CD EXPEDITION – LIVE AT THE KNITTING FACTORY
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Signal To Noise (Larry Nai)
Anyone who lists Pete Cosey and Sonny Sharrock as prime influences on their guitar playing is OK with this writer. Amidst the stellar company he keeps on Expedition, guitarist Hans Tammen was unknown to me, but all aces are up on the fantastic “Live at the Knitting Factory”. that ESP-Disk should come out with such a left-field document, and have it register as an instant classic of their catalogue, only makes sense. Many of the labels recordings from the mid-1960s contain music that is still timeless – but it was, nevertheless, of its time. Some 40 years on, a lot of chemicals have synthesized under the bridge between here and there.
The particular alchemical rowdies caught here, in a ferocious, 2001 performance, are German-born Tammen, playing what he calls “endangered guitar”, his fellow countryman, saxophonist/bassclarinettist Alfred 23 Harth, and two of NYC’s most inventive players, bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Jay Rosen. Beginning immediately in territory that any ESP aficionado should recognize as lingua franca, “Setting Out with Aggressive Intent” is Zorn-high from the gate. Haryh, a veteran who has worked with Gunter Hampel, Peter Brötzmann, Otomo Yoshihide and Heiner Goebbels, blows in with a wild tenor sax blast. Dahlgren doubles on marvelously expressive electronics, and furious rubbing motion is experienced by all.
Tammen’s “endangered guitar” encompasses extensive mechanical preparataions, some of which allow him to produce up to eight independent channels. Uniquely qualified on the technical end as a digital media professional, he’s also a monster of a player, popping up in unexpected places, and always with an interesting slant. This allows his wild imagination full execution, and solos like the ones on “Repressed Notions of Speed and Purpose” and “From One Place to Another” combine the painterly grace of violinist Leroy Jenkins, with a sonic range comparable to John Cage’s HPSCHD. Tammen also plays his instrument in more conventional ways, and his extended solo on “A Place That Has Emotional Significance” is a killer tour de force of post-Evereything guitar damage. As if that weren’t enough, Harth storms through with a flashing spot that sounds like Albert Ayler and David Murray trying to wrestle out of the same body. An expedition indeed, this is a great disc that demands to be heard.
Liner Notes by Howard Mandel
By what rights do these guys make this music? How dare they plunge without prelude to thrash, smash, mash – though not trash – music conventions in freely improvised play that has the urgency of necessity, the ferocity of excitement, a no-holds-barred organizing principle and devil-may-care attitude about the results?
Frankly, they proceed without regard for license. They just do it – and who dares say they can’t? They know no need to apply for permission from any powers that be. Individually and all togther, Hans Tammen, Chris Dahlgren, Jay Rosen, and Alfred Harth have exactly what’s required: perceptive and unflagging attentions, bountiful energies, responsive imaginations, masterful command of even the most extreme ranges of their instruments, the ability to track quickly shifting shapes of amassed sound and tack their personal intents to the group’s direction.
These qualities allow them to produce, enter and explore a previously unmapped soundscape, a realm that seems to have internal consistencies and narrative arcs but no explicit guideposts or pre-ordained landmarks. There is mystery in their undertaking, and perhaps danger – what if they venture into madness? What if you’ve followed them all the way?
Well, it’s up to each listener to join their foray or turn from it, to accept the challenge of heading into the unknown or to shy away from the experience as too raw, complex or untethered. But there is no stopping the advances of this band, no denying the power of its efforts. Its members are certain of what they’re doing. Come along for the thrill ride or stay stuck where you are, it’s your call.
The path here may seem rough; the tracks, as distinguished from each other, rather arbitrary given the rushing flow. But nothing is forced, everything is discovered and then simply unleashed. The fury is initially overwhelming, but with repeated hearings finer details emerge. A saxophone honks, wails, squawks, squalls, then a line emerges that turns into – “The Saint’s Go Marching In”? Brash slashes of guitar morph into minutely nuanced manipulation of its least expected capacities. Hard-pressing rhythms suddenly subside; colors splay across the cymbals, there’s a tinkling of bells. Boldly bowed bass becomes a plucking that’s felt beneath everything else, but absorbed by the roar. Is there a muted trumpet? A clarinet? Gulls?
Is this sound, or that one, computer-generated, or hand-made but distorted beyond immediate recognition? It hardly matters, because however wild and wooly the music gets it’s obviously all produced by men with the desire – nay, need — to express themselves beyond limits, and not sometime but right now! This session must have been a highly gratifying opportunity for the four musicians (yes, there are only four) to revel in their shared sensibility, to test their own and each other’s strengths and intuitions and set loose their uncensored passions. It worked, no doubt, to reinforce their beliefs in certain precepts, including: Liberty is good in itself; musical gestures convey meaning; greater comprehension may derive from direct exposure to the unusual or unforeseen than from description or didactic instruction. Each auditor can find his or her own way.
And so you’ll get no more specifics from me – just the suggestion you turn yourself over to this recording and go with it as you please. I can tell making the music left the players in a state of exaltation. Join their assertion of freedom, their collective creativity, their pursuit of what’s spontaneous and true, even if it seems unpolished or rude, and you too, I bet, will have the pleasure of heightened awareness.
Paris Transatlantic (Stuart Broomer)
In many ways the original free jazz label, ESP relaunched itself a couple of years ago with reissues of its classic recordings. Now the label has ventured much closer to the present with this 2001 performance. It would be hard to imagine a contemporary band more appropriate to the label, for the quartet of “endangered guitar”-ist Hans Tammen, reed player Alfred 23 Harth, bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Jay Rosen manage to play energy-school free-jazz in a fresh way, something seldom managed in American jazz these days. It’s the result of a wholly collaborative effort, but it begins with the two Germans, with Harth’s fidelity to the sound and style of Albert Ayler (and Wright, Brötzmann, et al.) and the extraordinary resource of Tammen’s horizontally-played guitar, with its endless stream of bowed, struck and plucked sounds. While there’s an inevitable temptation to treat this band in terms of its national origins, Dahlgren and Rosen are more sonically resourceful (at times sounds are not immediately attributable to Tammen, Dahlgren or Rosen) than is in any sense typical for American rhythm sections these days, and the group consistently manage to engage both musical thought and feeling.
There’s a lot going on here with traditional modes of stylistic mimesis. It’s definitely not “non-idiomatic” but pluralistic instead. At one point it sounds like a saxophone imitating a band imitating passing airplanes; at another a flock of (Messiaen-ic) birds. “Retained Notions of Speed and Purpose” combines the pained wobble of the Ayler ballad style with some wonderful, high-pitched electric violin-like lyricism from Tammen. “From One Place to Another” has Harth squealing against some chugging machine rhythms generated by the rest of the band until the saxophonist arrives at “When the Saints Go Marching In.” “A Long Trip by Water” has well-sustained atmospherics from Tammen that float in between Harth’s intense wail and Rosen’s falling-down-the-stairs backbeat, suggesting a group that’s comfortable in several places at once. Tammen opens “A Place that Has Emotional Significance” with some swirling pentatonic runs that begin with an almost reed-like sound and ultimately invoke the continuum of blues and rock guitar pyrotechnics. In all, it’s a fine performance of consistent focus and intensity from a band that should work together regularly.–SB
AllAboutJazz New York (Sean Fitzell)
Shards of sound leap forth without hesitation or preamble. Tearing guitar and saxophone squalls compete with the thrumming bass and frenetic drums on the appropriately titled, “Setting Out With Aggressive Intent”. The impact is immediate. Expedition: Live at the Knitting Factory is an improvisational adventure for guitarist Hans Tammen, tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Alfred 23 Harth, bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Jay Rosen. Recorded in 2001, the near-hour long set is subdivided into 10 pieces, though it is really one long, unfolding improvisation. The divisions merely cue the obvious shifts in emphasis and the titles hint at motivations, such as “Taken at a Leisurely Pace” and “A Place That Has Emotional Significance”. These signposts help listeners approach the sonic density of the quartet that sounds bigger.
Tammen’s self-described “endangered” guitar style slashes through idiomatic norms, conjuring soundscapes and stabbing intensity. Harth’s doubling of reeds with contrasting timbres extends the group’s textural range, as does Dahlgren’s use of electronics. At times it is difficult to know who is playing which parts; for added mystery, even trumpet-like sounds emerge on “Setting Out…” and “A Long Trip by Water”.
The music is not an unrelenting maelstrom. Though ideas are rapidly exchanged, the musicians evince careful listening and are as adept in the quieter passages as in the blowouts. On “Taken At…”, Dahlgren’s hypnotic bowed-bass mantra murmurs beneath Harth’s tempered bleating and Tammen’s nuanced manipulations. Rosen propels “Many Have Passed Rigorous Courses” with a martial snare shuffle, eliciting a bout of tightly focused group interplay. He and Tammen seamlessly lock into a rockish groove during “A Long Trip…”, belying the intrinsic spontaneity. The improvisation is intense and must have been a powerful experience for the audience. But like many live recordings of free improv, the interactive energy is necessarily lost in translation to disc. Knowing this only adds incentive to observe such seasoned improvisers in the moment.
AllAboutJazz (Glenn Astarita)
For those who closely follow the global jazz-improv scene, these artists’ varied resumes point towards the latest and greatest of modern jazz’s vast parameters and possibilities. Recorded live at New York City’s late, great Knitting Factory in 2001, the quartet indulges in some truly exciting interplay, tinged with bizarre attributes and moments of energized sonic mayhem.
The electro-acoustic vibe features ominously crafted improvisation, spiced-up by Hans Tammen’s “endangered guitar” manipulations and bassist Chris Dahlgren’s electronics-based treatments. At times, Tammen sounds as though he’s spewing forth shards of metal from his guitar as the quartet’s improvisational factor yields unpredictable and altogether, otherworldly results. On the piece “Many Have Passed Rigorous Courses,” Alfred 23 Hearth’s tumultuous tenor sax lines conveys notions of angst and retribution atop drummer Jay Rosen’s popping and thrusting asymmetrical pulses.
Tammen’s cleverly enacted volume control techniques and reverse chord progressions emit a liquefying effect as motifs emerge then vanish into vapor space. And during several movements, the band engages crash and burn dialogues—occasionally counterbalanced by quiet, minimalism. However, they alter the tide on “A Long Trip By Water,” where Harth’s howling tenor choruses ride atop a solid funk groove that segues into an interstellar romp, due to Tammen’s free-jazz/space rock type voicings.
Ultimately, it’s a strangely entertaining and somewhat inspiring jaunt that beckons a myriad of existential frameworks. They break the rules with hell-raising intentions; a proposition that could parallel Monk’s composition “Ugly, Beauty”—in name only, that is.
Jazz e arredores (Eduardo Chagas)
Not at all usual or traditional is the way in which these instruments are worked, or are the men who master them. Four musicians with the knowledge and courage to expose their sensibilities outside of limitations. This is music organized without hierarchies or guidance from any one of the participants, except when it emerges from the tension between individual and collective expression according to the fundamental principle of listening, processing and reacting. Direction, attitude, consistency, nerve, pulse, energy, response, sequential and fragmented narrative – all converge to make this a gripping session, as it was to be expected at the hands of these four magnificent musicians. Without mystification or false starts, Expedition solves the very mystery of a jump into the void, as one who wanders through unknown territories, whether dark and desolate as a dock in the dead hours, or luminous and sincere as young souls in supreme states of pure improvisation. Live recording from 2001 at the Knitting Factory, NY, just released by ESP-DISK number 4031. Certainly one of the musical releases of the year. The ideal soundtrack to accompany the reading of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain.
Fly Global Music Culture (Damien Rafferty)
Recorded at the high temple of experimental jazz back in 2001, you don’t even need to open this issue from ESP-DISK to know this is going to be challenging stuff.
When I hear the phrase ‘jazz guitar’ I normally reach for my pillow, so the harsh, rocked out, crazed sounds of what Hans Tammen calls ‘endangered guitar’ hit a chord with me (as well as the often vocal live audience for these tracks). Take ‘A Place That Has Emotional Significance’ for instance, this Hendrixian, bluesy experimentation climbs heights and descends into hellish depths of police siren like wailing (honestly, that is what sirens sound like in England). But it is only when the tenor sax comes in that it becomes clear that the shock of Tammen’s sheets of sound derives not from their abstraction, but because so few guitarists have absorbed the work of the later Coltrane.
Track titles like ‘Setting Out With Aggressive Intent’ or ‘Retained Notions Of Speed And Purpose’ seem to have been plucked from the random text many spam emails employ to circumvent spam filters and I think to some extent you could say that all the sounds on this album share the same goal of getting past the listeners usual filtering mechanisms demanding of you an emotional response — if not equal to — at least appropriate to the passion of these musicians as they push and push and push themselves. This is not however, an unending thrash. Tammen Harth Dahlgren Rosen leave space between ideas and explore different sounds and combinations in such a way that the listener can move through the music rather than just suffer its relentless assault.
Highly recommended for those who are a little out there or headed in that direction.
Jazzword.com (Ken Waxman)
Recorded live, Expedition matches Tammen, with multi-reedist Alfred 23 Hatth, another expatriate German who now lives in Seoul Korea, and two Americans. Chris Dahlgren, now a Berlin resident who has worked with Anthony Braxton among others, is on bass and electronics, while Jay Rosen, an always-busy New York percussionist, is know for gigs with the bands of bassist Michael Bisio and multi-instrumentalist Joe McP
Especially notable is Harth, who in the years since the set was recorded (2001), has spent a lot of his time dabbling in electronics and sound collages. However, not only does he expose expected serpentine tenor saxophone multiphonics here, but on tunes such as “A Brief Pleasure Trip” and the connective “From One Place To Another” expresses himself with sluicing bass clarinet overblowing and flutter-tonguing, counterbalanced by Tammen’s guitar manipulation. The guitarist’s responses take the form of snapping string distortions and ascending, intensive rasgueado lines on the former and triggered, buzzing sound envelops and machine-gun-like harsh expansions on the later.
Moving from pseudo Free Bop, a near-Aylereian waltz “…Pleasure …” benefits from Dahlgren’s slap bass line and Rosen’s cymbal-clacking cross pulsation. Among the electronic drones on “… One Place…” are shape-shifting dissonant chomps from Tammen’s axe.
Distinctively, the miasmic sound-making serves as prelude to the final two tracks – “A Place That Has Emotional Significance” and the nine-minute “Returning To The Place Where It Began”. With Tammen’s bent notes erupting into sounds that could only come from the converse of a fretless guitar, his carnivorous patterns suggest miscegenation between one million frets and an equal number of passing tones. Meanwhile Harth’s Brötzmannian intensity translates into primitivist cries and altissimo shrieks as bell pealing – either from Rosen’s mallets or Tammen’s tabletop guitar manipulation – are heard. For a finale upward guitar frails accompany unidentified cries and calls, which are as likely to have arisen from samples as from the participants live work.
Suitably cosseted by sympathetic associates, Tammen’s endangered guitar displays its low-key and exuberant qualities on different discs. Either can be profitably investigated by seekers of out-of-the-ordinary sounds.
Recorded at New York’s Knitting Factory in 2001, this incredible live set from one of free jazz’s most adventurous contemporary quartets presents the illusion that there’s a good deal more instrumentation on show than there actually is. From tenor sax, bass clarinet, bass, drums, electronics and guitar, the four musicians are able to wring all manner of abstract textures. Especially interesting is Tammen’s ‘endangered guitar’, as he bills it. His instrument lurches around perilously in the pursuit of some highly un-guitar-like noises, sounding a little like the unholy racket summoned by Rune Grammofon improv hounds MoHa! and Scorch Trio. It’s not all maxed-out frenzy though: at times you’ll hear quiet, contemplative group playing, or expressive soloing from the various contributors, particularly Harth’s horns and Tammen’s pitch-shifting guitar, as on the incendiary blues dirge ‘A Place That Has Emotional Significance’ – dreadful title, great performances.
Touching Extremes (Massimo Ricci)
“Expedition” was recorded live at New York’s Knitting Factory in 2001. The four protagonists hadn’t met previously, except the “German section” of Tammen (endangered guitar) and Harth (here on tenor sax and bass clarinet) who had jammed together in “some serious impro-camp” – as Mr. 23 would have it – yet never shared a “real” playing experience. The saxophonist was already in NY at that time, pursuing the collective vision of the Trio Viriditas with Wilber Morris and Kevin Norton, so linking the Tammen & Harth factors with bassist-cum-electronics Dahlgren and drummer Rosen didn’t reveal to be an insurmountable problem.
The record is technically subdivided in ten tracks delivered in a one-flow performance whose frantic energy and tension level sets the music free from the remnants of whatever somnolence or syrupy frustration could eventually exist. The recording quality doesn’t cause us to shout “gloria in te domine”, but then again I don’t remember a single album taped at this venue where the sound is not raw and belligerent, almost bootleg-like. The fascinating mystique of sensitive improvisation is confirmed in its totality, several solo spots finding room amidst torrential exchanges that need no recurring to common-man swing to excite the audience (jeez, someone still gets excited with swing). Each voice is effectively distinguishable, contributing with unique colours and ideas; there is no necessity of framing a continuous series of spurts and discharges that, at times, become quite uneasy to mentally control.
One has to listen carefully and ride the wave surfer-style, while enjoying the alternance of refined linearism and scintillating counter-striking: “Retained notions of speed and purpose”, for instance, juxtaposes a strict discussion between a semi-serene Harth and a less tranquil Tammen, who works wonders with a volume pedal and a pitch transposing device at the end of the piece. When Dahlgren and Rosen decide to join the party, it amounts to something that resembles the fuming and the boiling of sulphuric waters, the music’s potential pushed to the maximum. Great interplay is also to be enjoyed in “A long trip by the water”, beginning with the semblance of a metre (nice arco work by Dahlgren, by the way) over which A23H applies ever-changing sketches of anti-stereotypic intolerance, the terrorist-turned-guitar slinger remaining in jingling-harmonic mode for minutes before starting to execute abnormally quick repetitive phrases mixing Hans Reichel and Jeff Beck with fingers stuck in a high-voltage outlet. I wonder what the guitarist’s hair looked like at the finish of this section, which Rosen underlines with the hardest accompaniment since John Bonham in “Dazed and confused”.
Throughout such moments, when the whole nears a cathartic state, all musicians accelerating and/or squealing and/or punching each other’s face with sneering blasts, one thinks of punk – a supposedly “violent” expression – and laughs hard. The same (I mean laughing hard) happened to this writer after reading an online review of this CD which, after an endless river of vacuous words, spelled the record as “boring”. The guy probably played this stuff as a next-room background while momma was serving him his ravioli, yet another wannabe looking to be hired at the post office while insisting in writing about things that he can’t comprehend. Five Euros to the first who guesses his nationality. Meanwhile, enjoy the expedition’s outcome – they came back healthy. Me, even healthier.
MusicWorks (Stuart Broomer)
Of the new ESP recordings that deserve to stand alongside the label’s earliest productions, it would be hard to imagine a contemporary band more appropriate that the international quartet consisting of two German musicians – Hans Tammen on “endangered guitar” and saxophonist Alfred Harth – and two Americans – bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Jay Rosen. On EXPEDITION (4031), they manage to play energy-school free-jazz in a fresh way. It begins with Harth’s fidelity to the sound and style of Albert Ayler (and Frank Wright, Peter Brötzmann, et al.) and the extraordinary resource of Tammen’s horizontally played guitar, with its endless stream of bowed, struck, and plucked sounds. The sonically resourceful Dahlgren and Rosen further compound the ambiguity. There’s a lot going on here with traditional modes of stylistic mimesis, a preference for pluralism over the non-idiomatic. At one point it sounds like a saxophone imitating a passing airplane; at another, a flock of (Messiaen-ic) birds. Whether playing machine rhythms or making an allusion to Dixieland, this is a group that’s comfortable in several places at once, traversing noise, blues, rock, and jazz spaces.