STANLEY SCHUMACHER'S 'NO TECHNIQUE' A HYPNOTIC, EXPERIMENTAL JOURNEY
Professor Musikmacher would be proud. He is the alter ego of trombone player Stanley Schumacher, composer of “No Technique.” The Professor, who was educated at Berlin’s Moravian Academy and St. Ursula’s Home for Delinquent Girls, has long lurked in the back of Schumacher’s mind, but he seems to have finally taken control with this CD. It is the aural equivalent of an experiment by a mad scientist who does not compromise. “No Technique” is one 42-minute track performed by David Taylor on bass trombone. It is a series of buzzing drones that often remind you of the humming of a bee. The drone sounds are interrupted by Taylor’s breathing and playing notes at the ends of phrases. The notes vary from melodic calls that could come from a classical performance, to an occasional slurred bleating as he explores the lower range of his instrument. It will be off putting to anyone who expects conventional music (with technique), but it has a hypnotic quality that can grow on you if you give it a chance. The CD sleeve says that with this texture-based piece, you can begin listening at any point. Scored for three trombones, it is a single six-minute segment of music that is repeated and overlapped multiple times. Despite the influence of Professor Musikmacher, this CD is serious stuff. Taylor is a graduate of the Julliard School of Music. His amazing credits include appearing with the New York Philharmonic, being a member of the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Jazz Band, and recording with Duke Ellington, The Rolling Stones, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. He has appeared and recorded chamber music with Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Wynton Marsalis. He has also recorded four solo albums (or maybe five, if you include this one.) Incidentally, if you play the CD on your PC and go to www.stanleyschumacher.com, the sample music that plays on the website fits right in with this CD, so hearing the music from both sources adds to the listening experience. It is kind of like listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and watching “The Wizard of Oz.” There might be a film you can watch with this combination, also. Perhaps Schumacher will tell us on his website -- if he ever recovers from Professor Musikmacher’s mental domination.
Stanley Schumacher: Press/Reviews
Stanley Schumacher / David Taylor
No Technique for Three Trombones
USA MUSIKMACHER PRODUCTIONS MMC01 (2013)
‘Perfect Symmetry for Perfect Order’ runs the ironic tagline for this interesting composition, which consists of exactly forty-two minutes of technique-free, texture-based antics for ‘State-Approved Trombonist’ David Taylor. While one might infer Douglas Adams from this figure, composer Stanley Schumacher riffs instead on George Orwell, transporting us to 2084, where ‘the long-dreamed-of totalitarian utopia is in place’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence has achieved parity with human intelligence’. The piece follows an almost respiratory rhythm – one ever widening albeit – consisting of three main constituents: a resonant tone, suspended and rolled out to lung capacity, which then submits to a grunt of relief and a long metallic inhalation before beginning anew. The cycle lasts for six minutes, but is gradually and repeatedly overlaid, assuming a peculiar form of artificial autonomy over time. The ‘completed’ composition theoretically lasts for twenty one minutes, with the second half – perhaps arbitrarily decided by the listener – being a ‘mirror’ and/or a ‘retrograde’ of the first. Listeners are tacitly advised to create their own ‘segments’ by starting and stopping the piece according to personal preference, and thus exercising some form of armchair anarchy against the stricture of Big Brother-approved composition.
Stanley Schumacher has quite a repertoire: jazz trombonist and improvisational music theorist, doctorate of music theory from the Ohio State University, director of the Music Now Ensemble, and founder of Musikmacher Productions. “No Technique” is part of Schumacher’s New Composition Series on freeform and contemporary art music in jazz. Six trombones create a rolling epic composition of avant-garde jazz. It’s extremely spacious, borderlining empty – there are no noticeable rhythms, just trombones and the ambiance of recorded space. The composition is 21 minutes, but this CD version is 42 minutes, with the second set being a retrograde of the first. Each phrase (from what I can distinguish) is a six-minute section of music that is repeated and overlapped several times. All trombone parts were played by David Taylor, a Julliard graduate whose résumé includes Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. I’ve never listened to virtuosic trombone before, but this is probably what it sounds like.
EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB
MUSIC NOW ENSEMBLE. Stanley Schumacher, Christofer Varner, trombone, voice; Evan Lipson, string bass; Jason Smeltzer, Theremin; Professor Musikmacher, oral arts.
It is apparent that Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble approach very seriously the combined arts (performance, composition, improvisation, and all manner of recording and processing technology) involved in creating this very interesting recording. It also appears that the performers are not above burying their collective tongues deeply into their cheeks at times, for instance in tracks like What’s In A Name?, as well as the prominent role assumed by Professor Musikmacher – presumed to be Schumacher’s pseudonym or alter ego.
Recalling the definition of music as “the organization of sound and silence in time” may be helpful when listening to this music. While many of the sounds are not typical to the instruments being used, the sounds have certainly been highly organized, albeit perhaps at times spontaneously so. And Schumacher has called upon the very traditional method of utilizing programmatic technique to assist the listener in following the music. Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble are capable musicians and have created music with an enormously diverse sonic palette. The Theremin in particular is used to great effect. For anyone inclined toward experimental music Stanley Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble are highly recommended.
EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB
This is both a very serious record and a fun record. The fun part is clear with the opening track which is a yell lasting all of 8 seconds. And in “Name” the ‘professor’ just names every imaginable label put on music while Lipson improvises behind him. As the piece goes on the others join in, clearly having fun. And, of course, the professor is Stanley Schumacher. The point of the piece is to show how meaningless these titles or genres are. “Mouth Sounds” are just that. Musicians just making all kinds of noises, mostly silly ones, with their mouths, one of whom does a great imitation of a trombone.
And again we have a record that is clearly improvisational, but performed by musicians with classical training and experience. When they get serious about the music, what they play is definitely worth listening to. I especially like the contrast between the trombones and the theremin. At the end of “B Movie” there is a lovely duet between Lipson and Smeltzer. This piece is very atmospheric and could easily work as a score for a B horror movie. And the vocalizations add a bit of camp to the proceedings.
“Ear Training” is perhaps the most serious piece on the CD. There is some excellent playing by all. And like all improvising musicians, they all know when to play and when not to play. There is some great interplay between the two trombones, between a trombone and bass, and all with theremin.
“Performin’ Artiste” is a story about an exotic dancer, with great bass accompaniment, very reminiscent of some of the old Mingus pieces with voice, like “The Clown.” While “Machine Language” uses all instruments in interesting ways, supporting Schumacher’s vocalizations, which, at times, reminded me of Clark Terry’s “Mumbles.”
A strange record to be sure, but it is fun listening to talented musicians having fun.
EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB
Stanley Schumacher’s Way Cool album (see review), appealed to me for its at times tongue-in-cheek approach to “improvised contemporary art (classical) music.” This is a field which for many listeners is the equivalent of having to listen to pianos being recycled for scrap, but when it comes to any kind of music which is prepared and worked on seriously while projecting a light touch and at times an appealing sense of humour, my antennae become alerted to new possibilities.
The blurb for this release illustrates its contents so well that I can’t help quoting it: “Music will never be the same after Professor Musikmacher gets through with it! In his zeal to further musical understanding, he favours us on this CD with a series of “illustrative lectures” about contemporary music wherein the music itself is both the illustration and the lecture. The lectures were created in The Professor's Experimental Music Lab, using analytical models developed at Berlin’s St. Ursula’s School for Delinquent Girls. One picture, or in this case, one illustration, is worth a thousand words.”
The approach is perhaps summed up by the track What’s In A Name?, which spends a large portion of its duration listing categories of music, some of which I can guarantee you will never have heard. I now want to know all about Folktronica and Turntableism, but what indeed, is in a name? For us semi-initiated musos and composers there is no such thing as ‘classical’ music these days – one of the few categories not mentioned in What’s In A Name? you will notice – though Contemporary Classical comes closest. For myself I would tend to categorise music as Good or Bad and, other than a detailed dissertation on the Why when it comes to the Bad, leave it at that. This by the way doesn’t mean ‘what I like’ versus ‘what I don’t like’, though the subjective is always present – you may love what I don’t like, and I can tell you why some of the things I do like are Bad. There is also of course a conceptual field of music making which seems neither to fill Good or Bad categorisation, holding its own under a file heading which might be reduced to ‘Interesting’. The Experimental Music Lab is certainly interesting.
As with his previous album, Stanley Schumacher’s sonic palette nudges closer to free jazz than some through his use of string bass and horns, though the two trombones of the Music Now Ensemble often lend the quality of conversing human voices. I’m eternally grateful that there is no ego-laden drum playing here, and one of the surprises with this recording is the use of the Theremin, that haunting electronic apparatus played without touching the instrument, its sounds perfect inhabiting the electro-acoustic worlds of these tracks. The booklet notes mention that this is the only instrument played without being touched, but I would pedantically add the human voice to this category.
This is the kind of music which blurs boundaries. While listening to the quiet subtleties of the central track Noir on priceless open-back headphones a car horn sounded in the street outside my flat, and I had to spool back to make sure it wasn’t part of the piece. Why? because it didn’t belong there. It might have joined in and indeed been welcomed, but this is after all a closed studio world which permits no ‘concrete’ contributions. While I was tickled by the coincidence it also focussed my mind. There are indeed associations conjured by some of these pieces which seem to have more to do with life beyond a recording studio, but these are entirely generated by the musicians. Mouth Sounds at times reminds one of arguments heard behind closed doors, the sentiment of heated words comprehended but their actual content filtered by a barrier and rendered something which can only be interpreted through previous experience. B Movie is also good fun, with added electronics creating a 1950’s film set for our minds while unnamed figures slip in and out of our mental grasp. Like the teacher in the animated Peanuts cartoons, a trombone in your left speaker lays down the law in Ear Training, handing out instruction that the student to our right seems reluctant to follow.
In the letter which accompanied this CD, Schumacher describes Performin’ Artiste as “a tale about 5 minutes of hope in a life filled with a dismal past and future.” This serves a similar function to High Art? on MM005, forming a character for whom life is four to five against, but in this case creating more of a colourful intermezzo than posing deeper questions. Machine Language finishes the programme, and like the best of these tracks, is filled with quiet suggestiveness rather than the explosive Bone Moan with which the CD proper opens. Where less is happening and silence is permitted to form its own shapes, there is a greater feeling of musicians listening rather than just playing, and the contrast of the Theremin-rich Power Duo also illustrates this nicely. There’s even the suggestion of a melody in this piece – now who’d have thought it …
EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB
SCHUMACHER'S EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB WEIRD AND IMAGINATIVE
Schumacher and his “collective of improvisers and composers” take music to its farthest reaches. Their lab produces a mixture that is weird but endearing, strange but melodic, accessible but unique, sometimes jarring and sometimes trancelike, and with an underlying sense of humor.
On “Bone Moan,” Schumacher and fellow trombonist Christofer Varner compete with each other to see who can get the most unworldly sounds out of their instruments. “Mouth Sounds” and “Ear Training” go further by having them use their mouths as well as their “bones.”
“Power Duo” has Evan Lipson on string bass and Jason Smeltzer on theremin creating a mysterious landscape. The theremin, an electronic instrument known for creating eerie sounds in science fiction films, is put to good use here. “Noir” has the whole band creating an ambient vibe. Other tracks are improvisations with the two trombones, bass and theremin.
Two of the 11 cuts feature Professor Musikmacher, Schumacher’s alter ego. The Professor is known for an essay exploring the metaphysical relationship of sound and reality, and also for being out of his mind. There may be some who feel this makes him uniquely qualified to appear on this CD, although I am reserving judgment.
On “What’s In a Name?” the professor chants the names of every type of music you might think of (“industrial…psychedelic…instrumental hip-hop”) while the ensemble improvises an accompaniment.
The Professor also appears on “Performin’ Artiste,” where he tells the story of Bobbie Jo Cantrell, accompanied by standup bass. Bobbie Jo is a girl without many prospects except for one pair of assets, which the professor describes as “47-24-36.” (“That’s right – 47…24…36”)
“Machine Language” has Schumacher “talking” through his trombone mouthpiece accompanied by the other three musicians. He is quite expressive, but no translation of his words is available.
This CD is not for everyone. But if you think that music today is becoming more and more predictable and you are looking for something imaginative, a visit to the Experimental Music Lab could be what you are looking for.
EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB
Stanley Schumacher’s Music Now Ensemble is an improvisational group that does some interesting experiments on this release. Sounds include trombones in pain, fun with just the mouthpiece, and spoken word. My favorite track is “What’s in a Name?” which is a send up of musical genre buzz words. Very unusual, sometimes annoying, often funny.
This is one of those improviser ensemble releases which could as easily end up in the Jazz review pages as the contemporary ‘classical’ side of the coin, although the information sheet which accompanied my review copy clearly states that this is “Improvised Contemporary Art Music (Classical).” The jazz association comes to a degree from the instrumentation, and anything with a title like Way Cool has to accept that their disc may be redirected by inexpert record shop rookies. Stanley Schumacher has also worked with jazz-oriented musicians such as Lukas Ligeti in the past, but the main point to classical music consumers is that this is as much A. Braxton as it is L. Berio.
Looking at the duration of the pieces tamed my initial resistance to this CD, as did Schumacher’s intelligent sense of humour, which is cleverly worked into the music, delivering quite sophisticated self-referential messages. Cognitive Dissonance is an intense exploration of the sonorities and interaction of the instruments present, as well as giving us a taste of Prof. Musikmacher’s parlando vocalisations or ‘oral arts’ as they are called here. These sounds are delivered straight or through the tubes of a trombone, mixing the perspectives and semantics of vocal sounds which are suggestive of emotion and mood, and their equally expressive instrumental counterparts. Referring to Berio again, some of the use of vocals here may remind listeners of Cathy Berberian’s remarkable flexibility as a vocal artist as well as a straight singer. Growling is exchanged for lighter noises in the trombone/voice duet which is Linguistic Engineering, which includes the first time I’ve heard snoring used as a musical device.
High Art? is a crucial track, in which the essence of our experience of this kind of music is confronted by the creator himself. “Where’s the melody?” “This is weird”, “I can’t listen to this”, and a whole shopping list of expected responses are integrated into the track, winning me over at a single stroke. Yes, it can be ‘difficult’ if your references are limited to more conventional traditions, but this takes the kind of theoretical thoughts posed by John Cage and folds them back onto both us and the musicians. Why are they playing like this? “Do they know what they’re doing?” Well, yes they do – it may not be instantly appealing, but it does open doors into areas of expression not covered by 4/4 in G major. As I write, my place of work the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague is involved in a major international ‘improvisatieweek’ which comes with a health warning: “Improvisation may seriously improve your performance.” This is a form of music which is taken very seriously by a wide spectrum of musicians, but I for one am glad to hear Schumacher able to acknowledge with admirable lightness of touch that it can have an aversive effect on many audiences.
Bear with me on this as a general point, but my only doubt about this music is, for want of a better word, its legitimacy in the recorded medium. This works in two extremes. As with many of John Cage’s scores, the improvisational element means that no two performances will ever be the same, so in a sense only the ‘live’ performance is the genuine experience – the music formed before us, shaped by the composer and the musicians, but creating something genuinely unique and hopefully rather special. Play back the recording and it becomes repetition. The other extreme is that these pieces therefore can exist only in the recorded medium, but the question arises: do we want to hear them more than once?
In the case of Way Cool there are enough interesting musical events to make this more than just a souvenir of a well prepared recording session, and let’s be honest, how other than on a recording are we going to deliver this or any other music to an audience wider than a concert venue. I’ve been involved with improviser ensembles myself in the past, and know how highly sensitive the end result depends on a deeply felt synergy between all of the players, and how easily the whole thing can be ruined by a single musician who is on a different wavelength to the rest. The Music Now Ensemble is clearly a bunch of musicians who have a natural feel for each other’s musical and dramatic strengths, and this album can serve as an object lesson to performers keen to explore non-notated musical communication. There is much to be said for the relative compactness and intelligent shaping of the musical statements made here, and I for one am grateful that the music making is less about ego and more about listening and expanding the limitations of the instruments and their interactions.
The title track is an excellent little moral story about a “snotty nosed, iPhone-iPod-MP3-playing punk”, proving that irony does exist in the US. There is plenty of contrast between numbers, from the high-octane blast of energy which is Back Talk, to the moody atmosphere of Darkness Of Error and landscape of Ambient Event. Elements of continuity include a ritualistic triangle whose sharp ‘ting’ serves as a kind of dinner gong; stopping or starting certain musical events. I won’t promise that this is an album you will definitely like, but if the intricacies and freedoms of improvisation are aspects of music you feel willing to explore then this is as good a place to start as I could name. Don’t expect to hear any tunes however: indeed, like Wally or Waldo, where is the melody?
STANLEY SCHUMACHER CLEVER, CREATIVE AND OUT THERE IN 'WAY COOL'
“Way Cool,” Stanley Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble’s fifth recording, finds this avant-garde ensemble once again balanced precariously on the cutting edge of new art music. And once again, the Bethlehem-based artist has proved that German expressionism and the anarchy of Dadaism are still very much alive and well.
This time, Schumacher explores the interaction of the human voice with that most vocal of all instruments, the trombone. Actually, make that two trombones, because joining Schumacher on trombone is Matthias Müller from Berlin, Germany. The ensemble also includes string bassist Evan Lipson and Berlin-based percussionist Christian Marien. Schumacher, with the help of his alter-ego, the mysterious Professor Musikmacher, provides the vocals.
The disc’s 12 tracks include a mix of instrumental and vocal pieces, although on some tracks it’s a challenge to separate which is which, and that of course is the whole point. Pieces like “Cognitive Dissonance” and “Where’s The Melody?” involve bizarre yet fascinating dialogues between voice and instrument, in a language of snorts, chuckles, and rasps. It all sounds somewhat threatening at first, then surprisingly friendly.
“Darkness Of Error,” however, is truly frightening, and evokes – at least for me – an eerie landscape of skeletal trees through which a moaning trombone pierces the bone-chilling fog. Providing welcome comic relief is “High Art?,” a clever self-parody of new art music’s narrow-minded critics, with text spoken by Schumacher (or was that Herr Musikmacher?).
The disc’s title cut is one of its most clever. A classic string-bass vamp accompanies this hilarious, new-age “Alice’s Restaurant” morality tale, told by Schumacher, of a “snotty – nosed, iPhone, iPod-playing punk from Russellville, Arkansas” who gets into a bad way in his valiant quest for coolness.
“Ambient Event” is an experiment in long, sustaining resonances, sounding like an electronic, cosmic “om,” and “Out Is In,” is another track where voice and trombone meld together in the growls and purrs of contented beasts.
Schumacher’s creativity never ceases to amaze. While at least for me there is a bit too much fuzzbox in the über-distorted “Back Talk,” his deceptively simple compositions warrant multiple hearings.
JIVE AT 5:05
STANLEY SCHUMACHER AND THE MUSIC NOW ENSEMBLE. Stanley Schumacher, trombone, voice; Sabir Mateen, alto and tenor saxophones, B-flat clarinet, alto clarinet, flute: Evan Lipson, string bass; Lukas Ligeti, percussion; Professor Musikmacher, oral arts.
Stanley Schumacher founded the Music Now Ensemble, a collection of contemporary performers and composers, in 2003. The ensemble performs a variety of music that includes contemporary art music, jazz, and improvisation. Members of the ensemble have performed or composed for some of the leading avant-garde performers including Kronos Quartet, Cecil Taylor, and trombonists Stuart Dempster and Steve Swell.
JIVE AT 5:05 is an interesting collection of works with improvisation at its core. Some tracks resemble avante-garde jazz with a steady groove from the rhythm section, while others use non-traditional sounds, vocalizations, and theatrics to create an art music free of time and space. In the liner notes, Steven Eversole writes that “each piece. . .suggests a different solution to the problem of meaningful expression through improvised music.”
Jive at 5:05, Blue Lou, and Rhythmic Interplay have traditional roles for bass and drums and give the listener a familiar basis to listen to the improvisations that coexist amongst the established grooves. Different atmospheric sounds are created on Low Grade Anxiety, Huff and Puff, and Call Waiting. Schumacher employs orations and humorous elements in some of his tracks such as Dogma of Dogmas and Rhythmic Interplay. Force Field uses electronic manipulation of the sounds to create an omnipresent background static. While the trombone is not front and center on this recording, Schumacher’s playing can be heard extensively on the tracks Low Grade Anxiety and Blue Lou. He uses as variety of mutes, growls, and vocalizations through the instrument during his improvisations.
JIVE AT 5:05
"JIVE AT 5:05" MAKES CONTEMPORARY IMPROVISATIONAL MUSIC MORE ACCESSIBLE
Stanley Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble are back, with a new recording weaving contemporary art music with freeform, straight-ahead jazz. “Jive at 5:05,” the ensemble’s fourth CD, is an imaginative improvisational trip, not nearly as threatening as its frightfully nihilistic previous release, “Don’t Abandon Your Baby.” In fact, some tracks even keep time.
Trombonist, composer, and vocalist Stanley Schumacher, who currently lives in Bethlehem, founded the Music Now Ensemble in 2003. Joining Schumacher on this jazz/expressionist hybrid are Sabir Mateen on sax, clarinet, and flute; Evan Lipson on acoustic bass; Lukas Ligeti on percussion; and the mysterious Professor Musikmacher (Schumacher’s alter-ego) providing vocal embellishment.
Writing serious music for today’s cultural climate often means shedding the exhausted European heritage of nearly a century ago for a new musical vocabulary. Yet there’s no reason why that language can’t contain some of the more accessible elements of jazz. By doing just that, “Jive at 5:05” succeeds in making contemporary improvisational music more accessible.
Having said that, be forewarned this is still cutting-edge stuff. The disc’s title track, while regulated by a riveting percussive beat, is wild freeform jazz, with a screaming sax and wailing trombone. “Blue Lou” swings to a pronounced bluesy bass line, occasionally accompanied by vocal sighs and groans. The spoken word is the highlight of “Rhythmic Interplay,” a hilarious satire where the speaker comments on the complex structural parameters and dynamics of musical form.
The disc is chock full of mood swings, from the exuberance of “Jive at 5:05” to the lugubrious “Low Grade Anxiety,” which delightfully wallows in a slow-motion lethargic world. A number of tracks are peppered by demented-sounding mumbles and growls, at once humorous and provocative, by Professor Musikmacher himself. Breathy whistles and whispers lurk everywhere, and in “Force Field” an electronic fuzz effect traps the musicians in a sonic maze from which they desperately try to escape.
JIVE AT 5:05
I've always liked the trombone as a jazz instrument. Stanley Schumacher doesn't stick strictly to jazz, as the name of his quartet might indicate. I'm not sure what's improvised and what is composed, but the collaborative nature of these songs tells me that there is a fair amount of the former. This album is billed as an attempt to fuse "art" music and jazz. At the edges, the line is very blurry--and this album tries to stick to those edges. Many ideas presented with style and grace
JIVE AT 5:05
Active for years in an accurately demarcated area where free jazz, improvisation and theatrical vocalism meet, this American trombonist releases his music on the Musikmacher imprint, Jive At 5:05 being the label's fourth outing. This time he's helped by three fine practitioners of atonal hobnobbing: Sabir Mateen on saxophones, clarinets and flute, Evan Lipson on string bass and Lukas Ligeti on percussion…..The musicianship is high-calibre, capable of tackling material ranging from elegant chamber music ("Low Grade Anxiety") to the amusingly chaotic blowout of the title track . The final "Force Field" distorts the instrumentalists' tones into disconcertingly fuzzy infamy, and on "The Real Deal" (which lasts 7'27") the leader manages to carry on by reiterating a lone note throughout, while the rest of the guys do their best to pair incongruity and cultivation. Overall, it's a witty enough album with several remarkable moments…..perfectly in line with Schumacher's typical output.
DON'T ABANDON YOUR BABY
STANLEY SCHUMACHER AND THE MUSIC NOW ENSEMBLE. STANLEY SCHUMACHER, TROMBONE, VOICE; Rosi Hertlein, violin, voice; Evan Lipson, bass; “Professor Musikmacher,” oral arts; Walter Erney, trumpet.
Steven Eversole describes Schumacher’s music as German Expressionism in the program notes to the recording. Aleatoric bursts and free improvisation convey a twenty-first century journey into a century-old artistic philosophy. Schumacher’s juxtaposition of expressionism and contemporary compositional techniques create an avant-garde atmosphere.
The uncommon combination of instruments and voices provides an eclectic medium to convey the dark, expressionistic emotion. All the performers execute difficult angular melodies, whether improvised or composed, with skill and agility. Their adept ability to respond to each other’s spontaneity holds together compositions that a lesser group would leave in a mass of confused sounds with no message. The Music Now Ensemble listens with acuteness, a trait often passed over in music depending on chance.
Besides vocalizing bizarre grunts, moans, and indeterminable pitches, Schumacher’s technical prowess as a trombonist is impressive. He performs a vast array of articulations in all registers and dynamics with flexible ease. The artist’s extensive use of the plunger mute adds an appropriate obscurity to the CD’s dark themes.
DON’T ABANDON YOUR BABY is a worthy investment for those interested in extended modern trombone technique in a contemporary setting of dark, emotional, expressionistic philosophy.
DON’T ABANDON YOUR BABY
STANLEY SCHUMACHER’S “DON’T ABANDON YOUR BABY” A WILD IMPROVISATIONAL RIDE
Slap this disk into your CD player and you might think someone left the asylum door unlocked. Be prepared for a wild improvisational ride somewhere between the mental anguish of German expressionism and the anarchy of Dadaism at its peak, circa the 1920’s.
Trombonist, composer, and vocalist Stanley Schumacher, who currently lives in Bethlehem, founded the Music Now Ensemble in 2003. Joining Schumacher on this angst-filled disk, the group’s third self-released recording, are violinist/vocalist Rosi Hertlein and acoustic bassist Evan Lipson. The collective specializes in highly improvisational contemporary art music, that at least in this case has a strong leaning toward the nihilism of Max Ernst and the minimalism of Anton Webern.
Like Alban Berg’s opera “Wozzeck,” this is very bleak, stark stuff. The pieces often contain improvisational riffs identifiable as jazz, but are highly minimalistic, reduced to basic sounds both acoustic and electro acoustic. In “Brain Drain,” Schumacher’s trombone fires out rapid, staccato passages against a growling bass and vocals that run the gamut from soft sighs to tortured moans. The extremely chromatic “Hard to Say” includes the text of a poem, its lines alternating between German and English, composed and recited by Hertlein.
The range of sonic color that Schumacher and Hertlein obtain from their instruments – and voices – is both remarkable and frightening. In “Slippage” the trombone mimics slurred human speech while the violin buzzes around it like an angry, murderous wasp. Many pieces are highly vocal, sometimes with lascivious whispers, heavy breathing, and gasps and that reach an undeniably erotic climax.
There is an all-round creepiness to nearly every cut, akin to being trapped alone in a dark, haunted house with creaking doors, unearthly screams, and things that go bump in the night.
Welcome to the Bauhaus, but keep the lights on.
DON’T ABANDON YOUR BABY
....... my focus instantly fell upon the superlative technical eminence of the involved parties. The notes shine, growl, talk and exclaim, the listener inclined to fuse the distinct personalities into a sole entity to appreciate the consistency of the collective interrelationship, which generates several episodes that connote the model of a sophisticated chamber trio (case in point the excellent “Second Thoughts”)........ In particular, Schumacher’s playing sounds as modest as it does intelligent, privileging the highlight of selected nuances and connective fragments to the necessity of playing forcibly front and centre, his presence fundamental to furnish the music with a peculiar class of dissonance. The strings are a spectacle in themselves, vivid examples of authoritative idiosyncrasy in somewhat heretical talent. Hertlein makes us forget about the lenitive virtues of violin, depriving her charm of any residual saccharine in favour of a enviously irrefutable skill, whilst Lipson easily stands among the best bassists I’ve heard lately, his terrifically strapping tone epitomising the decision to “really” learn how an instrument works.……As far as technical deftness and transparency of intents are concerned, Stanley Schumacher is unquestionably a name to consider. Amidst an ever-growing number of posers, he is a craftsman who “plays” his instrument instead of disemboweling it, an artist who ceaselessly looks for new collaborative methods. I’m quite sure that fans of the late, great Paul Rutherford will be eager to give this disc a serious try.
According to their own liner notes, “some people are going to love this and some are going to hate it, but only the dead will be passive.” With that in mind, Stanley Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble have set out to explore new frontiers in brass music. Uber Brass is the group’s follow-up to their debut album, Sound Textures. In this album, they are able to achieve an impressive number of sound colors and combinations for a group of only three brass players. The brass sounds are enhanced sparingly by electronic effects, extended techniques, and vocalization. Most often, though, the music is allowed to speak for itself, allowing the effects to be that much more striking when they are utilized.
The Music Now Ensemble is likely to be doubly suspicious to new listeners by associating themselves with both free improvisation and contemporary art music. They set themselves apart by avoiding any association with jazz in relation to their improvisation (although Hofstra has extensive experience as a jazz and blues bass player) and by existing in the art music field without relying on a composer’s name recognition.
From the beginning it is clear that pitch and harmony are not the main focus of this album. Notes (especially in the higher register) are often played off-center as if no specific pitch was intended. This digresses into simple noises in Try Try Again. When a single chime is sounded in this track, it is almost as if the ensemble is reminded that there is a pitched world to return to. The extensive trumpet solo in the following track, New Idiom Now, begins with the most accessible, tonally grounded motions of the album. The use of repeated pitches and “unirhythm” in the accompanying voices add to the feeling that the band might be moving toward more tonally based music. After five tracks with nearly no tonal basis, this music feels strangely foreign to the ear. This again digresses to “valve wiggling” types of sounds. This ebb and flow of what is accessible and what is exotic lends much interest to the album and, in some ways, makes the whole recording larger than the sum of the parts.
In the end, the Music Now Ensemble creates music that sounds very much like composed-out modern classical music. In some ways, because of the nature of improvisation, they achieve better ensemble results. The members are specifically trying to react to one another, as opposed to the disconnect that often occurs when performers of contemporary art music have to obsessively count and fight through unfamiliar pitch relationships just to survive a new piece. While Uber Brass may not ever become a mainstream classic, it is an interesting listen and it can only be positive for our community as a whole that there are people trying to discover new niches for brass players and art music in general.
STANLEY SCHUMACHER AND THE MUSIC NOW ENSEMBLE. Stanley Schumacher, trombone; Nate Wooley, trumpet; David Hofstra, tuba.
“Some people are going to love this and some are going to hate it, but only the dead will be passive.” So observes Steven Eversole in the program notes of this recent recording by trombonist Stanley Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble. With the assistance of trumpeter Nate Wooley and tubist David Hofstra, Schumacher has compiled a series of pieces which demonstrate the extensive use of improvisation (or improvisatory-like material) in contemporary art music. The pieces are perhaps better called episodes, as the program notes indicate that, in order to best comprehend them, they must be heard as a “complete program.” The episodes have somewhat descriptive titles, but the listener must, in many cases, make an imaginative guess as to how the title applies to the music, as the program notes provide only a skeletal explanation of the overall theme or purpose of the recording, specifically, to create music that exhibits the “evolution from pitch to texture as the primary structural parameter.”
The trio achieves a remarkable variety of musical textures, utilizing multiphonics, non-conventional sound effects, electroacoustic alterations, and vocalizations, in addition to traditional brass techniques. The players demonstrate not only a mastery of all these techniques, but also a sense of complete comfort with them, as if they were merely a part of the modern brass player’s vernacular.
As the program notes imply, this recording is not for the musically faint of heart. The casual listener will probably not care for it. Armed with the brief but insightful program notes, however, the serious fan of contemporary music will discover a fascinating exploration of the infinite textural variations available to the modern musician.
Trombonist/singer Stanley Schumacher’s latest release with the Music Now Ensemble displays the group’s creative approach to free improvisation. Including trumpeter Nate Wooley, the recording features nine tracks that evolve from pitch-based selections to more texture-oriented works. Several tracks, including Uber Brass and Uber Brass 2, incorporate an electroacoustical element that obscures a strong sense of tonality and draws the listener to the textural aspects of the works. This reviewer enjoyed the three movements of New Idiom Now, where each instrumentalist presents an extended improvised solo while surrounded by an abstract harmonic environment. The liner notes by Steven Eversole are certainly helpful in understanding the context of the recording. As he suggests, “Some people are going to love this and some are going to hate it.” This album is worth exploring for those interested in free improvisation and texture-based music.
. . . . Uber Brass sounds like an electronic music score transcribed for brass. . . . Even when Schumacher injects his voice into the action on “Uber Brass 2” it evokes circuitry as much as a human voice. The session is expertly rendered, not surprising given the cast. Nate Wooley works well within the ensemble, and his horn is showcased on the first and third movements of “New Idiom Now.” On the third movement, his slippery, half-valve work is especially engaging. The second movement showcases the leader’s wah-wah horn on a stately ballad. These solo endeavors are a break from the tightly wound ensemble work of the rest of the date. The CD closes with the most varied track, “Double Trio,” that includes a march episode pushed along by Hofstra’s assertive tuba. . . .
STANLEY SCHUMACHER AND THE MUSIC NOW ENSEMBLE. Stanley Schumacher, Hans Tammen, Ricardo Arias, Richard Smith, Larry Pittis
When one analyses and evaluates sound textures in music, one takes into account various factors: instrumentation, chord voicing, rhythmic and melodic content, just to name a few. SOUND TEXTURES transforms our concepts on creative use of musical instruments, everyday items, and electronics, resulting in effective musical results and unique sound templates.
Noteworthy on this CD is the seamless mesh between traditional musical instruments and electronically-created sounds. Stanley Schumacher plays many interesting musical motives and events that make the listener realize the versatility and adaptability of the trombone in any textural environment. The uses of electronic delay and plunger, among other things, are effective in manifesting this illusion. In Four Steps Toward Parnassus, for example, Schumacher interacts with an electronic beehive and plastic skin-like sounds quite effectively.
The textures created are quite dynamic and always changing and evolving into different sonic pictures, resulting in compelling buildups of tension and release. These textures are “orchestrated” in such a way that they draw the listener into these sound environments.
The most amazing aspect of this CD is that all the compositions are freely improvised. The form and drama of all these pieces is a consequence of the musicianship and the collective artistic mind of the Music Now Ensemble.
The versatile and creative performances by Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble serve as an inspiration for composers and performers alike to create musical tapestries far beyond those of traditional musical acoustics and syntax.
SOUND TEXTURES (Musikmacher Productions MM001) by STANLEY SCHUMACHER AND THE MUSIC NOW ENSEMBLE is a set of experiments in abstract sound led by trombonist Schumacher. Most of it is by a trio (Schumacher, tbn, vcl; Hans Tammen, g, elec; Ricardo Arias, balloons.) that produces small noises ranging from indistinct knocks and whispers to electronic beeping and actual trombone honking. The balloons seem to produce most of the squeakier and more abrasive sounds which fit right in with the grinding guitar and tooting trombone of “5:29 to Zero.” The trio produces an interesting dialogue between electronic thuds and glitches and the warmer sound of played brass and strings. The last piece is from a different trio (Schumacher; Richard Smith, ts; Larry Pittis, b,elec.) and is basically a drone that slowly changes pitch and volume before climaxing in loud feedback. The entire set (Audio Logo/Four Steps Toward Parnassus/Whimper/5:29 to Zero/A Little Plunge/Bad Diversity/See Sharp. 42:09) comes off as a smart and funny example of this kind of electroacoustic work.
STANLEY SCHUMACHER AND THE MUSIC NOW ENSEMBLE. Stanley Schumacher, Hans Tammen, Ricardo Arias, Richard Smith, Larry Pittis
Stanley Schumacher and his Music Now Ensemble are practicing free improvisation here, a type of performance that is not for everyone. As the back of the CD sleeve says, “It is clear that to hear this music correctly the listener needs to minimize his attention to melody and harmony and instead focus on the ebb and flow of textures and colors within a varied rhythmic context.”
The CD begins with a 5-second trombone fanfare. On the second cut, the first part sounds like a number of bees droning, with Schumacher playing his trombone over them. Then Ricardo Arias comes in on balloons.
To quote from the Creative Sources Recordings website: “Since 1992 he (Arias) has focused almost exclusively on The Balloon Kit, a number of rubber balloons attached to a suitable structure and played with the hands and a set of accessories, including various kinds of sponges, pieces of Styrofoam, and rubber bands.”
The resultant sounds are as unusual as you might expect. Hans Tammen on electronics contributes quite a bit to the first six tracks. He is also credited on guitar, but he only plays a few notes at a time with it.
In much of the CD, Schumacher solos over the balloons and electronics. At times he plays quickly in quick bursts, while at others his notes come at a slower pace. On “Bad Diversity” he does a stretch of modified scat singing, making strange vocal noises that seem as if he is speaking in tongues.
The seventh and last track has Richard Smith on tenor sax and Larry Pittis on bass, replacing Arias and Tammen. This nine-minute piece is a minimalist electronic excursion, with sheets of sound slowly mixing in and out.
All this might seem chaotic at first. But with close listening you hear patterns as the musicians relate to each other. Often, Schumacher seems to be talking with his horn, directing his players. There may not be rhythm but there are musical notes, just in an unusual context.
It helps to see free improv live. With this group, it would be interesting to see how Arias produces sounds from the balloons. But these textures can also be fascinating to listen to, if you give them a chance.
STANLEY SCHUMACHER PERFORMANCE – HIGH ZERO 2004
“. . . .Two gentlemen from a similar era and sensibility, reedist/flutist Jackie Blake and trombonist Stanley Schumacher had several focused dialogues, and another highlight came when double-bassist Joel Grip and violinist Kristin Toedtman broke into a brief screech and scrape hoedown. For the entire set, Schumacher was quick-thinking and in total control of some extraordinary tones, and when he launched into throaty passions he led the whole group into a rousing free Jazz passage. Jackie Blake came on strong and drumkit player Dan Breen settled into classic rhythm section mode with Grip.
. . . .The night concluded with a voice-based quartet, Audrey Chen and Jesse Quattro using voice exclusively, and Stanley Schumacher and Caroline Kraabel supplementing it with trombone and alto sax respectively. The four vocal styles were so different that it mostly sounded like four parallel lines instead of larger units, but this only reflected structural complexity, not a lack of substance; this challenging piece deserves repeated listens to unravel its treasures. Chen and Schumacher totally interlocked for one passage, and Quattro brought rhythmic assurance to the set. Kraabel’s sax playing has this subtle R&B motion even in the slow and quiet bits; it’s like a dry grease.”