Music Reviews

IKB: Dracaena Draco

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 01 2017
Artist: IKB
Title: Dracaena Draco
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
I finally managed to listen to the missing item of a sort of trilogy/tetralogy that IKB Ensemble, a copious ensemble of improvisers grouped by Ernesto Rodrigues, performed between 2012 and 2014. This one, named after the so-called dragon-tree (many of you maybe saw them in the Canary Islands), includes two sessions held in the same place - St.George's Church in Lisbon, the only Anglican one in the Portuguese capital city - in two different moments. Each CD includes the recording of those improv sessions - the first occurring on 13th October 2012, the second on 9th November 2014 -, performed by slightly different musicians. As for the releases I already introduced signed by IKB ("Monochrome Bleu Sans Titre" and "Rhinoceros"), it's better to highlight the fact that the number of involved musicians could be a somehow misleading piece of information, as their sound is other than a bulky instrumental condensate. The line-up somehow affects the sound of each session, as you'll notice the one recorded in 2014 tend to be more electroacoustic (featuring in details and in no particular order: Maria Radich's voice, Armando Pereira on accordion, Paulo Curado on flute, Eduardo Chagas on trombone, Yaw Tembe on trumpet, Nuno Torres on alto saxophone, Guilherme Rodrigues on cello, Bruno Parrinha on alto clarinet, Rodrigo Pinheiro on organ, Ernesto Rodrigues on viola, Miguel Mira on double bass, Jose Oliveira on acoustic guitar, Nuno Morao on percussions, Gil Goncalves on tuba and flugabone, Carlos Santos manoeuvring a computer, Abdul Moimeme on electric guitar, Marian Yanchyk on violin and Joao Silva on a Feng Gong and Tibetan bells), while the blend of piercing pure radio frequencies and the dizzying dissonances of the session recorded in 2012 has a more "electronic" approach (there were more or less the same musicians involved in that session, but there were also Paulo Raposo on radio-driven electronics, Christian Wolfarth on cymbals, a wider set of percussions and percussionists, Pedro Sousa on tenor and baritone saxophones, Ricardo Guerreiro siding Carlos Santos on computers and Eduardo Rodrigues performed on harp instead of viola). There could be some analogy with the mentioned tree: both the session seems to proceed very slowly (just like the growth of a Dracaena Draco or only drago -!-), the instrumental elements appears to group in a seemingly nervous tangle (close to the intricate web of lower branches of that tree) and the general atmosphere of the sessions evokes something in between mysterious and sinister (many alchemists and magicians looked for that tree, whose red sticky resin was so red and dense that was apparently referred as "the blood of a dragon"!).

Quentin Sirjacq: far islands and near places

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 23 2017
Artist: Quentin Sirjacq
Title: far islands and near places
Format: CD
Label: Schole (@)
Rated: *****
While introducing Akira Kosemura's "One Day", I was saying that 2016 was a great year for his imprint Schole. Even if there are more chances European and American readers will find it the version produced by Karaoke Kalk, here it is another release that fully justifies my feedback about this Japanese label - Japan itself was a source of inspiration for most of the tracks of this output -. Premiered one year ago in Lisbon, "Far Islands and Near Places" is the album by which French pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Quentin Sirjacq further enhanced the intense emotionality of his piano-driven sound by means of three guessed choices: the first one is the integration in the line-up of talented percussionist Arnaud Lassus, whose performance on marimba, vibraphone, and glockenspiel manages to highlight the dynamics of Sirjacq's declension of pianism, the second choice is the inclusion of electric piano and Fender Rhodes that Quentin combined to his beloved piano, two new entries that the French musician matches to "a certain musical style and era (namely 'amplified music' which began in the mid-twentieth century, from pop to electronic music)", according to his own explanatory words. The third "expedient" is the one that Quentin referred as "creative mixing" and its primary goal is acting as a bridge between "a modern aspect linked to technological devices and an old fashioned one based on piano and percussion which is not as contemporary." Besides the appreciated analytical explanation of its author, what matters is the beauty of the final result. There are some stylistic similarities of course: the opening "Aquarius" could resemble some compositions by notorious musicians like Niels Frahm or Yann Tiersen and the following and "Bodies", the delicate housey tune that follows, made me think of some stuff by Trentemoller or Matthew Herbert (a musical memory, the last one, maybe influenced by the soundalike of Sirjacq's track with Herbert's "Bodily Functions", one of his more famous albums). tracks like the daydreaming "Far Islands" or the delicate charm of the final "A Dream in a Dream" get closer to the style of the above-mentioned Kosemura and the nostalgic romanticism of "It's Raining In My House" make me think to some of the piano versions of the main theme of Last Tango In Paris (a reverie of a romantic meeting in a Paris cafe during a rainy autumn afternoon is almost logical during the listening of this lovely track), but besides all the possible connections that someone could find, Sirjacq's third album is simply an excellent release by which the author serves the purpose of contemporary music, according to his analysis and belief: "I believe the music of today should allow us to care more about our inner life and self-understanding in order to become more peaceful individuals and more able to acknowledge the complexity and mystery of the human condition". The only bug I found during the listening of "Far Islands and Near Places" is the typo of the plural for 'wolf' in the CD-text and printed tracklist!

Catherine Graindorge / Hugo Race: Long Distance Operators

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 22 2017
Artist: Catherine Graindorge / Hugo Race
Title: Long Distance Operators
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sub Rosa
Australian guitarist and vocalist Hugo Race (one part of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, presumably one of the Seeds and not part of Nick Cave himself though the press release is not clear), teams up with Belgian violinist and composer Catherine Graindorge for a melancholy collection of evocative ballads. I’m obliged to pick one of ChainDLK’s genres to classify this review, but none of them truly quite fit.

What lifts this above the usual “two virtuoso musicians showing off” scenario is both the production and the tone. The production is phenomenally rich- broad, with extremely cinematic string arrangements, choral sounds, thick percussive drama (mostly devoid of actual drumbeats), and the guitar and violin and sometimes piano drenched in warm reverb and subtle distortions, to magnificent effect. The vocal itself is deep and warm. Occasional and carefully considered electronic overdubs keep things deeply modern too.

The whole thing has an epic, film score feel to it, conjuring up images of wide plains and long journeys. The tense evolving instrumental “By Stealth”, one of the more tense pieces, is surely Hollywood-ready, and finale “Stones From Heaven” is your tear-jerking end credits tune, right there.

Tracks like the opener “Forever Lost” are initially reminiscent of Japan (the band rather than the country), with a gritty and pained vocal giving a performance that feels freeform over initially slow and spacious arrangements, but it soon fills out with rich tones which are then consistently present for the rest of the album.

I’m not a big fan of spoken-word tracks, I think on average they’re not very successful- third-track “Immortality” skirts a little bit too close to this, with only a brief chorus skipping close to melodic singing, immediately followed by another spoken-word piece “On Ice”, this time in French, then again by spoken interludes on the following track “I Call On You”; speaking for myself I would’ve much rather hear both these tracks as instrumentals. Vocally there’s more than a touch of Rob Dougan about this album, both sonically and lyrically, and Dougan put out his album with an instrumental second disc… so if anyone from the label is listening, can we get an instrumental version please?..

Other than gripes about certain love-it-or-hate-it parts of the vocal, this is a fantastically produced and very moving album that is hopefully not the last collaboration between those two artists who are clearly very in tune with one another.

Innercity Ensemble: III

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 21 2017
Artist: Innercity Ensemble (@)
Title: III
Format: CD
Label: Instant Classic (@)
Rated: *****
I don't know if the palace in Ostromecko, a village in the heart of Poland, where Innercity Ensemble got hosted between 10th and 12th July 2015 for a three-day lasting improvisational musical meeting, fostered the inspiration of this group of talented musicians playing a plenty of conventional and unconventional instruments, but this third output is just a confirmation of the incredible stylistic whirling carousel they already forged. I honestly have no idea of what titles mean, but the beautiful music they built sometimes speaks by itself. The opening "Pismo Powstaje Noc" evokes the atmosphere of a possible tale of a Thousand and One Night by its graceful percussive arabesques and the sudden grandiose entry of Wojciech Jachna's trumpet, sustaining the incredible textures where two darbukas sets the flow in a way that reminded to me some outputs by Mazurek's Sao Paulo Underground. Both the darbukas and the trumpet again are the columns of the following track "Gdy Oddech Gór Rozpoznany," which sounds like an entranced evocation during some mysterious shaman-driven dance, disgorging its energy in the narcosis of the following "W Przeswicie Gestego Powietrza" and the prog-tinged blissful nuances of "Namacalny." "Staje Sie Pradem Nieprzespanej Godziny" sounds like the awakening from the previously rendered bittersweet mental trip and its fantastic crossover between a sort of dirty samba and surf rock over sonorities that could fit the revenge of some wounded gringo is utterly catchy. The bridge between the bitter lullaby on the trumpet (close to Erik Truffaz style) and a sort of lopsided amalgamation of ambient and obscure electronics features "Przenika Przez Drewno I Stal", maybe the track where electronics are more clearly listenable, preceding the bright finale of "Godzi Nas Ze Swiatem", sounding like the moment when a sort of atonement got reached. Some aspects of what seems to be the sonic rendering of a collective spiritual journey could have been clearer if I understood what the Polish titles were meant to say, but Innercity Ensemble's music is pleasant.
Followers of free jazz and free improv scenes should be familiar with the name and the sonic art of Lebanese trumpet player and former painter Mazen Kerbaj as well as his long-lasting collaborator, the guitar player Sharif Sehnaoui. He gained some notoriety for "Starry Night", a 40-minutes lasting improvisation on trumpet recorded in Beirut on the night between 16th and 17th July, where he also grabbed the noise of Israeli bombs outside in the middle of the so-called war of 33 days in 2006 that Israel declared against Hezbollah in Lebanon (killing many more civilians than members of Hezbollah actually...). The difficult situation in that area of the world profoundly influenced both the music and the paintings by Mazen: the Picasso-like cover artwork of this release comes from his hand, and the analogy with the political works by Picasso is not casual... and the title "Blue Rain" also seems to be a quotation of the very first cycle of Picasso's painting, the so-called blue period. One of the interesting aspect of this output by Portuguese label Creative Sources is the moment when it got recorded: it comes from an improv session recorded by Diego Tavares at Tcha3 Studio in Lisbon on 23rd June 2006, some days before the Israelian bombing, but when it was clear that a military escalation of the political situation could follow. The sonic painting by Mazen on his beloved trumpet, whose mouthpiece got commonly joined to a yellow tube, and Sharif together with Ernesto Rodrigues (viola), Guilherme Rodrigues (cello) and Carlos Santos (on computer and piezos... the thuds at the end of the first of the three untitled tracks included in this release, as well as other moments you can supposedly catch while listening to it, could sound like a grim foreboding) seems to mirror such a worried whiff.
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