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Ictus Records' 30th Anniversary Collection

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Andrea Centazzo—drummer, percussionist, pioneer electronicist and composer—was at the center of the European free jazz scene during the 1970s and early 1980s. This truly amazing twelve-disc box set catalogues a good portion of Centazzo's musical life during that period. It contains studio and live recordings, remasterings and previously unissued tracks, recorded between 1976 and 1983, plus three 2005 live tracks, from a show at Tonic in NYC that was an un-retirement of sorts.

You may recognize of good number of the musicians given in the personnel listings below, and in his liner notes, Centazzo speaks reverently of his relationships with them. The discs include performances with the recently deceased Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone) and Derek Bailey (guitar), plus such players as Franz Koglmann (trumpet, flugelhorn), Lol Coxhill (soprano saxophone), Tony Oxley (percussion), Evan Parker (saxophones), Gianluigi Trovesi (reeds), Albert Mangelsdorf (trombone), Vinnie Golia (reeds) and Enrico Rava (trumpet), among many others.

During the 1970s and 1980s there was a sustained effort in European new music to combine the freedom of American "free jazz" with a European attitude to composition, embracing a variety of compositional approaches with differing degrees of specificity. Experimentation was the norm, and electronics were part of it, including Centazzo's percussion synthesizer. You can hear and feel the excitement throughout this collection.

Centazzo's was music that a conventional jazz label just wouldn't spend money or time recording. So he started his own label. Ictus was one of the first independent labels to record this strand of "avant-garde" music, doing so until its collapse in 1985. While all of the music on this collection still sounds joyous, energetic, engaging and full of an adventurous spirit, it doesn't shock anymore. The attitudes and experiments of these pioneers—which back then seemed to be unbankable, if not scandalous—now fit right in with what continues to be called the avant-garde.



In that sense, the music here sounds timeless and wholly undated. You get the feeling, especially on the live tracks, of the musicians metaphorically jumping off a cliff, or working without a safety net, and daring to create music right on the edge. In his notes, Centazzo relates how he eventually felt a pull away from "free jazz", perhaps due to always playing without a net, and towards composing. He increasingly wanted to write his melodies down, and reflect more on his heritage.

Andrea Centazzo with Various Artists
Ictus Records' 30th Anniversary Collection (12CD)
Ictus Records
2006 (1976-1983, 2005)

To call Centazzo's music free jazz isn't entirely accurate. None of the music here is totally free—that is, created without prior thought or organization of any kind. Rather, it is distinguished by the nature of its structures, which are many times not obvious, and which are different from those most commonly used in other music, be it jazz or non-jazz.

The human mind processes and interprets perception by identifying patterns and constructing organization. Visual art may take a wholly repetitive pattern, which might get boring if left unmediated, and try to develop it into something stimulating. In music, rhythm has accent patterns, melody has pitch patterns, and harmony has chordal patterns. All three patterns work together to produce larger structures, sometimes lasting many minutes. Different kinds of music, of course, accentuate different areas within its overall makeup.

Most of the music in this set uses entirely original, and unexpected, methods to provide a sense of organization. This can be confusing and off-putting for a listener attempting to understand it in a conventional way. However, if one just listens, without attempting to frame the music with a familiar organizational pattern, an entirely different experience is created. Going with the flow can be very enjoyable. Eventually, other aspects of the music will become clear.

The packaging is exquisite and has been put together with a lot of care and thought. The enigma is what it all means. The twelve discs are housed in a Mosaic label sized box, with three layers of four discs each along with an extremely detailed and exhaustive booklet (also the size of a Mosaic booklet). Interestingly, each cardboard disc holder has its own seemingly permanent wrapper, which needs to be slit at the top and bottom. My immediate impression was twofold. First, the box felt like a Japanese-style gift, where the presentation is as important as the gift itself. Then, cutting the wrappers gave a sense of danger—but to do so made the set uniquely one's own. Jump, take the chance, but it's irreversible; you can't go back... even if you want to!

There is much to enjoy in this set, which gives Ictus' catalogue its rightful place in the broad strand of jazz history. The sampler, which contains one track from each of the twelve records in the set, provides a perfect introductory overview for anyone new to the music.

(For more information from Ictus about these individual titles, click on the label link in each header.)

Andrea Centazzo with Various Artists
Introduction To Ictus Records' 30th Anniversary Collection
Ictus Records
2006 (1976-1983, 2005)

Starting with a very clearly structured studio duet by Steve Lacy (soprano sax) and Centazzo, "Tao #3", we later encounter Lacy in a live trio with Centazzo and Kent Carter on bass, "Bone", that actually swings for a while as Lacy plays a real melody. There is another live Lacy duet, "The New Moon", its board-produced blue notes mixed with pure sounds from Lacy backed by Centazzo's gongs.

"Lost In The Mist" boasts the largest ensemble, Centazzo's MittelEuropa Orchestra. It has a much more composed structure underpinning the proceedings, that is fascinating to hear unfold. "Drops," on the other hand, with Derek Bailey (guitar, sort of) tearing at his instrument (literally at times), is very abstract. The adjective gnarly fits it well.

"NY Sextet Improvisation" has an amazing mix of sounds and "In Real Time #6," with Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophone) letting loose live against both conventional instruments and electronics, might just pin your ears back (in the best way).

There is much more, and it varies widely, with no track lasting more than eight minutes. The Sampler is readily recommended as a record unto itself.

Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo
Clangs
Ictus Records
2006 (1976)

The tracks here are live duets featuring Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone and other sounds) and Centazzo (drums). The music has a definite feel of referencing nature and animals, and not just through horn sounds imitating animal calls, as in "Ducks" or "Tracks."

Lacy creates structure around every sound he plays, and Centazzo provides interesting accompanying and contrapuntal sounds. Lacy's mastery is continually on display, as he weaves very strong structures with silk thin threads. The music is quite accessible, in terms of both sounds and structures.

Derek Bailey/Andrea Centazzo
Drops
Ictus Records
2006 (1977)

Derek Bailey's guitar music requires close attention, since the method to his madness doesn't readily expose itself. It's easy to get caught up in the impressive range of sounds he produces, particularly the pulls, snaps and scrapes. But ultimately the nine tracks, four of them lasting under three minutes, can be heard as true, evolving duets. Centazzo is particularly sensitive here. Much as he follows Lacy, he leads, or at least battles, Bailey. "Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing" is a standout and finds both men playing legato sounds which contrast sharply with much of what happened elsewhere.

Not the easiest music for sure, but as duets by sound makers, each track can be followed through a definite developmental arc.

Steve Lacy/Kent Carter/Andrea Centazzo
In Concert
Ictus Records
2006 (1976)

Live Lacy in a trio with bass and drums, that starts with a cooking "Bone" (on the Sampler, as is its musical parent "Tao 3" from Tao), and ends with a "Ducks" that spends a long central section with just Kent Carter on bass and Centazzo. In between, at the center of the set, are three long tracks, "Stalks," "Existence" and "The Crust."

What is apparent from these tracks is that Lacy always keeps structure and motive, if not theme, in mind. He brings all sorts of sounds out of his horn. Much of the time the music feels as if it wants to break into a steady rhythm, which it sometimes does, and the opening thematic statements are never far away.

Centazzo and Carter follow Lacy very closely and both play off of and feed into his energy. When playing without Lacy, the pair's concentration is palpable. Centazzo notes that the acoustic of a big half-empty hall was captured in the recording and added a transparency to the music. This was great music in 1976 and it still is now.

Alvin Curran/Evan Parker/Andrea Centazzo
In Real Time
Ictus Records
2006 (1977)

Centazzo writes in the set's booklet of his great respect for Alvin Curran (synthesizer, piano, trumpet) and Evan Parker (soprano and tenor sax). He also notes that on these tracks he uses one of the earliest percussion synthesizers. Curran also uses electronics occasionally, but plays trumpet against Parker too. Since there's not a hint of an audience, the "live" reference and the title together imply that this music was recorded as it happened, in real time, with no overdubs or post processing.

Parker is even more abstract than Derek Bailey and uses his horns (soprano and tenor) to make sounds rather than notes, developing a sonic idea rather than a melodic one. Most of the time he seems to be the leader, although it can be difficult to separate what Curran is doing from Parker. Centazzo is constantly commenting on, and sometimes driving, the music with a mix of acoustic and processed percussion sound.

The overall effect is difficult to characterize, but by closing one's eyes and imagining a bird's eye view of the music's creation, space and time are recalibrated for the duration.

Larry Ochs/Jon Raskin/Bruce Ackley/Andrew Voigt/Andrea Centazzo
The Bay
Ictus Records
2006 (1977)

ROVA (for Raskin/Ochs/Voight/Ackley) is an all-saxophone group here joined by Centazzo, who provided the compositions. This is early ROVA, who've since become known for producing music on the edges.

The music has the sound of through composition with plenty of space for improvisation. Exactly why this impression is so strong is unclear, but in "Trobarclus," for instance, the size of the groupings change frequently and seemingly on cue. Furthermore, the sounds, textures and figures feel laid out, as though in some kind of notation, and then used for improvisation. There's the air of control about the music.

"O Ce Biel Cisciel Da Udin," which is included on the sampler, has a pronounced folkish theme, played in unison by the horns and which reappears out of the improvisations, sounding like a wild party march. The title tune starts off with a beautiful chorale sound, before entering a free section that has room for each member's part and which leads to a different sounding section. The feeling is again one of compositional control over the improvisations.

Admittedly, many sections of these tracks sound as if they could be using extensively detailed, modern conservatoire notation. This feeling falls apart somewhat when the improvisers come forward. The compositional skill therefore is in making the seams between the sections and subsections as smooth as possible.

Overall, the energy that the group produces is tightly controlled, and perhaps this is the ultimate reason for the music's compositional feel.

Andrea Centazzo with Various Artists
The New US Concerts
Ictus Records
2006 (1978, 1979)

Centazzo recalls the time of these concerts as like "a new wave sweeping the East Coast music scene...(a) real revolution that marked an overcoming of the Afro-American influences which had dominated the '70s Free Jazz movement."

All of this music is extremely strong and presents duo and trios in which Centazzo performed in the US (except one in Bologna, Italy) with varied instrumentation. Tracks three through nine are live recordings, but all of the tracks have the daring feel of walking a tightrope.

The two duos with guitar and percussion ("NY Tapes" with Eugene Chadbourne and "Electric Duo" with Dave Williams) have quite different feels, and Derek Bailey's presence hangs over the tracks. The players don't exactly copy him, but their snapping and scraping effects recall Bailey's techniques.

Ladonna Smith shows off a truly amazing voice on the two "MC Clung" tracks, besides playing the violin simultaneously against her own voice to create yet another voice. "NY Tapes #1," with Toshinori Kondo on trumpet, plays against type and begins quite serenely, as Kondo brings out many sounds from his instrument backed by gongs, only then to become a battle. Tom Cora, on "Live In Woodstock," uses his cello in a non-standard manner in his conversation with Centazzo.

Special mention should be made of two "Trio West" tracks with John Carter and Vinny Golia. Carter's clarinet tone is just about the purest I've ever heard, especially in low register, and is beautiful in an almost physical sense. The fact that he can produce a myriad of other sounds is another story.

Polly Bradfield/Eugene Chadbourne/Tom Cora/Toshinori Kondo/John Zorn/Andrea Centazzo
The NY Tapes
Ictus Records
2006 (1978)

This disc is dominated by two "Environments" for sextet (Bradfield: violin; Chadbourne: guitar; Cora: cello; Kondo: trumpet; Zorn: reeds; Centazzo: percussion). One lasts thirteen minutes and the other twenty-five. Centazzo says that "the music was organized in small rhythmic fragments and melodies in between of which the improvisers could sail free. We were coming ever closer to the concept of accomplished musical structure."

Centazzo doesn't explain what "accomplished musical structure" means, but what seems to be happening is that there is some kind of musical instruction written out for the musicians, who then use it as a base for group coherence, while improvising around it. When the individuals are totally empathetic the group takes on a distinctive musical personality.

In this sense, the music is genuinely experimental, and Centazzo was extremely pleased by how the individual musicians responded and played. The musical structure is hard to grasp, and giving up even trying to listen with understanding seems to be the best plan. Just let it happen.

The four minute "NY Sextet Improvisation" feels totally improvised. The fact that something even remotely coherent emerges signifies a real musical mind meld of the musicians, and is quite an achievement.

Andrea Centazzo and the Mitteleuropa Orchestra
Doctor Faustus
Ictus Records
2006 (1978)

Doctor Faustus is a collection of seven live performances by the Mitteleuropa Orchestra, here about sixteen players. Many of them appear on other discs in this collection, and many will be recognized today. Centazzo states that the membership of the group was fluid at the edges, with a solid core group of players.

With this music, especially because of the musical forces involved, the line between improvisation and composition is crossed: there's a composed foundation from which individual improvisers take flight.

The sounds produced can be fantastic in the extreme. Large, complex and yet much more immediately accessible than, say, the "Environments" on The NY Tapes (including even the "Third Environment For Orchestra")—precisely because of the coherence produced by the composed music for the large group. "Lost In The Mist" was selected for the sampler, and has a more ethereal texture and moves more slowly.

Andrea Centazzo duets with Alvin Curran, Carlos Zingaro, Lol Coxhill, Gianguli Trovesi
Thirty Years From Monday
Ictus Records
2006 (1977, 1983)

Here are four sets of duets that range widely over the musical spectrum. Alvin Curran (piano) improvises in an almost traditional way (at first) on "Georgia On My Mind," before taking off and then, on "Mantric Improvisation," uses two tape recorders to create an eerie, eighteen minute sound sculpture in front of Centazzo's Eastern percussion sounds.

Carlos Zingaro, a founding member of the Mitteleuropa Orchestra, lets loose with many different sounds, supported by Centazzo, who uses some electronics, creating two very dramatic "real time" pieces.

The "Box Sessions" feature Lol Coxhill on soprano saxophone, who comes across rather like Sidney Bechet transported sixty years into the future. Bechet was an extremely powerful and inventive player and Coxhill blows up a storm while staying freely melodic for the most part. While not maintaining a pulse or playing a clear melodic line, the music is pretty accessible, and Coxhill is shown to be as masterful as Steve Lacy.

Gianluigi Trovesi is a beautiful player, getting a very pure sound from whatever reed he chooses. Centazzo surrounds his sensuous lines with an aura of gongs, their pitches interacting with the horn. However, when things get heated by Centazzo, Trovesi doesn't retreat. The "Trovencen" are two outstanding pieces of free music developing organically.

Andrea Centazzo trios with Anthony Coleman, Marco Cappelli, Davey Williams, Ladonna Smith
Back To The Future
Ictus Records
2006 (1979, 1980, 2005)

Centazzo writes about how the first three tracks represent a "comeback" of sorts from his leaving free jazz music, saying that "I suddenly realized that I was interested more and more in composing, in bringing back my melodic side into the music; I rediscovered my roots and wanted to study and compose, bringing to a close, a phase of my personal artistic life..... But... never say never!"

What is immediately apparent on these tracks is the joy, energy and sheer fun the musicians are having. As with all of this freely improvised music, listening without trying to find organizational patterns is the key. You might then marvel at the close interplay that everyone maintains, and begin to get inside the total sound produced.

The last five tracks (the first three studio and the last two live) are from 1979 and 1980. The two live tracks have a distinctly different feel about them, making the three studio tracks sound sterile in comparison—same performers, entirely different outcome.

Back To The Future shows that this music is timeless, and that a 25 year separation makes no difference at all. What is happening and why? Is the music worth the effort, and does this kind of music really take more effort?

Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo
Tao
Ictus Records
2006 (1976, 1984)

Centazzo relates the bad times, both physical and mental, that preceded the making of these recordings. Particularly in awe of Steve Lacy, he dedicates this disc to him in acknowledgement of how much he learned playing and just being with him.

Tao is the third disc in the set featuring Lacy. The first six tracks are in the studio and the last four are live in concert. "Tao 3," which has a particularly strong melodic/thematic component, is on the Sampler, and is also given a driving treatment on In Concert as "Bone." In some sense, this box set revolves around Lacy, his musical character and his effect on Centazzo.

There is always a sense of control, paradoxically coupled with an in-the-moment feeling of adventure, to which is added the freedom derived from structure that is the hallmark of Lacy's playing. One moment he can be playing post-bop lines, the next he will be totally abstract. And yet, with closer listening, the fact that all is related comes shining through. One never knows where a particular phrase is going to go, yet when it gets there, the logic leading to it is clear.

As usual with this music, the live tracks have a little something extra, with a bit more of playing out there, without a net.

Andrea Centazzo with Various Artists
Rebels, Travelers & Improvisers
Ictus Records
2006 (1977, 1978, 1983)

Represented here are a number of groups that Centazzo was involved in during the Ictus label's life.

The Breghenz live session starts with some amazing solo tuba harmonics and split notes by Melvin Poore. When Theo Jorgesmann joins in on clarinet, a dialogue ensues that is spellbinding. The addition of John Fisher's piano only adds to the effect, which is further heightened by Centazzo's percussion response. This is hold-your-breath music which demands and gets total attention.

Evan Parker returns on tenor saxophone for the "Church Music" tracks, recorded in a church. Martin Joseph's electric piano imparts a futuristic sound, while Eugenio Colombo (alto saxophone) serves as a perfect foil and counterweight to Parker. There are times when the two horns sound like a traditional front line, with the most eerie rhythm section imaginable. It's easy to become totally engrossed, due to the sustained drama.

Lol Coxhill (soprano sax) and Franz Koglmann (trumpet) team up with Centazzo for the two Innsbruck sessions. A bit sparser than the preceding tracks, the music is nevertheless quite accessible as a developing threads of sounds, especially if you have worked your way through the box set sequentially.

The last track of this last disc in the box set, "Rebels, Travelers & Improvisers," is a live performance captured on a thirty-year-old cassette Centazzo, happily, chanced upon and digitally remastered. The performers include Lester Bowie (trumpet), Alvin Curran (piano and synthesizer), Giancarlo Schiaffini (trombone), Evan Parker (tenor saxophone) and Tony Oxley (percussion), along with Centazzo. The music is full of flutters and squeals, crashes and rattles, tweets and roars, but—or better, and—the logic and inevitability of the flow of its creation is transparent. While difficult to describe in words, the music builds on itself as it carriers the listener forward.

Perhaps it is familiarity after spending so much time floating in this sea of sounds, but Rebels, Travelers & Improvisers might just be the disc to pick if I could have just one from the set.


Tracks and Personnel

Clangs

Tracks: The Owl; Tracks; Dome; The New Moon; Torments; Ducks.

Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone, bird calls, pocket synthesizer; Andrea Centazzo: percussion, drum set, vocals.

Drops

Tracks: Drop One; Recapitulation, Reiteration And Rabbits; How Long Has This Been Going On; Drop Two; Tutti Cantabile; Drop Three; Drop Four; Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing; Jim Never Seems To Send Me Pretty Flowers.

Personnel: Derek Bailey: electric & acoustic guitars; Andrea Centazzo: percussion.

In Concert

Tracks: Bone (Tao 3); The Way (Tao 2); Stalks; Existence (Tao 1); The Crust; Feline; Ducks.

Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone; Kent Carter: double bass; Andrea Centazzo: drum set, percussion.

In Real Time

Tracks: In Real Time #1; In Real Time #2; In Real Time #3; In Real Time #4; In Real Time #5; In Real Time #6.

Personnel: Alvin Curran: synthesizer, piano, trumpet; Evan Parker: soprano, tenor saxophones; Andrea Centazzo: percussion, percussion synthesizer.

The Bay

Tracks: Trobarclus; O Ce Biel Cisciel Da Udin; The Bay; Carmel Duet; Ready No. 2; Ready No. 6; Ready No. 1; Ready No. 3.

Personnel: Larry Ochs: tenor, soprano saxohones; Jon Raskin: baritone, alto, soprano saxophones, clarinet; Bruce Ackley: clarinet, soprano saxophone; Andrew Voigt: alto, soprano saxophones, flute; Andrea Centazzo: percussion.

The New US Concerts

Tracks: Trio West #1; Trio West #2; Live In Woodstock; NY Tapes #1; No Wall; MC Clung #1; MC Clung #2; NY Tapes # 2; Electric Duo; West Duo.

Personnel: John Carter: clarinet; Vinnie Golia: reeds; Tom Corra: cello; Toshinori Kondo: trumpet; Jack Wright: alto saxophone; Ladonna Smith: violin, viola, voice; Davey Williams: electric guitars, banjo; Eugene Chadbourne: guitars; Dave Williams: electric guitars; Gregg Goodman: piano; Andrea Centazzo: percussion.

The NY Tapes

Tracks: First Environment For Sextet; NY Duo #1; Second Environment For Sextet; NY Duo #2; NY Sextet Improvisation; NY Trio.

Personnel: Polly Bradfield: violin; Eugene Chadbourne: guitars; Tom Cora: cello; Toshinori Kondo: trumpet; John Zorn: reeds; Andrea Centazzo: percussion.

Doctor Faustus

Tracks: Musicaschema; Third Environment For Orchestra; Chirimia; First Environment; Lost In The Mist; Mittelmarch; Doctor Faustus.

Personnel: Enrico Rava: trumpet; Franz Koglmann: flugelhorn, trumpet; Gianluigi Trovesi: bass clarinet, alto saxophone; Carlos Zingaro: violin; Theo Jorgesmann: clarinet (7); Radu Malfatti: trombone (6); Albert Mangelsdorf: trombone (7); Carlo Actis Dato: bass clarinet, baritone sax (7); Roberto Ottaviano: soprano saxophone; Sauro D'Angelo: clarinet, alto saxophone; Roberto Manuzzi: soprano saxophone; Andrea Anzola: french horn; Roberto Bartoli: bass; Stefano Ferri: bass; Franco Feruglio: bass (6); Bruno Cabassi: xylophone, percussion; Gianpaolo Salbego: percussion; Guido Vianello: percussion (7); Paolo Zanella: percussion (7); Andrea Centazzo: drums, percussion, conductor.

Thirty Years From Monday

Tracks: An Old Man River In The Georgia Of My Mind; Mantric Improvisation; The Gipsy Part One; The Gipsy Part Two; The Box Session #1; The Box Session #2; Trovecen #1; Trovecen #2.

Personnel: Alvin Curran: piano, trumpet synthesizer; Andrea Centazzo: percussion; Carlos Zingaro; violin; Lol Coxhill: soprano saxophone; Gianluigi Trovesi: bass clarinet, piccolo clarinet, alto saxophone.

Back To The Future

Tracks: Back To The Future #1; Back To The Future #2; Back To The Future #3; Back To The Past #1; Back To The Past #2; Back To The Past #3; Back To The Past #4; Back To The Past #5.

Personnel: Davey Williams: guitars, banjo; Ladonna Smith: violin, vocals; Andrea Centazzo: percussion, digital percussion & sampling.

Tao

Tracks: Tao 1; Tao 2; Tao 3; Tao 4; Tao 5; Tao 6; Tao 7; Tao 8; Tao 9; Tao 10.

Personnel: Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone, bird calls, pocket synthesizer; Andrea Centazzo: percussion, drum set, vocals.

Rebels, Travelers & Improvisers

Tracks: The Breghenz Session; Church Music #1; Church Music #2; Church Music #3;The Innsbruck Session #1; The Innsbruck Session #2; Rebels, Travelers & Improvisers.

Personnel: John Fisher: piano; Theo Jorgesmann: clarinet; Melvin Poore; tuba; Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Martin Joseph: electric piano; Eugenio Colombo: alto saxophone, flute; Lol Coxhill: soprano saxophone; Franz Koglmann: trumpet, flugelhorn; Lester Bowie: trumpet; Alvin Curran: piano, synthesizer; Giancarlo Schiaffini: trombone Tony Oxley: percussion; Andrea Centazzo: percussion, electronics.


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