Music Reviews

Trophies: A Family Of Three (Band Photo)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 18 2017
Artist: Trophies
Title: A Family Of Three (Band Photo)
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Unsounds
Three-piece Trophies (voice, fretless guitar and drums) offer up a tightly woven collection of six pieces that blend avantgarde jazz stylings and beat poetry with drones and a range of grungy and bubbly post effects ranging from the classic and psychadelic to the more modern and electronic-sounding.

Opener “Curiosity” has a bit of everything, an eight-minute opus in four distinct parts. The indulgently bluesy, guttural vocal of “Arirang” is one of those love-it-or-hate-it elements- to me, the jaunty energy of the following track “Small Process” comes as a welcome relief.

The second half of the short LP is also somewhat lighter, with the high vocal of “Desidare” coming across as almost poppy. “Problem” (where- spoilers- apparently the biggest problem is Italy, so they say) takes short vocal samples and loops them unequally so that they fall out of sync in stereo, a well-established trick but still quite fun. Final track “Water” is an oddity in a different way, slightly more proto-techno and bordering on sinister.

Considering the relatively conventional musical set-up, this is a diverse and undoubtedly virtuoso set of musical ideas, though at times it does feel like the envelope could have been pushed just a little further.

Vilde&Inga: Silfr

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 12 2017
Artist: Vilde&Inga
Title: Silfr
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofa
The award-winning violin & double bass duo Vilde & Inga’s second album is an austere collection of ten short improvised and completely acoustic pieces. There’s a broad range of dynamics between the pieces- “Usynlig Flimmer” and final track “Skinnende Stein” have drone basses under a disconsolate and manic violin, “Sprø Glimmer” is tightly metered, scratchy and difficult, while “Fljóta” is mellow and spacious.

The production quality is very close, you can really hear the deep wooden tones of the double bass movement, so much so that in pieces such as the title track, these elements feel like additional glitched electronic layers, yet they aren’t. The players aren’t afraid of a little distemperate bowing to produce additional screeches and tones that your school violin teacher would tell you was a mistake, though it clearly isn’t… Pieces like “Røykkvarts” take this to extreme, focussing almost solely on the incidental sounds, while “Aurum” shows their capability at more ‘purist’ arrangements.

The experimental attitude pervading “Silfr” takes the sound of a violin and a double bass as far as it could possibly go from conventional music (at least, without breaking the instruments, or your ears), and it was probably wise to keep things succinct at 42 minutes. Yet this isn’t just avantgarde for its own sake. There’s a heartfelt and determined performance that shows through the emotional expression making “Silfr” a captivating piece of art music.

Anne La Berge: Raw

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 04 2017
Artist: Anne La Berge
Title: Raw
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Unsounds
Anne La Berge is part of Ensemble MAZE, and the six-piece ensemble are present here, performing two LP-friendly extended sparse improvisations of piano, double bass, electric guitar, flute, bass clarinet and electronics. The ensemble follow written instructions but with an energy that feels like it might have been spontaneous. We meander between sporadic and slightly more overlapping sections with a thread of melancholy running throughout.

Different combinations of instruments almost politely take their turns to be at the music’s core, meaning that if you skip the needle five minutes further on, you’ll hear something very different to what you were just listening to. Some of the transitions are smooth, others very abrupt, making it difficult to predict.

“RAW” has an unusual extra element that proves to be its USP. Each performer, as well as using their own instrument, uses a tablet which, when pressed, causes a very short spoken word sample to be played- quickly spoken dialogue that instantly seems to accelerate the pace and dynamic. These snippets are too brief to be coherent, but tantalisingly close to being understandable. Talk of structures and still-visible scars tease you into wanting to invent your own narrative. The shorter second piece “RAW 19” has more of this spoken word, more frequently overlapped, as well as a greater emphasis on radio-interference-style electronics and processing, than the relatively purist first piece “RAW 10.5”.

It’s a complicated pair of pieces with diverse character- sometimes bold, sometimes spacious, never easy to follow.

Damo Suzuki & Sound Carriers: Live at Marie-Antoinette

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 24 2017
Artist: Damo Suzuki & Sound Carriers
Title: Live at Marie-Antoinette
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Play Loud! Productions
Performed by a supergroup of sorts, fronted by Can’s Damo Suzuki and personnel from Schneider™, Pan Sonic and others, “Live At Marie-Antoinette” has a very traditional live prog rock album feel to it that, save for a handful of digital electronics, could have been firmly placed in the mid 1970’s. Four super-long tracks of pulsing guitar drones, spaced out FX floating over slowly shifting and speed-changing simple bass notes, this is indulgently retro stuff.

It’s only in certain sections, such as the grand finale of second piece “Stern des Nerren” or the nuanced distorted drone underneath “Die Leere füllen”, do electronics that tell you this is a 2011 recording (being released, for no given reason, six years later).

It’s generally well-performed, with a strong understanding between performers and a strong intuition for pace change and uniform threads through the improvisations- this is accomplished musicianship, evading the ego of virtuosity in favour of coherence and consistency.

Suzuki’s vocals have a broad range, at times growling like Satchmo, sometimes more like Jim Morrison, but in places it draws too many comparisons to suggest that it really has its own modern character. It’s a faithful, always nostalgic revisiting of the even-more-indulgent side of prog rock but unfortunately it lacks the character or modern twist that would make it stand out as anything more than a curio with big names attached to it.

Jim Denley: Cut Air

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 21 2017
Artist: Jim Denley
Title: Cut Air
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofa
You probably have expectations of what a solo flute album would sound like- you may need to revise them. The diverse Australian, South Pacific and Amazonian ethnic traditions of the diverse flute family meet the European tones I’m more familiar with on this collection of layered improvisations of extremely long drone-like notes with a warm, deep, comforting tone. In my ignorance some parts sound like a didgeridoo, but there’s also plenty of other shapes and tones going on.

The feeling of breathing transcribed through the instrument is steady and mostly soporific, though certain note alternations (for example 5 minutes into the first track) do lead to slightly more active periods. It never shifts into anything that might be called challenging or difficult.

With an LP-like format, you get two 19-minute long pieces with a similar flavour. “For Celina Rokona” has slightly more percussive elements in parts but as pieces they are non-identical twins. The gating-like and fluttering effects at the end of the title track and the opening of “For Celina Rokona” are a fascinating example of organic noises imitating electronics, sounding almost Radiophonic Workshop-like at times.

“Cut Air” is a bold and simple listening experience, a captivating example of the breadth of possible sound from one instrument family- and also quite simply a nice way to chill out.
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