Monday, 25 June 2018

Miles Davis - On The Corner (1972)

Someone mentioned late 60s-70s Miles in the comments recently, which made me dig this one out.  When On The Corner got its Columbia Legacy reissue in 2000, it became my introduction to Miles Davis' electric period - and holy crap, what a choice for diving into his post '68 journey to the outer limits of jazz fusion.  Already getting a hammering from establishment jazz critics for setting his sights light years farther than theirs, by 1972 the James Brown/Sly Stone-influenced Davis cared less than zero with On The Corner, its straightahead funk cacophony and its cartoon cover by illustrator Corky McCoy (Miles' idea being to appeal to a younger African-American audience).

 If On The Corner was meant to be a record to groove to, that's not exactly easy at the outset, as the odd rhythm (the sixteenth-notes on the hi-hat are the key to following it) cuts in mid flow.  The title track - the first three minutes of the opening suite - is the kind of full-on fury that would lead to scorching live documents like Dark Magus and Agharta a few years later, with John McLaughlin's guitar and Collin Walcott's sitar wah-wahing like fighting lions.  Even as the larger 20-minute track opens up to give a bit more space, the subsequent sections deftly spliced by Teo Macero (wonder if he was ever aware of Tago Mago?), the groove doesn't calm down until the very end.

The head-shaking of the jazz critics continued as the rest of the album - that's 34 minutes - proceeded to hinge around one single bassline.  I must admit on early listens this did make me tune out, particularly on the 23 minute Helen Butte/Mr Freedom X - big mistake.  To follow these tracks closely is to hear infinite variations from the assembled players (Miles himself sticks mostly to electric organ, in his Fela-like lead shaman role), and an abundance of clever editing and other studio trickery, influenced by both Stockhausen and Buckminster Fuller.  Essential, life-affirming deep groove music that the rest of the world is still catching up to.

mega / zippy

Friday, 22 June 2018

Sermilä, Honkanen, Vesala, Helasvuo, Hauta-aho - Ode To Marilyn (1974)

A very welcome first time on CD (plus a vinyl reissue) for this legendary chunk of Finnish weirdness.  Copies can be bought directly from the label at, who specialize in reissues of Finnish prog, metal and jazz - definitely got my eye on that release of two Vesala live sessions.  But for today, let's listen to the sound of two composers and a bunch of jazz musicians letting their ideas run wild in the Finnish Broadcasting Company's experimental studio.

This mindwarpingly bizarre hybrid of electroacoustic music and free jazz was the brainchild of Jarmo Sermilä, a composer/trumpeter who had been leading an Experimental Music Group into sound research at the studio.  Electroacoustic composer Antero Honkanen, who was working at the studio as an engineer, was also involved.  Between them, the plan was hatched to hire some of Finland's most interesting jazz musicians - drummer Edward Vesala, fresh from one of ECM's most out-there sessions and albums of his own, bassist Teppo Hauta-aho and flautist Mikael Helasvuo - and see what happened.

After 160 hours of recordings, and poaching of some further sound effects from the studio archives, a tape of eight finished tracks was sent to Scandia Records.  The label released seven (the eighth, Awakening, is now restored on this reissue) tracks under the name Ode To Marilyn, from the poem by Marilyn Monroe sung by guest soprano Pirkkoliisa Tikka on A Doll's Cry.  And what an album it was. 

Dominated by Honkanen's dark, swirling and swishing ambience (especially on his three solo tracks, Nightmares, Awakening and Midnight), the result is nothing less than proto-Nurse With Wound - in 1973 Helsinki.  The sometimes extreme dynamics of the experimental studio create an unearthly, unsettling dreamscape, with the flute, trumpet, bass, drums and organ/synth used sparingly, sometimes hanging in mid-air or subjected to other processing.  Vesala's reversed voice can also be heard on The Waves, apparently requesting further takes.  A beyond-essential cult classic.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Egberto Gismonti ‎- Dança Dos Escravos (1989)

If the solo half of Egberto Gismonti's Sanfona was a stunning closeup on his guitar virtuosity, his last album of the 80s was another masterpiece in the same zone.  The title means 'Dance of the slaves', and the sleevenotes consist of "Fragments of the history of the colonizers collected by Geraldo Carniero" (a poet, playwright and composer from Belo Horizonte).  Many of these historical quotations make for brutal reading, and end with an observation from the time of the American Revolution about the transitory nature of any regime.

All of this is balanced out by the inclusion of a drawing of Gismonti by his then seven year old son Alexandre, captioned "Meu querido papai tocando" (my dear dad playing).  It's as if to underline that any nation's unfiltered history may be uncomfortable, but there's still beauty to be seen - in this case, family.  This translates into the music, as Gismonti once again brings together all of his study into the history of Brazilian music into a gorgeous collection of six original compositions (and one by Heitor Villa-Lobos).

At times sombre, like the closing Memoria E Fado or the opening of Villa-Lobos' Trenzinho Do Caipira, at times upbeat and joyful dances (Lundu, Alegrinho), Dança Dos Escravos comes in every shade of expression.  Gismonti actually subtitles each track with a colour, respectively red, blue, green, yellow, black, white and brown; the reasons for the choices aren't made clear, so I suppose it's up to the listener to make any connections if they wish.  His playing, on 6, 10, 12 and 14 string guitars, and his breathtaking technique and melodic/harmonic talents really do all the talking, most strikingly on the 15-minute suite that comprises the title track.

mega / zippy

Monday, 18 June 2018

Mikhail Chekalin - Between Spring And Autumn By Stealth (2004 compi, rec. 1986-93)

Some more Mikhail Chekalin to add to the previous posts of his Symphony-Phonogram and Prepared Organ albums.  Between Spring And Autumn By Stealth is a 1986 work, which like the others was first released in the M'ars Gallery series in the early 90s.  Like Symphony-Phonogram, it's a great mix of Chekalin's symphonic ambitions/classical influences, and his talent for vast atmospheres of dark, disquieting ambience, especially when his wordless vocal is added.

The latter aspects are still my favourite thing about Chekalin's music so far, especially on tracks like Mini Requiem.  I've mentioned this before, but it really is like ambient 80s Vangelis with a lot less gloss, the restricted production values well suited to Chekalin's music.  I'll be exploring him further in due course - there's a couple more of the M'ars Gallery reissues I still need to pick up, before giving his 90s-onwards music a try.  Speaking of which, there's a taster added to the end of this CD, in a 28-minute live performance from 1993.  Titled Concerto For Piano, Synthesiser and Voice, it's an immersive piece with long abstract, exploratory stretches and some gorgeous piano passages - well worth inclusion here.

mega / zippy

Friday, 15 June 2018

Amiga Electronics (2017 box-set of 5 albums, rel. 1985-89)

Tangerine Dream's legendary, Berlin Wall-crossing concert at the Palast Der Republik at the beginning of the 80s was a landmark in many ways.  Not least in raising the profile of electronic music in the GDR, to the point where the authorities in charge of Amiga, the state label for popular music, began to take it seriously.  Excerpts of the TD concert were released as Quichotte (Pergamon everywhere else), and eventually a short series of LPs by East German artists, often stating 'Electronics' on the album covers, emerged.  This little CD box collects five of these, giving them their first digital outing and making a fascinating piece of Iron Curtain electronica history easily accessible.  Here goes then...

Reinhard Lakomy & Rainer Oleak - Zeiten (1985)
Reinhard Lakomy is by far the most high-profile artist among all those featured in the box set.  By the start of the 80s, 'Lacky' was well known in East Germany as a pop/rock artist, and had even recorded albums for children.  His electronic period began with 1982's Das Geheime Leben, which I've seen featured on a few blogs over the years, and it's a good one.  Three years later, Zeiten was a collaboration with Rainer Oleak, who'd been in a handful of minor GDR bands, and it's one of at least two essential listens out of the five albums in this post, with the longest, most exploratory tracks.

The first two tracks, Gleichzeit and Raumzeit, are the most abstract and atmospheric, gradually becoming more sequencer-based.  Ruhzeit is a more mellow interlude; Klangzeit follows the ambient to uptempo pattern of the opening pair, and Hochzeit is an anthemic closer.  As might be expected, the influence of Tangerine Dream is very much apparent, but Zeiten is in no way a ripoff - it's a very strong album in its own right.

mega / zippy

Servi - Rückkehr Aus Ithaka (1986)
The Cottbus-based duo of Jan Bilk and Tomas Nawka started out as a larger rock band called Servi Pacis, before slimming down to an electronic act and playing (apparently very well received) church services.  A few years later came their debut LP, which seems to be a sort of concept piece inspired by Homer's Ithaca.  It's another winner, with a variety of moods and tempi and good bits of sequencing, much of it likely on the locally-produced Tiracon synthesisers.  My favourites here are the 10-minute Kirkes and 7-minute Nausikaa.

Again, the influence of Tangerine Dream is unmistakable, but the overall sound is unique enough to produce a fascinating and enjoyable album that stands up to repeated listens.  By this point in the 80s of course, TD were fast losing the subtle atmospherics that Servi conjure up, especially on the slower tracks like Laistrygonen.  And what really makes for Servi's USP is the use of accordion on the track Sirenen, integrating folk melodies from the Germany/Poland-straddling Lusatia region that they hailed from.

mega / zippy

Jürgen Ecke - Sound-Synthese (1986)
Jürgen Ecke's main gig seems to have been as a film/TV music composer, and his contribution to the 'Electronics' series was this LP.  Rather than approach Sound-Synthese as a cohesive album, it's best enjoyed as a collection of soundtracky/library music-style synth-pop tracks.  And enjoyable it certainly is on those terms - there's a good variety of uptempo and midtempo stuff, all of it nicely produced and well composed, as you'd expect given Ecke's background.  Most of the digital synth tones might sound a bit off-the-shelf and accordingly dated, but he does sound like he's having a lot of fun exploring the rhythm tracks and breaks available to him and his collaborators in the studio.  Perhaps one for the crate-diggers in that respect.

mega / zippy

Key - Key (1988)
Speaking of fun... ah, Key, how much I've come to love you pair of wacky studio hands (check out the pictures at the bottom of this post) behind this album.  They did play live quite a bit too, once being spontaneously joined on stage at the Palast Der Republik by two breakdancers who were then invited to become part of the group.

This album though... I've probably listened to it more than any other in the box set since acquiring it.  Honestly, this music could be prescribed as an antidepressant.  Sure, it's mostly instrumental synth pop, including covers of Crockett's Theme and Axel F, but it's just So. Much. Fun.  Like Ecke above, Frank Fehse and Andreas Fregin of Key did seem to know their way around a bit of rhythm programming and sampling, with the best uptempo tracks ageing strangely well because of this.  Kein Anschluss (No connection) suggests an awareness of Kraftwerk's Electric Cafe, and album highlights Mikado and Abaca wouldn't have been entirely out of place on a compilation of rare European electro.  Or am I way off with that?  Don't care, got too much love for this album.

mega / zippy

Hans-Hasso Stamer - Digital Life (1989)
Little is known about Hans-Hasso Stamer, responsible for the last Electronics-series album before reunification, other than that he was a computer programmer who liked to windsurf, according to the liner notes of his only LP.  For that little gem, and much of the other info in this post, thanks are due to Achim Breiling of the German website Baby-Blaue Prog Reviews.  Also drew on this wonderful article, which reveals that Stamer subsequently became a poet and pianist.

Digital Life is pretty much exactly the album that you might imagine a windsurfing computer boffin making in 1989, with some blaring, MIDI-tastic keyboard tones.  There could've been scope to enjoy this along the lines of Jürgen Ecke's album above, and the first few tracks would make pretty good video game music, but you get the idea that Stamer had a higher-minded serious album in his sights.  Tackling Ravel's Bolero definitely suggests classical training, but the result doesn't match up to the warmth of the attempts of others that I've heard from the 70s, much less Isao Tomita's benchmark (interestingly, Ecke's LP also used the rhythm of the Bolero on one track).  Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy Digital Life on its own terms, and it is cheesy fun to listen to today, if only somewhat amusing as opposed to the outright hilarity of the Key album.

mega / zippy

As a bonus, here's a couple of pics of Key in all their glory.  Andreas Fregin, eh?  That is clearly Jeremy Beadle (that's one for UK TV viewers of my age and above) in the second picture.  Bonus points for any eagle eyed tech-spotters that can work out what all their gear is in the first pic.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Antonio Carlos Jobim - Urubu (1976)

When it comes to Jobim, as much as I love the sunny, sparkling crispness of Stone Flower, and the gorgeous perfection of Wave makes it possibly my favourite album of all time, this one from 1976 is fast catching up.  By the mid 70s, Jobim and Claus Ogerman's talents and ambition had reached a new level of maturity, complexity and subtlety.  This might not make Urubu an easy record to get into, but it is one that knocks you flat with more wonderful surprises with every listen.

It's a well structured album too - four songs with vocals, then four instrumental mood pieces making up the old side one/side two split.  Even at the outset of the song half, there's no obvious hook to draw you in or sumptuous flourish, just 40 seconds of solo berimbau scraping away before the twilit arrangements usher in Jobim and Miúcha's duet about an anthropomorphic trip through the tropics.  This is followed by three wonderful romantic songs which made me think of similar era Serge Gainsbourg, if only production-wise in Jobim's close-miked, instantly recognisable voice and the dense, languid orchestration.

The old Side 2, the instrumental suite, is the real prize here though.  There's that famously untranslatable word in the first title - saudade - that indicates right away that this piece is going to be Jobim's most ambitious tribute yet to his home nation, and it's a masterpiece.  Saudade Do Brasil, and in fact all of the three tracks to follow, sound as if they're superior soundtrack music to a documentary film - one that takes in Brazilian history, society and culture in a breathtaking sweep.  Musically, it's endlessly rewarding on repeated listens - I'm currently marveling afresh at the way the flutes lead the journey through the eight-minute Arquitetura De Morar.  Hugely recommended.

mega / zippy

Monday, 11 June 2018

Mathias Spahlinger - Inter-mezzo/128 Erfüllte Augenblicke/In Dem Ganzen Ocean... (1993 compi)

Three 80s recordings of works by Mathias Spahlinger (b. 1944, Frankfurt) here, as part of the Wergo label's Edition Zeitgenössische Musik series.  First up is Inter-mezzo (1986), a piano concerto-like piece with interesting playing techniques on the piano strings - "...plectrum, hammer, steel balls, squared timbers, tuning fork or drumsticks..." and will appeal to Xenakis fans of a similar era.

Then there's 128 Erfüllte Augenblicke (1976) (fulfilled moments - or something like that?) for voice, clarinet and cello.  It's one of those 'choose your own random structure' compositions, with 128 different pages lasting a few seconds each, apart from one four-minute section.  As might be expected, it all sounds a bit choppy and lacks forward momentum, but a lot of the vocal sounds (by Dietburg Spohr - I've got an ECM New Series CD of her vocal ensemble that I must post sometime) are pretty out-there and enjoyable.

My favourite thing here, then, was the final work, the two-part In Dem Ganzen Ocean Von Empfindungen Eine Welle Absondern, Sie Anhalten (1985) for three choirs and eight-channel playback.  The title is roughly 'In the great ocean, a single emerging wave stops you in your tracks' (I think? Happy to be corrected).  This was its premiere performance in 1987, with the atmospherics well captured.  Textually,  the work draws on news reports regarding world poverty, hunger and inequality, which taken with its performance gives the whole thing a bit of a Luigi Nono feel to my ears.

mega / zippy

Friday, 8 June 2018

Wayne Shorter feat. Milton Nascimento - Native Dancer (1975)

For Wayne Shorter's first solo album since the takeoff of Weather Report, it was perhaps inevitable that the great saxman would continue in a similar fusion groove - and Native Dancer is certainly that.  What lifts it into another dimension entirely though is that Shorter didn't just follow through on his desire to make a Brazilian-influenced album, he got Airto Moreira in on percussion and the gorgeous voice of Milton Nascimento up front and centre.

The result was a damn fine album that sounds almost as authentically Brazilian as it does mid-70s jazz fusion.  On the four non-Nascimento tracks, Shorter breezes through the grooves with Herbie Hancock acting as the perfect foil (and composer of closing track Joanna's Theme) on piano.  And with summer officially kicking off, copious amounts of Fender Rhodes are mandatory, at least in my ears - the main electric pianist here is another Brazilian, Wagner Tiso.

Brazilian music in general from the 60s onwards is another summer must-have in my book, as longtime readers will be aware (more in the coming weeks naturally), and the star of Native Dancer has to be Milton Nascimento - this album was my introduction to his unique, soaring voice.  The remaining five compositions on the album are Nascimento's, picking from the cream of his catalogue up til then.  Milagre Dos Peixes gets anglicized to Miracle Of The Fishes here (but still with the Portuguese lyrics) and gets a fine MPB-jazz fusion makeover, as do Ponta De Areia, Lilia and more.  From The Lonely Afternoons actually reminds me of late 80s Pat Metheny Group sans guitar solos.  Grab a caipirinha and download.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Vyacheslav Artyomov - Invocations (1991 compi, rec. 1981-90)

Haven't posted anything in a while by Artyomov, the Russian composer (b. 1940, Moscow) who started to fascinate me a couple of years ago, so here's something I just got hold of, featuring four of his works for percussion.  These recordings were performed by Mark Pekarsky and his percussion ensemble, with a soprano part by Lidia Davydova on Invocations.  That one's a four part work, as is the Sonata Of Meditations; the Olympia disc (cover above) was pressed with these works as just one track apiece, so I've added in the proper divisions as per the Melodiya release.

All of these percussive works show Artyomov's interest in the ancient and the ritualistic, in contrast to his more religious music (e.g. Requiem, link below).  Totem (composed 1976) and Ave Atque Vale (1989) are self-contained pieces, and run the full range of percussive sounds and dynamics.  A Sonata Of Meditations (1978) is structured over the course of a day, like Indian ragas; there's a Morning Meditation, an Afternoon Meditation, a nice contemplative Evening one, and my favourite, the playful but still eerie Midnight one, with the most focus on tuned percussion.

The strangest work of all is Invocations, composed from 1979-1981.  As mentioned above, the Perkasky Ensemble are joined by the great Russian soprano of early music and the avant-garde, Lidia Davydova (1932-2011), who could be likened to a Soviet Joan La Barbara in her championing of the most experimental and complex vocal material.  Here she adds not just a great soprano performance, but many different voice sounds that take this work into another dimension, particularly in the most ritualistic Invocation of Sounds-of Fire.  It's clear why this compilation has Invocations up front in the title - the other works are very good, but this one is essential listening.
Russian CD cover
 mega / zippy

Artyomov previously posted at SGTG: Elegies / Requiem

Other essential posts for percussive obsessives:
Steve Reich's Drumming
Iannis Xenakis' Pléiades / Psappha
Hugues Dufourt's Erewhon 
Les Percussions De Strasbourg compilation

Monday, 4 June 2018

Freddie Hubbard / İlhan Mimaroǧlu - Sing Me A Song Of Songmy (1971)

A unique and still powerful collision between jazz, recited poetry/other spoken word and the electronic/composed avant-garde, this album is very much a product of its time, but continues to resonate.  Credited first to the legendary trumpeter Freddie Hubbard (and solely to him on the spine of the CD I have here), Sing Me A Song Of Songmy was however foremost a project by Turkish-born composer İlhan Mimaroǧlu (1926-2012).  As a producer at Atlantic, Mimaroǧlu had top-notch facilities at his disposal to indulge in an album this bizarre and still get a major label release out of it, and Hubbard's quintet were game to provide an underlying backbone of post-bop accessibility.

Before even hearing the record, listeners of the time would've been aware that there were weighty themes within - 'Songmy' was an anglicization of Sơn Mỹ, the Vietnamese village in which the 1968 My Lai massacre took place; the cover painting was Picasso's Massacre In Korea, and the gatefold a collage of contemporary anti-war content.  Alongside Mimaroǧlu's "Fantasy For Electromagnetic Tape", with occasional quotes of older classical music, and Hubbard's quintet, were readings of poems by Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca and Nha-Khe, and texts by Kierkegaard and Che Guevara.

The album opens with another then-contemporary recitation, of Susan Atkins' testimony at the Manson Family trials, accompanied by a nightmarish sound collage giving way to a string orchestra overture and more electronics.  If this is a bit too much of a chucking in at the deep end, a few minutes of Hubbard and band follow with minimum disturbance, before the electronic processing gradually leads to the first piece of war poetry.  The album continues in collage mode, jumping from jazz to processed noise to orchestrated passages to recitation and sometimes piling on all at once, clearly intended to be unsettling, provocative and thought-provoking.  A must-listen, even today.

mega / zippy

Friday, 1 June 2018

Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Union Cafe (1993)

This was the first full album I heard by the late Simon Jeffes' Penguin Cafe Orchestra, when it was given an anniversary reissue (and first outing on vinyl) by Erased Tapes last year.  The cover painting was re-photographed as above, and the album proves a good fit for what's fast becoming one of my favourite record labels ever, prefiguring their accessible-with-a-hint-of-avant-garde neo-classical bent by decades.

A handful of other PCO albums are available (like this one), and if you've watched any average amount of TV/movies/TV advertising (well, that last one largely in the UK) you'll find that their most famous tunes are already embedded in your memory many times over.  Union Cafe, however, was their final (Jeffes passed away in 1997 from a brain tumour) and grandest statement, and as far as I'm concerned should definitely be as widely known as the early stuff.

The mood across these 74 minutes is mainly sedate and melancholy, but it's a pastoral, languorous melancholy, like a benzo-spiked Pimms at summer sunset by an English country river; only getting remotely dark once (Thorn Tree Wind could pass for late-Stars Of The Lid).  There's a couple of jokers in the pack though, one of them perfectly placed at the start of the album (the brilliant boogie-woogie rave up of Scherzo & Trio) and the other halfway through, the rousing, folky Organum.  Notwithstanding Scherzo, and the 10-minute pulse of Vega, my favourites all seem to be in the second half of the album, where the shorter pieces collect - especially two gorgeous piano miniatures, Silver Star Of Bologna and Kora Kora.  Pass the Pimms!
original cover, 1993
 mega / zippy

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Pat Metheny Group - The Way Up (2005)

For their final (barring any future reunions) outing together, the PMG core of Metheny, Mays & Rodby, unchanged since the early 80s, plus more recent members Cuong Vu (trumpet/voice) and Antonio Sanchez (drums), produced a masterpiece of a sendoff.

It was the start of 2005; many of us who'd been tirelessly defending Metheny/PMG against the "jazz muzak" putdowns had been getting slightly worried that Speaking Of Now had just been giving those naysayers more fuel.  Then along comes a new album - a single, 68-minute piece of music composed around recurring themes but still leaving plenty of improvisational space, that stretched Pat & Lyle's writing skills and celebrated all that had made them great.  It remains my post-ECM favourite by both bandleader and group.

Conceived by Metheny and Mays as a "protest song" against the dumbing-down of modern music (© every generation since music began), The Way Up was always intended to be a big statement, and a long one, but that doesn't make it inaccessible.  One helpful concession was to divide the hour-plus work on CD into three sections, preceded by a five minute 'Opening', which does make the whole thing more manageable to digest (and to write about!).

It's also just so damn enjoyable: to hear Pat run the whole gamut of acoustic, electric and guitar synth; to hear the main themes introduced then seamlessly reconfigured much later on, like the Reichian pulse in the Opening coming back in Parts 2 & 3; to hear all the buildups in tempo and intensity suddenly stop in their tracks, only to immediately start building up the next stage of the journey.  The Way Up always feels like a lengthy train ride to me, no doubt helped by Metheny's career-long evocation of Midwestern open space; if you ever feel less than enamoured with the scenery for a bit (I'm not crazy about Grégoire Maret's guest harmonica solo, for instance) there'll be something else, both new and familiar, along shortly.  And as a complete journey, I seriously can't rate The Way Up highly enough.  Essential early 21st century jazz at its finest.

mega / zippy

Monday, 28 May 2018

Iannis Xenakis - Oresteïa (1987 recording, rel. 1990)

Xenakis gets operatic, for what seems to have been the only time in his career.  Oresteïa is actually more just a condensed cantata from the hour and a half of music composed for the city of Ypsilanti, Michigan in the mid 60s, on the opening of their Greek Theatre.  An LP of the slimmed-down version appeared on Erato in 1970, and doesn't seem to be available digitally.

In 1987, Xenakis added a new section, Kassandra, and the premiere of this version in Strasbourg in October of that year was recorded, and released in 1990.  If you're familiar with Iannis Xenakis, either from this blog (there's loads - see tag below) or otherwise, you'll know what to expect - staccato attacks, queasy glissandi, thunderous percussion (in great ritualistic rhythm here at times) and general chaos that lends itself well to Aeschylus' classic tragedy trilogy.

The score includes "whips, sirens and metal sheets" as well as wood and metal simantras, tuned blocks originating from the Eastern Orthodox Church.  There's even a direction for the audience to be given some of the metal ones - wonder how that worked out?  Vocally, the choir (an otherwise unrecorded one from Anjou) are suitably stentorian and portentous, and the visions of Cassandra are relayed in a spectacularly unhinged falsetto.  As I've said before, Xenakis at full tilt satisfies me in a way that few other avant-garde composers can, and Oresteïa is a fine example of something a bit different, even for him.

mega / zippy

Friday, 25 May 2018

Keith Jarrett - La Scala (1997)

Jazz Piano Friday again, and why not, when it comes to one of Keith Jarrett's grandest statements in all of his solo concert history.  The 44 minutes of the first improv, 27 minutes of the second improv and a sweet little Over The Rainbow encore on the night of 13 February 1995 were certainly enough to move a seasoned conductor's assistant to tears, as Jarrett relates.  Whether that sleevenote comes across as an endearing anecdote about the power of music, or a hilariously self-important bit of pomposity from an artist who would become ever more notorious for them, largely depends on what mood it catches me in.

The music from this performance in Milan's great opera house, however, never fails to move me.  After about 15 minutes of sedate beauty, Jarrett appears to hit a wall to some listeners' ears, but the tentative mid-section of La Scala Part 1 works just fine for me as a refreshingly minimal interlude that gradually builds in ritualistic intensity.  It then falls back again before finally bursting into the stream of notes that will build up the triumphant final five minutes (remind anyone of Köln Pt. I?).

La Scala Part 2 finds Jarrett suitably re-energised to take off on a more knotty, abstract flight.  Round about the halfway mark, this coalesces into a more melodic, flowing, cruising altitude.  Jarrett then settles down to ten minutes of music that must rank among the most wondrous ever to have come from the fingers of this, or any other pianist (final bit of crazy notwithstanding).  As the cherry on the top of this, we get five minutes of Over The Rainbow that would melt the hardest of hearts.  Agelessly beautiful stuff.
outer sleeve cover
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Vilod - Safe In Harbour (2015)

The meat in the middle of this week's ECM sandwich comes from two electronic musicians who have in fact featured on that label together, in the remix double-album Re:ECM.  That one was under their own names, Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer, and I'm still making my mind up about it - it'll probably appear here at some point.

For their first full-length album of original material, Villalobos and Loderbauer compressed their names into Vilod, and compressed jazz, dub techno and free funk (yup, I've checked around to make sure I got my subgenres right!) into a subatomic particle chamber to let them freely intermingle for an hour.  With the beats made up of at least as much live drums as machine programming, and some moody electric piano on tracks like Beefdes and the outstanding title track, this is a record that genuinely swings with its jazz DNA.

Both artists wear their love of classic jazz on their sleeves in the grin-inducing opener Modern Hit Midget.  The track samples the between-song announcements from a Modern Jazz Quartet performance for NDR Hannover in October 1957 (released in 2013), and a few bars of Milt Jackson's vibes, both speed-shifted into absurdity.  That one and the title track are my definite favourites, with the epic Zero running them close, but every time I listen to the other tracks as well there's a fresh microscopic detail to pick out and revel in.  Deep listening electronica par excellence.

mega / zippy

previously posted at SGTG: Fizheuer Zieheuer

Monday, 21 May 2018

László Hortobágyi, György Kurtág Jr & Miklós Lengyelfi - Kurtágonals (2009)

If I could count the number of times I've said to fans of reunion-era Throbbing Gristle / X-TG / Carter-Tutti / late-period Coil that there's an ECM album they should pick up at the first opportunity, as they'd pretty much be fans of it from the word go - that would be precisely... once.

This is the album in question, and it was recorded by three Hungarians who collectively go under the name Hortagonals, although the group name appears only in the liner notes.  Whether that was to avoid confusion with the album title, or that using the contributing artists' names up front is closer to ECM convention, dunno, and it doesn't really matter.  What does matter is the 71 minutes of dark electronic brilliance cooked up here by composer György Kurtág Jr (b. 1955, avant-garde credentials obvious straight away from his name, came up through IRCAM in the 80s), "transglobal" composer László Hortobágyi (b. 1950, and a major scholar of Indian music) and bassist Miklós Lengyelfi (b. 1955, with his roots in folk music).

The centrepiece of Kurtagonals is arguably the 38-minute stretch that takes in its three longest pieces - the self-explanatory Kurtagamelan, which feels like it's only missing a hooded and bearded Jhonn Balance moaning over the top; the more soundtracky Interrogation; and the more explicitly beat-driven drones, pads and micro-details of Lux-Abbysum.  After this, we get a bit of uneasy respite in Dronezone, one of quite a few tracks here that made me imagine Chris and Cosey hunched over laptops (anyone heard his new solo album yet? I've been a bit lazy picking it up), and the possibly weakest but still hugely enjoyable track Kurtaganja.  A couple of nice short tracks wind up this brilliant album, which sadly appears to have been The First and Final Report of Hortagonals - shame there aren't loads more to dig deep into.

mega / zippy

Friday, 18 May 2018

Herbie Hancock - The Piano (1979)

How 'bout a proper, old-school-SGTG jazz piano Friday, courtesy of an old master who I don't listen to nearly enough these days, especially not in pure, acoustic-jazz format.  At the end of the 70s, as his funky fusion era was beginning to dip in quality, and his proto hip-hop future shocks were still a few years away, Herbie Hancock got right back to his roots in this Japan-only solo piano LP.

Recording for a famously audiophile, tech-savvy market, Hancock made his second foray into the then state-of-the-art Direct to Disc recording technique.  A one-shot deal for each 16 minutes max album side, Herbie got the nod from the engineer that they'd started cutting direct to the master that would be pressed straight to vinyl, and started to play each of these two suites.  The first was three jazz standards associated with his career-making time in Miles Davis' band - masterful renditions of My Funny Valentine, On Green Dolphin Street and Someday My Prince Will Come.

The second was a gorgeous run of four originals - the sweet and lovely Harvest Time, the more groovy Sonrisa, then a similar variation in mood between the perfect closing pair Manhattan Island and Blue Otani.  As perfect an album as this was, the wider world wouldn't get to hear it for over 20 years, unless prepared to fork out for an import copy.  Thankfully though, The Piano is now much more accessible and remains ageless and fresh sounding, much of which will be thanks to the live-in-the-studio, against the clock limitations of the original recording.  This is quite possibly my favourite Herbie Hancock album, full stop.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

la! NEU? - Gold Regen (1998)

One of the final la! NEU? studio recordings, Gold Regen was also the mellowest, and featured no electronic instruments.  More recognisable from previous efforts by this band was the structure of the album, Klaus Dinger foregoing any conventional wisdom for simply dropping in rough-cut tracks from lengthy jam sessions in whatever order he pleased, like a box of unsorted photographs.  With mother Renate starring in the opening track, and the Dinger brothers reunited in four others for the first time in 15 years, Klaus did actually refer to Gold Regen as "a family album", which suits the homely loveliness of the music just fine.

For all of the above notes about la! NEU? albums being randomly structured, Gold Regen does actually fit into three distinct sections.  The first of these is the two-minute opener, Zeeland Wunderbar, a slightly corny but sweetly executed (you want more sleigh bells after the Eastman post the other week? We got 'em) song by Mutter Dinger that also featured in la! NEU?'s final concert.

The second section is half an hour of improvisational excerpts based around Rembrandt Lensink's piano, Viktoria Wehrmeister's gentle vocals, and occasional percussion (Klaus) and violin (Thomas).  The mood is mostly sedate and melancholy, perhaps best exemplified in the gorgeous Lansam Bewegt, aber nicht Traurig, with occasional diversions into mid-tempo jamming on Strahomaso and Dinger Brothers mit Remmi & Wicki.  

After one final 'Intermezzo' from Lensink on piano, the stage is set for the third part of the album: 25 minutes of blissful ambient drift from just Viktoria on vocals (with a little percussion on its middle track) and Klaus on harmonium.  Based on an increasingly slowed-down version of the intro to Die Engel Des Herrn's title track, these three tracks are almost indescribably beautiful; another reviewer once likened them as 'the sound of being in the womb', or words to that effect.  Highly recommended.

mega / zippy

Monday, 14 May 2018

Masayoshi Fujita - Apalogues (2015)

Oh this one is just gorgeous.  Perfect late-Spring mellowness from Berlin-based Japanese vibraphonist Masayoshi Fujita, in the second album released under his own name.  Previous releases had been under the alias El Fog, in which Fujita subjected the vibes to an array of electronic effects.  Without the alias and without all the processing though, the natural sound of his instrument is right up front and centre, with understated support here from a judiciously-used group of chamber instruments - violin, cello, clarinet, flute, french horn, accordion and snare drum.

The violinist in question is Hoshiko Yamane, a member of latter-day Tangerine Dream, and Apologues was recorded and mixed by Satoshi Okamoto aka sub-tle, who fellow Klaus Dinger aficionados will recognise as the keyboard player from Japandorf.  But enough krautrock trivia, just sit/lie back and luxuriate in this wonderful record.  At its centre is the self-descriptive Beautiful Shimmer, where Fujita plays accompanied only by reverb; everywhere else the various members of the ensemble act as perfectly-mixed cocktail ingredients into which the ice cubes of vibraphone clink around for your instant refreshment.

Apologues offers a well-balanced programme of uptempo compositions and just-slightly-melancholy meditative pieces.  It's almost impossible to pick favourites, but from the former type I'll go for the forward momentum of Flag and the jazzy Puppet's Strange Dream Circus Band, and from the latter the wine-glass-edge eerie Knight And Spirit Of Lake, and the admittedly mid-tempo opener Tears Of Unicorn.  But then I should also go for Swallow Flies High, and... argh, let's just say every track is perfection.  Each of these titles is expanded to an equally evocative little epigraph in the liner notes; no idea if they're original writings, or from Japanese folklore, but they do add another cute dimension to a stunningly lovely album.

mega / zippy

Friday, 11 May 2018

Philip Glass - Einstein On The Beach (1979)

The big breakthrough moment for mid-70s Philip Glass, composer, plumber and taxi driver, started when he agreed to collaborate with avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson.  Agreeing to work on a non-narrative portrait of Albert Einstein, Glass spent most of 1975 writing to a series of Wilson's storyboards.  Einstein On The Beach's four Acts, linked by five short 'Knee Plays', totaled around five hours in duration and premiered in France in July 1976.

Three years later, this first complete recording by Glass' Ensemble was released.  Most of the individual pieces had to be significantly shortened by necessity to fit on to four LPs, but you still get enough of a sense of what an epic work this is even at just two and a half hours.  All of Glass' experiments from the late 60s and early 70s into harmonic, repetitive and additive structures finds fruition here - the epic Music In Twelve Parts (admittedly only part-released in the 70s) now looks like a warmup for Einstein On The Beach.

As with that earlier work, the vocal text for Einstein was written as solfège (do-re-mi etc), intended, as were the chanted numbers, to be placeholder text, but ultimately kept in the finished opera, only enhancing its beautiful absurdity.  Texts on a variety of odd subjects, most of them seemingly random and cut-up non-sequiturs, were contributed by Christopher Knowles, Lucinda Childs and Samuel M Johnson.  On stage, Wilson's staging and choreography would fill in some of the gaps in understanding, but on record Einstein is still a hypnotic and joyous experience; no further explanation is needed.  And you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the closing two minutes, as the 'Bus Driver' character from the opera's final Knee Play recites Johnson's 'Two Lovers On A Park Bench' monologue.

mega - disc 1 / 2 / 3 / 4
zippy - disc 1 / 2 / 3 / 4

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

A Winged Victory For The Sullen - Atomos (2014)

Album #2 for A Winged Victory For The Sullen arrived three years after their debut, and saw Dustin O'Halloran and Stars Of The Lid's Adam Wiltzie refine their sound just a little in this gorgeous hour-long suite that was commissioned for a dance work.  Each track is simply numbered Atomos I - XII (with no IV), with the ten minute first part virtually comprising a suite in itself, moving through a droning intro to more animated string arrangements, to the first major feature of O'Halloran on piano, to a languid close.

The fully-intergrated orchestral sweep of AWVFTS continues to separate them from Wiltzie's previous project, such as on the aching melancholy of Atomos II, and O'Halloran's piano work continues to be thing of plaintive beauty from Atomos III onward.  My only negative on Atomos is that there ought to be more of O'Halloran on piano - but the particularly lovely Atomos IX is worth waiting for.

The major progression from the self-titled album is more of an electronic tinge, given centre stage at the outset of Atomos V before the orchestration takes over, and in the middle section of Atomos VI - wonder if their association with Robert Rath's Erased Tapes stable had anything to do with it?  There's more subtle sound effects too, in Atomos IX and X.  In any case, this album is another knockout from an inspired duo who hopefully have several more still to come.

mega / zippy

Monday, 7 May 2018

Electronic Music For The Mind And Body (2013 compilation, rec. 1958-62)

Cheekily parodying the title of Country Joe & The Fish's legendary psych classic, this inspired compilation from Cherry Red's él subsidiary turned back the clock a further decade for 80 minutes of truly revolutionary sound warping.  The first 35 of these 80 minutes is an entire album in itself, originally composed and recorded 1959-60: Stockhausen's still-astonishing Kontakte.  Working at WDR with Gottfried Michael Koenig, Stockhausen laid out his grandest vision yet of electronic tones, timbres and (in live situations) spatial movement.  A second version would later add in David Tudor's piano and Christoph Caskel's percussion.  Whether in that form or in this pure electronic recording, it remains a magnificent, otherworldly soundscape to get lost in.

Next up on this CD is Iannis Xenakis' Orient-Occident, already featured here, devised in 1960 as a film soundtrack for Enrico Fuchignoni, and featuring a definite Pierre Schaeffer influence.  The shortest piece on the compilation is György Ligeti's Artikulation, recorded at WDR in 1958 with the assistance of Koenig and Cornelius Cardew.  One of only two electronic pieces that Ligeti would fully realise, Artikulation certainly packs a lot into its four minutes, arranging different recordings of noises before piecing them together at random into a 'conversation' of sorts, as if inventing a new machine-language.

Lastly, we get two pieces of prime John Cage.  The 20-minute Cartridge Music was composed in 1960 for performers following a chance score, armed with phonograph cartridges and contact microphones which are then struck against various objects.  This recording is an amalgamation of four performances of the score by Cage and David Tudor in 1962.  The final track on the CD is Aria With Fontana Mix, another 1962 recording overlaying two Cage compositions - his free-score Fontana Mix (much more noisily used by Max Neuhaus a few years later) is used for various tape sources, whilst Cathy Berberian performs his vocal work Aria over the top.

mega / zippy

Friday, 4 May 2018

Jordan De La Sierra - Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose (1977)

Meditative minimal piano from Jordan De La Sierra, born Jordan Stenberg in California in 1947.  Having spent the early 70s soaking up ideas from meetings with La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Pandit Pran Nath, De La Sierra recorded Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose in 1976 in a small Berkeley studio.  Five hours of retuned (following the intonation preferred by Riley and Young) piano recordings provided the raw material for the four circa-25 minute pieces for this album; post-production involved playing back the tapes in the environs of the Bay Area's Grace Cathedral and re-recording them with its reverberating acoustics.

The resulting Gymnosphere 2LP release came resplendent with De La Sierra's lengthy liner notes, very much in tune with the nascent New Age movement - which makes for comedy gold when reproduced in full on this 2014 reissue.  The music has aged much better, with De La Sierra's gentle pianistic meanderings shimmering in a bath of modest tape delay and all that gorgeous natural reverb.

The first and fourth tracks (likely one long piece split in two) have the most forward momentum, with the melancholy arpeggios bouncing around in a way that made me think of mid-70s Manuel Göttsching more than once.  The middle two are more subdued for the most part, and will appeal to anyone who's ever wondered how Harold Budd might've sounded if he'd plumped for much more long-form piano pieces.  Lovely stuff.
original double-LP cover

Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Nurse With Wound - Alice The Goon (expanded edition 2000, orig. rel. 1995)

Steven Stapleton in fun mode, with an extended bit of darkness never far away.  This EP was originally released as a 2-track, single-sided 12" limited to 500 copies, at a festival in France, and was "inspired by a lurid Popeye cartoon" which is the source of its name.  On the opening track, (I Don't Want To Have) Easy Listening Nightmares, a chugging rumba loop is the basis for nine minutes of thoroughly enjoyable chaos, as the loop is overlaid with electronic noise and an insane guitar solo.  The rhythm of the loop is occasionally shifted by a delay effect, until a voice announces "It's so easy, baby... easy... easy..." to draw things to a close.

The second track, Prelude To Alice The Goon, is all atmospheric bass and guitar rumbles, eerie effects and a creepy, goonlike voice cooing as if discovering a shipwrecked human to drag off to a subterranean cave where an echoing, percussive ritual commences.  On the CD reissue, a third track was added and left untitled, but for obvious reasons has become informally known as Alice The Goon.  This track is the most minimal, with only the ghostly atmosphere remaining from the Prelude.  All in all, a really enjoyable, bitesize half hour of prime NWW.  Easy, baby.

mega / zippy

Monday, 30 April 2018

Julius Eastman - Femenine (rec. 1974, rel 2016)

We've already heard Julius Eastman (1940-1990) very briefly a couple of times on this blog, as part of Meredith Monk's 80s vocal ensemble.  But as well as a talented singer, Eastman was also a singular minimalist composer, whose music has only become widely available in the last fifteen years or so.  Marginalised in life, as a gay black man, Eastman had some acceptance in the New York avant-garde scene, but in the 80s wound up homeless and passed away largely unnoticed, most of his scores lost.  Thankfully, the steady trickle of recordings that have appeared recently are helping to address his importance, and share the absolute joy of his music on recordings like this hour-plus piece recorded on 6 November 1974 in Albany NY.

Femenine was recorded by the S.E.M. Ensemble, with Eastman on piano.  The first sound you hear is the proto-rhythm-track of mechanised sleigh bells as the ensemble tune up, before the piece starts in earnest at the 3:25 mark.  With the sleigh bells providing the rhythmic base, the backbone of the piece that is now introduced is a two-note vibraphone figure around which the piano, then the rest of the ensemble will gradually build up and reap stunning rewards.

It's a rough recording, sure, and there's occasional bum notes; but for me this just adds to the beauty of the work.  I actually heard a BBC Proms recording of Femenine about a year or two ago, and didn't even keep the file I'd downloaded - it was just too perfect compared to the ragged glory of this original performance.  As it comes into full flower in its second half, with Eastman's piano becoming more and more impassioned, and the ensemble parts reach their logical conclusion, the heart-tugging gorgeousness of Femenine just can't be denied.  Highly recommended.

mega / zippy

Friday, 27 April 2018

Boards Of Canada - Hi Scores EP (1996)

Used to have loads more by these two local lads, then found this CD in a cupboard the other day and realised it's the only BOC I've got left.  Maybe I just always preferred them in smaller doses, and on an hour-plus album they got a bit samey?  Or just that this early EP had more of a spark of raw inspiration that I liked?  Whichever it is, here's the very lovely Hi Scores.

Boards Of Canada in 1996 certainly knew their way around a nice crunchy rhythm track, as evidenced right from the start of the opening title track.  The gorgeous, chewy synth pads that envelop it show similar interests to early Autechre, and there's more echoes of that duo in the more uptempo June 9th.  Second track Turquoise Hexagon Sun shows the BOC sound starting to mature, in the ambient background chatter and of course in that track title - their classic identity was starting to cement.  It's clear to see why they'd repurpose this one for Music Has The Right To Children.

Nlogax however is a firm piece of nostalgia, like a lost piece of electro filtered through a pleasantly-stoned BOC sensibility.  By the last track they're well and truly coming into their own, though.  After a lovely electric piano intro, Everything You Do Is A Balloon slowly builds into an absolutely stunning piece of classic Boards Of Canada machine melancholy.  Easily the standout of these six tracks, it's the perfect ending to a classic EP of mid-90s electronics at their loveliest sweet spot.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Steve Reich - Tehilim (1982)

Steve Reich's third album in his ECM trilogy, Tehilim (Psalms, sung here in the original Hebrew) for sopranos and ensemble followed up on its predecessor by digging even more explicitly into the composer's cultural and spiritual heritage.  In an interview (scroll to bottom) with Charles Amirkhanian around the time Tehilim was composed, Reich can be heard discussing Judaism becoming more central to his life and his work, and the studies into Torah chanting that he'd been undertaking would find full flower in this, his first vocal work.

The four-part Tehilim on record was, at under half an hour, the shortest LP that ECM had ever released, and I doubt very much they've since released a briefer one.  Huge kudos then to Reich and Eicher for resisting the temptation to pair Tehilim with another work on the album (perhaps there just wasn't one around), as it doesn't need it - it's utterly gorgeous on its own.  The intricate, flowing counterpoints of Part I lead into the heart-bursting wonder of Part II on the album's first side, with the voices perfectly accompanied by mostly just organ, reeds and percussion.

The marimba and strings-underlaid Part III is the shortest part, apparently written by the movement-shunning Reich via the gentle persuasion of conductor Peter Eötvös, before the original percussion picks up again for Part IV's setting of the last Psalm ("praise him on the..." etc), bursting into a final joyous gallop for the final 'hallelujahs'.  Essential, life-affirming Reich.

mega / zippy

Monday, 23 April 2018

1-A Düsseldorf - Konigreich Bilk (1999)

Only a few months after Fettleber, 1-A Düsseldorf's second album appeared.  Named in tribute to a district of Düsseldorf, Konigreich Bilk saw Thomas Dinger and Nils Kristiansen expand to a trio, with Steffen Domnisch now credited for synth & vocals.  As noted before, 1-A Düsseldorf had been on the go for over a decade before these CDs started to emerge from Captain Trip, and it's not clear when the material was actually recorded.  The presence here of a soundscape piece titled Bagdad 91 might suggest tracks being recorded over a longer period before release - or they could've just been commemorating the Gulf War a few years after the fact.  Who knows.  Anyway, to the music on Konigreich Bilk.

As with Fettleber, the overriding focus is very much 'unfocused', and this album starts on an even weirder note than anything on the debut, with an old-timey (and uncredited) record of Home On The Range being paired with some metallic clanging.  After that, the more typical sounds of heavily flanged guitar and an odd rhythm track make up Unschlitt, with more melodic keyboards being introduced in Im Märzen Der Bauer.

There's a bit more variety in the sound here compared to Fettleber: The title track sounds like an attempt at mid-tempo heavy rock with vocal samples, and Music Is Love Is Music with its more eerie vocal sound brought to mind Jaki Liebezeit/Phantom Band's Nowhere for me.  The almost Indian-sounding influence of Schlaf Mein Engel is another cleaner, more accessible track, and the album ends with a fifteen-minute slow, dreamlike crawl through wandering guitars and slurred vocals.  There would be another two 1-A Düsseldorf releases in Thomas Dinger's lifetime, that I'll definitely get hold of at some point - especially the Live album, as it features la! NEU?'s Viktoria Wehrmeister on vocals.

mega / zippy

Friday, 20 April 2018

Chick Corea & Steve Kujala - Voyage (1985)

A particularly gorgeous one-off on a label stuffed with them, particularly in the 70s and 80s, Voyage was recorded in July 1984 following a tour between these two Americans, the legendary Corea who was no stranger to ECM by this stage, and innovative flautist Kujala, making what would be his only appearance on the label.

Chick Corea is on fine form throughout these five tracks - three original compositions, interspersed with freely improvised co-creations with Kujala.  Bringing his sprightly upbeat pianism to the fore straight away (in a typically sparkling digital recording), Corea leads an energetic mid-morning skip to the beach on the lengthy opener Mallorca, originally written to be a guitar/piano duet with Paco DeLucia.  Kujala, who pioneered a kind of 'bending' flute technique that could take its sound closer to that of a shakuhachi, fills in the atmosphere like a gentle breeze through the trees.

The second 10+ minute track, and the first free improv, Diversions might inevitably be more abstract, but still sounds gorgeous throughout, particularly when Kujala is given an unaccompanied spotlight about five minutes in, after which he returns the courtesy to Corea.  We get more solo Corea at the start of the album's second half, in the almost indescribably beautiful Star Island, before Kujala returns a minute and a half into the next on-the-fly duet,  titled Free Fall but still full of gentle ease and repose.  The album ends on an upbeat note with one more Corea composition, Hong Kong.  In conclusion, if you were charting a voyage through the more unexplored seas of ECM, this might just be one of the singularly paradisaical islands available to discover.  Unreservedly recommended.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Toru Takemitsu - Asterism, Requiem, Green, The Dorian Horizon (1969)

Four stunning pieces of early Takemitsu (1930-1996), courtesy of this classic RCA release with its appropriately-hued Jasper Johns cover.  There's only been a couple of digital reissues of this album, one of which was tucked into a 'Masterworks of the 20th Century' boxset that anyone who's been with this blog since the beginning might remember me banging on about (links still up for Boulez, Extended Voices, Columbia-Princeton, and more recently Crumb and Partch).  The Toronto Symphony are superbly recorded in this brief but wonder-filled recording from 1969.

The most then-recent work is up first, a piano concerto of sorts called Asterism (1968) with a stunning crescendo that gradually builds towards the end.  This is followed by the earliest piece, Requiem (1957), a slightly more conventional but gorgeous bit of string writing that was famously played to Stravinsky by mistake whilst visiting Japan, the favourable reception launching Takemistu's international profile.  Completing the album are Green (1967), a short orchestral piece inspired by Takemitsu's admiration for Debussy's music, and The Dorian Horizon (1966) for 17 strings in two groups contrasting harmony and dissonance, with eerie pizzicato and glissandi.

mega / zippy

Monday, 16 April 2018

Gordon Mumma - Studio Retrospect (2000 compi of works 1964-84)

Another ear-bending and brain frying collection from Gordon Mumma, who previously featured here with Electronic Music of Theatre and Public Activity.  This CD from Lovely Music is an equally well-rounded presentation of what made Mumma's electroacoustic music so interesting - the six works here might be missing their theatrical elements, quadrophonic mixes and the like, but the pure sound is still so engrossing and often noisy and jarring that it rewards repeat listens.

Taking up the retrospective theme straight away, the opening track here is called Retrospect, a mix of earlier tracks spanning 1959 to 1982, including Chilean president Allende's quip to the New York Times on the day of his death that he'd have to be "carried out in wooden pyjamas".  This is followed by a couple of works from 1964-5, which were first released on a 1979 LP along with Megaton (see link above).  Music From The Venezia Space Theatre is a whirring, hissing piece of electronic mayhem from a live multimedia revue organised by Luigi Nono, and The Dresden Interleaf 13 February 1945 commemorates the WW2 bombing of that city with a proto-SPK grind in which the silent intervals are even more unsettling than the noise onslaughts.

From 1978, Echo-D is an extract of an evening-long dance performance, and musically is based around a pedaled D note on a harpsichord whilst a Buchla synth and other sound layers float in the space around it.  Very minimal stuff, but fascinating to listen to as it progresses over 15 minutes.  The following Pontpoint underwent a lengthy and frequently interrupted creation between 1966 and 1980.  Its eight short sequences features an instrument Mumma made frequent use of, the bandoneon, and a bowed zither, both 'cybersonically' modified by him.  The resulting sounds, that gradually mutate in pitch, timbre and rhythm, are probably my personal highlight of this collection.  There's still a four minute postscript to go though, in the nice little mix of acoustic and digital spectral sounds that makes up Epifont (1984).

mega / zippy

Friday, 13 April 2018

Keith Jarrett - Dark Intervals (1988)

A typically transcendent hour of live Jarrett, recorded at Tokyo's Suntory Hall in April 1987.  The longest track here, the 12-minute Opening, might start out under the little white clouds on that cover image, but a storm soon brews up.  And hold on a sec... 12 minutes is the longest track on a Keith Jarrett solo concert album?  Yep, there's no half hour plus improvised voyages in sound on Dark Intervals, just eight pieces averaging about 7 minutes, with applause between each.  IIRC he'd only do this another couple of times, again in Tokyo, and then in Rio de Janeiro.

On first listen, especially if you're accustomed to Jarrett's more epic workouts like Köln, Bregenz/München etc, the shorter pieces and applause throughout can seem to hinder the flow of the concert, but the upside of this arrangement is undeniable - it puts the spotlight squarely on the quality of each miniature masterpiece of improvisation.  They're pretty much all somewhere between very good dark melancholy and just outright magnificence - if I had to pick favourites they'd have to be the gorgeous Americana or Ritual Prayer and the constant motion of Parallels.  Dark Intervals is one of many essential Jarrett solo concerts, and perhaps the most accessible post-Köln, for its relative brevity.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Conrad Schnitzler - Con 3 (1981)

Even by Conrad Schnitlzer's standards, this is an incredibly strange album.  Attempting to make a pop album of sorts, Schnitzler and collaborator Wolfgang Seidel returned to Peter Baumann's Paragon Studio, and Schnitzler elected to sing on every track, the first full-length album on which he'd done so.  The resulting combination of minimal, repetitive synth sequences and equally underwritten, largely absurdist lyrics remains a fascinating listen.

Schnitzler's voice might bark out at you on some tracks like an odd predecessor to Laibach, but becomes intentionally comical on Coca, perhaps the best known track here, a loungey (complete with glockenspiel), surreal ode to surviving on Coca-Cola in the desert.  Nächte In Kreuzberg from Consequenz gets a groovier makeover, Hongkong channels The Residents, and the quite lovely Tanze Im Regen closes the album on a hushed note closer to the bucolic sounds of Roedelius - fittingly, this was Schnitzler's only album to be released on Sky Records.  There's a Con for every taste on Con 3.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG:

Monday, 9 April 2018

U Potrazi Za Novim Zvukom 1956-1984 - Croatian Electroacoustic Music (2016 compi)

An authoritative, and engrossing two-and-a-half-hour immersion in electroacoustic music by Croatian composers.  The criteria for inclusion on this 2CD set was that the pieces represented were either significant in the history of Croatian electroacoustic music, or the composers first work in the medium, or both.  This gives 21 tracks by 14 composers to wrap your ears around, all the way from the tape & generators heyday of the mid 50s through to 80s computer music.

The first disc covers the years 1956-1973, and fans old-school tape music will find much to love here, right from the two Ivo Malec tracks (from '56 and '61) that open the compilation.  Highlights of CD1 for me were the later Malec track Lumina, by which time that composer had hit on a stunning synthesis of orchestral and tape music; the more electronic focus of Silvio Foretić's pieces; and the chance to hear a couple of early works by Dubravko Detoni, who in 1967-8 was using vocal, percussive and piano sounds to create Phonomorphia 1 & 2.

The second disc, spanning 1969-1984, is even better.  First up is Igor Kuljerić's Impulses I (1969-70) for string quartet and tape, which could almost be an early Avram/Dumitrescu, and further highlights for me were Zlatko Pibernik's voice-warping Etida (1975) with its atmospheric backing; the epic 18 minutes of Davorin Kempf's Interferencije (1977-80) for organ and tons of electronics; and an actual appearance by Acezantez (see Detoni link above), featured on Zlatko Tanodi's eerily pulsing Echolalia (1979-80).  All in all, this compilation definitely hits the spot if you're 'in search of a new sound' as per the Croatian title.  A highly recommended mix of some wonderfully out-there music.

Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy