Friday, 20 April 2018

Chick Corea & Steve Kujala - Voyage (1985)

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Monday, 16 April 2018

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

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Friday, 13 April 2018

Keith Jarrett - Dark Intervals (1988)

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

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

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Conrad Schnitzler - Con 3 (1981)

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

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

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG:

Monday, 9 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 April 2018

A Winged Victory For The Sullen - s/t (2011)

A Winged Victory For The Sullen's debut opens with a gentle, warmly embracing but melancholy string flourish - just what might be expected from a project including half of Stars Of The Lid.  It's quickly joined by some heart-tugging minimal piano - the other half of AWVFTS is pianist/composer Dustin O'Halloran.  There's more Tired Sounds-esque languorous string sweep to be had in the following two-part Requiem For The Static King, but again given a new twist in AWVFTS's more decisively neoclassical approach and O'Halloran's gorgeous Budd-like piano passages.

O'Halloran is further showcased on Minuet For A Cheap Piano No. 2, with the textures close to Nils Frahm territory, fittingly for an album that Erased Tapes picked up for European release (also appropriately, it's on Kranky in the US), as a dreamy wall of Wiltzie billows in the distance.  The album's great centrepiece is still to come, in the shape of the 12-minute A Symphony Pathetique.  An object lesson in slow-building loveliness, it's possibly the best example here of what an inspired pairing Wiltzie and O'Halloran is.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Jani Christou - s/t (2001 compilation, rec. 1967-77)

Jani Christou (1926-1970) was a Greek composer, born in Heliopolis in Egypt, and before his death at just 44 in a car accident, produced some truly mindblowing and disturbing music.  He came to my attention through one of my favourite films of last year, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer.  As mindwarpingly bizarre and squickishly repulsive as a 90s Whitehouse album, the movie also had an inspired soundtrack, based around a generous amount of Sofia Gubaidulina's music.  One of the most memorable pieces for me however was Christou's Enantiodrama, which starts off this compilation of his late work.

Enantiodrama (1965-68) starts with faraway squeaking strings that gradually intensify into a Penderecki-like insect swarm.  Halfway through, this calms back down, but not for long, and shouted voices, chaotic percussion and brass are added into the mix.  Praxis (1966-9) is a piece for juddering string orchestra and piano, the barely-held-together chaos relying on a graphic score and patterns in constant conflict, and with more declaiming voices in its second half.  The CD ends with the bonus of the original version of Praxis for 12 players.

Next up is Epicycle (1968), a tape piece for instruments, actors and voices, its score allowing for improvisation.  A maelstrom of noises and unsettling vocal sounds crackle over the top of a rhythmic pulse until an abrupt end.  Anaparastasis III (1969) for piano, ensemble and tapes comes in with a menacing low-level hum over which fragments of instruments gradually appear.  Yet another tortured-sounding voice groans and screams in the ominous space, where the piano and ensemble intermittently spring into attack.

Christou's final work, Mysterion (1969) was planned as a full-scale opera for choirs, orchestra, actors and tapes, based on ancient Egyptian funeral rites, but in the wake of his death the premiere never took place, and all that remains are rehearsal tapes.  The Prolog featured here starts with echoing solo voice before a mechanical rhythm kicks in and other percussive noises click and scrape.  These five recordings were originally collected on an early 90s LP - on this CD reissue there's two handy additions: the original version of Praxis as mentioned above, and another Anaparastais, this time the first one in the planned cycle.  The text is from the Oresteia legend, with yet more wonderful orchestral chaos supporting the spoken material.
original LP cover, 1992
mega / zippy

Monday, 2 April 2018

1-A Düsseldorf - Fettleber (1999)

A few years after parting ways with his brother Klaus in 1983, Thomas Dinger started an experimental duo with visual artist Nils Kristiansen, however their first album wouldn't emerge until 1999.  Presumably, like Klaus, Thomas couldn't find a label in Germany to release his music, until Dinger-superfan Ken Matsutani and his Captain Trip Records stepped into the breach.  The band name that Thomas and Nils were using was in fact the original choice for La Düsseldorf: 1A Düsseldorf was intended, in 1975, to mean "the best Düsseldorf", until it was written down as "1a", and noting the resemblance to "la", they hit on a more appropriate name, and the rest was history for the brothers' main band.

By the 90s, Klaus was playing with la! NEU?, who were creating lengthy, freestyle jams using keyboards and guitars, but still frequently retaining recognisable song-forms.  There were no such concessions to structure on Fettleber: hazy, rattling flanged guitars, weirdo electronics and rhythms, samples and tape manipulation were 1-A Düsseldorf's MO.  Nils Kristiansen's vocals, first heard on second track Olala, are equally free-form, dreamlike mumbles, only occasionally making any sense.  The longest track, Rock, consists of rock only in the spoken instances of the title, and otherwise just lets a Kraftwerk/Tangerine Dream-like synth sequence run on.

The next pair of tracks are as strange as the album gets.  Gibsen features more free-form synths and sequences, a repeated spoken sample and other noises, and Gevogeltes adds various avian noises into the impenetrable, varispeed mix.  Fettleber does settle down at the end though, pointing to a slightly more accessible way forward in subsequent albums (with further members contributing).  The title track is based on a simple melodic guitar part, and the closing Kostprobe 3 sounds like a digital update of Kraftwerk's Tanzmusik.  All in all, an absolutely fascinating and criminally underrated part of the Dinger family album.

mega / zippy

Friday, 30 March 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina - The Seven Last Words, Ruayat, Vivente-Non Vivente (1990 compi, rec. 1979-89)

detail from The Last Supper by Nikolai Ge, 1861
For your Easter weekend pleasure, an amazing work for cello, bayan (Russian accordion) and strings from a unique and uncompromising composer, Tatar-Russian Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931).  An envelope-pushing writer in whatever form she composes in, Gubaidulina is also an intensely spiritual individual, and this setting of the Seven Last Words of Christ (inspired by the texts used by Heinrich Schütz and Joseph Haydn) was written in 1982.  Her use of chromaticism, glissandi, microtonality and use of atmospheric open space are perfectly suited to the anguished text.

The first couple of movements establish the main instruments with a swirling drone advancing like angry hornets - or indeed like Kraftwerk via Zeitkratzer.  Melancholy pleading strings fill in the quieter moments, continuing into the third as the cello scrapes away and the bayan stabs in mortal pain (Mel Gibson, you missed a trick not using this as a Passion soundtrack!).  The longest section at the centre, the fourth movement, increases the anguish and urgency all round with chromatic spirals from the bayan and more choppy, frenzied cello and strings.  The sounds in the fifth movement are truly astounding - think it's the bayan making that buzzing drone?  Zeitkratzer have to do an interpretation of this.

The second work in this collection dates from 1969, and was recorded in '79.  Rubayat opens with unsettling percussion reminiscent of Bartok's Music For String, Percussion and Celesta, before the ensemble introduces the baritone singing ancient Persian verses.  For Gubaidulina, the choice of texts here was meant to convey the universality of spiritual longing - also apparently one of the reasons she liked all that rising and falling chromaticism, of which there's plenty in the orchestral passages.

Lastly on this collection we get to hear the composer herself operating the legendary ANS, the Russian photoelectric proto-synthesiser that reached many people's consciousness (including mine) in recent years via Coil.  Vivente-Non Vivente was composed in 1970, and the recording date given here is 1988.  The device's printed and scratched glass plates evoke an eerie, swishing and blooping dark ambience that sounds truly otherworldly, especially in Gubaidulina's hands.

mega / zippy