Music Reviews

Andreas Pollak / Johan Graden: Terror of Positivity

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 18 2017
Artist: Andreas Pollak / Johan Graden
Title: Terror of Positivity
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
The cover artwork chosen for the bicephalous project (so unknown that even the notorious database/marketplace Discogs mispelled the name of their output!) by improvisers Andreas Pollak (playing percussions and a set of object) and Johan Graden (on a prepared piano) has been guessed for the sound they forged on this first appearance on Portuguese label Creative Sources. The portrayed image looks like an elevator shaft, where its straight lines converge on a highlighted vanishing point, which seems more a metaphor of the emotional settings and some tortuous convolutions of the thought that their installation could evoke. There are many references and quotes that cannot be immediately understood, such as the name of the album itself: it seems to be a reference to the interesting analysis/diagnosis by the South-Korean philosopher Byung Chul-Han, who referred to contemporary society as a tired society, as a consequence of an excess of "positivity", and the title of the two parts of the longest piece on this album - a sinister condensate of somehow scary aural entities, a carnival of isolated tones in between often frightful stridors, that could push your mind towards reasonably unpitiful and likewise afraid contemplations of some lumpy pustules of contemporary world -, "Hyperculture" seems to be a reference to one of the most interesting essay of this philosopher. Similarly all the fans of Antonin Artaud should recognize the quotation of his "Artaud le Momo" in the title of "O Kaya Pontoura", a disquieting confluence of creepy chord-driven melodies suffocated by tonal thuds on piano, a viscous web of percussions hits and sudden piercing dissonances, which correctly renders the mood of that poetic incomplete self-portrait. The final stage of this sonic journey, "Quad", reasonably ends on the senseless flapping of all the instrumental and noisy elements, where a sort of spell seems to involve them in a feverish ballet, whose lack of a particular direction appears to awake the dormant catalyst of the almost logical self-annihilation.

Akira Kosemura: One Day

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 17 2017
Artist: Akira Kosemura (@)
Title: One Day
Format: CD
Label: Schole (@)
Rated: *****
Kosemura's imprint released a lot of lovely stuff in the last year. One of the most recent output is the 7th solo album by his label boss, coming out just three months after "Momentary: Memories of the Beginning," his 6th one after five years of no new items to his discography. Both of this recent releases are superb and remark the recognizable aesthetics I often spoke about when I introduced Akira's music, combining nuances of French impressionism, soundtracks, minimalism, ambient and spots of electronics, but I decided to focus on "One Day" due to some exciting features. First of all, it got entirely composed in one afternoon and such a spontaneous immediacy is evident while listening to the ten lovely improvisations he recorded before the wise mastering at Black Saloon Studios by British sound engineer Mandy Parnell (former collaborator of well known and respected names of contemporary scene such as Bjork, Aphex Twin and Max Richter), who succeeds in emphasizing the vintage beauty of Akira's mono sound recording, where the ambient noises (the crackling of the seat, the sound of the tapping on piano keys and so on) grabbed by one microphone didn't get intentionally removed - a guessed choice, ageing the sound like a picture got aged by a Polaroid -. Such a recording closely relates to the second relevant feature of "One Day": Akira performed and composed it on an old piano he used to play in his family home since he was a child. Such a familiar environment and the genuine immediacy strongly influenced the sound, where tones and melodies seems to speak out and continuously intertwine with the memories that resurfaced out of Akira's thoughts on that beloved instrument...and who knows, maybe some of the tunes he recorded in "One Day" were the ones he used to play many years ago. I'm pretty sure Akira will help you recollecting forgotten and beautiful memories of your tender age... while playing in background, a friend of mine movingly- and without any apparent reason - shared some memories of a peacock he liked to feed when he was a little child, whenever his father brought him to a park in the city centre of his hometown. I recommend testing the effect on your memories of Akira's homemade stuff.

Nakama: Most Intimate

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 16 2017
Artist: Nakama
Title: Most Intimate
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Nakama Records (@)
“Most Intimate” would fit many people’s stereotype of what a four-piece experimental jazz ensemble playing off-the-cuff avantgarde music sounds like. Bass, drums, piano, violin riff around ideas and patterns, or sometimes just single notes, toying cheekily with nearly danceable rhythms then wandering off into suspense and quasi-random banging. Sonically it’s a purist’s piece, no effects, no edits, all done in one recording session. It’s got classical form.

The PR sheet incorrectly credits Agnes Hvizdalek is a fifth member of the band, adding vocals, but in fact Hvizdalek only joined the ensemble after this album was completed, so this is purely an instrumental work.

Unusually, the press info freely admits that the band recorded it whilst fatigued after touring. That’s something that’s at times fairly apparent in the music- there’s a certain lethargy in some pieces for sure.

It’s the concept behind it that is even more unusual. Each of the bite-sized pieces- mostly less than three minutes long- is firstly “Dedication”, one band member writing a dedication to one of the other band members, and the recipient band member is the only one not allowed to be part of that piece; but after their piece, they perform a “Gratitude” solo piece in response. The two are then ‘combined’ (of a sort) for a “Unification”. This cycles round four times. You won’t be able to see it from the thumbnail on this review but the blue cover artwork is covered in an explanation of the theory, in extremely small text. Not only that, but the musicians swap instruments between pieces as well, so when I refer to specific musicians below, I’m not even confident they were the one playing at that time.

On paper it’s a spectacularly navel-gazing concept, and given that the ensemble had been touring together at length, they’re lucky that tempers hadn’t started to fray by then- otherwise you would have ended up with a whole bunch of pieces about “you get on my nerves because when you eat sandwiches with onion in it stinks out the tour bus”.

In practice, it’s a mixed bag. On the plus side, pieces like “Dedication I” are bright, airy, fun little run-arounds with a truly jazz spirit and a whimsical energy. Also on the plus side, “Gratitude III” is a beautiful and seemingly heartfelt romantic piano solo (Ayumi Tanaka, assuming it’s her on this track, has a strong track record as a solo pianist so this is not surprising) and “Gratitude IV” is a percussive bass solo that is fantastic to listen to in detail. The title track “Most Intimate”, the longest piece and the only one exempt from the round-robin concept, is a beautifully smooth and spacious bit of mostly violin-led mood jazz.

But frankly there are weak points too. The solo responses are among them for sure. With “Gratitude I”, a drum solo, this might seem like a very damning thing to say but honestly, to me it sounded like the kind of thing secondary school music teachers have to do with the pupils in their class who can’t play tuned instruments, so instead they’re encouraged to play pictures and just hit things. I have no doubt that violinist Adrian Løseth Waade has more musical talent in his little finger than I have in my whole body but that doesn’t stop his solo “Gratitude II” from sounding like it could have been performed by somebody who doesn’t know how to play the violin.

“Nakama is what it is”, says the press release, and what it is is a hit-and-miss collection of rather self-indulgent, high-concept experimental jazz with a thoroughly traditional bent that will appeal to life members of the alternative jazz club but which doesn’t spread its wings very far beyond those walls.

Andi Otto: Via

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 16 2017
Artist: Andi Otto
Title: Via
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Pingipung (@)
Distributor: Kompakt
“Via” ploughs its own path, orbiting around a wide array of genres. Many of the sounds are Asian, with vintage Indian movie soundtrack vinyl being a major sample source, but there’s a rich vein of original instrumentation here as well- cellos, harps and psalteries- and a large helping of analogue synths too. Hamburg-based Andi Otto reconstructs into something that’s part deep house, part chill-out that’s got both ethnic and electronica roots, yet which at times makes you think of dub, of light moombahton, of world fusion, of very slow big beat even. It’s an international mix packed with flavours.

The grooves are mostly in the 90bpm-100bpm region, smooth and deeply regular, and are allowed in tracks like “Kyoto Pebbles” to go off on long self-contained journeys. There’s no “the fast track” or “the ballad”- consistently steady is the name of the game here.

Opener “Bangalore Whispers” and closer “VIA” both also feature the South Indian vocals of MD Pallavi, lilting little melodic snippets that Otto sometimes allows to play in full, and sometimes isn’t afraid to cut up and play with. It’s expertly done and leaves you wanting more of Pallavi’s involvement. Other tracks like “Gianna Anna” have sampled vocal micro-snippets as well.

“Everybody Needs A Modular Kraut Session” and the stripped-back “Dub For Ian Waterman” bring the synths to the fore, riffing over the patterns into something that starts sounding like a Bollywood Tangerine Dream or a reggae Tangerine Dream respectively, while “Dharti Cash Puke” beefs up the drum patterns and begins to strut.

Some of the track names imply a cheeky sense of humour, but largely the music is played straight, not for jokes; however that doesn’t stop some of the brighter tracks like “Bandini Beach” from being seriously feel-good music.

Drawing sounds from such a wide variety of sources and being untroubled by genre labels is a noble practice, and it’s been a long time since I’ve heard an album which does it with such aplomb and with a self-contained, consistent and listenable album as the result.

PainKiller: Execution Ground

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 11 2017
Artist: PainKiller
Title: Execution Ground
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Karlrecords (@)
Rated: *****
On the occasion of a chat with one of our collaborators six years ago, Thomas Herbst, the man behind the curtains of the great Karlrecords, didn't hide his unconditional love for Bill Laswell and all his amazing projects. During that interview, Thomas told us an anecdote: when he asked Bill after a gig he made at Moers Jazz Festival in 2006 what he was doing, Mister Laswell naively replied “oh, some pop stuff…to generate money for projects like this…”. The gig he was referring to - the one he just performed - was the collaborative project PainKiller, the one Thom is luckily proposing by this fantastic re-release, and if you've never heard about it (shame on you!), the names of Bill's collaborators should be enough to titillate your hungry music mind. PainKiller was the brainchild that Bill Laswell started in 1991, while he was still performing with the incendiary free jazz quartet last Exit (including Peter Brotzmann, Sonny Sharrock and Ronald Shannon Jackson) together with Mick Harris (just after he left Napalm Death) and John Zorn (exploring impressively innovative sonorities in his Naked City project). After a couple of albums - "Buried Secrets" and "Guts of a Virgin" - in between free jazz and grindcore (released by notorious metal label Earache), the real masterpiece was their third album "Execution Ground" (1994, Subharmonic), the one where all the musical souls involved the project and their forerunning raid into unconventional stylistic territories merged into five long and powerfully evocative suites: the way the furious free-jazz of Zorn's shrieking saxophone and Harris' drumming on the first part of "Parish Of Tama" got channeled into an intensely emotional and gradually morbid dub in the second part borders on sublime dimensions; the multiverse colliding styles of the increasingly wildness of "Morning Of Balachaturdasi"; the powerful visions inspired by the ambient versions of "Parish Of Tama" and "Pashupatinath" (the crossover version coming as a digital bonus). Masterfully mastered and cut by Rashad Becker at D&M Berlin. Highly recommended!
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