Music Reviews

Zeitkratzer + Elliott Sharp: Oneirika

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 16 2017
Artist: Zeitkratzer + Elliott Sharp
Title: Oneirika
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Karlrecords / Zeitkratzer Productions
Nine-piece experimental acoustic ensemble Zeitkratzker make themselves up to 10 thanks to a guest appearance from Elliott Sharp who adds saxophone, electric guitar, and “conduction” (presumably as a musical conductor rather than an electrical one). It’s a seamless addition to a comfortable, established ensemble combining piano, strings, doublebass, bassclarinet, brass and guitar into an arrangement that’s avantgarde in performance but traditional in construction.

Driven by a score which was initially conventional before it was processed and mangled in Photoshop, of all places, this is an impulsive bit of chaotic improvisation. The many players come and go in a variety of combinations, many of them bordering on cacophonous, as though the only real instructions being provided are controls over speed and discipline. Everything else has a raw attitude symptomatic of the ‘waking dream’ theme.

“Oneirika” is one 47-minute piece, divided into ten parts. Mostly this division is for convenience rather than any musical distinction, with some exceptions- part 4, for example, starts off from a steady kick drum rhythm before developing out of it. Heavy slightly oompah brass in part 6 evokes images of a circus performance going dark, while the rumbling escalating tension in part 8 is reminiscent of a György Ligeti work.

Despite being a live performance the recording quality is excellent, and it could certainly be mistaken for a studio album. Besides the exemplary recording quality though, it feels like an ensemble performance that, ironically for the ‘avantgarde’ label, could have been recorded at any time in the last fifty years. It’s a work with an impressive scale, but one that somehow no longer challenges.

The Immersive Project: s/t

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 14 2017
Artist: The Immersive Project
Title: s/t
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Spezialmaterial/Staubgold
The ambitiously-titled “Immersive Project” is a long-distance-correspondence collaboration stretching from Holger Martin in Cologne to Michael Eberli in Zurich- so, in breadth of musical heritage, not really all that far. The audible influences stretch somewhat further- this is optimistic jazz music of stepping double-basses reframed in an light electro context, with complex percussive patterns and some light dashings of silliness.

Opener “Upper Class Massage” could draw comparisons to Matthew Herbert work, but later tracks are deeper and more atmospheric. The steady groove of “Regenmann” is the piece that best demonstrates how this project has managed to develop its own unique and distinctive voice. The diversity is genuinely impressive- “Blauwer” has a bluesy, slightly David Sylvian feel to it, yet it’s followed by “Hilo” which has a strong and polished Jeff Mills techno underpinning.

Another highlight is “Zwerchfell schwingt”, a dynamic piece shifting between organic guitar and processing-heavy synth with a slowly building tension. Yet another is the slighly Massive Attack-style groove of “Fodderstompf”, the album’s closer if you discount the anachronistic, vocal-adding Macuso Vikovsky edit of “Pizzifikatto”.

The guitar riff on “Bodenreiber” so closely remembles “Set Your Control For The Heart Of The Sun” that it’s hard to shake the Pink Floyd lyric out of your head while listening, especially thanks to the other prog rock-style effects going on in the track.

It ploughs its own very listenable path of downtempo, sometimes moody jazz-with-electronics and while some people may find it a bit lacking in edge, or energy in some places, as a bit of mellow deep electronica this really shines.
Artist: Ernesto Rodrigues, Guilherme Rodrigues, Nuno Torres, Eduardo Chagas, Carlos Santos
Title: Surfaces
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
The parallelism between the music of Ernesto Rodrigues and the idea of fruition of a literary text that Roland Barthes in his essay "Le Plaisir du Texte" that music writer Rui Eduardo Paes made in the introductory words attached to this release is useful to render the way I could recommend to perceive more details in improv music in general. The French essayist refers to "plaisir" ('pleasure') to describe a somehow passive approach to a text and 'jouissance' (translated as 'bliss' by Rui) to describe a more immersive approach, requiring "an active effort, almost if you're writing (or re-writing) what you read". Similarly, according to Rui analysis, this kind of distinction could be applied to the way of approaching Rodrigues' music: "you have to stop all other activities and immerse yourself in those sounds to obtain the maximal results from it. You'll need to give yourself away and to focus in order to perceive it all. this is not music for entertainment or to give you an atmosphere for rest and for conversation. You have to be there, right in the middle, like you're one of the musicians, sweating with them". Hot temperatures of these days over countries around Mediterranean sea could help you in sweating, but your individuality can let you appreciate the three part of this session, recorded on 14th March 2015 at Scratch Built Studio in Lisbon. The almost sinister textures of a whispering cello, a blow over the alto saxophone and the trombone which sound like emulating the blowing of the wind in a desert place, a subtly piercing computer generated thin frequency and a sort of buzzing noise supposedly generated through an analog synth over the 17 minutes of the first part matches the feeling of dizzy detachment and spleening lividity evoked by the artwork (a sort of view on a desolate secluded place through the diaphragm of a mosquito net, that pixelate the sight to emphasize that perception). The sizzling noise over the alternation of sparse and strangled tones and the rising hypnotic anxiety evoked by their muffled chorus in the second part seems to get extinguished by a likewise hypnotical analog whisper in its last minutes, while the way by which tones got combined in the third and last part could be matched to the gradual and somehow confused awakening after a troubled sleep. The ensemble is maybe not totally new, as the involved musicians (Ernesto Rodrigues, viola; Guilherme Rodrigues, cello; Nuno Torres, alto saxophone; Eduardo Chagas, trombone; Carlos Santos, computer, analogue synthesiser) already performed together in other improv sessions and got recorded in past releases of Rodrigues' imprint. In other words, they know each other quite well and such a mutual understanding cannot but enhance their performative chemistry.

Siavash Amini: Tar

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 05 2017
Artist: Siavash Amini
Title: Tar
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hallow Ground
“Tar” is a collection of four long experiments that meld electronic drones and atmospheres with more cinematic strung-out sounds. It’s deeply melancholic and barren-sounding, a forty-minute-long journey into the expansive desert of the subconscious.

Tar itself may be sticky but “Tar” musically has a variable texture- sometimes polished and smooth, at other times rough-hewn with slightly bubbly tones that do successfully evoke the title substance. The windier sounds of opener “A Dream’s Frozen Reflection” make way for harsher undercurrents in “Rivers Of Tar”, but throughout, the authentic string sounds give proceedings a generally rich quality that is what make the release shine best of all.

Final track “The Dust We Breathe” is notably more harsh than the preceding pieces, opening with a cacophony of noise like an army of angry mechanical bees. It settles gradually into the more typical uneasy dischord of strings and drones but it’s certainly dark and less pleasant overall.

It’s a very successful synergy of modern classical and electronic, and definitely among the best in its class.

Yair Elazar Glotman & Mats Erlandsson: Negative Chambers

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 01 2017
Artist: Yair Elazar Glotman & Mats Erlandsson
Title: Negative Chambers
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Miasmah
In “Negative Chambers”, Glotman and Erlandsson serve up a languid and melancholic eight-track collection of music with an organic, traditionally instrumented folksy, slightly bluesy core, to which subtle sound design has been applied to give extra breadth. A regular presence is the double bass, which steps and plucks its way solemnly through almost every track at a walking pace. Other instruments, ranging from guitars and violins through to gimbri, zithers and a tibetan singing bowl, are less frequent presences.

The result regularly has the feeling of a solemn and sincere movie soundtrack, with tension arriving from the spontaneous and unpredictable playing that often has an improvised feel, as well as from the electronic drones that sometimes underpin. The charming, slightly Eastern flavours of “Orchid Sedation” sound like an exposition on a spy movie theme set in Japan. In terms of cultural evocativeness it’s very broad, with the bass on “Ceramic Relic” feeling faintly Arabic while the acoustic guitar on “Libra Index” feels more like sparse introverted Americana. “Desacrelasation” eschews the lead instrument approach in favour of a long blended and sustained drone atmosphere.

It’s a luxuriantly produced collection of works that’s very expertly balanced, with several tracks explored and evolved for six minutes yet which never outstays its welcome. It’s cinematic yet not too on-the-nose and it never seems to lose focus. It’s impressive and accomplished.
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