Music Reviews



Extra Large Unit: More Fun Please

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 10 2018
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Artist: Extra Large Unit
Title: More Fun Please
Format: CD + Download
Label: PNL Records
Pals Nilsson-Love’s Large Unit ensemble get a temporary super-boost, adding a whole host of other performers to create a 27-person ensemble featuring three grand pianos, multiple accordions and percussionists, and plenty of brass. Recorded live at a concert in Oslo in May 2017, it’s an ambitious task to scale up the compositional approach for this short-term surfeit of performers. And at first, from the piece’s title and the opening few minutes, it feels more like everyone’s been gathered together for a party rather than a performance- loose vibes and chatter abound.

But that isn’t true throughout. After a few minutes, stillness is imposed, silence becomes the majority part, and thus begins the piece’s core structure- that of slow ramping, in various parts, up from stillness into different flavours of cacophony that mostly, but not always, have a jovial and jazzy flavour to them. The energy comes in waves, sections building to peaks, dropping off and then a new wave comes with a different configuration of performers in the driving seat. The next bout of stillness is where the emotive stillness really resides- particularly in long, drawn-out string sustains and drone sections reminiscent of Lygeti.

It makes a pleasant change to hear avantgarde and impulsive music that wears its sense of humour with pride. There’s no suggestion that things are not being taken seriously, but it’s certainly reflections on a broader slice of life, including the lighter side, at play here. As such it’s quite welcoming, potentially even a good way of introducing new listeners to the genre. You won’t be blown away by its scale or its level of invention, but as an accomplished, relatively big-budget bit of experimental classical, it’s a premium product.

Debashis Sinha: The White Dog

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 09 2018
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Artist: Debashis Sinha
Title: The White Dog
Format: LP
Label: Establishment Records
Toronto-based percussionist Debashis Sinha here draws on his South Asian-Canadian cultural heritage, taking a broad variety of acoustic and organic percussive elements and drawing them out into expressive and experimental pieces that blend jazzier Asian musical sounds with longer, more Western avantgarde soundscaping models. It reworks material from a live concert and previous work in audiovisual projects and film scores, though unless you’re already familiar with the material you wouldn’t know it, though it does help explain the diverse and arguably disconnected breadth of the material.

While some tracks like opener “Empyrean” and closer “Reverie” are quite thickly layered, textured and fairly jazzy, other pieces like “entr acte” are decidedly minimal, showcasing the live freeform percussion work by accompanying it only with gentle hums.

The English-language poetry that cuts in on “Thrum” is something of a shock to the system and not necessarily a welcome one in terms of atmosphere and meaning, before it unfolds into a really rather pleasant and glitchy pulsing electronica affair with an infectious and underused bassline that is reminiscent of some The Orb tracks. “Harmonium Part III” takes a minimal techno form in tripped-out directions, a direction which is pursued deeper and to great effect in “Part IV” which is a mesmeric track but does feel like it has lost sight of this album’s initial root.

It’s certainly a unique recipe of sounds, perhaps a little disjointed and confused in purpose at times but certainly an intriguing journey of a listening experience.

John Tilbury / Keith Rowe / Kjell Bjørgeengen: Sissel

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 30 2018
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Artist: John Tilbury / Keith Rowe / Kjell Bjørgeengen
Title: Sissel
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
Recorded live in 2016, “Sissel” is a sombre, single 48-minute live performance from the trio who seem to avoid describing the instrumentation they use- to my ears it’s almost exclusively piano and analogue electronics, with hints of found sounds and atmospherics. Soft and very sparse piano notes and simple repetitive chords play both with and against hard-edged raw electric sparking, gritty rumblings and percussive noises. Prolonged periods of emptiness or near-emptiness, particularly towards the end, give rise to phenomenally awkward silences.

Performed a few weeks after one of the artists suffered a great personal loss, there’s undoubtedly a sense of eulogy and space here, with sorrow worn firmly on the sleeve. To the retrospective listener this gives it a decidedly cathartic function. It’s a properly sobering listen, and not altogether enjoyable from an emotional point of view. But it’s remarkably calm, never angry, and that’s why it’s likely to find a place in other people’s hearts as well. But it’s not for the emotionally faint-hearted.

Andrew Tuttle: s/t

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 29 2018
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Artist: Andrew Tuttle
Title: s/t
Format: CD + Download
Label: Someone Good
Andrew Tuttle has collaborated or performed with a wide body of artists- Matmos and Julia Holter included- but can still be described as a “best-kept secret” of Australian music, rather than a truly established artist. Hopefully this release, his third album, will help change that.

It’s an unusual homemade concoction of banjo strumming, acoustic guitar work and synthesizer drones and atmospherics that successfully hybridises country music banjo tones into an electronic space. It’s always shifting, either in tempo or style, sometimes teetering towards energetic hoe-down knees-up territory (though thankfully not too close), and sometimes way off into sparse melancholic improvisations over single synthesized chords- whilst generally retaining a fairly bright atmosphere and never quite devolving into overlong grumpiness (“Reflections On The Twilight” is the closest it comes to this)..

“Transmission Interruption” exemplifies the whole work, so if you fancy checking out a single track on Spotify, perhaps make it that one. “Boarding Zone” has quite an expansive, Americana-type feel to it that makes the pulsing synths seem like a rare but honoured guest, helped along by a quite catchy melody motif. Some tracks, like “Garden Development”, have their edge taken away a little by slightly excessive effects processing. “A Winding River” has got shades of Mike Oldfield’s more laidback guitar meanderings at points, without the more showy Spanish guitar flourishes, before “The Coldest Night” wraps things up in quite a New Age-y fashion.

It’s a properly unusual construction, and at 33 minutes, it’s simply too short, in a good way. As an experimental fusion of guitar and banjo playing with complementary electronics, it’s a definite success, and Tuttle clearly knows his own strengths too.

Tantric Doctors: Karesansui

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 25 2018
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Artist: Tantric Doctors
Title: Karesansui
Format: CD + Download
Label: Focused Silence
“Karesansui” is Sheffield (UK)-based electronic and jazz musician Adam Woolf’s single-track, 45-minute improvised work inspired by Japanese stone gardens. Through a process of overdubbing, he lays up freeform clarinet, alto sax and soprano sax lines over electronic pulses, impromptu and often patternless glitches and lumps of low analogue synth noise.

The jazz elements are cold and largely shapeless, and on their own, might become ingratiating over the course of three quarters of an hour. It’s the electronic underbelly of this release, counterpointing the jazz elements and shifting them into an alienating environment full of unexpected punches and whirrs, that keeps things ticking along and keeps you engaged for the most part. Even so, the seeming lack of progression, form or chapterisation across the work does begin to get tiring towards the end. Like sitting in a relaxing garden for a long time, the environment itself is only half the experience of being there.

It’s intricate in parts but something of a listening commitment- though I don’t mean that as harshly as it might sound. It’s an unabashed bit of experimental avantgarde jazz coupled with strong electronic sounds, unashamed to be solely what it is, or to be targeted at people already predisposed to appreciating it. It’s unlikely to find a broad audience, but hopefully it will reach enough people who will revel in it.
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