Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Costin Cazaban - Flûtes À Vide, Zig-Zag etc (1998 compi of works 1975-86)

Today's trip into the spectralsphere comes courtesy of Costin Cazaban (1946-2009), a native of Bucharest who ended up settling in Paris to teach, write (as a musicologist and critic) and compose.  No large-scale orchestral fireworks on this, the only release solely dedicated to his works; instead, there's an aural feast of mostly solo instruments being transformed by electronic/tape treatments.

Fernando Grillo's bass playing, for instance, is more sonically reined in here than with Dumitrescu (but to be honest, so are almost all composers on earth), as the basslines and bass-clicks/clunks of Zig-Zag (1974) slip around in the echoing ether.  Parisian flautist Pierre-Yves Artaud is layered in multiple fragments across the liquid landscape of Flûtes À Vide (1986), becoming more percussive around the halfway mark; look out too for some of that same stuttering staccato writing that contemporary Doina Rotaru employed for Daniel Kientzy.

On the remainder of this disc, there's a couple of interesting chamber works, and sandwiched in between them is a Naturalia (1975), a fantastically odd piece for piano, treated piano sounds and strange vocal noises.  This fascinating collection really does reward repeated listens; Cazaban seems to have a had a remarkable talent for shaping a whole sound-world from all the different treated sounds he could record from just one instrument.  Recommended.

Croisements Recherches

Monday, 5 December 2016

Einstürzende Neubauten - Kalte Sterne - Early Recordings (2004 compi, rec. '80-'82)

Time for something nice and noisy again.  This handy primer for early Einstürzende Neubauten came out just over decade ago, and made a good companion for the earlier Strategies Against Architecture 80-83; all the early singles are here, including B-sides, in all their clanking, crashing glory.  The metallic racket hangs together around rudimentary synth stabs and bass guitar, and remains some of the headiest post-punk industrial brainmelt to come out of Europe (other than EN's early albums of course).  Blixa Bargeld is on elemental form on all but the second last track, Thirsty Animal, which features a supremely discomforting star turn from Lydia Lunch.

Leben ist illegal

Friday, 2 December 2016

Vyacheslav Artyomov - Elegies (1990 compi, rec. 1983/1987)

Been getting into Artyomov (b. 1940, Moscow) lately, so time to share.  This 1990 compilation brings together three complementary works for strings and percussion, and feels like an ideal entry point.  A rough comparison might be the Arvo Pärt of Cantus & Tabula Rasa; Artyomov definitely has a spiritual-mystic bent that he fuses perfectly with an interest in the music of Eurasian liturgy and folklore.

Both of the self-contained shorter works on this disc, Lamentations for strings, percussion, piano and organ (1985) and Gurian Hymn for three solo violins, strings and percussion (1986) are beautiful icy blasts of melancholy that are starting to sink in much more for me at this time of year than when I got the CD in high summer.  Long, mournful string lines and twinkling, eerie percussion giving way to solemn bell-tones are the order of the day for these two bewitching pieces.

Taking up the rest of the disc is the three-movement Symphony of Elegies (1977), inspired, according to Artyomov, by some time spent in the Armenian mountains.  The writing for strings here approaches the kind of dense, chromatic clusters you'll find in Ligeti's most unsettling work, and the 20-minute third movement is a thing of otherworldy wonder, giving the chiming bells an austere, mystical centre-stage.

All in all, just the kind of wonderful, haunting music to get its composer blacklisted by the Soviet musical establishment, along with a handful of equally fascinating composers - I'm already starting to like the sound of Denisov's first symphony.  But for today, enjoy this handy Artyomov primer.

Elegies

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Phantom Band - Nowhere (1984)

In the late 90s, this little promo compilation used to come free with some Can CDs - I'm sure I had three copies at one point.  As well as being a decent Can overview, the disc closed with one track from each of the four core members' 80s work, and one in particular really made me sit up and listen, and buy this album shortly afterwards.  That track, a stew of clicking percussion, ominous electronics and mournful spoken vocals, was Weird Love.

Jaki Liebezeit's Phantom Band released three albums between 1980 and 1984, of which Nowhere was the third, and was reissued by Can's Spoon records in 1997.  The others, which I don't have yet, are now available as Bureau B remasters - must get Freedom Of Speech soon, as apparently it's in a very similar vein to this one.

Nowhere, then, (or Now Here according to Liebezeit), is a fantastically odd glimpse into what a stripped-down, updated Can might've sounded like in '84.  Thirteen short-ish tracks of murky, echo-laden dub krautrock based around post-NDW guitars and synths, with an distinctive, off-kilter vocalist.  In this case, stepping up to the mic was Sheldon Ancel, a former US Armed Forces Network announcer.  After an intial groove into outer space, Ancel brings the album's themes sharply down to earth, with post-industrial workaday drudgery like Planned Obsolescence and Morning Alarm.  On the reggae parody Positive Day we get a pisstake of a self-help guru straight out of the 70s/80s self-realization New Age.  Highly recommended; for my money Nowhere is by far the most fascinating post-Can artifact, Holger Czukay's pioneering body of work notwithstanding.

Eating positive food, in a positive mood

Monday, 28 November 2016

Ralph Towner - Solstice: Sound And Shadows (1977)

The last two postings of ECM guitarists both went down well, so here's a third; a third American as well, in Washingtonian Ralph Towner.  Towner's trademark sound, based on chiming 12-string guitars and nylon-string guitars more classical in leaning than jazz, was always going to be a great fit when placed among one of ECM's Nordic crack teams.  So when he was matched up with Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber and Jon Christensen for 1975's Solstice, an instant classic was born, and this lesser-known sequel from two years later deserves equal appreciation.

Five fairly lengthy tracks here, giving each player a chance to shine and these rambling, autumnal pieces room to roam.  Distant Hills is the perfect opener, with soft-focus layers of Towner's guitars, stately Garbarek solos, and a subtle underpinning from Weber and Christensen.  For all his guitar genius, it shouldn't be forgotten how good a pianist Towner is as well, and Arion, a definite highlight for me, shows it beautifully.

Solstice: Sound And Shadows

Friday, 25 November 2016

Popol Vuh - Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte (1976)

Think this was my first Popol Vuh album, and although there's others I love more (see previous posts), Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte is still a brilliant record.  By this point, guitarist Daniel Fichelscher had equal status to Florian Fricke in shaping the Popol Vuh sound, and it certainly shows on this, their most rock-oriented album.  Right from the start, Fichelscher's chiming layers of guitar are all over the place, the heavier sound edging into to Amon Düül II territory - whose vocalist Renate Knaup is also on board, giving an earthier balance to Dyong Yun's pure tone.

Letzte Tage - Letzte Nächte always makes me imagine that if you took a time machine back to medieval Europe and borrowed a group of musicians to make a mid-70s rock album, this is what it would sound like.  Frequently ominous, with memorable, strange chanting, but always with an uplifting, pastoral change just around the corner, this is the sound of wandering minstrels cranking it up to eleven in search of the enlightenment.

When love is calling you, turn around and follow; last days, last nights

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Oliver Nelson - The Blues And The Abstract Truth (1961)

Simply one of the greatest jazz albums ever made.  More details needed?  Have a look at the all-star cast on the cover.  Still not convinced?  Download and enjoy. Six perfectly composed instant classics, with wonderfully harmonized main melodies each giving way to a round of solo spotlights, either in blues measure or near enough, and a sumptuous, reverb-bathed production.

The Blues And The Abstract Truth has always been a November album for me, ever since checking it out of the library at university, popping it in my Discman and walking through the darkening, windswept and rainy streets of Edinburgh listening to Stolen Moments for the first time.  Kind Of Blue, Blue Train et al became part of my life around that same month, but this album has stayed with me more consistently than any other from the 50s-early 60s canon.

Hoe Down!