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Hammeriver: Clare Cooper / Chris Abrahams / Christof Kurzmann / Tobias Delius / Clayton Thomas / Werner Dafeldecker / Tony Buck
Hammeriver
MIKROTON CD 8 | 2010

Edition of 500 (out of print).

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1. Second Stabbing (Ohnedaruth)
2. First Free
3. E
4. DD
5. Heartbreaker

Clare Cooper harp
Chris Abrahams piano
Christof Kurzmann lloopp
Tobias Delius clarinet & tenor saxophone
Clayton Thomas double bass
Werner Dafeldecker double bass
Tony Buck drums

Australian harpist Clare Cooper formed Hammeriver in Sydney in 2003 as a vehicle for dynamic investigation into the music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda — composer, harpist, pianist, organist and bandleader.

When Cooper moved to Berlin in April 2007, she created the band anew with previous collaborators from Australia: Clayton Thomas, Chris Abrahams and Tony Buck, and inviting Berlin-based musicians and friends Werner Dafeldecker, Tobias Delius and Christof Kurzmann. All seven musicians were interested in approaching jazz from a new and unusual angle — stretching and dissecting its powerful energy.

This collective experience of the diverse personnel also encompasses electroacoustic improvisation, musique concrète, psychedelic rock and reductionism. But instead of conflicts, they create a music that transforms and transcends their influences — singularly original, unexpected and rich.

This very special recording documents a day of music in the Saal 3 recording studio in the grand old East German radio station.

The first piece on the album, Ohnedaruth (Second Stabbing) is an exploration of Alice Coltrane’s Ohnedaruth from the album A Monastic Trio (Impulse 1968). Cooper created a graphic score that broke down what she identified as the essential elements of the music, but also allowed for movement and improvisation inspired by the original recording.

First Free, DD and Heartbreaker showcase the immense potential of the group’s improvisational language. All three pieces are edits of free improvisations.

E is based on a simple score by Cooper. All musicians are playing in, on and bending around the note E in any register — maintaining a consistent energy for the full 13 minutes — the challenge being to innovate and shape with (seemingly) limited tools.

The fact that there have been several years between the recording and release is no mistake for Cooper, “There are too many impulsive releases out there. I prefer to wait, to listen with space and distance, to hear if there is something living in the sound, something that travels beyond the day the music is recorded or performed. I hear something very alive and joyful in this recording… I’m happy to return to it again and to share it”.

Reviews

The Cookshop, zppaulz:
Clare Cooper and her Hammeriver group do a spine-tingling job here at uniting the spirits of free improvisation past and present with their self-titled debut. The group is split between Australian based musicians: Clare Cooper on harp, Tony Buck on percussion, Clayton Thomas on double bass, Chris Abrahams on piano, and Berlin based musicians: Christof Kurzmann on electronics, Tobias Delius on tenor sax and clarinet, and Werner Dafeldecker also on double bass.
The timbre of the whole piece is established early, with the opening track being an informed exploratio n into Alice Coltrane’s ‘Ohnedaruth’, from her 1968 album A Monastic Trio – a profoundly moving tribute to her then-recently deceased husband. “Ohnedaruth”, which is sanskrit means compassion, was John Coltrane’s spirit name and also a chant performed by himself and his last group in concert. And there is little mistaking the spirit of the late Coltrane that moves through every moment of it; that same spirit that dwells in improvised music to this day. John Coltrane’s powerful later period set so much of the groundwork for thousands of free improvisational and even electro-acoustic arrangements to come. On Hammeriver’s version, ‘Second Stabbing (Ohnedaruth)’, all of the essential hallmarks are present: the underlaying drone, the textural rattles, a free rhythm, the splash of cymbals and bells, the ghost of Coltrane and Pharoah’s sax. All a familiar flavor that’s been toyed with over and over again and absolutely brilliantly conquered by this group.
A similar ethereal tone infects the remainder of the album. ‘E’ is the only other track rooted in any sort of composition. It is more of a set of instructions laid out by Cooper in which all of the musicians must base all of their playing around the note E (which is quite amazing when listening to the depth that they take it). The other three tracks (‘First Free’, ‘DD’, ‘Heartbreaker’) are group improvisations that swell and blossom, moving effortlessly between and above specific genres, settling nowhere but beyond. If I were to give out awards for the musical statements of the year, Hammeriver would be my first nominee.

The Wire, Dan Warburton:
Clare Cooper originally formed Hammeriver seven years ago back in her native Australia to explore the music of fellow harpist (and pianist) Alice Coltrane, later known as ‘Turiyasangitananda’. Cooper reconvened the group in 2007 after relocating to Berlin, but there’s still a strong Antipodean contingent, with The Necks’ pianist Chris Abrahams and drummer Tony Buch and Clayton Thomas joining Werner Dafeldecker in a twin double-bass backline. Christof Kurzmann’s laptop is the digital grit in the oyster, and ICP Orchestra mainstay Tobias Delius on tenor sax and clarinet adds the requisite amount of jazz gravitas.
Alice Coltrane’s work after the death of her husband was often dismissed as shallow, hippy noodling, but with hindsight its harmonic stasis and timbral homogeneity are clear precursors of latterday laminal improvisation. The connection between 1968’s “Ohnedaruth” and the longform modal mediations of The Necks and the rich drones of Dafeldecker and Kurzmann’s electroacoustic improvisation is made explicit on the opening “Second Stabbnig”, with Buck’s shimmering tamourines and bric-a-brac a clear throwback to Rashied Ali and Ben Riley’s jingling halo on Alice’s A Monastic Trio, and Delius’s fluffy growls fittingly reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders. Kurzmann’s Max/MSP fizzle and crackle can’t engage melodically or harmonically, bit, like Sachiko M’s empty sampler in the Otomo New Jazz Orchestra, it’s an essential component of the ensemble sound.
The disk mixes free improvisations and compositions, but the group are at their best when anchored to a tonal pedal point – Cooper’s “E” is precisely that, a score instructing the musicians to work around the note in any convenient register. The music is rich and colourful, and the interplay poised and subtle throughout; one imagines Turiyasangitananda would find much to enjoy if she were still around to hear it.

Vital Weekly, Frans de Waard:
A big band, this Hammeriver: we have Clare Cooper (harp), Chris Abrahams (piano), Christoph Kurzmann (lloopp), Tobias Delius (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Clayton Thomas (double bass), Werner Dafeldecker (double bass) and Tony Buck (drums). They met up in the former East-Berlin Radio Station Saal 3 in 2007, to record this music which is dedicated to Alice Coltrane Swamini Turiyasangitanada. Perhaps this is indeed jazz music and perhaps I should leave this with Dolf Mulder, but as usual I play these things first and if I like them, I should perhaps discuss them myself. Its not easy to say why I liked this, since I normally don’t like jazz very much. Perhaps because this is hardly regular, modern jazz. Various instruments play more along the jazz lines then others, the drums, one double bass, piano mostly, and the saxophone at times mildly blearing away (and providing the most jazz like tunes), whereas its not easy to spot what Lloopp does, the harp or at times, the piano and the double bass. Its that odd combination of jazz like outings and free improvised sound that makes this for me an attractive album. Partly because I rarely play such music, I guess, and there is a great flowing sense in this music. Very much a free fall of sounds, like a mild rainy day, especially in the opening piece ‘Second Stabbing’. A most curious, not average every day release. Very relaxed music.

Free Jazz, Stef:
Sometimes, almost out of nowhere, new stuff arises that is utterly compelling as it is convincing. Australian harpist Clare Cooper does exactly that with her debut album. She is accompanied by a stellar and like-minded band, consisting of Chris Abrahams on grand piano, Tobias Delius on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Werner Dafeldecker and Clayton Thomas on double bass, Christof Kurzmann on lloopp, Tony Buck on drums.
The music is dedicated and inspired by the music of Alice Coltrane, the first piece even being an interpretation of the latter’s “Ohnedaruth”. The band keeps Coltrane’s hypnotic, almost ritualistic use of repetition and improvisations around the same tonal center, but pushes it a step further into every modern music, far beyond jazz.
“First Free” consists of sparse notes and noises that create a kind of uncanny background of the stretched notes of the sax. The concept is even brought to its extreme on “E”, in which the E chord is the solid anchor point around which everything evolves, expands and contracts. The minor variations and shifting sound colors of the instruments make it really hypnotic. On “DD” the minimalism is still more explicit, and it is hard to believe that seven musicians are at work here, but they are. “Heartbreaker” ends the CD, and despite its shortness, the sonic universe is as interesting as on the other tracks.
The harp is a very unusual instrument in modern jazz, with Alice Coltrane and Zeena Parkins the only musicians that come to mind, but Clare Cooper demonstrates that it can add magic to the genre if played well. And she combines this with her own powerful musical vision, and a remarkably strong one for a debut album.

The Watchful Ear, Richard Pinnell:
The only Alice Coltrane album I own, and so therefore also the only one I have listened to, is Journey in Satchidananda, an album which for some peculiar reason I once got sent years back when I renewed my subscription to The Wire magazine. While my musical tastes have generally wandered off in other directions I do remember really enjoying the richness of that album, a kind of warmth and dense layering of sound that appealed to me a lot in my mid twenties. Its kind of fitting then that my head was turned towards tonight’s CD by an email recommending it to me by The Wire’s current editor- fitting in that the CD in question, the disc by the Australian/European Hammeriver septet is dedicated to the spirit and music of Alice Coltrane, and attempts to re-envisage the feel of her music through this new CD. It is actually a thoroughly beautiful album.
The disc is released on the Russian Mikroton label and features recordings made back in 2007 by the group of Clare Cooper, (harp) Chris Abrahams, (piano) Christof Kurzmann, (lloop) Tobias Delius, (clarinet and tenor sax) Clayton Thomas, (double bass) Werner Dafeldecker, (double bass) and Tony Buck (drums). The music is described in the liner notes as composed by the group, but while it feels like their has been some degree of mutual agreement on the general feel and shape of at least some of the five tracks, perhaps even some definite direction on one or two of them, I doubt that there was very much of anything written down, and the detail of the music at least is all improvised.

Just Outside, Brian Olewnick:
You know those classic Coltrane (John or Alice), Sanders, etc. albums where some wonderful modal tune often led off with a billowy, colorful introduction, tempo-less and wandering, all bells and flutes and ululations? The tension would build and, eventually, there’d be a great bass line, the drums would kick in and then Trane or Pharoah would erupt? Well, Hammeriver,a septet made up of Clare Cooper (harp), Chris Abrahams (piano), Christof Kurzmann (lloopp), Tobias Delius (clarinet, tenor sax), Clayton Thomas (bass), Werner Dafeldecker (bass) and Tony Buck (drums), seems to have chosen to concentrate on just that first part, a series of intros, if you will. Indeed the first cut, “Second Stabbing”, is subtitled “Ohnedaruth”, Coltrane’s “mystical” name (unfortunately no reference is made to the great Art Ensemble work by the same name) and the presence of harpist Cooper almost automatically invokes Alice Coltrane. This makes for an odd listening experience — pretty enjoyable on the one hand, unsatisfying on the other. If the listener wishes to sit back and simply let the music wash over him, the bath is warm and comfortable. If one seeks deeper challenges, it’s better to look elsewhere.

Soundofmusic, Magnus Nygren:
2007 dog Alice Coltrane. Samma år återförenade harpisten med mera Clare Cooper konstellationen Hammeriver, en grupp hon startade i Australien 2003, och spelade in denna skiva. Denna gång i Berlin, men fortfarande med australiensarna Tony Buck (trummor), Clayton Thomas (bas) och Chris Abrahams (piano) (som nu alla tre finns i samma stad) samt de nya Berlinbaserade musikerna Werner Dafeldecker (bas), Christof Kurzmann (lloopp) och Tobias Delius (klarinett och tenorsaxofon). Alltså en form av supergrupp från den tyska huvudstaden.
Syftet med gruppen har hela tiden varit att “dynamiskt undersöka” musiken av Alice Coltrane. Den vill närma sig jazzen från nya vinklar och undersöka dess starka energi, men med gruppens kollektiva erfarenheter följer också elektroakustisk improvisation, musique concréte, psykedelisk rock och reduktionistisk improvisation. Resultatet är lysande, de trycker in all energi de hittar i en koncentrerad punkt som de sedan drar ut i en horisontell linje. Kring dessa kretsar sedan de olika musikerna med skiftande inslag.
Skivans fem låtar kan delas in i tre grupper. “Second stabbing (Ohnedaruth)” som bygger på Coltranes “Ohnedaruth” från albumet A Monastic Trio från 1967, “First Free”, “DD” och “Heartbreaker” som är urklipp ur längre improvisationer samt “E” som är ett stycke av Cooper som kretsar kring tonen E.
Alice Coltranes musik har för mig alltid handlat om att lyfta fram det suggestiva och det spirituella. Denna sida lyckas Hammeriver också betona i “Second stabbing (Ohnedaruth)”, den enda av låtarna som har direkt koppling till Coltrane. Clare Cooper har tagit vad hon ser som de väsentliga delarna av musiken, transkriberat det till ett grafiskt partitur öppet för improvisation. Coopers harpa kommer till sin rätt, medan Tobias Delius tenorsax är det instrument som sticker ut med sina jazziga fraser. Annars är det ett mycket känsligt ljudbygge det handlar om. Stråkarna formar underbara droner på basarna, medan elektroniken bara skymtar till då och då även om den hela tiden finns där. Pianots toner vibrerar. Tony Buck är samtidigt en av de främsta trumslagarna på detta område, att bygga upp suggestiva och meditativa stämningar som både river och smeker.
Dronen är mycket närvarande även i “E”. Konsten att variera sig med en och samma ton är det flera som arbetat med, inte minst italienaren Giacinto Scelsi. När det lyckas är det alltid lika fascinerande, så även här. Ett koncentrerat flöde, fullt av energi men utan det kraftfullt expressiva.
Uttrycket är delvis annorlunda på de tre improvisationerna. Klangerna är skarpare och är inte i lika stor omfattning vända i samma riktning som på “Second stabbing (Ohnedaruth)” och “E”. Det enskilda och detaljerade befinner sig i en helt annan miljö. “DD” och “Heartbreaker” är ganska sparsmakade, medan “First Free” är mer fragmenterad och utåtriktad.
Det finns utan tvekan stor spänning i Hammerivers musik. Och att Alice Coltranes musik får ny näring känns mycket roligt. Inte minst från det här ganska okonventionella hållet.

Ondarock, Francesco Nunziata:
L’arpista Clare Cooper fonda gli Hammeriver in quel di Sidney nel 2003, con l’intenzione di esplorare le possibilità insite nella musica di Alice Coltrane.
Coadiuvata da un nutrito stuolo di musicisti (Tony Buck alle percussioni, Clayton Thomas al contrabbasso, Chris Abrahams al piano, più i “berlinesi” Christof Kurzmann all’elettronica, Tobias Delius al sax tenore e al clarinetto e Werner Dafeldecker al contrabbasso), Cooper contribuisce con vaporose fluttuazioni di arpa a tenere desto il legame con quella che, una volta, era la moglie del grande John.
Registrato nello studio radiofonico Saal 3 dell’ex Germania Est, questo omonimo esordio si apre con una versione di “Ohnedaruth” (dall’album del 1968, “A Monastic Trio”), un delicato esercizio di tensioni bisbiglianti e morbide nuance – contrasto, quest’ultimo, che ritroveremo anche nel successivo “First Free”. E se “E” mostra il lato più dinamico dell’operazione, composizioni quali “DD” e “Heartbreaker” evidenziano le velleità di un linguaggio improvvisativo ancora un po’ troppo timido.

Paris Transatlantic, Michael Rosenstein:
Looking at the musicians on this CD, you wouldn’t think it was a group dedicated to investigating the music of Alice Coltrane. But that’s exactly what harp player Clare Cooper had in mind when she originally convened Hammeriver in 2003 back in her native Australia. She revamped the group when she relocated to Berlin in 2007, with original members Chris Abrahams (piano), Clayton Thomas (bass) and Tony Buck (drums), adding Tobias Delius (reeds), Werner Dafeldecker (bass) and Christof Kurzmann (electronics). Those looking for straight recapitulations of the vamp-based modal pieces that Coltrane originally explored as part of her husband’s groups, and expanded on after his death, should look elsewhere: what Cooper has done is to put together structures that are informed by Coltrane’s music while hardly beholden to it. Things kick off with “Second Stabbing (Ohnedaruth)”, based on a piece from the album A Monastic Trio. Starting out with a resonant harp drone colored by electronic grit, the piece slowly builds with rattling chimes and the dark arco groan of dual basses, gaining density with the entrance of hanging piano chords and Delius’s crying tenor. But rather than building toward ecstatic release à la John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders, the music draws out the tension for the 11-minute duration of the improvisation. That idea is taken and filtered through a reductive strategy in “E”, in which the musicians are instructed to play in or around the key of E in any register for the 13-minute duration, creating a tensile energy as the music intensifies with waves of myriad colors around its static harmonic center, pushing on with dogged resolve. The recording also includes three collectively improvised pieces which adopt a more conversational approach as textures or motifs are picked up by various members, refracted, and then tossed back in to the mix. As expected, this crew knows how to maintain transparency of group sound, even with seven participants, but while the freely improvised tracks have their moments, they lack the conceptual vision of Cooper’s pieces. Still, there’s more than enough here to make this worth checking out.