Wednesday, 21 February 2018
Next up is a track that's barely a song at all - Sanctus (or Sanities, on the original misspelled release)* delivers its slightly too on-the-nose insight into insanity in spoken word narration as doomy organ and kitchen-sink atmopsherics provide an apt backing. By contrast, 1975's (I Keep A) Close Watch is given a magisterial overhaul with minimum fuss, but still ends in more bagpipes - don't know about anybody else, but I hear more than enough of those walking to work every morning - but that's central Edinburgh for you.
One of my favourite songs that Cale played when I saw him in early '99, Chinese Envoy is another highlight of Music For A New Society, and probably its most accessible moment. Cale came up with the uptempo Changes Made as a standalone accessible single, and unsuccessfully tried to exclude it from the album - if anything, it's ill-fittedness with the rest of the record does go quite nicely with its general schizophrenic atmosphere. It's an atmosphere that continues into the next song, in which lines like "Damn life, you're just not worth it, you're just not worth the pain" are set to a tune cribbed from Ode To Joy, at which point you just have to laugh. Cale himself attributes this album's continued popularity to the thought that "people like watching suffering". I think it's just insanely brilliant.
*I may have got that the wrong way round
mega / zippy
Monday, 19 February 2018
POLIN, the museum of the History of Polish Jews, was constructed on the site of the old Warsaw Ghetto from 2007-2012, and its main exhibition opened in October 2014. At that time, the curators invited Stańko to write and perform a suite of music for the opening, which he did (see video below), recording it in the same month. Retaining only pianist David Virelles from the NY Quartet, Stańko assembled another band of Americans with bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer Kush Abadey, and 'Trane Jr on sax. The museum released the album themselves shortly afterwards, without a regular record label.
And for that, it's an album that sounds superb - come to it blind and you could conceivably be listening to a regular ECM production. It's an inspired band that Stańko's assembled here, with Virelles' lightness of touch carrying over perfectly from Wisława and the new rhythm section laying down a more swinging foundation right from opener Gela. Ravi Coltrane is a great foil to Stańko here - it's nice to just hear the trumpeter play with another horn, after so many years of (admittedly gorgeous) quartet releases.
When the tempo picks up, as on Yankiel's Lid and the title track, Coltrane really starts to cook on his solos, with Stańko picking up the energy and sounding in top form himself. But don't miss the loveliest ballad on this brief set, which is saved for the end. The Street Of Crocodiles has one of those classic little understated Stańko melodies, and was also beautifully recast on his return to ECM last year (on December Avenue, where Yankiel's Lid was also re-recorded with a freshly rejigged NY Quartet). Sure, ECM Stańko is great, but don't miss out on Polin.
Opening night concert at POLIN, Oct. 2014 - video should start at 1h3m for Stańko's set
mega / zippy
Friday, 16 February 2018
We've mostly heard Taylor and Frisell in mellow modes on this blog up til now (check the label tags for previous posts), and there is a good showing of downtempo loveliness in the Molde setlist - Targeta, Lifelines and Koral for sure - but for the most part, this album absolutely rocks. Finding the confidence that he recalled wasn't quite there yet on Fluid Rustle, Bill Frisell hits cooking temperature right from the set opener and just gets increasingly jaw dropping from there.
It might just be the fact that he's a jazz guitarist with a full on rock snarl here, but Frisell made me think of Steve Howe at least once - check Cameron near the end, where Andersen also gets a great solo spot. The 13 minutes of The Sword Beneath His Wings are also a highlight for Frisell and for everyone - Andersen might be the bandleader, but this is very much a firing-on-all-cylinders group effort. Even the drum solos are awesome, as on Six For Alphonse. Highly recommended.
|original LP cover|
Wednesday, 14 February 2018
The main mode of operation is generally echoed/speed shifted/otherwise mutated bits of guitar from Pauvros (occasionally bringing Fred Frith to mind) and free percussion from Bizien, as in the opening title track, Barre D'Etel and Dr Livingstone I Presume. Elsewhere, the more audio-verite free improvs of Plage De Bling sound like a sort of Berrocal/Tazartès hybrid, and Bizien gets to work on some nice melodic percussion on Gloire A L'Aeropostale while Pauvros swishes away in the background. Wish they'd done another couple of records together to develop this sound, but No Man's Land is a great rewarding listen for its uniqueness.
mega / zippy
Monday, 12 February 2018
Wow, this has hit me hard. One of my favourite modern-classical composers, and a prolific soundtracker (perhaps most notably for Golden Globe-winning Theory Of Everything score), has been found dead in his Berlin apartment at the age of just 48. Jóhann Jóhannsson, born in Rejkjavik in 1969, is survived by his parents, sisters and daughter. Orphée, his debut album for Deutsche Grammophon in September 2016, has become a huge favourite of mine, and I hoped at the time it was going to be another step forward in a long career. Now it's a sad but perfect finale. Will post it here at some point.
For now, here's IMO the highlight of his time at 4AD (IBM 1401 would be a close second). Fordlandia was inspired by Henry Ford's failed attempt to build an American town-styled residence for the workers at his Amazonian rubber plant in the 1920s. The title track comes in very softly and gradually in waves of Gorecki-esque melancholy, eventually joined by a circular figure on distorted guitar, and more production/electronics.
From then in, the pieces include little woodwind miniatures (the Melodia sections), subtle echoing beats (The Rocket Builder) and pipe organ (Chimaerica), as well as all those wonderful sweeping strings. The Great God Pan Is Dead introduces a haunting choir, setting up for the last two epic tracks. The beat-driven Melodia (Guidelines For A Space Propulsion Device Based On Heim's Quantum Theory) is just sublime orchestral minimalism, and the 14-minute How We Left Fordlandia is a beautifully sombre finale. Jóhannsson's music, above anything else, always touches me and moves me, and the music that he's left behind will continue to do so for years to come.
|Þakka þér fyrir alla frábæra tónlist, Jóhann.|
mega / zippy
Friday, 9 February 2018
Dark ambient throbbing, jump-scare piano, sampled footsteps and other odd noises and voices - that's just the first few minutes, but you know what to expect from then on, notwithstanding the seemingly oddly placed, but effectively recast samples of Szemző. Occasionally, those samples will provide a fleeting rhythmic drive, or some other noise will repeat into a rhythm of sorts, but otherwise this is formless dark ambience of the highest order by a couple of masters at conjuring up this sort of thing. Headphones, dark room - you know the drill.
|Alternate cover, used for LP edition|
Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Water-Wonder for flutes and tape delay is next, and on the CD version the original 1986 recording appears to have been swapped out for a 1998 one, and gains an extra 2 minutes on the LP's 14 and a half. I'd imagine this doesn't matter all that much what with it being the most straightfoward composed work on the album - in fact, it dates back to 1982, and was first recorded (in shortened form) for Szemző's Group 180 ensemble on their 1983 debut. A couple of Group 180's releases showed their interest in Steve Reich's music, and you could perhaps think of Water-Wonder as a 'Flute Phase' of sorts.
That leaves Let's Go Out And Dance, a 1985 work written for "shadowplay" theatre - if you're of a certain age like me, this might immediately evoke images of The Dude's neighbour performing his interpretive dance piece, but musically it's another bucolic island snapshot like the first track. A gently droning synth and quietly puttering rhythm track are the backing here for the absolutely gorgeous flute melodies - I think this might be my favourite of the three tracks. This album sometimes draws comparisons to Florian Schneider's early flute work, had Kraftwerk started a decade later, but atmospherically I'd say it more evokes Can's Future Days in languid loveliness. Recommended.
|original LP cover|
Monday, 5 February 2018
Always loved how Big Science could make a bunch of extracts from an epic performance piece somehow hang together as a weirdly accessible album, but Mister Heartbreak is first and foremost an accessible album, and a hugely accomplished one at that. The supporting cast are 80s avant-garde to-die-for: Adrian Belew's noise guitar gives a memorable bite to the elastic bounce of Sharkey's Day's everyman dreamworld; Bill Laswell helps out with the production and adds granite-tough bass to the Thomas Pynchon-inspired Gravity's Angel, and a cusp-of-mainstream-fame Peter Gabriel adds vocals there and on the collaboration Excellent Birds, originally written for Nam June Paik's New Year's Day 1984 broadcast.
This time around, only a further two tracks were recasts from the aforementioned United States, Anderson's eight-hour performance piece: Langue d'Amour, a comic fantasia on the Fall Of Man legend for slithering synclavier and 'electronic conches', and the Herman Melville-cribbing Blue Lagoon, with its nice jumpy synclavier backing that gives a penultimate raising of the tempo before the brief finale ends with a stark coda to Sharkey's Day. Titled, naturally, Sharkey's Night, this end piece saves the most memorable guest for last in William S. Burroughs' drawling take on the character. I'll need to fill in all the gaps in my Laurie Anderson listening before properly concluding that Mister Heartbreak is her best album - or at least my favourite of hers - but I suspect there's a high chance that opinion won't change.
mega / zippy
Friday, 2 February 2018
The first lengthy track, The Drifter, has a great melodic swing to it with a nice edge of fuzz on Chuck Israels' walking bass (which gets dialled up to eleven on the title track that follows). The album's second half reins in the studio trickery for a couple of particularly nice cuts - the self-explanatory Ballad, and the final breezy groove of Anticipation, where you can best focus on this great group's interplay.
mega / zippy
Wednesday, 31 January 2018
So when I found a copy of this CD (from the same Paradigm label responsible for reissuing Journey Through Space and Acezantez) going for peanuts shortly afterwards, it was impossible to resist. The low price was due to library stickers - seriously, the fact that an English public library had something like this in its CD racks at some point was just the icing on the cake - wonder how often it was borrowed? And of course, there was still the music...
True to the reviews I'd read, the two 23-minute pieces that make up Debon have a very strong krautrock flavour - there's echoes here of both Amon Düüls, Ash Ra Tempel in their mellower moments, a bit of a Faustlike sensibility... you get the idea. Long, raga-like sections of guitar and percussion jamming cut into each other with occasional vocal declamations and incantations. Bells, electronic whooshes and other odd bits of studio noise complete the picture of an album that reminds you of a lot of things, sure, but the way it's all put together is utterly unique and mindbending. One of these wonderful discoveries that always remind me there's infinitely more great music out there still to be found.
mega / zippy