Gabriel Bogart | The Silent Ballet | March 2008
Years ago I worked at a local record shop. I was there for years and it was there that I honed my ear by broadening horizons and discovering new styles that fit my ever-changing tastes. On paydays, we used to take home a ton of CDs and LPs to check out called "sign-outs". If we liked them, we'd add them to our collections or, if they didn't make the cut, bring them back to the shop. A co-worker and good friend of mine used to hang out and go through our sign-outs with a couple of beers. He developed a system of deciphering albums' "keepers" or not by skimming the first 45 seconds of each song and then skipping ahead, which I always found odd. Sure, it saves time, but it certainly doesn't give you the full picture of what an album has to offer. With The Hidden's self-titled release, I almost made my friend's mistake. Upon first listen, which was very short lived due to mood or cosmic gas, I immediately snarled in my mind, "Damnit! Why do I have to review noodley free jazz!? I'm so over it!". Did anybody miss that high moment of snobbery? I nearly did until my next couple of listens, where I listened with purpose and intent. The secret power of The Hidden lay in the fact that while it is categorically free jazz, it actually slinks through songs with purpose. That purpose is very cinematic, but not in the definite way that a film soundtrack does, but with an openness for the beholder to interpret. "Isolation", the opening track, starts out with a knotted ball-of-twine horror soundtrack violin and percussion for about a minute and a half before a huge, ominous xylophone signals calm. For the next few minutes, cello and violin seep slowly across the floor like the blood from the previous horror, as xylophone resonance wills a spirit up out of the turmoil. From there, it is a slow, nearly discordant journey downstream, which sets the tone for the rest of the album as mostly a contemplative, almost prayer-filled solemnity I usually associate with chamber or neo-classical music (think Arvo Pärt). It seems so controlled that I still find it amazing that this is done primarily by improvisational players, culled primarily from the Northwoods Improvisers in Michigan. Their sound alone communicates endless hours spent playing together, working out motifs to dance around and ways to play off of and with each other. This synchronization shows through on "Ipecac" with a sense of cohesion, collusion even, in the way the upright bass chases the violin around like a kid brother or a schoolyard crush. And on "Orient", the way the violin is abused, sounds like a demon torturing a soul it has long awaited to lord over with delicious malicious intent. The one track that really sticks out is "Hidden 10" with its simmering soprano sax and heat trance-inducing hand drums. I am immediately transported back to my travels in the Middle East in this up-tempo seance. Throughout the album, however, my favorite element is the xylophone player, who immediately conjures up Bobby Hutcherson in my mind, particularly Hutcherson's play on Eric Dolphy's "Out To Lunch". All praise accounted for, I must sadly say that this is not an album I would reach for to listen to on a consistent basis. It fills a space of sound that is pretty unique to itself, but at the end of the day, just doesn't groove enough.
Massimo Ricci | Touching Extremes | February 2008
"The Hidden" is the first release by a quartet of improvising artists coming from the Michigan improvised-jazz scene. The instrumentation is divided as follows: Johnston on bass, shenhai and wooden flutes, Gilmore on vibes, marimba, saz, cheng, percussion, Khoury on violin and Lucas on cello. Nine tracks who mix Eastern traditional influences in conjunction with the contributors' differentiated backgrounds yet, unquestionably, appear like an evolved "popular chamber music" spiced with intercontinental elements, definitely better than the bells and whistles which many so called multiethnic collectives show nowadays. The majority of the pieces moves quite deliberately, no stress or hurrying up, everybody (including the listeners) free to choose a line to follow or a couple of details to observe, as everything remains clearly articulated and extremely comprehensible throughout, the interlocking fragments generated by the most dissonant melodic factors as well. Gilmore's vibraphone in combination with Johnston's mysterious bass figures in "Prayer for Maury Coles" might recall a variation on Gary Burton's work with Astor Piazzolla, and the subsequent "Hidden 10" is a gratifying example of virtuoso playing in a pseudo-esoteric context by all the participants. "Sweet Saba Interlude" is a magnificent slow track where the parts sound all but scored such is the perfect interaction among the players, while "Orient" is a ritualistic meditation halfway through traditional and contemporary raga. Not really a groundbreaking effort but very well crafted and played, worth of attention especially in virtue of its limited availability (96 copies).
Fontas Troussas | Jazz & Tzaz | issue 178 | January 2008
translated from greek
The line-up of the group, offers certain initial information, leaving, perhaps, our imagination "to search". Mike Johnston: bass - shenhai - wood flutes, Mike Gilmore: vibes - marimba - saz - cheng - percussion, Mike Khoury: violin, Kirk Lucas: violoncello. These names may not say many things to many people, however Johnston and Gilmore are already found in the improv/world/jazz/avant scene since the mid 70's (their base today is Mt. Pleasant in Michigan), being members of the Northwoods Improvisers, an ensemble that attempted to combine (in America) the spontaneous euro-jazz of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and Trevor Watts, with the proto-world deviations of Sun Ra and Don Cherry. They released several CDs on european and american labels, they fell (how could it happen differently?) in some moment under the perception of Peter Kowald and met with Günter Sommer and Floros Floridis(!), exposing, among other things, the way they face contemporary music in general. How? As an adventurous space, in which intellectual communication, free improvisation and of course... universal tone-colors find their way out, taking shape by the means of "strange" instruments (the north-indian wind instrument shenhai, the chinese "accordion" cheng, the saz, the marimba, the wood flutes). With all these facts "The Hidden" could be an exemplary classic "Leo Records album", although it actually is a greek one - mastered by Themistoklis Pantelopoulos, finally finding its way to be released in an edition of 96 CDR copies on (his) Triple Bath label a few months ago.
Dolf Mulder | Vital Weekly | issue 599 | October 2007
For a CDR with a limited edition of 96 copies, "The Hidden" is an appropriate name for a musical combo. The Hidden hides in Michigan, where all four improvisers of this quartet have their roots. Mike Johnston (bass, shenhai, wood flutes) and Mike Gilmore (vibes, marimba, saz, cheng, percussion) are partners since the mid-70s when they formed the collective Northwoods Improvisers and played with people like Peter Kowald, Günter Sommer a.o. But from the information I gained, I conclude they play mainly with local musicians. One of them is Kirk Lucas (cello) who is also part of the Hidden-quartet. Mike Khoury (violin) is the youngest and maybe known for his CD "Insignia" for Public Eyesore, with Jason Shearer and Ben Hall. The quartet specializes in open and slowly progressing improvisations that comes close to the atmosphere of modern chamber music. The improvisations continue most of the time as an alternation of waving movements. No spectacular outbursts of energy here. They make some use of exotic instruments that gives the music an eastern touch like in "Hidden 10". Although the musicianship is considerable, the improvisations of this quartet failed to attract my attention. Also after repeated listening the unsensational improvisations didn't talk to me. The CDR ends with a swinging piece "Hidden 13", but also in this track the improvisation stays far beneath the temperature of bowling.
Haris Symvoulidis | Avopolis | October 2007
translated from greek - original here
The Hidden, a quartet seating in Michigan of USA, found discographic outlet through a small, independent greek label - Triple Bath of Themistoklis Pantelopoulos. Accomplishing, in my opinion, an amiable and promising debut, in a limited edition of 96 copies. The self-titled album "The Hidden" begins and finishes in a rather lukewarm fashion, in free jazz rhythms that testify the technical sufficiency of Mike Johnston, Mike Gilmore, Mike Khoury and Kirk Lucas, but generally lack particular identity. However, through the middle of their work a different and far more interesting story takes place... since the basis of double bass, violoncello and violin dares to rush into the open seas of world music, exploring, by the means of improvisation, the field between free jazz and folklore traditions of the planet - with particular focus to Far East. Your attention appeals to "compositions" (in quotes, for it is music based in improvisation) at first, like "Sweet Saba Interlude" and "Hidden 06", before you first pass through the extremely interesting "Hidden 10" and from there to the mystic atmosphere of "Orient" and finally to the best moment of the work, "Pre-Power Outage". The jazz of "The Hidden" does not do something that has not been done before. On the contrary, it is placed rather consciously in the experimental post-bop style that was followed by various musicians in the 70s, like Dave Holland, who often comes in mind while listening to this album. The Hidden quartet make it quite well in this frame: one gets the impression that there are still roads to be driven for the quartet to reach the state of self-lighting and aesthetically important, but they convince you that they indeed carry the credentials to walk on this fastidious path.
Michael Chocholak | via e-mail | August 2007
"I write and listen to a great deal of electronic music these days, and so right from the opening notes of this CD I found the pure acoustics incredibly refreshing. There is a depth, delicacy and power to acoustic instrumentation and the compositions built upon it that software can never seem to achieve. There is an obvious physicality to it that often is even erotic. The music here puts me in mind of the best in 70's jazz; the quite successful exploratory efforts of people like Gary Burton, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Michael White and Egberto Gismonti. Sonically you are embraced by a round robin of sorts starting with Mike Khoury's violin which is complimented by the lower register bowing of Kirk Lucas' cello, which in turn is offset by the deep punctuations of Mike Johnston's bass, which is partnered by the percussive tones of Mike Gilmore's vibes, which in turn shares the tonal territories of Khoury's violin. This palette is then supplemented with shenhai, wood flutes, marimba, saz, cheng, and percussion. It is a solid and engaging foundation that allows them to stretch out and really work the outer edges of what their instruments are capable of. However, you never get the impression that any of this is an experiment even when it is improvisation. They certainly know what they are doing and have a rapport that results in an intuitive interplay that always maintains its own flow regardless of how the focus might change. The CD begins with some very light free jazz that spreads itself out balancing and dancing in a broad open space and gradually heats up to "Hidden 10" with Gilmore soloing on saz. The CD closes with my favorite tracks, "Orient" which sieges seamlessly into "Pre-Power Outage" both taking the sonics into realms that would make any electronic musician jealous, before walking on out with the more traditional "Hidden 13". All very listenable avant jazz that I highly recommend.