Wednesday, 21 March 2018

La Düsseldorf albums (1976-1986) - in memoriam Klaus Dinger, ten years gone

A decade ago today, one of my favourite musicians of all time passed away after a heart attack.  Klaus Dinger's last recordings wouldn't start to see the light of day for another five years, but when they did, they were great - and will definitely feature here at some point, ideally when fully released.  For today, here's the complete discography of arguably his greatest post-NEU! band (although I have almost equal affection for la! NEU? and Die Engel Des Herrn).  So Tanz auf der Zukunft mit Mir to the "sound of the 80s" (Bowie, circa 1978).

La Düsseldorf - s/t (1976)
Keeping the double-drummer lineup he'd unveiled on NEU 75 - brother Thomas, and Hans Lampe - Dinger pulled back a bit on the proto-punk thrash of that album's second side.  He refined it into something more celebratory and glamourous, befitting the "mirror glass and stainless steel" of his home city, turning the first side of this debut album into a hymn to Düsseldorf.  On the second side, the first of his great instrumentals would become La Düsseldorf's first successful single in Germany, and the more reflective and searching Time was a taste of things to come.

mega / zippy

Viva (1978)
Is this the crowning jewel in Klaus Dinger's discography?  The man himself certainly seemed to think so, returning to its tracks for most of his live releases, and even reworking the full album in his final years, with the results still to emerge.  The multi-lingual title track was a celebration of not just Düsseldorf, but all of humanity, although the humourous side of La Düsseldorf swiftly brought things back down to earth, celebrating themselves in the punkish White Overalls.

Another beautiful instrumental single, Rheinita, gives an oasis of calm before Geld's rage against injustice and greed, setting the stage for the main event.  In the original 20-minute Cha Cha 2000, Dinger not just expresses utopian hope for the future, but creates the song of his career.  If Dinger was still alive today, he'd no doubt still be re-recording it every few years, holding on to the same heartfelt sentiments.  We need better leaders, who love us and don't tweet us.

mega / zippy

Individuellos (1980)
The NEU 2 of La Düsseldorf, aka the one that suffers by comparison to the others due to the needs-must recycling of its material.  In this case, it was in tragic circumstances, as the suicide of pianist Andreas Schnell interrupted the making of the album and Dinger filled out the running time by recasting main track Menschen a few more times.

For all that, I have a deep affection for Individuellos.  It follows the Viva pattern at its outset (track 1 - humanity is great; track 2 - and so are La Düsseldorf) and then lets the Menschen melody run on, taking in deeply personal memories of Dinger's recently-deceased grandmother (that's her voice on answerphone) and the 'Lieber Honig' of his life Anita (that's the same 1971 recordings of them in a rowing boat that NEU! used, near the end of this album).  The Dinger brothers humour might get a bit ridiculous in Dampfriemen and Tintarella Di (although musically pointing the way to Für Mich), but the album ends on a respectful note, dedicated to Schnell whose piano is upfront on Das Yvonnchen.

mega / zippy

Neondian / La Düsseldorf 4 / Mon Amour (1985)
Had its own post at the beginning of this year.  Post includes the 1983 single Ich Liebe Dich/Koksnodel.

Blue / La Düsseldorf 5 / Five Pearls And A Hammer (rec. 1984-86, rel. 1999)
In the aftermath of the Neondian release debacle, Dinger still owed one album, and after an abortive NEU! reunion submitted this album in early '87 to Virgin Records Germany, who'd taken over his Teldec contract.  They rejected it and dropped Dinger, and he started from scratch to form the band who'd become Die Engel Des Herrn.  The final La Düsseldorf album - although in reality, it was a solo album by Dinger other than the last track - was therefore shelved until the late 90s, when it was given an archival release by Captain Trip.

The album was now titled Blue, with its original name Five Pearls And A Hammer referring to the album's sequence.  First up is a gorgeous reverb guitar and rhythm track, over which Dinger contrasts his own idyllic life with the Geneva arms control summit between Reagan and Gorbachev.  On the cover picture of Blue are Mari Paas (mentioned in Arms Control Blues), Dinger's partner from the mid-70s through the 90s, with her daughter Yvi, and it's the latter who sings the cutely out-of-tune vocal on the track Blue.

After Lilienthal, a stunningly gorgeous instrumental which alone justifies getting hold of this album, are a couple of short tracks - the slight Touch You Tonight, and the poignant Für Omi, another tribute to his grandmother.  Five pearls, and a hammer - the hammer being the 18-minute rocked up version of Neondian's America, recorded during those sessions.  The track cuts in and ends in mid-flow, as if taken from an even longer recording, and fizzles with chaotic energy, thunder-and-lightning guitars and drums, and barely comprehensible vocals with whispered overdubs.  If the world wasn't ready for this in 1987 - or at least, so thought the record label - it certainly needs it now.

mega / zippy

Monday, 19 March 2018

Autechre - Oversteps (2010)

As much as I love Autechre for most of their albums being such a challenge just to sit through, this one is a personal favourite because it's probably their most accessible post-2000 album.  And it'll likely remain so, unless they decide to pull back on the whole four-hour albums of impenetrable circuit-frying niche that they're now so fully ensconced in.  But who would want that?  Anyway, from eight years ago this week (IIRC), here's Oversteps.

Opener Ress fades in gradually, to a looming, 22nd-century cityscape that eventually picks up a beat that seems at odds with the dark ambient overlay.  After that, we're into full-on Autechre with Ilanders - everything twisted out of shape, but if you listen closely there's a definite melodic progression just under the surface, and occasionally shining through.  Known (1) is more accessible again, like a cyborg JS Bach playing to post-human courtesans.

Thereafter, the track titles (with a couple of exceptions) descend into full-on fist on the keyboard gibberish, and the tracks continue to ping back and forth between dark, metallic constructions and bright, sparkling melodies - the gorgeous See On See being my personal favourite of the latter.  For all their early work now sometimes sounding a bit dated, and their latter-day epics sometimes getting too far out there even for me, Oversteps is probably the perfectly-balanced Autechre album.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: Confield

Friday, 16 March 2018

Charles Mingus - The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963)

Simply Mingus the composer and arranger at his absolute pinnacle.  Maybe some aficionados of Let My Children Hear Music, or even Ah Um, would disagree?  For me though, even those don't come close to the perfection of writing, arranging, great grooves and deeply felt soul of this January 1963 recording.  With possibly the first use of overdubs on a jazz record too (anyone know any different?), The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady hit a new level of sonic sophistication that still leaps out of the speakers/headphones today.

Each track title is basically a dance notation, as this album was written as a ballet of sorts, if never performed as such - Solo Dancer, Duet Solo Dancers, Group Dancers etc - and the lengthy subtitles are where the clues are to Mingus' intentions lay for what he was expressing in the music.  So the album opens with, to give it its full title, Track A - Solo Dancer: Stop! Look ! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitey! (or is it Whitney? spellings vary across different pressings).  In this track, as Mingus' psychotherapist Dr Edmund Pollock (yup, he was asked to review the music) notes in the liner, Charlie Mariano's alto sax solo acts as "a voice calling to others and saying "I am alone, please, please join me!" as the orchestral themes swirl around it.

There's a lot going on here, then, but this album shouldn't necessarily be regarded as 'difficult Mingus' - it's really not.  There's achingly gorgeous melody and harmony everywhere, repeated themes, and great grooves.  Only the side-long track that contains parts D through F takes a few goes to properly navigate, but it's a stunning achievement in orchestral jazz that's hugely satisfying once you get used to it.  Little interludes are provided for things like Mingus' piano, and Jay Berliner (who I only knew from Astral Weeks before I heard this album) playing bits of Spanish guitar, to evoke "the period of the Spanish Inquisition, and El Greco's mood of oppressive poverty and death".  Yes, there's weighty themes here, much of it Mingus' reflection of the Black American experience, but there's much joy too.  To finish, and to sum up the album really, here's the full title of the final section: Of Love, Pain, and Promised Revolt, Then Farewell, My Beloved, 'Til It's Freedom Day.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Anna Thorvaldsdottir - Aerial (2014)

Second album from Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b. 1977), which saw her sign to Deutsche Grammophon and unleash these six brooding, dynamic pieces in all their eerie glory.  Opening the album is the striking, funereal gloom of Into - Second Self for brass and percussion, followed by the equally unsettling Ró for chamber ensemble.  For all the more accessible, melancholy Icelandic composers who I enjoy - Ólafur Arnalds, the sadly departed Jóhann Jóhannsson - this music is the stark, barren inverse, evoked by the wilderness expanse on the album cover above.

Thorvaldsdottir is currently composer-in-residence for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, who perform the album's majestic centrepiece Aeriality.  Influences here - I've got lazy brain today, so will just go for Ligeti/Bartok in the strings, and perhaps even two favourites who I really should get back to posting soon, Avram/Dumitrescu - but more subtle and refined.  There's some respite afterwards in Tactility, for percussion and some nicely odd harp sounds, and Trajectories, a piano/electronics piece.  Lastly, Shades Of Silence is performed on baroque instruments, which just makes its droning textures sound even stranger and out of time.  All in all, a magnificent hour of modern composition, and really promising for her future endeavours.

mega / zippy

Monday, 12 March 2018

Claude Schryer - Autour (1997)

 More environmental/radiophonic sound composition to kick off this week, courtesy of Claude Schryer, born 1959 in Québec.  Four of his works covering 1995-97 are featured on this collection, but rather than being lengthy tracks like when I've previously posted this sort of thing, Schryer works in short snippets averaging two minutes (excepting the 11-minute closing piece).  The result is more like a gallery of photographs in sound than an immersive film, but no less evocative for that.

First up is Musique De L'Odysée Sonore, which did actually start life as the soundtrack to a National Film Board of Canada documentary about Québec City, before Schryer revised and condensed it into 11 minutes.  For me, the most striking of the seven sections here is Église, which encapsulates Schryer's talent for weaving together his sound sources (a grandfather clock, a boat horn, a Popol Vuh-esque choral improv, a Native American chant and garbled spoken poetry) into something truly ear-bending.

Switching continents next, Schryer uses recordings from Mexico City and Oaxaca state for El Medio Ambiente Acustico de México, itself cut down from a 50-minute radiophonic work Marche Sonore II.  Ocean sounds and fields give way to inner-city subway sounds, trains, trucks and marching bands in a parade, and another ambient trip back into nature - all of it evoking its sense of place beautifully.  After that, there's a trip back in place and in time with Vancouver Soundscape Revisited, where the source sounds were recorded in the early 70s for the World Soundscape Project.  Schryer describes his method as selecting a few hundred samples from the project by sonic spectrum, pitch, function and context, and again deftly combines them all into a stunning work.

Closing the disc is the standalone piece Autour d'Une Musique Portuaire, where the harbour sounds, bells and trains originally used for a live radio broadcast (with Schryer directing the 'performers' on the boats, trains and cathedral bells to play together by walkie-talkie!) were re-purposed in the studio for a saxophonist, trombonist and clarinetist (Schryer) to improvise over.  The result makes the most of the wide open spaces and long boat-horn drones to let the instruments fill in the gaps perfectly.

mega / zippy

Friday, 9 March 2018

John Surman - Upon Reflection (1979)

As Devon-born reed legend John Surman returns for his first ECM release in six years, let's dig out the all-solo-with-overdubs masterpiece that kicked off his relationship with the label.  Surman's credited here on soprano & baritone saxes, bass clarinet and synth, and it's a shimmering, crystalline loop of the latter that introduces the first track here, giving it an Azimuth-like feel straight away.  The 10-minute Edges Of Illusion then proceeds to introduce its various sax lines in an engrossing patchwork.

The following Filigree is based entirely of sax tape loops with a melody winding over the top, and the folky Caithness To Kerry just lets its joyous melody spin into the air unaccompanied.  Little ice crystals of synth return for the last track on the original side one, as the noirish jazz balladry goes on a melancholy closing time swagger.

Upon Reflection's second half starts on an equally sombre intro, but soon picks up the pace as the 'dance' part of Prelude And Rustic Dance starts to hold sway, the overdubbed parts again interlocking perfectly.  The Lamplighter's synth pulse sets its darker tone, before an upbeat minute-long interlude for baritone sax and reverb sets the stage for the 8-minute closer Constellation.  With a suitably sci-fi synth sequence providing the momentum, Surman weaves yet more magic, with the result sounding like a jazzy Deutsche Wertarbeit.  Surman would go on to grace the ECM catalogue with several more great albums, with different groups of musicians and varying styles, but this solo effort remains a jewel in his discography.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Arsenije Jovanović - s/t (1994 compi of works 1977-1993)

Four remarkable and engrossing works from Serbian radiophonic composer (and theatre, radio and television director, and author/professor) Arsenije Jovanović, b. 1932.  We're in similar sonic and conceptual territory here to Ivana Stefanović, who I posted last year - they even shared an album once, which I'll need to track down.

For today, we join Jovanović on a few of his many travels, first of all in a cave in an old abandoned Serbian village.  Invasions (1978) is certainly an apt primer for what an accomplished sound recordist and mixer Jovanović is - goes without saying this a headphones turned up the max album - as the sounds for voice, percussion and a wind instrument bounce around the eerie space.  We stay underground for Resava Cave (1977), where the percussive sounds apparently include the stalagmites and stalagtites in Jovanović's search for the natural, timeless acoustic.  He also wanted the vocal performers to sound as primally liberated as possible, the unsettling results suggesting that million-year-old spirits have been summoned.

Back on the earth's surface, Jovanović hears some very strange seagulls on an uninhabited island, and learns that elderly donkeys were once abandoned there, the birds over time mimicking their forlorn cries.  His liner note then veers off into an unrelated donkey encounter, and doesn't clarify whether or not the sound sources for Island Of The Dying Donkeys (1988) feature authentic field recordings and/or recreations - most of the voices sound suspiciously human.  Either way, the 20-minute piece is so head-spinningly bizarre that it simply has to be heard to be believed.

Finally, Jovanović returns home, and reflects on some of the many odd objects and strange sounds that he's collected over the years. (This is as much as I could figure out from the description, the French record label's liner note translator having apparently given up at this point.)  Ma Maison (1993) certainly sounds like an extended inventory of interesting sounds, from voice, percussion, wind instruments and all kinds of environmental recordings.  As with everything on this collection, the end result just sounds phenomenal, which is probably the main reason I keep going back to it repeatedly.  Highly recommended.

mega / zippy

Monday, 5 March 2018

Czesław Niemen - Niemen Vol. 1 & 2 (1973)

Staying in 70s Poland for the moment, here's a couple of fascinating albums by the legendary singer, organist and songwriter Czesław Niemen (1939-2004).  Released at the height of a jazz fusion phase, Niemen Vol. 1 and Niemen Vol. 2 are actually regarded as a double-album released as two separate LPs - most subsequent reissues have them as one CD under the title Marionetki, but the one I managed to get hold of was on two CDs under the original titles.  Which is nice, but anyway, on to the music.

Since the late 60s, Niemen had been gaining popularity as a classical-influenced, progressive rock organist, and a strong, soulful singer.  Both are very much in evidence here, and the lyrics are settings of verse by Polish poets.  The language barrier unfortunately precludes me from enjoying the latter, but that doesn't matter much on Vol. 1, which is dominated by two lengthy instrumentals. 

At 17 minutes, Requiem dla Van Gogha is the longest and most abstract - lots of atmospheric organ and scraping violin.  After a short, upbeat piano and fuzz-guitar based song (the guitarist is SBB's Apostolis Anthimos, who worked with Tomasz Stańko in the 80s), the 13-minute Inicjały brings back the organ, violin, has intermittent wordless vocalisations, and introduces lengthy trails of smeared trumpet.  The result of that is strongly reminiscent of 70s Miles Davis at his most open-ended - think He Loved Him Madly - and is probably my favourite thing here.
Vol. 2 has five tracks, all with vocals - even if the only Polish I can remember from my brief time there is 'dwa bilety prosze' for the bus stations, it's hard not to be moved by how great Niemen's voice was.  I've read comparisons to Joe Cocker, but he's not quite as gritty/bluesy as that to my ears.  Anyhow, we start with Marionetki, with doomy organ and drums for a few minutes, before setting off on another epic journey with Piosenka dla zmarłej and some enojyably knotty jazz-prog in the intro.  There's much more guitar on Vol. 2, and Anthimos' solo midway through this track is a good taste of what's to come.

Nine minutes of Z pierwszych ważniejszych odkryć are announced with some driving guitar, before Anthimos switches to a mellower slide for the verses.  Lots of good gear-changes follow, more fuzz lead and even some funky drumming - I think this track is my highlight of Vol. 2.  The minute-long oddity Ptaszek made me look up the lyrics and pop them into a translator just to find out what the manic laughter was about - it's a great absurd verse describing a crazy bird.  The writer, inter-war poet Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, certainly seems to have been a fascinating character.  Lastly, Niemen stretches those great pipes of his again for Com Uczynił, a powerful ballad with another fantastic jazz-funk middle section.

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

Friday, 2 March 2018

Arp Life - Jumbo Jet / Z Bezpieczną Szybkością (2014 compilation, rec. 1975-78)

In 1975, library music composer Mateusz Święcicki (1933-1985) teamed up with film soundtrack composer Andrzej Korzyński (b. 1940) to start off a studio ensemble for Polish Radio.  The name given to the project, which Święcicki had been using a couple of years earlier, was Arp Life: he'd liked how the Arp Odyssey synthesiser sounded much more refined compared to the rougher Minimoog.

For the next three years, additional musicians associated with the radio studios, most of their names lost to history, would come and go to add strings, brass or percussion as desired.  And ironically enough, Arp synths were scarcely, if ever, used - pretty much everything electronic here is either Fender Rhodes or Minimoog.  The best known artefact to emerge from this arrangement, and a mainstay of crate-digger blogs for as far back as I can remember, was the Jumbo Jet LP, released by Polskie Nagrania in 1977, and featuring new core member Maciej Śniegocki as writer and arranger.

Whether on a vinyl rip, or a remastered CD like this, the sampling appeal of Jumbo Jet is undeniable - wah-wah guitars, funky Rhodes and nifty bass & percussion riffs are everywhere, along with a handful of great fuzz guitar leads and melancholy disco strings.  Vocals are either wordless or limited to the track title; only the title track has more than that.  Only two tracks top the four minute mark - Jumbo Jet is basically a library LP par excellence, and a few tracks saw use in film, with Baby Bump and the gorgeous Hotel Victoria featuring in Andrezj Wajda's Man Of Marble.
original cassette cover, 1978
The following year, the Wifon label released a series of cassettes specifically promoted for in-car use, with the titles encouraging Poland's motorists to 'have a nice journey', 'don't dazzle [with your headlights, presumably]', and 'drive at a safe speed'.  That last one - in Polish, 'Z bezpieczną szybkością', was effectively Arp Life's second and last album.  Three tracks on the tape were taken from Jumbo Jet (Motor Rock was presumably a no-brainer to open the tape with), and the remaining ten were never released in any other format until this 2014 CD, which was followed by individual vinyl reissues.  The sound of these tracks is much the same as on Jumbo Jet, although Korzyński is the dominant writer rather than Śniegocki, leading to a bit more brass in the arrangements.  A couple of non-album singles and an unused signature jingle written for the Tonpress label round out this great compilation.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Ghédalia Tazartès - Diasporas (1979)

As promised, here's Ghédalia Tazartès debut album, recorded in 1977 and released in '79, to complete my posting of his first four releases (see tag below for the others).  More will definitely come along in due course as I get hold of them, but for now, here's the record that introduced the world to a truly unique sound collage artist and vocalist.

Diasporas starts of with a 9-minute suite of shorter pieces, and was the perfect curtain-raiser for Tazartès' striking sound, with loop after loop of voice or instrument being introduced, sometimes dominating the stage or providing backing for Tazartès' own singing.  The shorter individual tracks that make up the rest of Diasporas continue on from there, with La Vie Et La Mort... showing off the range of his voice over some ritualistic percussion, and there's occasionally even a straightforward song -  Quasimodo Tango is a nicely odd collaboration with composer Michel Chion.

On the second half of the album, the vocal collages continue to go to fascinatingly weird places: the low drones of La Fin Du Prologue, the rhythmic craziness of Rien Qu'au Soleil, the sweetly melodic Mourir Un Peu with its loop of a child's voice... something for everyone.  Like all the Ghédalia Tazartès albums I've heard so far, every time you dive in there's something different to love.

mega / zippy

 P.S. time to spin that snowy day favourite of mine - this is currently the view from my front window:

For anyone who's ever read Ian Rankin's 'Let It Bleed', that lighted pathway in the distance is Coffin Lane aka Coffin Walk.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Franco Battiato - Clic (1974)

Franco Battiato is an adult-pop legend in his native Italy, where he's been hugely successful since the 80s whilst still keeping his music varied and daring.  Before that though, he spent the 70s releasing albums of electronic prog and just sheer avant-garde experimentation.  Bit of a 'reverse Scott Walker' in career terms, then.  This one is from '74, and bore a dedication to Karlheinz Stockhausen - don't worry if this would ordinarily put you off, Clic is infinitely more accessible than that suggests.

That cover made me think of early 80s Conrad Schnitzler, but the first half of Clic is more in the prime Tangerine Dream zone, with VCS3 aplenty.  Album opener I Cancelli Della Memoria starts with gentle synth and piano (and an odd sax squall), before a repetitive bass riff starts to propel it forward, overlaid with a Froeselike lead guitar line.  No U Turn is introduced with odd little voice snippets before swathes of TD synth dominate and Battiato sings over the top, half of the vocal recorded backwards.  Then there's a gentle instrumental piece with more piano.

The second side of the original album (it's important to be aware that the UK Island Records release was a different album entirely, consisting of outtakes from this album and its predecessor) is bookended by the oddest material on the record.  Both Rien Ne Va Plus: Andante and Ethika Fon Ethica are cut-up experiments using bits of classical music, the Italian national anthem, and lots of strange sounds.  In between are a more uptempo synth piece with a harsher sound, plus some sax and strings (Propiedad Prohibida) and the more atmospheric Nel Cantiere Di Un'infanza.  Clic certainly packs a lot in to just half an hour, and it's an ideal snapshot of Battiato's mid-70s genius.

mega / zippy

Friday, 23 February 2018

Mikhail Chekalin - Meditative Music For A Prepared Organ, Vol. 1 & 2 (rec. 1979-1983)

Been absolutely fascinated by this guy for a while now, so time to start posting his music.  Mikhail Chekalin was born in Moscow in 1959, and since the late 70s has worked out of his basement studio carving out a prolific niche in symphonic electronica, with detours into shorter-form work, film music and even solo piano.  Chekalin had difficulty getting much music released in the Soviet 80s, even getting unwelcome KGB attention for having such sophisticated tech squirreled away.  His big break came in 1990/1 when a group of Moscow artists known as 'The Twenty' started featuring his music at their M'Ars Gallery, leading to a series of 12 LPs of his early work being released on the Melodiya label with the artists' paintings as their covers.

Three of these albums were Meditative Music For Prepared Electricorgan, Vols. 1-3, reissued in 2003 as the two 77-minute CDs in today's post.  Described as "electric organ with effects, solo vocal... all music was produced in one take, at a concert session, without recourse to multitrack technologies... no synthesisers [except for one track]", these releases felt like an ideal starting point for me.

The two 25+ minute tracks from LP 1 sit together on CD 1, with Meditation With Rhythm-Beating up first.  After about 10 minutes of just spacey organ fades out, Chekalin adds in his haunting wordless vocal, and the slow rhythm track only makes a brief appearance around the 20 minute mark.  Sounds Of Colour starts off more sparkly and melodic, but then things get much darker and more abstract for the rest of the epic journey.  A definite comparison could be pre-synth Klaus Schulze, and the vocal parts at their most austere and ritualistic even made me think of Jarman-soundtracking TG.
LP 2 started out with the two versions of Symphonietta Of The Air, which round out CD 1 here.  On CD 2, the seven tracks offer more variety, kicking off with the brief atmospheric Adagio (LP 2) and the almost Roedelius-esque chirpy classicism of Bucolic Tunes (LP 3).  By contrast, the more rhythmic Physiological Toccata and Ostinato-Asthenia (both LP 3) have a harshness closer to Asmus Tietchens, but the remaining tracks from LP 2 are back in the 'Meditative' zone.  The longest of these is the 19-minute Meditation With Little Bells, which is nice and spaced, almost Vangelis-like, as is the only synth appearance on the abstract Impromptu With Bells.

For all the comparisons I've noted, they're only really surface similarities, and Chekalin's sound world is very much his own, with these two collections for electric organ serving as an ideal introduction to his early work.  Will definitely be exploring further, and posting more albums here in the months to come.

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

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

John Cale - Music For A New Society (1982)

Early 80s John Cale at a personal low point, but a stunning creative high.  Writing and recording to the same throw-it-all-together-and-see-what-happens MO that had produced Nico's Marble Index over a decade earlier, Music For A New Society abounds in memorable production quirks.  After a played-straightish opening ballad (about infanticide, in the best macabre-Cale tradition) on bright electric piano, the fun starts with the inappropriate rhythm that clatters its way around Thoughtless Kind before the track ends in manic laughter and bagpipes.

Next up is a track that's barely a song at all - Sanctus (or Sanities, on the original misspelled release)* delivers its slightly too on-the-nose insight into insanity in spoken word narration as doomy organ and kitchen-sink atmopsherics provide an apt backing.  By contrast, 1975's (I Keep A) Close Watch is given a magisterial overhaul with minimum fuss, but still ends in more bagpipes - don't know about anybody else, but I hear more than enough of those walking to work every morning - but that's central Edinburgh for you.

One of my favourite songs that Cale played when I saw him in early '99, Chinese Envoy is another highlight of Music For A New Society, and probably its most accessible moment.  Cale came up with the uptempo Changes Made as a standalone accessible single, and unsuccessfully tried to exclude it from the album - if anything, it's ill-fittedness with the rest of the record does go quite nicely with its general schizophrenic atmosphere.  It's an atmosphere that continues into the next song, in which lines like "Damn life, you're just not worth it, you're just not worth the pain" are set to a tune cribbed from Ode To Joy, at which point you just have to laugh.  Cale himself attributes this album's continued popularity to the thought that "people like watching suffering".  I think it's just insanely brilliant.

*I may have got that the wrong way round

mega / zippy

Monday, 19 February 2018

Tomasz Stańko - Polin (2014)

Wisława, the double-album released by Tomasz Stańko's New York Quartet in February 2013, was justly lauded as a masterpiece, and will definitely be featured here at some point.  By contrast, just under two years later, this album completely flew under the radar - I think I only found out about Polin when it was added to discogs, and I never read a review anywhere.  Perhaps it was better known in Poland and around Europe, but for the most part, I suppose not having the clout of ECM behind it meant that this album wasn't internationally promoted.  Which is a shame, because I reckon it's wonderful.  So let's give it some love.

POLIN, the museum of the History of Polish Jews, was constructed on the site of the old Warsaw Ghetto from 2007-2012, and its main exhibition opened in October 2014.  At that time, the curators invited Stańko to write and perform a suite of music for the opening, which he did (see video below), recording it in the same month.  Retaining only pianist David Virelles from the NY Quartet, Stańko assembled another band of Americans with bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer Kush Abadey, and 'Trane Jr on sax.  The museum released the album themselves shortly afterwards, without a regular record label.

And for that, it's an album that sounds superb - come to it blind and you could conceivably be listening to a regular ECM production.  It's an inspired band that Stańko's assembled here, with Virelles' lightness of touch carrying over perfectly from Wisława and the new rhythm section laying down a more swinging foundation right from opener Gela.  Ravi Coltrane is a great foil to Stańko here - it's nice to just hear the trumpeter play with another horn, after so many years of (admittedly gorgeous) quartet releases.

When the tempo picks up, as on Yankiel's Lid and the title track, Coltrane really starts to cook on his solos, with Stańko picking up the energy and sounding in top form himself.  But don't miss the loveliest ballad on this brief set, which is saved for the end.  The Street Of Crocodiles has one of those classic little understated Stańko melodies, and was also beautifully recast on his return to ECM last year (on December Avenue, where Yankiel's Lid was also re-recorded with a freshly rejigged NY Quartet).  Sure, ECM Stańko is great, but don't miss out on Polin.
Opening night concert at POLIN, Oct. 2014 - video should start at 1h3m for Stańko's set

mega / zippy

Friday, 16 February 2018

Arild Andersen - Molde Concert (expanded edition 2000, orig 1982)

ECM magnificence from the Molde Jazz Festival in August 1981, partly released as a single LP in 1982, then restored to almost (one track from the LP had to be dropped to squeeze in under 80 mins) full glory on CD in 2000.  The great Norwegian bassist was joined for this fine selection of his tunes (plus the Miles Davis/Tony Williams-penned encore) by Bill Frisell on guitar, John Taylor on piano, and sometime Weather Reporter Alphonse Mouzon on drums.

We've mostly heard Taylor and Frisell in mellow modes on this blog up til now (check the label tags for previous posts), and there is a good showing of downtempo loveliness in the Molde setlist - Targeta, Lifelines and Koral for sure - but for the most part, this album absolutely rocks.  Finding the confidence that he recalled wasn't quite there yet on Fluid Rustle, Bill Frisell hits cooking temperature right from the set opener and just gets increasingly jaw dropping from there.

It might just be the fact that he's a jazz guitarist with a full on rock snarl here, but Frisell made me think of Steve Howe at least once - check Cameron near the end, where Andersen also gets a great solo spot.  The 13 minutes of The Sword Beneath His Wings are also a highlight for Frisell and for everyone - Andersen might be the bandleader, but this is very much a firing-on-all-cylinders group effort.  Even the drum solos are awesome, as on Six For Alphonse.  Highly recommended.
original LP cover
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Jean-François Pauvros & Gaby Bizien - No Man's Land (1976)

Nicely unhinged one-off collaboration between two lesser-known figures of the French avant-garde, guitarist Pauvros and percussionist Bizien.  Both put in brief appearances with Jac Berrocal, but a few years prior to that they released No Man's Land together.  The fact that practically the first sound you hear on this LP is a tuba being played underwater might tell you all you need to know about an album like this, but there's lots of nice little oddities beside that are worth a listen.

The main mode of operation is generally echoed/speed shifted/otherwise mutated bits of guitar from Pauvros (occasionally bringing Fred Frith to mind) and free percussion from Bizien, as in the opening title track, Barre D'Etel and Dr Livingstone I Presume.  Elsewhere, the more audio-verite free improvs of Plage De Bling sound like a sort of Berrocal/Tazartès hybrid, and Bizien gets to work on some nice melodic percussion on Gloire A L'Aeropostale while Pauvros swishes away in the background.  Wish they'd done another couple of records together to develop this sound, but No Man's Land is a great rewarding listen for its uniqueness.

mega / zippy

Monday, 12 February 2018

Jóhann Jóhannsson - Fordlandia (2008)

R.I.P. Jóhann Jóhannsson: 19 Sept 1969 - 9 Feb 2018

Wow, this has hit me hard.  One of my favourite modern-classical composers, and a prolific soundtracker (perhaps most notably for Golden Globe-winning Theory Of Everything score), has been found dead in his Berlin apartment at the age of just 48.  Jóhann Jóhannsson, born in Rejkjavik in 1969, is survived by his parents, sisters and daughter.  Orphée, his debut album for Deutsche Grammophon in September 2016, has become a huge favourite of mine, and I hoped at the time it was going to be another step forward in a long career.  Now it's a sad but perfect finale.  Will post it here at some point.

For now, here's IMO the highlight of his time at 4AD (IBM 1401 would be a close second).  Fordlandia was inspired by Henry Ford's failed attempt to build an American town-styled residence for the workers at his Amazonian rubber plant in the 1920s.  The title track comes in very softly and gradually in waves of Gorecki-esque melancholy, eventually joined by a circular figure on distorted guitar, and more production/electronics.

From then in, the pieces include little woodwind miniatures (the Melodia sections), subtle echoing beats (The Rocket Builder) and pipe organ (Chimaerica), as well as all those wonderful sweeping strings.  The Great God Pan Is Dead introduces a haunting choir, setting up for the last two epic tracks.  The beat-driven Melodia (Guidelines For A Space Propulsion Device Based On Heim's Quantum Theory) is just sublime orchestral minimalism, and the 14-minute How We Left Fordlandia is a beautifully sombre finale.  Jóhannsson's music, above anything else, always touches me and moves me, and the music that he's left behind will continue to do so for years to come.
Þakka þér fyrir alla frábæra tónlist, Jóhann.

mega / zippy

Friday, 9 February 2018

Steven Stapleton & Christoph Heemann - Painting With Priests (rec. 2009, rel. 2015)

If you enjoyed the Tibor Szemző post the other day, here's the album that made me discover Snapshot From The Island, due to the samples used by Mr NWW and Mr HNAS on this concert recording.  Performed in the Ancient Synagogue in Ivrea, Turin on 21st November 2009, this one-off collaborative gig saw these two old hands at disquieting soundscaping doing what they do best.

Dark ambient throbbing, jump-scare piano, sampled footsteps and other odd noises and voices - that's just the first few minutes, but you know what to expect from then on, notwithstanding the seemingly oddly placed, but effectively recast samples of Szemző.  Occasionally, those samples will provide a fleeting rhythmic drive, or some other noise will repeat into a rhythm of sorts, but otherwise this is formless dark ambience of the highest order by a couple of masters at conjuring up this sort of thing.  Headphones, dark room - you know the drill.
Alternate cover, used for LP edition
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Tibor Szemző - Snapshot From The Island (1987/98)

First album by Hungarian composer Tibor Szemző (b. 1955, Budapest), which drew together three of his works for flute and electronics.  The 24-minute title track is up first, with the echoing bass flute on its own before a loping rhythm track starts to underpin it.  There's a little oasis of calm about halfway through with just sonorous vocal sounds and ambient noise accompanying the flute reverberations, before the rhythm picks up again towards the end.

Water-Wonder for flutes and tape delay is next, and on the CD version the original 1986 recording appears to have been swapped out for a 1998 one, and gains an extra 2 minutes on the LP's 14 and a half.  I'd imagine this doesn't matter all that much what with it being the most straightfoward composed work on the album - in fact, it dates back to 1982, and was first recorded (in shortened form) for Szemző's Group 180 ensemble on their 1983 debut.  A couple of Group 180's releases showed their interest in Steve Reich's music, and you could perhaps think of Water-Wonder as a 'Flute Phase' of sorts.

That leaves Let's Go Out And Dance, a 1985 work written for "shadowplay" theatre - if you're of a certain age like me, this might immediately evoke images of The Dude's neighbour performing his interpretive dance piece, but musically it's another bucolic island snapshot like the first track.  A gently droning synth and quietly puttering rhythm track are the backing here for the absolutely gorgeous flute melodies - I think this might be my favourite of the three tracks.  This album sometimes draws comparisons to Florian Schneider's early flute work, had Kraftwerk started a decade later, but atmospherically I'd say it more evokes Can's Future Days in languid loveliness.  Recommended.
original LP cover
mega / zippy

Monday, 5 February 2018

Laurie Anderson - Mister Heartbreak (1984)

Just noticed that Laurie Anderson's back with a new album imminent - should be interesting, with Kronos Quartet on board - so that made me dig this out.  I remember missing out on Mister Heartbreak, her second album, for ages on the assumption that 'it probably isn't as good as Big Science', so got a very nice surprise in how wonderful it was.

Always loved how Big Science could make a bunch of extracts from an epic performance piece somehow hang together as a weirdly accessible album, but Mister Heartbreak is first and foremost an accessible album, and a hugely accomplished one at that.  The supporting cast are 80s avant-garde to-die-for: Adrian Belew's noise guitar gives a memorable bite to the elastic bounce of Sharkey's Day's everyman dreamworld; Bill Laswell helps out with the production and adds granite-tough bass to the Thomas Pynchon-inspired Gravity's Angel, and a cusp-of-mainstream-fame Peter Gabriel adds vocals there and on the collaboration Excellent Birds, originally written for Nam June Paik's New Year's Day 1984 broadcast.

This time around, only a further two tracks were recasts from the aforementioned United States, Anderson's eight-hour performance piece: Langue d'Amour, a comic fantasia on the Fall Of Man legend for slithering synclavier and 'electronic conches', and the Herman Melville-cribbing Blue Lagoon, with its nice jumpy synclavier backing that gives a penultimate raising of the tempo before the brief finale ends with a stark coda to Sharkey's Day.  Titled, naturally, Sharkey's Night, this end piece saves the most memorable guest for last in William S. Burroughs' drawling take on the character.  I'll need to fill in all the gaps in my Laurie Anderson listening before properly concluding that Mister Heartbreak is her best album - or at least my favourite of hers - but I suspect there's a high chance that opinion won't change.

mega / zippy

Friday, 2 February 2018

Dave Pike - The Doors Of Perception (1970)

Detroit-born vibesman Dave Pike released this Herbie Mann-produced oddity in 1970, but the basic tracks were actually recorded four years earlier at the Village Gate.  Mann's attempts to get hip with the production include rain and thunder tapes, ersatz audience overdubs and some insane stereo panning.  Even if The Doors Of Perception might sound dated for all of that (and for its title), the music within has enough great grooves to make for a durable, and highly enjoyable 27 minutes.

The first lengthy track, The Drifter, has a great melodic swing to it with a nice edge of fuzz on Chuck Israels' walking bass (which gets dialled up to eleven on the title track that follows).  The album's second half reins in the studio trickery for a couple of particularly nice cuts - the self-explanatory Ballad, and the final breezy groove of Anticipation, where you can best focus on this great group's interplay.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Brast Burn - Debon (1975)

This album seemed like one of these "too good to be true" musical legends when I read about it a few weeks back.  An obscure one-off by a Japanese musician, who may have also been responsible for another album credited to 'Karuna Khyal' on the same tiny label, that briefly appeared in one record shop in Nakano, Tokyo, and sounded like someone doing a mashup of every krautrock album you've ever heard with a dash of Ry Cooder on top?

So when I found a copy of this CD (from the same Paradigm label responsible for reissuing Journey Through Space and Acezantez) going for peanuts shortly afterwards, it was impossible to resist.  The low price was due to library stickers - seriously, the fact that an English public library had something like this in its CD racks at some point was just the icing on the cake - wonder how often it was borrowed?  And of course, there was still the music...

True to the reviews I'd read, the two 23-minute pieces that make up Debon have a very strong krautrock flavour - there's echoes here of both Amon Düüls, Ash Ra Tempel in their mellower moments, a bit of a Faustlike sensibility... you get the idea.  Long, raga-like sections of guitar and percussion jamming cut into each other with occasional vocal declamations and incantations.  Bells, electronic whooshes and other odd bits of studio noise complete the picture of an album that reminds you of a lot of things, sure, but the way it's all put together is utterly unique and mindbending.  One of these wonderful discoveries that always remind me there's infinitely more great music out there still to be found.

mega / zippy

Monday, 29 January 2018

Ghédalia Tazartès - Tazartès (1987)

Ghedalia Tazartès' fourth album saw his unique sound becoming more streamlined and accessible - but only relative to the all-over-the-map insanity of his first three (see links below - just realised I still have haven't posted his debut, so will put that right soon).

This 1987 release could still hardly be called commercial, despite a modest update to the sound and more discrete, self-contained tracks. Tazartès' singing is still wonderfully weird, and the little idiosyncracies in the background continue to delight, like the funk rhythm loop that gradually fades in towards the end of opener Merci Stéphane.  The album's lyrics include settings of texts by French surrealists Stéphane Mallarmé and René Daumal, as well as words by Gustave Flaubert and even Jacques Cousteau - an esteemed bunch of French legends indeed, which I reckon is entirely appropriate for someone like Tazartès.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: 
Tazartès' Transports
Une Éclipse Totale de Soleil

Friday, 26 January 2018

Dubravko Detoni With Acezantez - s/t (2000 compilation, rec. 1975-77)

Ansambl Centra za nove tendencije Zagreb were an experimental chamber ensemble formed in 1970 by Croatian composer Dubravko Detoni.  This compilation centres around the sole LP they released together in 1977 - although a smattering of other Detoni releases/VA releases would feature performances with Acezantez, three of which fill out the CD.

The LP (see below) featured two 20-minute pieces, Kitsch Variations and Fable.  The former features the ensemble skronking, plonking and droning away nicely on piano, celesta, harpsichord (Detoni) plus glockenspiel, organ and a variety of wind, brass and string instruments.  I'm not clear on what the composed/improvised ratio was here, but Fable does offer a highly listenable organised chaos with plenty of atmospheric headroom and no-one going on for too long of getting in each other's way.  I'd take a guess then at some sort of basic guide score at least being followed.

Fable is even better, and the definite highlight here for me.  There's much more manipulation of the instruments going on, there's lots of vocal weirdness and odd tape samples in the mix, and the whole thing could definitely pass at a push for some great lost Nurse With Wound track (incidentally, that lettering on the CD cover is credited to one Steven Stapleton).

As mentioned, completing this collection are two tracks from a self-titled 1976 Detoni LP, Grafika VI and Group Gymnastics, and the disc opener Dokument 75 is from an LP called Muzički Biennale Zagreb 1975.  All are worth a listen, especially Grafika's distorted organ drones and Dokument's electronic stabs.  Wish there were a dozen more Acezantez releases - this is one of the most satisying CDs I've bought in ages.  Hugely recommended, if you like this sort of thing.
original LP cover, 1977 (tracks 2 & 3 on CD)
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Sven Grünberg - OM (1988)

Top-notch 80s synth from Estonia today, with more than a hint of a Vangelis influence.  Sven Grünberg founded Mess, a progressive rock band, in 1974, before going solo in 1980.  This is his second album, and as with almost all Grünberg's music there's a strong conceptual focus on Tibetan Buddhism - he remains involved in an official capacity with Estonia's Buddhist Institute, so you know this is all coming from a place of sincerity rather than an affectation.

Musically, the synthesizers are digital but well utilised, suffusing the whole album with an eerie atmospheric feel and employing just occasional use of a sequencer or an unintrusive rhythm track.  The sound is fleshed out by other little bits of percussion and ethnic instrumentation - is that a koto on Peegeldused (Reflections) that brings China/Bladerunner to mind?  Anyhow, can't recommend this highly enough to anyone who likes Vangelis, and anyone who enjoys drifty, atmospheric synth should definitely give it a go.

mega / zippy

Monday, 22 January 2018

Meredith Monk - Book Of Days (1990)

It was in 1984 that Meredith Monk first conceived of the imagery that would lead to the film Book Of Days - a monochrome scene of a young girl in a medieval Jewish village.  The nonlinear narrative would end up focusing on the girl's strange visions of 20th century life, that she would attempt to explain to her grandfather (see image above), before finding a kindred spirit in a 'madwoman' portrayed by Monk.  Certainly sounds fascinating - anyone out there ever had a chance to watch it?

The soundtrack would feature mostly brief vocal pieces that Monk had been concurrently working on, most of them acapella, occasionally with subtle drone instrumentation from a keyboard, organ, dulcimer, hurdy gurdy or cello.  On completion of the film project, Monk decided to re-record the music from the film, plus some pieces that she hadn't been able to include, and restructure the running order.  The result was this, her fourth album for ECM; intended by Monk and Manfred Eicher to be 'a film for the ears'.

Book Of Days the album remains an oft-cited high point in Meredith Monk's discography, and for good reason.  The preponderance of short acapella pieces really lets her vocal, compositional and vocal arrangement talents shine, and their structure here flows beautifully as an album completely apart from its soundtrack origins.  This is vocal music that sounds truly timeless, notwithstanding the occasional use of a digital keyboard (which actually fits just fine on Churchyard Entertainment and Madwoman's Vision in a Badalamenti-sinister kind of way).  The occasional acoustic instrumentation mentioned earlier perfectly fleshes out the austere vocals too.  A highly recommended jewel of a record.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: Dolmen Music | Turtle Dreams 

Friday, 19 January 2018

Nurse With Wound - To The Quiet Men From A Tiny Girl (1980)

As mentioned in the previous post, one huge fan of Berrocal's Parallèles was NWW's Steven Stapleton.  The two men first met in France in the late 70s, and again shortly afterwards in London, where Berrocal contributed to the second album that Stapleton's band (still a group at this early stage, although John Fothergill and Heman Pathak's involvement was already diminishing) were recording.

In common with their legendary debut Chance Meeting..., NWW were again obliged (for the last time) to give engineer Nicky Rogers an introductory guest spot on guitar, entitled Umbrella Link.  Other than that, Stapleton's increasing confidence in the studio was already starting to show, in the slowed-down voice and various bits of electronic noise in the early minutes of She Alone Hole And Open, not to mention the various trumpet smears (Berrocal), other odds and ends, and the hammering rhythmic ending.

Ostranenie, named after the Russian art movement and also taking up a full album side, is better still, with the sonic landscape really starting to open out in anticipation of studio fever-dreams like Homotopy To Marie.  Disembodied voices, echoing percussive sounds, a lengthy exploration of a musical box rendition of Schumann's Traumerei, and a straight 90-second lift from John Cage (who was given a "grateful acknowledgement" in the liner notes) all take their turn in haunting the soundscape.  In the latter case, the choppy piano and radio play drop-ins from Credo In Us (the early 70s recording by Ensemble Musica Negativa) sound completely at home in their surroundings.  It's one of those great testaments to Stapleton's developing art and how skillfully he could synthesise his influences.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Jacques Berrocal - Parallèles (1977)

Debut solo album by French avant-gardist and multiple-horn skronker Jac(ques) Berrocal.  This is the one with the original Rock 'N' Roll Station, memorably covered by Nurse With Wound in 1994.  Back in 1976, Berrocal got on his bike (in the studio, to record the sounds of it as an instrument) and left the words to British rock 'n' roll singer Vince Taylor, whose biggest audience had always been in mainland Europe since his 60s peak.  The result, accompanied by a pedaling bass note, was five minutes of surrealist brilliance - 18 years later, Stapleton would even name his album after it.

Elsewhere on Parallèles, there's a sample of the free jazz improvisations on trumpet, trombone, cornet and more that Berrocal and his main collaborators Roger Ferlet and Michel Potage were playing at the time.  One track, Post-Card, adds guitar and a spoken-word part, and was apparently recorded in a pigsty.

Lastly, the side-long Bric-a-Brac (To Russolo) adds some more free-improv acquaintances on cello, bass, piano and several more horns.  Towards the end, that static bassline from Rock 'N' Roll Station comes back in, as do elements of its lyrics, among other things that intrude hilariously into an English-language biographical note of Luigi Russolo.
original LP cover
mega / zippy

Monday, 15 January 2018

Alvin Lucier - Music On A Long Thin Wire (1980)

Double-album of minimal drone magnificence by composer and sound artist Alvin Lucier, b. 1931 in New Hampshire.  A founder member of the Sonic Arts Union collective along with David Behrman, Gordon Mumma and Robert Ashley, a lot of Lucier's work had a strong performance/installation element.  This included amplifying his brainwaves; creating feedback by moving through a performance space; most famously, sitting in a room and looping his voice; and in the late 70s, using a physics/acoustics experiment for the basis of the work in today's post.
performance instructions by Lucier (click to enlarge for readability)
The performance setup is explained by Lucier in the instructions above - so just a quick recap:  A piano wire gets clamped to two tables at either end of a long room (on this recording, the rotunda of US Customs House, Bowling Green NYC, on 10th May 1979), each connected to an amplified sine wave oscillator.  A horseshoe magnet is placed over the wire at one end like a giant eBow, and the resulting oscillations are put through speakers round the room.

On four sides of an album, each from a different part of the day, the visual and participatory aspects of this are of course missing, but the sound is still unique and immersive.  Tiny variations in the drones occur throughout, sometimes breaking into ghostly shapes a la Soliloquy For Lilith, with every slight change in the room's atmosphere and the movements of observers.  If you're in the time and place to completely lose yourself in this for 75 minutes, prepare to be transported.  Drone hypnosis doesn't get much more minimal than this.
original LP cover
mega / zippy

Friday, 12 January 2018

Nils Frahm - Spaces (2013)

In anticipation of the new album he's releasing later this month, here's some more Nils Frahm - previously posted was his solo piano masterpiece The Bells.  Two tracks from that album get nicely fleshed out on this patchwork-style live release (one of them tripling in length), and there's lots more to be amazed by across the 76 minutes of Spaces.  This album was my introduction to Frahm at full tilt, blending synth sequences with lightning-fingered piano improvisations and further electronic manipulation on the fly.

Occasionally this seat-of-the-pants approach doesn't take off.  It's actually to Frahm's credit (and indicative of his self-deprecating sense of humour - the sleevenotes are essential reading!) that he not only leaves in one of these failed experiments, but opens the album with it, giving a nice little snapshot of his developing craft.  When he gets into the groove though, Frahm is utterly electrifying.  Nowhere is this better displayed than on the epic medley of For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More, which takes the third part of its title from the household objects that Frahm beats the piano strings with.  And yes, as live footage I've seen can attest, they were fresh-out-of-the-wrapper brushes.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Klaus Hinrich Stahmer - Klanglabyrinthe (1992)

Five works spanning 1982-1992 are presented on this collection by German composer Klaus Hinrich Stahmer, b. 1941 in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland).  Fascinated by mathematics, symmetry and geometry as well as sculpture and mythology, Stahmer's music gets explained in very dry detail in the booklet of this CD, which almost put me off.  Fortunately, there's plenty of interesting sounds to listen to at face value, which is what I always prefer to do (and write about).

Case in point would be the 17 minutes of Der Stoff, aus dem die Stille ist (1990) - if I listened to this blind, I'd probably just assume it was an environmental recording by a stream or river.  It was pretty enjoyable on those terms, without needing to know how minutely planned all the water-droplet harmonic frequencies and their timing intervals were (this part was all modulated by computer).  But hey, it is kind of fascinating that someone would impose so much structure into a recording of some... water.

Musically, my favourite piece here was Kristalgitter (1992), for computer-manipulated string quartet and the striking of stone sculptures.  The end result sounds to my ears like an early Stephan Micus recording overlaid with a less refined (check that distortion near the start!) version of Kaija Saairaho in string quartet mode.  This is followed by Labyrinth I/II (1989), with more Micus-esque stone music - this time the performers rubbed their wet hands on to granite blocks that had been cut with fine toothcomb-like grooves.  The resulting swishing sounds and resonant frequencies are manipulated by computer into a hypnotic dronescape.  A collection for repeat listenings, definitely.  The other two pieces are Ariadne's Thread, for contrabass flute and percussion, and a brief harmonica canon piece dedicated to John Cage.

mega / zippy

Monday, 8 January 2018

Thomas Dinger - Für Mich (1982)

A real wintry favourite today - this is the album I grab at the first sign of snow.  Für Mich was the solo project of younger Dinger brother Thomas (1952-2002), and as its title suggested the album came from Thomas' desire to record music that sounded exactly the way he wanted it, away from the artistic dominance of his brother and collaborator Klaus.

Fellow La Düsseldorf drummer Hans Lampe stayed on board to help produce the resulting album, which was entirely instrumental and much more introspective than the music their main band had become known for.  In the three main tracks, the same basic chord sequence (a variant on Thomas' La Düsseldorf track Tintarella Di) gets cast in three different lights - a pretty mid-tempo waltz, a rocked up blast and a slowed-to-a-crawl synth epic.

Aside from the propulsive Für Dich, the motorik beat of La Düsseldorf gets switched out here and 3/4 time dominates, suffusing the album with a kind of sentimental melancholy, especially on the layers of keyboards that build throughout opening track Ballgeflüster and on the stark Alleewalzer.  The longest track here, E-605, appears to a glacially-developing duet for synths and a lonesome dog howl - depending on your mood this can either be affecting or irritating.  I love it.  This, and all the other odd little sounds scattered around the album, are just part of what makes it exactly the album Thomas wanted to make, "für mich".

mega / zippy

Friday, 5 January 2018

Eberhard Weber - Fluid Rustle (1979)

Haven't posted an Eberhard Weber solo album yet, so it's long overdue to rectify.  This is my absolute favourite, in which the instantly recognisable upright-electric bassist pared back his unique music to just bass, vibes/marimba (Gary Burton), guitar/balalaika (Bill Frisell), and two vocalists (Norma Winstone and Bonnie Herman) adding wordless magic.

Making his ECM debut after being discovered by Weber on tour, Frisell is tentative and understated here - to a fault, in his own retrospective analysis, but his minimalist volume swells and gentle arpeggios are perfectly placed on this winter's morning walk of an album.  The side-long Quiet Departures starts off with Frisell in this zone, accompanied by Burton, before the bass and voices enter.  By the halfway mark, this pre-dawn chill has started to see some sunlight, as Frisell strums an open chord on the balalaika (with a more energetic lead guitar overdubbed), and the voices set off on a gorgeous melodic progression.

The sunlight continues to burst through on the title track, with Winstone and Herman in full voice as Burton and Weber sparkle all around them, before another subtle, fluid solo from Frisell.  The rest of the album turns colder and more desolate, with a plaintive Burton solo providing the centrepiece of A Pale Smile, and the closing Visible Thoughts ending the day back in the wintry dark as the voices turn into eerie whispers.  A highly, highly recommended standout album in Weber's peerless catalogue.

mega / zippy