In the realm of contemporary music, free jazz and electronic sound art have run in similar directions. The idea that an architect of sound can evoke a meaning that is rooted in traditional musical phrasing, yet free from the traditional systematic approach to organizing pitch and rhythm is the basis behind both art forms. Despite the similarities in mentality and phrase structure, the contrasting sound aesthetics valued in each musical style provide for ideas that communicate without producing a sound leaning more towards one art form. On Rêves Sonores à Alwan, the newest release from Montreal’s own Howl Arts Collective, Saxophone player Ras Moshe, Pianist Stefan Christoff, and producer Nick Schofield have joined forces resulting in a piece of music that explores the expressive possibilities of sound in both an electronic based community as well as a more jazz rooted conception.
The piece is symmetrical with one side of the cassette comprised of early morning improvisations between Cristoff and Moshe and the other side operating as an electronic re-imagination produced by Nick Schofield. In talking to Schofield at a Howl! Show last weekend, he mentioned that his side follows a similar development to the first side. He gave the example of his use of a flute sample, which occurs about the same length of time into his side of the tape as the original Moshe solo. This development strategy helps make the tape as digestible as possible as each style of music is tied together by the similar way in which they operate. Christoff’s dramatic piano playing that begins the work is matched by the spacey ambient sounds of the beginning of Passage. Schofield also plays around with high-pitched bell samples, embodying the rhythmic movement of Christoff’s work. Éclairé finds a mystical sound aesthetic in its playful use of Moshe’s flute playing before the dark nature of Christoff’s piano solo is recreated with a subdued, melodramatic melody on Andrea. These types of connections are a bit deeper into the work and they may not come across upon the first listen, however, this level of organization allows for the two styles of sound to contrast each other without sounding out of place.
On the improvised A-side of the cassette, each player showcases both their ability to communicate with each other as well as hold their own in a solo oriented space. When given complete freedom on Solo Sax, Moshe utilizes his vast array of up-tempo scales to fill the sonic space to capacity. On the other hand, whenever joined by Christoff, Moshe favors the melodic over the virtuosic, his ideas floating at the surface. Christoff’s strength is in his ability to evoke a mood with his playing, but his phrasing is clearly more active when left entirely to his own devices. His work on Solo Piano is centered around the way he plays with rhythmic motives. Christoff focuses his attention on a single pulsating melody with the tempo rapidly increasing and decreasing. This method of phrasing is also used on the first piece before a decrease in piano activity is ushered in by Moshe’s first idea. The first side of the tape is a short example of free jazz perfectly balanced by the two voices involved.
Schofield’s effort on the B-side is made special by his ability to disguise his sampling, which helps the album operate as both an example of free jazz and electronic music as the listener doesn’t hear the B-side as a straightforward remix of the first. Rather, Schofield’s work has standalone appeal, thus making it a vital component of the entire piece. His reverberated sampling achieves a cool aesthetic while entrancing the listener in its subtle rhythmic devices. The ability to develop ideas is helped by the tendency for electronic manipulation to naturally amass a wall of sound as each melodic motion sustains and echoes into the next. On Andrea, the quiet metric outline is continued from beginning to end with the white noise created by the higher pitched melodic motions growing constantly. Although the general timeline of melodic events is modeled on the playing on the A-side, Schofield’s electronic mastery allows him to create a unique sound with independent appeal.
Howl Arts Collective is one of Montreal’s many hidden gems and once again they seem to have struck gold with Rêves Sonores à Alwan. The group’s focus on community and activism is reflected in the collaborative mentality of each of their tapes. Howl constantly pairs up different musicians from all around Montreal and, in this case, New York always culminating in an eclectic blend appealing to many different listening audiences. I highly recommend this tape and I highly recommend anything the group has to offer.
-Review by Donovan Burtan