Music Reviews

Splashgirl: Sixth Sense

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 14 2018
Artist: Splashgirl
Title: Sixth Sense
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hubro
Splashgirl’s sixth album in just over ten years is the sound of a confident post-jazz trio (piano, bass, and drums) willing to both stick to what they know and experiment a little further in equal measure.

After relatively conventional openers “Carrier” and “Broken”, joining the melée of rolling piano key arrays, deep bass plucking and dynamic impulsive drum work comes banks of synth sounds, glittering over the top like a kind of aggressive re-take on Tangerine Dream. Bold and broad-sounding synth atmospherics give a wide, quite soundtrack-y feel, most notably in the title track.

There’s overt melodrama in tracks like “Monsoon”, and exercises in emptier space such as “Half Self”.

It’s a confident bit of experimental jazz that adopts synthetic layers with great ease. I might say it’s more proficient than it is powerful but it exudes a cool quality that’s hard to match.

Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger: Linz

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 08 2018
Artist: Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger
Title: Linz
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Shameless
“Linz” is a live concert recording from early 2017 from a duo who’ve been performing together for 15 years- though from the extremely prog rock stylings and noodlings, you might think this had dropped straight out of the late 1970’s. Were it not for the sharp digital edge on some of the keyboard sounds, you could believe it had fallen through time.

Didi Kern’s virtuoso drumming is the main focus here, across two fourteen-minute-ish long pieces full of tempo shifts and complex pattern changes. Substantial parts of it are like drum solo show-off material, so much so that as an ex-drummer myself it’s almost tiring to listen to it, but Kern isn’t ashamed to drop into steadier 4/4 rock grooves every now and again.

Meanwhile Philipp Quehenberger plays synths, organ-style noises in dark arrangements of long drones and complex opinion-dividing chords and discords, with occasional twists into Rick Wakeman-esque arpeggios and flourishes that tend to run in strong parallel with the drums, jointly frenetic at times, more subdued- but never excessively so- at others, but with neither performer ever really taking a true lead or solo for more than a few seconds at a time.

You can tell it’s a live recording- not because it sounds poor, but the sonic quality is unmistakable, especially in the drumming which seems to have been recorded with a relatively small number of microphones, is a touch muddy, and whether intentionally or not, is further to the forefront than the keyboards which is a bit unusual. You also get the occasional audience member screaming “yeah!” or whistling at the rockier bits.

Fans of Yes and similar indulgent prog rock music will appreciate this as something new but decidedly in the old style.

The Pitch & Splitter Orchester: Frozen Orchestra (Splitter)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 01 2018
Artist: The Pitch & Splitter Orchester
Title: Frozen Orchestra (Splitter)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Mikroton
Splitter Orchester’s latest ‘collaboration’ is a slight over-statement since three of the four members of The Pitch are Splitter Orchester members already so it wouldn’t be a stretch to call this a Splitter Orchester release.

And what it is, is an exactly 60-minute single piece of slow arhythmic ambience, tone, drone performed by 23 performers predominantly on traditional instruments (multiple clarinets, cello, tuba, piano, guitar and more) but with the prominent use of oscillators, electronics and live tape-to-tape manipulation that gives us a genuine hybrid of modern experimental orchestral work. Performers play supremely long sustained notes and chords that meander in and out in randomised waves and the evolution is formed from the changes in layer combination.

Around a third of the way through some of the guitar plucking borders on the percussive, as do a handful of piano notes in the final third, but these are subtle exceptions to an otherwise very consistently enveloped and ebbing performance where chance, of which there is plenty, is so gradual and morphic that you aren’t even conscious that it is happening. The planning feels exemplary, from the opening slow builds to the warmer more resolution-laden quiet ending.

It’s bold and striking and I wish I were able to see it performed live, where I’m sure the mesmeric power of it would increase. It’s not in itself afforded of many new ideas, but that’s not a criticism- an object doesn’t have to have originality to be beautiful, and that’s what this piece really is, albeit in that dark and unsettling way that adds the extra layer of intrigue that can sometimes be the icing on the cake.

Ben Bertrand: NGC 1999

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 30 2018
Artist: Ben Bertrand
Title: NGC 1999
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Les Albums Claus
Belgian bass clarinetist Ben Bertrand’s debut album is comprised of 31 minutes of melding some pure clarinet work with electronic processing, looping and drone effects. A mixture of positive and more melancholic melodic meandering drifts over long sustained minimalist tones. Some pitch up-shifting generates some glittery higher tones as well, giving a nice well-rounded balance.

In opener “Orion Molecular Cloud”, the drone layer is processed in such a way that it sounds far more like a didgeridoo than a clarinet- for better or worse, depending on your opinion of didgeridoos. Though it makes claim to reference a variety of ethnic styles, that’s probably about as ethnic as it really gets, frankly sounding quite Western and middle-class otherwise- not intending that as a disservice of course.

There’s a perky jauntiness to “V380 Orionis” that’s quite refreshing, before “Malkauns On Kitt Peak” adopts a more familiar, earnest, chin-stroking modern classical grimness. The two approaches mix together on “Sanctus Hubble”, with its quite bouncy echo-laden staccato rhythm parts meeting the cold-jazz-like clarinet work.

“Post Scriptum to Valentina Terechkova” (the Russian cosmonaut) introduces some whispered vocals over quite a barren and electronic soundscape where the clarinet often feels completely subsumed, as such feeling like the piece that most wholly steps into the album’s space theme.

There’s an assured simplicity to it all that certainly justifies references to Steve Reich. It perhaps falls between two stools somewhat, neither long and truly minimalist enough to reach that feeling of emotional transcendence, but it’s a very appealing and polished- albeit simply too short- bit of work.

Ernesto Diaz-Infante: The Lover's Escape (Los Amantes Escapan)

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 22 2018
Artist: Ernesto Diaz-Infante (@)
Title: The Lover's Escape (Los Amantes Escapan)
Format: CD
Label: Kendra Steiner Editions (@)
Rated: *****
This new release by the Californian guitarist is based on a different framework compared to "Manitas": while the former is a long, and spectral, piece based on a political stance, this one sounds more as a personal portrait. From a musical perspective, this release is a proper showcase of the way of playing developed from the initial use of strumming to his most recent, and quieter, release where he explores the use of silence.
The album is articulated in three long tracks: "Hold me in a deep sleep", based on quiet and slow notes, immersed in pure silence, searching for a long release of the instrument with the result of almost hiding in the environment instead of surrounding the listener. "Watching your eyes awake" is based on the same principles but using chords and a certain reverb and it's perhaps even slower in its development giving time to contemplate the sustain. After all this quietness, "Off into the wilderness where we walk with no gravity" is a strumming song where a rainbow of nuances appears from an apparent stillness, hypnotizing the listener.
The apparently trivial movement of the three parts from sparse notes to strumming is the key element of a poetic oriented to the personal depiction of everyday's feeling rather than rhetorical statements. Recommended but listen with care.
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