Music Reviews

Jérôme Noetinger, Anthony Pateras, Synergy Percussion: Beauty Will Be Amnesiac Or Will Not Be At All

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 13 2017
Artist: Jérôme Noetinger, Anthony Pateras, Synergy Percussion
Title: Beauty Will Be Amnesiac Or Will Not Be At All
Format: CD + Download
Label: Immediata
“Beauty…” is an ambitious hour-long percussion work to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Synergy Percussion ensemble. Featuring over 100 different real percussion instruments both familiar and esoteric, with sprinklings of electronics and a reel-to-reel tape machine, it’s a generally very moderate, gentle performance full of twinkling patterns, soft resonances and subtle progressions.

Rumbles from larger, deeper drums sometimes underpin these patterns, but somehow despite its constituent parts it never becomes dark or sinister- and at times it’s genuinely playful, almost childish. At points it sounds like a supremely complex mathematical interplay of complementary and opposing rhythms that intellectually goes right over my head; at others, it sounds like three people messing about with hitting drums whenever they want.

The 15-minute numbered quarters have distinct fingerprint but the same DNA. “I” has deeper rumbling drones, “II” is dominated by chimes and more wooden sounds, “III” is slightly more cacophonous with heavy use of toms, and “IV” brings the electronic glitching to the fore, while also leaving more space for the return of the drones.

Congratulations to Synergy Percussion on their impressive 40 year milestone and for celebrating it with something that sounds sharp, fresh and contemporary.

Anthony Pateras: Blood Stretched Out

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 13 2017
Artist: Anthony Pateras
Title: Blood Stretched Out
Format: CD + Download
Label: Immediata
In practical terms there’s very little to say about “Blood Stretched Out”- two very long piano solo pieces (43 and 35 minutes) consisting of slowly adjusting and shifting fast rhythmic hammering of a classical piano in a reverberant, seemingly middle-sized room.

The title track must have been physically exhausting to play, with the left and right hand alternating rapidly. Each hand position adjusts occasionally, creating chord changes that are sometimes barely audible, sometimes more abrupt. There’s no space, no pause, just a steady and rapid flow of notes whose tails pile on top of one another as quickly as they can fade. At times the chords are deep, uncomfortable and tense, undermining any attempt to use this piece as a relaxing sonic wash. Towards the end both hands move to the right, hammering high notes in a way that’s bordering on tortuous.

“Chromochromatics”, with its slightly closer recording tone, is a more structured piece with some use of space inbetween the notes. Miniature phrases of frantic, sporadic melody jump around playfully. Underneath the traditional art-rationale (“ideas are exploded and explored, constantly shifting, melding and reconfiguring into continually perplexing forms which are at once circular and linear”, no less) there’s a raw, improvised feeling to this- and to my plebian ear, frankly the majority of it sounds like spontaneous key-smacking experiments rather than reconfigured patterns.

“Blood Stretched Out” is a manic and dynamic 79 minutes of piano affrontery that clamours for attention, yet isn’t wholly welcoming when it receives it.

Fail Better!: Zero Sum

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 10 2017
Artist: Fail Better!
Title: Zero Sum
Format: CD
Label: JACC Records (@)
Rated: *****
I'm not sure how this impressive release (out on 2014 actually) arrived on my desk, but I enjoyed its listening. I guess some member could have sent it to me some weeks ago together with their newest output (I hope to introduce it in the forthcoming days), but it stayed buried under mountains of other releases for some days. Named after one of the most quoted sentence by Samuel Beckett (I remember I saw it once tattooed on some shoulders as well!) - "ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better" (taken from his famous novel Worstward Ho), this ensemble of improvisers consists of five members coming from different parts of Portugal (Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra): guitarist Marcelo dos Reis (the sender?), Joao Pais Filipe on drums, Joao Guimaraes on alto saxophone, double-bass player Jose Miguel Pereira and Luis Vicente on trumpet. If you studied economics or mathematics, you should know what a zero-sum game is: it refers to the situation in which the final result of the action by each player is substantially neutral (no winners, no losers). I guess it could refer to the fact there any (instrument) player doesn't prevail on others over the six improvised sessions, but they somehow balance themselves, and even the general mood doesn't sound compulsively competitive, but such a circumvention doesn't imply they offered a listening experience lacking pleasant moments. Recorded live at Salao Brazil in Coimbra on 8th February 2013, one of the features I noticed in the dynamics of each part is the subdivision of roles: there are generally two instruments duelling and other instruments playing a sort of inciters (generally pairing drums in this role), but the phases and even the timing of a real duel/game got strictly observed. The first two parts (the dodgiest "Bright Red" and the following "This is Our Gun") could get compared to the study phases, where musicians seem to portray a frigging staring contest and an exhibition of muscles. Both of them are quite long lasting, while the central pieces ("Fallout Breeders" - featuring an incredible performance on guitar by Marcelo dos Reis - and "Dysfunctional Wire" - double bass nervous playing is a great instigator -) could mirror the moment of the battle and the sound consequently gets more vigorous and violent. Again, timing is perfect as both of them are the shortest parts of the whole session. The fire of the passion doesn't seem entirely extinguished on the mood of "The Growing Border," but the previously indomitable fury gives way to the yelling stings of the bleeding wounds. The fantastic final "Challenge/Challenges" doesn't sound resolutive at all: no winners and no losers prevail, as a matter of fact, but the quintet almost renders the search for significance to that duel!

Norman Westberg: Jasper Sits Out

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 10 2017
Artist: Norman Westberg (@)
Title: Jasper Sits Out
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
Norman Westberg, from the experimental rock band Swans, has been creating his own modestly simple but powerful solo product on the side for some time. Initially selling CDRs through Etsy, of all places, one of the earliest of these has been picked up and re-released on the Room40 label, with a new bonus track making 3.

It’s a very simple premise consisting of guitars and some effect pedals, yet the result is an extremely rich and textured synthesis of long tones and soft rhythms that sounds like it could have been crafted over many hours with many thousands of pounds’ worth of equipment. Here are some long and careful ambiences with a delicate touch.

The title track undulates initially around 60 beats per minute, the bottom end of a regular heart rate, very conducive to curling up and relaxing. As things evolve and develop, a sense of alarm slowly creeps in, so that after twenty minutes, you realise almost in awe you are now listening to a melodic siren that is failing to panic you- yet you don’t mind.

“Homeset Trunc” tenses things up a little, with choral-esque sustained tones affixed above a stepping rhythm that’s loosely 120bpm and which somehow manages to sound womb-like and industrial in equal measure. Lighter guitar patterns later on keep things comforting as the deeper rhythm ebbs away.

Bonus track “A Particular Tuesday” drops the rhythmic component almost completely in favour of clear, gently contoured and interwoven guitar tones with a glass-like fragility.

All in, it’s an exemplary exercise in simple, beautiful experimental tones that’s far more than the sum of its parts.

Pan-Scan Ensemble: Air And Light And Time And Space

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 06 2017
Artist: Pan-Scan Ensemble
Title: Air And Light And Time And Space
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hispid Records / PNL Records
This recording of an improvised pre-Christmas experimental knees up features an impressive nine-piece line-up of improvisers whose combined musical CV includes over a dozen groups. A supergroup they may be, but as some football managers know, a group of star players doesn’t necessarily make a team. The Pan-Scan Ensemble however seem to be gelling very nicely.

It’s brass-heavy, with three saxs (one of whom spontaneously transforms into a flautist) and three trumpets accompanied by a piano and two percussionists, giving things a tone that’s heavily jazz-infused. No overdubs, no FX, just raw but mostly non-abrasive avantgarde improv.

Both recordings are an exercise in contrasts. The baseline mode is extremely sparse; individual instruments, individual notes, standing alone among sections of actual silence, tentative and tense. Then there’s a mutual consensus to crescendo, an unspoken agreement to disagree among the performers as they all get louder and more chaotic, before calm is restored and we settle back into abstract and sporadic instrumental opinions. Some instruments echo another, others contradict each other, but it’s clear there’s no tight structure or specific plan, just a selection of confident and skilled performers riffing wildly and freely.

“In Time And Space” the trumpet sounds are more sustained and there’s a greater sense of urgency in ‘the loud bits’, but otherwise despite one track being twice as long as the other, they still have the same overall sonic identity.

This is a well-produced, neat if slightly disposable little bit of fun broken jazz.
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