Monday, 25 June 2018

Miles Davis - On The Corner (1972)

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Friday, 22 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Egberto Gismonti ‎- Dança Dos Escravos (1989)

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Monday, 18 June 2018

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Friday, 15 June 2018

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

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

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

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

mega / zippy

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

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

mega / zippy

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

mega / zippy

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

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

mega / zippy

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

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

mega / zippy

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

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Antonio Carlos Jobim - Urubu (1976)

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Monday, 11 June 2018

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

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Friday, 8 June 2018

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

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

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

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

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

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

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

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

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

Artyomov previously posted at SGTG: Elegies / Requiem

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

Monday, 4 June 2018

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

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

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

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

mega / zippy