Notice Recordings, a Kingston, New York and New Orleans-based noise/improvisation-centered label, released one of their signature tape batches in November 2020. It features four radically different, equally raucous (in their own way) tapes by some of today’s most innovative improvisers: Guitarist Jessica Ackerley, saxophonist Steve Baczkowski, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, guitarist Bill Nace, percussionist claire rousay, saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi, and trumpeter Jacob Wick. I’m trying out a new format of reviewing batches, where I give each tape/download/record etc. its own mini-review, since many labels and artists I like to write about release music in this way. For what it’s worth, my personal favorite tape from this batch is Steve Baczkowski/Bill Nace’s Success, though they’re all worth perusing and I hope you enjoy reading each review.
Jessica Ackerley/Patrick Shiroishi, Extremities
Jessica Ackerley’s guitar prickles underneath Patrick Shiroishi’s saxophone flutters on the aptly titled “Popcorn Spackle,” the first track on Extremities. Like popcorn cooking in the microwave, it’s delightfully unexpected: It’s pretty difficult to make the perfect bag of popcorn and it’s pretty difficult to decide what Ackerley and Shiroishi are going to do next with their music. This collaboration marks the duo’s first, but it’s so polished it feels like they’ve worked together for years (a testament to both players’ skills).
At its best, Extremities exudes relentless power: One of the best tracks on the album, “Meteoric Deed” begins with a saxophone’s shrill call to action that blooms into a shriek that’s accompanied by frenetic guitar, intoxicating in its pandemonium. “Bulderdash” is equally vigorous, but this time, its spirit comes from a thrashing electric guitar that drives the pulse-raising action below the saxophone’s overblown squeals. It’s here where the pair shines the brightest; solemn tracks like “Basement Runic” eschew thunderous strength for sparsitude and feel almost out of place. But when the two find sheer, unrestricted sound, their music is unstoppable.
Steve Baczkowski/Bill Nace, Success
Saxophonist Steve Baczkowski and guitarist Bill Nace join forces to make the expansive, unsettling music of Success. Recorded live at The Wild Detectives, a Dallas bookstore, the sheer vastness of their sound is remarkable; you might forget it was recorded indoors to an audience, until you hear faint voices beneath their masses of sound. This album isn’t easy listening, nor is it easy to fathom, but that’s what makes it so enticing: It’s something you’ll need to listen to multiple times to unveil each layer of uncompromising sound.
The album opens with a subdued hum, the chatter of an audience peppers its ominous twinkle. But this stillness only hangs for a few seconds, enveloped by the crunchy roars of the guitar and saxophone whose tone is almost unmeshed into one. Propelled by the unabating fervor of the two musicians’ playing, the music feels inherently in-sync despite its all-consuming mayhem. While both sides of the tape provide bold, tantalizing sound, “Untitled A” is the standout track; “Untitled B” traverses similar territory, but takes longer to get to the ecstatic melodies that make the first side so compelling. This is music to be engulfed by; how thrilling it must have been to experience it in that bookstore in Dallas.
Fred Lonberg-Holm, Lisbon Solo
Cellist Fred Longberg-Holm expands the cello’s sonic palette in one fell-swoop on the untitled tracks of Lisbon Solo. This album exemplifies his sheer mastery of skill, blowing through a plethora of extended techniques to exploit what feels like every possible trill, squeal, growl, and hum the cello can make. It’s hard to remember this album was recorded live — the amount of thematic ideas and wide jumps in pitch and type of sound seem like something that would need lots of rehearsal in advance. Then again, it’s the spontaneity that Lonberg-Holm hones into his expert performance that makes it so exciting.
The first track opens the album with a chaotic grit that is immediately washed away by the second track, which flows through a series of gravelly drones to find an ethereal medium. Lisbon Solo is built by these contrasts. But the pieces that feature the most crunching, grating sounds are not the stand out tracks, nor are they easy to listen to, rather, they’re more meant to showcase virtuosity. The most stunning moments of the album come when Lonberg-Holm finds stillness, pausing the chaos to find contemplation.
Jacob Wick/claire rousay, I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
On I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart, improvisers Jacob Wick and claire rousay revel in a subdued, spontaneous reminiscence. This album is perhaps the most introverted of the group, settling in a quiet sparsity; they play with sound and silence, but even when there’s a sudden entrance of sound, it’s of a delicate texture instead of an explosive burst of energy. Wick’s trumpet quietly pummels between almost-complete, jazzy melodies, grainy rumbles, and airy blows; rousay’s percussion subtly hums and crunches, providing a pitter-patter to match Wick’s motion. The pair’s commitment to exploring impromptu filaments and silken threads of sound is the album’s strongest suit.
While the music is abstract and maintains the uninhibited feeling of improvisation, it still feels as if there’s a personal throughline to it, even if we may not be privy to the exact details. The track titles “Larry’s,” “Sancho’s,” “The Friendly Bar” could refer to neighborhood joints; “One for Kevin Killian” one can assume is in reference to the poet of the same name. We may not know those exact places, or why the artists chose them — but that’s not the point, the point is for the music to serve as a personal ode that extends beyond its intimacy to conjure the warmth of familiarity within its eccentricities; in its continuous stream of subtlety, it succeeds.