Music Reviews



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Artist: Sparkle in Grey (@)
Title: Mexico
Format: CD
Label: Afe (@)
Rated: *****
The first thing that you encounter with this album is the hand drawn cartoonish artwork. Those who are familiar with previous albums by Sparkle in Grey will be familiar with this style, but those who are picking it up may be inclined to think that it is a children's album. If only we were so lucky to have children who listened to this instead of Raffi and the like. On to the music itself - here's how the label defines the album: 'It is, therefore, hard to define the true nature of "Mexico", with its dark hues, but possibly not as melancholy as the previous works. The title speaks of escape, of shelter, a place anything but quiet, a land of contrast where desperate violence is generated by the economic gap.' I would classify this as peaceful post-rock. For example, you could describe this as a quiet Godspeed You Black Emperor. Piano merges with strings and guitar, but all of it is pretty sedate. There is some weirdness here though, such as 'From the Air,' which is a Laurie Anderson cover that depicts a crash landing. Overall this is quite pleasant - a good addition to the Sparkle in Grey catalog. This album weighs in at around 47 minutes.
I had not heard of any of these artists, or even the label for that matter. The artwork is pretty sparse, giving the listener little to go on. The only clue that this is going to be a bit different is the fact that Tammen plays 'endangered guitar.' The album opens up with the 25 minute long 'Vrin' which is a mess (and I mean this in the best possible way) of improvisation and abstract vocals. This track is sometimes noisy and seemingly random and at other times reminiscent of some of Kronos Quartet's work. The vocals are sometimes operatic, sometimes shouted, and other times used only as just another sound source. Take some of the work of Textile Orchestra and then add a chamber ensemble that just finished partying with Hunter S. Thompson, take the stridency out of Diamanda Galas and make her sing opera mixed with scat and vocal recreations of analogue synths, and then tell everyone to do make their own album which will be mixed together at a later date and you're heading in the right direction of what this sounds like. This may sound random, but it isn't ' it hangs together quite well, but it is at times a beautiful cacophony. The music is interesting and engaging. 'Erixmat' combines spoken word and heavy bass drone, and 'täusche ich mich?' gets more minimal. The rest is a combination of these two. It's good, but nowhere near as good as 'Vrin,' perhaps because these are much shorter tracks. Overall, this album is an interesting listen and worth checking out. This album weighs in at around 58 minutes.
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Artist: Chamaeleo Vulgaris (@)
Title: Reset
Format: CD
Label: Acheulian Handaxe (@)
Rated: *****
I had not heard of this project previously, but it is the work of Frederick Galiay on bass and Jean-Sébastien Mariage on guitar. The first track, PÅ«jÄ, is mastered incredibly low, making you wonder if this is going to be incredibly minimalist. When Skhêma kicks in with a single bass note it is startling because, if you are anything like me, you turned the volume way up to hear the previous track. Pshat gives a pretty good indication of what the rest of the album will sound like. Minimal improvisation with a fair amount of drone, scratches on the strings and the instruments, and sparse playing of the guitar and bass. Chod is a bit of a departure in that it is considerably more noisy than the others, but still far from a wall of noise that fans of MSBR and the like would call noise. Overall this is decent minimalist improv, but I must admit that it will not be spending a lot of time in my CD player. Evidently this is more of an installation piece, as described by the label: 'Both amplifiers face each other, both musicians are in the center, the public goshawk. The principle of the installation is to establish the most direct contact between the gesture and the sound, the string and the loudspeaker. The electric sound is an organic, acoustic matter in the full sense: guitar, bass and amplifiers (without any addition of pedals of effects or digital electronics), are not separated, but are the same instrument.' Maybe you had to be there. The album weighs in at about 64 minutes.
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Artist: Emmanuel Mieville (@)
Title: Four Wanderings in Tropical Lands
Format: CD
Label: Baskaru (@)
Rated: *****
It's true that even a white noise could speak to the listener's mind acting as a spark that manages to fire its imagination and such an ignition is even more possible with field recordings, but the production of images and even stories mostly depends from listener's sensitivity. That's why I will confine myself to merely expressing my opinion on the skills of Paris-born composer Emmanuel Mieville with microphones while grabbing some emanations from settings explored in some exotic lands he visited (Costa Rica, Hong Kong and Malaysia plus an additional insert of the field recording grabbed by Yann Van Steenbrugghe in Peru). My physical reaction in front of these realities intertwined with the one surrounding me could be the best feedback and you could guess how impressive Emmanuel's work sounds if you consider that some of them mananged to pierce my sonic space in an astonishing way: for instance I shouted my flatmate to stop playing with crockery, pots and pans before realizing she was not in the flat while listening Monsieur Mieville hitting Solumn Donas' metal and wood sculptures in the track recorded in Cahuita, Costa Rica; I've been tempted to postpone some appointments for bad weather conditions when listening to the tropical storms grabbed in Malaysia and I've literally jumped from my seat when the dog recorded in the first part of the second track started barking in the right side of my headphones (Gosh! I really run the risk of being killed by an heart attack...). But the incredible holophonic experiences Mieville provides in this sort of audio set of postcards, corroborated by a convincing academic path as sound engineering scholar at film school and musique concrete apprentice at the notorious Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), the renowned theoretical and experimental group of sound researchers founded by Pierre Schaeffer, is not the only aspect of this release, which represents realities in a more realistic way than any expensive led-lighted 3D TV set as you will easily perceive during this wanderings the constant contrast between natural forces (some of you are going to argue Mieville has an omitted passion for entomology or ornithology for the abundance of insects and birds filling the sonic space together with sonic shots on storms or winds) and human footprint, as already suggested by Valentina Reolon's artwork featuring a foggy city skyline on the external side, which looks like hiding an heavenly foreshortening inside the booklet. Envisage the possibility of envy Mieville's wandering (especially if you look for some photos of the places he mentions in the tracklist), but also his magnanimity in bringing such a sonic souvenir to us!
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Artist: Alon Nechushtan
Title: Dark Forces
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
The first time I've tasted the talent of this proteiform NY-based Israeli pianist and composer - and in this capacity he could boast of some compositions written for important "academic" ensembles such as Bob Brookmeyer's New England Conservatory Jazz Composers Big Band, Fred Harris' MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble and the BMI Orchestra - on a release marked by Zorn's Tzadik Records as a founder of a klemer jazz quintet called Talat. His talent as a "musical scenographer" was not so evident, but it was clearer that he gave a remarkable proof of rethinking the syncretism, which already belongs to that particular kind of music, born from a fusion of different musical traditions (mainly Polish, Russian, Romani and Moldovan), known by Ashkenazic Jews during their wanderings over Eastern Europe, which, so it seems, had an important role for the development of some American jazz branches, when that tradition was transplanted in the USA by some Yiddish-speaking immigrants. Mine should not be just considered a scholarly remark, as you will easily notice that some rhythmic and melodic structures of that tradition - particularly in the "scores" for Mark Dresser's double bass, Nate Wooley's trumpet and Okkyung Lee's cello - sound like one of the most audible filler mixed with other elements in this black pudding sliced in ten parts, being the other elements some tricks taken from experimental electronics, improvisational, ambient, ritual and concrete music and even tribalism - the moments where this element sounds clearer such as in the fourth or sixth track are my favorite ones of the whole recording -. Someone could argue that such an ensemble could outshine individual skills, but I'm pretty sure that each of 11 musicians with their rich sonic stores, including two electric guitars, one double bass, one trombone, one alto saxophone, a baritone one, one cello, one tuba, one bass clarinet, one bass flute, one trumpet, involved in this obscure work will be satisfied of the highly visionary opalescence their choral performance aimed to highline a property of music, more than a concept, managed to reach thanks to Alon Nechushtan direction as the listeners will easily acknowledge.
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