Formed in 1991, the same year as the festival which gives it its name and most of its source material, Bologna, Italy’s i dischi di angelica has provided a steady assortment of high end experimentation and improvisation for three decades. Early on, the imprint served primarily to document festival performances via annual anthologies, but over time the label has expanded into a fully fledged concern. In 2020, the year it launched its 30th anniversary celebrations, the label released seven albums – by legendary figures as diverse as pianist Cecil Taylor, Austrian actionist Hermann Nitsch, composer and reedist Anthony Braxton, and Art Ensemble Of Chicago co-founder Roscoe Mitchell – increasing its catalogue to 45 titles.
While the festival’s 30th edition was only able to proceed in fits and starts, silenced by Italy’s devastating encounter with the Coronavirus that caused numerous concerts to be rescheduled for 2021, the label had its most productive year. Explaining his approach to both the festival and label, Angelica founder Massimo Simonini says, “There is music for a moment and music for another moment and I think of the festival programme as ‘a composition of compositions’ (including all the possible, luminous expressions), so it is necessary that different worlds come together. It seems that only together they can assume different meanings for the audience, but also for the performers themselves.” The following seven selections indicate the range, to say nothing of quality, of the catalogue.
Peter Brötzmann/Maâlem Moukhtar Gania/Hamid Drake
“Almost With The Sun”
From The Catch Of A Ghost
One of the most thrilling projects helmed by regular collaborators Peter Brötzmann and Hamid Drake was a trio with Gnawan guembri master and vocalist Maâlem Mahmoud Gania, which released the soulfully searing The Wels Concert (Okka Disk) in 1997, blending hypnotically elastic Moroccan modes with free jazz. Gania died in 2015, but his talented brother Moukhtar stepped in to carry on the trio’s exploration. On this bracing recording from the 2019 edition of the festival, the new partnership delivers magically shifting and embroidering grooves, digging into twangy, cycling patterns, and achieving a trance-inducing ecstasy where spontaneity feels preternatural.
From Rituals Of Transition
The brilliant Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg was also a regular at the festival, as a soloist and with ICP Orchestra. This solemnly beautiful track from last year’s solo album Rituals Of Tension, recorded at the Banlieuses Bleues festival in the titular French town in 2007, nicely represents the nonchalantly meandering quality of Mengelberg’s playing across the collection (also recorded in Bologna, as part of the 2002 edition of the festival, and Amsterdam). The album features excellent sleevenotes by ICP vet Ab Baars, who adroitly observes that “they are objects in a hotel room that you talk to in a friendly way, grumble or ignore, and keep saying goodbye to over and over”.
Violist and composer Eyvind Kang has had a fruitful relationship with Angelica, releasing two albums of orchestral projects premiered at the festival. The first, Virginal Co Ordinates, was later reissued by Mike Patton’s Ipecac label. This track from his 2019 album Chirality – a major work commissioned by and recorded at the festival in 2015 – is a tune written and sung by Alan Bishop of Sun City Girls fame. It originally appeared on that trio’s 1996 album 330,003 Crossdressers From Beyond The Rig Veda, but here it gets an extravagant Kang arrangement swimming in lush Arabic harmonies.
Christian Wolff with Apartment House
From Angelica Music
While Angelica is celebrated for its commitment to the most progressive jazz and improvised music, it has also staunchly supported contemporary composed music. Composer Christian Wolff was a featured presence at the 2013 festival, performing duets with longtime collaborator and percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky and working with British new music advocates Apartment House. “Exercise 10”. written in 1973–74, offers the performers great latitude in interpreting the score, which is written out on single staves that can be read on either the bass or treble clef. Wolff sits in on melodica, clearly forging a connection with the ensemble.
From Ilaiyaraaja’s Music Journey
The innovative, insanely prolific Indian film composer Ilaiyaraaja has released two albums on the label. The first, Wings Vol 1 from 2004, collected rare material from his private archives highlighting his quirky blend of native folk traditions with orchestrations informed by Western classical music. A year later the label released Ilaiyaraaja’s Music Journey, offering a rare live performance of soundtrack music from Tamil and Telugu cinema. For many of its commissions the festival uses local musicians, but this was performed by a 17-member Indian orchestra.
“Pauline Oliveros: Thirteen Changes For Malcolm Goldstein (1986) 4) Elephants Mating In A Secret Grove”
From Virgin Violin
Italian contemporary music specialist and violinist Silvia Tarozzi – who plays in France’s Dedalus Ensemble and dropped one of the most beguiling art music albums of 2020 with Me Specchio E Riflett – released this fantastic solo recital in 2014. While most Angelica titles are recorded live at the festival, this is a studio effort. Tarozzi’s mastery of microtonal music and extended durations radiate on pieces by Pascal Criton and Éliane Radigue, but she’s no less convincing on the wide open miniatures that comprise the Pauline Oliveros series “Thirteen Changes For Malcolm Goldstein”, revealing a conceptual imagination to equal her technical lustre.
Guus Janssen Septet
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)”
From Angelica 1996
Many of the earliest titles in the Angelica catalogue are a series of annual live anthologies recorded at the festival documenting the wide-ranging styles and approaches on display each year. This gauzy, spacious and finely etched interpretation of the Brian Wilson penned Beach Boys classic by a septet led by the elegant Dutch pianist and improvisor Guus Janssen cedes the majority of the solo space to bassist Ernst Glerum. It’s part of a collection that documents a Dutch focus that year, with additional music from Mengelberg, Ig Henneman, Michel Waisvisz, Tristan Honsinger and Jacques Palinckx.
Read Peter Margasak’s full Unlimited Editions article in The Wire 443 via the digital archive.