Recorded November 18, 2008 by Ben Young at WKCR – Columbia University, New York, NY. Mixed and mastered February 2010 by Nick Lloyd at Firehouse 12, New Haven, CT. All compositions by Rob Brown, Self-Propelled Music (BMI) and Daniel Levin, Black Bear Industries Publishing (ASCAP), 2008. Cover photo by Ed Seekins, Putney, VT. Cover layout and design by in other words, Brattleboro, VT.
Special thanks to Ben Young and Paul Bream
Tracklist: 1. on the balance 2. put up or shut up 3. dot-dash 4. skywriting 5. bending 6. setting off 7. briar patch 8. terra plane 9. pensive reach
What a great name for an album of improvised music, especially one like this where the elements of apparent chance and seeming inevitability are in such perfect balance.
It might also reflect my own dealings with Rob Brown and Daniel Levin: if I were a believer in any form of fate, then I could well feel that this is an association written in the stars. I first encountered them at a gig in New York, where I’d expected to hear Rob’s quartet with Steve Swell, Joe Morris and Luther Gray, but an unseasonal snowfall trapped Joe and Luther out of town, and Daniel – whose work I hadn’t previously heard – came in as a last minute replacement. Clearly this changed the dynamics of the group, yet the way in which Daniel immediately established a relationship of equality with the two horns made a huge impression on me. But, after an exchange of email addresses all round, I headed back to my home in the North of England, and we had no further contact for almost two years.
Until, on a Saturday night in early 2009, I started to think about possible US artists for invitation to that October’s ‘On the Outside’ Festival in Newcastle. Rob and Daniel were on the list, with maybe a dozen others, but as the budget would only run to a maximum of four, they had no better than a one in three chance. Then, the very next morning, there was an email from Rob: “Daniel and I are starting to work as a duo, and wondered if there’s any chance of a UK gig in the Fall”. I still don’t believe in predestination, but it didn’t seem worth taking any risks! They got the invite.
It was the right decision. ‘On the Outside’, taking its inspiration from Derek Bailey’s Company events, brings together improvisers from both sides of the Atlantic to work in largely new combinations, so Rob and Daniel got pitched in (and performed wonderfully) with such strong and diverse personalities as Marilyn Crispell, Dutch keyboard experimentalist Cor Fuhler, and legendary German drummer Gunter ‘Baby’ Sommer. But it was their duo set that made one of the most memorable impressions of the whole Festival.
Following directly on from a high intensity set featuring bass clarinet tornado Rudi Mahall, Rob and Daniel faced a tough task in grabbing the audience, yet for close to forty minutes the concentration of the listeners was almost as profound as that of the musicians. I’m listening to the tapes as I write these notes, and it confirms my recollection: this was what I call ‘edge of the seat’ music, where the level of creativity is such that you daren’t let your attention waver for a moment for fear of missing a link in the development. Eschewing any fireworks, weighing every note, and moving seamlessly between free, sometimes songlike, melodicism and more abstract interludes, the music has a deep logic that comes from the almost telepathic understanding between the two players. Neither musician at any point knows what’s coming next, yet when it comes it has a feel of absolute inevitability. Natural disorder, indeed.
And now, ten months on, I have the privilege of listening to advance recordings of the disc you hold in your hand. I don’t believe that album notes should tell the readers what the music sounds like or how they should interpret it – what matters, perhaps especially with freely improvised music, is the direct, unmediated relationship between the artists and the listener. That way the spontaneity of the creation and the immediacy of the response are preserved . . . and yet, paradoxically, the music made by Rob and Daniel demands and deserves repeated listenings, as new aspects of its depth and beauty reveal themselves.
I don’t know when Rob, Daniel and I will next find our paths crossing, although something (fate? premonition?) tells me that they will. In the meanwhile there’s this album to remind me of how fortunate I was to come across them in the first place. Now press the ‘Play’ button on your CD player, and you’ll feel the same way. — Paul Bream Newcastle-upon-Tyne 15th July 2010
Rob Brown | Photo by Ed Berger
was born in Hampton, VA in 1962. He has been playing the saxophone since the age of 11. He moved to NY in 1984, and since then has been actively leading groups or working as a sideman with Matthew Shipp, Wiliiam Parker, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver, Daniel Levin, Joe Morris, Whit Dickey. Others that Rob has performed and/or recorded with are Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Denis Charles, Bill Dixon, Butch Morris, Reggie Workman, Henry Grimes, Roy Campbell Jr., Hamid Drake and Fred Hopkins, as well as various dance groups, poets, and performance artists. He has toured Europe extensively. He is a 2001 CalArts/Alpert/Ucross Residency Prize winner and has received many Meet The Composer Fund grants. In 2006 Rob was awarded a Chamber Music America New Works grant.
Daniel Levin | Photo by Peter Gannushkin
was born in 1974 in Burlington , Vermont . He began playing the cello at age six. He has performed and/or recorded with Billy Bang, Borah Bergman, Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Rob Brown, Gerald Cleaver, Whit Dickey, Mark Dresser, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, Joe Morris, Joe McPhee, William Parker, Warren Smith, Ken Vandermark, and others. Daniel has recorded as a sideman for Clean Feed, EMANEM, Not Two, and RogueART, and as a leader, for Riti Records, HatHut, and Clean Feed.
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