Music Reviews

Luc Ferrari: Music Promenade / Unheimlich Schön

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 11 2019
Artist: Luc Ferrari
Title: Music Promenade / Unheimlich Schön
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Recollection GRM
Recollection GRM’s admirable polishing-up-and-reissuing mission continues strongly here, with the return to availability of two Luc Ferrari works, from 1970 and 1971 respectively, which have been remastered and cleaned up to the extent that while the works bear all the hallmarks of the 60’s and 70’s evolution of tape recording and found sound, the sonic quality sounds bright and practically modern.

“Music Promenade” is the overlapping of a variety of field recordings of human life in the late 60’s. It’s an abstract documentary of the sounds of then-modern life, snippets of overheard conversation, the sounds of both work and laughter, and more than a smattering of ‘needledrop’-style musical excerpt plopped in as obtusely as on the Monkees “Head” soundtrack. Originally described as “whilst walking, a man is struck by the violence of his surroundings”, it’s perhaps telling that with the exception of a couple of clearly violent arguments, most of this twenty-minute piece sounds rather sedate by the standards of city life today. In terms of musical history it sits contemporary to Ferrari’s “Presque rien No. 1” as a notable keyframe in the evolution of tape music and the dissolution of the boundaries between found and composed sound and art.

“Unheimlich Schön” is a much simpler work, focussed on intimately recorded sounds of a woman breathing and talking. Tape loops and delays create a primitive sense of isolation and abstraction. Over the course of sixteen minutes, you are drawn into a very personal-sounding environment that’s so raw that it is likely to cause some listeners discomfort due to its potential invasiveness- but which other listeners might well find sexy. It’s a striking piece that really gets you thinking about your own reactions to it.

Zachary Paul: A Meditation On Discord

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 09 2019
Artist: Zachary Paul
Title: A Meditation On Discord
Format: CD + Download
Label: Touch # Tone
Three solo works by Zachary Paul, performing violin with electronics, are gathered here for a fairly intensive and immersive bit of solitary performance in which lengthy violin notes and sparse moments of more impulsive playing are layered up, reverberated and droned until the single instrument source has transformed into a full environment you can bathe in.

First piece “Premonition” is an exemplary half-hour exercise in slow build and transformation, as the tension and texture grows and grows, almost imperceptibly slowly, resulting in an impressive self-contained journey where a relatively narrow range of sounds can hold your interest for far longer than ought to be possible.

Second piece “Slow Ascent” is almost inappropriately named then, as it’s got a similar sonic outlay to the first piece, but dynamically it’s more of a plateau, not featureless but devoid of any major changes.

Third piece “A Person With Feelings” was created as the score for a short abstract film that hasn’t been released yet, and reflects an emotional journey that perhaps may make more sense with its associated picture; on its own, it feels more like a compressed version of the opening piece, but reaching a destination that’s more tense and discordant in the end.

Since Ed Alleyne-Johnson’s experiments with electric violin processing in the early 90’s (before he side-stepped into weak crowd-pleasing cover versions), the idea of drawing grittier tones and electronic source elements out of a violin has seemed powerful to me, and these pieces explore the idea well. They may be steeped in anxiety but the result is a rewarding listen, and the fact it doesn’t overstay its welcome is an impressive feat.

John Zorn: Insurrection

 Posted by Mike Measer   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 04 2019
Artist: John Zorn
Title: Insurrection
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Rated: *****
John Zorn's 'Insurrection' features the dueling/dancing guitar work of Julian Lage and Matt Hollenberg, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Kenny Grohowski. All compositions were written by Zorn for the quartet. As you might expect, there are a variety of moods captured in this album, with guitar lines coming from every angle, but never stepping on each other in ways that don't work out. All of the playing is thoughtful. All song names are taken from (somewhat) well-known novels.

The albums begins with a heavy rock-riff, which is then anchored by a pulsing bass line, with Grohowski skittering around the kit at high speed. Some angular, atonal guitar solos are offered up left and right by Lage and Hollenberg.

Next up, not surprisingly for Zorn, is a downtempo piece, clocking in at almost 8 1/2 minutes. "Pulsations" is a beautiful composition that feels part jazz fusion, part exotica, part ambient. Hollenberg channels some Marc Ribot here and it sounds fantastic.

"A Void" has a funky bass line that gets pushed around by a guitar attack that does not stand still. Grohowski remains on Dunn's team though and keeps the funk flowing underneath the guitar onslaught. I haven't heard Trevor Dunn lay down a bass line like this since his Mr. Bungle days. A great rock tune.

"Mason And Dixon" slows things down once again in a sparse piece, where Lage starts off on lead and Hollenberg on shimmering rhythm. That quickly changes as Hollenberg takes over briefly. Both guitarists play in unison briefly and then it's Hollenberg's turn as he puts a bit of twang into the affair. The duo trade brief solos for the bulk of the tune with Hollenberg's beautiful tone carrying it for me. The rhythm section hovers just in the background.

"Progeny" is a rumbling affair, with great unison guitar work as well as solo shredding. Grohowksi and Dunn are all over the place, chasing or being chased by the guitarists.

"The Journal Of Albion Moonlight" is full of beautiful sustained notes, gentle cymbal and snare work, given a dark tone by Dunn's bass-work.

"The Unnameable" is the strangest composition on the album, with a low, almost droning bass line, extremely spare guitar playing and just cymbal and low-tom work on the drums. A creepy masterpiece.

The recording is nice and warm, never harsh, even during the most intense guitar passages. The separation between Hollenberg and Lage is perfectly balanced - they are distinct but clearly in the same room. You can tell they're talking to one another. Bass and drums hold a very controlled yet pronounced bottom end, with the cymbals dancing around the guitars and holding their place, never distracting. This is a fun quartet.

Anthony Pateras: Collected Works Vol. II (2005-2018)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 01 2019
Artist: Anthony Pateras
Title: Collected Works Vol. II (2005-2018)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Immediata
This extensive 5CD, five-and-a-bit hour set methodically selects from Pateras’ back catalogue based on three categories, with either one or two discs for each. This has the effect of producing five compilation albums which have their own distinct character- you can certainly find a favourite disc and a least favourite disc- but which are fundamentally all based on the same principles- long, drawn-out avantgarde experimental and classical works blending organic and orchestral elements with some electronics and post-production trickery to generate long, drawn-out, deep and usually quite velvety sonic landscapes that are writ large and explored in detail.

First disc “Solo & Electronics [A]” represents some of the more ‘cosy’, intimate works, a collection of warm ten-minute drones and melodic blankets that- with the exception of the slightly squealy “Burning Is The Thing”- is decidedly relaxing and welcoming. “Solo & Electronics [B]”, the fourth disc, is perhaps a touch more sinister, with pieces like “Rules Of Extraction” making heavy use of high-pitched teeth-gritting tones that cut straight to discomfort and alienation. “TamTam +”’s low hum and distant industrialism is a highlight, as is the back-and-forth of electronics with Jessica Aszodi’s soprano vocal work in “Prayer For Nil”.

Second disc “Improvising Ensemble [A]” is slightly more purist, consisting of only two pieces, one of them over fifty minutes long, in which the live ensemble paints waves of sound that ebb gently and woozily. It’s reminiscent of Lygeti in parts, as is “Artifacts Of Translation”. Shorter piece “As Long As Breath Or Bow” has the edge though, with a masterful twenty-minute display of slow tension building. By contrast “Improvising Ensemble [B]” is made up of more impulsive pieces, such as the almost cheekily delivered and playful “Onetetradecagon”, certainly the most fun-to-play piece in this set- although the various parts of “Fragments Splinters & Shards”, which exhibit more of a leaning towards modern electronica, must also have been up there.

Third disc “Trios” opens with a series of short works for vibraphone and antique cymbals, a high-pitched and strangely itchy anti-groove affair. The first longer work has the same spiky tone transposed onto guitar and prepared piano, leaving “Three Mirrors”’s unusual interplay of eccentric saxophone work with electonic clicks as the most palatable part of arguably the least accessible disc.

I was thoroughly swayed by the opening disc and there’s a wealth of long, in-depth pieces to really get your teeth into here. It’s not all spectacular- the “Trios” disc in particular left me a little cold- but otherwise it’s a broad and very respectful anthology of work from a prolific composer with character.

Anita Brevik conducting the Nidaros Cathedral Girls' Choir/TrondheimSolistene: Lux

 Posted by Steve Mecca   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 26 2019
Artist: Anita Brevik conducting the Nidaros Cathedral Girls' Choir/TrondheimSolistene (@)
Title: Lux
Format: SACD (Super Audio CD)
Label: 2L Records (@)
Rated: *****
When I receive a "new classical" music CD I always feel some anxiety; I'm often a bit out of my element and feel that I won't adequately be able to review and convey the work(s) as well as those who've had years of acquaintance with modern classical under their belts. 'LUX' allays that anxiety by presenting works that do not fall into the avant-garde, and speak more to the heart than to the intellect. Three works are to be found on this album, two by Norwegian composer Stale Kleiberg - "Hymn To Love," and "The Light," and one, "Requiem," by British composer Andrew Smith. The artists involved in realizing these compositions are the Norwegian artists, the Nidaros Cathedral Girls' Choir, under the direction of Anitak Brevik; TrondheimSolistene (strings); Ståle Storløkken (organ); Petra Bjørkhaug (organ); and Trygve Seim (saxophones). The real stars though are the glorious voices of the Nidaros Cathedral Girls' Choir. Through much of this it was difficult to keep tears from welling up in my eyes, and as jaded as I am, that doesn't happen very often.

'Lux' was commissioned from the composers to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Nidaros Cathedral Girls’ Choir (Nidarosdomens Jentekor) in 1992. The centerpiece (sandwiched in-between Kleiberg's compositions) is Smith's "Requiem," loosely based on the Roman Catholic mass for the dead, which takes up almost 46 out of 70 minutes of the album's length. Some of the texts in the traditional Requiem Mass have been replaced with biblical references to children in dire circumstances, in order to reflect modern tragedies in which the young are innocent victims, such as terrible massacres at Utoya and Oslo in 2011, the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the 2018 massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. "Requiem" may seem like an odd choice for a 25th anniversary celebration, but once you hear it, you'll be enraptured by its beauty and sadness. Although the musical material in the Requiem takes its inspiration from Gregorian chant, Trygve Seim's emotive saxophone lends a modern touch that does much to contemporize the work, and even the organ parts played by Bjørkhaug have a more modern sound than traditional "churchy" solemnity. The choir sings in Latin, but there are English and Norwegian translations in the booklet. The girls' vocals are glorious and in combination with the splendid saxophone are sublimely moving. Anita Brevik must be commended on her excellent arrangement and conducting skills as well, synthesizing the voices of these young women into something heavenly and ethereal.

Kleiberg's "Hymn To Love," which open the album takes its lyrics from the biblical 1st Corinthians 13, 1-13 - "If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love..." and is sung in English. The Trondheim Soloists strings are pervasively expressive in this piece, and the composition is the perfect opener for 'Lux,' where an uplifting sense of hope and joy (which it most certainly conveys) is needed for what follows. Kleiberg's "Light" which closes the album features more of the Trondheim Soloists than the Girls' Choir, as it is nearly six minutes before the voices come in, and the piece is less than 10 minutes long. For me, this was the weakest part of the album, but it was still in keeping with the concept.

The sound of course is superb and gorgeous, even just on the SACD which I listened to for the review. The second disc is a part Blu-ray audio, part data disc. It contains a 2.0 LPCM mix, a 5.1 DTS mix, a 7.1.4 Auro 3D presentation, and a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos version that will play on home theaters that support a normal 7.1 configuration. Audiophiles should be in ecstasy over this.
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