Monday, 15 October 2018

Tomasz Stańko - Bosonossa And Other Ballads (1993)

YEEESSSS finally got hold of a copy of this!  Majorly out of print (seeming to have disappeared from the GOWI label's catalogue on their own website), Bosonossa is well worth chasing down.  Stańko's quartet with which he'd return to ECM the following year (on Matka Joanna - will post sometime) appear here fully-formed, and sound fantastic on this masterpiece of an album.

Six tracks in just shy of an hour means that everyone gets a chance to stretch out and showcase their considerable talents alongside Stańko.  Drummer Tony Oxley is particularly adept at sketching the atmospherics - I remember one reviewer of Matka Joanna likening him to 'a ghost dragging its chains around', and the same is true in places here.  ECM familiars Bobo Stenson and Anders Jormin contribute some stunning pianism and thick, meaty bass respectively, brilliantly rendered in a production job by Stańko himself.

As for the (sadly now late) trumpeter, he's on top form throughout, spitting out firecrackers of sound one moment then languidly breathing out the residual smoke trails the next.  His chosen material for Bosonossa is inspired as always - his 80s staple Sunia gets its most respectful and drawn-out treatment on record, and three of the other tracks he was rightly proud enough of to recast them in the initial phase of his ECM homecoming.  Fans of Matka Joanna and Leosia will therefore enjoy both a bit of familiarity, and also the sheer brilliance of these tracks in their original outings.  But to be honest, anyone who likes Stańko, or just great quartet jazz, is in for a treat here of the highest order.

mega / zippy

previously posted at SGTG:
Jazzmessage From Poland (1972)
Purple Sun (1973)
Freelectronic in Montreux (1987)
Bluish (1991)
Dark Eyes (2009)
Wisława (2013) 
Polin (2014) 

Friday, 12 October 2018

John Adams - Road Movies (2004)

Some of the most sublime minimalist piano music ever written, in one handy package that spans 24 years of John Adams' composing career.  That timespan makes for a collection in which familiar, widely-interpreted pieces sit alongside two that made their recording debut here, but it all feels nicely consistent and album-like.

The three-part title piece, from 1995, adds violin to the piano for a nice 15-minute road trip that rolls along rural highways at first, takes a slower look at the landscape then kicks up into an even higher gear.  The "40% Swing" subtitle of Part III comes from a MIDI sequencer setting that Adams found akin to ragtime or Benny Goodman-esque jazz.

After that, everything is pure piano, starting with Hallelujah Junction (1996) for two pianos.  The first two parts might now for some be indelibly associated with Luca Guadagnino's magnificent adaptation of Call Me By Your Name (and certainly, that was my introduction to the piece, buying this album soon after), but Adams' original inspiration was the name of a truckstop on the California-Nevada border.  Whatever it evokes, from the joyful bell-like opening onwards, it's a thing of pure loveliness, even with a bit of a knotty ending.  That hectic finale is taken even further in American Berserk (2001).  What remains is a fresh look at the legendary "Gates" from 1977, both China and Phrygian, both clearly and expertly rendered by Nicholas Hodges and Rolf Hind, and sounding as spectacular as ever.

mega / zippy

previously posted at SGTG: Shaker Loops

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Fernando Grillo - Fluvine (1976)

Only solo album by avant-garde double bassist Fernando Grillo (1945-2013), the man responsible for breathing fearsome life into Iancu Dumitrescu's early recordings of his writing for double bass.  This four-part suite from the mid-70s makes one wonder if Grillo perhaps provided the original spark of inspiration to Dumitrescu for wringing every possible unearthly sound from the bass, whether in percussive attack or in ominous creakings and rumblings.

The sound quality is a little muted - not sure if from the original recording, or just in the mastering of this reissue.  In any case, more than enough of the unearthly tones of the bass come through here to show how unique Grillo's approach to his instrument was.  Fluvine Due made me think of early Throbbing Gristle in their more subdued moments, if Genesis P-Orridge had been a virtuoso on the bass rather than just whacking it as a percussive sound-source.  Don't know what's going on in Fluvine Tre - is that tape manipulation making the squeedgeing noises, or is it all Grillo?  Lastly, the 22-minute Fluvine Quattro packs in all of Grillo's phenomenal technique into an epic journey into the sound of one instrument.

mega / zippy

Monday, 8 October 2018

Mary Jane Leach - Celestial Fires (1993)

Mostly choral pieces from Mary Jane Leach (b. 1949 in Vermont, based in NYC since the mid-70s) that showcase her talent for layering multiple voices either live, on tape, or both.  This is apparent right from the opening track Bruckstück (1989), in which a phrase from a Bruckner symphony is transposed into a shimmering sea of voices.  Leach borrows another little bit of inspiration and takes it somewhere extraordinary again in Green Mountain Madrigal (1985) and Mountain Echoes (1987), which are both loosely based on a Monteverdi madrigal.  The close harmonies and dissonant intervals of the madrigal are stretched out, and the melodies passed around the singers, to gorgeous effect.

We also get an introduction here to Leach's work for instruments on tape.  The first of these two is Feu De Joie (1992) for bassoon solo plus six bassoons on tape.  With the melody directed by computer analysis of the harmonics produced by the layered tracks, and the whole piece's immersive droning soundworld, it's very reminiscent of the title track from David Behrman's On The Other Ocean.  Trio For Duo (1985), for flute, taped flute and voice, tries to meld the sound of the voice with the timbre of the flute as sounds are passed between them.  Following that, the closing track is another vocal piece, Ariel's Song (1987) for eight sopranos, gradually changing their parts in clockwise and counter-clockwise movement.  As with everything else here, it sounds stunningly lovely, and this collection comes with a huge recommendation from me.

mega / zippy

Friday, 5 October 2018

Aparis - Despite The Fire-Fighters' Efforts... (1993)

The Stockhausens and their percussive accomplice returned to ECM the summer of 1992 to record this sequel to Aparis.  Now using the debut album title as a group moniker, they gave this one (sadly their last together) an album title that appeared to be pulled from a news report - probably one from late November 1992, when Windsor Castle caught fire; I'm almost certain that's what's pictured on the cover.

Musically, the trio expanded and refined the palette of their debut, with 13-minute opener Sunrice starting out in ambient mode before picking up pace towards an increasingly free ending.  Jo Thönes' muscular acoustic drumming is particularly noteworthy.  The next epic, Welcome, follows a similar structure, and in between them the liquid atmosphere of Waveterms is punctuated with what sounds like zither swishes, and percussive sections that introduce sampled speech and singing from unspecified locations.

The album's second half travels from its most upbeat and jazzy (Fire) to its most fully-realised electronic and dark-atmospheric in Green Piece and Orange, with the anthemic Hannibal the perfect closer.  The keyboard work is still a bit of its time, but sits much better within the overall production (handled by the trio themselves, in one of a small number of ECM releases where Manfred Eicher isn't credited with overall control).  I'm not sure if I'd go as far though as to say that this album is preferable to the first; better perhaps to think of Markus, Simon & Jo's ECM output as two hours of fascinating, original music that leaves you wishing there'd been more, to see what other developments arose.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Markus Stockhausen, Simon Stockhausen, Jo Thönes - Aparis (1990)

The rest of this week spotlights a little-known ECM grouping featuring two of Karlheinz Stockhausen's offspring: trumpeter Markus (born 1957), and his decade-younger half-brother Simon on saxes & synths, plus percussionist Jo Thönes.  This August 1989 recording was the trio's debut; I haven't been able to find any info on what the album name means (maybe just "à Paris" - of Paris?), but they seemed to like it enough to use it as a band name by the time of the 1993 follow-up.  That's for Friday, but today, here's Aparis the album.

The 16-minute title track is up first, setting an extended mood of subtle percussion, chilly synth and a gradual building of Markus' trumpet lead.  If a 20-years-younger Miles Davis had just been settling into his electric period in 1989, In A Silent Way might well have sounded like this.  The track catches fire about halfway in, only to mellow out again as a sequencer threads its way around a sibling horn duet.  Don't want to write a whole load about this one track, but the 'synth apeing a wailing lead guitar' ending was just too much fun to pass over.

Another lengthy piece, Poseidon, follows in a more energised free jazz mode with electronic effects that might sound dated but are enjoyable for sure, before a morse-code rhythm sets up the main body of the track.  Your mileage may vary on the synth bass.  After a mellow interlude in Carnaval, and an upbeat one in the most sonically 80s-anchored track High Ride, we're due another 13-minute exploration in Rejoice.  This one might be my favourite, coming across as it does like a piece of 80s Tangerine Dream progressive electronica with a fully-compatible jazz crossover, and it's followed by the sweet closing ambience of Peach.  If you can deal with the very much of their time synths, this album is a keeper.

mega / zippy

Monday, 1 October 2018

Gong - You (1974)

One more Gong/Hillage post for the time being, in the last (studio) occasion that they'd both intertwine.  This album is the sweet spot of psychedelic Gong for me, where they got to fully flex their musical muscles on four lengthy tracks, and the remaining short pieces are the ones that carry most of Daevid Allen's comic-space-opera narrative.

After You opens with two of the latter plus a short atmospheric instrumental, Hillage is the first to get the musical spotlight with Master Builder.  I'm assuming the main riff was his, as it would appear again as The Glorious Om Riff on Green, and his guitar solos here are nothing short of blinding.  The next track, the nine mind-bending minutes of A Sprinkling Of Clouds, might prefigure Rainbow Dome Musick to begin with, but the master synther in this case is Tim Blake rather than Hillage/Giraudy.

The absolute star of You, however, IMO has to be bassist Mike Howlett.  Rock solid throughout, the generous dose of psych-jazz-funk that he lays down throughout the album reaches its apex on the ten minutes of The Isle Of Everywhere.  Laying down a hypnotic bassline that Holger Czukay might've been proud of, everyone from Blake to Hillage to the French percussion team that would shortly take ownership of the band gets a chance to shine on this album high point.

mega / zippy

Friday, 28 September 2018

Chick Corea & Gary Burton - Lyric Suite For Sextet (1983)

The 80s adventures of Armando Anthony Corea continue (prev. posts: Children's Songs & Voyage) with this September 1982 recording.  Winding up (for the time being; they'd reunite again from the late 90s onward) a partnership that began a decade prior, Chick and vibesman Gary Burton decided to push the boat out a bit and record this Corea-penned suite, accompanied by a string quartet.

What could've been, at the very least, an interesting experiment does sound exactly like that in the album's early tracks, to be honest.  Corea's always-exciting pianism and Burton's gorgeous vibes blend as beautifully as ever, but the strings can feel a little grafted on.  Not to worry though, as this is an album that peaks midway and then just cruises at that altitude through to its close. 

The crossing point from 'interesting experiment' to 'absolutely lovely' coincides with IMO Corea's compositional highlight of the whole thing, Brasilia.  Sounding like a perfect modern-classical package that Erased Tapes' Robert Raths would give his eye teeth to get his hands on, that track and its follow-up, Dream, are also the two longest pieces in the set, giving the listener extra time to luxuriate in their brilliance.  In summary, a really nice suite of music for autumnal chillout, raised up to near-essential by the huge step up in quality in its second half.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Charles Mingus - Mingus Plays Piano (1963)

In which the great bassist, composer, arranger and pianist spent a day in July of 1963 (the year of his fleeting but memorable tenure at Impulse! Records) solely at the piano.  At one point, Mingus can be heard remarking that the daunting uniqueness of this solo date is "not like sitting at home, playing by yourself", but he nonetheless proves himself game for the challenge, and turns in seven of his own compositions/improvisations plus four numbers by others in inimitable style.  It's a gorgeous set that proves endlessly enjoyable, with moments of knotty, strident freewheeling, bluesy riffing and sheer melodic gorgeousness all intermingling to make you repeatedly wish he'd done another solo piano album.  Or five.  Or ten.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG:
The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady
Oh Yeah
Proms Tribute To Mingus, 2017

Monday, 24 September 2018

Luigi Nono - Como Una Ola De Fuerza Y Luz, etc (1988 compi, rec. 1970-79)

An essential collection of three works by Italian firebrand Luigi Nono (1924-90), from DG's 20th Century Classics series.  All three had appeared previously on the label on LPs, the earliest being a 1970 release on their legendary Avant-Garde imprint for Contrappunto Dialettico Alla Mente (1968), a purely magnetic tape stew of voices reading a poem about the death of Dr King that year, an anti-Vietnam War flyer and other things.  This haunting soundscape also appears, in a different mix, on the collection of Nono's complete tape works that I posted early on in this blog.

At the start of this CD is the half-hour work for orchestra, soprano, piano and tape that Nono completed in 1972 and was released in 1974, Como Una Ola De Fuerza Y Luz (Like a wave of strength and light).  In seven sections, it pays tribute to a Chilean revolutionary, Lusiano Cruz (died 1971 in unexplained circumstances).  The increasing sophistication with which Nono could blend live instrumentation with tape production is very much in evidence here, and is endlessly listenable and thought-provoking.  The latest work is .....Sofferte Onde Serene..... (1976), putting a further spotlight on the great Maurizio Pollini as he expertly picks his way through Nono's piano-cluster variations, meant to evoke melancholy memories of the composer's home life and deceased family members in Venice.

mega / zippy

previously posted at SGTG:
Complete Works For Solo Tape (link in post above)
La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura