Music Reviews

Sonny Sharrock: Ask the Ages

 Posted by Tyran Grillo (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 15 2018
Artist: Sonny Sharrock
Title: Ask the Ages
Format: CD + Download
Label: M.O.D. Technologies
Rated: *****
In 1991, the planets of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, bassist Charnett Moffett, and drummer Elvin Jones aligned with the sun of guitarist Sonny Sharrock to yield the once-in-a-generation musical experience that was ASK THE AGES. Produced by Bill Laswell, who also chaired this reissue 24 years later, it has stood the test of time because it is time incarnate, a defining force of suggestion by which any subsequent imitator will burn in its atmosphere. It therefore pales in comparison with truth to say that Sharrock’s final proper album (before his untimely death in 1994) sounds as fresh as ever, for this would imply it’s even prone to decay to begin with.

From the interactive alchemy of “Promises Kept,” it’s clear that Sharrock was someone who cherished the forthrightness of a melody, an artist who gave so much that the only ether could contain him. It’s not that he transcends himself through the music, but that the music transcends itself through him. These energies rub off on his bandmates, who bring their own locutions to bear on the collective text that emerges. Moffett’s solos are as concerned with smoke as Sharrock’s are with fire, while Jones breathes oxygen between them. Sanders, for his part, plants the bandleader’s every atom in the garden of “Little Rock,” while the rhythm sections flips every atmospheric pancake before it burns. Whether in the blasting evocations of “Many Mansions” or the cerebral glories of “As We Used To Sing,” Sharrock bungee-jumps into one abyss of inspiration after another, breaking open the packaging of ancient materials and eliciting from them geysers of information. He not only shreds but reimburses other dimensions for their sacrifice.

Even the tamer “Who Does She Hope To Be?” is no less replete with flame, trading explosiveness for a smoldering burn. The air itself becomes flammable, as throughout “Once Upon A Time,” wherein finality sings through Sharrock’s blinding talent. And even as his influence remains palpable in such diverse axe-wielders as Buckethead and Nels Cline, ASK THE AGES proves that his influence extends lives in the flesh of listeners just as well, and I would dare anyone who professes love for the guitar to experience these sounds without wonder.

this difficult tree: double sun

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 06 2018
Artist: this difficult tree
Title: double sun
Format: LP
Label: Wide Ear (@)
Rated: *****
The almost imperceptible tapping on hi-hats by Vincent Glanzmann, the rising harmonium-like (but many people match it to the sound of portable Nintendo!) drone of a shruti box played by Silvan Jeger himself, the slyly looping theme by Silvan Schmidt's trumpet and imitated by Frantz Loriot on his viola (and reprised in the second half of the track) is the nice way by which Zurich-based double-bass player and singer Silvan introduces his quartet This Difficult Tree through the nine-minutes lasting opening composition "Magnetplanet", sounding like a lazy (and maybe slightly unwanted) awakening. The significant stylistical variations and contaminations of every single track in this release, whose relaxed atmosphere and insightful mood could be described as a possible balancing between free improvisations and chamber music, seem to mirror the wide spectrum of interests and collaborations - as part of Day&Taxi and the Reto Suhner quartet - as well as his attempts to build bridges between the song form, world music, jazz and improvisations of this Swiss guy, who churn out the best moments whenever this integration is more discernable (particularly when he uses his own voice): in spite of their compositional pop-like semplicity, "Momoko", "Winter", "City Lights", "Angststueck" or the final "Neu isd nicht immer besser" are maybe the more immersive aural outputs by this quartet, but the thin psychedelia inspired by the title track "Double Sun" or some other crackling vibes they grasped into tracks like "Skulldull" or "Flutternoia" are important complements to the definition of their sound. Have a check.

Wordclock: Heralds

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 28 2018
Artist: Wordclock
Title: Heralds
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
As I already have a reasonable number of releases by Cryo Chamber already reviewed, and this is one of the last labels completely committed to a genre, I approached this release with a certain confidence about what to expect. As usual, this release is presented with few words and a generic inspiration about journey hunting for myths of forgotten sacred sites; so this is supposed to be dark ambient.
So, as the first notes of "Bell Ringing I" begins, there's a surprise in the acknowledgement of a framework closer to modern classical and without the pseudo-romantic cliche related to the genre: strings and piano draw quiet lines of sound with a production giving a feel to be recorded some time ago as there's a sort of blurring applied. "Bell Ringing II" is, instead, immersed in a background close to the form of the label but, as soon as there's a melody emerging, this is a canvas and not the drawing. "Bell Ringing III" close this track introducing the listener towards a proper song with a perceptible rhythmic structure. As "Beatrice's Euphoria" evolves there's a sense of writing as, instead of the drone emerging, there are melodic lines. While at first sight "St. George" seem static, it's only because the loops are almost imperceptible in a noisy environment. While "Where Mercy Lives" is almost danceable in his catchy elements, "Thames Does Flow" is more dreamy in his gentle musical tones. "Heralds" closes this release blending all the elements of the previous tracks leaving the listener with the feeling that something is missing.
Almost impressive in his détournement of the elements of the genre, which are present but relegated in the background of a form deeply rooted in the pivotal use of the tune, so that it could be even appreciated by the casual listener. It's able to escape both the trap of dark ambient (boredom) than the ones of modern classical (triviality). Applauses.

Akira Kosemura: In The Dark Woods

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 28 2018
Artist: Akira Kosemura
Title: In The Dark Woods
Format: CD + DVD
Label: Schole (@)
Rated: *****
Ten years ago, Akira Kosemura was sneaking into many headphones and music lovers' heart of "western" world by means of the masterpiece "It's On Everything" (coming out on Lawerence English's Someone Good). Over ten years, I followed this brilliant artist through Schole Records, his playground and his label, through which he also released some stuff by artists (such as Quentin Sirjacq and Dakota Suite) akin to his style as well as his own albums. Ten years after that sort of debut by which he breached the gates of the hearts of many lovers of piano-driven music (many fans of musicians like Dustin O'Halloran, Nils Frahm or Max Richter got closer to Akira's outputs), he comes back by another set of piano fugues, "In The Dark Woods", where he kept many of the known features of his sound (the central role of piano, minimal but intense compositions, an elegant crossover between electronics and acoustics and, last but not least, an emotional set where a certain anxiety continuosly fades into a peaceful search for a contemplative symbiosis and an interplay with nature), but he developed an interesting theme on this new album: according to the introduction on the label's website '“Treasuring a serene feeling and an intimate conversation with oneself.” is the main concept of his new work, which recalls vivid emotions, as music goes into one’s body and feels a blood flow deep into a heart. As indicated in the title, an entire album is filled with an obscure darkness and a world of misty sounds never to be feared of, like a comfortable quietness in the dark where a child in the womb is hearing mother’s heartbeat'. Such a cross-over between dim and light emotional sets can explain the reason why he also composed a dedication to Laura Palmer, the notorious fictional character of David Lynch's TV series Twin Peaks, as well as the alternation of melodic moments, embracing slightly different dosages of obscurity and light, electronics and acoustics, whose core and apex lay in the two final tracks, the title track "In The Dark Woods" and the piano solo reprise "Letter From A Distance". As usual, Akira has regard for the visual aspect of his art by attached a DVD including five video clips, a booklet including snapshots of "In The Dark Woods" clip (featuring the dancer and reader Kimiho Hulbert and directed by Shin Kikuchi), a download coupon including another version of "Spark" as well as a very elegant package.

Žibuoklė Martinaitytė: Horizons

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 26 2018
Artist: Žibuoklė Martinaitytė
Title: Horizons
Format: CD + Download
Label: Music Information Centre Lithuania
The prosaically named Music Information Centre Lithunia offer up another collection of surprising experimental twists on the classical music form, with five live pieces from ibuokl Martinaityt played by a variety of mostly large ensembles and orchestras, and recorded between 2006 and 2015.

The title track is an epic self-contained suite full of tension and drama with a decidedly cinematic bent. Suspense and horror in parts, action and chase adventure at times, hints of romance at the edges, it’s a remarkably well-rounded score with a bit of everything- discordant enough at times to feel provocative but still very accessible.

Second piece “The Blue Of Distance” is a much more sombre affair, driven by a vocal ensemble sustaining long tones reminiscent of Lygeti, with lovely use of rise and fall, before “Completely Embraced” shifted gears yet again into a world of tense piano hammering, militaristic drumming and tense brass and strings that gradually eases and unfurls into a more pastoral and relaxed environment.

“Thousand Doors” is another broad suite with multiple sections, again suggesting a filmic collection of tensions and dramas, this time with a more sparse general landscape, before we finish with violin near-solo “Serenity Diptychs” in which a violin traces sometimes Glass-like arpeggios interspersed with some more proactive pace changes, underpinned by an stunningly neat and refined use of drone atmosphere.

These are beautiful, accomplished and dynamic modern classic works and they collate well into a 68-minute listening experience that should appeal to both people approaching it from both a traditional orchestral mindset and people looking for something with a true edge.
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