Monday, 29 February 2016

The Plimsouls - Everywhere At Once (1983)

A nice little curveball - for this blog at least.  Call it new wave, powerpop, or vaguely align it with early Paisley Underground (you can probably tell I'm no expert here, given my usual posts), this is just a cracker of an album that was too good not to share.  The Plimsouls were from LA, and had a brief existence between 78 and 83, after which they've sporadically reunited.

These guys came to my attention via the debut starring vehicle of the greatest actor of all time - their appearance as the band playing Hollywood's hottest rock club (see above) put them in the public consciousness and led to a major-label album release on Geffen, presented here for your delectation.

The whole album is peppered with great tracks that are infectious in their energy - none more so than the track that originally opened Side 2, How Long Will It Take; that one, plus the title track (also featured in the movie) are my absolute favourites.

Thunder struck a chord up in the sky; lightning flashed, I looked you right in the eye

Friday, 26 February 2016

Sand - Ultrasonic Seraphim (1974)

'Golem', recorded in 1974 by Klaus Schulze, remains Sand's only album released in their brief existence, although in recent few years archival material has managed to stretch to a further three releases (soon to be four!) courtesy of French label Rotorelief.  Before those releases, there was Ultrasonic Seraphim, which emerged in 1996 thanks to the efforts of Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) and David Tibet (Current 93) who loved the LP and were determined to get it back in print.

According to the sleevenotes, Golem ended up being so spare and minimal through necessity, as Sand found themselves with only three members compared to their earlier incarnation.  Based around VCS3 synth, bass and sparing guitar, Golem's tracks stretch out into lengthy drones and weird tales, with the exception of two shorter songs.  Of the latter, May Rain has an eerie beauty that led Current 93 to do a respectful cover, and the simply...odd On The Corner adds Klaus Schulze on bongos to provide the only percussion on the entire album.

Ultrasonic Seraphim adds a further hour and a half of bonus material, from which you can construct an alternate/demo version of the album almost proto-industrial in its rawness, before Schulze produced the LP with the Artificial Head system (later on known variously as Holophonics or simply binaural stereo).  Along with this are three excellent lengthy tracks that pulse and drone like the very best krautrock; a shorter take of one of them (Vulture), and tracks from frontman Johannes Vester's planned solo album.  The latter certainly had the potential to make up a more conventionally prog album - 'Doncha Feel' frequently sounds like it's on the verge of turning into Jethro Tull's 'Locomotive Breath', accompanied by Animals-era Rick Wright synth!

Is it you... Sarah? it's the storm...

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Tomasz Stańko Quintet - Purple Sun (1973)

As mentioned previously, Tomasz Stańko is my favourite jazz trumpeter and simply one of my favourite musicians of all time.  From being at the vanguard of 60s Polish jazz with the tragically short-lived Krystof Komeda (I may post Astigmatic at some point) and linking up with kindred spirits like Edward Vesala in the mid 70s, to his mature, elegaic post-millenium output (DO NOT MISS Wisława!), the constant is always a singular player (and team player) and spare, lean writer.

Anyhow, for my first Stańko post I've gone for an earlier fusion era that only lasted for a couple of albums in the early 70s, but could easily hold its own with what was going on elsewhere in Europe or in the US.  Purple Sun was in fact recorded in Munich in March 1973, but retained a heavyweight Polish lineup (save for a top-notch Swiss bassist), of particular note being the legendary violinist Zbigniew Seifert who gives proceedings a slight Mahavishnu flavour in places.  Overall, though, this album is just a fantastic slice of post-Bitches Brew groove with the unique slant of being rooted in Eastern European free jazz.

Purple Sun

Monday, 22 February 2016

Klaus Krüger - Zwischenmischung (1981)

I used to listen to this one constantly about six years ago; glad I was able to find a saved copy in my files as I really wanted to post it here - and rediscover it myself!  I could've sworn I originally downloaded this album from The Growing Bin, but it didn't show up anywhere in their posting history when I checked.

Klaus Krüger (aka Krieger) is probably best known for his brief stint in Tangerine Dream, playing on Cylclone and Force Majeure.  After leaving TD, and playing with Iggy Pop for a short while, Krüger released a his first solo single and album.  This material vaguely aligned with early NDW but with distinctive quirks, and then in 1982 Kruger released (IMO the far superior) Zwischenmischung.

There's clear NDW influences here, not least in sheer brevity - these eight tracks of minimal synth zip along in just under half an hour, although this wasn't one of several albums on Klaus Schulze's IC label that were cut at 45rpm, missing the boat for that experiment by a few months.  The latter four tracks are much longer than the opening four, in a way that reminds me of Conrad Schnitzler's Contempora.  Manuel Göttsching (Ashra(Tempel)) is probably the biggest name on the album, but keeps a relatively low profile - wonder if that's him playing reggae rhythm guitar on the track 'Deutschland'?


Friday, 19 February 2016

Katrina Krimsky / Trevor Watts ‎– Stella Malu (1981)

ECM obscurity for crisp, blustery mornings. Just sparkling, echo-laden piano courtesy of Kristina Krimsky, a classically-trained pianist with links to Terry Riley, and English saxophonist Trevor Watts.  The latter's playing here is very much in the vein of another ECM Englishman, John Surman, especially in Watts' brief solo turn 'Rhythm Circle'.

The occasional knottier flourish aside, this is a mostly tasteful, elegaic programme, with Krimsky sometimes bringing to mind Harold Budd if he played more notes.  The gorgeous highlight 'Crystal Morning' is a perfectly self-descriptive case in point.  I'm actually drafting this writeup on a Saturday morning with a light dusting of last night's snow gradually melting in the cemetery across the road, and went straight to this album as a result when I got up.  But I'll wind up now before trying anything too fancy and image-descriptive, and leave that sort of stuff  to the master.  Tyran Grillo, as mentioned previously, can not only totally nail the essence of any ECM record, but deserves eternal kudos for making such a major project out of doing so several hundred times to date.

Stella Malu

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Henryk Górecki - Beatus Vir (rec. 1993)

From the same Oxfam trip as the previous album.  I really should dedicate both of these posts to the person who donated a pair of rare-as-hen's-teeth Polish Górecki CDs two years ago - dziekuje!

Beatus Vir is a 32-minute, self-contained choral/orchestral work which is a bit more lively than the 3rd Symphony, and for me brings to mind some of Arvo Part's large-scale pieces from the 90s.  Beatus Vir was commissioned by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, and premiered in 1979, by which time he'd became Pope John Paul II.  It's also less widely recorded than the 3rd Symphony, and is best known from a 1993 Argo release.  This Polish CD didn't even have a discogs entry when I bought it.

The two supporting works on this album date from earlier in Górecki's repertoire, and provide early pointers to the substantive works from today and yesterday.  Ad Matrem (1971) was when Górecki started getting in to sacred music. 'Trzy utwory w dawnym stylu na orkiestrę smyczkowa' ('Three Pieces In The Old Style') was composed in 1963, and was one of the first times Górecki moved away from prevailing avant-garde trends towards weaving old Polish melodies into a memorable cycle.

Beatus Vir

Monday, 15 February 2016

Henryk Górecki - III Symfonia (1976, rec. 1978)

There's a few classical works where I own two different recordings, maybe even three; in this case it's no fewer than seven.  I first got hooked on Górecki's 3rd Symphony "Piesni Zalosnych" (Sorrowful Songs) via the HMV Classics release when I bought it in the late 90s.  Many solitary hours during my fresher year were spent just letting these huge, icy waves of melancholy wash over me, whilst using this hip new thing called 'the internet' to read up on the inspirations for the work (of which so much has been written that I won't retread here, as I wouldn't do it justice).

Wanting to hear more renderings of my new favourite symphony (which remains one of my most treasured orchestral works that I've ever heard), I first plumped for the equally stately Philips release then the brilliant Naxos (Antoni Wit can do no wrong as a conductor to my ears) and so forth.  And yes, everything you read about the Nonesuch version, particularly if the words 'classic FM' or 'dinner party' or suchlike are used, is pretty much on the money - you won't miss anything by skipping it.  It does of course deserve recognition for breaking the symphony into the wider public consciousness, and without its impact you could argue that some later recordings might not have come about.

And so it came to pass, almost exactly two years ago, that my local Oxfam Music completely excelled themselves.  What initially looked on the shelf like a budget release that I didn't think would be worth picking up turned out to be, on inspection, the holy grail - the CD reissue of the original 1978 recording on Polskie Nagrania Muza.  So here it is, for your downloading pleasure - IMO, the most stunningly beautiful, rawest version of all, taken at a fair pace too (the first movement lasting barely 26 minutes). It's of course a bit of an assumption to make that this premiere recording is closest to Górecki's original intent - but I reckon this is as good as it gets.

O Mamo nie placz nie; Niebios Przeczysta Królowo Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie

Friday, 12 February 2016

David Hykes And The Harmonic Choir - Harmonic Meetings (1986)

I first came across this amazing album as a rip of the original cassette, posted by superior New Age blog Sounds Of The Dawn.  I've really enjoyed lots of their posts over the last couple of years whenever I want to spend an hour or so winding down with some nice, unobtrusive synthy ambience, but this album is nothing of the sort - which was what made me want to seek it out on CD straight away, which is what I'm sharing here.

David Hykes' background and interests in overtone singing are well covered in his wiki article.  His first album with the Harmonic Choir, Hearing Solar Winds, is well represented on other blogs and is also essential listening, but Harmonic Meetings from three years later is the one for me.  The earlier experiments in pure overtone singing are fleshed out here with occasional percussion and droning tamboura to mindblowing effect.

The sleevenotes sum up Harmonic Meetings as "Harmonic chant with pure overtones, and sacred words from the Abrahamic religions, recorded in the abbey of Le Thoronet, France", and that's exactly what you get for 90 ecstatic, sometimes unsettling minutes.  One of the most utterly unique desert island-worthy albums in my entire collection - although a desert island would be far from the ideal location to listen to an album like this, unless in the dead of night.

CD 1
CD 2

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Popol Vuh - Seligpreisung (1973)

We're definitely due some Popol Vuh now.  As one of my favourite bands of all time, I could've gone for any number of albums to feature here first, but this one is just utterly, utterly essential in anyone's collection.

Hosianna Mantra, the Popol Vuh album prior to Seligpreisung, is the one that always gets mentioned in hear-before-you-die lists, essential krautrock countdowns and lots of music blogs, all with good reason - it's an absoultely transcendent experience.  Hosianna Mantra was the first flowering of Florian Fricke's concept of spare, richly melodic music based around piano, guitar and occasional other ethnic instruments, and an all-encompassing spiritual questing that, taken together, would last for the rest of his career with a few tweaks along the way (well, the less said about the last three Vuh albums the better).

Seligpreisung is, for my money, every bit as good as its predecessor - they complement each other so well that I genuinely can't pick a winner. Vocalist Dyong Yun was otherwise engaged, so Fricke uniquely does all the vocals himself this time around.  In this way, the two albums acquire a feminine-masculine dynamic, with Seligpreisung sounding almost monastic - all the more so as it was recorded in a church, and all the lyrics/most of the song titles are derived from The Beatitudes in The Gospel of Matthew.  A couple more scripture-cribbing albums would follow before Fricke got back on track with the more diverse, diffuse spirituality that he'd sketched out on Hosianna Mantra.

For me, the other key aspect to the yin-yang completeness of Hosianna Mantra and Seligpreisung is the musical progression.  The latter takes a step away from the 'cosmic convalescent home' (© Julian Cope) mellowness of the former, with the guitars now much more to the fore.  Conny Veit (who would shortly depart for another Gila album, taking the entire Vuh lineup with him as guests) is now joined by newcomer Daniel Fichelscher, foreshadowing how integral he was about to become to the group's sound.  Some listeners feel that Fichelscher's many guitar layers came to overpower the Popol Vuh sound in the years that followed, but I can't get enough of him.

Selig Sind, Die Da Hungern. Selig Sind, Die Da Dürsten Nach Gerechtigkeit. Ja, Sie Sollen Satt Werden

Monday, 8 February 2016

Frank Zappa - Lumpy Gravy (1967)

Posting this as a postscript to the previous post.  I've tried on many Zappa albums for size over the years, and this remains the one that fits best - most likely due to its proximity to the kind of sounds I like the most.

FZ once posed the question 'Does Humour Belong In Music?' in an album title, and I think the problem I have with so many of his records is that much of the humour has dated so badly; Filmore East 1971 is instrumentally solid, but other than that it's a bit like experiencing a 1971 issue of Mad magazine, or National Lampoon sketch.  Lumpy Gravy suffers from this to a slight extent, but has enough of a 'pigs and ponies'-centric surrealist bent to make it more timeless and durable, and flits around enough musically to keep you engaged.


Friday, 5 February 2016

Nurse With Wound - The Sylvie and Babs High-Thigh Companion (1985)

The inevitable Nurse With Wound post - and more than likely not the last.  But if you've yet to be converted to Steven Stapleton's vast ouevre, you may as well start with the absolute best.  There's other NWW records that I find more challenging/jarring/disturbing, more noisy, more utterly gorgeous, more completely and totally unique, but this one's got it all. 

Thoroughly listenable and constantly rewarding every time you go back to it, this is a masterpiece of tape manipulation and schlock-song warping that traces a lineage through Lumpy Gravy and The Third Reich and Roll and, for my money, tops both of them. And getting to hear snippets of a young David Tibet goofing around with his mate rather than being his more usual portentious (pretentious?) self is worth the entry price alone ('Melons with foul goats' was the other possible name I considered for this blog).

Whaddya wanna make those eyes at me for, when they don't mean what they say

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Edward Vesala - Satu (1977)

Vesala's follow-up to Nan Madol might only have one lengthy (14 minute) track this time, with all its other tracks being in the 6-7 minute ballpark, but Satu is no less bracing or engrossing an album.  This one is also a bit harder-edged than its predecessor, cranking up the volume courtesy of ECM stalwart Terje Rypdal, whose lightning streaks of Fender Strat make Star Flight particularly memorable.  My personal favourite jazz trumpeter Tomasz Stanko is on fine form as well, building on the chemistry he'd already worked up with Vesala on Stanko's albums Balladyna  and Twet, which are both essential.  Will post some Stanko in a wee while.


P.S. couldn't resist posting this picture of Vesala looking like a total boss.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Edward Vesala - Nan Madol (1974)

One of ECM's all-time masterpieces, and long out of print.  There's no easy entry point into Vesala's unique sound-world and colourful personality, so you might as well start at the pinnacle.

Taking its name, which means 'space between', from an ancient lost city in Micronesia, Nan Madol was originally released in 1974 on ECM's sister label Japo.  Manfred Eicher was clearly struck by this record enough to take the rare step of re-releasing it on ECM proper, and with starker, monochromatic artwork (I've gone with the original cover here just out of personal preference).

The pieces on this album comprise a few shorter, scaled down tracks alongside some of the greatest extended examples of Vesala's 'Finnish Mingus' compositional genius - Areous Vlor Ta in particular sounds beamed in from some medieval nordic pagan rite, and The Way Of... finds plenty of room to showcase his legendary drumming.  Any in-depth descriptions I could add would pale in comparison to Tyran Grillo's writeup at his ECM review site Between Sound And Space, so just head straight over there once you've downloaded this.  Be forewarned though, that if you love ECM as much as I do, you can easily end up staying there for hours at a time.

Nan Madol