Music Reviews

Bell Monks + Gregory Taylor: Brocades + Palimpsets

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Sep 04 2016
Artist: Bell Monks + Gregory Taylor (@)
Title: Brocades + Palimpsets
Format: CD
Label: clang (@)
Rated: *****
Sometimes a few elements are enough to make music that can speak to listener's soul. Bell Monks, the bicephalous project by Jeff Herriott and Eric Sheffield, mostly based on the reprise and the morphing around seemingly useless and unused musical sketches by Jeff, whose music has been aptly described as "colorful....darkly atmospheric" by New York Times, "incredibly softly, beautiful, and delicate" by Computer Music Journal and as a combination of "the minimalism of Brian Eno's ambient work with the gloomy songwriting of Low" by The Onion's AV Club, seems to be a clear evidence about such an assertion. The sonic strategy by which Bell Monks filled many albums and EPs over a decade ranging from ambient, post-rock, and pure computer music and grabbed the attention of many listeners. The description by the media as mentioned earlier voices could be applied to this release, whose primary input was based on 14 short and extremely peaceful tunes for guitar and Rhodes they composed in spring 2012 for an art event in Milwaukee. Some lines of contrabass and saxophone were furtherly added respectively by Ben Willis and Matt Sintchak, but even if this first make-up was good enough for an official release, they decided to forward these tunes to Gregory Taylor, who transformed instrumental parts using a series of computational techniques. This release is the result of the final cut by Lars Graugaard, the man behind clang's curtains, who decided to select the tracks which mostly reflected the original tracks by Bell Monks over more than 100 minutes of sonic material. The quality of selected items is extremely high. Sometimes you could have the impression that melodic lines of different tracks are very similar or almost identical - you could notice some resemblances between the lines of the lovely "Whirling Halves" and "Beacon E23" for instance - and many moments could sound like melancholic lullabies, but listeners will get instantaneously immersed by the slow catchy and wisely processed guitar chords, the sparse melodies whose sonic grasps got mirrored by the eloquent cover artwork that has been chosen for this selection. The compositional process is undoubtedly similar to the way by which Brian Eno and some similar artists in the dawn of ambient music followed, but you could find some similarities to other contemporary stuff (primarily Tor Lundvall - check tracks like "Electric Light" or the entrancing "Ether Limning" - or some artists in the roster of 12k singing interesting crossovers between field recordings and ambient - particularly in the last part of the album -) dealing with isolationist and meditative electronic music. Recommended for swimming in private mental or emotional pool.

David Grubbs: Prismrose

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Sep 04 2016
Artist: David Grubbs
Title: Prismrose
Format: 12"
Label: Blue Chopsticks (@)
Rated: *****
Now almost better known as a writer, after his impressive "Records Ruin the Landscape", Prismrose reminds about one of the figures that built the genre known as post-rock. However, instead of returning on paths already taken, this albums is mostly a guitar-only one, featuring only the drums of Eli Keszler and the voice of the author as an exception, and could be seen as an exploration, or a return, of a classical form in music: the piece for guitar.
The long opening track of this release, "How to Hear What's Less than Meets the Ear", reminds to a rock form that is canonical at a sound level but is avant at harmonic level: an almost simple melodic guitar arpeggio is developed by variation in the first part until is transformed in a chord leading the entrance of the others instruments. "Cheery Eh" is a guitar meditation vaguely based upon classical tunes for guitar while "Learned Astronomer" is a proper song. "Manifesto in Clear Language" oscillates between meditative moment and harsher ones using the some notes with a clear sound or a distorted one. "Nightfall in the Covered Cage" is a quiet piece for guitar and "The Bonsai Waterfall" sounds like his prosecution as if the previous piece was for single notes, this features open chords in the first part, the second part, which juxtaposes a distorted guitar line, closes this release with the fading of the amplifier.
This release underlines the writing quality of David Grubbs that publish a record that could seem far for any ground-breaking moments but reveal a concern for form which is really rare these days. For the ones which doesn't listen only "the next big thing".

Erlend Apneseth Trio: Det Andre Rommet

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Sep 03 2016
Artist: Erlend Apneseth Trio (@)
Title: Det Andre Rommet
Format: CD
Label: Hubro (@)
Rated: *****
The almost incessant work in digging into interesting musical artifacts in the Norwegian improvisational scene by Hubro brought to the discovery of another fantastic release, signed by a trio named after the most prominent instrument player in this output, the young fiddler Erlend Apneseth, whose style of performing on Hardanger fiddler manages to mantle listeners by evoking symphonies that often seem hanging in between Norwegian and Japanese musical traditions. He involved Øyvind Hegg-Lunde (drummer of Electric Eye, Building Instrument - we already talked about this awesome project - and José González) and Stephan Meidell (guitarist of Cakewalk and Krachmaker), who already joined him for the last track of the critically acclaimed album "Blikkspor", the impressive debut by Erlend. They enhanced Erlend's performance by unobtrusive details that embellished any moment of this album, where Erlend shields the powerful hooks of his music over a broad set of different semblances: the opening "Trollsuiten" is going to immerse listener in an enchanted set, where the lukewarm heating of a bonfire sets the stage for the discovery of forgotten Nordic legends, inspired by the vaguely oriental nuances of "Sapporo", the flowing symphonies of "Dialog", the charming meeting of organic and electronic entities in "under Isen", the rising dissonant title track "Det Andre Rommet", the folk breezes of "St.Thomas klokkene", the flipping percussive medley of "Natkatt", the surprising veer towards Radiohead-like declension of rock in the lovely "Magma", the reprise of spores of all the above-mentioned influences on "Hugskot" and the blissful finale on "Draum Om Regn". Highly recommended listening experience!

Song Circus: Anatomy of Sound

 Posted by Steve Mecca   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 29 2016
Artist: Song Circus (@)
Title: Anatomy of Sound
Format: CD + DVD
Label: Lindberg Lyd /2L (@)
Rated: *****
Song Circus is a five-piece female vocal chamber ensemble from Stravanger, Norway led by Liv Runesdatter. 'Anatomy of Sound' is comprised of two works - "Landscape with Figures," composed by Reuben Sverre Gjertsen, who also supplies the electronics for the piece, and
the second work - "Persefone" by Ole Henrik Moe. I should mention that the latter work is an acoustic piece written for five female voice and wine glasses. Already from the little that I've mentioned you must be getting the impression that this is serious avant-garde modern classical music, and you'd be absolutely correct in that assumption, but what you will actually hear here subtly takes sound beyond the confines and preconceived notions of what you've ever experienced before. For your listening pleasure, you have two options - (it is a two disc set) Blue-ray surround sound (your choice of three different modes), or SACD. I found the Blu-ray to be the most rewarding experience, putting the sublime into perspective and best emulating a live performance scenario, although even the SACD will give you a wonderful sonic experience.

The collaborative "Landscape with Figures" took four years for Song Circus to work out with Reuben Sverre Gjertsen, and it's an epic 45 minute excursion into what voices and electronics can accomplish together. As the liner notes state: "The composition stretches the limits of tonal flexability and microtonal precision." Gjertsen studied Wishart and Ferneyhoug (New Complexity) for their systems of notation and composition to achieve this (yes, all the music was actually scored, not merely improvised) so you know this is pretty heady stuff.

Although not required, a familiarity with works by such composers as Morton Feldman, John Cage, George Crumb, Edgard Varese, Anton Webern, Harry Partch, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio and others in this field would be helpful, but not essential in appreciating these works. While not musique concrète in the strictest sense, "Landscape with Figures" does seem to have sonic similarities - episodic and sporadic events in both vocals and electronics, radical sound characteristic variations, and impressions of extensive electronic manipulation of both voice and synthesizer. The voices however have not been electronically altered (to my knowledge) but some of the vocal techniques employed may give one that impression. The best way of describing "Landscape" is an aural dreamworld that sometimes mixes natural ambient (although no field recordings were employed) with snippets of other-worldly elements, and also whispers. Vocally, the composition ranges from onomatpoetic utterings to seductive, siren-like glissandoes. Electronically, well, much of it is what you'd expect in an avant-garde composition of this nature, and some of it is not. There is almost no concession to anything musically traditional, and the multitude of electronic variation used ranges from passages of subtle drone to bit of random sample and hold, tinkling belliish tones, something that sounds like a sink drain being unclogged, gong-like sonorities, and random orchestral elements that aren't actually orchestral. There is no rhythm; just a multitude of events that float along occasionally combining and intertwining leaving the listeners to form their own impression. The majority of this work is low-key and jarring events are in the minority. It never seems chaotic, cacophonous or claustrophobic, but rather playful and open, even though it can be a little alien at times. A portion of this piece uses combined fragments of anagrams from a passage of Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" vocally, but don't expect that to be prominent in the listening experience. The piece is also divided into 12 tracks (sections) but you'd be hard-pressed to separate one from the next. In fact, it slips so seamlessly into "Persefone" that you'd hardly know you were on to another composition.

Ole Henrik Moe's "Persefone,' the piece for five voice and wine glasses, is radically different from the preceding work, being a textural study of vocal sound, dynamics and microtonality inspired by Morton Feldman. The description in the liner notes say " the first part he stretches silence and slowness so far that any sense of a horizontal timeline dissolves into a music of state." That's pretty much on off mark. It will be difficult to discern the sustained voices from the wine glasses here. Voice and glass harmonize in a mostly smooth 12 minute moan that has little in the way of hiccups until
near the end. After listening it is easy to hear why this composition was included in the recording.

I readily admit that most of my interest in avant-garde modern music stemmed from an earlier time when I was ever so curious about music that did not conform to convention and transcended traditional form. 'Anatomy of Sound' however has rekindled a spark for this kind of thing, being some of the best "new music" I've heard in a long, long while. While the performers and composers are to be lauded for these works, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and discerning listeners are sure to be rewarded, especially with the proper playback equipment.

Kim Myhr & Jenny Hval ft.Trondheim Jazz Orchestra: In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 28 2016
Artist: Kim Myhr & Jenny Hval ft.Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (@)
Title: In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper
Format: CD
Label: Hubro (@)
Rated: *****
While listening to this lovely release, the result of a collaboration between inventive improviser, performer and guitarist Kim Myhr and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, where Kim himself invited Jenny Hval to borrow her eerie vocals, you could guess they used they made a wrong gender agreement in the use of possessive adjective due to the significant part played by a voice that enchanted many listeners all over the world in critically acclaimed albums such as "Apocalypse, girl" (2015, Sacred Bones) and "Innocence is Kinky" (2013, Rune Grammofon) as well as in many different collaborative projects (particularly the ones with Jessica Sligter and Håvard Volden - Nude on Sand -). In reality the title "In the End His Voice Will Be The Sound of Paper", which could have no real connection to what you're going to listen and has no reference to the way of speaking/singing by Jenny, got inspired by a conversation about the aging of Bob Dylan's voice. Jenny's voice got astonishingly colour-changing over the wisely crafted atmospheres of the album: the 12 chords of Kim's guitar and other instrumental elements - Christian Wallumrod's piano, Tor Haugerud's drums and Morten Olsen's percussions above all - sound like rendering the intricate web of tree's branches of a dense woodland in tracks like the opening "Seed" or the entrancing "The Beak", where Jenny's voice sound like flying as a blind bird; she could vaguely resemble the languid and somehow sorrowful intensity by Beth Gibbons over some moments of "Something New"; she sings like an invisible nymph on songs like the gently trembling "Soft As Tongues" or the lovely final elegy of "Silence a Beat". Premiered at the Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival in 2012 - it was described as a musical combination of improvisation, contemporary Feldmanian music, pop and spoken words on that occasion -, recorded at Rainbow Studio in Oslo in August 2014 and finally mixed at Amper Tone Studio together with technician Johnny Skalleberg, Jenny described the compositional approach and the whole collaborative experience as well as her own part for this release as follows: "Kim gave me a lot of sketches and music, I wrote the melody and lyrics, and we improvised. This is a collaborative effort, even if it is mostly Kim’s music. It’s his artistic vision, and it was a great honour for me to be able to take part in it, because you can learn a lot by working with fantastic people. Sometimes I feel that improvised and abstract music is trying desperately to avoid the emotional elements that can be inherent in the music. This was something I thought a lot about when we were going to work with this recording. That’s why I wanted to write romantic lyrics. There is a sense of longing in these lyrics. I wanted to combine something charming, in both the lyrics and the melody, something that wants to be loved, with this more abstract and fragmentary music. I’m interested in vulnerability; the music must have a kind of vulnerability at some level.".
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