Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Iancu Dumitrescu/Ana-Maria Avram - Ouranos II, Gnosis etc. (1997)

This is the twelfth post I've done of Iancu's & Ana-Maria's music, and I'm still finding that my favourite releases of theirs are the first run of CDs from the 90s (featuring both works from that decade, and before).  Still got to pick up some of the most recent ones though, so may find stuff that I love even more there.  Tragically, of course, there'll be no more new music from Ana-Maria Avram, who died a year ago at 55.

Here's one from 1997, kicking off with a fresh work for twelve cellos, tape and percussion, Ouranos II.  The piece begins and ends with sinister, faraway rattlings, with everything in between ripping holes in the universe in customary style.  Iancu's other works on this collection are Gnosis (1988) for double bass, like a version of Medium III without all the distortion, and two versions of Orion (1978) for percussion ensemble.

Two works from Ana-Maria: first is a string orchestra piece, New Swarms (1992).  Alternatively swarming like millions of robot bees and settling down into more conventional string writing, it wrings out just about every possible sound from its instruments in the space of ten minutes.  Closing the album is Labyrinthe I (1997) for strings and tape, which is probably my personal highlight of the collection.  The swirling, alien sound of the tape manipulation takes the string scrapings and rattlings to a place not a million miles from the 80s Nurse With Wound universe.

mega / zippy

Monday, 17 September 2018

la! NEU? - Year Of The Tiger (1998)

The final la! NEU? post!  Fittingly, Year Of The Tiger, named after the furry postcard sent to Dinger (pictured on the cover), was their final studio release.  It appeared in 1998 just after Goldregen, but in contrast to that album's fully acoustic aesthetic, it focused on the electronic, beat-driven side of la! NEU?.  Also in contrast to Goldregen's short pieces, Year Of The Tiger consists of just two tracks, one of which is 32 minutes long and the other 33.

Before these, there's a minute-long 'trailer' for Blue Point Underground, a group based around krautrock legend Eberhard Kranemann, who Dinger had just reconnected with.  They produced one album for Captain Trip, which I've still to hear.  Back with la! NEU? though, and in late 1997 then began work on fleshing out a long keyboard piece of Rembrandt Lensink's with Dinger's drumming, Viktoria Wehrmeister's vocals and a hell of a lot of phasing effects.  The result, Autoportrait Rembrandt, grooves along nicely with enough variety to not outstay its welcome, and was performed again at the final la! NEU? concert.

Also featuring at the Kunsthalle gig, effectively giving the listener a full live version of Year Of The Tiger to compare & contrast, was Notre Dame.  The original studio version here fills its epic running time with a drum loop, mellow guitars from Dinger and his 80s guitarist Spinello, and a gorgeous vocal performance from Viktoria.  Little bits of electronics, cheerful conversation and other ambient sounds drop in and out as the piece goes on, all adding up to possibly the most lovely extended track in the la! NEU? catalogue.

mega / zippy

la! NEU? complete catalogue at SGTG: Düsseldorf | Tokyo '96 Live | Zeeland | Goldregen | Year Of The Tiger (this post) | Live At Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

Friday, 14 September 2018

George Winston - Autumn (1980)

Long overdue a solo piano Friday round here, so here's an absolutely gorgeous one whose time has come, with its titular season setting in.  The second album by Michigan native George Winston, Autumn was recorded some seven years after his 'Ballads And Blues' debut after playing some of his music to Windham Hill boss William Ackerman.  It kickstarted a hugely successful career in solo piano recordings for Winston, and helped make Windham Hill into a New Age household name.

I guess it's debatable whether this this is actually New Age music per se - to my ECM-centric mind, Winston's a more accessible Keith Jarrett/Art Lande than anything else.  This isn't exactly jazz either though, despite strong influences detectable.  But categorizations aside (Winston himself prefers 'rural folk piano'), all that really matters is Autumn's 45 minutes of utterly evocative, stunningly beautiful piano music that suits background listening or full attentiveness equally well.  Its first half features three longer tracks including two 9-10 minute suites, with the four mostly shorter pieces on side two delving deeper into Winston's formative influences of blues and stride piano, and New Orleans R&B piano.  Immersive loveliness par excellence for watching the leaves starting to turn.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Philip Glass - Dance Nos. 1-5 (rec. 1979-86, rel. 1988)

In the aftermath of Einstein On The Beach's success and initial LP release, Philip Glass composed three 'Dances' for friend and choreographer Lucinda Childs, to be performed by his regular small ensemble.  Two of these, numbered 1 and 3, would comprise the follow-up to Einstein in Glass' discography (see LP cover below), and the remaining one would eventually be recorded in 1984 and appear as the closer to the 3LP/2CD set Dance Nos. 1-5 that was released in 1988.

Dance Nos. 1-5, which is today's post, interspersed these odd-numbered ensemble pieces with two solo organ works recorded in 1986.  Of these, Dance No. 4 became the best known and has been given several interpretations, including my personal favourite by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent.  The original take here, performed by the composer, is less grandiose and a bit more slow and deliberate, highlighting the gradual progression in the structure of the piece.  Dance No. 2, performed here by Michael Riesman, is an electric organ piece of similar length but closer in conception to the music of Einstein On The Beach, as if a piece from the opera had been stripped of all instruments but the keyboard.

Closer still to the sound of Einstein, and in some ways prefiguring Koyaanisqatsi, are Dances 1, 3 and 5.  Dance No. 1 is a flowing, rippling ocean of flutes and piccolo; No. 3 a chunkier, funkier sax-led work that is lots of fun to listen to.  Lastly, Dance No. 5 is a best-of-both-worlds that combines flute and sax, and has some structural similarities to the organ piece, No. 2.  All in all, an essential collection in Glass' discography for anyone wanting to tour the waystations between his most famous works of the late 70s through to late 80s.
Dance Nos. 1 & 3 - LP cover (1980)

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Monday, 10 September 2018

Van Morrison - Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983)

Some more 80s Van, still with Mark Isham on board (the latter sticking overwhelmingly to synths here), and seeking enlightenment in an even more introspective and meditative realm than on Common One.  Foregoing even words at times - clearly encouraged by the reception of Beautiful Vision (1982)'s closer Scandinavia - four of the tracks here are instrumentals, and the rest of the album is more lyrically sparse than any other in his canon.  Inarticulate Speech is a Van Morrison record consisting entirely of deep cuts - even the 'live favourite' is a mostly spoken-word catalogue of the poetic strive for the transcendent throughout history.  But like Common One, if you give such a sleeper album a nudge, it'll repay with sublime listening experiences from then on.

The opener Higher Than The World opens on clouds of Isham synth, with Morrison sounding initially overawed by some meditative state/spiritual experience before rejoicing in it.  This is followed by the first instrumental, Connswater; if it sounds a bit too Riverdancey for some ears, fear not - each subsequent instrumental will just get more and more wonderful.  The first part of the title track is (paced like most of the album) a sedate piano-led piece with only some wordless backing voices, and the second part's lyrics are mostly the title plus "I'm a soul in wonder".

On the fully-sung tracks, Van balances his metaphysical interests (in the album's first half) with evocations of home and childhood, and the power of memory and belonging (on the trio that sit together on side two).  With the stunning album closer September Night, he hits on a moodpiece so evocative that his voice becomes a primal cry.  Grab this album for these September nights and beyond, and it'll paint them in colours as stunning as nature.

mega / zippy

Friday, 7 September 2018

la! NEU? - Live At On Air West, Tokyo, 3 Dec 1996 (rel. 1998-9)

Continuing the la! NEU? posts from last week's feature of their debut release, today focuses on the three and a half hours of their second concert (the first, a day prior, remains unreleased; not sure if it was even recorded).  You'll notice the 'Vol. 2' in the artwork above; I'll be discussing these two albums in concert order, rather than release order.  Yep, 'Vol. 2' is the first half of the gig.

In a spectacular 'what could have been', this December 1996 trip to Japan was originally planned as a NEU! reunion, to which Michael Rother wouldn't commit.  Offering his new band instead, Dinger went to Osaka with Andreas Reihse, Viktoria Wehrmeister and the rest of the touring la! NEU? lineup he'd assembled, played the aforementioned first concert, then traveled to Tokyo the next day (the first 20 seconds of Disc 1 here) to set up at the On Air West venue (the following five minutes).

As with la! NEU?'s farewell performance in Düsseldorf, the introduction (here titled Tension) is a gentle ambient keyboard piece.  The calm is then blown away by the La Düsseldorf track Viva, in which lead guitarist Dirk Flader is particularly incendiary.  Dinger then asks if anyone knows Hero '96, presumably to check if anyone had bought the new album (that had only been out a couple days!), and a fine version of that track follows, with Wehrmeister finding a new confidence, even appearing to channel Patti Smith towards the end, swapping "piss on the industry"'s with Dinger.

On Disc 2, the concert progresses into an improvisational section for a total of 40 minutes, including Dinger playing a tape of music and talking that he'd received from a fan (a Brit-expat in the US), taking the democracy of his new group to an absurd conclusion.  la! NEU? return to their own music with the sweet, Dear Prudence-quoting Mayday, then the set looks backwards again - first to 1985 and America, and then...

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...all the way back to 1978, where it began.  At this point, some further listening instructions are required to follow the concert order: play Disc 2 of 'Cha Cha 2000, Live in Tokyo Vol. 1' first, and Disc 1 afterwards.  Crap, just realised that sentence, and the artwork above, are huge spoilers for the last song in the set.  Yeah, the last song.  Which takes up two CDs.  Think this is a bit overkill, even for Dinger?  That it'll get a bit boring at, what, 104 minutes?  Well, it's not for nothing that this is la! NEU?'s bestselling release.

Cha Cha 2000 Tokyo '96 is nothing less than Klaus Dinger's most epic expression of his greatest composition, and for me is just endlessly inspirational.  Each section of the original 20-minute song gets fully turned inside and out, and rather than played to death, played into new life by a group who were all adept at long-form improvisation, and would remain so.  It builds up and falls back endlessly, features loads of odd little extras (i.e. dropped in tapes, and at one point inviting audience members on to the stage to sing along) and at the start of Disc 1 (remember, the final part of the song and concert) has a beautifully extended quiet improv before the final buildup starts at the halfway point of the disc.  Is this the greatest Cha Cha ever?  You decide.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2018

John Lacey / COUM Transmissions - Music For Stocking Top, Swing & Staircase (rec. 1974, rel. 2014)

Staying in the mid-70s today, but on a completely different aural/artistic tangent.  Captured here are 80 minutes of lo-fi cassette recording, taping segments of a 1974 performance by proto-Throbbing Gristle performance art group COUM Transmissions.  Despite the co-crediting of COUM on this archive release, Genesis, Cosey and Sleazy aren't actually audibly featured (unless they're among the voices intermittently heard in conversation during the second track - I couldn't be sure, definitely can't pick out Gen's distinctive accent).

This instead is the soundtrack to COUM's performance (one of their less extreme and more playful ones, IIRC - unfortunately I can't find my copy of Wreckers Of Civilisation at the moment to check, and Cosey's book doesn't mention it).  The electronic sounds were performed by John Lacey, or John Gunni Busck to give him his COUM name.  Lacey, son of robotic artist Bruce (see 'Mr Lacey' by Fairport Convention), would reunite with Chris and Cosey eight years later for the proto-techno project CTI (Creative Technology Institute, not to be confused with Creed Taylor International!), but here he's on his own, playing self-built synths.

The sounds that Lacey conjures up vary from queasy drones to rhythmic pulses to murky splodges of sound; despite the spartan recording quality, it's all very listenable and enjoyable in its own right if you like DIY electronica from this era.  In fact, the recording quality pairs well with the sonic textures if you consider this as a precursor to the early TG sound, which it very much sounds like.  Lacey's electronic work here is a very worthwhile and recommended adjunct to the COUM/TG story, and kudos to the label Other Ideas for releasing this in 2014 (they don't appear to still have the files for sale, and the only other release was a limited-edition LP of the longer track, so I guess it's all 'out of print' now).

mega / zippy

Monday, 3 September 2018

Gong - Gazeuse! (1976)

A hugely enjoyable slab of mid-70s jazz rock, from the era of 'Pierre Moerlen's Gong', after the departure of Daevid Allen ended the ever-changing group's first psychedelic era.  Steve Hillage had departed too for his solo career by the time this album was recorded, and for this album was replaced by Allan Holdsworth.  An utterly unique guitar player and writer, Holdsworth's solo albums have been on my radar for ages but I'm never quite sure where to start - any suggestions welcome.

Holdsworth is the composer for two tracks on Gazeuse!, Night Illusion and Shadows Of, and both are great showcases for his stunning style.  The solo he unleashes about three minutes into the latter is particularly breathtaking.  The lion's share of the rest of the material is Moerlen's; as a sometime member of Les Percussions De Strasbourg, his percussive credentials formed the core of the Gong sound in this era.  The preponderance of mallet percussion on Gazeuse! makes it essential for fans of Frank Zappa's jazzier ventures, and perhaps even those of Steve Reich's percussive work.  Entirely befitting its title, this is a great little album that fizzes with effervescent energy and creativity throughout.
Alternate cover (USA, where the album was re-titled Expresso)
mega / zippy

Friday, 31 August 2018

Steve Hillage - Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

Basically an essential post to round up the recent spotlighting of Steve Hillage, and one of the most essential ambient albums ever made, full stop.  Synths and sequencers had been increasing in prominence from Motivation Radio to Green, and for their next studio album Steve & Miquette went all in with these two side-long instrumental pieces. 

Written for the Mind-Body-Spirit Festival that took place at the London Olympia from 21-29 April 1979, the album was released shortly before the event and credited its A side to Miquette Giraudy as composer, and B side to Hillage.  Fast forward a decade, and Hillage famously walks into a club's chillout room only to find the record being spun by Alex Patterson of The Orb, leading to Hillage & Giraudy's creative rebirth as System 7.

Rainbow Dome Musick's first half is called Garden Of Paradise, and it appears to be a garden with a stream running through it given the opening water sounds.  The gentle synths, electric piano and bells bubble and tinkle around, and at the halfway point the garden's birds burst into life, soaring and singing with Hillage's lead guitar part.  After the piece settles back down to the synths and fades away, the second half of the Dome experience is announced by a single bell, and the much, much trippier synths of Four Ever Rainbow start to worm their way into your subconscious.  Hillage sparingly plays mellow echo-guitar, but otherwise lets the womb-like electronics envelop the listener completely.  Beyond-essential ambience.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

la! NEU? - Düsseldorf (1996)

Will be completing my posts of the la! NEU? catalogue over the next few weeks, following a well-timed request (well-timed as in, I'm always up for a good Klaus Dinger binge).  So let's start from the beginning.  Following the breakup of Die Engel Des Herrn, Dinger jammed around a bit, including with new Düsseldorf group Kreidler, and for one session in December 1995 invited their drummer to join him and two members of the DEDH concert lineup.

The result was the 33 minutes of gloriously unhinged chaos that appears here as D. 22-12-95; what was just a fun jam session at the time wasn't intended for any serious release until the preparation of this album the following year.  Moments of motorik magic arise frequently from the free-for-all, and the freewheeling la! NEU? aesthetic was born.

Prior to this, in May 1995, Dinger had already recorded a solo track in which a deliberate Sister Ray homage became a cathartic diatribe against contemporary society and the music industry.  The acerbic fire of Néondian was very much still burning in Hero '96, titled for continuity with the original Hero of 1975.  Kreidler's keyboard player Andreas Reihse, who was to become a key member of la! NEU?, suggested a backing vocal overdub, and recommended his friend Viktoria Wehrmeister who was in another band, Superbilk.  Another piece of the la! NEU? puzzle clicked into place.

Now signed to the Japanese label Captain Trip, who were already reissuing Néondian and releasing DEDH material, Dinger completed the first la! NEU? album with two versions of his song Mayday, one with Reihse and one with Wehrmeister.  In the new band's short four-year lifespan, there were several more to come...

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG:
Gold Regen
Live at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf