Wednesday, 21 February 2018

John Cale - Music For A New Society (1982)

Early 80s John Cale at a personal low point, but a stunning creative high.  Writing and recording to the same throw-it-all-together-and-see-what-happens MO that had produced Nico's Marble Index over a decade earlier, Music For A New Society abounds in memorable production quirks.  After a played-straightish opening ballad (about infanticide, in the best macabre-Cale tradition) on bright electric piano, the fun starts with the inappropriate rhythm that clatters its way around Thoughtless Kind before the track ends in manic laughter and bagpipes.

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

Tomasz Stańko - Polin (2014)

Wisława, the double-album released by Tomasz Stańko's New York Quartet in February 2013, was justly lauded as a masterpiece, and will definitely be featured here at some point.  By contrast, just under two years later, this album completely flew under the radar - I think I only found out about Polin when it was added to discogs, and I never read a review anywhere.  Perhaps it was better known in Poland and around Europe, but for the most part, I suppose not having the clout of ECM behind it meant that this album wasn't internationally promoted.  Which is a shame, because I reckon it's wonderful.  So let's give it some love.

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

Arild Andersen - Molde Concert (expanded edition 2000, orig 1982)

ECM magnificence from the Molde Jazz Festival in August 1981, partly released as a single LP in 1982, then restored to almost (one track from the LP had to be dropped to squeeze in under 80 mins) full glory on CD in 2000.  The great Norwegian bassist was joined for this fine selection of his tunes (plus the Miles Davis/Tony Williams-penned encore) by Bill Frisell on guitar, John Taylor on piano, and sometime Weather Reporter Alphonse Mouzon on drums.

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
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Jean-François Pauvros & Gaby Bizien - No Man's Land (1976)

Nicely unhinged one-off collaboration between two lesser-known figures of the French avant-garde, guitarist Pauvros and percussionist Bizien.  Both put in brief appearances with Jac Berrocal, but a few years prior to that they released No Man's Land together.  The fact that practically the first sound you hear on this LP is a tuba being played underwater might tell you all you need to know about an album like this, but there's lots of nice little oddities beside that are worth a listen.

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

Jóhann Jóhannsson - Fordlandia (2008)

R.I.P. Jóhann Jóhannsson: 19 Sept 1969 - 9 Feb 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

Steven Stapleton & Christoph Heemann - Painting With Priests (rec. 2009, rel. 2015)

If you enjoyed the Tibor Szemző post the other day, here's the album that made me discover Snapshot From The Island, due to the samples used by Mr NWW and Mr HNAS on this concert recording.  Performed in the Ancient Synagogue in Ivrea, Turin on 21st November 2009, this one-off collaborative gig saw these two old hands at disquieting soundscaping doing what they do best.

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
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Tibor Szemző - Snapshot From The Island (1987/98)

First album by Hungarian composer Tibor Szemző (b. 1955, Budapest), which drew together three of his works for flute and electronics.  The 24-minute title track is up first, with the echoing bass flute on its own before a loping rhythm track starts to underpin it.  There's a little oasis of calm about halfway through with just sonorous vocal sounds and ambient noise accompanying the flute reverberations, before the rhythm picks up again towards the end.

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
mega / zippy

Monday, 5 February 2018

Laurie Anderson - Mister Heartbreak (1984)

Just noticed that Laurie Anderson's back with a new album imminent - should be interesting, with Kronos Quartet on board - so that made me dig this out.  I remember missing out on Mister Heartbreak, her second album, for ages on the assumption that 'it probably isn't as good as Big Science', so got a very nice surprise in how wonderful it was.

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

Dave Pike - The Doors Of Perception (1970)

Detroit-born vibesman Dave Pike released this Herbie Mann-produced oddity in 1970, but the basic tracks were actually recorded four years earlier at the Village Gate.  Mann's attempts to get hip with the production include rain and thunder tapes, ersatz audience overdubs and some insane stereo panning.  Even if The Doors Of Perception might sound dated for all of that (and for its title), the music within has enough great grooves to make for a durable, and highly enjoyable 27 minutes.

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

Brast Burn - Debon (1975)

This album seemed like one of these "too good to be true" musical legends when I read about it a few weeks back.  An obscure one-off by a Japanese musician, who may have also been responsible for another album credited to 'Karuna Khyal' on the same tiny label, that briefly appeared in one record shop in Nakano, Tokyo, and sounded like someone doing a mashup of every krautrock album you've ever heard with a dash of Ry Cooder on top?

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