Music Reviews

Gareth Davis & Scanner: Footfalls

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Nov 01 2019
Artist: Gareth Davis & Scanner
Title: Footfalls
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Miasmah Recordings
“Footfalls” represents a fascinating first collaboration between the atmospheric contemporary electronics of Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) and the experimental free clarinet work of Gareth Davis.

It’s split into two twenty-minute pieces, classic LP style. “Towards The Door” languishes in waves of sonic ambience for quite some time before gradually introducing more pulsed and occasionally glitched synth elements, giving a sense of slow waking- but without any peak, a point is reached where these elements begin to wane, bringing us back to the warm luxuriant drone arrangement.

“Smokefall” is a slightly darker and busier piece, but only marginally. Steady, crisp and breathy snippets of high noise create a flitting rhythm, while throbbing effects added to the clarinet make it sound more like a didgeridoo at first. Underneath, a slightly rougher texture with guitar-like and wind-like tones, against which the purity of the clarinet sound is sparingly used for contrast and emphasis.

It’s an extremely natural match for the duo, blurring the lines of each sonic contribution and making it sound as though the duo have been working together for years. But it’s also built in a way that plays safe, relying on the alluring resonances of clarinet and drone to offer up something that comes from a position of comfort rather than challenge. The rich experimental texturing oozes confidence, quality and comfort, like a good sonic blanket, but with just enough detailing to keep the more attentive listener satisfied.

Dans Les Arbres: Volatil

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 14 2019
Artist: Dans Les Arbres
Title: Volatil
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
“Volatil” is an unedited single-piece live performance, the “natural habitat” of the established quartet of Xavier Charles on clarinet, Ivar Grydeland on electric guitar, Christian Wallumrød on piano, and Ingar Zach on percussion. Over the course of 53 minutes they chart a trajectory full of dynamic ebb and flow, with calm and calamity in alternates.

Sonically it’s a relatively conventional set-up, the clarinet and piano in particular keeping within their traditional scope, drawing out long and alluring droned notes at times, with staccato feverishness at points, but generally sounding like themselves- with the possible exception around the 20-minute mark where the clarinet wanders into squeakier territory. The electric guitar and percussion work is somewhat more impulse-driven, forgoing rhythmic patterns in favour of tracing envelope curves of noise.

It’s genuinely rather sanguine and serious, not offering up many surprises but instead easing the listener into a state that’s relaxed, but also intrigued. There’s a sense in the second half that the energy level is gradually decreasing- whether consciously on the part of the performers, or whether as a listener we become more accustomed to the arrangement and learn not to be on the edge of our seats.

Fluid, and recorded to a very high standard, this is an exemplar and a potential template of modern experimental ensemble work- but sometimes it’s the outliers that are more interesting.

BirdWorld: Unda

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 09 2019
Artist: BirdWorld
Title: Unda
Format: CD + Download
Label: Focused Silence
After meeting at an arts residency (in the canteen), Gregor Riddell and Adam Teixeira bonded over each of their field recordings, and for their debut album “Unda” much is made of the role fusing together these recordings plays in the 38-minute work. In practice, though, these field recordings are almost incidental textures or bookends at times. It’s an acoustic set-up of cello and percussion that really forms the core of this album, performing fairly energetic and jazzy duo numbers that flow with an underlying sense of good feeling.

Tracks like “WP” are good examples of the breadth of tone, packing a series of different moods into a five minute show of musical virtuosity. “Partials” and “Svifa” also shine, wrapping up the album in a broody fashion. This is firmly a studio album, overdubs and layering allowing the players to accompany themselves and create arrangements that are both bigger and more polished-sounding than any ‘true’ live performance would allow.

The most intriguing contribution from the field recordings is when they are used as vocals. What sounds like (possibly) language learning vowel sounds form a kind of mantra in “Fem mønster”, while “Choko” is a fun bit of chanting with varying levels of pitch and urgency. Less playfully, the male choir and extremely earnest spoken word tones of “Omaggio alla bellezza” very much has its serious face on.

Unfortunately this is one of those releases that doesn’t quite live up to its hype, for me. There’s a confident musical talent at play, for sure, and it’s a duo clearly reading from the same page in musical metaphor terms, but there’s something missing somehow in the innovation or inspiration stakes. If you’re looking to be calmed rather than challenged though, your take may be very different.
Oct 04 2019
Artist: Maleem Mahmoud Ghania with Pharoah Sanders
Title: The Trance Of Seven Colors
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Zehra
This is a re-release of an album first put out on 1994 on Bill Laswell’s Axiom label, and never previously available on vinyl. It’s described as Gnawa trance, heavily percussion led and deliberately repetitive, music tightly tailored to either transcendence or dancing or both.

Laswell went to Morocco and recorded himself collaborating with large family ensembles of musicians, with Laswell contributing his famous tenor saxophone elements. From back in the days when world music still involved adventure and discovery and wasn’t all just immediately available with a Spotify search, there’s an energy in exploration across the nine tracks that has, so far, not dated at all.

The captivating rolling bassline and mantras of opening track of “La Allah Daymin Moulenah” quickly win you over, setting a groove that genuinely has the feel-good funk. This positive vibe also infuses the call-and-response-based “Salat Anbi”, or final track “Mahraba” which ends the release with a smile. In the meantime, other tracks offer up a variety of alternative rhythms and tones, from the more tribal gradual speed-up of “Hamdouchi” with its intimidatingly angry conclusion, to the deep jazz dive and more complex time signatures of longest track “Boulandi Samawi”.

Laswell’s sax work is notably modest at times- this isn’t a Bill Laswell solo album in disguise, not in the least. On tracks like “Bala Moussaka” he doesn’t feel the need to join in at all, and rightly so. However when he does contribute, it’s done in an admirably sympathetic and complimentary way that really works. “Peace In Essaouira” is an exception that proves the rule.

Despite being recorded over twenty years ago on mobile recording equipment, the sound quality is excellent, and almost without exception sounds as though it could have been recorded in an expensive Real World-style studio. Everything sounds close, but not claustrophobic, and it’s nicely balanced in that way.

It’s a welcome re-issue of a really strong album that still sounds fresh twenty-five years on, a must-check-out item for lovers of organic rhythmic trance sounds.

Adrian Løseth Waade: Kitchen Music

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Sep 27 2019
Artist: Adrian Løseth Waade
Title: Kitchen Music
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Nakama Records
After contributing his violin work to a wide range of other Norwegian artist’s albums, this is Adrian Løseth Waade’s first album in his own name. He’s invited three of his friends along to contribute guitar, double bass and drums, but generally allows his violin to take centre stage, as the melodic source, the equivalent of the lead singer in this small ensemble.

The result is an intimate and homely set of folky experimental instrumental music that’s pleasant and largely unchallenging- exemplified by the title track which sounds like lounge music, in the sense of ‘lounge’ as in ‘living room’, cosy and relaxing. “Morning Routine” feels, as the title suggests, like a musical illustration of breakfast and teeth brushing, but without the angst of work pressure, and final track “Indoor Life” rolls along in a somewhat glib way that evokes thoughts of the end-of-day routine, an appropriate bookend. Inbetween, “Fuglens Cabaret” is a jollier number representing musicians enjoying themselves and each other’s comfort zones- a lazy day out.

“Hvitt Som Kokosnøttens Kjerne” stands out as an exception, a more sombre affair at first that curiously transforms into a leisurely park walk worthy of a black-and-white French film and which is the violin’s opportunity to show its more emotional side. This nine-minute track offers the breadth of tone that rounds the album out.

It’s a relatively modest release in its sound, letting four musicians play to their strengths to give a result that’s casual, in some ways unremarkable, but still a sure-fire win for lovers of the marginally more experimental side of instrumental folk.
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