Music Reviews

Park Jiha: Communion

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 08 2018
Artist: Park Jiha
Title: Communion
Format: LP
Label: Glitterbeat / tak:til
For her first solo album after some success as part of the duo [su:m], Park Jiha brings her classical training in traditional Korean instruments like the oboe-esque piri and the mouth organ-like saenghwang into strictly modern and avant garde compositions and arrangements. Some of the instrumentation is so unusual-sounding that it’s natural to assume it’s synthetic, but apparently it’s all authentic, albeit very far removed from what may traditionally have been intended.

Initially these arrangements are generally bold, featuring relatively few layers of instrumentation and with a predilection towards loud, strong tones that give everything a purity and clarity that’s generally very strong. Opening track “Throughout The Night” is underpinned by some urban atmospheric noises, but pieces like “Accumulation Of Time” live in their own independent and reverberant space that gradually builds from solo performance through to near-cacophony.

The second half is more plaintive generally. “Sounds Heard From The Moon” is a more conventional piece that may (pardon my ignorance) be performed on the yanggeum (hammered dulcimer), and pairs well with the introspective “The Longing Of The Yawning Divide”. “All Souls’ Day” is a little quirkier in tone, while the saxophone (?) on last track “The First Time I Sat Across From You” has more than a shade of lost-love jazz about it.

The first half of this album is vigorous and energetic, attention-seeking performance that brings something genuinely fresh to modern classical, and while the second half isn’t quite as notable, it’s still a very strong package that ought to bring Park some new attention.

Yndi Halda: A Sun-Coloured Shaker

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 07 2018
Artist: Yndi Halda
Title: A Sun-Coloured Shaker
Format: CD
Label: Sound In Silence
Though described as an EP, “A Sun-Coloured Shaker” is one long song, just under twelve minutes long, from the established post-rock band recently relocated to Cornwall. (Perhaps this has been done to balance out the fact that one of their previous “EP” releases was over an hour?!)

It’s one elaborate, quite prog rock ballad with more than a little of a Pink Floyd influence- lush atmospheric guitar plucking, steady drums and a vocal that manages to come across as both pained and dreamy in equal measure. As the song progresses it opens up a little into more instrumental and soundscapey tones but without any major shifts.

An interesting track well suited for people who’ve played their old Floyd records to death, but maybe not meaty enough to be justified as a release in its own right.

Meridian Arts Ensemble: Seven Kings

 Posted by eskaton   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 06 2018
Artist: Meridian Arts Ensemble (@)
Title: Seven Kings
Format: CD
Label: Innova (@)
Rated: *****
I enjoy jazz, so I was interested to see what we have here. This is five compositions spread out over 13 tracks, and weighs in at almost 76 minutes, so rather than listing each movement individually, I’ll discuss each one as a whole. Let’s get into it. First off, we have “Migration” by Daniel Grabois. This is the shortest piece on the disc, and it reminds me of some of the work of Dizzy Gillespie. This is pretty clean jazz (in the sense of structure) with a heavy emphasis on the trumpet. Well executed, but kind of missing the looseness I like in jazz. Moving into David Sanford’s “Seven Kings,” we get the more chaotic and frantic feel that I was looking for. It all holds together well, though – from the drum solo and rapid-fire horns that keep the rhythm going in the “Contrapunctus I” segment to the peaceful vibraphone of “Chimes,” this composition keeps everything moving along well. The standout portion though is “Contrapunctus II,” which sometimes sounds like everyone is playing a completely different piece, but it still manages to keep a sense of cohesion. Next up, we have “For Bass Quintet and Percussion” by Dave Ballou. This piece slowly builds in complexity and intensity over time, with a skillful use of silence. I am reminded of the poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens, which states, "I do not know which to prefer, The beauty of inflections, Or the beauty of innuendoes, The blackbird whistling Or just after." Ballou gets that sometimes the space between the notes can be just as important as the notes. Next up, we have “Passed Time” by Edward Jacobs. I will admit that this one really didn’t do much for me, since it didn’t really have the energy of the previous compositions. This one was more orchestral and less jazzy; my wife remarked that it sounded like it belonged in a movie soundtrack. Finally, we have Robert Maggio’s “Revolver.” From the machine gun drums and horn blasts that open this up, you know that you are in for an interesting ride. The music, along with the evocative song titles set the mood well. For example, “With Nobody’s Help (Lost and Badly Wounded),” evokes a feeling of wandering; you can almost feel the buzzards circling overhead. It all comes together with the final segment, “Opened to the Fragility (Slipping Away),” which is a slow, improvised piece, with raucous drums that offer a stark contrast to the languid horns, ending almost peacefully. Overall this isn’t really as experimental as what I am used to reviewing for Chain D.L.K., but it is well done and quite enjoyable as a whole. If you like solid jazz, this is worth checking out.

Maurizio Abate: Standing Waters

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 28 2018
Artist: Maurizio Abate
Title: Standing Waters
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Boring Machines
Maurizio Abate offers up a 5-track album which hybridises folksy acoustic guitar instrumentals, with a more mesmeric looping pattern approach that Philip Glass or Wim Mertens have applied to strings (most notable on opening track “Odonata”). Subtle extra string work broadens the arrangements but this is still essentially a near-solo folk guitar instrumental album, with final track “Standing/Crumbling” the most expansive-sounding of the set thanks to the enhancements of string and piano.

At times, such as on “Shaping The Mud”, this sounds like folk-pop that’s just missing its vocal- there’s a slow but definitely present sense of a verse-chorus structure at play. “Nymphs Dance”, after a sparser opening, also heads this way, meanders off into slightly more angsty plucking, works its way back into singer-songwriter territory before a dramatic finale, all in the space of just over ten minutes.

It’s an assertive and focussed work from an established session guitarist and producer branching out with his own identity. It is perhaps a little bit ‘safe’ and folksy at times but it’s a very rich and warm listen. It’s sweetly presented in a gatefold CD sleeve too.

Koji Maruyama: isos

 Posted by Ibrahim Khider (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 27 2018
Artist: Koji Maruyama
Title: isos
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Mimi (@)
An uplifting follow-up to the more pensive but no less beautiful, Comune, Koji Maruyama brings the listener deeper into his compositions with piano solos, as well as with piano with ambient field-recording accompaniment and orchestral. The listener is treated to superb recordings of a masterful player who delivers musical narrative vignettes, each track feels complete though these may be bits of television and film soundtracks. isos (sic) is book-ended with shuffling sounds and the creak of a piano bench (perhaps a nod to luminary, Glenn Gould) as Maruyama pours over the keys with the fluidity of a waterfall, the precision of a Swiss made watch and story-telling prowess of Hans Christian Andersen. The meaning of the track and album titles remain cryptic, but “prelude/isos” unfurls like a summer rose wet with the morning dew as it cranes its stem towards the warmth of the sun to the tranquil flow of water. “Nap”, with its sparse and playful opening, emotes the innocence of a child as she lays her head upon the pillow, while the more vigorously played notes and sweeping orchestral accompaniment bellies the magnificent improbability of dreams; spacious and expansive as anything as anything Studio Ghibli could come up with. “Fluid/Door” opens impressively, overwhelming piano notes that glitters with the speed and aggression of gathering storm clouds that in turn disperse into clear-skied serenity. “Sketch#1” is just that, sort of like Van Gogh with a piece of charcoal who first plans a piece of painting with a sketch, hinting at the splendor to come. Echoing drops of water in a cavernous space , and piano notes that splash and resonate like stones tossed in a pond, “Land/welter” is ambient meets piano as an old man asks a question, joined by resonances and orchestral strings. “Pause#3” is a chance to get deeper into a Maruyama composition; it starts pensively and then dramatically before giving way to a dizzying and cascading yet graceful flow. “Postlude/isos” returns to the sweet sparse motif before the more assertive notes whirl and then stops almost mid flow and the creak of the piano bench. Yet another jewel in the trove of, treat yourself to a listen.
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