Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Iancu Dumitrescu/Ana-Maria Avram - Ouranos II, Gnosis etc. (1997)

This is the twelfth post I've done of Iancu's & Ana-Maria's music, and I'm still finding that my favourite releases of theirs are the first run of CDs from the 90s (featuring both works from that decade, and before).  Still got to pick up some of the most recent ones though, so may find stuff that I love even more there.  Tragically, of course, there'll be no more new music from Ana-Maria Avram, who died a year ago at 55.

Here's one from 1997, kicking off with a fresh work for twelve cellos, tape and percussion, Ouranos II.  The piece begins and ends with sinister, faraway rattlings, with everything in between ripping holes in the universe in customary style.  Iancu's other works on this collection are Gnosis (1988) for double bass, like a version of Medium III without all the distortion, and two versions of Orion (1978) for percussion ensemble.

Two works from Ana-Maria: first is a string orchestra piece, New Swarms (1992).  Alternatively swarming like millions of robot bees and settling down into more conventional string writing, it wrings out just about every possible sound from its instruments in the space of ten minutes.  Closing the album is Labyrinthe I (1997) for strings and tape, which is probably my personal highlight of the collection.  The swirling, alien sound of the tape manipulation takes the string scrapings and rattlings to a place not a million miles from the 80s Nurse With Wound universe.

mega / zippy

Monday, 17 September 2018

la! NEU? - Year Of The Tiger (1998)

The final la! NEU? post!  Fittingly, Year Of The Tiger, named after the furry postcard sent to Dinger (pictured on the cover), was their final studio release.  It appeared in 1998 just after Goldregen, but in contrast to that album's fully acoustic aesthetic, it focused on the electronic, beat-driven side of la! NEU?.  Also in contrast to Goldregen's short pieces, Year Of The Tiger consists of just two tracks, one of which is 32 minutes long and the other 33.

Before these, there's a minute-long 'trailer' for Blue Point Underground, a group based around krautrock legend Eberhard Kranemann, who Dinger had just reconnected with.  They produced one album for Captain Trip, which I've still to hear.  Back with la! NEU? though, and in late 1997 then began work on fleshing out a long keyboard piece of Rembrandt Lensink's with Dinger's drumming, Viktoria Wehrmeister's vocals and a hell of a lot of phasing effects.  The result, Autoportrait Rembrandt, grooves along nicely with enough variety to not outstay its welcome, and was performed again at the final la! NEU? concert.

Also featuring at the Kunsthalle gig, effectively giving the listener a full live version of Year Of The Tiger to compare & contrast, was Notre Dame.  The original studio version here fills its epic running time with a drum loop, mellow guitars from Dinger and his 80s guitarist Spinello, and a gorgeous vocal performance from Viktoria.  Little bits of electronics, cheerful conversation and other ambient sounds drop in and out as the piece goes on, all adding up to possibly the most lovely extended track in the la! NEU? catalogue.

mega / zippy

la! NEU? complete catalogue at SGTG: Düsseldorf | Tokyo '96 Live | Zeeland | Goldregen | Year Of The Tiger (this post) | Live At Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

Friday, 14 September 2018

George Winston - Autumn (1980)

Long overdue a solo piano Friday round here, so here's an absolutely gorgeous one whose time has come, with its titular season setting in.  The second album by Michigan native George Winston, Autumn was recorded some seven years after his 'Ballads And Blues' debut after playing some of his music to Windham Hill boss William Ackerman.  It kickstarted a hugely successful career in solo piano recordings for Winston, and helped make Windham Hill into a New Age household name.

I guess it's debatable whether this this is actually New Age music per se - to my ECM-centric mind, Winston's a more accessible Keith Jarrett/Art Lande than anything else.  This isn't exactly jazz either though, despite strong influences detectable.  But categorizations aside (Winston himself prefers 'rural folk piano'), all that really matters is Autumn's 45 minutes of utterly evocative, stunningly beautiful piano music that suits background listening or full attentiveness equally well.  Its first half features three longer tracks including two 9-10 minute suites, with the four mostly shorter pieces on side two delving deeper into Winston's formative influences of blues and stride piano, and New Orleans R&B piano.  Immersive loveliness par excellence for watching the leaves starting to turn.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Philip Glass - Dance Nos. 1-5 (rec. 1979-86, rel. 1988)

In the aftermath of Einstein On The Beach's success and initial LP release, Philip Glass composed three 'Dances' for friend and choreographer Lucinda Childs, to be performed by his regular small ensemble.  Two of these, numbered 1 and 3, would comprise the follow-up to Einstein in Glass' discography (see LP cover below), and the remaining one would eventually be recorded in 1984 and appear as the closer to the 3LP/2CD set Dance Nos. 1-5 that was released in 1988.

Dance Nos. 1-5, which is today's post, interspersed these odd-numbered ensemble pieces with two solo organ works recorded in 1986.  Of these, Dance No. 4 became the best known and has been given several interpretations, including my personal favourite by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent.  The original take here, performed by the composer, is less grandiose and a bit more slow and deliberate, highlighting the gradual progression in the structure of the piece.  Dance No. 2, performed here by Michael Riesman, is an electric organ piece of similar length but closer in conception to the music of Einstein On The Beach, as if a piece from the opera had been stripped of all instruments but the keyboard.

Closer still to the sound of Einstein, and in some ways prefiguring Koyaanisqatsi, are Dances 1, 3 and 5.  Dance No. 1 is a flowing, rippling ocean of flutes and piccolo; No. 3 a chunkier, funkier sax-led work that is lots of fun to listen to.  Lastly, Dance No. 5 is a best-of-both-worlds that combines flute and sax, and has some structural similarities to the organ piece, No. 2.  All in all, an essential collection in Glass' discography for anyone wanting to tour the waystations between his most famous works of the late 70s through to late 80s.
Dance Nos. 1 & 3 - LP cover (1980)

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Monday, 10 September 2018

Van Morrison - Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983)

Some more 80s Van, still with Mark Isham on board (the latter sticking overwhelmingly to synths here), and seeking enlightenment in an even more introspective and meditative realm than on Common One.  Foregoing even words at times - clearly encouraged by the reception of Beautiful Vision (1982)'s closer Scandinavia - four of the tracks here are instrumentals, and the rest of the album is more lyrically sparse than any other in his canon.  Inarticulate Speech is a Van Morrison record consisting entirely of deep cuts - even the 'live favourite' is a mostly spoken-word catalogue of the poetic strive for the transcendent throughout history.  But like Common One, if you give such a sleeper album a nudge, it'll repay with sublime listening experiences from then on.

The opener Higher Than The World opens on clouds of Isham synth, with Morrison sounding initially overawed by some meditative state/spiritual experience before rejoicing in it.  This is followed by the first instrumental, Connswater; if it sounds a bit too Riverdancey for some ears, fear not - each subsequent instrumental will just get more and more wonderful.  The first part of the title track is (paced like most of the album) a sedate piano-led piece with only some wordless backing voices, and the second part's lyrics are mostly the title plus "I'm a soul in wonder".

On the fully-sung tracks, Van balances his metaphysical interests (in the album's first half) with evocations of home and childhood, and the power of memory and belonging (on the trio that sit together on side two).  With the stunning album closer September Night, he hits on a moodpiece so evocative that his voice becomes a primal cry.  Grab this album for these September nights and beyond, and it'll paint them in colours as stunning as nature.

mega / zippy

Friday, 7 September 2018

la! NEU? - Live At On Air West, Tokyo, 3 Dec 1996 (rel. 1998-9)

Continuing the la! NEU? posts from last week's feature of their debut release, today focuses on the three and a half hours of their second concert (the first, a day prior, remains unreleased; not sure if it was even recorded).  You'll notice the 'Vol. 2' in the artwork above; I'll be discussing these two albums in concert order, rather than release order.  Yep, 'Vol. 2' is the first half of the gig.

In a spectacular 'what could have been', this December 1996 trip to Japan was originally planned as a NEU! reunion, to which Michael Rother wouldn't commit.  Offering his new band instead, Dinger went to Osaka with Andreas Reihse, Viktoria Wehrmeister and the rest of the touring la! NEU? lineup he'd assembled, played the aforementioned first concert, then traveled to Tokyo the next day (the first 20 seconds of Disc 1 here) to set up at the On Air West venue (the following five minutes).

As with la! NEU?'s farewell performance in Düsseldorf, the introduction (here titled Tension) is a gentle ambient keyboard piece.  The calm is then blown away by the La Düsseldorf track Viva, in which lead guitarist Dirk Flader is particularly incendiary.  Dinger then asks if anyone knows Hero '96, presumably to check if anyone had bought the new album (that had only been out a couple days!), and a fine version of that track follows, with Wehrmeister finding a new confidence, even appearing to channel Patti Smith towards the end, swapping "piss on the industry"'s with Dinger.

On Disc 2, the concert progresses into an improvisational section for a total of 40 minutes, including Dinger playing a tape of music and talking that he'd received from a fan (a Brit-expat in the US), taking the democracy of his new group to an absurd conclusion.  la! NEU? return to their own music with the sweet, Dear Prudence-quoting Mayday, then the set looks backwards again - first to 1985 and America, and then...

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...all the way back to 1978, where it began.  At this point, some further listening instructions are required to follow the concert order: play Disc 2 of 'Cha Cha 2000, Live in Tokyo Vol. 1' first, and Disc 1 afterwards.  Crap, just realised that sentence, and the artwork above, are huge spoilers for the last song in the set.  Yeah, the last song.  Which takes up two CDs.  Think this is a bit overkill, even for Dinger?  That it'll get a bit boring at, what, 104 minutes?  Well, it's not for nothing that this is la! NEU?'s bestselling release.

Cha Cha 2000 Tokyo '96 is nothing less than Klaus Dinger's most epic expression of his greatest composition, and for me is just endlessly inspirational.  Each section of the original 20-minute song gets fully turned inside and out, and rather than played to death, played into new life by a group who were all adept at long-form improvisation, and would remain so.  It builds up and falls back endlessly, features loads of odd little extras (i.e. dropped in tapes, and at one point inviting audience members on to the stage to sing along) and at the start of Disc 1 (remember, the final part of the song and concert) has a beautifully extended quiet improv before the final buildup starts at the halfway point of the disc.  Is this the greatest Cha Cha ever?  You decide.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2018

John Lacey / COUM Transmissions - Music For Stocking Top, Swing & Staircase (rec. 1974, rel. 2014)

Staying in the mid-70s today, but on a completely different aural/artistic tangent.  Captured here are 80 minutes of lo-fi cassette recording, taping segments of a 1974 performance by proto-Throbbing Gristle performance art group COUM Transmissions.  Despite the co-crediting of COUM on this archive release, Genesis, Cosey and Sleazy aren't actually audibly featured (unless they're among the voices intermittently heard in conversation during the second track - I couldn't be sure, definitely can't pick out Gen's distinctive accent).

This instead is the soundtrack to COUM's performance (one of their less extreme and more playful ones, IIRC - unfortunately I can't find my copy of Wreckers Of Civilisation at the moment to check, and Cosey's book doesn't mention it).  The electronic sounds were performed by John Lacey, or John Gunni Busck to give him his COUM name.  Lacey, son of robotic artist Bruce (see 'Mr Lacey' by Fairport Convention), would reunite with Chris and Cosey eight years later for the proto-techno project CTI (Creative Technology Institute, not to be confused with Creed Taylor International!), but here he's on his own, playing self-built synths.

The sounds that Lacey conjures up vary from queasy drones to rhythmic pulses to murky splodges of sound; despite the spartan recording quality, it's all very listenable and enjoyable in its own right if you like DIY electronica from this era.  In fact, the recording quality pairs well with the sonic textures if you consider this as a precursor to the early TG sound, which it very much sounds like.  Lacey's electronic work here is a very worthwhile and recommended adjunct to the COUM/TG story, and kudos to the label Other Ideas for releasing this in 2014 (they don't appear to still have the files for sale, and the only other release was a limited-edition LP of the longer track, so I guess it's all 'out of print' now).

mega / zippy

Monday, 3 September 2018

Gong - Gazeuse! (1976)

A hugely enjoyable slab of mid-70s jazz rock, from the era of 'Pierre Moerlen's Gong', after the departure of Daevid Allen ended the ever-changing group's first psychedelic era.  Steve Hillage had departed too for his solo career by the time this album was recorded, and for this album was replaced by Allan Holdsworth.  An utterly unique guitar player and writer, Holdsworth's solo albums have been on my radar for ages but I'm never quite sure where to start - any suggestions welcome.

Holdsworth is the composer for two tracks on Gazeuse!, Night Illusion and Shadows Of, and both are great showcases for his stunning style.  The solo he unleashes about three minutes into the latter is particularly breathtaking.  The lion's share of the rest of the material is Moerlen's; as a sometime member of Les Percussions De Strasbourg, his percussive credentials formed the core of the Gong sound in this era.  The preponderance of mallet percussion on Gazeuse! makes it essential for fans of Frank Zappa's jazzier ventures, and perhaps even those of Steve Reich's percussive work.  Entirely befitting its title, this is a great little album that fizzes with effervescent energy and creativity throughout.
Alternate cover (USA, where the album was re-titled Expresso)
mega / zippy

Friday, 31 August 2018

Steve Hillage - Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

Basically an essential post to round up the recent spotlighting of Steve Hillage, and one of the most essential ambient albums ever made, full stop.  Synths and sequencers had been increasing in prominence from Motivation Radio to Green, and for their next studio album Steve & Miquette went all in with these two side-long instrumental pieces. 

Written for the Mind-Body-Spirit Festival that took place at the London Olympia from 21-29 April 1979, the album was released shortly before the event and credited its A side to Miquette Giraudy as composer, and B side to Hillage.  Fast forward a decade, and Hillage famously walks into a club's chillout room only to find the record being spun by Alex Patterson of The Orb, leading to Hillage & Giraudy's creative rebirth as System 7.

Rainbow Dome Musick's first half is called Garden Of Paradise, and it appears to be a garden with a stream running through it given the opening water sounds.  The gentle synths, electric piano and bells bubble and tinkle around, and at the halfway point the garden's birds burst into life, soaring and singing with Hillage's lead guitar part.  After the piece settles back down to the synths and fades away, the second half of the Dome experience is announced by a single bell, and the much, much trippier synths of Four Ever Rainbow start to worm their way into your subconscious.  Hillage sparingly plays mellow echo-guitar, but otherwise lets the womb-like electronics envelop the listener completely.  Beyond-essential ambience.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

la! NEU? - Düsseldorf (1996)

Will be completing my posts of the la! NEU? catalogue over the next few weeks, following a well-timed request (well-timed as in, I'm always up for a good Klaus Dinger binge).  So let's start from the beginning.  Following the breakup of Die Engel Des Herrn, Dinger jammed around a bit, including with new Düsseldorf group Kreidler, and for one session in December 1995 invited their drummer to join him and two members of the DEDH concert lineup.

The result was the 33 minutes of gloriously unhinged chaos that appears here as D. 22-12-95; what was just a fun jam session at the time wasn't intended for any serious release until the preparation of this album the following year.  Moments of motorik magic arise frequently from the free-for-all, and the freewheeling la! NEU? aesthetic was born.

Prior to this, in May 1995, Dinger had already recorded a solo track in which a deliberate Sister Ray homage became a cathartic diatribe against contemporary society and the music industry.  The acerbic fire of Néondian was very much still burning in Hero '96, titled for continuity with the original Hero of 1975.  Kreidler's keyboard player Andreas Reihse, who was to become a key member of la! NEU?, suggested a backing vocal overdub, and recommended his friend Viktoria Wehrmeister who was in another band, Superbilk.  Another piece of the la! NEU? puzzle clicked into place.

Now signed to the Japanese label Captain Trip, who were already reissuing Néondian and releasing DEDH material, Dinger completed the first la! NEU? album with two versions of his song Mayday, one with Reihse and one with Wehrmeister.  In the new band's short four-year lifespan, there were several more to come...

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG:
Zeeland
Gold Regen
Live at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

Monday, 27 August 2018

Per Nørgård - Symphony No. 3 (BBC Proms 2018)

Had a great introduction to another fascinating composer over the past week whilst keeping my usual eye on the BBC Proms programme, so here's the performance in question.  The 86-year old Danish composer Per Nørgård was in the audience for this, the UK premiere a week ago of his 3rd Symphony completed in 1975.

This symphony is generally held to be the point where Nørgård fully integrated his composing style, of serial music generated by fractal-like integers in an "infinity series".  After listening to this being discussed in the radio preamble I was expecting something like Xenakis, but Nørgård isn't quite that explosive, at least not in this work.  Instead, it reminded me occasionally of Ligeti, sometimes of the French spectralists, but those were just really fleeting coincidences rather than similarities (there is definitely some microtonality in the strings though, from what I've read).

Overall, I really enjoyed listening to something unique-sounding in its construction and in the way the instrumental groups interact, and definitely want to hear more Nørgård.  The atmospheric moments of the first movement were right up my street, and the longer second movement, once it gets going, is all over the place (in the best possible way) with its epic choral stylings.  Definitely recommended.

mega / zippy

Friday, 24 August 2018

Van Morrison - Common One (1980)

For the second Friday in a row, some magnificently mellifluous Mark Isham - this time in a supporting role to the living legend that is Van Morrison, on possibly his most ambitious album ever.  Common One kickstarted a seven-year run of albums that were deeply spiritual, meditative and sometimes esoteric, even difficult to get in to - but never less than hugely rewarding.  It's fast becoming my favourite Van era, so may well be posting more.

Common One starts off with the slow, gentle Haunts Of Ancient Peace, ushered in with a plaintive Isham performance.  Following this are the epic fifteen and a half minutes of Summertime In England - seriously, how to even describe one of Van Morrison's greatest epic tracks of his whole career?  Just listen to these joyous evocations of Wordsworth, Coleridge, T. S. Eliot, William Blake, Yeats et al, as Morrison pursues his red-robed muse through the jazzy uptempo sections and heart-rending waltz time sections, and you will realise it ain't why, why, why, why, why, why (etc), it just is.

As a comedown from this lengthy transcendent journey, the album continues with three shorter, much more conventional songs.  The self-explanatory Satisfied, the mellow loveliness of Wild Honey and Spirit with its quiet-verse, uplifting chorus structure are all great tracks, but there's still one more epic to come.  The second fifteen-minute track on the album, and its perfect, meditative closer, is When Heart Is Open, a beautiful experiment in ambient formlessness.  Even more so than the earlier Saint Dominic's Preview, Common One largely stands or falls on the strength of the two longest tracks that dominate its running time, and for me they make it an indispensable classic.  It's an album that might take one or two goes to get its hooks into you, but once it does it'll never let go.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Manuel Göttsching - Inventions For Electric Guitar (1975)

Out of the three main echo-delay master guitarists of the 70s - Fripp, Pinhas & Göttsching - it's the latter who I've always found most accessible and enjoyable.  Seven years prior to recording the immortal E2-E4, Manuel Göttsching made this, his first solo album.  No electronics here; every sound on Inventions is guitar/guitar effects recorded on to four track.  He'd expand this palette collaboratively shortly afterwards, before integrating it into the early Ashra sound on his way to E2-E4, but the beauty of Inventions is the pure echo-delay guitar sound and what Göttsching does with it.

The album features three tracks, the first of which and the most uptempo is the 18-minute Echo Waves.  The delayed guitar loops are layered and tweaked as skillfully as any electronic sequencer album of the era, towards a memorable ending where Göttsching cranks everything up then grinds it to a halt.  As a breather after this, we get six minutes of lovely ambience in Quasarsphere.  The stage is then set for the second half of Inventions For Electric Guitar, the 21-minute Pluralis.  The main guitar sequence sets up a more mid-tempo rhythm this time, with a gentle funky edge.  Göttsching then spins out a gradually developing melody with ghostly, synth-like tones wafting over the top.  Things just get more hypnotic and awesome from there.  Don't miss this brilliant album.

mega / zippy

Monday, 20 August 2018

Tomasz Stańko Quintet - Dark Eyes (2009)

Another post in honour of the sadly departed trumpet legend from Rzeszów, with one of his most satisfyingly accessible albums.  Dark Eyes was recorded in the South of France in early 2009 with a fresh group composed of Danes and Finns, most notably guitarist Jakob Bro.  Bro, then 31, turned in one of his earliest ECM appearances here, and has more recently established himself as a great bandleader on the label.  On Dark Eyes he's an ideal, shadowy foil to Stańko right from the first track.

Fans of latter-day Stańko will know what to expect here - lots of wonderfully languid, slow-burning melancholy, reaching its most exploratory on Samba Nova.  That's one of only two tracks on Dark Eyes to hover around the 10-minute mark though, with most settling for around six, and the lovely late interlude May Sun (sans Stańko) barely three.  So Dark Eyes is certainly a bit of a pull-back from the gargantuan moodpieces of its predecessor Lontano, and it's also an album that can cook, with Terminal 7 positively breezy by ECM Stańko standards.  What it does have in common with Lontano is another look back to Stańko's formative patron, the great Krzysztof Komeda; two in fact this time, in gorgeous renditions of Dirge For Europe and the closing Etuida Baletowa No.3.

mega / zippy

Friday, 17 August 2018

Mark Isham / Art Lande - We Begin (1987)

Another 80s ECM one-off; the decade in the label's history that never ceases to make me think "wow, that's just gorgeous" or "seriously, wtf?", or sometimes both, as in the case of We Begin.  Recorded by Rubisa Patrollers Mark Isham and Art Lande in January 1987, on its release later that year We Begin must've caused a bit of consternation among even hardened ECM fans when they heard its opening moments.  Anyone who stuck with the album, though, will have found another minor classic to cherish.

That first sound on opening track The Melancholy Of Departure is a drum machine; not just a low-key accompaniment, but a full minute of big, brash beats before Isham's trumpet and synth join in.  His lovely, contemplative melody continues to unfold with subtle piano from Lande; their stately progression completely at odds with the unchanging, Trans Midwest Express rhythm galloping away in the background.  This pairing sounds so wrong at first that it's almost comical, but after a few listens I was hooked on it.  The eerie ambience of Ceremony In Starlight that follows is another weirdly appealing piece, and not just for how uncannily Jon Hassell-like Isham sounds.

The rest of the album, apart from a lengthy shared composition, switches Lande into the driving seat.  The absolutely gorgeous title track shows what the album's opener would be like without the beats, before some subtler percussion is added back in for the brief Lord Ananea.  On the album's second half, the 10-minute Surface And Symbol is arguably the album's most successful exploration of rhythm and texture, with Isham layering his trumpet parts over the insistent percussion.  After that, we get a lovely Lande piano solo in Sweet Circle, and a fanfare duet to close.  All in all, one of the most memorable oddities in the ECM catalogue; it Sometimes shouldn't work, but in Isham and Lande's hands just does.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Andreas Vollenweider - White Winds (1984)

Another trip into the mid-80s New Age zone, when it was really coming into its own as a commercial force.  White Winds, subtitled Seeker's Journey, was the third major-label release by Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenweider, and his fourth album overall.  There's a Spin magazine review online from the time of White Winds' release that likens it to "bathing in club soda", and finds the album's production "as exciting as a shopping mall full of rice pudding" [Was it just on the shelves, or all over the floors/walls?  Can't get that image out of my head], but I happen to find it's aged fairly well.

Vollenweider's electroacoustic setup of the harp allowed for a fascinating range of sounds, as well as a great dynamic range; he proudly notes in the liners here that the bass sounds were played by him simultaneously with the rhythm, harmony and melody.  On these mostly mid-tempo tracks, the sound is filled out by billowy synth beds and bits of ethnic instrumentation and percussion, with occasional wordless vocals.  The folky and jazzy melodies are nice and uplifting, and there's the occasional switching of the overall tempo with the fun groove of Flight Feet & Root Hands, or the swirling ambience of The Stone (Close-Up).  The percussive interlude of Brothership is an ear-bender too.  Nice little record all round.

mega / zippy

Monday, 13 August 2018

Galina Ustvolskaya - Compositions I - III (composed 1970-75, rec. '93, rel. '95)

We've had a lot of nice, sunny melodic music wafting through these pages of late; nothing wrong with that, and perfectly in tune with my general summer listening.  Don't want to lose sight of the harsher, more abrasive sounds that I love though, and that have always formed a core column of this blog - so here's something I've had hanging around for a while.

Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) spent her life in Petrograd/Leningrad/Saint Petersburg, and channeled all of the upheaval that went with those name changes into powerful, cathartic music.  I've still to take the plunge with her notorious Piano Sonatas, apparently physically painful to play; this is where I started, with the three 'Compositions' written during the early-mid 70s.  Each has a subtitle taken from traditional Mass liturgy, but unlike Sofia Gubaidulina Ustvolskaya never professed any faith, and her use of religious tropes was purely for artistic style.

As with much of Ustvolskaya's output, the Composition cycle uses odd instrumentation, with the three-part Composition I (Dona Nobis Pacem) being an ominous cat-and-mouse game for piano, tuba and piccolo.  Following this is the ten part, 21-minute Composition II (Dies Irae), which is the most dramatic demonstration of Ustvolskaya's 'blocks of sound' style, with its attendant extreme dynamics.  Heavily featured here is the "Ustvolskaya cube", a wooden chipboard box played with beaters, as well as piano and eight double basses.  After this exhausting listen, Composition III (Benedictus Qui Venit) for four flutes, four bassoons and piano is positively relaxing by comparison.  A hugely recommended listening experience - make sure you're sitting comfortably.

mega / zippy

Friday, 10 August 2018

Ray Lynch - Deep Breakfast (1984)

Spied this the other week lurking in a 99p bin, and the album title and all that delightful salmon pink background made me grin and grab it.  On first glance looked either a bit jazzy or a bit synthy.  Turns out it's only one of the most successful electronic New Age albums ever produced, having initially been a private release, then reissued a couple of times including by Windham Hill, who kept it in print resulting in a platinum certification by 1994.

Ray Lynch was born in Utah in 1943, and after classical training and playing in a baroque group as a lutist, wound up in California in 1980 to switch to electronic music.  Deep Breakfast was his third album, and contrary to my thoughts of a bottomless bowl of Shreddies, the title and in fact many of Lynch's track titles came from a book by his spiritual teacher (and alleged dirty old letch) Adi Da Samraj, aka Da Love Ananda, Bubba Free John etc etc.  Anyway, the music here is all instrumental, and the titles could really be anything.  Let's listen.

Deep Breakfast is a really nice mix of analogue synth and early DX7, and the composition and arrangements definitely reflect the skill of one classically trained with a baroque affinity.  There's a good balance of sunny, poppy and upbeat tracks with more mellow, reflective material.  The first half of the album is purely electronic, and the second adds guitar, piano, flute and viola in places.  Lynch apparently disliked the New Age tag, considering his music a cut above much of the dross being produced, and he's not wrong - this is top-drawer stuff in its era.  My favourites are the gorgeous, Roedelius-like miniature Falling In The Garden and its neighbour Your Feeling Shoulders, which shows a definite Vangelis influence.  Some nice TD-esque sequencing here too, in the second and the last tracks.  Superior sounds for getting the muesli crumbs out of your futon.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

David Fanshawe - African Sanctus / Salaams (1989 compi, rec. 1973/77)

Nice little oddity today that very much reflects its late 60s-early 70s spirit of freewheeling experimentation.  African Sanctus is the most successful work by David Fanshawe (1942-2010), Devon-born ethnomusicologist and composer who was responsible for over thousands of recordings of indigenous music from around the world.  When I found this CD in a charity shop some time ago, I assumed it was another kind of Missa Luba - a gorgeous piece of music I must post some time - an African choral work.  Turns out African Sanctus is way much more eclectic and pleasingly strange than that.

Fanshawe's raw material for the work was the tapes he'd been accumulating in North and East Africa, as well as Arabia, in the late 60s.  He hit upon the idea of using these vocal, instrumental and percussive recordings as backing tapes to use in a Western-style Mass setting, and completed African Sanctus in 1972.  The work would undergo revisions over the years, but this June 1973 recording captures the original 54-minute version that was released as an LP that year.

Along with the indigenous recordings, African Sanctus uses bits of traditional choir and rock instrumentation of piano, electric guitar & bass and organ.  And frankly, it's all over the shop to listen to, in the most enjoyable way possible.  Far from watering down his source tapes into an insipid kind of world music, Fanshawe just let them burst into life in a kitchen sink approach of wildly varying tempi and dynamics.  It's an initially bewildering listen, but just about hangs together on its own internal logic, and not quite knowing what's coming next becomes part of the fun: whether that's African drumming, singing from both Christian and Islamic traditions, pop/rock music or environmental sounds (yep, there's frogs).  This multi-genre collage becomes something very likeable in its intention, and enduringly listenable.

Added on to this CD reissue is a 1977 recording of Fanshawe's 1970 piece Salaams, which again uses tapes (largely of pearl divers in Bahrain) against live instrumentation and singing.  It's a worthwhile inclusion, showing the development of the African Sanctus style on a smaller scale.

mega / zippy

Monday, 6 August 2018

Miles Davis - Sketches Of Spain (1960)

This album always jumps to the front of my August playlist - languid, lazy dog days never quite feel complete without its legendary Gil Evans orchestration and Miles' muted, melancholy tones being so perfectly suited to the Spanish melodies.  IIRC from a Mojo interview back in the 90s, this is Robert Wyatt's favourite album of all time, and what a great choice; Sketches Of Spain isn't just a high watermark in the careers of Davis & Evans, but a hugely influential and enduring classic of 20th century music full stop.

With the passage of time, and with so many recordings of Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjeuz available to us now, it's weird to think that it was only 20 years old at the time Miles Davis heard the CBS recording fronted by Renata Tarragó and became obsessed with it.  He got Gil Evans hooked on it too, and the arranger took the gorgeous melody of the Adagio and extended it into 16 minutes of stunning third-stream writing to form the centrepiece of a new album.  Next to receive the Evans treatment was Will O' The Wisp from Manuel Falla's El Amor Brujo, and a folk tune called The Pan Piper.

Reaching even further into Spanish tradition, the album was rounded out by the melancholy march of Saeta, inspired by an Andalusian Easter procession, and Solea, another more upbeat piece in which Miles discovers the links between flamenco and the blues and turns another legendary performance.  The recording sessions for Sketches Of Spain might not have always run smoothly, and the Davis/Evans relationship would soon run out of steam (although the studio backchat between them quoted in the record's liner notes can be hilarious), but the album that resulted here is arguably the best that they made together.

mega / zippy

Friday, 3 August 2018

Milton Nascimento - Minas (1975) & Geraes (1976)

One more Milton Nascimento post for now, with a pair of albums from '75 and '76 that were briefly reissued as a double-album in '77, so makes sense to post them together.  The titles taken together are of course an alternate spelling of Minas Gerais, the Brazilian state of Nascimento's upbringing, and the albums are further linked by an organ, woodwind & guitar swell that closes Minas and opens Geraes, so it would seem that the two records were very much intended to be regarded as a pair.

Minas opens with a 'na-na-na' children's chorus that will reappear as a thread throughout the album, before we get straight into some of Nasicmento's classic mid-70s songwriting with Fé Cega, Faca Amolada.  The post-Native Dancer sound of Minas dispenses with much of the rawness of Milagre Dos Peixes in favour of a more sophisticated, 70s jazz production, and there's spare orchestration in places - all supporting the strength of the songs well.  The absolute highlight for me is the re-recording of Native Dancer's opener Ponta De Areia, given a slow-swinging, assured dignity bookended with more children's choir.
Geraes, as mentioned in the intro above, starts where its predecessor left off, but as soon as that initial flourish fades the sound changes.  The jazz fusion of Minas has been replaced by a mostly stripped-back, folkier mode, but retaining the orchestration where called for.  Nascimento has only three songwriting credits out of the 12 tracks, and vocally shares more duets, making Geraes a more collaborative record that highlights his ability to mastermind a conceptual work drawing on the musical traditions of Minas Gerais.  In this way Geraes could be viewed as a precursor to Nasicmento's international breakthrough period on Warner Bros in the 90s.  The album ends with the gorgeous 5 minute ballad Minas Geraes, acting as the perfect thematic closer to these two great records.

Minas: mega / zippy
Geraes: mega / zippy

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet - Wisława (2013)

R.I.P. Tomasz Stańko, 11 July 1942 - 29 July 2018

A sad farewell to Tomasz Stańko, following his passing from cancer at the weekend.  Following the release of December Avenue a year ago, I remember wondering if the septugenarian trumpeter might have another album, or more, in him; sadly now it's a bookend to an amazing 50+ year career.  And IMHO, the absolute highlight of that career was the 100 minutes of music recorded by Stańko and his newly-formed New York Quartet in the summer of 2012, and released the following February.

The 'Wisława' of the album title was Szymborska (1923-2012), the Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet who Stańko had collaborated with in 2009, with a limited edition release of the concert appearing in 2012, in which he played solo responses to her poems (from the short excerpt I've heard).  Some of the same poem titles appear here - Tutaj, Mikrokosmos, Metafizyka, Assassins - now recast as quartet pieces in which Stańko swapped out his long-standing Polish backing group for pianist David Virelles, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

The results were nothing short of magical, and well worthy of the extended running time which is bookended by takes of a 13-minute requiem for Wisława herself.  This title piece unfolds its melody at a languid, dignified pace (like much of the album) before reaching the gorgeous five-note theme that Virelles has hinted at in the intro.  Throughout the slower-paced material, like the title track, Dernier Cri and April Story, the spot-on production lets every breath from Stańko fill out the ambient atmosphere, and the upbeat tracks - Assassins, Faces, A Shaggy Vandal - show how much fire there was in this band.  Żegnaj Tomasz, dziękuję.


Previously posted at SGTG:
Jazzmessage From Poland (1972)
Purple Sun (1973)
Freelectronic in Montreux (1987)
Bluish (1991)
Polin (2014)

Monday, 30 July 2018

Steve Hillage - Green (1978)

In early 1977, Steve & Miquette had two albums planned: one was to be The Red Album, the other The Green Album.  The former became Motivation Radio, from last Friday's post, but the latter kept to the original theme in its final title.  Whether it was the original intention or a later evolution, the distinction is clear - where Motivation Radio was rockier and more song-based, with only one instrumental, Green is over 50% instrumental, and points the way forward to Hillage & Giraudy's future direction.

Nick Mason was an apt choice for producer, as you can definitely draw more obvious parallels between Green and the classic Floyd sound.  Again, though, the lyrics are much more upbeat than Roger Waters' glass-half-empty world, and although very much of their time are accessible and heartfelt rather than just stoned ramblings (which I think is where I struggle with Gong, only really warming to them when Pierre Moerlen takes over.  But anyway, back to Hillage and Green.)

As mentioned above, with the exception of Unidentified Flying Being, which feels like more of a Motivation Radio track, this album is much spacier and atmospheric.  Most of the tracks flow into each other, and UFB segues into a stunning instrumental suite that will only be broken by one more minute of singing for the rest of the album.  Miquette and Steve really come into their own here as masters of ambient sequencing and other synth wonders, and this is also uniquely the album where Hillage favours guitar synth over regular guitar, further broadening the electronic palette.  Ending with a reworked Gong theme, Green really is space rock par excellence, and certainly my most enduring favourite in its genre.

mega / zippy

Tomasz Stańko 1942-2018

Aw, crap.

Tomasz Stańko, one of my favourite jazz artists, has died after a lung cancer diagnosis earlier this year.

Will post an album in tribute in the next couple of days, in between the scheduled posts for this week.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Steve Hillage - Motivation Radio (1977)

Back to Steve Hillage, with his third solo album.  Appearing after two solid slabs of psychedelic prog, this is where Hillage reshaped his sound around the funk and proto-disco music he was unashamedly enjoying at the time (despite fans who spoke to him carping about it, which only spurred him on).  The result was a massively fun record of eight tightly arranged shorter songs, and a cute little cover of Not Fade Away to finish.

Motivation Radio's lyrics can seem a bit dated (however, is it just me that finds Radio quite prescient, given the rise of the internet/social media as an admittedly imperfect counter to mainstream media?) and hippy-dippy, but at their heart just boil down to self-confidence/self-discovery platitudes and other messages of positivity.  Which is kind of nice; there's a great line in the AMG review of the album, although I suspect they won't have been the first to use it, about Motivation Radio being "the light side of the moon" in comparison to the largely downbeat Pink Floyd MO of the era.

Floyd are a vaguely useful musical comparison too; the album has a great 70s rock production with a generous dose of synth, both courtesy of Malcom Cecil of Tonto's Exploding Head Band, and there's also lingering traces of Hillage's time in Gong (see Octave Doctors).  Miquette Giraudy's synth talent, pointing the way to the future, is worth mentioning too.  What really elevates Motivation Radio, though, are Hillage's great guitars, energising the whole record with driving riffs and blistering leads.  When this coincides with the more purple lyrics, the result is a nice balancing act that stops the songs seeming too twee - Light In The Sky and Saucer Surfing are perfect examples.  With a tight rhythm section wrapping all this up, the result is just a wonderful album.

More to come on Monday! ;)

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Ben Lukas Boysen - Spells (2016)

It's shaping up to be a great summer for Erased Tapes, with Masayoshi Fujita (previously featured here) releasing a new album this weekend, and Michael Price (recently featured here) following suit a month later.  To celebrate, here's another very fine album from the label, by Ben Lukas Boysen, a Berlin-based musician/composer, friend of Nils Frahm (who mixed/mastered Spells), and erstwhile electronic artist under his Hecq alias.

The marketing for Spells featured a quote from Nils Frahm - "From now on, if anyone asks, this is a real piano" - in reference to Boysen's spare but perfect touch on his central instrument here.  On the opening pair of tracks, everything develops at a glacial pace, before the next pair, Sleepers Beat Theme and Golden Times I pick up pace for the album's stunning centre.  Both are beautifully crafted pieces of soundtracky evocative atmosphere - Sleepers Beat Theme was in fact composed for a documentary short.  The highlights keep coming on Spells' second half, from the most 'electronic' and dramatic track Nocturne 4 to the piano-only closer Selene.  Massively recommended, from start to finish.  Oh, and that album cover doesn't half remind me of something... could it be the record that kickstarted my other favourite record label?

mega / zippy

Monday, 23 July 2018

System 7 - Point 3: Water Album (1994)

Steve Hillage & Miquette Giraudy - what can I say.  Legendary power couple of UK psychedelia and electronica, like a version of Chris & Cosey where their hippy roots didn't take a turn for the extreme in the 70s but stayed largely sunny and upbeat.  Their music always cheers me up when necessary, and was planning some posts when by happy coincidence, got a request in the comments last week.  On Friday there'll be some classic 70s Hillage, but for today, here's my favourite album by System 7, Hillage & Giraudy's electronic umbrella project formed in the late 80s out of their friendship with Alex Paterson of The Orb.

Point 3 was released in October 1994 in two versions: the more uptempo Fire, which I'm not as much a fan of; and Water, which is possibly my favourite album of 90s ambient/trance.  With a 74 minute album that just flows so perfectly with featherweight synths and Hillage's keening lead guitar, it's hard to pick out favourites.  Nevertheless, I'm going to go for the 14 minute Coltrane, with its Balinese frogs, and the 13 minute Alpha Wave - the extended running times all the better to hypnotise you with - and Dr Livingstone I Presume, with its vocal sounds.  Everywhere though, there's gorgeous music, great sound effects, and top-notch collaborators like Derrick May, Laurent Garnier and Youth helping out with the production.  The glide goes on forever.

mega / zippy

Friday, 20 July 2018

Geraldo Azevedo - s/t (1977)

Hailing from Petrolina, Pernambuco, Geraldo Azevedo started out as a songwriter and a player in a few minor groups, which included crossing paths with Nana Vasconcelos early on.  This was his first solo album, following a collaborative release with Alceu Valença five years earlier at the height of the Udigrudi underground movement.  Cross-fertilizing MPB with folk styles from Northeastern Brazil proved to be a good combination on this album, allowing Azevedo's fingerpicked guitar talent to shine.

There's a good balance in these ten songs between string arrangements (and occasional synth) and earthier guitar sounds - lead guitarists Robertinho do Recife & Ivinho are particularly well featured on the 8-minute medley in the first half, and on the following Domingo De Pedra E Cal and Em Copacabana.  That stretch of the album contains its strongest highlights for me, and it's arguably the style that fits Azevedo best: languid and contemplative, but with just enough fire to drive the tracks forward.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Orbital - s/t [aka The Brown Album, or Orbital 2 in the US] (1993)

Dug out this album thanks to Acid Brass from last week - went on a wee nostalgia trip of late 80s/90s dancey electronica.  An hour of classic Kraftwerkian techno bookended by a couple of jokey nods to Steve Reich's early tape work - seems ideal for posting here.

By 1992, Orbital's Hartnoll brothers had broken on the dance scene with a home cassette-deck recording (the immortal Chime) and released a solid first album.  The second was produced with a new level of confidence and skill, from the introductory tape-phase looping of Worf from Star Trek TNG (introduced on their 'Green' debut) to the more fully-realised album coherence and buildup of each track's elements.

There's enough acid squelch on the likes of Remind and Lush 3-2 to link to Orbital's roots,  but throughout the Brown Album lots of other details reward deep listening.  The sitar colourings on Planet Of The Shapes, which also has a sample from Withnail & I synced in perfect rhythm; on Walk Now, the only time I've ever enjoyed listening to a didgeridoo.... it's an album offering great variety.  My absolute favourite thing here is the 20 minute stretch that takes in the gradually-mutating Lush 3-1/3-2 and melodic highlight Impact (The Earth Is Burning), but the lovely Halcyon + On + On isn't far behind.  A hugely recommended album to anyone wanting to hear a classic of 90s electronic music that continues to age well.

mega / zippy

See also at SGTG: Underworld - Everything, Everything / Polygon Window - Surfing On Sine Waves

Monday, 16 July 2018

Julius Eastman - Unjust Malaise (2005 compi, rec. 1973 - circa 1981)

Some more of Julius Eastman's wonderful, singular music (previously posted: Femenine), in the first major excavation of recorded work from his lifetime.  Eastman can be heard at the end of this collection describing his style as "organic music", in which material is carried across from segment to segment before being gradually replaced by new material, in a distinctive, personalised take on the Downton NYC minimalist circle that he moved in.  Like Femenine, the six works in three hours contained here can sometimes require patience, but the payoffs are magical.

The compilation starts off in 1973 with Stay On It for voice, piano, violin, clarinet, saxes and percussion.  The central theme, sounding like an uplifting gospel/soul refrain, acts as a framing device for the increasingly abstract and improvisational sections, before the saxes start to play a more solemn reduction of the theme and piece ambles bluesily toward a quiet, reflective ending.  If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? (1977) for a larger, brass-dominated ensemble, isn't as immediately accessible - its focus on simple ascending chromatic scales can feel a bit spartan for a while, but it's well worth sticking with.

Next we get to hear Eastman's wonderful baritone voice in his unaccompanied prelude to The Holy Presence of Joan D'Arc, as the title figure is exhorted by various saints to "speak boldly".  The rest of the 1981 work is a formidable inquisition by ten cellos, and another highlight of the collection.  Lastly, a full concert from Northwestern University in 1980 (with its spoken intro tacked on the end, for whatever reason) presents three of Eastman's most iconoclastic pieces, played on four pianos.  Eastman explains that his use of the N-word in two of the titles (apparently part of a longer series) was as reappropriation; likewise, the rhythmically strident Gay Guerilla a call to activism.  All three are absolutely stunning to listen to, and occupy a sweet spot between the tightly formalised piano work of Reich and Glass and the abstract, textural drones of Charlemagne Palestine.

Disc 1 mega / zippy
Disc 2 mega / zippy
Disc 3 mega / zippy

Friday, 13 July 2018

Sensations' Fix - Fragments Of Light (1974)

Great cult album of floaty and burbly synths galore, recorded - depending upon which sources are correct - either by Italian musician/producer Franco Falsini alone during a short period in Virginia, or as the first album proper by Falsini and new Sensations' Fix bandmates after he returned to Italy.  Yep, even researching this album was weird.  Odder still are the Amazon/iTunes downloads of the handful of Sensations' Fix albums available, with atrocious remixing and track shortening, even cack-handed overdubbing.  I've therefore had my eye on this long-deleted Polydor CD for a while, and finally got one that wasn't going for silly money.

Whether recorded by Falsini alone or not, Fragments Of Light is a gorgeous little oddity of 11 short tracks based around guitar and Eminent and Minimoog synths, all instrumental bar two tracks.  To deal with those two first, Space Energy Age is a cute little piece of space-pop with an early drum machine, and Do You Love Me sounds oddly out place, with a more tuneless vocal and what does seem like a full band (could still be Falsini overdubbing everything, dunno).

The rest of the album is a quite lovely trip through accessible, melodic electronics, basic rhythm guitar and little bits of psych-influenced lead guitar.  Squint a little and it could occasionally be Heldon without the darkness, or a more succinct, clear-eyed Cosmic Jokers session. Falsini was a definite Fripp fan too, with the LP including the message "Dear Robert, you'll be glad to know that the heavenly music organisation has branches here too".  Brilliant, evocative track titles abound - my absolute favourite is Music Is Painting In The Air, with its basic four chords and an echoey lead guitar over a floating bed of synth clouds.  Space Closure is the longest and most prog-like at 6 minutes, and Telepathic Children the perfect kosmiche closer.  Highly recommended.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Ensemble Belcanto - Come Un'Ombra Di Luna (2001)

As mentioned last month, German mezzosoprano Dietburg Spohr founded this vocal ensemble in 1986, and this was their first ECM New Series release.  Spohr formed Ensemble Belcanto to fill a gap that she saw, that of a group of female voices concentrating on new music.  They'd go on to delve way back into the medieval on a 2013 album of Hildegaard von Bingen's music, but before that came this July 2000 recording of four 1990s works that had been written for the group.

The first of these is a four-part suite by Haim Alexander (1915-2012), of settings of poems by Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945), who Alexander had met when both were German-Jewish exiles in Jerusalem.  The complex wordplay of these four excerpts from Lasker-Schüler's final published volume, Mein blaues Klavier, is rendered in wonderful dramatic shapes by Alexander and by Ensemble Belcanto's voices and percussion.

Next up are two short pieces: Konrad Boehmer (1941-2014), who was posted here way back in electroacoustic mode, contributes a great exercise in minature polyphony, set to the text of Un Monde Abandoneé des Facteurs by Michel Robic.  Fabrizio Casti's (b. 1960) mournful, acapella setting of Cesare Pavese's post-apocalyptic desolation gives this album its title.  Closing the album in memorable style is the 18-minute Séraphin-Stimmen by Wolfgang Rihm (b.1952).  Influenced by Artaud, the clave-punctuated wordless piece is a madrigal of sorts, with haunting gaps of virtual silence.  Séraphin-Stimmen was by far my favourite piece here, but the whole album hangs together very well and makes for rewarding repeat-listens.

mega / zippy

Monday, 9 July 2018

Williams Fairey Brass Band - Acid Brass (1997)

Picked up a classic charity shop find the other week.  And yep, it's exactly what the cover says - acid house anthems performed by a brass band.  This was the brainchild of London artist Jeremy Deller, who intended the project not to be a comic novelty, but a serious endeavour in drawing commonalities in British working class culture.  Deller went as far as including an elaborate flowchart in the CD booklet, with 'acid house' at one side and 'brass bands' at the other; the various links sometimes interesting, sometimes perhaps a bit spurious in driving his point home.  But enough sociocultural high-concept - as always, I'm more interested in the music.

Deller eventually found a brass band that were game for the challenge in Stockport's Williams Fairey Brass Band, formed in 1937 (I'm guessing this isn't the original lineup on Acid Brass).  Arranging Deller's chosen tracks was composer/arranger Rodney Newton, who also gets an interesting liner note about the challenges of the material, for instance, getting a group of brass band blokes to chant 'voodoo ray' in "low, guttural voices".  A live performance in Liverpool followed, seemingly well received by an audience of all ages.  A limited edition recording of the concert, also titled Acid Brass, was followed by this studio album.

So what does it sound like?  Well, to be honest, mostly like a cod-Mission Impossible/Austin Powers film score (What Time Is Love made me laugh out loud), but no less entertaining for that.  Newton does capture well the main themes and the tension-and-release of the originals, and purely from a melodic standpoint, A Guy Called Gerald's Voodoo Ray and 808 State's Pacific 202 sound lovely, proving their durability as highly original pieces of dance music.  The success of the arrangements can vary - I do like the tuned percussion (glock? marimba?) on those two tracks, and on Nitro Deluxe's Let's Get Brutal.  Derrick May's Strings Of Life doesn't translate quite as well, with its immortal string stabs rather weakly rendered - if anything, a testament to what a stunning work of genius the original was and still is.  Regardless, Acid Brass is a fun listen, especially in the summer sunshine.

mega / zippy

Friday, 6 July 2018

Chick Corea - Children's Songs (1984)

A year before setting off on his wondrous Voyage with Steve Kujala, Chick Corea recorded this beautiful, intimate solo piano album.  The concept was to tie together several short compositions that he'd been accumulating since the early 70s into a suite that would "convey simplicity as beauty, as represented in the spirit of a child".  The result was 20 pieces covering a wealth of different moods in just over half an hour, the many subsequent comparisons to Bartók’s Mikrokosmos well justified.

Longtime Corea fans will recognise earlier appearances of a few of the pieces: Nos. 1, 3  and 6 are reworked Return To Forever themes, Nos. 5 & 15 appeared (with those titles already in place) on 1978's Friends, and No. 9 is Pixieland Rag from 1976's The Leprechaun.  On this album they all find their ideal home alongside the others, to the point where everything runs together so perfectly it's hard to pick out favourites.  Perhaps it's even counterproductive to do so (although 4, 6, & 10 always come to mind for me, for starters), as Children's Songs is best enjoyed as a suite.  And it's a suite with a great postscript on CD editions, in the five minute Addendum for piano, violin and cello.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Milton Nascimento - Milagre Dos Peixes (1973)

Milton Nascimento's follow up to Clube Da Esquina was this, his most experimental album.  Even the presentation of the original release was out of the ordinary - an elaborate fold-out sleeve and colour-coded inserts for each track, and eight of the album's 11 tracks on LP, the final three on an accompanying 7".  This was a good three years before Songs In The Key Of Life - anyone know of any other precedents, or was Milton the first to do the LP+single package for an album?

The music was much more exploratory, earthy and percussive (Nana Vasconcelos is on fire throughout) than Milton's previous releases.  Highlighting this was the complete absence of lyrics on all but three tracks, the result of censorship from Brazil's military dictatorship of the time.  What remained were repetitive incantations from the vocalists, reaching their most primal on A Chamada, and just exhilarating and celebratory elsewhere.  The jazziness of Native Dancer is prefigured on the longest track Hoje É Dia De El-Rey, and that album would of course see a reworking of the Milagre Dos Peixes title track.

One of three tracks here left with its lyrics intact, the title track remains one of Milton's most enduring and gorgeous songs.  The other two are Pablo, sung by Lô Borges' youngest brother Nico (13 at the time), and a cover of Nelson Angelo's Sacramento, but this album is primarily about the music.  The uplifting rhythms and chants; the occasional string arrangements on Hoje É Dia De El-Rey and the title track; the barroom atmosphere created on A Última Sessão De Música - Milagre Dos Peixes is, in spite of the circumstances in its home nation at the time, a joyous experience, and unique in its creator's lengthy discography.
Alternate cover for European reissues - some with altered running order.

mega / zippy

Monday, 2 July 2018

Milton Nascimento/Lô Borges - Clube Da Esquina (1972)

Back to Brazil, with possibly the most stunning high water mark in MPB (música popular brasileira).  Clube Da Esquina (corner club) was a collective of musicians from the Minas Gerais state, led by Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges, the latter just 20 when this double-album was recorded.  With 21 songs in 64 minutes, Clube Da Esquina is like a fat-free White Album or stripped-down Manassas.  Over the succinct running time, it manages to take in regional folk influences, hazy, languid psychedelic pop and a huge dash of Beatlesque styling in a journey that feels more perfect with every listen.  Even the album cover has a great story behind it.

A track-by-track is pointless on an album like this; picking out highlights near-impossible for one with literally no duds - even the two tracks that don't break the minute mark are necessary, rather than jokey filler.  So here's a handful of favourites.  From Lô Borges' seven compositions, I'll go for the sun-dappled goodbyes of O Trem Azul with its gorgeous harmonies, and Trem De Doido, a poignant ode to mistreated psychiatric patients, with Beto Guedes' stinging lead guitar.

Out of Milton Nascimento's phenomenal songwriting and legendary voice... what to choose as favourites?  I'm going to plump for his more impressionistic side that comes out in the Side 3-4 split, on Um Gusto De Sol's woozy, sleepy personification of a pear in a fruit bowl, and the swirling production effects of Pelo Amor De Deus.  But then he's just as good as an interpreter, of Spanish songwriter Carmelo Larrea's bolero standard Dos Cruces, or duetting with Alaíde Costa on Me Deixa Em Paz.  Or indeed with no lyrics at all, on the near-title track or on the ode to his adoptive mother Lilia, soon to be re-recorded with Wayne Shorter (Wagner Tiso from Native Dancer is also all over Clube with his great organ style). Stay tuned for more of the near-instrumental side of Milton later this week, but for now make sure to download this perfect album.

mega / zippy

Friday, 29 June 2018

Michael Price - Entanglement (2015)

More Erased Tapes loveliness, this time from English composer Michael Price.  Having amassed several film and TV scores to his name in the past 20 years, often in collaboration with David Arnold, Entanglement gave Price his first opportunity to create an album in its own right.  His guiding principle here was "to make an album that sounded like a dark, Berlin record store discovery from the 30s. Something that had timeless emotive power, and pre-digital rawness".  And this he did, with a string orchestra, synths, electronic and tape effects, using vintage technology whenever possible - that wobbly fragility at the beginning of The Attachment comes from using a 1940s magnetic disk recorder.

Fans of Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter et al will find a lot to love here.  As in their case, it's obvious that a seasoned soundtracker is at work, but on an album untroubled by outside commissioning, the composer's ambition and love for their craft can really let loose.  Entanglement's nine pieces find Price in an often melancholy, but always evocative mood, whether focusing in on his own piano playing (the church bell-like tones of Easter) or filling out the sound with various shades of strings.  Ambient city sounds, recorded by Price on his phone, give Budapest an extra travelogue authenticity.  On two particular highlights, Maitri and The Uncertainty Principle, a guest soprano is featured (words below), which brought to mind for me Hans Abrahamsen's Let Me Tell You, or even Górecki's 3rd.  Don't miss this gorgeous album.

mega / zippy
Maitri
No one minded that
The flowers' beauty faded.
And I saw myself in the world grow old
As the rain went on falling.
(a waka by Ono no Komachi, 825-900)

The Uncertainty Principle
Autumn evening.
With her sleeve
She wipes a mirror.
(a haiku by Yosa no Buson, 1716-1784)