Music Reviews

Mike Cooper: Tropical Gothic

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 03 2018
Artist: Mike Cooper
Title: Tropical Gothic
Format: LP
Label: Discrepant
Mike Cooper uses his collection of guitars as a primary sound source, but wraps and envelops them in thick processing and ambience to create ‘ambient exotica soundscapes’. This release takes those soundscapes and fuses them back with more conventional instrumental song structures, sometimes bordering on pop, resulting in a rather idiosyncratic whole with a quite distinct flavour. While ‘exotica’ might sometimes bring with it connotations like ‘kitsch’ and ‘cheese’, more often than not this is a brooding collection of sonics from the underbelly of the same soundworld.

The first side of the LP is made up of eight short tracks, some just vignettes, ranging from the quirky Hawaiian-tinged lounge vibe of “Running Naked” to the slightly sinister ambiences of “Shindo’s Blues”.

The second side of the LP is entirely given over to the 18-minute piece “Legong / Gods Of Bali”, a more immersive wallowing in bells and reverb and gentle exotic rhythms that’s quite mesmerising if just sometimes shading a little too close to the ‘Glastonbury wigged-out hippy tent’ vibe.

Distinctive and full of character, it’s an unusual dark twist on tropical tones that tells its own story and tells it well.

Lars Graugaard, Grup Instrumental De Valencia, Joan Cervero: Engage And Share

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 01 2018
Artist: Lars Graugaard, Grup Instrumental De Valencia, Joan Cervero
Title: Engage And Share
Format: CD + Download
Label: Kairos
Though recorded in 2017 and released in 2018, and although driven by some intriguing computer-based technology for spontaneous real-time composition, “Engage And Share” reminds me of 1960’s avantgarde classical music. A relatively conventional orchestral set-up, showcasing but but overly deferential to Graugaard’s work as a flautist, is instructed to break their melodic mould and work with contrasts between dischord and ambience, chaos and emptiness, with a blend of musical proficiency and energetic theatrics that makes it sound fresh.

After the title track feels like it wouldn’t sound out of place soundtracking different sections of Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey”, second piece “Slonk” has a faintly more militaristic and urgent tone driven by low piano rolls and curt repetitive brass that gradually fades away into melancholy. Final piece “Blind Lemon” returns to the expressive ebb and flow approach, driven more by string this time and with a subsequently more silent-movie flavour in parts.

What once would have seemed musically cutting-edge and challenging now seems almost nostalgic but there’s certainly no harm in that here. Modern classical music is, on this evidence, alive and well.

Mose: Film Musik

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Sep 27 2018
Artist: Mose
Title: Film Musik
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Klangbad
Not actually music from films, but more of a calling card 26-track sampler demonstrating what the five-piece Mose could come up with if ever asked to soundtrack a film, “Film Musik” is a collection of almost-always-instrumental musical vignettes. The source instrumentation is bluesy, rootsy guitar plucking and acoustic work with shades of jazz, that often sits quite comfortably in instrumental song and ballad territory (“uberland”, “fatigue”, the two “monolog” tracks). At other times there’s a more ambient and atmospheric approach where elements are allowed to meander more casually (“pause sucree”, “triptychon”, “perdu”, “am rand”).

In either case it’s consistently melancholic and downtempo, brooding slow motion material that does seem so spacious that it shows a deliberate intent to leave space for visuals.

The brief arrival of vocals on “molto prestuoso” is a welcome new element but doesn’t shake proceedings up at all, keeping things strictly bluesy. “Fallsucht” is a notable highlight, adopting a more heartbeat-esque pulsing groove that is a real foot-tapper.

Somewhere out there there’s a director or editor making a moody, introspective road movie that contrasts inner turmoil against beautiful landscapes, and this is the soundtrack they haven’t yet realised they need.

Miman: Ulme

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Sep 15 2018
Artist: Miman (@)
Title: Ulme
Format: CD
Label: Motvind
Rated: *****
The talented Norwegian musician Hans Kjorstad (starting his musical path when he played the violin at the age of 7 in Fron in Gudbrandsdalen, a small Norwegian village, that has a lively folk music scene) recently established his personal imprint Motvind - as a sister company to the Motvind Festival - by releasing the debut album by Miman, a trio he founded together with Egil Kalman (playing double bass and synthesizer) and Andreas Røysum (playing guitar and a clarinet). According to the notes (...and we have no reason to not trust them!), these three folks recorded "Ulme" with the support of Magnus Nergaard over three days in March 2017 during which they improvised in front of a fireplace (as you can guess by the title of the first song "Omkring Ilden", meaning "around the fire") in a cabin in the woods north of Oslo. Wood and fire are important elements of the set, as it seems the musicians constantly gave voice to them by means of scratches, hits, creaking noises, which don't disturb the delicate melodies on which they pop out like fairy entities or maybe like those mushrooms in the sylvan undergrowth of the nice cover artwork. Such an aural organization, combining flakes of electronics and acoustics leaning on a ground of references to Norwegian, British and Indian traditional sonorities, is particularly clear on "De Vises Club", the more extended track of the album, but it's clear on the other tracks - where they often change the way by which they assemble sounds - as well, covering a wide range going from quite abstract and almost not-musical improvisations ("Torre", "Skarvor") and bluesy moments ("VÄgen Ut") to the pastoral delicate transcendence of "Walden" - a reference to the masterpiece by Thoreau? I recommend to enjoy it while driving over lovely natural sets, as I did while driving around the pre-Apennine areas close to Bologna if you like driving without fearing twists and turns! - and the lovely reverie of the closing "Plaums Draum".

Rothenberg / Hein / Tammen: Bird Saw Buchla

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Sep 10 2018
Artist: Rothenberg / Hein / Tammen
Title: Bird Saw Buchla
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Clang
There’s a purist streak to the way these three musicians have brought their own instruments- primilarly clarinet, guitar and a 70’s vintage Buchla music easel- to bear as equal thirds of this almost-hour-long collection of improvised works that sit on the border of avantgarde jazz and experimental electronic soundscaping. Sometimes toying with their own instruments, for example playing a guitar using saw motors rubbing the strings, at times it sounds like three decidedly introspective noise-makers whose simultaneous audability is more coincidence than design; at other points, there’s a clearer sense of musical responsiveness between the performers.

“Then Cry All Birds And Fishes” is a prime example of the latter, an expertly moderated nine-minute work of slow tension and build. In pieces like “Now In Sad Autumn” there’s strength in contrasts, the clarinet expressing the titular seasonal rustic melancholy but offset against bleeps, whirrs and scratches that map out a different path. One of the most interesting bits of soundscaping comes in final track “A Solitary Bird”, which at first glance appears to be a found sound cliché that reveals itself to be imitation bird noises constructed from oscillations that gradually devolve and lose their disguise while the Buchla steps out a sort of proto-techno pattern.

I’m very fond of the tonal qualities of clarinets, but even I have to admit that it perhaps over-dominates here at times. In mixing terms I might have liked to hear some of the rumblier electronic noises brought to the forefront, but they’re often crushed- obviously doing interesting stuff that’s buried underneath the bassier tones of a clarinet that does sometimes does everything except stop. There is some respite though, “Cold Pale Eyes Pour Tears” a successful example of what occurs when the balance shifts.

There are some deeply intriguing ideas at play here and it’s very well executed, certainly a release worth scratching beyond the surface of.
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