Music Reviews



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Artist: Eyvind Kang
Title: Alastor: Book of Angels Volume 21
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Eyvind Kang's 'Alastor: Book of Angels Volume 21' is, for me, a highlight of the entire Masada Book Two series. All of the compositions were written by John Zorn and then given new arrangements by Kang, who is quite simply one of the more brilliant musical minds of the past twenty-odd years. Kang plays viola, violin, sitar, piano, setar, electric bass, our, guitar, janggu, kacapi, kemancheh, synth and percussion - on this one album alone!

The treatments that Kang gives to the songs on this album range from Indian influenced to a minimal classical style, to Middle Eastern and even a grand cinematic sweep a la Ennio Morricone.

Kang employs bassoon, english horn, french horn, oboe, trumpet, sax, cellos, table, voice, conga, clave, clarinets, flutes, geomungo, gayageum, moog synth, tar and more in a grand collision of styles that are beautifully executed. The instrumentation is vast but never cluttered, the arrangements are lush but are open enough for each instrument to have it's own space. The music has plenty of drama but melodies abound throughout, making the album really fun to listen to, as there's always a new line catching the ear.

Twenty one musicians play on 'Alastor'. Their performances, combined with Zorn's compositions and Kang's arrangements make this album one that true lovers of music will want to seek out, regardless of what they may normally gravitate towards.

Recorded and mixed by Randall Dunn at Avast and Marc Urselli at Eastside Sound. Mastered by Scott Hull.
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Artist: John Zorn
Title: Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Rated: *****
This installment of Zorn's Filmworks series was composed for the animated film The Rain Horse, directed by Russian animator Dimitri Geller.

Zorn chose the trio of Erik Friedlander on cello, Rob Burger on piano, and Greg Cohen on bass. The trio is simply amazing. The way they play off of one another is sublime. There's no other word for it really. At times they play complex runs around and through each other, but for the most part they leave room for one another to play astoundingly haunting melodies. Melody is the focus of the album. Zorn fans will know that this often not the case in his work. The melodies here are familiar somehow, but they're tough to place. 'Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse' has an Eastern European feel, as would be expected (after all, it was composed for a Russian film), but it's also got touches of Middle Eastern and Western influence.

What struck me most about the music is how emotional and romantic it is. As I said, the melodies are haunting, but they are also catchy. The songs have terrific pacing. Mind you, there is no percussion on the album. The piano, cello, and most obviously the bass create the tempo for these beautiful songs. The piano playing of Rob Burger is among the most beautiful I've heard.

Almost as amazing as the songs themselves is the story of the performing, recording, and mixing of the album. The musicians entered the studio in the morning and knocked out all 11 songs by 6pm. If that weren't enough, engineer Marc Urselli mixed the album in three hours. For an album of 11 songs of this caliber to be recorded and mixed in one day is a testament to the level of talent involved. The energy of the performances were captured perfectly - the sonics are great and none of the intensity is lost. Mastering engineer Scott Hull did an outstanding job. The sound is soft yet energetic.
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Artist: John Zorn
Title: Dreamachines
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Dreamachines is the third album from Zorn to make use of the quartet of John Medeski (piano), Trevor Dunn (bass), Kenny Wollesen (vibraphone) and Joey Baron (drums). This collection of songs is a dedication of sorts to William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. The splicing of ideas and nonlinear compositions dominate the album.
It begins with the frenetic "Psychic Conspirators" which finds all four musicians playing at breakneck pace, darting here and there, taking brief pauses to go off in a new direction. All four are in-sync however, miraculously.
"Git-Le-Coeur" starts off slow and menacing before, a quick, jaunty turn into a beautifully-paced section of piano work by Medeski and delicate brushwork by Baron, and finishing with a reprise of the brooding intro.
"Conqueror Worm" features a brisk walking bassline and a somewhat familiar (to fans of Zorn) melodic progression. Wollesen has the first couple minutes to play around before Medeski comes in fairly commandingly and the piece builds before resuming the walking bassline and a focus on Baron.
"Third Mind" has Medeski and Wollesen playing in unison before breaking apart to reveal some fantastic voicings by Medeski, and counterpoint by Wollesen. Another fine walking bassline from Trevor Dunn who, as always, is given enough freedom by Zorn to add the perfect choice of notes where he sees fit. This is a really beautiful one.
"Light Chapels" is one of the most "free" compositions on the album. The musicians dance around each other almost the entire time, coming together for a few seconds here and there.
"Dream Machine" may be the centerpiece of the album for me. Maybe the closest the album comes to "straight" jazz. A very nice melody, with great work by both Medeski and Wollesen, working very closely together. Baron and Dunn make the piece swing.
"Note Virus" is another free, wild ride with even more intensity, especially from Medeski, than "Psychic Conspirators".
"1001 Nights in Marrakech" establishes a very cool Middle-Eastern melody and a dark atmosphere right away and this is held throughout. Medeski and Wolleson trade beautiful solos.
The album ends fittingly with another cut-up extravaganza, "Wild Boys". True fans of Zorn will love this album as will fans of jazz that pushes boundaries and wants to be free. Recorded and mixed by Marc Urselli, who captures all of the nuance, even the vocalizing from who I have to assume is either Medeski or Baron, unless Zorn was in there cheering them on. Mastered by Scott Hull.
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Artist: Felix Blume
Title: Fog Horns
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Discrepant
In the spectrum of ‘art music’- experimental, avantgarde, postmodern, whatever other labels will loosely fit- aspirational and high faluting language is the norm, with listeners encouraged to recognise the deeper meanings and connections drawn out through the sounds and their either connection or disconnection with their source and their production process. So it comes as a breath of fresh air to discover that Felix Blume’s “Fog Horns” is precisely that- it’s the sound of some fog horns, for 33 minutes. And it’s excellent.

Side A of the LP is an 18-minute track recorded during a ‘fog horn concert’ in Piraeus port area Athens, a seemingly live recording in which various large ships blow their single note horns in normally long blasts. Out of the layering and call-and-response of simple tuned warning systems appears a form of drone symphony, the horns become bassoons and tubas performing a slow and accidentally complex improvised musical pattern. The tuning is largely complementary, but intriguing in its contrast. You quickly forget you’re listening to prosaic industrial sound and interpret it as an immersive piece of neo-classical.

Side B ‘remixes’ this material, and is where Blume’s work really starts. The tones recorded in the first piece are stretched, echoed and effected into much darker territory. The naturalism is ripped away and the drones suddenly becoming more sinister, the environment much more alien and intimidating. It’s in three five-minute parts but essentially works as a fifteen-minute drone piece with a strong organic component, building to the final part where tones are bent into string section style arrangements worthy of, and strangely reminiscent of, 2001 A Space Odyssey’s journey beyond the infinite. Although it’s from the same source material as side A, it’s an entirely different work deserving a different arbitrary genre label.

Having first heard Blume’s work on his powerful “Death In Haiti” release a couple of years ago, this “Fog Horns” release is less emotive, and arguably less imaginative; however it’s still a captivating listen.
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Artist: Cosmo
Title: Cosmotronic Remixed
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: 42 Records / Ivreatronic
Cosmo is a bona fide Italian pop star, though I’ll admit that word of him or his albums hadn’t previously reached me in the UK. He (or his press people) emphasise that he “keeps one foot in the underground”, and on the strength of this 11-track remix package, getting mostly Italian artists to rework tracks from last year’s “Cosmotronic” album, that statement does appear to be valid and true. Across eleven DJ- and club-friendly tracks, we get a fairly consistent set of deep house and synth-electronica which is essentially no longer pop music, and which most of the time completely disguises and hides its pop roots.

The rapid kicks of Not Waving’s version of “Animali” set the tone nicely in terms of synthetic, synthwave-ish atmosphere and slow build, although it draws a harder, grittier rhythm which isn’t indicative of the usually steadier house rhythms that follow it. Bawrut’s steady techno-inflected-house version of “Tristan Zarra”, with its enviable live drum fills and stripped-back ‘polizia’ vocal refrain, is both a great track with broad appeal, and a strong indicator of the rest of the release. The acid tweaks of Elisa Bee’s “Bentornato” provide an appropriate bookend doing a similar job at the other end of the release.

Other highlights include the infectious bouncy synth bass of Fabio Fabio’s “Barbara remix”, and the modern twist on an 80’s jack groove gone dark in Fabrizio Mammarella’s “Attraverso lo Specchio” remix.

It’s not all plain 4/4 either. The odd-step-pop of the Splendore remix of “Tutto Bene” is notably gritty and faintly moombahton-esque, while the Stefano Ritteri version of “Sei La Mia Citta” is a pleasant, if slightly flat, slow Eastern blend.

I haven’t heard the original “Cosmotronic” album so can’t comment on its merits as a remix album compared to its source material, but as a stand-alone package of deep house and soft-edged techno, this really is top-notch stuff.
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