Friday, 29 April 2016

Art Lande/David Samuels/Paul McCandless: Skylight (1981)

So, who's up for another gorgeous, crystalline session of early-80s chamber jazz?  Taken by itself, that kind of description might scare away a sizeable majority of a jazz audience, never mind anyone else, but have no fear - this is ECM we're talking about.  Skylight was a one-off trio date (although none were strangers to each other) between three Americans: pianist Art Lande, vibraphone player David Samuels, and Oregon (the band) reedsman Paul McCandless.

I've previously posted Kristina Krimsky & Trevor Watts' sole ECM disc Stella Malu.  Skylight, recorded two months later, is cut from the same cloth in some ways, notably Chillum, the mellowest track here, where McCandless leads with a serene, keening melody like a non-Nordic Jan Garbarek.  Other than that, and an overall rainy-Saturday-morning vibe to both records, Skylight differs from Stella Malu with a more explicitly jazzy bounce - and of course an extra player.  I really hope more of Samuels' ECM appearances get reissued at some point - this is the only place he can currently be heard on CD - but until then, there's always the excellent musica degradata.

Over on Side 2 of Skylight, the second-longest track Moist Windows/Lawn Party is perhaps the centrepiece for this trio - everyone gets a turn in the spotlight as the track winds a path through changes of mood and pace, returning now and then to a main melody.  And the great little minature Ente (To Go) is worth a mention for its music-boxy use of thumb piano.

Duck In A Colorful Blanket

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Cluster - Qua (2009)

Man, I was gutted by the death of Dieter Moebius last summer - maybe even more than Bowie's passing in January of this year.  Having loved Cluster, Harmonia and everything in between for so many years, I'd been wondering if there would ever be another Cluster album after Qua in 2009.  Sadly, this album now stands as the final bookend to Moebius' forty-year on-off collaboration with Hans-Joachim Roedelius - but it's a good one; a more than acceptable signoff for a truly unique duo.

The most surprising thing about Qua when it came out was the wealth of material it looked like we were getting - 17 tracks, from a band who'd previously averaged something like six or seven per album.  Largely composed of minatures that hang loosely together like a sketchbook - "a multicoloured picture book" in Asmus Tietchens' sleevenote - the beauty of Qua is in the small details.  The missing beat in the rhythm track of No Ernel, resulting in an odd-legged time signature (can't remember enough of my music theory exams to know what it is), or the recording of a squeaky door in the perfectly named Putoil.

The longest track here is the six-minute Gissander, built around melancholic bell chimes, but my absolute favourite is Ymstrob - just a minute and a half of plaintive synth burble and fragments of brass.  And yes, there's mild amusement value in the fact that the full tracklisting of Qua reads like an Autechre album - but we're miles away from any forbidding metallic glitchscapes here, just little drops of sheer gorgeousness.

Alternate cover

Monday, 25 April 2016

Giacinto Scelsi - Quattro Pezzi Per Orchestra / Anahit / Uaxuctum (1959-69, rec. 1989)

The first few times I listened to the music of Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988), I felt dizzy and nauseous.  Whether this was a direct result of plunging unaware into a disorenting, gradually shifting world of monochordal, microtonal sound, or just shaking off a virus that same week (more likely, but I like to think it was fully the former!), the sheer strangeness of this music had me hooked.

A period of personal upheval in the post-WW2 years saw Scelsi's music begin to take the direction that he's best known for - writing around a single, unwavering pitch with the kind of microtones heretofore best known in Indian classical music, and subtle shifts in harmony and timbre.  Sounds like pretty minimal stuff, and it is - but to call both Philip Glass and Giacinto Scelsi minimalist composers is akin to calling Stephen King and Thomas Ligotti horror writers.  In both of the latter cases, you can frequently feel yourself teetering on the edge of some vast, unknowable void - but the deeper you look, the more unearthly artistic beauty unveils itself.

Quattro Pezzi per orchestra, ciascuno su una nota sola (Four Pieces for orchestra, each on a single note), (1959), is one of Scelsi's best known works, and as good a statement of intent as any for the rest of his career.  If these four pieces are largely flavoured by brass and thundering percussion, the next work on this disc, Anahit, Lyric poem for Venus (1965), makes the most of a bewitching solo violin part.  Anahit is probably my Scelsi of choice, rising and falling over its 13 minutes to brilliant dramatic effect.

Lastly on this disc comes Uaxuctum (1969), subtitled 'The legend of the Maya city, destroyed by themselves for religious reasons'.  The city in question is most commonly spelled Uaxactun, and the music, eerie chorale, ondes martenot and all, is perfectly descriptive.  The beginning of this work reminds me a little of the 'Nosferatu' opening to Popol Vuh's Brüder des Schattens - Söhne des Lichts, with both sounding like they've been beamed in directly from ancient history.  With Uaxuctum however, there's no resolution into a happy place - only darkness.

Quattro Pezzi Per Orchestra / Anahit / Uaxuctum

Friday, 22 April 2016

Prince - Musicology (2004)

Prince Rogers Nelson - June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016

Another truly unique legend gone... seriously, Death, WTF?

Wanted to post this album as it's stuck with me as a personal favourite from Prince's latter-day work (using Emancipation as a rough dividing line).  There's the usual amount of deeply personal, sometimes obtuse soul-searching, but above all just so much joy and a fresh reveling in the all-encompassing mastery of his art.

Wish I had a dollar for every time you say - Don't you miss the feeling music gave you back in the day?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Ash Ra Tempel - Le Berceau De Cristal (1975, rel. 1993)

How about one more soundtrack?  In contrast to Barbet Schroeder's 'More', which at least had a plot, Philippe Garrel's 'Le berceau de cristal' (The Crystal Cradle) was a much more typically arthouse venture starring Nico and Anita Pallenberg.  And a thoroughly gloomy one to boot - I won't spoil the ending, but the sole imdb review has the lowdown.  If you can overlook the poor sound and picture quality, the whole thing's on vimeo.

What interests me most about the film is this great soundtrack.  Recorded in 1975, and eventually released on CD in 1993, 'Ash Ra Tempel' in this case are just Manuel Göttsching and Agitation Free founder member Lutz Ulbrich, working with an old Farfisa organ, EMS guitar synth, and Göttsching's patent floating layers of echo-unit treated guitar to create the "music for dreaming" that Philippe Garrel had been looking for.

In the wake of his first solo album, Inventions For Electric Guitar, Göttsching in 1975 was touring Europe accompanied by Ulbrich.  Approached by Garrel following a performance in Cannes, Göttsching offered a tape of the final piece they'd just performed, which is the first track you hear on this release.  The rest of the soundtrack was then recorded in the studio in Berlin, and was thankfully made available by Spalax in 1993.  Anyone who loves Göttsching's mid-late 70s echo-guitar work, and the subtle Berlin-school electronics that went with it, needs this one.  Le berceau de cristal will also definitely also appeal to anyone amenable to the Tangerine Dream / Klaus Schulze sounds of the era.  Everyone else - give this a try too!  It's a solid, durable soundtrack that sounds great as a cosmic dreamscape of an album.

Le Diable dans la maison... et les Fantômes rêvent aussi

Monday, 18 April 2016

Pink Floyd - Soundtrack from the film 'More' (1969)

From being a massive fan in my teens, my window of Pink Floyd tolerance has become ever narrower to settling on the immediate post-Barrett years.  I just find this era most satisfying to listen to - a more innocent, democratic band just finding their way, playing spellbinding live sets and recording great little songs that would all but disappear in another couple of years.

More was an end-of-the-60s, end-of-innocence drug flick - Barbet Schroeder was a long way from Single White Female with this, his directorial debut.  I haven't seen the film but by most accounts it holds up ok for its vintage; and it has this album as its soundtrack, featuring a band at the centre of their 'wilderness' period but sounding fresh, vital and ready to try anything before settling into their high-concept era.

Take for example Green Is The Colour, sounding like a demo dashed off in five minutes, but with an undeniable charm.  This song, and my personal favourite Cymbaline, would end up in the band's live set for the next couple of years in more developed form.  Elsewhere, there's clear links to better-known Floyd material of the period - Main Theme and Dramatic Theme sound like mellower takes on the intro from Let There Be More Light, and the goregous Cirrus Minor a close cousin to Grantchester Meadows.  The Nile Song, though, sounds like nothing else they'd done before or since, and this was the one that blew my socks off when first exposed to it as a 13-year old listening to the Relics compilation.  They really should've done more songs like that; and to be honest, I'd have been happy with ten more albums like this over one Dark Side Of The Moon.

Doctor Strange is always changing size

Friday, 15 April 2016

Popol Vuh - Brüder des Schattens - Söhne des Lichts (1978)

In line with one of my most regular springtime listening habits - it's Popol Vuh time.  Paradoxically, then, I've gone for an album that starts out with three minutes of their darkest-hued music - which some of you may recognise from the opening credits of Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, with those eerie images of Mexican mummies.

Herzog had been friends with Florian Fricke for some time, and had already snagged some top-drawer Popol Vuh tracks for Aguirre - Wrath Of God and Heart Of Glass, to great effect.  It's worth making clear, though, that Brüder des Schattens - Söhne des Lichts (Brother of shadow, son of light) isn't a straightforward soundtrack album to Nosferatu - in one of (several!) confusing quirks in the Popol Vuh catalogue, there's also a separate Nosferatu album with a different tracklist.  So, anyway...

After the unearthly choral opening to the Brüder title track, the rest of its 17 minutes settle into a stately piano and guitar drone that builds and builds, sometimes with a bit more sitar and tambura here and there, to hypnotic effect.  After the 'Schattens' of the Nosferatu intro, this blissful epic of minimal understatement just bathes you in kaleidoscopic 'Lichts'.

Over on Side 2, Höre, der du wagst (Hear, who dares) gives us a subdued epilogue to the main piece, and the album is then rounded out with two slightly more regular Vuh vehicles between Fricke and Fichelscher.  But that's not to undersell them - even your common or garden Popol Vuh album track still exists in its own beautiful universe miles above anything else in the krautrock canon.

Brüder des Schattens - Söhne des Lichts

previously posted at SGTG: 
Die Erde und ich sind Eins

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Hans-Joachim Roedelius - Wenn Der Südwind Weht (1981)

Wenn der Südwind weht „Musik zum leise Hören“ (When the south wind blows - music for quiet hours), to give it its full title, was Hans-Joachim Roedelius' seventh solo album, and one of three that he released in 1981.  Far from spreading himself too thin, however, Roedelius was in his prime at this point, releasing album after album of gorgeous synth and organ-based understated gorgeousness, saturated in melody and hazy, spring-day ambience.

Fans of Sowiesoso-era Cluster looking for a natural successor to that album should head straight here.  Whether drifting along languidly like the title track, or taking a more sprightly jaunt like my personal favourite Mein Freunde Farouk, this is absolutely quintessential Roedelius.  Highest possible recommendation.

Wenn Der Südwind Weht 

Monday, 11 April 2016

David Behrman - On The Other Ocean (1977)

Been indulging one of my nerdiest interests of late - reading about the history of computers.  Yep, this is honestly the kind of stuff I find endlessly fascinating.  So I thought it was the perfect time to dig this album out.
The little unassuming mid-70s circuit board pictured above is the KIM-1, which in the hands of Sonic Arts Union* associate David Behrman was integral to the recording of this, his first album under his name.  The liner notes for the CD reissue of On The Other Ocean are worth reading in full, not least as an utterly charming piece of biographical nostalgia, but also as an enlightening description of the composing and recording process.  And living up to their name, Lovely Music have obligingly put the full text online.

In brief, then, these two side-long pieces start from a shimmering bed of homebrew synth, overlaid with acoustic instruments which then trigger the computer to further shape the piece.  Possibly quaint sounding now, but a genius idea in its day to have acoustic music truly interact with computer music.  And most importantly, how does it sound?  Absolutely gorgeous; gently and calmly oceanic on the title track, as the flute and bassoon progressively cause gentle ripples in the electronic wash.

On Figure In A Clearing, the wind instruments are replaced by a cello, resulting in a grainier, earthier sound that ever so slightly reminds me of Fripp and Eno - it made me go back to No Pussyfooting/Evening Star and realise that some of the Frippertronic guitar tones were quite cello-like.  Basically, every fan of ambient Eno needs this album in their life - you'll wonder how you ever did without it.
CD reissue cover
On The Other Ocean

* previously posted at SGTG - Extended Voices, featuring Sonic Arts Union alumni Robert Ashley and Alvin Lucier.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Jan Garbarek Quartet - Afric Pepperbird (1970)

Another gem from my favourite jazz label, this time one of its earliest (only the seventh to be released), and for my money its first masterpiece. All four of these eventual ECM mainstays - Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen - make their debut appearance on the label here, recording a bracing but surprisingly accessible set of four lengthy pieces and four minatures.

Garbarek was still in thrall to Albert Ayler at this early stage in his career, and there's plenty of free jazz blowing around here. Scarabee, however, opens the album subtly with the beginnings of the tone that Garbarek would become known for, with just the occasional skronk, surrounded by twinkling percussion.  Eventually he lets rip, but the track as a whole still leaves lots of space, not least thanks to Christensen supplying a rock-solid foundation.  Beast of Kommodo, the album's longest track, shows off Garbarek's versatility as a reedsman, while Terje Rypdal sticks to one insistent riff until eventually getting an almost bluesy solo, in contrast to his later, more identifiable style.

On Side 2, both Blow Away Zone and the title track start out with Garbarek and Rypdal playing in unison.  On the former, Rypdal goes on to make striking use of a slide up at the bridge of his guitar.  Meanwhile Garbarek is at his freeest, with his 60s free jazz influences clearly on display, sounding more than once like a train whistle on its way from Oslo straight to Valhalla.  Afric Pepperbird itself settles into a swampy groove, with Rypdal breaking out the wah pedal.  All in all, a highly recommended early high water mark from a unique label starting to stake out its territory.

Afric Pepperbird

P.S. check out this quartet in concert from a year later!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Ricardo Villalobos - Fizheuer Zieheuer (2006)

A discovery from one of those magical nights on YouTube, where each recommendation leads you somewhere new.  Think I was listening to some Steve Reich or Philip Glass odds & ends when I stumbled upon Fizheuer Zieheuer, and spent the next half hour plus just sitting in amazement of how such spare ingredients could make up a track this unique and addictive.

Villalobos, firstly, is a Chilean-born German DJ and electronic musician, working mainly in the minimal techno genre.  I haven't really taken to the main body of his work as yet, to be honest - might be in the zone for it at some point - but his work with kindred spirit Max Loderbauer has appealed to me, which includes an ECM remix project (will probably post that once I've got into it more deeply), and a solid studio-album collaboration from last year under the name Vilod.

Fizheuer Zieheuer, then, was released in 2006 as possibly the longest CD single in history - two tracks totalling 72 minutes.  The title track takes two samples from a Yugoslavian brass band track from 1980, and skilfully loops the main ostinato over and over into infinity.  The beats ensure that this never gets boring - like Manuel Göttsching's E2-E4, the background is constantly shifting in its texture, the loops sometimes taking a back seat before coming back into focus.  Track 2, Fizbeast, goes even more ultra-minimal by leaving out the brass altogether, putting the spotlight squarely on Villalobos' beat-shaping skills. I've listened to Fizbeast at work a few times, at low volume, if I need to concentrate on a repetitive task.  Music for spreadsheets.

Fizheuer Zieheuer

Monday, 4 April 2016

Vangelis - L'apocalypse des Animaux (1973)

My absolute favourite album by Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, ever since picking up a vinyl copy ten years ago.  Like many Vangelis albums, this is superior soundtrack music, on this occasion soundtracking a nature documentary by French director Frédéric Rossif.

After the album kicks off with a cute, bouncy opening theme, we're straight in to the first stone-cold classic - La Petite Fille De La Mer is six minutes of utter gossamer gorgeousness, and is rightly the track by which this album was represented on at least one Vangelis compilation.  On another plane entirely, however, are the suite of two tracks on Side 2 of the album, which I used to listen to over and over for hours on end. Crank up Création Du Monde as loud as you can, and bask in its majesty.  You can quite well imagine this being the music that would herald the genesis of a brand new world, which after its expansive turmoil cools down to a calm repose with La Mer Recommencée.

L'apocalypse des Animaux

Friday, 1 April 2016

Iannis Xenakis - La Légende d'Eer (1978; first rel. 1995)

One more Xenakis polytope for your listening pleasure, this one designed for the opening of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.  The construction plus music was known as 'Le Diatope', featuring this electroacoustic masterpiece as the soundtrack played within.

La Légende d'Eer might not have the monumental, solid metallic heft of the music for Persépolis, but overall this one has the edge for me, just because there's more to listen to as the piece slowly develops over its 46 minutes. It starts subtly, gradually weaving together high, whistling electronic tones before the mutated percussive elements are introduced.  This builds and builds until a throbbing synth is added to the mix, and the culminative effect becomes truly head-spinning.  Imagine listening to that on eleven speakers, with hundreds of lights and mirrors overhead, and it must truly have been one of the most overwhelming artistic events ever experienced.

La Légende d'Eer