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.
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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