Daily Archives: October 17, 2012

Signal to Noise review by Bill Meyer

Rafael Toral/Davu Seru – Live In Minneapolis (CF 248)
Portuguese experimental musician Rafael Toral has spent the last half-decade pursuing a focused aesthetic endeavor that he calls the Space Program. It’s music born of refusal. Toral is a former master sculptor of guitar drones who retired at the top of his game. When he stopped, he not only gave up the safety net of continuous sound, he rejected certain common shortcuts and shortfalls of contemporary electronic improvisation; no loops, no samples, and no sitting behind a screen. Put simply, he uses self-devised and highly customized electronic devises that must be played, not triggered, to improvise against a backdrop of unforgiving, all-revealing silence.

If you have followed Toral, you already know all that, and you also know that every album he’s made since 2006 has been part of a planned, comprehensive program that will demonstrate how his instruments and ideas work on their own and in exchanges with other musicians. Live In Minneapolis is the first record he’s made since the project began to not have the word space in its title; he wasn’t planning on this one. Even so, its music would fit right in on Space Elements, the three-volume series of records that catalog Toral’s Space-time encounters with other musicians. But if he had included it in that series, we’d only have gotten a small excerpt, and apparently Toral thought enough of this encounter with Twin Cities percussionist Davu Seru to issue the whole thing. I can see why. Seru, who has also worked with Milo Fine, Paul Metzger, and George Cartwright, has a vocabulary that comes out of a free jazz lineage — there are moments when his playing reminds me of Milford Graves, Rashied Ali, and Whit Dickey. But he has great instincts for when to push, when to be silent, and how this music should be shaped. This enables Toral to function like a horn player, drawing that proverbial line and following it, without betraying the voltage-based essence of his instruments. A mere excerpt wouldn’t convey the way this performance builds, mutates, and flares into incandescence; they were right to release the whole thing.

Downbeat review by Bill Meyer

Marty Ehrlich’s Rites Quartet – Frog Leg Logic (CF 242)
4 Stars
Julius Hemphill couldn’t have asked for a better executor of his musical legacy than Marty Ehrlich. Ehrlich was in high school when he met the Texas-born alto sax and clarinet player in St. Louis. After Ehrlich moved to New York he played in Hemphill’s big band, and he’s never stopped playing it since the man’s death in 1995. The Rites Quartet is named for a tune from Hemphill’s Dogon A.D., and it recreates both the LP’s unusual instrumental line-up and its pungent feel.

But Ehrlich also understands that to truly pay tribute to an original, you have to show some originality yourself. On Frog Leg Logic, the quartet’s second recording, they deliver enough Hemphillian funk to let you know where they’re coming from: like in the quick-stepping groove, intricately entwined lines, and grit on “You Can Beat The Slanted Cards.”  But the muted popping that Roberts’s cello and Sarin’s drums push up through Zollar’s breathy sound effects creates a mystery-laden maze for Ehrlich to negotiate. “Solace” combines bluesy melancholy with a chamber music feel; the way Zollar’s muted trumpet harmonizes with Ehrlich’s flute is simply exquisite.