Friday, 29 December 2017

Party Time - Euro Disco Style (compis rel. 2009-11)

Why not have something nice and uplifting to go into the new year with?  Well, parts of these three compilations by Reckless Records' Disco Discharge series kind of fit the bill, but the more I've discovered (and absolutely loved) about late 70s-80s Euro Disco this year, the more I've found it's just as likely to be suffused with melancholy and/or just plain strange.  Which suits me just fine. 

Besides getting hold of these discs, my interest in Euro Disco has definitely been helped by Opium Hum for posting a fair bit of this stuff, so go seek there for full albums by the likes of Space and Change who feature here in some of their best tracks.  Other highlights for me of 'Euro Disco' (the 'pink' volume, links immediately below) include Sparks' Number One Song In Heaven, and Giorgio Moroder's perfect From Here To Eternity.

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Highlights for me on 'Euro Beats': Ryan Paris' Dolce Vita, Modern Talking's Atlantis Is Calling, and Fun Fun's Baila Bolero.  One criticism of this series among those in the know has been that the sound quality can be variable, and the source/master lineage of some of the tracks a bit suspect (almost everything here ends up being labelled "Original 12" Mix", which might not always be the case - but if, like me, you just want an introduction to some great pop/dance music, it's really a moot point.

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Highlights for me on 'European Connection': Space's Carry On, Turn Me On, sounding at the start like a missing piece of Air's Moon Safari; another great Moroder track, If You Weren't Afraid; the epic 16 minutes of Tantra's Hills Of Katmandu.  In fact, this volume is probably my favourite of the three - there's just so much buried treasure: the 'dub' B-side of Sylvia Love's Instant Love; the instrumental bombast of Hypnosis' Droid, and the gorgeous melancholy of Alba's Only Music Survives.

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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Azimuth - The Touchstone (1978)

Hope you're getting a chance to relax and reflect this week - I am for once; I'm usually at work this week and always wishing I'd just taken the days off.  Managed to think ahead this year, so here's some more Azimuth, this time even more mellifluous and ambient than usual.

Recorded a year and half prior to Départ, The Touchstone ticks all the Azimuth boxes.  It starts with an organ drone (this is where John Taylor started adding the instrument to the Azimuth palette) and Kenny Wheeler's melancholy trumpet smears, before giving way to those circular piano figures and Norma Winstone's soaring voice.

Things then pretty much carry on like that, with one exception - this is the sole Azimuth album (at least out of the original trilogy; my memory's slightly hazy on the '85 and '95 reunions) where Winstone doesn't sing any lyrics at all, but just fills each track with wordless, heavenly vocalising.  This is Azimuth at their most supremely chilled - enjoy.

mega / zippy

Monday, 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

Have a great one.  For a gorgeous and relaxing soundtrack to wind down to today, may I recommend this recording of a European Broadcasting Union Christmas concert from last year, recorded at Vigadó Concert Hall, Budapest.  The programme was as follows.

Arvo Pärt: Magnificat
Kodály: Miserere
Javier Busto: O Magnum mysterium
Levente Gyöngyösi: Magnificat
Reger: Vater unser
Arvo Pärt: The Deer's Cry
Hungarian Radio Chorus
Péter Erdei (conductor).

Friday, 22 December 2017

Nurse With Wound - Soliloquy For Lilith (1988)

Been meaning to post this one for a while now.  What to even say about one of the monumental epics of pure electronic drone, that arose from an accident of technological serendipity and remains the artist's favourite in his vast catalogue?

Simply put, the 106 minutes of Soliloquy For Lilith (now expanded to 2½ hours by outtake and/or remixed material) are an object lesson in chancing upon a simple technical quirk - a closed loop of effects pedals undergoing subtle electromagnetic changes as the air above them is disturbed - and crafting that single idea into a masterpiece.

Stapleton found that he could "play" this setup, theremin-like, to manipulate the huge, swirling soundwaves and ghostly overtones that comprise the six-part Soliloquy, and split the different sounding sections into six sides of vinyl, each 17-18 minutes in length.  In parts 1 & 2, the massive drone draws you in to its hypnotic orbit whilst the overtones stab and shriek in the vastness of space; in parts 3 & 4, the overtones have become almost melodic, resulting in an almost ambient bath in primordial sound.  Simply one of the greatest immersive listening experiences ever made.

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Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Tigran Hamasyan with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir - Luys I Luso (2015)

Armenian for "light from Light", Luys I Luso was the brainchild of pianist Tigran Hamasyan (b. 1987) in which he wanted to fuse together Armenian sacred choral pieces from the 5th - 20th centuries (including ones by Komitas) with classical composition and improvisation.  The results were gorgeous and spellbinding, with the austere beauty of the Yerevan State Chamber Choir blending perfectly with Hamasyan's piano.

Sometimes providing minimal piano accompaniment, sometimes letting rip in more jazzy runs (Voghormea indz Astvats is the most eyebrow-raisingly energetic thing here), Hamasyan's skill is that this potentially clashing mix just works, and pays off in spades.  Whether he's taking a brief diversion into prepared piano (Nor Tsaghik) or closing the album with a sampled recording from 1912 ('made in the presence of Komitas'), Luys I Luso is superbly arranged and just hugely enjoyable in its otherworldly, transportive magic.

mega / zippy

Monday, 18 December 2017

Orlando Jacinto Garcia - La Belleza Del Silencio (1991)

I'm pretty familar with electronic/electroacoustic albums that demand to be "played at maximum volume", or at very least "played loud", but this one's a nice oddity in its direction that "This compact disc should be played softly".  It's a recommendation that works just fine for these two vocal works and two percussive/tape works by Orlando Jacinto Garcia, born 1954 in Havana (emigrated to the US 1961).

First up is a choral tribute to Garcia's early mentor, On The Eve Of The Second Year Anniversary Of Morton's Death (1989).  The sole text is 'la belleza del silencio es mi inspiracion' - the beauty of silence is my inspiration - sung and whispered in little fragments.  Definitely a worthy tribute to Feldman.  In the following Improvisation With Metallic Materials (1990), the tape part is composed from piano timbres and then overlaid with sounds from a Yamaha WX7, a digital MIDI wind instrument.  As per the 'Improvisation' indication, there's a nice, almost wind-chime-like formlessness to the piece, and not always mellow - it does clang around a fair bit, even at the suggested low volume.

Avant-garde vocal legend Joan La Barbara is the performer for Sitio Sin Nombre (1990), with her synthesized voice slowed down to an eerie groan before moving on to more plaintive and meditative cooing, and a little more out-there weirdness later on.  I'd go for that piece as a really lovely highlight of this collection.  Lastly, Metallic Images (1991) samples and manipulates bells and vibraphone tones for its tape part, and has a similar ambient drift to the Metallic Materials piece, but in an overall much more gentle vein.  All in all, this is a really nice collection of Garcia's work, at any volume.

mega / zippy

Friday, 15 December 2017

Ghédalia Tazartès - Une Éclipse Totale de Soleil (1984)

Third album by French sui generis oddball Ghédalia Tazartès.  Like its predecessor Transports, there's no track titles here - just two album sides of whatever Tazartès felt like pasting together into a mindbending journey into vocal and musical sound warping.  Éclipse Totale's original release confuses me a bit when trying to learn more about it - was it released in 1984 by Celluloid records as discogs says, or was it released in 1979 as the CD reissue and a couple of other websites seem to claim?  I'll take a guess that it was recorded in '79 and released later - any clarity welcome.

Perhaps it's just an apt record to be slightly bamboozled by before even listening to it.  As with all the Tazartès music I've heard, the best thing to do is just sit back and follow where he leads with all the jump-cut sections of each record fusing into something truly unique and memorable.  Éclipse Totale starts with a chugging and hissing mechanical rhythm, then a child singing, then Tazartès singing over bleeping and a female voice, and so on.  The second side also starts rhythmically, with a bit more bounce and musicality, before plunging into some dark, grinding electronics and unsettling screams, and just keeps getting weirder.  I live for albums like this.  Don't miss it.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Iannis Xenakis - Synaphaï (2013 compi rec. 1975 & 1992)

Nothing quite gets me through a long week like a nice slab of Xenakian mayhem - or four.  The first three pieces on this disc were originally released on LP in 1976, and the fourth is from a compilation from 20 years later, but thematically and stylistically, it's all good.
Original UK LP, 1976
Synaphaï, Greek for 'connexities', was written in 1969 as a piano concerto of sorts.  In Xenakis' hands, naturally, this meant a grinding, stabbing 86-piece orchestra being overlaid with a jaw-droppingly acrobatic piano part.  Aroura ('earth') (1971) is for string orchestra, and slithers and judders around nicely.  Both of these pieces are just under 12 minutes long.

The 20-minute Antikthhon, also from '71, was written as a ballet, the title being a Pythagorean term meaning 'counter-earth'.  It's textbook orchestral Xenakis, and my favourite thing here, with all of his usual staccato jitters, glissandi and percussive thunder making for a stunning experience.

As noted above, Keqrops (1986) is a kind of bonus track to this compilation, being the only one not from the '75 London recordings with the New Philharmonic.  It's a 1992 recording by the Mahler Youth Orchestra of one of the best orchestral epics of 80s-era Xenakis, and like Synaphaï, is a bit of a piano-concerto-gone-insane undertaking in its structure and sound - well worth its inclusion here.

mega / zippy

Monday, 11 December 2017

Tomasz Stańko Quintet - Jazzmessage From Poland (1972)

The 70s fusion-era Stańko Quintet recorded live in Iserlohn, Germany in May 1972.  Other than a change of bassist, this is the group that would go on to record Purple Sun the following year.  The music here is therefore in a similar trumpet-violin-flute-sax vein, if perhaps a bit more laid back and exploratory across these two side-long tracks.

AEOIOE/Heban settles into a nice shuffling groove for most of its duration, with Zbigniew Seifert's violin to the fore for much of it.  Things become much more free towards the end - presumably the 'Heban' part, for which Seifert is credited as the writer.  Piece For Diana/Wood's Music Serie starts off quite free and mellow too, with some extremely odd noises being coaxed from the reeds.  There's some nice flute, but again the star soloist seems to be Seifert for much of the track.  Not that I'm complaining - Seifert (1946-1979) was a wonderful musician, and I definitely need to give his solo work more of a listen sometime soon.

Perhaps it's a bit odd for a Stańko Quintet album to have the band leader taking a back seat so much, but to be honest I quite like how Stańko doesn't dominate proceedings here, but leaves room for everyone.  He does ignite properly about halfway through the second track, but even then it's as a contributor to a free-for-all rather than a full spotlight.  If you're wanting to listen to Stańko for his trumpet playing then, this is maybe not the ideal album to seek it out - but if you're after some great Eastern-European jazz fusion being played by an open, organic-sounding group, then this is a jazzmessage well worth receiving.

mega / zippy

Friday, 8 December 2017

Lumen Drones - s/t (2014)

Anyone for some nice wintry Nordic drone rock?  This collaboration between Nils Økland, specialist in the 8-string hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle), and Ørjan Haaland (drums) and Per Steinar Lie (guitar) of Norwegian post-rock band The Low Frequency In Stereo was recorded in November 2011 and released three years later.  Almost every review I've read of this album makes comparisons to an Australian band called The Dirty Three, who apparently have a very similar MO - I'm sure I'll get around to checking them out eventually (anyone in the know have any recommendations?), but for now, here's Lumen Drones.

Even by ECM's eclectic standards, this album feels like an odd thing for them to release - I'm guessing Økland's previous associations with the ECM stable helped.  In any case, the music is striking, driving and invigorating stuff that more than merited a release.  Skeletal guitar themes give way to grinding chords that move the tracks forward along with the pounding drums, overlaid with Økland's melodies, the extra drone strings of the hardingfele suiting this style of music perfectly.

The trio's sound is arguably at its most effective when they really stretch out and get lost in the groove, and the two longest tracks, Ira Furore and Echo Plexus, are accordingly my favourites on the album.  That's not to dismiss the more compact and subtle tracks in the album's second half, though (Lux, Husky and Keelwater), which show an equal talent for understatement and atmosphere.  Hope they make another one sometime.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Qluster - Tasten (2015)

For their fifth album as Qluster, Roedelius and Onnen Bock - by now expanded to a trio with Armin Metz - decided to forego the electronics of previous albums for this sublime album of music for three pianos.  Sound familiar?  What you get here, though, is first of all nearly twice as long, and as distinctly European as the Budd-Garcia-Lentz minature masterpiece was distinctly American/Latin American.  Tasten is also more sparingly produced, largely allowing that timeless Steinway resonance to speak for itself in triplicate.

As might be expected, the result of this setup - and one of course that involves Hans-Joachim Roedelius - is absolutely gorgeous both melodically and harmonically.  Picking standouts is difficult on such a strong programme of material, but I'll plump for Brandung, the longest track, with the perfectly evocative Spuren im Schnee a close second.

Here and there, little interesting touches flesh out the nine pieces on Tasten, such as the string plucking on Über den Dächern, and more subtly so on the following Il Campanile.  That track actually brought to mind for me Zeitkratzer's treatment of Kraftwerk's Wellenlange (see last week) in the way it takes the minimal material somewhere sublime.

mega / zippy
Previously posted: Fragen

Monday, 4 December 2017

George Crumb - Voice Of The Whale / Night Of The Four Moons (1974)

Vox Balaenae, better known as Voice Of The Whale, is probably one of the best known works by George Crumb (b. 1929, Charleston WV) - it's pretty accessible in its mostly languid, Debussyian drift, whilst still getting pretty far out there in its odd performance requirements.  Players are directed to sing into the flute, strum the piano strings with chisels, paperclips and glass rods... oh, and play under blue light whilst wearing black masks.  As the title suggests, the piece was inspired by recordings of actual whale song that Crumb heard in the late 60s, and the mysterious undersea world that it conjures up is beautifully absorbing.  Perfect for listening to whilst watching Blue Planet II with the sound off (which I've been doing for weeks with a wide selection of music).

The other work on this 1974 release was Night Of The Four Moons, which was composed during the Apollo 11 flight to the moon and is set in four sections, each taking a fragment of text by Federico Garcia Lorca (whose words Crumb frequently set to music around this time).  Musically it's as wonderfully strange as Whale, if not more, as the mezzo-soprano intones eerily over a fractured dreamscape of flutes, banjo, percussion and amplified cello.  Totally must get myself Crumbed up to the max, I love his stuff more and more every time I give it a go.

mega / zippy

Friday, 1 December 2017

Duke Ellington - Ellington Uptown (1952)

A stone-cold classic from the dawn of the LP era, and my personal Ellington of choice.  Ellington Uptown, and its almost-as-awesome predecessor Masterpieces By Ellington, were released in the early 50s as featuring, for the first time, "full-length concert arrangements".  And boy did The Duke  and His Orchestra know how to get the most out of the new format, recording albums like this that still burst out of speakers sounding fresh and vital today.

There's reinventions of (even then) old classics from the Ellington playbook like The Mooche, Perdido and Take The A Train, with the latter now featuring a great Betty Roche vocal, and freshly-minted material too in the stunning curtain-raiser.  Skin Deep had been penned by drum prodigy Louie Bellson, whose double-bass-drum attack punctuates the track with solos that could give your average death metal drummer a run for their money in an era before most of them were even born.

The three suites that comprise the remaining material on the album, as far as I'm concerned, makes Ellington worthy to be spoken of in the same breath as Gershwin in terms of writing and arrangement.  The Harlem Suite was commissioned by Arturo Toscanini, and in Duke's words depicted a Sunday morning walk through Harlem's Latin and West Indian neighbourhoods up to the business district, with the sights and sounds of civil rights marchers along the way.

The two suites at the end of this CD only appeared as part of the original album on certain releases, so this 2004 reissue was really the first 'complete' Uptown.  The Controversial Suite takes a sideways look at rival factions in jazz - traditional vs. modern - by making both sound equally out-there.  Lastly, the Liberian Suite is the oldest recording here (1947) with its gorgeous vocal introduction 'I Like The Sunrise', and was a tribute to the first African-American settlers in the Liberian Republic a century beforehand.

mega / zippy