Music Reviews

Yndi Halda: A Sun-Coloured Shaker

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 07 2018
Artist: Yndi Halda
Title: A Sun-Coloured Shaker
Format: CD
Label: Sound In Silence
Though described as an EP, “A Sun-Coloured Shaker” is one long song, just under twelve minutes long, from the established post-rock band recently relocated to Cornwall. (Perhaps this has been done to balance out the fact that one of their previous “EP” releases was over an hour?!)

It’s one elaborate, quite prog rock ballad with more than a little of a Pink Floyd influence- lush atmospheric guitar plucking, steady drums and a vocal that manages to come across as both pained and dreamy in equal measure. As the song progresses it opens up a little into more instrumental and soundscapey tones but without any major shifts.

An interesting track well suited for people who’ve played their old Floyd records to death, but maybe not meaty enough to be justified as a release in its own right.

Meridian Arts Ensemble: Seven Kings

 Posted by eskaton   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 06 2018
Artist: Meridian Arts Ensemble (@)
Title: Seven Kings
Format: CD
Label: Innova (@)
Rated: *****
I enjoy jazz, so I was interested to see what we have here. This is five compositions spread out over 13 tracks, and weighs in at almost 76 minutes, so rather than listing each movement individually, I’ll discuss each one as a whole. Let’s get into it. First off, we have “Migration” by Daniel Grabois. This is the shortest piece on the disc, and it reminds me of some of the work of Dizzy Gillespie. This is pretty clean jazz (in the sense of structure) with a heavy emphasis on the trumpet. Well executed, but kind of missing the looseness I like in jazz. Moving into David Sanford’s “Seven Kings,” we get the more chaotic and frantic feel that I was looking for. It all holds together well, though – from the drum solo and rapid-fire horns that keep the rhythm going in the “Contrapunctus I” segment to the peaceful vibraphone of “Chimes,” this composition keeps everything moving along well. The standout portion though is “Contrapunctus II,” which sometimes sounds like everyone is playing a completely different piece, but it still manages to keep a sense of cohesion. Next up, we have “For Bass Quintet and Percussion” by Dave Ballou. This piece slowly builds in complexity and intensity over time, with a skillful use of silence. I am reminded of the poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens, which states, "I do not know which to prefer, The beauty of inflections, Or the beauty of innuendoes, The blackbird whistling Or just after." Ballou gets that sometimes the space between the notes can be just as important as the notes. Next up, we have “Passed Time” by Edward Jacobs. I will admit that this one really didn’t do much for me, since it didn’t really have the energy of the previous compositions. This one was more orchestral and less jazzy; my wife remarked that it sounded like it belonged in a movie soundtrack. Finally, we have Robert Maggio’s “Revolver.” From the machine gun drums and horn blasts that open this up, you know that you are in for an interesting ride. The music, along with the evocative song titles set the mood well. For example, “With Nobody’s Help (Lost and Badly Wounded),” evokes a feeling of wandering; you can almost feel the buzzards circling overhead. It all comes together with the final segment, “Opened to the Fragility (Slipping Away),” which is a slow, improvised piece, with raucous drums that offer a stark contrast to the languid horns, ending almost peacefully. Overall this isn’t really as experimental as what I am used to reviewing for Chain D.L.K., but it is well done and quite enjoyable as a whole. If you like solid jazz, this is worth checking out.

Maurizio Abate: Standing Waters

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 28 2018
Artist: Maurizio Abate
Title: Standing Waters
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Boring Machines
Maurizio Abate offers up a 5-track album which hybridises folksy acoustic guitar instrumentals, with a more mesmeric looping pattern approach that Philip Glass or Wim Mertens have applied to strings (most notable on opening track “Odonata”). Subtle extra string work broadens the arrangements but this is still essentially a near-solo folk guitar instrumental album, with final track “Standing/Crumbling” the most expansive-sounding of the set thanks to the enhancements of string and piano.

At times, such as on “Shaping The Mud”, this sounds like folk-pop that’s just missing its vocal- there’s a slow but definitely present sense of a verse-chorus structure at play. “Nymphs Dance”, after a sparser opening, also heads this way, meanders off into slightly more angsty plucking, works its way back into singer-songwriter territory before a dramatic finale, all in the space of just over ten minutes.

It’s an assertive and focussed work from an established session guitarist and producer branching out with his own identity. It is perhaps a little bit ‘safe’ and folksy at times but it’s a very rich and warm listen. It’s sweetly presented in a gatefold CD sleeve too.

Koji Maruyama: isos

 Posted by Ibrahim Khider (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 27 2018
Artist: Koji Maruyama
Title: isos
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Mimi (@)
An uplifting follow-up to the more pensive but no less beautiful, Comune, Koji Maruyama brings the listener deeper into his compositions with piano solos, as well as with piano with ambient field-recording accompaniment and orchestral. The listener is treated to superb recordings of a masterful player who delivers musical narrative vignettes, each track feels complete though these may be bits of television and film soundtracks. isos (sic) is book-ended with shuffling sounds and the creak of a piano bench (perhaps a nod to luminary, Glenn Gould) as Maruyama pours over the keys with the fluidity of a waterfall, the precision of a Swiss made watch and story-telling prowess of Hans Christian Andersen. The meaning of the track and album titles remain cryptic, but “prelude/isos” unfurls like a summer rose wet with the morning dew as it cranes its stem towards the warmth of the sun to the tranquil flow of water. “Nap”, with its sparse and playful opening, emotes the innocence of a child as she lays her head upon the pillow, while the more vigorously played notes and sweeping orchestral accompaniment bellies the magnificent improbability of dreams; spacious and expansive as anything as anything Studio Ghibli could come up with. “Fluid/Door” opens impressively, overwhelming piano notes that glitters with the speed and aggression of gathering storm clouds that in turn disperse into clear-skied serenity. “Sketch#1” is just that, sort of like Van Gogh with a piece of charcoal who first plans a piece of painting with a sketch, hinting at the splendor to come. Echoing drops of water in a cavernous space , and piano notes that splash and resonate like stones tossed in a pond, “Land/welter” is ambient meets piano as an old man asks a question, joined by resonances and orchestral strings. “Pause#3” is a chance to get deeper into a Maruyama composition; it starts pensively and then dramatically before giving way to a dizzying and cascading yet graceful flow. “Postlude/isos” returns to the sweet sparse motif before the more assertive notes whirl and then stops almost mid flow and the creak of the piano bench. Yet another jewel in the trove of, treat yourself to a listen.

Andrey Kiritchenko: Overt

 Posted by Steve Mecca   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 25 2018
Artist: Andrey Kiritchenko (@)
Title: Overt
Format: CD
Label: SPEKK (@)
Rated: *****
If you are already familiar with Ukrainian electro-acoustic artist Andrey Kiritchenko, 'Overt' (his third album on the Japanese SPEKK label) will surprise the hell out of you. Kiritchenko has been active in fields of electronic music since 1998, both with his own projects, as well as collaborations with artists such as Kim Cascone, Francisco Lopez, Jonas Lindgren, Moglass, Jeff Surak, Frans de Waard, Brian Lavelle, Scanner, and others. 'Overt' is much more intense and highly constructed than many of his previous releases, and you might not be prepared for what you're about to experience right off the bat. First, this is a very active album. Most pieces are quite busy with a lot going on. If I had to only use one phrase to describe it, that would be "staccato contrapuntal extravaganza." It's deceptive though; from the first minute and a half of "Enough Heaven (Absolute)," you think you're going to get mellow ambient, but then the staccato bassoon comes in and sets the tone for most of the rest of the album. Jazz-tinged new classical is largely what the music of 'Overt' falls into. With the underpinning of staccato instruments melodies and contrapuntal harmonies are woven into the fabric of these pieces making what would otherwise seem like an exercise in calculated form a beautiful dance of exquisite interplay. Take "Ecstatic Piece" for example. It begins with a repetitive, climbing cello phrase through which another cello accents single notes, then a third cello plays a bittersweet melody, and single piano notes ascend a scale. Then all instruments coalesce into a repeating melodic figure while other elements support this main theme. An interesting bellish digital synth with filtered noise takes over the rising melody supplanting the strings, and even that sound then morphs into something else as the melody grows sonically complex. This morphing happens a few times throughout the piece but never goes that far afield from the piece's ascendancy. This all leads to a rather rhythmic complexity. These techniques are used throughout 'Overt' in different permutations. On "Soundtrack for a Sad Movie," rhythmically complex piano forms the basis for melancholy string melodies, and sub-melodies on guitar and vibes with incidental melodic bass counterpoint. The more you listen to it, the more amazing you find it. The piece that really got to me though is "Blackouts". It's got this very cool repeating staccato trombone figure which sets the tone off of which everything else plays- brief piano phrases eventually turning more complex; clarinet sub-melodies, electronics and more, with an underpinning of rhythmic staccato bass and brushed snare percussion. Even that changes before the end as nothing stays static. There is much more to this but you really need to hear it, not hear me describe it. Things don't mellow out until "Untold," but even that number becomes complex with it's happy gamelan influences. Perhaps the most techno-infused track is "Manifest" with its one-note repetitive staccato synth holding down the rhythm while a number of varied sonic elements play around it. No melody emerges until the piano takes the lead nearly halfway though, and even that becomes part of the rhythm. It's a marriage of rhythm and melody that few seem to be able to pull off successfully, but Kiritchenko does it with aplomb. This is beyond Reich and Glass, and my only criticism here is that it could have used some spatial sound treatment (reverb, echo) in places to broaden the effect. 'Overt' may be a very busy album but it certainly isn't irritating or fussy like some busy music can be. It's more fascinating, and lends itself to cinematic use, especially in its development of themes, motion, and counterpoint. Not everyone is going to go wild over this, but there is just so much going on that those who are ready for it can't help but be enthralled. I know I was.
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