Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Steve Reich - Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase (rel. 1980)

Steve Reich in 1980 was midway through his ECM tenure, and building on the success of his first stone-cold masterpiece, Music For 18 Musicians.  Its follow-up was this programme of three shorter works, each just over 15 minutes.  One of these wasn't new - Violin Phase was released on the first ever LP of Reich's music in 1968, performed by Paul Zukofsky.  For the 1980 recording by Shem Guibbory, this progressive web of interlocking layers of violin/pre-recorded violin on tape gets a welcome rev-up to the tempo, making the criss-crossing patterns much more effective and shortening it by 8 minutes compared to Zukofsky's recording.

The two freshly-minted works show how far Reich had refined his style since Music For Mallet Instruments, Voices And Organ.  Music For A Large Ensemble does what it says on the tin, with 30 musicians filling out his lushest orchestral work so far, as melody lines gradually increase in complexity during each of the work's four sections.

Octet, again as its name suggests, slims down the ensemble, and for me is the highlight of the album.  From the early 80s onwards, Reich's Jewish identity and cultural heritage would strongly inform his work; this began in earnest with a visit to Jerusalem in 1977 to study cantillation (chanting) of the Hebrew scriptures.  The  first influence of this showed up in Octet and its long melodic lines on flute and piccolo, which give the piece its wonderful flowing energy.  I wonder if this work was the one that Reich was (rightfully) most proud of on this release - it comes first in the album title, and I'm guessing was programmed last in the running order just to be a best-fit for the sequencing of the LP.

P.S. If anyone wants to pick up all of Reich's ECM recordings in one handy box, they're being reissued in exactly that way in a few weeks!

Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase

Monday, 29 August 2016

Moebius & Renziehausen - Ersatz (1990)

Ersatz could be seen as a logical follow-up to Double Cut.  Moebius once again chose to work on a spontaneous, no-frills recording with a friend who was better known as a visual artist, and after a follow-up album recorded no other known music - in this case, his name was Karl Renziehausen.

Not quite as minimal an album as Double Cut, the turn-of-the-90s sound palatte on Ersatz is also quirkier and more detailed.  Renzuiehausen was apparently something of a computer whiz, which was probably brought to bear in the instrumentation.  It's definitely more synthetic, even plasticky; in lesser hands this album might now feel a bit dated.  Fortunately, Moebius' usual sound-tweaking and ability to just go with whatever was at hand keep it fresh.  As always, the little details are a joy to discover, like the occasional warped vocal samples - and is that a slide guitar in the opening track that makes me think of Harmonia's Walky-Talky?

Ersatz

Friday, 26 August 2016

Tomasz Stańko - Bluish (1991)

Triptykon made me dig this out - primarily to listen to more Arild Andersen in a trio format, where he turns in another rock solid performance, this time underpinning Tomasz Stańko.  The trumpeter was just emerging from an incredibly strange fusion era in the 80s (someday I'll post Freelectronic In Montreux, it's hilarious) and got right back to basics with this sublime trio recording.  Well, there's just three instruments credited; not sure what's going on in the two takes of Andersen's composition If You Look Enough, whether it's a vestigial synth or just delay effects on the bass or suchlike.

Bluish, "named after the place in your brain that is responsible for your addictions" (Stańko, in a 2010 autobiography) would've been a perfect ECM release - drummer Jon Christensen rounds out the trio.  In 1991 however, Stańko was still three years away from long-term commitment to the Eicher stable, so Bluish came out on a Polish label; luckily, it's still fairly easy to get hold of on CD.

Stańko would eventually hit ECM on an deeply melancholy, grey-streaked note that saturated his work for the rest of the 90s.  On Bluish, there's only hints toward this, notably on Third Heavy Ballad.  For the most part, this a light, airy album that swings, takes odd little diversions that could only be Stańko (notwithstanding the Andersen-composed bookends), and generally revels in its tight-but-loose atmosphere of mature free jazz at its most understated and effective.

Kind Of Bluish

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Jan Garbarek w. Arild Andersen & Edward Vesala - Triptykon (1972)

This is probably my favourite Jan Garbarek album.  His playing style was becoming more distinctive with each release, coming well and truly out of the shadow of Albert Ayler, and he was still a couple of years away from starting to become Jan Garbarek™, ECM ice king extraordinnaire.  That said, there's already evidence of him starting to mellow, in the goregous Selje (a fjord region on the west coast of Norway) where he switches to flute, and the understated Sang.  For the vestiges of early, skroning Garbarek at his freest, head straight for the 12-minute title track.

It can't be stressed enough however that this isn't just Garbarek's album - what I love most about Triptykon is that I can sit down for a listen through this album and focus solely on Edward Vesala snaking his way around the kit like no other jazz drummer on earth.  Or indeed, spend the duration listening to Arild Andersen putting in a phenomenal rock-solid performance on bass, taking a great solo on the title track and a memorable switch to the bow in the closing track.  One my favourite expressions of the trio format in jazz, up there with Money Jungle; Triptykon is a true team effort.  Should further evidence be required, just check them out in a rare French TV recording (below).


Triptykon

Previously posted at SGTG: Afric Pepperbird

Monday, 22 August 2016

Eliane Radigue – Triptych (rec. 1978, rel. 2009)

Another archival release on the always interesting Important Records for French composer Eliane Radigue, the second (I was going to say first, but that's really Pauline Oliveros by a few years) lady of extreme minimalist electronics.  The other one I have is Transamorem-Transmortem (1973); following that behemoth of glacial eternal ARP sound, Radigue took a few years out to explore Tibetan Buddhism, which would inform her music and entire life from then on. 

Returning in 1978 to create some music for a choreographed performance (at Robert Ashley's suggestion), Radigue produced the three pieces that were eventually released on this CD.  Triptych is possibly a more accesible entry point to Radigue's unqiue soundworld than Transamorem; each of these pieces has its own distinct character, and each one only lasts between 18 and 24 minutes (practically Ramones-level brevity for this composer). 

The first is an enjoyable sensory cleanse for the ears that whooshes around like a sandstorm or seashore on a distant planet, settling into an almost melodic rise and fall around the halfway point.  The second and longest is an eerie but not unpleasant quivering drone, that in its last five minutes introduces an insistent, rhythmic two-note pattern in the right channel that fades just before the end.  The triptych is completed with 20 minutes of a more rhythmic drone, almost something Tangerine Dream might have built from circa Phaedra, but much rawer and unbothered by effects and production; just pure sound.  I think that nails what I love about Eliane Radigue's music - it's like the clear mountain spring water of electronic sound, I've scarcely if ever heard anything more pure and elemental.

Triptych

Friday, 19 August 2016

Astrud Gilberto - I Haven't Got Anything Better To Do (1969)

This is the 100th album I've posted, so time for something extra special.  Put up a few Brazilian albums about a month ago, including Jobim's magnificent Wave, one of my top 10 albums of all time - here's something I hold in almost the same esteem.  This album however doesn't have quite as strong a Brazilian stamp on it as the artist's previous releases.  By the time Astrud Gilberto got to this stage in her career, she wanted to expand her horizons beyond bossanova and ended up making this baroque pop/chamber pop masterpiece of lush, dusky melancholy - in Gilberto's words, "my fireplace album".

So why do I love this album so much?  It's just a pure and utter Goldilocks Zone of a singer a few years into her career, coming into a more confident vocal maturity, selecting a perfectly complementary set of songs and having a first-rate arranger on board (Al Gorgoni).  In just 28 minutes, I Haven't Got Anything Better To Do weaves an achingly romantic narrative that hangs together perfectly, sounding like an extended reminisce of a fleeting summer affair now being remembered only through photographs.  Late 60s adult pop perfection par excellence.

Though I'll never feel that way again, I still remember when

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Art Lande - Rubisa Patrol (1976)

Pianist Art Lande has previously featured on these pages in an early 80s trio; this is the first album by his 70s quartet, who would subsequently take their name from this album.  And winding back to '76 with ECM puts us square in the middle of the label's first phenomenal purple patch, when almost every release was an instant and lasting classic.  So prepare for something pretty special as far as 70s jazz goes.

Digging this album out after not having listened to it in quite a while, the first thing that struck me was just how good it sounds.  This is where the renowned 'ECM sound' really started to crystallise, and the recording quality is a joy to behold even before you get started on how good the music is; you'd barely believe it was forty years ago that ECM's Jan Erik Kongshaug rolled the tapes.

Lande is on top form throughout this mostly laid-back programme, but Rubisa Patrol is very much a group effort.  Trumpeter Mark Isham is arguably the star player here, with his mellifilous tone wringing every possible drop of beauty from these melodies (two of them from his own pen).  However, the first sound you hear on the album is a bamboo flute played by bassist/flautist Bill Douglass, who also gets the spotlight (on regular flute) on two takes of Jaimi's Birthday Song.  As mentioned above, this is a wonderfully relaxed record, but the Isham composition For Nancy does pick up the pace a bit for variety, and the minute-long Bulgarian Folk Tune even more so, making for a memorable halfway point on this stunning album.

Rubisa Patrol

Monday, 15 August 2016

Charlemagne Palestine - Schlingen-Blängen (rec. 1988, rel. 1999)

We've had a few minimalist organ works on these pages already, but none so minimal as this single drone, developed by Charlemagne Palestine during the 70s by holding down notes on the organ with pieces of cardboard and then gradually expanding the sound solely through use of the organ stops.  Schlingen Blängen (a meaningless title invented by the composer) could therefore last indefinitely if desired, and was sometimes performed for up to six hours.  This 1988 performance in a village church in Farmsum, Groningen (which had previously played an important role in the development of the piece) is a more manageable 71 minutes in length.

This is a work that rewards concentration for its full duration, to let the initially static-seeming piece reveal all its subtle changes.  Different frequencies are periodically introduced and collide against each other, creating an oscillating feeling of rhythm amidst the giant, unchanging sustained chord.  After ramping this up as far as it can go, the gradually quietening ending is just as stately.

Schlingen-Blängen


Previously posted at SGTG: Strumming Music

Friday, 12 August 2016

William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops II (2003)

As explained in the previous post, I decided against posting all four volumes of The Disintegration Loops in favour of just my personal favourites.

Volume II contains two substantive loop pieces, both with a distinct character.  Dlp 2.2 (2.1 was a brief taster on Volume I) lets the tape loop, possibly the most aged and decaying of the set, flake away into staccato, echoing nothingness over 32 minutes.  The fact that it's also one of the most musically spartan of the loops puts the emphasis squarely on the effects of the tape disintegration - no bad thing, as it demonstrates the project's raison d'etre more effectively than any other.  By contrast, Dlp 3 has a much more lush, stately and mournful sound, washing over the listener in wave after wave of melancholy, then inevitably losing its identity a little bit at a time.  An achingly beautiful sound-world to get lost in, and my favourite Disintegration Loop after Dlp 6.

Volumes I & III are definitely worth seeking out - I've no plans to post them here, but all four volumes were remastered a couple of years ago; I've read that they all sound great in those new reissues.

The Disintegration Loops II

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops IV (2003)

One of the most wonderful, serendipitous events in loop music and ambient music, William Basinski's Disintegration Loops came about by accident while the New York-based artist was archiving some 20 year old tape loops.  As the ageing tape oxide started flaking to pieces, Basinski seized on the genius idea of making each tape into a long-form piece where the loop would repeat over and over until its ultimate self-destruction.  The six pieces were then given subtle production touches such as highly effective reverb, and were poignantly finished on the morning of 9/11, from which Basinski filmed an hour of video from his balcony to put against the first piece, and stills of which provided the album covers for the eventual four CDs (released 2002-3).

I was originally going to post all four volumes, but decided just to focus on my absolute favourite pieces from the series in this post and the next one. Dlp 6, the track that dominates this CD, was the first Basinski piece I discovered one melancholy night on YouTube searching for ambient solace - it's remained my favourite.  This final loop in the series actually disintegrates the least out of all of them over its 40 minutes, and also sounds the most (relatively!) upbeat and somewhat hopeful and redemptive as it washes over you again and again.  The Disintegration Loops Vol. IV CD is filled out with a couple of shorter verisons of the first (and on Vol I, longest) of the loops.

Speaking of YouTube, I couldn't post this album without giving credit to the video in question where I first discovered Basinski - and it's an essential watch; I seriously consider this one of the most genius YouTube videos of all time, and possibly the greatest ever, most perfectly apt fan-created music video.  Link is below - and yep, it is just 40 minutes of dawn breaking over Guadalajara, Mexico.  Enjoy!
 The Disintegration Loops IV

Monday, 8 August 2016

NorthSound Audio - Loon Talk (1990)

Enjoyed posting the Dawn & Dusk Environments album, and still enjoying listening to it (hope you are too!), so here's a post of the other birdsong disc that I currently have.  The common loon is basically Jan Garbarek in avaian form, with haunting keening, piping sounds being its core repertoire - and it has quite a sophisticated vocabulary, according to the informative sleevenote.  Multipurpose tremoloes, territorial yodels, quiet location hoots and night choruses of wailing - this early 90s recording from the Canadian wilderness has all the hits.

Similar to the Dawn & Dusk album, Loon Talk has two different recordings, each just under half an hour.  I'd say I give the first track more regular rotation - the second is a bit on the 'busy' side; but both are well-recorded and perfectly evocative of this ECM-worthy creature in its natural habitat.

Gavia immer

Friday, 5 August 2016

Terry Riley - Descending Moonshine Dervishes (rec. 1975, rel. 1982)

Here's one for the minimalists, to listen to in contrast to Philip Glass' early organ works that I've previously posted.  Where the Glass pieces focus on strict notation, and work their hypnotic effect from repetition, addition and mutation, Terry Riley on the organ plays more freely around scales, modes and rhythm cycles.  In a live performance such as this one, the first Riley album I picked up and still a huge favourite, this means lengthy droning improvisation with frequent bursts of high speed notes, like warp-speed transportation through the stars.

Descending Moonshine Dervishes was recorded in November 1975 at Berlin's Metamusik Festival, but wasn't released until 1982.  Riley plays a single Yamaha YC 45D electric organ, the sound filled out by a specially built in delay and the trippy, distinctly Eastern-sounding melodies/harmonies resulting from the organ being retuned in Riley's preferred just intonation.  Download and enjoy - preferably supine in a dark room.

Descending Moonshine Dervishes

Bonus Riley update, 20 August:

The new Rainbow In Cologne 2CD that I mentioned in the comments has landed!  Pleased to say it's rather good.  The recordings show their age a bit (both from 1971) but that's a tiny minus point compared to the performances, both on church organ.  The hour-long ARICA is fantastic, and I might actually end up preferring the Persian Surgery Dervishes version to the Shandar originals.

I'm not going to post the album here - at least not for quite a while - as it's a new release on a small German label and I'd rather they got as many sales as possible from anyone who's interested (link is from discogs as they don't have much of a website; fellow Tomasz Stanko fans will also appreciate what's to come in a few weeks!).  But for the curious - here's a 15 minute Rainbow clip.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

P16.D4 - Kühe In 1-2 Trauer (1984)

Mid-80s German post-industrial strangeness involving cows - sound familiar?  Where HNAS favoured absurd surrealism though, P16.D4 (originally known as Permutative Distortion or Progressive Disco, depending on what source you trust) were made of sterner, greyer stuff.
 
This album, whose title translates as 'cows in half-grief' does start off in a flurry of tape edits similar to HNAS, but from then on is closer in spirit to contemporaries Einstürzende Neubauten.  There's also hints of Throbbing Gristle here - the title track drones along unsettingly like E-Coli from (second TG album) DoA, with a more buried monologue and additional choral samples; and very early, noisy Nurse With Wound (they'd collaborate with Stapleton in due course) on Ekstase Des Sozialismus.  There's also more concretey sounds and a slight early-Kraftwerkiness on the track with possibly the longest title I've ever seen (see download link below!).  But enough with the comparisons, just enjoy this great record.

He's Afraid Of The Way The Glass Will Fall - Soon - It Will Be A Spectacle: The Fall Of A Crystal Palace. But Coming Down In Total Blackout, Without One Glint Of Light, Only Great Invisible Crashing

Monday, 1 August 2016

Popol Vuh - Einsjäger & Siebenjäger (1974)

Can never stay away from Popol Vuh for too long.  This is the one after Seligpreisung, which welcomed on board guitarist Daniel Fichelscher; from here on until the early 90s (and the last recognisable Vuh album) he'd share equal importance with Florian Fricke in shaping the group's sound.

Einsjäger & Siebenjäger (Hunter One and Hunter Seven) takes its name from characters in the creation myth of the Quiché Maya - which had already inspired the band name, Popol Vuh.  The album starts off as it means to go on, with Kleiner Krieger being a minute of ringing guitar lines, and King Minos futher setting out the core Popol Vuh sound for the next few years.  The gorgeous Morgengruß (morning greeting) shows Fichelscher's versatility with a bucolic acoustic guitar chime gradually being overlaid with his snaking lead lines.

An interesting Popol Vuh motif over their career was repurposing little bits of melody for different albums - the closing moments of the first side of this album are a similarly quiet, pianistic reprise of the 'Agnus Dei' finale of Seligpreisung.  The undisputed highlight of Einsjäger & Siebenjäger, however, is the side-long title track.  From peaceful beginnings, it sets off on a 19 minute epic voyage that gives both Fricke and Fichelscher ample room to drive the track through its cyclic moods, and vocalist Dyong Yun returns for the first time since Hosianna Mantra to add brief moments of breathy, spellbinding vocals.

Einsjäger & Siebenjäger