Music Reviews

Markus Eichenberger & Daniel Studer: Suspended

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 07 2018
Artist: Markus Eichenberger & Daniel Studer
Title: Suspended
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hat Hut Records
Eichenberger’s clarinet and bassclarinet collaborate with Studer’s double bass for a 45-minute album of sombre, sparse notes, drones, rumbles and grumbles from the furthermost experimental edges of jazz. Occasional hammering or other gentle abuse of the instruments adds an occasional percussive layer to something that is otherwise a very pure and focussed sound.

After the baldness of opener “Walking Harshly”, there’s a few more spontaneous flourishes in “Pausing Reluctantly” which roll nicely into the more percussive “Staying Numbly” and “Glancing Loudly”. By contrast “Listening Sideways” is more plaintive, allowing the long clarinet tones to breathe expansively first, gradually joined by some properly lush low double bass timbres.

With some vocal inhales and creaky-door bowing noises, “Gliding Upwards” feels a bit more theatrical, with some ‘tread carefully in the haunted house’ notes that roll elegantly into the lighter but still sparse final piece “Aiming Anew” that wraps with a flourish that remains in character.

It’s a very clear work with a single-minded approach, consistent throughout and engrossing without being challenging. The Hat Hut label is releasing some very fine bits of experimental modern music, nicely if slightly modestly presented as CDs in slim gatefold card sleeves (that won’t take up a lot of space on your shelf!) and this is another quality example.

Muddersten: Playmates

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 06 2018
Artist: Muddersten
Title: Playmates
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofa
In four numbered and segued parts, “Playmates” is a 40-minute work combining lo-fi guitar, analogue tape-loops, electronic bleeps and a microtonal tuba into a dark array of drones, frantic rustling, spontaneous improvised percussive hits and found sounds akin to alien bird noises (and the occasional dafter duck-like noise).

The guitar, at points, flirts with the idea of melody, before shying away into individual, almost petulantly plucked standalone notes. Similarly the low percussive rumbles and almost sarcastic clap sounds sometimes engage in a repetition that has the natural feeling of a rhythm, before wilfully stepping away from it into random thumps and clicks.

Part 3 stands apart somewhat, bringing the melodic elements to the forefront, especially the weird tuba, adding gated processing on the drones and instigating a slow building drone reminiscent of Lygeti but with electronic pops. As such it’s a highlight, followed up by the more sparsely arrangement Part 4 where the wall of drone gives way to a more barren collection of tape warbles, pitch-shifted percussive sounds and clicks.

It’s a rich performance from the Muddersten trio, perhaps lacking a handle onto which the listener can tightly engage, and totally mis-sold by the slightly pop art collage artwork, but releases on SOFA tend to be good quality and this certainly doesn’t break that pattern.

Joana Gama and Luís Fernandes: At the Still Point of the Turning World

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 06 2018
Artist: Joana Gama and Luís Fernandes
Title: At the Still Point of the Turning World
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
Joana Gama and Luís Fernandes have been collaborating since 2012 and if “At The Still Point Of The Turning World” is any indication, it’s one of those musical connections that fits into place beautifully. What they offer up here is a short but perfectly formed collection of pieces blending natural small ensemble orchestra sounds with the deftest of electronic processing into something that must surely be considered a prime example of the best of cutting-edge classical from today.

Opening piece “Neither Flesh Nor Fleshless” is a stark and bold offering, beginning and end with a steady ominous thumping which is first joined then abandoned by shrill sustained string sounds. From the pizzicato strings that begin “Perpetual Possibility” things get a little more layered, but the sombre tension persists throughout the slow crescendo of piano and fantastically slow string unfolding.

After two relatively natural-sounding bits of modern classical, “The Pattern Is Movement” adds a whole new electronic aspect to proceedings, shifting the slow progressions into synthesized and processed sounds to which the traditional orchestra only very subtly contributes at first. This time when the full orchestra re-emerges it feels strangely pastoral by comparison, since everything is relative. “Through The Vibrant Air” has an almost inverse approach, opening initially as a piece of more conventional avant garde (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) classical before devolving into electronic clicks and glitches.

Final two pieces “Lucid Stillness” and “Shaft Of Sunlight” are slightly sparser, piano-led affairs with an exquisite sense of control and balance in which the electronic arrangements are truly unified with the orchestral elements, the former being more of a fixed melancholy, the latter leading towards a form of audible sunrise that ends the album far more optimistically than it began.

This is one of those releases that makes you stand up and pay attention to it, not through any brash or loud characteristics but because the sheer, almost luxuriant quality of it really draws you in.

Sandro Mussida: Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 29 2018
Artist: Sandro Mussida
Title: Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili
Format: Blu Ray disc (BD)
It’s worth pointing out from the offset that I’m reviewing the 2-track stereo version here of a 25-minute work which was originally conceived for and performed in a surround-sound six-point-star arrangement with the audience in the middle of a circle of performers. So the high-quality-studio-recorded, surround-sound Blu-ray edition may bring a whole dimension to this work that a stereo mixdown can’t capture.

Even with only two speakers, what we get there is an elegant bit of avantgarde modern classical music featuring prominent piano decorated with some tense long violin notes, equivalent but softer offering from a flute and clarinet, sparingly-plucked electric guitar, super-light percussion (most prominently high-pitched xylophone sounds often used in films to indicate where nightmares and lullabies collide), “and computers” which manifest mainly as occasional synth-like key sounds and some distant odd loops.

Across the two parts, we circle around arrangements of mood, players responding to each other’s gradual changes of tone that sways us between tension and mild discontent on one side, and mellow melancholy on the other. There’s always a degree of space, never chaos, with an admirable sense of moderation and mutual respect- whilst not overall particularly minimal, each musical element exhibits minimalism most of the time. The result is broad and expansive tone that wallows in reverb with a degree of suspense.

A high-end product from the world of Italian modern classical.

Goh Lee Kwang & Christian Meaas Svendsen: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 21 2018
Artist: Goh Lee Kwang & Christian Meaas Svendsen
Title: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Nakama Records
Gibberish, balderdash and drivel are words my Dad would use to describe these three “nonsensical musical conversations” between Goh Lee Kwan’s nylon guitar and Christian Meaas Svendsen’s double bass, musicians who, musically speaking and perhaps even literally, had never met before.

Three relatively frenetic, jazz-ish improvised pieces in which the two instruments are variously arguing, counterpointing, or just acting completely independently, even the press release admits that they were “totally failing at making any sensible dialogue”, which is unusual in a genre dominated by high concepts.

The notes bend, the pace wobbles, structure is defied, and despite being quite openly meaningless it’s still strangely enjoyable. “Gibberish” is the most manic of the three pieces, with “Balderdash” allowing a little more space and more back-and-forth between the two players. Final piece “Drivel” is the longest, and the piece which most encompasses a variety of different tones, sometimes barren, sometimes more manic, sometimes exhibiting a slightly more aggressive slap-happy performance.

It was recorded with a handheld device in an art gallery close to Kuala Lumpur. Despite this the sound quality is fairly good, but you do get a slightly dampened sound and more ambience than would be customary from a studio recording- particularly when, in “Gibberish”, somebody’s phone starts going off.

The CD and LP versions come with a custom-made pencil which you can use to draw your own artwork on the cover, further emphasising the refreshingly tongue-in-cheek nature of this release. It’s a level of mild silliness that ought to be encouraged.
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