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!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Nurse With Wound - Thunder Perfect Mind (1992)

Some more Nurse With Wound is long overdue here - so enjoy one of Steven Stapleton's all-time masterpieces, recorded in late 1991.  Two massive tracks - one lasting 23 minutes, the other 32.  Stapleton had of course been producing side-long epics since day one, but Cold and Colder Still are two of his all-time best.  Sound artist Colin Potter, who would become a long term collaborator, came on board at this point and played a crucial role in buffing up the NWW sound to this new dark psychedelic sheen.

Cold is a glorious racket of grinding, chugging rhythm, mixing in everything but the kitchen sink (although managing to include the smoke alarm by the sounds of it, at the two and a half minute mark), and taking in twisted xylophone-like sounds, sinister haunted typewriters, and god knows what else.  Once this peters out into a odd-legged clanging coda, we're slammed straight into the never-ending dark ambient nightmare of Colder Still.  Gradually gathering pace in its first half, with a subtle, insistent beat that drops out for more mindbending drone, everything picks up pace with the introduction of another rhythm track.  This little bongo loop would be used several more times in 90s NWW, but in its first appearance here it heralds the voices of David Tibet and Rose McDowall intoning some wonderfully bizarre dream imagery.  After this, we're brought a bit more gently back to earth with a stately ambient finale.

Floating up shiny columns of grey green primrose algae

Friday, 18 November 2016

Daniel Kientzy - Kientzy à Cluj (1999)

This post is a shout-out to the always great Spook City USA, for introducing me to today's main performer via a truly essential Octavian Nemescu disc.  Sax virtuoso Daniel Kientzy is French, but has become most closely associated with the Romanian avant-garde.  Since getting into Iancu Dumitrescu, I wondered if he'd ever called on Kientzy, and he has - on a 2005 piece called Nadir Latent - doesn't seem to have been released on album yet though.  So for today, we're heading north west of Bucharest to Cluj-Napoca, the creative hub for the four composers featured on this Kientzy release.

Unlike Dumitrescu, where you're spoiled for choice in readily available releases, Doina Rotaru, Călin Ioachimescu, Cornel Ţăranu and Stefan Niculescu all have slim discographies, let alone findable CDs, making a compilation like this all the more valuable if Romanian spectralism takes a hold on you like it has with me.  These three concertos and one choral work were all written with Kientzy in mind, and make for brilliantly mind-bending listening; the fact that such richly-textured music is led by an instrument more readily associated with jazz sometimes gives the impression of listening to Gershwin's orchestral work on some extremely strong hallucinogens.

Kienty's hardly a typical sax player in any genre, coaxing unearthly skronks from his battery of saxes; one possible comparison might be VDGG's David Jackson, and that still doesn't do Kientzy justice.  The long, low-register lines at the start of the Rotaru piece could bore through solid rock, and her concerto, along with the Ioachimescu one that follows, both feature stabbing, staccato bursts at times that are particularly memorable.  Stay around for the most atypical piece at the end of the disc - Stefan Niculescu's Axion features Kientzy flitting over the top of a Ligeti-esque female choir like some wonderful extraterrestrial version of Hilliard/Garbarek's Officium being beamed across the galaxy.

Kientzy à Cluj : Musique roumaine d'aujourd'hui

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Brian Eno - Another Green World (1975)

Sitting at the crossroads between Eno's earliest art rock offerings and this first ambient explorations,  Another Green World always makes me smile.  There's still a handful of his off-kilter pop songs scattered throughout, with random sung syllables developed into nonsense (but weirdly charming) lyrics.  For the most part, however, this album is composed of gorgeous proto-ambient minatures that prefigure Eno's work with Cluster/Harmonia.  Eno's guitar playing, with that long sustain from all his unique experiments, is possibly my favourite aspect of this album.  Listen to the all-too-brief title track for example, then think of Michael Rother's guitar style in the late 70s - wonder who was really influencing who?

Everything merges with the night

Monday, 14 November 2016

Steve Tibbetts - Safe Journey (1984)

This album came up in conversation under my last ECM post, so with thanks to Chico, I've dug it out for the first time in ages.  Guitarist and souncscaper Steve Tibbetts, a Wisconsin native who works out of of St Paul Minnesota, first appeared on ECM in the early 80s and has retained a rare degree of autonomy on the label.  He records and produces his own records in the US, rather than in the Eicher stable, giving his unique sound an even more distinctive edge.

Safe Journey, the name taken from the Ghana-Burkina Faso border crossing on the cover image, was Tibbetts' second album for ECM and fourth overall.  The sonic landscape establishes itself right from the start of opener Test - imagine Ry Cooder filtered through a Jon Hassell Fourth-World lens; Tibbetts is all about texture and atmosphere, notwithstanding the cranked-up blowouts that follow later in Test.  His sound is also heavily percussive, and four of the tracks here are co-composed with his long-term collaborator Marc Anderson, who dominates second track Climbing.

From there on in, the highlights are many - standouts for me are the echo-laden acoustic guitars on Running, and the most melodic percussion on the album on Any Minute.  The latter has a bit of a Steve Reich feel, and is underpinned with sheets of rumbling guitar, with a cavernous, low-frequency pulse in the percussive bedrock that makes me think of Aphex Twin circa Selected Ambient Works 85-92.  Something else that this album as whole brings to mind, in the tribal, insistent percussion, looped instruments and'sometimes dark ambient atmospheres is Zoviet France, of all things.  Definitely a couple of reference points that I never thought an ECM record would evoke!

Bye Bye Safe Journey

Friday, 11 November 2016

Komitas - Patarag (1989 recording, Male Chamber Choir of the Yerevan Opera Theatre)

Thought we'd go into the weekend on an Armenian note, just like last week - this time with the masterwork by one of the greatest composers ever to come from there, and one who still needs to be better known.  I started listening to Komitas (1869-1935) following the release of the stunning ECM album Luys I Luso by Tigran Hamasyan last year, and went looking for the pure roots of its sound.

Soghomon Soghomonian was ordained Komitas Vardapet(priest) in 1895, taking his new name in tribute to a seventh-century poet, and was responsible for collecting hundreds of Armenian and Kurdish folk songs as well as a modest body of composition both secular and sacred.  The latter had its finest expression in this mass, Patarag (Liturgy) for male choir; the exact completion date is unknown, but it was first published in France in the 1930s, around the time when its composer, traumatised by the Armenian genocide, was spending his final days in a Paris sanatorium.
Komitas in 1902
Even after that, it wouldn't be until the late 80s when Patarag was recorded in full by two different Armenian choirs (oddly enough though, with the same conductor and choirmaster).  One recording was released under the name Divine Liturgy by the US label New Albion; the other came out on the Soviet Melodiya label as a double-LP and as this CD (split into four tracks, as per the four sides of vinyl) that I'm posting here.  This one for me has a bit of an edge: it feels rawer and more austere than the New Albion.  It's also slightly longer, most noticeably starting with a solo introduction which is missing on the New Albion recording; not sure if there's any other substantive differences.  Anyway, enjoy. In the words of Claude Debussy: “Brilliant father Komitas! I bow before your musical genius!” 


Wednesday, 9 November 2016

John Abercrombie - Characters (1978)

A year or so after appearing on Jack DeJohnette's Pictures, it was John Abercrombie's turn to record the only completely solo album of his career.  A masterclass in gorgeous melodies and perfectly-realised overdubbing, Characters comes across like a looser (semi-improvised at times), more fluid precursor to Pat Metheny's New Chautauqua.  Opening with a sole, echo-laden electric mandolin, tuned as to effectively be a soprano guitar (and Abercrombie staple in this era), the lengthy Parable eventually fills out into a spectacular tapestry of guitar layers.

After this memorable introduction, the meat of the album is composed of beautifully languid duets for different layers of acoustic and liquid electric guitar, plus a further two standout tracks in their use of effects.  Ghost Dance is chilly and atmospheric in its use of reverb and delay, and closer Evensong employs echo/volume pedal effects to almost evoke a small organ or harmonium, before filling out with spindly, rushing arpeggios.  This evocative soundscape closes a great album on a high, and makes you want to start right over again with the other outstanding track Parable.  The fact that there's nothing else quite like Characters in Abercrombie's catalogue makes it all the more essential listening.


Monday, 7 November 2016

Peter Gabriel - Third Album (1980)

Dug this out for the first time in ages after Friday and the mention of Gabriel in the Gasparyan post.  For me, Peter Gabriel's third album remains a (if not the) high watermark of truly progressive rock - not a note, lyric or effect wasted, just breaking new ground at every turn in service of a unique set of songs.

Gabriel's old bandmate Phil Collins was in the headlines a few weeks back in light of his latest return, to predictable derision in the comment boards and many, many Patrick Bateman quotes.  So even more of an ideal time to dig out this album and listen to the very first sound on it - the gated reverb famously claimed by Collins, Hugh Padgham and Steve Lilywhite in equal parts.  Intruder scared the crap out of me when I first heard it aged about twelve, and it's still a brilliant piece of tightly-wound home invasion thriller-dramatics.

Other great stuff abounds on the 'Melt' album too - what I wouldn't have recognised back in the day was the Music For 18 Musicians influence on No Self Control; there's further Reichiness on Lead A Normal Life.  Don't think I heard The Jam either until my late teens, but I always loved the driving guitar riff on And Through The Wire - Gabriel grabbed Weller from an adjoining recording studio after guessing that he'd have the perfect style for the track.  With I Don't Remember and Games Without Frontiers on board as well, Gabriel's off-kilter commerical stock was rising too; for my money, he never made another album quite as complete and satisying as this one.

Whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle

Friday, 4 November 2016

Djivan Gasparyan - I Will Not Be Sad in This World (first rel. 1983)

Back in more relaxing, near-ambient territory today; but no electronic ambience here whatsoever, just one instrument in fact – the Armenian double-reed wood flute known as the duduk.  Played here by master of the instrument Djivan Gasparyan, backed up only by another duduk drone, 40 minutes of this stuff might on paper seem a bit monotonous, but the pure sound and hypnotic melodies draw you right in.
Original LP cover, 1983
Just the right side of unsettling to be truly mellow, these eight traditional duduk pieces were first released on the Soviet Melodiya label in 1983, and came to wider attention when Brian Eno gave the album its first international release under the ‘I Will Not Be Sad…’ title in 1989.  Having been thrust into the 80s/early 90s ‘world music’ limelight, Gasparyan toured widely and played with/influenced many musicians including Peter Gabriel, most famously on the ‘Passion’ soundtrack to Scorcese’s Last Tempation of Christ.

I Will Not Be Sad In This World

Original CD release, 1989 (picture at top is 2005 reissue)

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Comments 'n' spam

Hi folks,

Got spammed pretty hard today across a whole bunch of posts, and whilst trying to batch-delete it all, I accidentally deleted a few weeks worth of genuine comments as well.... arrrrgh.
Apologies to everyone whose comments have been lost.  I really appreciate it every time someone takes the time to comment, makes the whole thing worthwhile.  Please keep 'em coming!


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Arne Nordheim - Electric (1998 compi of works 1968-70)

A handy introduction to the electronic/concrete works by Norweigan composer Arne Nordheim (1931-2010), which were released across two LPs on the Philips label in 1969 and 1974.  The earlier album bore the advice that ‘this record should be played loud’ – and I highly recommend doing so, as all of these five works have so much going on, across a mind-boggling range of textures and dynamic levels. 

The intro to Pace (1970), for example, inspired by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, is anything but peaceful, and calls to mind Luigi Nono’s similarly unsettling work.  Much of Warszawa (1970), a diaristic sketchbook of Nordheim’s time there, is also prime ‘play loud’ material in its collision of cut-ups and electronic manipulation.

The last track on the CD, Colorazione (1968), for organ, percussion and ring-modulators, is probably the most subtle and engaging work.  Everything here is superbly produced, and rewards close and repeated listening.

Lux et Tenebrae