Music Reviews

Katie Kim: Salt

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 13 2016
Artist: Katie Kim
Title: Salt
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: self-released
This is forty minutes of deeply melancholic, downbeat misery ballads, mostly just a vocal and a piano with faint orchestral frills and a subtle and extremely restrained echo-chamber production. It’s very evocative of the epic rocky, windswept Western coast of Ireland.

Unfortunately, it also feels rather self-indulgent. Vocally it’s like a tuned series of regretful notes-to-self. Some lyrics are hard to distinguish and in parts it feels wilfully inaccessible, as though we’re not welcome to hear these private memories.

Although described as ‘dark’, ‘droning’ and ‘ambient’, it’s none of these things in any great measure- perhaps a little bit more of a journey into the experimental would’ve benefitted it. It is more like standard pop ballads, slowed down and spaced down to extremes.

“I Make Sparks” and “Life Or Living” are a little more driven and up-tempo by comparison, which considering “Life Or Living” runs at around 90 beats per minute, goes to show how measured and frankly slow the rest of the album is. “Thieves” is the track that most suggests there is innovative songwriting, maybe even pop music, underneath the heavily loaded surface, scratching to get out.

Despite Katie Kim being Irish, there’s a Scandinavian vocal tone reminiscent of Karin Dreijer Andersson but sadly lacking the energy or quirkiness.

It’s a very honest and consistent work, but, like dipping into a stranger’s private diary, it would be wrong to recommend it.

Ulrich Mitzlaff: X-RUN-4 Prismatique

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 09 2016
Artist: Ulrich Mitzlaff (@)
Title: X-RUN-4 Prismatique
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Crónica (@)
Rated: *****
Background noises get typically considered a disturbing element of live recordings, but I won't say the same for this output, capturing a solo improvisational session by German (even if he resides in Lisbon since a long time) cellist and composer Ulrich Mitzlaff in a spacey hall nearby the motorway close to Humberto Delgado Airport in Lisbon under commission of the Portuguese National Civil Engineering Laboratory over two different days (November 30th and December 21st 2014). Besides the typical reverb added by vast spaces, the hissing noise generated by traffic as well as more or less distinguishable sounds of departing and landing airplanes seem to have been fully integrated in the recording as they were (without any treatment), and I'd rather say you could have the feeling that Ulrich's beloved instrument, as well as the stylistic shaping he evokes by means of it, got sometimes synched to the aural manifestation of human transportation. Covering an almost indistinct range between polka to skronk of free jazz till occasional episodes that could vaguely remind the prodigious counterpoints of Bach's Cello Suite 1 or even Beethoven's final parts of some of his more dramatic scores (resurfacing in particular during the central piece, the 20-minutes lasting "4-one", featuring Beethoven's just mentioned phrasing between 13th and 14th minute) features occasional percussive elements (mostly found objects and materials), highlighting the feeling of an authentic real-time recorded improvisation together with the performative fits of madness resulting into sudden accelerations of chord tapping and squeaking scratches (almost rendering the image of Ulrich while using his nails on his cello till they begin bleeding) as well as unexpected sparks of harmony. The instrumental eruptions, as well as their bizarre clutching with surrounding noises, could let you imagine that the composer/performer is just putting on an act a sort of dramatic fight between a forgotten cello and the rest of the absent-minded/absent-minding world; they are akin to two aural inputs or attractive poles that could vividly stage a struggle between emotion and apathy in the somehow alienating society we often could experience.

Cultural Amnesia: Agile Business Practices

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 03 2016
Artist: Cultural Amnesia
Title: Agile Business Practices
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Bleak
Exploring slightly tongue-in-cheek themes of corporate values and business-to-business presentation, not too dissimilar to S.I. Future’s “The Mission Statement” project, is a lyrical goldmine that feels ever so slightly under-used here. The branding certainly compensates for this, with a lyric booklet that strongly represents a PowerPoint presentation, and two accompanying video clips.

After the relatively pop-radio-edit form of opening track “Core Values”, “Eschatologyology” [sic], layering nonsensical business report dilemmas over a straightforward downtempo jazz groove with very slight hints of vocodered funk in the chorus vocal, is where the corporate concept works best. “On The Rocks” and “Baby Cheese” delve deeper into blues and noir, with the juxtaposition between emotional arrangement and careerist lyrical angst getting progressively sillier as things continue.

The promo video for “Core Values” is a neat, rather simplistic infographic-driven affair, primitive but watchable. “The Keynote” video is a weak point, an attempt to parody a business presentation video but sadly short of good jokes and, surprisingly, with very poorly recorded audio that makes some of it unintelligible.

Oh and yes, on the artwork, the title of the work is upside-down. This is not a reviewer’s error!

Ergo: As Subtle As Tomorrow

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 02 2016
Artist: Ergo (@)
Title: As Subtle As Tomorrow
Format: CD
Label: Cuneiform (@)
Rated: *****
Ergo's "As Subtle As Tomorrow" is one of the most impressive outputs recently labeled by the excellent Cuneiform - an imprint that should regularly be checked by lovers of high-quality contemporary music -. Unlike other remarkable releases from the label founded and masterfully managed by Steven Feigenbaum and his wife Joyce, "As Subtle As Tomorrow" doesn't feature any instrumental explosions or those stunning melodies that could get matched to prodigious strokes of geniality, but the gently evocative infusion of progressive jazz, ambient and electronics by sonic architect and composer Brett Sroka (playing trombone and controlling computer), Sam Harris (on - sometimes prepared - piano and Fender Rhodes) and Shawn Baltazor (on drums) orbits around minimalism and electro-acoustic textures in a way that manages to render the likewise evocative and somehow mysterious poem by Emily Dickinson, that gave name to this release: "As subtle as tomorrow/That never came,/A warrant, a conviction,/Yet but a name.". Sroka, who took fragments of the poem as titles of each of the seven pieces of this suite, says: "She’s my favorite poet. There’s something about her simplicity and succinctness and clarity, which is so direct and poignant, that I decided I wanted to use that verse for this suite. As I started writing, I gave fragments to different pieces, and the only reason that the poem is broken up is that the music flowed better that way. The title for each one felt right.”. This fiery bolt of inspiration influenced the style of Ergo, who wisely interlaced silence or quieter moments in their musical flow, fitting any intense reflection on time and destiny that both music and Dickinson's words could inspire and the firm interest in ambient music by Sroka, who implements techniques like granular synthesis, slicing/sequencing, time and pitch shifting, is the lymphatic element of the sonic language developed on this album by this trio: “There’s something that appeals to me about space and silence and attractive melodies. I’m interested in ambient music, which led to Arvo PÄrt and John Cage and patient listening music that incorporates a lot of silence. One motivation might have been a response to jazz that’s out there, music that’s hyper technical, hyper busy, with a lot going on all the time.". The path, starting where the frail motif of "as tomorrow" sounds like defrosting and ending where the blossoming drum by Shawn sound like exploding in the rising intense whirl on the 10-minutes lasting suite "a name", deserves to be crossed.

Urs Leimgruber | Alex Huber : Lightnings

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Sep 18 2016
Artist: Urs Leimgruber | Alex Huber
Title: Lightnings
Format: CD
Label: Wide Ear Records (@)
Rated: *****
We already introduced some interesting outputs by Swiss label Wide Ear and this one where one of label co-founder, the brilliant drummer Alex Huber, pairing with saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, one of the most appreciated improvisers in Europe, - it was lying almost entirely buried by messy columns of CDs and paper, I'm typically surrounded by -, should be considered as a gemstone for lovers of the genre. The choice of the awarded pattern that Austrian art designer Peter Kogler made for an internal space of Kunsthaus Zug as the cover artwork refers to the place where these sessions got recorded on March 7th, 2014, but it could also mirror the unusual approach of this duo to sound. They seem to have followed the deformed web of those painted walls by ensnaring and trapping the so-called jazz standards in the cells of a grid, where saxophone jazz harmonies and its phrasing by Urs become somehow homogenous when the fantastic drumming by Alex starts hitting (getting close to breakbeat in the convulsive tails of tracks like "Swift" and "Resistant") without any real interruptions. The way the two instruments interact is close to mimicry, as you'll quickly notice while listening to the four sessions, as whenever tones and beating fade in or fade out, there's a perpetual mutual mirroring, but the strategy by which they turned the intensity of the sonic stream through bizarre timbre and tone morphing up is the really catchy element of the whole release.
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