Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
Koch is still best known for his longtime participation in an excellent trio with cellist Martin Schütz and percussionist Fredy Studer. But on the recent Synopsis (Altrisuoni), he makes great music with two players I’m unfamiliar with—trombonist Denis Beuret and guitarist Vinz Vonlanthen. Koch concentrates on his rich bass clarinet vocabulary, full of his usual striated whinnies and wails and percussive pops and thwacks, and through the 24 pieces were recorded over a two-month period in nine different locations, the trio is exceptionally coherent, shadowing and complementing one another’s improvised utterances as if they were all planned out in advance.
I recently kicked off a personal DVD-watching marathon with a vibrant documentary of a month-long engagement that Koch, Schütz, and Studer engineered and presented at a warehouse that they’d transformed into a makeshift nightclub. Hardcore Chambermusic—A Club for 30 Days, released on DVD by Intakt Records in 2007, is the work of Swiss director Peter Liechti, who synthesizes a ton of material into a concise 70 minutes, building the density, tension, and drama of the music as the film proceeds. Performance footage is interspersed with abstracted images of the warehouse space and postconcert discussions with the musicians on the nature of improvisation, both as a general practice and as it’s evolved for this particular trio during their time together. Though the talk could’ve ended up boring and dry, by seamlessly illustrating many of the points with actual performances Liechti maintains the film’s organic flow.
Still, compared to some of Liechti’s earlier work, Hardcore Chambermusic is rather conventional. Earlier this year Drag City Records released two of the director’s most compelling and entertaining documentaries on DVD. Kick That Habit was made back in 1989, a kind of experimental portrait of the great Swiss improvising duo Voice Crack that combines grainy black-and-white footage of the group performing in a warehouse space with elliptical landscape shots of remote, wintry Switzerland, in the mountains and on the water. The subtitle of the film is “A Sound Movie,” and indeed, the soundtrack is integral, and sometimes it seems like the images are actually secondary. In one particularly great scene the musicians sit around a table eating and preparing some of the homemade electronic noise-making devices they were famous for, and the sounds of eggs cracking or bread being buttered are just as loud, prevalent, and musical as the output of the low-tech machines. The sound design here is pure genius; Walter Murch would love this one.
Reggie Nicholson Brass Concept, Surreal Feel (Abstract Recordings)
Ralph Alessi and Modular Theatre, Open Season (RKM Music)
Henning Sieverts Symmetry, Blackbird (Pirouet)
Bobby Bradford, Ken Heasley, and Ken Rosser, Varistar (Full Bleed Music)
Burkhard Stangl and Kai Fagaschinkski, Musik: Ein Porträt in Sehnsucht (Erstwhile)