Music Reviews

Collateral Nature: Smoky Backbone

 Posted by eskaton   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Dec 27 2016
Artist: Collateral Nature (@)
Title: Smoky Backbone
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Beat Machine Records (@)
Rated: *****
I had not heard of this act before, but it is an Italian duo consisting of Claudio Vittori and Paolo Gozzetti, with some others thrown in for good measure. As the press sheet describes it, this album moves “through smooth jazzy vibes and gently electronic scenarios” and “ranges from trip hop remembrances to dance floor vibes passing through nu jazz perceptions and UK sound memories.” Fair enough. Let’s put it on the turntable. This is pretty straightforward jazzy lounge music with sultry female vocals. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke and cheap whisky as you picture the dive bar in which they are playing. Synth organ, drums, and vocals make for a pretty solid combination. Still, I found it to be well constructed but nothing that really blew me away. There didn’t feel like there was much experimentation, leaving the end result feeling a bit sterile. The high point on the album was the powerful vocals by Jaia Sowden on “Tribal Tattoo,” which closes the album on a high point. Next up, we have the remixes by Wandl, Werkha, H-SIK, and Yellowtail. Generally, remixes are too conservative for my taste and tend to stick too close to the original. Thankfully, this is not the case here. Each of these remixes are much more complex and interesting than the original. For example, H-SIK brings some glitch to the table and Yellowtail trades in the organ for guitar with the drums and vocals for a more frantic feel. Given the choice between the two, I would dump the originals and go with the remixes.

Antoine Chessex, Apartment House & Jérôme Noetinger: Plastic Concrete / Accumulation

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Dec 09 2016
Artist: Antoine Chessex, Apartment House & Jérôme Noetinger
Title: Plastic Concrete / Accumulation
Format: CD
Label: Bocian Records
This pan-European collaboration, recorded live, has an almost traditional avantgarde feel to it, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. It follows a mould of loose, improvised and wilfully unpredictable experimental jazz and classical music that has existed for decades, and manages to be both classical and jazz in parts. Noetinger’s electronics bring additional modern digital surprises, but these are twists of lemon in an otherwise fairly familiar cup of tea.

After a spiky first five minutes, “Plastic Concrete” settles into suspended drones reminiscent of György Ligeti, with the cello and brass performances being pushed to their natural limits. The electronics return to the fore towards the end, with more use of what sounds like radio signals and everyday foley blended into something unrecognisable.

Recorded over a year apart, the Apartment House ensemble is a different line-up between the two pieces, with only the cellist in common. On the second and longer piece “Accumulation”, the brass and bass have gone, and the extra violins and a viola added give things a more familiar avantgarde-string-quartet-like sound. The super-slow glissandos and fluctuations and the wavering between chord and discord are hypnotic, treading a fine line between mesmeric and uncomfortable. The abrupt stabby staccatos make a brief return halfway through, before a staggered extended outro of arpeggios gradually descending in energy to an unexpectedly soporific close.

This is an unusual and enjoyable collection of two very cultured, semi-improvised pieces of music that’s “avant-garde” and “post-modern”, but in ways that resurface the old naive question, is it truly avant-garde if people have been doing this for decades?

Spaceheads: Laughing Water

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 29 2016
Artist: Spaceheads
Title: Laughing Water
Format: CD + Download
Label: Electric Brass Records (@)
“Laughing Water” is a half hour mini-album that introduces the band’s new member Vincent Bertholet and his double bass, to the two existing members, Andy Diagram on live brass loops and Richard Harrison on percussion. The result is a jazzy affair which sounds like they’ve been playing together for many years. It’s a very natural and comfortable mix.

At times it’s energetic and very danceable- “Quantum Shuffle” is great fun. At other points, like “Aire De Rhone”, it’s more mellow and firmly in chill-out territory. Other tracks, like “Octopus” and “Pedalo Power”, are more quirky and playful, and in an introspective world of their own.

Besides the three-piece jazz elements, there are other production touches sparingly throughout- the sound of running water on the title track, unsurprisingly enough, and FM-style crackly radio overdubs on “Be Calmed”- but these are incidental little polishes. The trio of musicians is not only the core, but for the most part the entirety of the sound. The trumpet is carefully digitally treated and processed in sympathetic and interesting ways, the double bass and drums are largely kept ‘pure’.

“Machine Molle” has an unusual “everybody needs a piece of the world to find peace in the world” vocal refrain is a bit of an anomaly, but a real nod towards what Spaceheads could accomplish if they fleshed out to be a full-on modern equivalent of Sun Ra’s Arkestra.

If I was forced to put this release into one category it would have to be jazz, but I’d still heartily recommend it to fans of electro-swing, Cinematic Orchestra, Heritage Orchestra and beyond.

Sparkle in Grey: Brahim Izdag

 Posted by Steve Mecca   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 27 2016
Artist: Sparkle in Grey (@)
Title: Brahim Izdag
Format: CD + Download
Label: Old Bicycle Records (@)
Rated: *****
My only prior experience with Sparkle in Grey was 'Perversions of the Aging Savant,' a split album with Controlled Bleeding which I reviewed last year. According to Sparkle in Grey, the music on 'Brahim Izdag' was recorded during their sessions for 'Thursday Evening' and the aforementioned CB split album (but obviously without any Controlled Bleeding) and is the final part of the triptych. For those unfamiliar with Sparkle in Grey, they were formed in 2005 in Milan, Italy and their memebers include Matteo Uggeri, Cristiano Lupo, Alberto Carozzi and Franz Krostopovic who play violin, bass, laptop electronics, guitar, bagpipes, piano, polyrhythmic drums, melodica, field recordings, harsh noises and a bicycle. The 14 songs on this album incorporate rhythms, influences, samples, instruments, voices from other lands which include Uzbekistan, Senega, Cameroon, Brazil, Brianza, Ireland, Jamaica, Italy, UK, China, Ethiopia, Scotland, Montenegro, Ukraine, Marche, Libya, Balkans, Egypt, Bali, France and USA. A real world music potpourri if there ever was one. Not only that, but they also invited a variety of guest artists from around the world to participate- Zachcharia Diatta (a singer from Dakar), Yan Jun ('chinoiser' from Beijing), Osvaldo Arioldi Schwartz (founding member of Officine Schwartz), Bernardo Carvalho (Portuguese artist who did the album cover), Enrico Coniglio (Venetian field recordist), and Danilo Donninelli (from the Marche regional traditional band Traballo). Now about the album title and cover - Brahim Izdag - a real person, a Moroccan skier who took part in the 1992 winter Olympics. Apparently the guy fell down so many times that when he finally reached the finish line, he fell down again and didn't even bother to cross it. This ought to tell you a little something about Sparkle in Grey's sense of humor, but also a testament to those who can't find a place in their field regardless of the investiture of their efforts. And Sparkle in Grey find some kinship in that.

As for the music on 'Brahim Izdag,' it would take ten times longer than the preamble I've just covered to describe it all in any detail, so here is a condensed synopsis. An ambient turned noisy intro heralds in the opening track, "Samba Lombarda" which is a neat guitar-led improvisational rhythmic jam that could have gone on for three times as long and I wouldn't have minded. "Iurop is a Madness" (Pts 1 & 2) both feature Zachcharia Diatta rapping in his native tongue over a Jamaican dub groove that turns into quite something else in Part 2 where Diatta's vocals are more singing than rapping. "Gobbastan" is a 3-part work that begins with some gypsy violin improv over water until the encroaching distorted guitar takes over. After that it settles into a bass-fueled groove over which you can hear a foreign voice somewhat angrily ranting in the background, with sweet gypsy violin playing along. The effect is like a block party in a multi-cultured ghetto. The guitar picks up a definitive theme, then the mode of the music changes once again. Now there is some subtle psychedelic influence in a semi-quiet passage, and what sounds like a theremin or maybe bowed saw takes the lead ushering it out. For "Grey Riot" it sounds like Sparkle in Grey invited The Dubliners and The Pogues for their own version of The Clash's "White Riot". There's a voice-over I can't make out, children, and a big pub party on the chorus. "Tripoli" is a melancholic folk number amidst the weapons of war. "Song for Clair Patterson" is a combination of ambient and free jazz with sustained horn and violin notes that eventually coalesces into a sort of low-key groove. "Minka Minka" begins with a tick-tock rhythm that's embellished upon with reggae-Slavic glee, and you can just use your imagination to fathom that one. Title track "Brahim Izdag" has three parts- the first led in by a sampled Moroccan music loop, then a strong guitar lead over a jazz-rock groove; the second more intense with guitar and violin fighting for dominance over an increasingly aggressive drumkit, eventually simmering down into a sweet-sad melodic stew. I didn't hear anything at all in the last 4-second track titled "There's a Riot Goin' On" so I presume the riot was called off and everybody just went home.

This is about as diverse as an album gets- a hodge-podge of world music influences cooked up in a largely improvisational stew, spiced with a little madness. Not all of it is for everyone, but many may like a good chunk of it. For me, it's one of those things I'll trot out occasionally to listen to when I'm in the mood for something completely different, for that, it surely is.

Treyverb: A Year Without Words

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 18 2016
Artist: Treyverb
Title: A Year Without Words
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Silber Records (@)
Guitarist Trey McManus (The Drag, King Of Prussia) offers up a 4-track, 26-minute solo instrumental EP that’s a homage to shoegaze and dream pop. It’s lethargically paced, casually looping, and it stretches the standard indie bass-drums-guitar set-up into an ethereal space that’s half sleepy melancholy ambience, half a tired angst.

There’s a polish to the edges of the production, with brief samples and atmospheres and not suited to anyone who’s allergic to reverb, but the core of it is fairly purist, mostly untweaked, guitar performance that recalls some of Mark Knopfler’s more abstract and moody pieces. In parts, such as on “Twin Velvet”, it’s rather twangy and almost country-music-esque in its tone. “Sunset Stripe” had me recalling Brian Eno’s “Another Green World”, albeit without a piano.

Depending on your frame of mind, this EP will either be at best an immersive and cathartic late-night listening experience, or at worst self-indulgent bit of twiddly guitar noodling that’ll wash over you inoffensively.
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