Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Beatriz Ferreyra - at the Electric Spring Festival, University of Huddersfield (2017)

The BBC Proms are in full swing, and I'll be on the lookout for any of the more groundbreaking sounds that could sit nicely on this blog.  For the moment, here's something that was broadcast on Radio 3's Hear And Now about a month ago, to coincide with the composer's 80th birthday (the Electric Spring performance in question took place in February).

Argentine electroacoustic composer Beatriz Ferreyra worked at INA-GRM in Paris in the 60s, and after being shown how to cut tape and mix by Pierre Schaeffer, embarked on a sonic journey that was completely her own, and which continues to this day - the longest piece here, Senderos de luz y sombras (Paths of shadows and light) was freshly minted in 2016/17 and was receiving its UK premiere at Electric Spring.

Alongside Senderos, Ferreyra's evocation of the universe before and just after the big bang, two older pieces were featured.  Echos was originally put together in the late 70s, from tapes of the composer's niece who had passed away in a car accident.  Four acapella tapes of her singing were mixed together into a wonderfully affecting whole, complete with a poignant moment of laughter at the end.   The other work is Rio de los pájaros azules (River of the blue birds) from 1998, in which a dream of a lush, Latin American landscape is channeled into a beautifully alien-sounding fantasia.  All very listenable and fascinating stuff - recommended.

mega / zippy
N.B. cover art used is not from the actual Feb 2017 performance, but I believe it is a fairly recent picture - thought it would be a good fit when I found it.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Antonio Carlos Jobim - Stone Flower (1970)

Deodato the arranger this time, putting a perfect, not-too-lacquered sheen on what is probably my second favourite Jobim album (nothing can ever touch Wave).  Creed Taylor is of course in the producer's chair, with the CTi era now in full swing, and mellow electric pianos shimmer all over the place - not least in the most gorgeous ballad, Andorinha.  The definite highlight of this stunning record, though, has to be the extended groove through Ary Barroso's 1939 standard Aquarela do Brasil, listed here under its better known international title Brazil and topped off with a reverential Jobim vocal.  In summary, 34 minutes of summery perfection.

mega / zippy

Friday, 21 July 2017

Deodato - Night Cruiser (1980)

Magnificent jazz-funk from the era in Eumir Deodato's career where the Rio-born keyboardist/arranger/producer decisively headed for the dancefloor.  This is around the time Deodato was producing Kool & The Gang, and Night Cruiser is similarly good-time music.  Electric piano grooves, synth bloops and great brass arrangements are everywhere, along with more slap bass than you can shake a stick at.

Pretty much every box is ticked, to be honest, for what you'd expect from an album with a track called Uncle Funk.  I should start insisting that my niece and nephews call me that, but I think to qualify for the title you have to have to post a bit more than, er, one jazz-funk album a year on your blog.  Will try to seek out more - in the meantime, if you love stuff like this, Opium Hum have been crate-digging it to the max lately.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Iancu Dumitrescu / Ana-Maria Avram - Five Pieces (1997)

String quartets a-plenty from Ana-Maria and Iancu (well, two of his, one of hers), with instruments being tortured within an inch of their lives and occasional tape maniplulation adding to the magnificent organised chaos.

But in addition, it's the two non-string quartet works on this disc that make it a standout in the Edition Modern catalogue.  Avram's 20-minute electronic/instrumental On The Abolition Of The Soul treats the philosophical wiritings of Émile Cioran with the nightmarish gravity that they deserve, and Dumitrescu's Fluxus, for tapes and orchestra, approaches (if not equals) the viciousness of early Pendercki.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG:
ED.MN.1001 - Medium/Cogito
ED.MN.1002 - Au Dela De Movemur
ED.MN.1003 - Pierres Sacreés
ED.MN.1004 - Musique de Paroles
ED.MN.1011 - Musique Action '98
ED.MN.1019 - In Tokyo

Monday, 17 July 2017

Françoise Hardy - s/t (aka La Question) (1971)

From Brazil to France - without entirely leaving Brazil.  Françoise Hardy's eleventh album, again untitled but retrospectively known by the title of one of its best known tracks (as per conventions of the time/genre), was a collaboration with Brazilian musician Tuca, who was living in Paris at the time.  Tuca, real name Valeniza Zagni da Silva, tragically died seven years later at age 34, having released just three albums of her own.  Here, writing all the music for Hardy's album and playing beautifully understated guitar, is perhaps her best known work, which took Hardy's career to a new level of maturity.

La Question in some ways reminds me of my favourite Astrud Gilberto album, I Haven't Got Anything Better To Do - around half an hour long, but managing to cram in a huge emotional weight in its wistful, small-hours ambience and songs about love both unrequited and long gone.  In amongst this, there's also an offbeat oddness in songs like Le Martien (French sophistication apparently dictates that alien abductors come bearing not bodily probes, but engagement rings) and in the breathy, wordless evocations of Pauline Réage's Story Of O.

Arrangements throughout this great record are restrained and always perfectly complementary to the track, right through to the closing reimagining of a song by another Brazilian musician, Taiguara.  La Question is a huge highlight not just in Françoise Hardy's discography, but in chanson in general

mega / zippy

Friday, 14 July 2017

Luiz Bonfa & Maria Toledo - Braziliana (1965)

Some classic bossanova/samba goodness to go in to the weekend with, courtesy of legendary guitarist and songwriter Luiz Bonfa and his wife Maria Toledo on vocals.  Just over half an hour of blissful, summery chillout, bookended by sweet wordless duetting and featuring Toledo's wonderful, Astrud-Gilberto's-older-sister voice on most of the tracks, with subtle, unobtrusive arrangements in the background.

Bonfa's unique and influential guitar genius takes the solo spotlight on two tracks, Boticaro and Improviso, and as part of sublime instrumental tracks on Sugar Loaf, Baroco and one of his most famous compositions Samba De Orfeu.  The latter originally came from the Black Orpheus soundtrack that springboarded Bonfa, Jobim and others to fame.  More to come in due course from all of these icons of Brazilian music, while the sun's still out (tempting fate round here, I know!).

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Eivind Aarset - Dream Logic (2012)

Eivind Aarset is a Norwegian guitarist whose stock in trade is near-ambient atmospherics, favouring heavy amounts of electronic manipulation, reverb and other effects.  He's contributed to a number of ECM projects, and this, his solo debut for the label, came out in late 2012, supported throughout by long-term collaborator Jan Bang.

As you might expect, textures and atmospheres take precedence on these 11 tracks over formal song structures (the aptly named Black Silence being the most formless), but spindly, minimal melodies abound.  The result is a gorgeous, immersive listening experience with lots of little production treats, like the little ghostly music-box melody that winds its way around the jittery jump-cuts of Jukai (Sea Of Trees), to name just one favourite.  To name another, Homage To Greene is a tribute to Peter Green, with its gentle Albatross-esque melody, but Dream Logic is best experienced as a whole, to let all of its, well, dream logic wash right over you.

mega / zippy

Monday, 10 July 2017

Various - CMCD: 6 Classic Concrete Electroacoustic & Electronic Works, 1970-1990 (1991 compi)

CMCD (Concrete Music CD) is a 1991 compilation, reissued 2004, of six pieces previously featured elsewhere on the ReR label.  I'm posting this mainly for A Quiet Gathering (1988) by Steve Moore, which I got into thanks to a comment from Peter on the Ivana Stefanović album, and was what made me track down the CMCD disc.  It's a phenomenal 22 minutes of "Chamber music for environmental sounds" - children playing, church bells, birds and so on - deftly stitched together.  In the absence of a reissue of the full album (see Peter's YouTube link) this is the only way to get hold of this masterpiece digitally.

Elsewhere, there's two highly entertaining 'plunderphonic' works from US artists bookending this compilation, one mashing up Erik Satie and the other Jerry Lee Lewis.  And don't miss the much more dark-hued Aide Memoire, composed in East Germany by Georg Katzer in 1983.  The subtitle is "Seven nightmares from the thousand year night...with sound documents from 1933-1945".  Even though some of the most infamous voices are tape-manipulated into dalek/chipmunk grotesques that (presumably intentionally) negate much of their power, the piece still carries an unsettling weight of history that neatly expands on Luigi Nono's Ermittlung from two decades previous.
cover art for first issue, 1991 (2004 cover at top)

mega / zippy

Friday, 7 July 2017

Quaternaglia ‎- Forrobodó (2000)

Something a bit more summery today - and the first Brazilian post for this year; won't be the last.  The Quaternaglia Guitar Quartet are from São Paulo and have been active since 1992.  This was their third album - a bit easier than the others (which I'm on the lookout for) to get hold of internationally thanks to Egberto Gismonti's Carmo label and its distribution deal with ECM.

Gismonti's presence looms large in the songwriting credits too - tracks 5 thru 9 are all his compositions, including a lengthy arrangement of his classic piece Forró, and a welcome dizzying run through Karatê.  The tempos throughout this great album are mostly fleet of foot, letting the sheer knotty virtuosity of the four guitarists shine as brightly as they deserve, with everything exquisitely arranged and beautifully melodic.  Highly recommended.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Georg Friedrich Haas - In Vain (2003)

Hour-long microtonal-spectral masterpiece by Austrian composer Haas (b. 1953, Graz).  The liner notes of this 2002 premiere recording use a staircase metaphor for music in common intonation, working towards a comparison of this piece with M.C. Escher's famous engraving.  A good starting point, particularly in the most dramatic final quarter with its more animated series of downward spirals and percussive thunder.

Other than that, the mood is ominous, minimal and dark - quite literally in the performance instructions, which call for complete darkness on two occasions (at 5-10 mins in, and 40-50 mins as seen in this performance).  Quite a feat of memory for the musicians working their way through the extra-small gradations in tone, and a treat for the ears, especially in the dark as intended.  Almost like the night-time flipside of all the spectral sun-rays of Gerard Grisey's Espaces Acoustiques.

mega / zippy

Monday, 3 July 2017

Pandit Pran Nath - Raga Cycle, Palace Theatre, Paris 1972 (rel. 2006)

We're long overdue some raga goodness from the master Kirana singer on these pages.  Compared to the album release from the previous year (posted here), this brief live recording sets the accompanying instruments (played by Pran Nath's US students Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela) a bit further back in the mix, so that you appreciate all the better how that wonderful voice finds its way "in between the notes".

This archival release came out on Terry Riley's label in 2006, and in fact represents only a small excerpt of the ambitious Raga Cycle that the players undertook in Paris in May 1972: performing the 'night ragas' (those intended for playing at night) on a Friday night, the 'day ragas' on the Saturday, and the 'morning ragas' on the Sunday morning.  Raga Shudh Sarang and the brief Raga Kut Todi, featured here, are both late-morning ragas (from my admittedly limited research on the fascinatingly complex rules of Indian classical music), so must have been from the Sunday morning concert.  Wonder if Riley or Young have any more in their archives?

mega / zippy

Friday, 30 June 2017

Pat Metheny Group - First Circle (1984)

Pat, Lyle & co certainly got what turned out to be their ECM farewell off to a memorable start, parodying an off-key high school marching band, which must have had hundreds of record store owners saying 'oh, you want to hear the new PMG?  You might want to skip track one... yep, definitely skip past it'.  From then on in, though, drummer Paul Wertico leads into the album proper with the sunny, upbeat Yolanda You Learn, and all was well.

The PMG sound for years to come was crystalised on this LP, although the seeds of it had been sown over the previous few years.  Yolanda goes on to feature a fine wordless vocal performance by Pedro Aznar, looking forward to the Still Life (Talking) era, before Pat whips out the guitar synth - tastefully, of course.  First Circle (the album) still retains a bit of an avant-garde edge, but for the most part the lush, South American-influenced rhythms and melodies were all in place to full out the sound beautifully.  A stunning high point for Pat to end his ECM tenure on and look to his future, that still makes for fresh, life-affirming summer listening today.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Krzysztof Penderecki - Threnody etc (1994 compi of 1970s recordings)

Feels like the ideal week for a nice back-to-basics Pendercki primer, at his most vital and extreme in these self-conducted 70s recordings for EMI of his breakthrough 60s work.  I've certainly been going back to Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima more than once since Monday (with and without David Lynch's magisterial adaptation), and reading up about the remarkable, ear-shredding piece that Penderecki originally wrote as an experiment in sonoristic writing for strings.  Apparently it was only on hearing an early performance that Penderecki "was struck by the emotional charge of the work... I searched for associations and, in the end, I decided to dedicate it to the Hiroshima victims".

All the other most recognisable pieces from this period are gathered here too, including Kubrick favourites The Awakening of Jacob, De Natura Sonoris I & II (and I've previously posted Utrenja in its entirety).  Perhaps inevitable that such striking, forceful and unique music would end up being used in film and TV again and again.

mega / zippy

Monday, 26 June 2017

Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid (2010)

Forgot how much I loved this album until one of its singles (Tightrope) turned up on a TV advert recently.  Back in 2010, this was Janelle Monáe's first full-length album, and was one of those rare double-albums where not only do none of its 18 tracks feel like filler, but it just appears to get better and better as it goes on, with the most stunningly ambitious material in its second half, culminating in a deft reconfiguration of Debussy's Clair De Lune in the penultimate song.

Before getting to that, prepare to luxuriate for an hour in an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stew of pop, soul, folk, punk rock and a full blotter-sheet's worth of psychedelia, as the rough overall concept unfolds of the titular android being sent to liberate humanity in the funkiest possible way.  If I had to pick favourites, they'd be the woozy Mushrooms & Roses with its blistering guitar solo, or the hushed choral folk of 57821, but the whole thing is just a stone cold masterpiece.  Definitely time for me to pull out the follow-up album (The Electric Lady from 2013) and enjoy it afresh, and keep my fingers crossed for the new material she's been promising for this year.

mega / zippy

Friday, 23 June 2017

Vangelis - Invisible Connections (1985)

The year after Soil Festivities, Vangelis pushed the boat right out to make his most experimental album in nearly a decade - and even ended up having it released on the esteemed Deutsche Grammophon label.  Three lengthy tracks of dark ambience make this an essential headphones-in-a-dark-room experience.

The title track is up first, and is the most free-form, with seemingly random bleeps, echoes and occasional faraway percussive sounds dominating the first half of its 19 minutes.  Atom Blaster is next, with what sounds like plucked piano strings subjected to tape manipulation, and the final track Thermo Vision is probably the highlight for me.  High electronic tones contrast with the eerie background to make for perhaps the most recognisably Vangelis-y track.  Recommended for late-night investigation.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Australian Soundscape series - White Water Rafting (1994)

Couldn't resist posting this - it's another charity shop classic.  Parted with my 99p as soon as I saw this CD, as the cover just made me laugh out loud.  Anyone else ever considered white water rafting to be "the ultimate in relaxation"?  The notes on the back cover absolutely sealed the deal, as they made me wonder if the whole exercise had been some sort of knowing pisstake - here they are in full:
"Ah, the excitement as you narrowly miss the threatening rocks around you whilst the racing water below attempts to engulf you at every turn... You are ready to relax - the wondrous sounds of nature await you..."
So how much excitement/relaxation is really to be had on this hour-long recording?  To be perfectly honest, it sounds like an hour of someone recording some birds by the side of a fast-flowing river, and I ended up quite enjoying it on those terms.  Whether someone involved in the CD release just then shoehorned in the whole rafting thing for the tourist market (other releases in the series covered camping, sailing in the Great Barrier Reef and morning in the Outback).... who knows.  As fans of Loon Talk and Frog Talk will be aware, I live for these kind of little oddities whenever they present themselves.  Oh, and in the inside cover was a list of musical releases by a related label - if I ever manage to get my hands on 'Yodelling Down Under' - you lucky, lucky people....

mega / zippy

Monday, 19 June 2017

Iancu Dumitrescu / Ana-Maria Avram / George Astalos - Musique de Paroles (1993)

Mark your SGTG bingo cards, folks - we're following up Iannis with Iancu & Ana-Maria.  Took me ages to track this one down, and it was worth it.  Astree Lontaine is first up, a fine orchestral Dumitrescu work that stands up with the best of his large-scale works of the 80s and early 90s, e.g. Grande Ourse - the ominous droning and screeching suggesting a haunted orchestra pit.  Later on, there's a solo work apiece from the two composers - Avram's Archae for voice, and Dumitrescu's Holzwege for viola.

In between is the album's centrepiece Symetries, a half-hour long suite of five pieces based on writings by George Astalos (1933-2014), a Romanian poet and playwright who settled in Paris (I'm guessing that's why all the words are in French).  Dumitrescu and Avram take turns at filling out the sonic backdrop, as French literary-spoken word performer Pierre Lamy intones the texts on a ghostly bed of reverb and other effects.  Haunting stuff and very effective, even if you're not fluent in French - I'm certainly too rusty to get much out of Astalos' texts, but I still enjoyed these settings a lot.  The one that's stuck with me most is Magma, with Avram's bubbling and sputtering electronics.
mega / zippy

Friday, 16 June 2017

Iannis Xenakis - Orchestral Works & Chamber Music (2000 compilation)

Been meaning to post this one for ages.  As regular readers will know, Iannis Xenakis may be my favourite composer of all time, has featured here a few times and will continue to do so.  This 2000 compilation on the Col Legno label is a great career-spanning overview, from a vintage 1955 recording of Metastaseis (1953/4) Xenakis' breakthrough work in mathematical composition that evoked the horrors of war, right through to a 1996 recording of Ioolkos, written that year and a fine example of his late work.

Bookending this disc are two of Xenakis' large scale epic pieces, Ata (1987) for 89 musicians, and the stunning fireworks of Jonchaies (1977) for no less than 109 - both essential listening for anyone who was as amazed by Terretektorh/Nomos Gamma as I was.  As promised in the album title though, this is balanced out well by Charisma (1971) for clarinet and cello, here in the original recording by the great Siegfried Palm, and the truly odd N'Shima (1975) for two amplified mezzo-sopranos and a quintet.  Ligeti aficionados will definitely appreciate the hazy, queasy microtonal collissions in the latter.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Fred Frith - Guitar Solos (1974)

Solo debut from guitar/prepared-guitar legend Fred Frith, who'd go on to become an institution in the British (and worldwide) avant-garde, playing on hundreds of records.  Back in 1974, when he was a member of Rock In Opposition pioneers Henry Cow, Frith stepped into the studio alone for four days and recorded Guitar Solos - no overdubs, and only a couple of vague ideas with which to shape these eight improvised pieces.

After a short bouncy introduction, the album moves into more muted, atmospheric territory with the hovering-UFO feel of Glass c/w Steel.  The overall mood of the album largely stays there, bar two brief outings for the fuzz pedal.  If I had to pick favourites on this great little record, they're both in its second half - Hollow Music, perhaps the most recognisable as an instrumental guitar piece with lots of nice harmonics; and the epic closer, No Birds.  Over 12 minutes, a shimmering halo of sound builds up into a great atmospheric space, as Frith uses two guitars laid side by side, using his bespoke extra pickups and an echo unit to make it sound so unique.
CD reissue cover
mega / zippy

Monday, 12 June 2017

Kenny Wheeler - Double, Double You (1984)

Let's stick around with 80s ECM for another post - and a fine set of tunes from the late Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014), the Canadian-transplanted-to-UK trumpeter who wholly deserves to be namedropped as often as much more familiar names on the instrument.

Four months on from the legendary Jarrett trio recordings that we ended last week with, Jack DeJohnette found himself back in the same studio to give another rock-solid performance - but the real supporting star here as far as I'm concerned is pianist John Taylor, especially on the triptych of songs that takes up the whole second half of the album.  Wheeler and Taylor had of course worked together in Azimuth (I'll post a few of their albums eventually, but if memory serves I think Opium Hum did the essential first one not long ago) and were on telepathic form by this point.

Still haven't mentioned the absolute highlight of Double, Double You - the 14-minute opener, Foxy Trot.  Superbly constructed, with a lengthy, winding theme that constantly seems just about to trip over its own feet before it eventually slams back into the major key to resolve itself into a wonderfully memorable hook.  Everyone sounds great on this one.  Yes, even Michael Brecker, who I ordinarily wouldn't have much interest in - this record appears to have been his sole ECM appearance, and it's a good one all round.

mega / zippy

Friday, 9 June 2017

Keith Jarrett Trio - Setting Standards: New York Sessions (2008 compi, rec. 1983)

This blog's had a decent sprinkling of Keith, Gary & Jack doing their thing in concert - see Changeless, Blue Note and Tokyo '96 - so here's the original studio blueprint for the Standards Trio, when they first recorded in a NYC studio at the beginning of 1983.  Three albums' worth of material ensued, and for the Standards Trio's 25th anniversary all three were reissued in this handy box.

It wasn't the first time ever that these three musicians had played together - that was a Peacock-led date in 1977.  This however was the moment when they chanced on the proposition (without even planning - see below!) that what jazz needed in 1983 was a back-to-basics Great American Songbook investigation, and one that breathed fresh life into these classic songs, making them sound freshly minted.  Case in point - the 15 minute joyous romp through Billie Holiday's God Bless The Child that ends the first disc here, originally released later in 1983 as Standards Vol. 1.

Apparently the recording session began with no rehearsal or song choices - they just simply played, and ended up with two hours' worth of standards and improvisations.  The two improvisations were in fact the next to be released, as Changes (1984) - an inspired, free-form album (Disc 3 in this box set) that built into this Standards Trio's modus operandi that they'd always leave room to improvise and run with a mood if it took them.  Changeless, as mentioned above, would be the next installment of that.  Lastly, in 1985, the cool and contemplative Standards Vol. 2 (Disc 2 here) was released, and was possibly the most successful album in creating an extended, unified mood reminiscent of Bill Evans' great trios.
original album covers
Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy
Disc 3 mega / Disc 3 zippy

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Einstürzende Neubauten - Perpetuum Mobile (2004)

Posted some early Einstürzende Neubauten a while ago, so here's something more recent which remains one of my favourite albums from the last decade.  EN's first album of the millennium, Silence Is Sexy, had been widely hailed as a return to form, even a reboot, and this follow-up streamlined the sound even further.  Where this group had once been notorious for its full metal racket, there was now room to breathe - and indeed the plastic tubing with air-compressors sound of this era is the first thing you hear in Ich gehe jetzt.  Later on, Ozean und Brandung is three minutes of pure air, leading straight into one of the most gorgeous ballads on this album of new subtleties, Paradisseits.

Plenty of the glorious metal percussion of old remains, driving the rhythms of album highlights Ein seltner Vogel, Selbsportrait mit Kater (a perfect illustration of a blinding hangover if ever there was one), and the epic title track.  Perpetuum Mobile itself is a brilliant 13-minute travelogue, taking in flights, airport walkways, taxis and trains in a constant motion that alternates between a frenetic dash to meet the next connection and an only marginally slower brisk stroll.  This album is unmissable for that alone, and contains enough variety and strong, mature songwriting to make it a highlight in the Neubauten catalogue.

mega / zippy

Monday, 5 June 2017

Ivana Stefanović - Inner Landscape (1996 compi of works 1979-1992)

Handy three-work intro to Serbian composer Ivana Stefanović (b. 1948 in Belgrade), who studied at IRCAM in Paris before starting work at Radio Belgrade, where she founded a Sound Workshop in 1985.  She's frequently described as a primarily radiophonic composer (the CD booklet uses the phrase multiple times), so we'll go for that as the category for this fascinating album.

First up is Interpretation Of A Dream (1983/4) for solo flute, tape and female speaking voices.  Starting out with pure flute tones, the piece quickly goes a bit Maggi Payne with the effects, before introducing urgent whispered voices a la Homotopy-era NWW - the more percussive noises of the flute and other odd, echoing sounds also have a bit of Stapletonian feel.  The voices in this unsettling dream recount fragments of The Poet's Prayer by Vesna Krmpotić and Rosa Luxemburg's Letters From Prison.  The second work, Whither With A Bird In The Palm (1979/80), for percussion and tape, has a similarly dark atmosphere, sometimes recalling the Bartok Adagio made famous by Stanley Kubrick (in The Shining) and others.  The great range of percussive sounds is bit like a tape-manipulated reduction of that Yoshihiro Kanno album I posted a little while ago.

The most epic work is saved for last - 32 minutes of Metropolis Of Silence/Ancient Ras (1991/2), described as a radiophonic sound poem.  According to the sleevenotes, "This composition was taped in the recording studio after a year of field research of live sound fossils etched into the remnants of the medieval Serbian town of Ras and its surroundings."  After opening with sounds of nature, the sonic landscape comes to life with the voices of the Renaissance Ensemble, who performed vocal and musical improvisations in the open spaces of the town remnants and the Sopoćani and Crna Reka monasteries.  Fascinating stuff to listen to on headphones, with the extended length letting the concept really take effect, before it all ends by a flowing river.

mega / zippy

Friday, 2 June 2017

Palestrina - Missa Papae Marcelli / Missa Brevis (rec. 1988)

Founded in England in 1980, Hyperion Records have been keen on early music and Renaissance music right from the start, and have since become an institution in the world of classical recordings.  Also, an absolute ton of their early CDs seem to turn up in charity shops near me, meaning that these great recordings can be had for a couple of quid.  Or, in this case, £1.50.

Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina (ca. 1525-1594) was one of the most celebrated and influential composers of the Roman School of Rennaissance polyphony, and sounds pretty damn heavenly on two of his most famous masses represented here.  The text is crystal clear (one of the church's bones of contention at the time; Palestrina was adept at keeping in line whilst still producing music more sophisticated than most of his contemporaries) and the Westminster choir sound pretty damn angelic.  One for anyone who enjoyed the Hilliard disc I posted a little while ago, or indeed for anyone wanting to luxuriate in some of the most beautiful sounds on earth.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Steve Hackett - Please Don't Touch (1978)

For the title track of his first post-Genesis album, and second overall, Steve Hackett gave the following directions: "For maximum effect this track should be listened to as loudly as possible with as much treble and bass as your system can muster - not to be played to people with heart conditions or those in severely hallucinogenic states of mind."  And the track in question definitely packs a punch, framed perfectly as the centrepiece of a three-part instrumental suite.

Please Don't Touch, the full album, is a curious thing - almost like a series of picture frames that don't quite make for a coherent gallery, but still form a satisfying collection.  I've been listening to this album for more than any other in the last six weeks, so seemed obvious to feature it here.  Hackett set out his stall here with a great mix of his strengths in playing, composing, and full-on songwriting, with a well-picked supporting cast.

The vocal talents of Richie Havens, Randy Crawford and Steve Walsh (from Kansas) gave the album an oddly transatlantic feel right from the start, as Walsh sings lead on the C.S. Lewis-inspired Narnia (specifically, Lucy and Edmund's respective discoveries of the land beyond the wardrobe).  This is followed up by another literary tribute, this time to Agatha Christie - Hackett obscured his own vocals à la Laughing Gnome, which grates a little, but the track is musically brilliant with its memorable organ motif.  You could imagine this more English-sounding, whimsical track appearing on a Genesis record (like the title track nearly did).  From then on, the gear shifts into Racing In A, a solid piece of AOR with Walsh on lead vocal again.

A heavy 'and don't miss...' quotient for this great little record: the brief instrumental Kim (Hackett's then-wife), showing the writer's debt to Erik Satie; the gorgeous soul ballad Hoping Love Will Last fronted by Randy Crawford; and Richie Havens' two great contributions.  Think I've now covered every track actually, so I'll wind up there.  I love this album.

mega / zippy

Monday, 29 May 2017

Hans Otte - Das Buch der Klänge / Stundenbuch / Face à Face (2006 compi)

German composer Hans Otte (1926-2007) penned his masterwork for piano, Das Buch der Klänge (The Book Of Sounds) between 1979-82.  It's been recorded a few times since by other performers, but this is the composer's own reference recording from November 1983.  A comparison for starters might be Philip Glass' solo piano work, but it's The Book Of Sounds that I keep coming back to if I want to drift away to minimal piano heaven - it's just so much more satisfying.

Otte was particularly interested here in rediscovering the piano "as an instrument of timbre and tuneful sound with all its possibilities of dynamics, colour and resonance", and pretty much does so for 75 gorgeous minutes.  If I had to pick an oustanding favourite, it's Part 10, but the whole thing is best experienced together, at your leisure.

On this 2006 compilation, not only was Book Of Sounds presented for the first time on CD at full length (Parts 2 and 10 were snipped on old discs, presumably to stay under the 74-minute limit on early CDs), but also accompanied by Otte's other major piano work, Stundenbuch (The Book Of Hours) (1991-98), four books each holding twelve little minatures.  Musically, they're not quite as accessible as the Sounds pieces, and none of the 48 pieces last long enough to make a great impression, but taken together Hours is still an interesting experiment in harmonics and texture, that I sometimes listen to on shuffle to try and land on sections that I might have previously overlooked.  And stick around for the bonus at the very end of Disc 2 for a fine example of Otte's early avant-garde work - Face à Face (composed and recorded 1965) is an engrossing 15 minutes of percussive piano noises and tape manipulation.

Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy

Friday, 26 May 2017

Tangerine Dream - Force Majeure (1979)

Here's some more Tangerine Dream, as I continue to take a voyage of rediscovery through their years on Virgin Records - and this is one of the most atypical albums they made.  Well, apart from the predecessor Cyclone of course, with its not-entirely-successful experiment in having a vocalist.  By September 1978, Steve Joliffe was gone, but drummer Klaus Krieger/Krüger was retained for this minor masterpiece of instrumental prog.

From the discordant intro onwards, Force Majeure is an album full of dramatics and forward momentum, and the title suite runs through its sections with grace and power, and an interesting neo-classical style of composition (particularly in the last five minutes) that saw TD move farther and farther away from free-floating improvisation.  Following this 18-minute masterpiece is the shortest track, Cloudburst Flight, a great guitar showcase for Edgar Froese (both acoustic and some of his most stinging electric lead work).

Lastly, the 14 minutes of Thru Metamorphic Rocks are essential TD as well, having the most in common with the sequencer-based electronic work they'd broken through with.  After a melodic four-minute intro, the sequencer quickly hits warp speed and doesn't let up - Chris Franke would remain justifiably proud of this as one of his favourite pieces the group ever made.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Vangelis - Soil Festivities (1984)

Often underrated, coming in after a run of legendary, indelible soundtracks (Chariots Of Fire, Antarctica; not to mention Blade Runner, which wouldn't get a proper album release til much later), Vangelis' 1984 release was this great album.  Soil Festivities conceptually put the natural world under the microscope, reflected in its artwork (rear cover below, not to mention the jumping beetle on the front).  Vangelis described it as just the album he wanted to make, "rather than sell a million records", and the result was a classic that I reckon ranks among his very best.

The five 'Movements' that make up the album open with the longest, at 17 minutes, as storm clouds give way to a rainforest teeming with life, centred around an insistent pulse as the track opens up to all the warm, melodic synth washes and odd little sounds you'd expect from Vangelis.  In the closing minutes, this gives way an elegaic electric piano section and more rain.  The second movement is similarly melodic and insistent; both of these tracks would be perfect documentary soundtrack material for a marching army of ants or suchlike.

The second half of the album is more dark and dramatic, especially in the very soundtrack-like Movement 3.  The most minimal track, like a trip back through time to life in a primordial soup, Movement 4 is based around a slow, repetitive minor-key sequence that would appeal to Tangerine Dream fans, but it's unmistakably Vangelis.  Lastly, Movement 5 is more lively again, led by an almost jazzy electric piano.  Soil Festivities is gorgeous, highly listenable 80s electronics of the highest order - recommended.

mega / zippy

Monday, 22 May 2017

Górecki, Satie, Milhaud, Bryars - O Domina Nostra (rec. 1992, rel. 1993)

Christopher Bowers-Broadbent's Trivium seemed to go down well the other week, so here's the organist's second ECM New Series release, again focusing on just three well-chosen composers.  The most striking difference with this album is that he's also joined for two pieces by Sarah Leonard, an English soprano with a particular interest in contemporary classical music, to great effect.

First up is the Górecki work that gives the album its name.  O Domina Nostra (1982-1985/90) takes inspiration from the iconography in a Polish monastery, and making stunning use of the deep organ drones set against the developing soprano part.  The organist is then featured solo in a vocal-less version of Erik Satie's Messe des Pauvres (1895) and a couple of Darius Milhaud Preludes from 1942, before Sarah Leonard returns for the stunning finale - Gavin Bryars' The Black River (1991), with its text from Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  Compared to the Trivium album, this collection is much more about subtlety and gradual shifts in atmosphere, making it a fascinating feast for the ears.

mega / zippy

Friday, 19 May 2017

Raum-Musik für Saxophone - Doubles (2005)

Raum-Musik für Saxophone, based in Karlsruhe, are a German-Dutch group of nine saxophonists who were founded in 1985 and like to play in large spaces to exploit their natural acoustic characteristics.  The first part of their name is also the preferred descriptor: spatial music. 

For their 20th anniversary, the group decided to record two concerts a week apart, firstly moving through the rooms of the Badische Kunstverein art gallery with both ambient and contact microphones.  These sounds were then used for the second concert in the ZKM Cube hall, with a 'loudspeaker orchestra' playing in Kunstverein recordings whilst the musicians played live again over the top.

The final results were released on this 52-minute album of 11 untitled tracks.  Whilst you clearly had to be there to appreciate the full spatial effects of all these sound sources interacting together, what you do get on CD is still an intriguing and highly-listenable document of the concert in the Cube.  No-one gets too overly noisy, skronky or free-jazzy (track 5 is about as lively as it gets); the players seem content for the most part to just enjoy the various live and recorded sax sounds wafting around in the echoing space, making for a recording that lends itself to repeat listens.

So what, then, was this CD of a 2005 double-concert of ambient sax trails doing sitting in an Edinburgh charity shop in May 2017, surrounded by piles of indie/chart/dance compilations?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I'm glad I spotted it.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Kaija Saariaho - Graal Théâtre, Solar, Lichtbogen (2002)

Some more Kaija Saariaho, as promised when I put up the other album of her music that I have.  This 2002 release was recorded the year previous.  First up is Graal théâtre (1997), a two-part violin concerto, followed by Solar (1993), an ensemble piece with small parts for two synths, one playing quarter tone metallic bells sounds and the other fleshing out the piano and percussion. 

Lastly, the highlight of this programme for me is definitely Lichtbogen, or arc of light, inspired by seeing the Aurora Borealis in the Arctic sky.  This one dates from 1986 when Saariaho was working much more deeply with computer software manipulations of sound.  It's a stunning, 16-minute haze of shifting light and texture, especially as it goes on and the sound gets more and more eerily transformed.  Recommended, as are the other two works on the album.  Another great example of this composer's unique sonic signature.

mega / zippy

Monday, 15 May 2017

la! NEU? - Zeeland (Live '97) (1997)

Second album from Klaus Dinger's loose, improvisatory 90s ensemble.  Despite the title, this isn't a proper live album like the Kunsthalle concert, but a live-in-the-studio effort.  Zeeland was the first la! NEU? album I bought, and it remains a favourite, with more than enough sweetness and charm to forgive the rough edges.

The album kicks off with To Get You Real, centred on a couple of riffs from Dinger's heavily reverbed guitar, and Viktoria Wehrmeister alternatively singing an insistent single line over one riff, and overlaying the other one with subtle, cooing vocalese.  Following that are two lengthy jams that focus more on electronics, the first one mellow, bouncy and gently melodic, the second more rough and uptempo.

After this, there's another rather sweet, if characteristically underdeveloped Dinger song, Satellite, before a bit of a grab-bag of odd inclusions: a thirty-second trailer for the forthcoming solo album by keyboardist Rembrandt Lensink, a rough demo of an elegaic performance by Dinger's mother, Renate, and six minutes of Insekt, an electronics and voice improv.  The final track, another long guitar-based song, is worth sticking around for though.  Silly Face is a wistful, closing-time gaze into an empty glass, like the Velvet Underground's After Hours slowed down to a sleepy crawl.  Wehrmeister's vocal is suitably slurred-sounding, but the affecting lyrics are still comprehensible, and the end result, set to a gentle tambourine tap, is quite lovely.

mega / zippy

Friday, 12 May 2017

Conlon Nancarrow - Studies For Player Piano, Vols. 1-4 (rec. 1977)

I'd been seeing the name Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997) crop up for a while, and decided to take the plunge a little while ago.  What I've been struck by, perhaps to an even greater degree than with Harry Partch, is some of the most unique, single-minded music ever created.  There might be fewer instruments here than in Partch - just two slightly modified player-pianos - but Nancarrow's music is so stunningly original I could probably listen to it for the rest of my life and it would still sound fresh.

Starting from an early Art Tatum influence, but already with much more ambitious 'sliding' tempi, Nancarrow went on to develop an interest in the canon structures of J.S. Bach, taking them to the nth degree and far beyond the limits of human playability.  If you're interested in more detail on the theoretical side of this style of composition, the YouTube video below explains it beautifully - and/or you can just go ahead and download these four volumes of  Nancarrow's music that he supervised in 1977 and released one at a time in the next few years after.

The sequencing of each album is wonderfully effective - Volume 1 kicks off with one of the most accessible Studies, No. 3, aka the Boogie-Woogie Suite.  The sheer joy and exhilaration in this 15-minute stretch of Nancarrow's music alone was enough to get me hooked - and three hours worth, of wildly varying complexity, harmony, and breathtaking rhythm/tempo, is just sheer bliss.  Unreservedly recommended.

Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy
Disc 3 mega / Disc 3 zippy
Disc 4 mega / Disc 4 zippy

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Popol Vuh - Aguirre (rel. 1975)

Time for more Popol Vuh, in the form of the 1975 soundtrack album (of sorts) for Werner Herzog's 1972 film Aguirre, Wrath Of God.  I really ought to see the movie again sometime, as I haven't for years and suspect there's a lot more to it than just the memory I have of Klaus Kinski gurning menacingly on a river raft.  This album does get regular rotation of course, if not quite as often as the peerless studio albums surrounding it in the Vuh catalogue.

Aguirre the album, then, is not quite a soundtrack, more of a compilation/outtakes album; at least we get the most stunning piece from the film featured in two takes here, with 'choir organ' played by US organist Jimmy Jackson (who'd also played with Amon Düül II and Embryo). Besides this, Morgengruss from Einsjäger & Siebenjäger is featured in a slightly different mix, as is an instrumental version of 'Sohn Gottes' from Seligpreisung.  These two tracks might post-date the film, but they sit nicely enough on this album.  Apparently Fricke just liked having the wider exposure for certain pieces of his music.

And don't miss the final 16-minute Vergegenwärtigung, which dates right back to the In Den Gärten Pharaos era of Moog-synth dominated Popol Vuh in all its spacy formlessness.  If you listen hard enough, there's occasional bits of the main Aguirre theme buried far down in the mix - I missed this completely for ages until someone else's review pointed it out.

mega / zippy

Monday, 8 May 2017

Thomas Demenga / Heinz Reber - Cellorganics (rec. 1980, rel. 1981)

Staying in the ECM organ zone for today, and adding a cello.  That cello is the first sound you hear on this recording from October 1980, tentatively staking out its naturally-reverbed territory (in Pauluskirche, Bern) before the organ gradually fills the rest of the space.  From then on, these two Swiss composer-musicians create a perfectly-balanced dialogue, sometimes quiet and reflective, but able to work up to a full-on maelstrom when necessary.  A great combination of two unusually-paired instruments, that needless to say for ECM, sounds absolutely stunning.

mega / zippy

Friday, 5 May 2017

Arvo Pärt, Peter Maxwell Davies, Philip Glass - Trivium (rec. 1990, rel. 1992)

Time to crank up the speakers or headphones as far as they (and you) can tolerate, and enjoy an hour of total sonic immersion in the playing of English organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent.  He recorded this programme for ECM in 1990 on the organ of Grossmünster church in Zurich as a "performance about time and space", focusing on just three modern composers.

Four stunning pieces by Arvo Pärt are followed by two short palete-cleansers in the form of Peter Maxwell-Davies' arrangements of 16th-century Scottish hymns, before Bowers-Broadbent truly blows the roof off in two great Glass works.  Firstly, there's an organ arrangement of the finale from the opera Satyagraha.  Then finally, Glass' 80s organ piece Dance No. 4 gets the full-bodied workout in deserves.  If I knew more about how the musical structure of this masterpiece develops, I'd briefly describe it - but then that might detract from the sheer majesty of just letting yourself get lost in it for its 15 sublime minutes.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Roedelius - Lustwandel (rec. 1979, rel. 1981)

Hans-Joachim Roedelius' third studio album was very much cut from the same cloth as his second, Jardin Au Fou, and in fact they were both recorded in 1979 at Peter Baumann's Paragon Studio.  With its heavy focus on piano-led minatures, Lustwandel is even more lushly romantic than Jardin, and electronics take a back seat to provide only occasional colouring.  There's fascinating use of odd bits of percussion too, in tracks like the slight mood-breaker Wilkommen - but even the marching rhythm of that piece sounds more like it's heralding a medieval banquet rather than a march to battle.

Other than that, and longest track Langer Atem, Lustwandel, perhaps even more so than Jardin, is the pick of Roedelius' early records when it comes to pure mellow gorgeousness.  I'm writing all this on a Sunday morning with a cool spring breeze coming in the window, and it fits perfectly.

mega / zippy

Monday, 1 May 2017

Joji Yuasa - Piano Works & Tape Music (compi of works spanning '57-'72)

Joji Yuasa (b. 1929, Koriyama) is a wide-ranging Japanese composer, with a particular niche in pioneering electronic/electroacoustic work.  This handy sampler is preceded by a trio of piano pieces, recorded in 1973 by Yuji Takahashi, that are worth a listen, but the remaining 48 minutes of this compilation are mindblowing, and I'll definitely be seeking out more of Yuasa's tape music.

First up is Music For Space Projection, created for the 'Fiber Pavilion' at the 1970 World's Fair in Osaka.  A choppy brass fanfare announces the 15-minute hallucinatory nightmare of orchestral fragments and electronic sounds, like a much more striking, dramatic companion to Xenakis' Hibiki-Hana-Ma  from the same event.

Then there's two great examples of Yuasa's work produced in the NHK Electronic Music Studio in the 60s.  Voices Coming chops and mutates various snatches of telephone conversation, suddenly switching in its last four minutes to words of much more historical weight, focusing on speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr, this work coming from the year after his assassination.  Lastly, "Icon" On The Source Of White Noise from 1966 is fairly self-explanatory, and hisses with great clouds of processed sound for its 13 minutes.  A highly recommended introduction to a trailblazer in sonic manipulation.

mega / zippy

Friday, 28 April 2017

Kraftwerk - Electric Café (1986)

Staying in the German-electronic-80s zone for the time being, here's a not-so-classic album that I've been trying to give an honest re-evaluation.  And to be honest, it still sounds great.  Once the rhythms of Boing Boom Tschak really kick in I always wish it could be twice as long; the rest of that Techno Pop/Musique Non Stop suite is great too, probably their last great extended/conceptual work; and the last three tracks are at least entertaining.  In fact, Der Telefon Anruf/The Telephone Call always strikes me as another quite touching portrait of loneliness and isolation, from the same narrator as on Computer Love five years earlier.  No such redeeming features on Sex Object, unfortunately; especially not those truly hideous bass sounds.

zippy / mega

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Tangerine Dream - Logos: Live At The Dominion, London (1982)

As promised last week, some more live TD - this time taken from a concert in London on 6 November 1982.  By this point, Peter Baumann was gone, and his replacement, Johannes Schmoelling, well integrated into the group.  The TD sound had updated from the long-form improvisations of the 70s into something much sleeker and polished, but Logos is still a cracking live set to listen to. 

For release, the material from the concert that already appeared on studio albums was snipped out, leaving just the great little encore-finale (which always makes me think more of Jean-Michel Jarre than TD) and the new 'Logos' suite, with its sections named by colours - respectively, Cyan, Velvet (not quite a colour, but whatever), Red, Blue, Black, Green and Yellow, bookended by an intro & coda. 

These contrasting sections offer plenty of variety across the suite's 45 minute duration: highlights for me include the dark ambience of Intro, Cyan and Black; the longest stretch (Red), from about 12-20 minutes into the piece, which looks forward to Hyperborea, and the uptempo section towards the end (Yellow), its rhythms more suited to the dancefloor than the stoner futon.

zippy / mega

Monday, 24 April 2017

Charles Lloyd - Forest Flower: At Monterey, 1966 (rel. 1967)

Speaking of Keith Jarrett... nearly thirty years prior to that trio date in Tokyo, he appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival in his early sideman role to the great Charles Lloyd.  Showing great promise even then, Jarrett fills out the clipped, Latin rhythm (Jack DeJohnette's here too) of the 'Forest Flower' suite as the perfect foil to Lloyd's warm, mellifluous tenor sax.

Jarrett ups the groove whenever Lloyd takes a more free flight and takes an assured solo early in the 'Sunset' section, and even plucking the piano strings towards the end.  The fact that I've mostly made this writeup all about Jarrett clearly shows I need to listen more widely to Charles Lloyd (his flute playing on the Jarrett composition Sorcery is also superb), so consider that my homework.

zippy / mega

Friday, 21 April 2017

Keith Jarrett Trio - Tokyo '96 (rel. 1998)

From the intermittent SGTG tradition known as Jazz Piano Friday, some more Jarrett, Peacock & DeJohnette on rollicking form at the Orchard Hall, Tokyo on 30 March 1996.  By the time ECM released it two years later, Jarrett was laid low with ME/CFS, but would fortunately recover in time to take the Standards Trio into the 21st century for more transformed songbook classics and extended improvs.  Highlights on this particular release include the turbo-charged It Could Happen To You and Billie's Bounce in the first half, and the two Jarrett originals - Caribbean Sky and Song - that are effortlessly segued from standards at the end.

zippy / mega

Previously posted at SGTG: Changeless / Blue Note June 4, 1994

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Nurse With Wound & others - Angry Eelectric Finger (Spitch'cock One) (2004)

Sampler for a series of collaborative albums, spawned by Steven Stapleton giving chunks of NWW raw material to a select group of acquaintances.  Review, written by me for Head Heritage shortly after the release of this CD, can be found here (published 13 years ago today!).  Needs a bit of editing if I'm honest, being about five times as long as the average SGTG writeup... and despite saying I couldn't wait to hear the rest of the project, I've still to get around to it, for shame.  Anyone heard the other installments? Worth picking up?

zippy / mega

Monday, 17 April 2017

Tangerine Dream - Encore (1977)

Been rediscovering Tangerine Dream lately, so here's the first of a couple of live albums that number among my favourites (Logos coming up next week).  Forty years ago this month, Froese, Franke and Baumann were touring the US recording the material that would be used for Encore, with their great washes of mellotron and rhythmic sequencer work at its height on these four side-long tracks.

Coldwater Canyon is possibly the best of the best for me here, especially with Froese letting rip on lead guitar, and the mellow, meditative finale of Desert Dream is a classic too for highlighting the more atmospheric side of TD, with only a short sequencer section at the very end.

alt. link (zippy)

Saturday, 15 April 2017