Originally issued on percussionist Andrea Centazzo's Ictus label, Environment for Sextet was recorded in New York in November 1978 (it was a live broadcast for radio station WKCR) and features the torchbearers of what would later become known as the downtown scene -- John Zorn, Tom Cora, Eugene Chadbourne -- at their wildest and woolliest, along with trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, who has recently returned to the spotlight (as part of Peter Brötzmann's Die Like a Dog project) and violinist Polly Bradfield, who sadly hasn't (though her Solo Violin Improvisation on Chadbourne's Parachute label remains a classic of the genre). While the two "Environments" tend to feature the full ensemble, the "Solo Improvisations" tracks (both of which are misleadingly named) alternate solo and tutti passages to great effect. The final "Improvviso III" is a Zorn/Centazzo duet originally featured on another Ictus release, USA Concerts, but is here back where it belongs with the material it was played with originally, as Centazzo notes. The music is all credited to the percussionist, hence its clear sense of underlying structure (Zorn's legendary game pieces owe a not inconsiderable debt of thanks to the percussionist), and a quarter of a century after it was recorded it still sounds hair-raisingly radical, especially compared to what some of the musicians involved went on to produce. Zorn's impressive collection of birdcalls gets a thorough workout, Chadbourne's guitar is at its most extreme (the country & western songs were still a while away), and Centazzo, who on the strength of this recording alone deserves a place at the improv drummers' high table alongside Paul Lytton, Paul Lovens, and Han Bennink, is astounding. Essential listening for fans of improvised music, especially Zornophiles.
Environment for Sextet Review
by Dan Warburton