Friday, 30 December 2016

Bruce Cockburn - Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws (1979)

Another of those rare beasts round these parts - an album with actual songs, vocals, lyrics and everything.  And one of my favourites of all time.  Bruce Cockburn in 1979 was just getting started on his social-conscience era, whilst toning down the religious elements compared to previous albums, and was playing better fingerpicked-acoustic guitar than ever.  The result was this album - a possible career-best.  Folky, jazzy, just a smidgeon of the reggae obsession to come in the form of a bouncy breakthrough hit - this is pretty much perfection.  Wanted to see out the year on a reasonably positive, hopeful note - reckon this fits the bill.

Sun's up, mmhm, looks okay, the world survives into another day

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Manuel and the Music of the Mountains - Reflections/Carnival (1998 compi of LPs from '69 and '70)

Don't know about you, but I could do with some more rest & relaxation... and a nice bit of escapism.  So here's a twofer reissue from one of my favourite easy listening-bordering-on-exotica bandleaders, the mysterious and exotic Manuel, and his Music Of The Mountains band.

Well, only mysterious and exotic for a few months at the end of the 50s - the Manuel persona was intended to be kept secret, but as soon as his popularity took off 'Manuel' was quickly unveiled as Geoff Love (1917-1991) from Todmorden, West Yorkshire.  The next 20 years saw the release of dozens of these beautifully arranged, sumptiously recorded (the EMI Studio Two sound has aged well) albums, including Reflections in 1969, and one of my all-time favourites in this genre, Carnival from 1971.



Monday, 26 December 2016

Vladislav Delay - Anima (2001)

I'm guessing a nice chill-out might be what most people are after today - so here's an hour of ambient textures from Finnish electronic musician/producer Sasu Ripatti, aka Vladislav Delay.  This single-track release came out in 2001 - there was a triple vinyl edition, believe it or not.  Not the sort of thing where you'd want to be getting up to change sides every ten minutes!  I got into this about a year ago on the back of a recommendation someone had made on a chat about the sadly missed Susumu Yokota.


Friday, 23 December 2016

Paul Constantinescu - The Nativity (Byzantine Christmas Oratorio) (composed 1947, rec. 1977)

Here goes, then - a proper Christmas post.  And in line with my recent obsessions, it's from a 20th-century Romanian composer, but no dense, ear-blasting spectralist writing here; instead, Paul Constantinescu (1909-1963) offered up the apex of his interests in Byzantine chant and Romanian folk melodies, in the 1977 premiere recording of his 1947 Nativity.

I've only had this disc for a few weeks, so won't go into too much detail, but suffice to say if you're looking for an interesting alternative to Handel's Messiah, this one from mid-20th century Romania is wonderful stuff indeed.   
Merry Christmas!

Bonus SGTG stocking-filler: for anyone who'd like a freshly-recorded Messiah, this one (file 1/file 2) was recorded a couple of weeks ago and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday night.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Penderecki: "Christmas" Symphony / Bruzdowicz: Concertos (1989 compi, rec. '81 and '84)

Still working on something to post with an actual Christmas angle... how about Penderecki's 2nd Symphony - it has Christmas in the title, doesn't it?  Well, not really.  Symphony No. 2 might've been written over the winter of 1979-1980, but it doesn't have any official name, and only became informally known as the 'Christmas Symphony' due to the little snippets of Silent Night that Penderecki included, and can be most clearly heard about four minutes into each movement.

Being a big fan of Penderecki at his most fearsome, e.g. Threnody, De Natura Sonoris, Utrenja etc, the 2nd Symphony was initially a bit of a letdown for me, as was apparently the case for listeners in the early 80s - where's the nail-biting sheer terror?  Not to worry though, as soon as I gave it a chance I found out what a fine, full-bodied work it actually was. Enjoy.

That's only half the disc though, and the remainder is a real treat - one of the very few available recordings of any works by Joanna Bruzdowicz (b. 1943, Warsaw), with a star turn from 'Buddha of the bass' Fernando Grillo.  The Concerto for Double-Bass, here in its 1984 premiere, is a brilliantly choppy work that gives the great bassman free rein to saw, rattle and soar over a nicely unsettling ensemble backdrop.  Lastly, Olympia records (who are becoming a bit of an obsession for me at the moment, appearing to have been quite the reissue goldmine for Eastern European/Russian obscurities) very kindly give us another Bruzdowicz concerto; a single-movement Violin vehicle, and very good it is too.

Penderecki / Bruzdowicz

Monday, 19 December 2016

Psychic TV - Dreams Less Sweet (1983)

Should probably use this week for posting anything Christmassy that I have... no matter how tangential...  What's that song that goes 'Santa Claus is checking his list, going over it twice; to see who is naughty and who is nice'?  Oh yeah, it's Psychic TV.  Any excuse to post the greatest stone-cold (yup, bits of it were recorded in a cave) classic of the post-industrial 80s, Coil notwithstanding - and of course, the core Coil duo were still in the PTV fold at this point, making for an unbeatable supergroup.

I remember listening to White Nights for ages before finding out where that refrain quoted above comes from - it was taught to the children of Jonestown to instill paranoia by the Reverend Jim himself, and all the other lyrics were taken from his horrific final address.  Aside from a cherubic choral rendition of a Manson Family ditty, this was the darkest, and perversely most melodic depths that were plumbed on what was once brilliantly described as 'the Sgt. Pepper of icky music' - wish I could remember what magazine I read that in - and the rest is pretty listenable and accessible stuff considering the roll call of contributors. 

Based around oboe and Reichian marimba, The Orchids is simply gorgeous, one of my favourite songs of all time, and a good chunk of Dreams Less Sweet is the most musically ambitious stuff GPO ever put his mind to - aided in no small part by arranger Andrew Poppy.  19 tracks, many of them fascinating little fragments, zip by in a tight, coherent 43 minutes, and remain a huge high-watermark in the post-TG fallout and in dark, twisted 'England's Hidden Reverse' creepiness in general.  Essential alchemical musick.

A civilization that knows no honour, that knows no respect, that knows not its desires or true meaning; a lie within a lie within a lie

Friday, 16 December 2016

Iancu Dumitrescu / Ana-Maria Avram - Au Dela De Movemur, etc (1991)

Definitely time for another Iancu Dumitrescu release, so why not the one that introduced Ana-Maria Avram (b.1961, Bucharest), his wife and fellow composer, and co-founder of the Edition Modern label.  Only four of the EM albums to date (of which I've already posted two) are in fact solely of Dumitrescu's music.  The rest (aside from a handful of non-Dumitrescu/Avram ones like last week's Cazaban CD) are shared roughly equally on each release, and frequently feature live recordings, a preference that dates back to this three-fifths live release.

Dumitrescu's two works that open the album are both for strings; Au Dela De Movemur for droning, Scelsi-esque (although Dumitrescu disliked the comparison) string orchestra, and two movements of Monades, for six monochords, which make maximum sonic use out of the single-string instruments.

Avram's three are the perfect introduction to her range and specialisms.  The orchestral fireworks of Ekagrata show an early Xenakis influence, and Signum Gemini is an ensemble and tape work highlighting the great Romanian (Ukranian-born) clarinettist Aurelian Octav Popa.  The final piece, and the longest on the disc, is Zodiaque III for prepared piano and electronics, performed by Avram herself.  The sharp piano notes cut intermittently across a droning landscape, before being subsumed entirely in the Radigue-like ambient smog.

Au dela de movemur

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Scott Walker - Tilt (1995)

If you've been following this blog long enough, you might have figured out that my listening habits are insanely seasonal; I'm sure this isn't uncommon though.  So come winter, out comes Scott Walker, especially Tilt and after.  Somehow, apocalyptic dirges that sound like they're being narrated by an atrocity-obsessed malevolent skeleton just need the cold and the dark.

Tilt, the first full flowering of the Scott Walker who ended up on the cover of The Wire in 2012, started subtly with the beautiful cinematic string arrangements of Farmer In The City.  Walker's stunning vocal keens a lament for Pier Paolo Pasolini sounded like a natural update of his late 60s work, but that was only the first six minutes.  The odd scraping sounds and lupine croon of The Cockfighter are soon overtaken by a scalding electronic rhythm and Walker's disjointed lyrics, sounding both bang up to date and arcane, archaic, as the album progressed into influences from avant-garde lieder and industrial music, with strange percussive noises everwhere and a memorable church organ blast on Manhattan.  The spare, clean production holds up well, and the album's bleak themes point the way to where he's been going ever since.  Fingers crossed for another new album in the next couple of years?  I don't doubt for a second he's still got it in him.

I knew nothing of the horses, nothing of the thresher

Monday, 12 December 2016

Harold Budd, Ruben Garcia, Daniel Lentz - Music For Three Pianos (1992)

In a classic case of great minds thinking alike... this same album went up on Opium Hum at the weekend.  Music For Three Pianos is simply too good not to share as widely as possible, so I'm keeping it in the schedule here.

This 1992 collaboration between Harold Budd and two fellow pianists might barely qualify as an album at all, lasting a scant 21 minutes; but it doesn't waste a single note.  After letting these six stunningly beautiful melodies wash over you , there's a definite feeling that a perfectly self-contained album experience has been packed into the brief running time, and that any lengthening would spoil the effect.  I actually experimented with running Music For Three Pianos at half-speed to see how a full-length LP might've sounded - it really didn't work!  Better to just start the whole thing again when it ends - I often do.

The sympathetic production, for which krautrock/Berlin-school legend Michael Hoenig was partly responsible, adds just enough reverb where it's needed; the echoing silences in the opening track Pulse-Pause-Repeat are just as important as the notes.  If I had to pick out a favourite track here - I guess to do so would be more like picking a favourite movement from a perfectly-integrated piano sonata - it would either be the achingingly gorgeous penultimate one, The Messenger, or the gently rolling arpeggios of closer La Casa Bruja, where just like on Plateaux Of Mirror, Budd's compositional economy shines brightest.

Iris: Where are you? Where have you been?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Tord Gustavsen Trio - The Ground (2005)

Feeling like a mellow end to the week again, so here's some prime ECM piano trio comfort food for the short days and long nights.  Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen recorded a trio of these trio albums with bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vepestad from 2003-2007 (he's mainly worked in larger configurations since), and every minute of The Ground's one-hour duration is sublime, sleek melodic material in the best Bill Evans tradition.  Possibly a bit too smooth for some tastes, but for top-flight relaxation this'll do nicely.

Token Of Tango

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.