwind virtuoso Ned Rothenberg dates back even further, to 1974 when both were students at Oberlin College. 
Violist Stephanie Griffin, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, clarinetist Ivan Barenboim and flutist Michel Gentile are all Go: Organic Orchestra veterans and were part of the massive version of the ensemble on Ragmala. And unlike Go: Organic Orchestra, where he sticks strictly to conducting, Rudolph does pick up his hand drums during the second piece, “Focus and Field,” spotlighting another side of his vibrant musical personality.
“I was so inspired working with this group of musicians,” says Rudolph. “They were able to focus their incredible virtuosity to the center of the process and aesthetic I was seeking. As I conducted we were able to breathe and phrase together to generate organic form.”
The results are a spellbinding display of Rudolph’s spiritual approach to music, which echoes his practice of T'ai Chi Ch'uan in its melding of movement and meditation. “I try to follow my intuitive sense of where the music wants to breathe,” he says. “You’re trying to flow and connect everything into one fluid gesture to keep your mind in this state of meditation, where the ego isn’t pushing it one way or another. It’s effortless action.”

1. Tsuzumi 28:47
2. Focus and Field 07:00 video
3. Mu Wi 09:24

Sumie Kaneko – vocal, koto, shamisen
Stephanie Griffin – viola
Kaoru Watanabe – shinobue, noh kan, fue, taiko, percussion
gamin – piri, saenghwang
Sara Schoenbeck – bassoon
Ned Rothenberg – shakuhachi, bass clarinet
Ivan Barenboim – b flat clarinet, contra-alto clarinet
Michel Gentile – c, alto, and bass flutes, bamboo flutes
Adam Rudolph – handrumset

Junk Magic – Compass Confusion (Pyroclastic Records)

Junk Magic – 2004 record title, and current pseudonym for Craig Taborn –
explores sonic subversion and mingling identities on anticipated follow-up
Compass Confusion

“Collages of dark and dirty parts, musical cast-offs, so to speak, that have been artfully
reattached.” — Patrick Sisson, PopMatters
“More rewards await, rich and replete.” — Phil DiPietro, All About Jazz
For more than a decade, Junk Magic has been honing a collective sound that relies on individual expressions, imagination and subversion. Appearing first as a 2004 album title under pianist-composer Craig Taborn’s name, Junk Magic has transitioned into a sonic identity comprising electronic sound design, production techniques and elements of improvised music.

Compass Confusion presents a holographic snapshot of the Junk Magic sound. “Everything is warped by something else,” says Taborn, who serves as album composer and producer. “You’re still trying to capture things ‘in a moment,’ in a certain sense. But then also, because of how the process works, you’re not. There’s a lot of time to craft things after the fact.”

Compass Confusion features Chris Speed on saxophone, Erik Fratzke on bass, Mat Maneri on viola, David King on drums and Taborn on piano, keyboards and synthesizer. Together, they disarticulate boundaries that imply separation of live music and digital production. “I don’t really view using creative methods in ambient techniques as a ‘different side’ of musical expression,” says Taborn. “It’s all the same expression. But this album is definitely leaning in to the production process as opposed to relying more heavily on the live playing.”

Compositional and textural layers, as well as pacing and extended ebb and flow, emerge intentionally throughout the recording. The artists honor space. They harness movement through time. Using methods that challenge perception and embrace subversion, they develop sound narratives unique to each track that create a story arc across the entire album. The interplay’s the thing. “Laser Beaming Hearts” introduces a cast of characters, layering and mingling their identities, not only through sound design but melody.

“Whenever I hear a melody, it really does set up an identity, a character,” says Taborn, who seeks, at times, to subvert a character’s initial impact by elevating a textural element or an ambience. Often, that relationship inverts. First conjuring an ocean inside a seashell alongside echoing heartbeats, “Dream and Guess” soon moves into a new melody beautiful, mysterious and primed for sonic disruption.
Rather than disorient — despite its title — the album constantly reorients the listener. Many tracks, including “The Science of Why Devils Smell Like Sulfur,” feature sound chambers, through which the artists freely move. Within these chambers, textures layer, flicker, persist, and stories develop; sound collage may enhance as melody recedes. “There are different methods of attending compositionally,” says Taborn. “If I were writing a traditional tune, it would be melody and some chord changes; if I were writing a hip hop track, I would focus more on beats, loops and sound design; if I were writing strictly ambient music, I would focus on the sound relationships, how the shapes are evolving with certain sonic elements. On a lot of these pieces, I’m really playing with the foreground and background of all those things.”

While Taborn’s process serves a fixed vision, his approach preserves spontaneity. He populates each chamber by listening and responding to what he hears. “Each tune kind of has a radically different process,” he says. “I do think about narrative, because it moves through time, but it’s the narrative of these sound worlds, moving between them.”

The artists entered sessions in Minneapolis and Brooklyn knowing each studio hit would be one step of the process. Most of the album’s construction would come together away from mics and amps. Still, Taborn asserts an aesthetic throughout Compass Confusion that reflects his expansive foundation in live, improvised music. Deep admiration for hip hop and EDM production techniques notwithstanding, Taborn seeks to preserve solo performances artists throw down in the studio. “To a large extent, what you hear is what people played in the order that they played it,” he says. “I don’t cut up performances. And that’s not an ethos, it’s just an aesthetic. I’m not cutting up a drum solo and making loops, but I’m doing other things that might trick you into thinking it’s looped.”

Mixed and mastered in Taborn’s native Minneapolis by Brett Bullion (The Bad Plus) and Huntley Miller (Bon Iver, Kassa Overall), respectively, Compass Confusion presents a confluence of expressions within a collective sound. “We’re improvisers,” says Taborn. “While a lot of this material is written, there’s so much improvising in the playing. Even in my approach to making tracks, making beats in the studio, it’s still improvisational. You’re working on things in the moment.”


Junk Magic, over the years, has featured countless acclaimed artist-composers, including Craig Taborn, Chris Speed, Erik Fratzke, Mat Maneri, Aaron Stewart, Mark Turner and David King (The Bad Plus). Bonding improvisational aesthetic with digital production and electronic music techniques, the project ethos challenges existing perceptions of sound design. A 2004 self-titled release garnered praise from Pitchfork, PopMatters and All About Jazz, which acknowledged the sound’s “staggering futuristic potential.” Anticipated followup Compass Confusion, released on Pyroclastic Records, positions Junk Magic on the rolling crest of acoustic wave expansion.

1. Laser Beaming Hearts 07:10
2. Dream and Guess 05:37
3. Compass Confusion/ Little Love Gods 08:55
4. The Science Of Why Devils Smell Like Sulfur 10:37
5. The Night Land 04:10
6. Sargasso 08:35
7. Sunsets Forever 05:31

Chris Speed - tenor sax, clarinet
Mat Maneri - viola
Erik Fratzke - bass
David King - acoustic and electronic drums

Nate Wooley – Seven Storey Mountain VI (Pyroclastic Records)

“Wooley’s investment [is] in the imaginative and emotional side of an experience that’s both physical and not.” — Justin Cober-Lake, PopMatters 

“The prettiest, most progressive campfire music ever.” — Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times
Genre-defiant trumpet player and composer Nate Wooley brings together artists from seemingly disparate musical communities with the release of Seven Storey Mountain VI on Pyroclastic Records, the sixth iteration of his ecstatic song-cycle.  

In the spirit of creation through energetic confrontation, Wooley engages 14 artists who identify with varied and mingling musical lineages, using their musical histories and strengths as the building blocks of the composition. Seven Storey Mountain features contributions from core collaborators: drummers Chris Corsano, Ryan Sawyer and Ben Hall, and violinists C. Spencer Yeh and Samara Lubelski — all of whom Wooley considers the series’ “nuclear family.” 

“The SSM family has grown over time, but these artists have played on almost every single one,” says Wooley. The album’s extended family comprises lauded pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn; Rhodes players Emily Manzo and Isabelle O’Connor; and electric guitarists Ava Mendoza and Julien Desprez, the latter of whose playing Wooley describes as “kind of like someone threw a machine gun into a blender.” 

This movement of the Seven Storey Mountain song cycle, which began in 2007, is the first completely new version since Seven Storey Mountain V which Wooley recorded in the fall of 2015. In the interim, his ensemble has grown and his composition has developed through multiple performances across Europe, Canada and the United States.
This release also reflects the first version of Seven Storey Mountain that utilizes song material outside of Wooley’s original composition, using the first eight lines of Peggy Seeger’s 1979 song “Reclaim the Night” as a compositional and emotional touchstone throughout the piece. As the album releases from the peak of its ecstatic energy, channeling its momentum into a new resonance, listeners encounter an all-female choir performing an arrangement of Seeger’s anthem by Wooley and singer-composer Megan Schubert, who led the choir and lent her singing and speaking voice to both performance and recording.

Seven Storey Mountain VI premiered live in November, 2019 at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan to an audience whose members encountered music that rose from almost silent humming to the raw power of the 21-person choir that concludes the piece. The group recorded the next afternoon under the guidance of studio and production master Ron Saint Germain (Bad Brains, Sonic Youth, Ornette Coleman), who captured, preserved and elevated that thrilling energy on the record. “This is the most beautifully reproduced version I’ve ever had of not only the monolithic sound of the ensemble but the ecstatic spirit of the music,” said Wooley.

In a measured act of resistance toward playlist culture that often exalts the digestible single, and in an effort to translate the live experience to tape, Wooley chose to present the entire album as an extended 45-minute track. 

“In performance, the idea behind that has a lot to do with duration,” he says. “You should sit and listen to it, especially in the space where it’s incredibly loud and the sound bounces around. It’s meant to give an ecstatic feeling. And I wanted it to feel full on the record, to flow from one bit to the next.”
As with all Seven Storey Mountain releases, the music culminates in a massive arc of energy when, according to Wooley, the artists are playing at their rawest, most vulnerable states of consciousness. “A lot of the parts can feel aggressive,” he says. “I view all of that as something that is necessary to the production of something new. That feeling of ecstasy has to come from some sort of pressure.” 

Producing a new version of Seven Storey Mountain, so much depends upon new readings of existing work. Wooley integrates samples, melodic loops and essential patterns from past SSM recordings and live performances, stripping down any layers of sound or construction he deems inessential. This compositional process not only serves to connect the music from one SSM to the next but to continue the project’s familial legacy, often including manipulated mixes of past collaborators who may not appear on the current version’s release. 

Another hallmark of the Seven Storey Mountain sound philosophy is the collaborative paradigm Wooley has termed “mutual aid music.” Rather than chart out music for the album in a singular format, he meets his collaborators where they flourish as individuals. Some of his fellow artists prefer chord charts; others prefer to learn music through listening and oral direction; while others feel most comfortable reading meticulously notated orchestral scores. All of his collaborators thrive somewhere on the spectrum between notation and improvisation. 

“Integrating the mutual aid music paradigm is a big deal for me because it goes beyond the piece of music itself,” says Wooley. “It’s a way for communities to come together without everyone having to learn a separate language.” In many ways, communion is key to Seven Storey Mountain VI, from the inclusive composition process to the gathering of “family” musicians; from sharing of the ecstatic experiences to engaging a broader community via Wooley’s album’s royalties donation to the National Council Against Domestic Violence. Through its spirited confrontation comes energetic creation.

At 13, trumpet player and composer Nate Wooley began playing professionally with his father, a big band saxophonist in Clatskanie, Oregon. In 2019, he debuted as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic. Considered one of the leading lights of the American movement to redefine the physical boundaries of the horn, Wooley has gathered international acclaim for his idiosyncratic trumpet language. Since moving to New York in 2001, he has become one of the most in-demand trumpet players in Brooklyn’s intersecting jazz, improvised, noise and new music scenes. He’s performed regularly with John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Eliane Radigue, Annea Lockwood, Ken Vandermark and Yoshi Wada, and premiered works for trumpet by Christian Wolff, Michael Pisaro, Annea Lockwood, Ashley Fure, Wadada Leo Smith, Sarah Hennies and Eva-Maria Houben. In 2016, he received the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. Nate currently works as editor-in-chief of their online quarterly journal Sound American.

1. Seven Storey Mountain VI 45:01

Samara Lubelski, C. Spencer Yeh - violins
Chris Corsano, Ben Hall, Ryan Sawyer - drums
Susan Alcorn - pedal steel guitar
Julien Desprez, Ava Mendoza - electric guitars
Isabelle O’Connell, Emily Manzo - keyboards
Yoon Sun Choi, Mellissa Hughes, Megan Schubert - voices

Composed by Nate Wooley

Choral arrangement by Nate Wooley
and Megan Schubert

Angelica Sanchez with Marilyn Crispell – How to Turn the Moon (Pyroclastic Records)

Angelica Sanchez shapeshifts form and formless

alongside Marilyn Crispell with release of How to Turn the Moon

“Ms. Sanchez improvises with crisp articulation and muscular command. Her chords, both dense and

concise, offset free improvisations that reflect careful attention to narrative clarity.”

— Giovanni Russonello, The New York Times

For the past two decades, pianist-composer Angelica Sanchez has shocked, bent and blurred lines and perceptions that separate composition from improvisation. How to Turn the Moon, her first release on Pyroclastic Records, offers a momentary culmination of that expression.

Within the expansive nature of her piano duo debut, Sanchez explores intimacy and transformation alongside creative colleague and mentor, pianist-composer Marilyn Crispell, whom Sanchez first heard on a Fred Anderson record when she was just 16. Together, the artists allow their shared moments to expand Sanchez’s short-form written compositions and co-create spontaneous ones.

Across 10 tracks of original material, Sanchez and Crispell find points of departure, reentry and rippling expansion. They explore their own interpretations of space and texture, seeking always to complement each other’s expressions – and express a truthful sound. The idea of creating short compositions designed for expansion – designed for players to begin in the middle of the form, should the moment desire it – excites and challenges Sanchez. “It’s not such an easy thing to figure out,” she says, “and it only works with people that you trust.”

“Windfall Light” at times sounds scripted – even reminiscent of a written suite. Entirely improvised, the track serves as one of many extended moments of deep, active listening between Sanchez and Crispell that settles and expands and transforms. “There are certain parts where it almost felt like we went into set harmony,” says Sanchez, who contends she and Crispell continually allowed for shifting in context throughout the piece.
“Sullivan’s Universe,” named for a painting by folk artist Patrick Sullivan, features an improvised gesture but for the short-form composition introduced in its entirety as the end of the track. Another instance of compositions as codas appears on “Ancient Dream,” a tune beginning in wild strummed resonances from inside the piano.

Sanchez tends to let melody lead her though written form and improvised expression, rendering a range of texture within her playing. “Lobe of the Fly” includes parallel passages as well as expressions of counterpoint, while “Ceiba Portal” – the longest written form on the recording – according to Sanchez, moves into “circular melodies” toward the end of the piece.

Drawing inspiration from patterned and un-patterned ways the human form imitates nature, Sanchez nurtures her expression away from the piano as earnestly as she does in front of it. As many have on past records, track titles on How to Turn the Moon emerge from her varied connections to nature and neuroscience. “Twisted Roots” relates in part to the composition’s snaky counterpoint, and evokes the underground image of a tree. An iteration of that same image prompted titling “Lobe of the Fly,” which Sanchez named for Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s drawings that feature cells in the optic lobe of a fly and resemble trees and roots.

She titled “Calyces of Held” for one of the central nervous system’s largest synapses, meditating on a related idea that cells often communicate with one another despite a lack of synapse connection.
This kind of profound, unfacilitated communication serves the creative union between Sanchez and Crispell. The two had been nurturing a friendship for more than a year when they entered into an artistic partnership with the intention of recording How to Turn the Moon. After roughly six months of ideas sharing, they booked two days to rehearse and record at Nevessa Production Studios near Woodstock, New York – Crispell’s preferred recording space. “We didn’t discuss much before the recording,” says Sanchez, “we just sat down, enjoyed each other’s presence and went for it.” On the album, engineer Chris Andersen helps serve its subtle transitions from scripted to spontaneous gesture, and enhance both artists’ tendencies toward mutual experimenting.

Though she’s drawn to through-composed music, “playing without a net,” alongside someone she trusts and reveres inspires and truly challenges Sanchez. “I still get excited when I sit down at the piano,” she says, “because you don’t know what’s going to happen.” How to Turn the Moon rises in earnest to that challenge.

Pianist, composer and educator Angelica Sanchez has released a number critically-acclaimed albums as a leader over the course of her evolving career. The Arizona native moved to New York in 1994, seeking opportunities to develop artistic relationships with such similar-minded artists as Marilyn Crispell, Wadada Leo Smith, Paul Motian, Richard Davis, Jamaladeen Tacuma, Nicole Mitchell, Rob Mazurek, Tim Berne and Mario Pavone. Her work has received favorable press from local, national and international outlets, including JazzTimes, NPR, The New York Times, New York City Jazz Record and Chicago Tribune. Her most recent trio project Float The Edge featuring bassist-composer Michael Formanek and drummercomposer Tyshawn Sorey and has received worldwide praise from critics and peers. Sanchez holds a Master of Fine Arts in Jazz Arranging from William Paterson University, and currently works as lecturer at Princeton University.

Marilyn Crispell has been a composer and performer of contemporary improvised music since 1978. For 10 years, she was a member of the Anthony Braxton Quartet and the Reggie Workman Ensemble, and has performed and recorded extensively as a soloist and with players across the U.S. as well as internationally. She’s worked with dancers, poets, filmmakers and visual artists; as an educator, she’s led workshops in improvisation. Crispell is the recipient of three New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust composition commission.

1. Lobe of The Fly 02:45
2. Ancient Dream 05:19
3. Calyces of Held 08:05
4. Space Junk 03:10
5. Celba Portal 08:10
6. Windfall Light 05:01
7. Twisted Roots 02:32
8. Sullivan's Universe 07:00
9. Rain In Web 03:39
10. Fires In Space 04:19

Angelica Sanchez - Piano (left channel)
Marilyn Crispell - Piano (right channel)

All compositions are by Angelica Sanchez except Space Junk, Windfall Light and Rain in Web by Angelica Sanchez & Marilyn Crispell

Eric Revis - Slipknots Through A Looking Glass (Pyroclastic Records)

Eric Revis flexes conceptual sensitivity with release of 
Slipknots Through A Looking Glass 

Featuring Revis with Chad Taylor, Kris Davis, Darius Jones and Bill McHenry

“A bassist with a strong rhythmic compass and a stout, beefy tone” — The New York Times

A highly skilled master of sound and sense, GRAMMY award-winning bassist and composer Eric Revis has crafted his artistic legacy around asking the same question again and again: Why not? Experimenting remains integral to his expression. Over the years, the critically-acclaimed artist’s willingness to traverse the unknown has prompted collaborative partnerships with Branford Marsalis, Nasheet Waits, Kris Davis, Peter Brötzmann and Jason Moran.

Heralded by critics as “powerful,” “raw” and “fierce,” Revis’ playing frequently becomes mischaracterized by way of omission. While he plays and composes with master-level intensity, the intrinsic vulnerability present in any form of experimenting — and deeply present in Revis’ artistry — rarely yields recognition among music writers. “I don’t mind those kinds of descriptions or monikers,” he says, “but not when it’s at the negation of everything else. There may be an air of robustness around my music, but there is a lot of sensitivity and intellectual content.”

Poised to challenge those limited views of Revis’ expression, Slipknots Through a Looking Glass — his eighth solo-led album, and first release on Pyroclastic Records — explores new territory alongside familiar travelers: drummer Chad Taylor, pianist Kris Davis and saxophone masters Darius Jones and Bill McHenry. “The band is kind of an amalgam of groups I’ve previously recorded with,” says Revis, who sought to combine the energies of various project iterations on a single record.

Much of the album’s music — primed for enquiry and collaborative input — emerged during several weeks of solitude. Through a partnership with The Jazz Gallery, the LA native received a 2017 grant from The Rockefeller Foundation to spend some time at the Kykuit estate in Pocantino Hills, NY. Two compositions from that retreat found their way on to Marsalis’ 2019 GRAMMY-nominated recording The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul. Revis sought to interpret the remaining music through a range of treatments — both scripted and spontaneous — on Slipknots Through a Looking Glass, an album that exposes the full flower of his conceptualism. Master producer Ron St. Germain serves as production and mixing engineer for the recording – an instrumental force in the development of its character, at once sprawling and intimate. 

Beginning as a developing conversation between Revis and Taylor, “House of Leaves” represents a conceptual flex for Revis as a composer. The track centers around textural shapes — each, according to Revis, its own island. Exploiting space, the artists leave one island and reenter “nothingness” before traveling to the next. “It was interesting to see how the band could collectively navigate these islands,” says Revis. “Without giving it over to the musicians entirely, the process was more, ‘I have this sparse idea; let’s develop it into this next sparse idea, and then go on from there.”
Rendered as a “visceral approach to melody,” according to Revis, “Vimen” serves the artist’s appetite for exploring energies that surround the music — and the session — thoroughly and critically. “I wanted more emphasis on the energy than on exact notes or notation,” he says. He asked his collaborators to approach title track “SpÆ” with similar controlled spontaneity. “We kind of deconstructed the composition,” says Revis. The trio tune features Davis on prepared piano and Taylor on mbira. “We just played,” he says. 

Incorporating three separate takes, the track features crossfades leading from one take to the next. “It’s almost like if you had people speaking in three separate rooms, and then you put them together — all of a sudden you have this great conversation that, even though it was intended to be about disparate things, really makes a whole lot of sense.” 

An artist fascinated by the surrealist movement, Revis keeps a digital journal of images and concepts flashing before him so that he might one day use them in his music. “The image of slipknots through a looking glass came up and I thought, ‘Wow — this is really cool.’” Immediately he connected his own artistry to the image’s inherent symbolism: the slipknot’s ephemeral nature further complicated by its reflection through the looking glass — was it even there to begin with, and where does it go when it disappears? “All those ideas are very, very much a part of this record,” he says. “The idea of a journey — although it wasn’t something that I set out to do, it’s a theme that runs through all of this record.” 

How listeners might interpret his music matters less to Revis than the act of composing and recording it. “We can hear things and say, ‘Wow, I feel a certain foreboding quality about this,’ and the next person says, ‘Wow, this is such a happy song,’ or for example, Tchaikovsky being able to evoke all this emotional gravitas and almost melancholy — out of major chords! He’s able to exact pathos from major chords.” 

“Hopefully, it’ll be heard,” he says. “When somebody really doesn’t like something, I think that’s incredibly honest and beneficial. If [my music] truly evokes real happiness, that is absolutely beautiful. But if it makes you uncomfortable, that’s a real emotion. And to have something do that — I think that that’s amazing.”

1. Baby Renfro 04:59
2. SpÆ 04:47
3. Earl & The Three-Fifths Compromise 07:14
4. Slipknots Through A Looking Glass, Part 1 02:21
5. Shutter 04:43
6. ProByte 06:19
7. Slipknots Through A Looking Glass, Part 2 01:28
8. House Of Leaves 07:07
9. When I Become Nothing 03:30
10. Vimen 11:33
11. Slipknots Through A Looking Glass, Part 3 03:10

Kris Davis Piano
Bill McHenry Tenor Saxophone
Darius Jones Alto Saxophone
Chad Taylor Drums, Mbira
Justin Faulkner Drums on Tracks 1 and 3

All compositions by Eric Revis except:
Track 2: Eric Revis, Kris Davis and Chad Taylor
Track 5: Darius Jones Track 9: Bill McHenry

Cory Smythe – Accelerate Every Voice (Pyroclastic Records)


“A growing number of musicians have mastered both notated and improvised music, but few have done it with more skill, insight and sensitivity than pianist Cory Smythe.” — Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader

“Pianist Cory Smythe exploits every textural possibility of the instrument” — Winton Cooke-Wilson,  SPIN magazine

Pianist and composer Cory Smythe evokes cyborg choirs and coastal floods on Accelerate Every Voice, his second release for Pyroclastic Records and the follow-up to 2018 album Circulate Susanna. Bringing together five vocalists from the a cappella, new and improvised music scenes, AEV cradles Smythe’s piano in an uncanny valley of voices before submerging it in an undersea expanse. 

“It began with my appreciation for Andrew Hill’s Lift Every Voice,” says Smythe. “It was kind of a fanciful idea about whether I could pay homage to his record while taking part of its logic to the nth degree, replacing the whole band with vocalists — vocal percussion, vocal bass, etcetera.” 

Smythe began discussing the project almost immediately with vocal-percussionist and director Kari Francis, whose acclaimed work on the a cappella scene includes a stint on NBC’s “The Sing Off,” and whose knowledge extends backward from present-day collegiate a cappella into its early history with the Yale Whiffenpoofs. 

“I had been into the idea of collegiate a cappella embodying a kind of optimism,” says Smythe, “and maybe a complicated kind of optimism, a poisoned-by-whiteness American kind of optimism.” Francis pointed him to what many consider “the founding document of the whole scene, ‘The Whiffenpoof Song,’” says Smythe, “which is itself based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling — of ‘white man’s burden’ fame — called ‘Gentlemen Rankers.’ The speaker of this poem is born into wealth and privilege, and now he’s bemoaning his loss of status — or perhaps sardonically celebrating his descent from a place of safety to one of imminent danger.”  

Dotted with elements of Hill’s music, the recording also offers traces of “The Whiffenpoof Song.” On title track “Accelerate Every Voice,” dissonant fragments coalesce into the borrowed Whiffenpoof refrain, “Pass and be forgotten with the rest,” before the featured improvisers Michael Mayo and Kyoko Kitamura deliver searing solos. 

Smythe rounds out the soloing, performing on a hardware setup conceived during a project with colleague Craig Taborn that features a small keyboard set atop his piano to play a piano sample tuned a quarter tone sharp. “This allows me to play the pitches in between the pitches,” says Smythe, who treats the setup both as a compositional tool and as an extension of his instrument, allowing him to improvise within the album’s glossy, spectral harmonies.

Microtonal harmonies figure prominently in the vocal writing as well. One such sonority opens “Northern Cities Vowel Shift,” whose precisely tuned intervals and evolving layers of vowel sounds create the impression of a moving, molten mass above Francis’ beats and Steven Hrycelak’s bass line. On “Kinetic Whirlwind Sculpture I,” a stretto vocal progression of improvised vowel sounds melds with the piano Smythe has transformed via talk box to emulate the singers’ vocal formants. Momentum gathers moving into “Vehemently,” where lead singer Raquel Acevedo Klein floats above a texture of Kipling quotations, a cappella vocables and a refrain borrowed from the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.   

Hill’s seminal recording offered Smythe more than sonic inspiration. Named for James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the poem-turned-song that became the Black national anthem, Hill’s Lift Every Voice reflects an of-its-time social and political resonance — “a music,” says Smythe, “of transcendent optimism in the face of overwhelming harm.” 

Another caustic harm upends the record on closer “Piano and Ocean Waves for Deep Relaxation” — part ironic venture into new age and part imaginary realization of Annea Lockwood’s “Southern Exposure,” which calls for a piano to disappear into advancing tides. As the world watches in horror the accelerating rise of global sea levels (whose anthropogenic source artist Julian Charrière depicts in images that adorn the record’s cover and interior), Smythe notes: “It seems like Annea’s could be the piano music of the very near future.”

Pianist Cory Smythe has worked closely with pioneering artists in new, improvisatory and classical music, including saxophonist-composer Ingrid Laubrock, violinist Hilary Hahn and multidisciplinary composers from Anthony Braxton to Zosha Di Castri. His own music “dissolves the lines between composition and improvisation with rigor” (Chicago Reader), and his first record, Pluripotent, garnered praise from Jason Moran: “Hands down one of the best solo recordings I’ve ever heard.” Smythe has been featured at the Newport Jazz, Wien Modern, Trondheim Chamber Music, Nordic Music Days, Approximation, Concorso Busoni and Darmstadt festivals, as well as at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart festival, where he recently received an invitation to premiere new work created in collaboration with Peter Evans and Craig Taborn. He has received commissions from Milwaukee’s Present Music, the Banff Centre for the Arts, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, the International Contemporary Ensemble — of which he is a longtime member — and The Shifting Foundation, which supported both Accelerate Every Voice as well as his 2018 release Circulate Susanna. Smythe received a Grammy award for his work with Hahn and plays regularly in the critically acclaimed Tyshawn Sorey Trio.

Smythe is pronounced: Sm - eye - th

1. Northern Cities Vowel Shift 02:34
2. Accelerate Every Voice 04:12
3. Marl Every Voice 02:38
4. Kinetic Whirlwind Sculpture 1 03:29
5. Vehemently 03:57
6. Kinetic Whirlwind Sculpture 2 05:16
7. Knot Every Voice 01:50
8. Weatherproof Song 03:39
9. Piano and Ocean Waves For Deep Relaxation 19:02

Kyoko Kitamura voice
Michael Mayo voice, looper
Raquel Acevedo Klein voice
Steven Hrycelak vocal bass
Kari Francis vocal percussion
Cory Smythe piano, electronics

Pyroclastic Records Year In Review

Pianist-composer Kris Davis founded Pyroclastic Records in 2016 to serve the release of her acclaimed recordings Duopoly and Octopus with the goal of growing the label into a thriving platform that would serve like-minded, cutting-edge artists. In 2019, Davis launched a nonprofit to support those artists whose expression flourishes beyond the commercial sphere. By supporting their creative efforts and ensuring distribution of their work, Pyroclastic empowers emerging and established artists — including those on its 2021 roster: Benoit Delbecq, The Weight of Light (Feb 12th); Ches Smith, We All Break (Spring 2021); Mary Halvorson/Sylvie Courvoisier Duo (Spring 2021); and Sara Schoenbeck Duos (Fall 2021) — to continue challenging conventional genre-labeling within their fields. Pyroclastic also seeks to galvanize and grow a creative community, offering young artists new opportunities, supporting diversity and expanding the audience for noncommercial art.

Wadada Leo Smith Named a 2021 USA Fellow

Legendary composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith named a 2021 USA Fellow
One of five musicians to receive unrestricted $50,000 fellowship from United States Artists
“Wadada Leo Smith – National Treasure.” – DownBeat Magazine
“For all the minimalism of his sound, Smith has turned out to be a maximalist in his ambitions, evolving into one of our most powerful storytellers, an heir to American chroniclers like Charles Ives and Ornette Coleman…” – Adam Shatz, The New York Review of Books
Iconic composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has been named a 2021 USA Fellow by United States Artists. The award honors Smith’s creative accomplishments and supports his ongoing artistic and professional development. 
“We’re thrilled to include Wadada Leo Smith in our 2021 fellowship class," says United States Artists' Program Director Lynnette Miranda. "The panelists were drawn not only to Wadada’s singular voice as one of the most important living American composers, but also his legacy as one of the architects of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an organization crucial to nurturing visionary talent and cultivating exciting new music. Wadada’s innovative approach to composition and musicianship make him a clear fit within this group of bold artists shaping our country today.”
Smith is one of sixty artists across ten creative disciplines to receive this unrestricted $50,000 cash award. USA Fellowships are awarded to artists at all stages of their careers and from all areas of the country through a rigorous nomination and panel selection process. Fellowships are given in the following disciplines: Architecture & Design, Craft, Dance, Film, Media, Music, Theater & Performance, Traditional Arts, Visual Art, and Writing.
Since 2006, the USA Fellowship has provided direct support to artists across the country. With this unrestricted award, Fellows decide for themselves how to best use the money—whether it is creating new work, paying rent, reducing debt, getting healthcare, or supporting their families. To make its work possible, United States Artists actively fundraises each year and is supported by a broad range of philanthropic foundations, companies, and individuals committed to cultivating contemporary culture across the country.
About United States Artists
United States Artists is a national arts funding organization based in Chicago, IL. We raise money and redistribute it in the form of unrestricted awards to the country’s most compelling artists and cultural practitioners. Since our founding in 2006, we have awarded more than 700 individuals with over $33 million of direct support. Additional information is available at

About Wadada Leo Smith  
Trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist and composer Wadada Leo Smith is one of the most boldly original and influential artists of his time. Transcending the bounds of genre or idiom, he distinctly defines his music, tirelessly inventive in both sound and approach, as "Creative Music."
For the last five decades, Smith has been a member of the legendary AACM collective, pivotal in its wide-open perspectives on music and art in general. He has carried those all-embracing concepts into his own work, expanding upon them in myriad ways.
Throughout his career, Smith has been recognized for his groundbreaking body of work.  A finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music, he received the 2016 Doris Duke Artist Award and earned an honorary doctorate from CalArts, where he was also celebrated as Faculty Emeritus. In addition, he received the Hammer Museum's 2016 Mohn Award for Career Achievement "honoring brilliance and resilience." In 2018 he received the Religion and The Arts Award from the American Academy of Religion, and in 2019 he received the UCLA Medal, the University’s highest honor.
Smith regularly earns multiple spots on the DownBeat International Critics Poll. In 2017 he topped three categories: Best Jazz Artist, Trumpeter of the Year and Jazz Album of the Year, and was featured as the subject of a cover story in August 2017. The Jazz Journalists Association also honored Smith as their 2017 Musician of the Year as well as 2017 Duo of the Year for his work with Vijay Iyer. The JJA named him their 2016 Trumpeter of the Year, 2015 Composer of the Year, and 2013 Musician of the Year, and he has earned top billing in two categories in the JazzTimes Critics Poll as Artist of the Year and Composer of the Year.
In October 2015 The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago presented the first comprehensive exhibition of Smith's Ankhrasmation scores, which use non-standard visual directions, making them works of art in themselves as well as igniting creative sparks in the musicians who perform them. In 2016, these scores were also featured in exhibitions at the Hammer Museum, and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and Kadist in San Francisco.
Born December 18, 1941 in Leland, Mississippi, Smith's early musical life began at age thirteen when he became involved with the Delta blues and jazz traditions performing with his stepfather, bluesman Alex Wallace. He received his formal musical education from the U.S. Military band program (1963), the Sherwood School of Music (1967-69), and Wesleyan University (1975-76).
Smith has released more than 50 albums as a leader on labels including ECM, Moers, Black Saint, Tzadik, Pi Recordings, TUM, Leo and Cuneiform. His diverse discography reveals a recorded history centered around important issues that have impacted his world, exploring the social, natural and political environment of his times with passion and fierce intelligence. His most recent recording is 2019’s Rosa Parks: Pure Love, an Oratorio of Seven Songs. His 2016 recording, America’s National Parks earned a place on numerous best of the year lists including the New York Times, NPR Music and many others. Smith’s landmark 2012 civil rights opus Ten Freedom Summers was called “A staggering achievement [that] merits comparison to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in sobriety and reach.”  Writing about Smith’s 2017 album Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk in the New York Review of Books, Adam Shatz notes: “For all the minimalism of his sound, Smith has turned out to be a maximalist in his ambitions, evolving into one of our most powerful storytellers, an heir to American chroniclers like Charles Ives and Ornette Coleman.”