Music Reviews

John Zorn: Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse

 Posted by Mike Measer   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 19 2019
Artist: John Zorn
Title: Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Rated: *****
This installment of Zorn's Filmworks series was composed for the animated film The Rain Horse, directed by Russian animator Dimitri Geller.

Zorn chose the trio of Erik Friedlander on cello, Rob Burger on piano, and Greg Cohen on bass. The trio is simply amazing. The way they play off of one another is sublime. There's no other word for it really. At times they play complex runs around and through each other, but for the most part they leave room for one another to play astoundingly haunting melodies. Melody is the focus of the album. Zorn fans will know that this often not the case in his work. The melodies here are familiar somehow, but they're tough to place. 'Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse' has an Eastern European feel, as would be expected (after all, it was composed for a Russian film), but it's also got touches of Middle Eastern and Western influence.

What struck me most about the music is how emotional and romantic it is. As I said, the melodies are haunting, but they are also catchy. The songs have terrific pacing. Mind you, there is no percussion on the album. The piano, cello, and most obviously the bass create the tempo for these beautiful songs. The piano playing of Rob Burger is among the most beautiful I've heard.

Almost as amazing as the songs themselves is the story of the performing, recording, and mixing of the album. The musicians entered the studio in the morning and knocked out all 11 songs by 6pm. If that weren't enough, engineer Marc Urselli mixed the album in three hours. For an album of 11 songs of this caliber to be recorded and mixed in one day is a testament to the level of talent involved. The energy of the performances were captured perfectly - the sonics are great and none of the intensity is lost. Mastering engineer Scott Hull did an outstanding job. The sound is soft yet energetic.

John Zorn: Dreamachines

 Posted by Mike Measer   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 18 2019
Artist: John Zorn
Title: Dreamachines
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Dreamachines is the third album from Zorn to make use of the quartet of John Medeski (piano), Trevor Dunn (bass), Kenny Wollesen (vibraphone) and Joey Baron (drums). This collection of songs is a dedication of sorts to William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. The splicing of ideas and nonlinear compositions dominate the album.
It begins with the frenetic "Psychic Conspirators" which finds all four musicians playing at breakneck pace, darting here and there, taking brief pauses to go off in a new direction. All four are in-sync however, miraculously.
"Git-Le-Coeur" starts off slow and menacing before, a quick, jaunty turn into a beautifully-paced section of piano work by Medeski and delicate brushwork by Baron, and finishing with a reprise of the brooding intro.
"Conqueror Worm" features a brisk walking bassline and a somewhat familiar (to fans of Zorn) melodic progression. Wollesen has the first couple minutes to play around before Medeski comes in fairly commandingly and the piece builds before resuming the walking bassline and a focus on Baron.
"Third Mind" has Medeski and Wollesen playing in unison before breaking apart to reveal some fantastic voicings by Medeski, and counterpoint by Wollesen. Another fine walking bassline from Trevor Dunn who, as always, is given enough freedom by Zorn to add the perfect choice of notes where he sees fit. This is a really beautiful one.
"Light Chapels" is one of the most "free" compositions on the album. The musicians dance around each other almost the entire time, coming together for a few seconds here and there.
"Dream Machine" may be the centerpiece of the album for me. Maybe the closest the album comes to "straight" jazz. A very nice melody, with great work by both Medeski and Wollesen, working very closely together. Baron and Dunn make the piece swing.
"Note Virus" is another free, wild ride with even more intensity, especially from Medeski, than "Psychic Conspirators".
"1001 Nights in Marrakech" establishes a very cool Middle-Eastern melody and a dark atmosphere right away and this is held throughout. Medeski and Wolleson trade beautiful solos.
The album ends fittingly with another cut-up extravaganza, "Wild Boys". True fans of Zorn will love this album as will fans of jazz that pushes boundaries and wants to be free. Recorded and mixed by Marc Urselli, who captures all of the nuance, even the vocalizing from who I have to assume is either Medeski or Baron, unless Zorn was in there cheering them on. Mastered by Scott Hull.
Artist: Angelina Yershova
Title: CosmoTengri
Format: CD + Download
Label: Twin Paradox Records
Established Kazakh composer Yershova has a strong list of collaborations under belt and has worked with symphony orchestras, However this release is entirely her own work, with Yershova credited as writer, recording artist, producer, mixer and masterer of her own destiny here, in an album that sounds close and introspective, but which avoids sounding small. The result is an incredibly versatile showcase for a multi-talented artist, with a lot of breadth of moods and styles.

Opener “Korgau” (for which there is a YouTube video) is an expansive work of scratchy and discordant string with an old-school experimental feel, supplemented by thick damp-sounding atmospherics and very sparse use of vocal chords, and it truly shines and is understandably the album’s lead.

It’s not averse to a bit of rhythm either. “Tumbleweed” introduces a lovely sparsely-laid rubbery bass note, and some familiar-sounding curt electronic glitch-click rhythms that don’t feel particularly original but which integrate well. The heartbeat and whispered vocalisations of “Kamlanie” that unfold into more urgent-sounding electronic rhythms definitely feel ‘done before’ but are nevertheless well handled. After that, “Jelsiz Jel” takes a decidedly modern trip-hop twist, before the title track hybridises organic instrumentation that teeters onto ‘world music’ with mellow drone atmospherics. This mood flows smoothly into “Khan Tengri” which brings shades of dark electronica and just a shade of what is possibly throat-singing into the mix for something darker and more suspenseful, before final track “Ecstatic Dance” channels quite a strong gaming-style sense of underscored drama.

As a curriculum vitae for film score, compositional or production work it is exemplary. And almost as a bonus, it works pretty well as a listening album too, bringing forth thoughts of soundtracks to picture and long-form story-telling. An album with real character.

Luc Ferrari: Music Promenade / Unheimlich Schön

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 11 2019
Artist: Luc Ferrari
Title: Music Promenade / Unheimlich Schön
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Recollection GRM
Recollection GRM’s admirable polishing-up-and-reissuing mission continues strongly here, with the return to availability of two Luc Ferrari works, from 1970 and 1971 respectively, which have been remastered and cleaned up to the extent that while the works bear all the hallmarks of the 60’s and 70’s evolution of tape recording and found sound, the sonic quality sounds bright and practically modern.

“Music Promenade” is the overlapping of a variety of field recordings of human life in the late 60’s. It’s an abstract documentary of the sounds of then-modern life, snippets of overheard conversation, the sounds of both work and laughter, and more than a smattering of ‘needledrop’-style musical excerpt plopped in as obtusely as on the Monkees “Head” soundtrack. Originally described as “whilst walking, a man is struck by the violence of his surroundings”, it’s perhaps telling that with the exception of a couple of clearly violent arguments, most of this twenty-minute piece sounds rather sedate by the standards of city life today. In terms of musical history it sits contemporary to Ferrari’s “Presque rien No. 1” as a notable keyframe in the evolution of tape music and the dissolution of the boundaries between found and composed sound and art.

“Unheimlich Schön” is a much simpler work, focussed on intimately recorded sounds of a woman breathing and talking. Tape loops and delays create a primitive sense of isolation and abstraction. Over the course of sixteen minutes, you are drawn into a very personal-sounding environment that’s so raw that it is likely to cause some listeners discomfort due to its potential invasiveness- but which other listeners might well find sexy. It’s a striking piece that really gets you thinking about your own reactions to it.

Zachary Paul: A Meditation On Discord

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 09 2019
Artist: Zachary Paul
Title: A Meditation On Discord
Format: CD + Download
Label: Touch # Tone
Three solo works by Zachary Paul, performing violin with electronics, are gathered here for a fairly intensive and immersive bit of solitary performance in which lengthy violin notes and sparse moments of more impulsive playing are layered up, reverberated and droned until the single instrument source has transformed into a full environment you can bathe in.

First piece “Premonition” is an exemplary half-hour exercise in slow build and transformation, as the tension and texture grows and grows, almost imperceptibly slowly, resulting in an impressive self-contained journey where a relatively narrow range of sounds can hold your interest for far longer than ought to be possible.

Second piece “Slow Ascent” is almost inappropriately named then, as it’s got a similar sonic outlay to the first piece, but dynamically it’s more of a plateau, not featureless but devoid of any major changes.

Third piece “A Person With Feelings” was created as the score for a short abstract film that hasn’t been released yet, and reflects an emotional journey that perhaps may make more sense with its associated picture; on its own, it feels more like a compressed version of the opening piece, but reaching a destination that’s more tense and discordant in the end.

Since Ed Alleyne-Johnson’s experiments with electric violin processing in the early 90’s (before he side-stepped into weak crowd-pleasing cover versions), the idea of drawing grittier tones and electronic source elements out of a violin has seemed powerful to me, and these pieces explore the idea well. They may be steeped in anxiety but the result is a rewarding listen, and the fact it doesn’t overstay its welcome is an impressive feat.
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