Music Reviews

Kukangendai: Palm

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 23 2019
Artist: Kukangendai
Title: Palm
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Ideologic Organ
Although introduced as a “kick ass rock trio”, it’s only the instrumental arrangements and sonic make-up of Kukangendai’s album “Palm” that aligns with that description. The composition and performance is something very different, an introspective and experimental affair that’s certainly prog rock at times but which also travels further into jazz rhythms and avantgarde noodling, as well as exhibiting more modern influences.

The repetitive pulsing of “Mure” brings to mind minimal slow techno being generated by a rock band, while “Menomae” sounds like a dissected glam rock that’s been stripped to the bones and then skeletally reassembled to resemble a different beast. Final track “Chigaukoto wo Kangaeyo” shows the mellower side and borders on charming.

At 35 minutes and 6 tracks, it’s a compact and very focussed short album that doesn’t try to pack in too many ideas or any real stretch of variety, sticking to a relatively minimal set of pulses and rhythm explorations that’s very listenable and generally unchallenging. Intriguing and atmospheric work, but certainly not “kick ass”, and not about to rock your world.

Eyvind Kang: Alastor: Book of Angels Volume 21

 Posted by Mike Measer   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 20 2019
Artist: Eyvind Kang
Title: Alastor: Book of Angels Volume 21
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Eyvind Kang's 'Alastor: Book of Angels Volume 21' is, for me, a highlight of the entire Masada Book Two series. All of the compositions were written by John Zorn and then given new arrangements by Kang, who is quite simply one of the more brilliant musical minds of the past twenty-odd years. Kang plays viola, violin, sitar, piano, setar, electric bass, our, guitar, janggu, kacapi, kemancheh, synth and percussion - on this one album alone!

The treatments that Kang gives to the songs on this album range from Indian influenced to a minimal classical style, to Middle Eastern and even a grand cinematic sweep a la Ennio Morricone.

Kang employs bassoon, english horn, french horn, oboe, trumpet, sax, cellos, table, voice, conga, clave, clarinets, flutes, geomungo, gayageum, moog synth, tar and more in a grand collision of styles that are beautifully executed. The instrumentation is vast but never cluttered, the arrangements are lush but are open enough for each instrument to have it's own space. The music has plenty of drama but melodies abound throughout, making the album really fun to listen to, as there's always a new line catching the ear.

Twenty one musicians play on 'Alastor'. Their performances, combined with Zorn's compositions and Kang's arrangements make this album one that true lovers of music will want to seek out, regardless of what they may normally gravitate towards.

Recorded and mixed by Randall Dunn at Avast and Marc Urselli at Eastside Sound. Mastered by Scott Hull.

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.
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