Music Reviews

Okkyung Lee: Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 20 2018
Artist: Okkyung Lee
Title: Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Tzadik
“Cheol-Kkot-Sae” is a single 44-minute, 7-piece ensemble performance recorded live at Donaueschingen Festival in 2016. Brought up on a diet of the European classical tradition, Okkyung Lee turned her attention back to Korean traditional music was her work developed, and what we hear here is a complex, impulsive fusion between all sorts of influences, moulded into a distinctly avant garde freeform modern jazz structure- if structure isn’t the exact opposite of the word I’m looking for.

In improvisation terms it is somewhat familiar, each of the seven instruments first leading then following in unpredictable measure, exercises in spontaneous counterpoint and symmetry that seem hell-bent on audience disorientation. Of the instruments, it’s Song-Hee Kwon’s Pansori singing and the composer’s own cello work that take centre-stage most frequently, with the bass and saxophone often relegated to sprinkled decoration.

The electronics elements are, powerfully, extensively ignored at first- but when they rip through, around 14 minutes in, with an overwhelming punch of coloured noise, it’s a really effective way to bring dynamism and surprise into an arrangement that might just at that point have started to become over-familiar. This peels away into sparser arrangements of tinnitus-style high-pitched electronic tones, into which the natural instruments start imitating animal noises starting with mice and birds running tonally down to elephants, before we pull back around to the more familiar arrangement and the lead vocal returns to its plaintive origin point. From here, through the second half we get a build of layers that’s a more well-known avantgarde jazz output with slightly fewer surprises, but still plenty of dynamism.

The final six minutes, revolving around an actively deconstructing piano melody gradually supplanted by chaotic cello solo, falls a bit tacked-on after the main piece has ended (even the live audience thought so as they start clapping too early), almost an encore rather than part of the whole, but not unwelcome.

In many sections, sometimes evolving and sometimes just shunting, it’s a very expansive work that keeps you on your toes and makes the most of the ensemble’s strengths. It’s a little antagonising in parts and not easily loveable but it’s a solid and bold bit of avant garde, improvised, out-there just-about-jazz.

Mary Lattimore: Hundreds Of Days

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 17 2018
Artist: Mary Lattimore
Title: Hundreds Of Days
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Ghostly International
This is a mellow modern harp music album with a minor twist. It’s principally relaxing, beautiful, and comfortable with potential pigeon-holing as chill-out or relaxation music. Slow, picturesque plucking of a blend of optimistic and more melancholic chords and melodies play to the harp’s commonly perceived and stereotypical strengths.

The minor twist is the placement of this harp inside a complimentary but less conventional framework of gentle electronic atmospherics and drones. With plenty of echo and delay applied, the harp sits firmly at the forefront, but underneath and around it are soft pads, synthetic strings and calm artificial beds. Opener “It Feels Like Floating”, with its vocal ahhhs, ends up sounding like old Enya music, while pieces like “Never Saw Him Again” have a marginally harsher texture.

This provides the album’s central but mild juxtaposition between nostalgia and a slight sense of distance, melancholia and alienation (“On The Day You Saw The Dead While” is a good exemplar of this)- but in truth the end result is never less than cosy.

It’s a smart, quilted bit of harp performance that some people may find skirts too close to twee New Age sounds for their tastes, but it’s genuinely relaxing and nicely detailed and certainly worth a try.

Ketan Bhatti & Ensemble Adapter: Nodding Terms

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 17 2018
Artist: Ketan Bhatti & Ensemble Adapter
Title: Nodding Terms
Format: CD + Download
Label: col legno
“Nodding Terms” is an energetic attempt to bridge a gap between percussive experimental modern classical music and electronica / club / dance / pop / house / whatever. The result has the sonic qualities of avant garde classical thanks to four-piece Ensemble Adapter, but musical structures that are a bit more accessible and more inclined towards the growing familiarity and accessibility of repeating patterns. However, the bottom line is that it’s still on the former side of the fence- you won’t be hearing this in your local nightclub any time soon.

Some tracks are purely the Ensemble, dominated by cello, bass clarinet and organic live percussion, but others, like “Modul 5”, introduce more prominent electronic lines into the mix.

Bhatti himself has an established history working on music for theatre and dance, and that’s self-evident here- there are some short, off-kilter-tempo’ed and dramatic pieces like “Funkstoff” here that seem absolutely tailor made for contemporary dance and audition pieces. The suspense inherent in “Hast Hussle” and “Kords” feel more aimed at unusual film soundtracks.

Odd time signatures, the use of flute and slightly folkier elements in pieces like “Umziehaktion” make it sound like a sort of modern day instrumental prog rock, in the nicest possible way. As it proceeds, later pieces like “Modul 4” see the theatricality of it return to the fore.

Remixes from two thirds of Brandt Brauer Frick are woven into the core of the album, with the mesmerising original version of “Ferntendez” immediately followed by a Paul Frick remix that delves a little deeper with long pads and staccato cutting. This really works, creating in effect a ‘part one’ and ‘part two’ to that particular work. Other tracks, such as “Laughter Leading”, are also reminiscent of Brandt Brauer Frick productions, and fans of BBF looking for something with a chin-stroking perspective are pretty much guaranteed to appreciate this.

Generally it’s bright, fresh and full of energy that ends up being quite infectious- whether it’s meant to be a feel-good piece thematically is a little unclear, but like it or not, the end result does feel like it was manufactured with a sense of fun attached. But that’s not to take anything away from it- it’s a truly enjoyable listen but also has a lot of merit, and potentially a very useful gateway album for electronica fans peering into the world of avant garde classical.

Kali Malone: Cast Of Mind

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 15 2018
Artist: Kali Malone
Title: Cast Of Mind
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hallow Ground
“Cast Of Mind” is pitched as an electronic experimental album to which acoustic woodwind and brass are an added detail, but in fact the emphasis is somewhat different, especially to begin. It’s the brass in particular, the woodwind close behind it, that really drives this collection of four long dominantly-acoustic drone pieces and glacially slow chord works, and the electronics- all sourced from a Buchla 200 synthesizer- are sometimes reduced to just providing the atmospherics and the decorative sprinkles on top.

After the slightly harsh-edged sparseness of “Cast Of Mind”, it’s in the somewhat mellower “Bondage To Formula” that the synergy between brass and synthesis begins to solidify in mesmeric and pleasant ways. The harmony is broken from the first gutpunching opening moment of “Arched In Hysteria” with its pulsing bass synthesis, still droning but with decidedly more abrasive attitude, before final piece “Empty The Belief” feels like a culmination of all the above, playing both smooth brass drone and harsher synth drone simultaneously into a fairly brash wall of sound.

It’s bold, stark and immersive material with a very clear vision, and a very pleasant way to mentally transplant yourself for 36 minutes.

Splashgirl: Sixth Sense

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 14 2018
Artist: Splashgirl
Title: Sixth Sense
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hubro
Splashgirl’s sixth album in just over ten years is the sound of a confident post-jazz trio (piano, bass, and drums) willing to both stick to what they know and experiment a little further in equal measure.

After relatively conventional openers “Carrier” and “Broken”, joining the melée of rolling piano key arrays, deep bass plucking and dynamic impulsive drum work comes banks of synth sounds, glittering over the top like a kind of aggressive re-take on Tangerine Dream. Bold and broad-sounding synth atmospherics give a wide, quite soundtrack-y feel, most notably in the title track.

There’s overt melodrama in tracks like “Monsoon”, and exercises in emptier space such as “Half Self”.

It’s a confident bit of experimental jazz that adopts synthetic layers with great ease. I might say it’s more proficient than it is powerful but it exudes a cool quality that’s hard to match.
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