Music Reviews

Ensemble Neon: Niblock/Lamb

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 09 2019
Artist: Ensemble Neon
Title: Niblock/Lamb
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hubro
“Niblock/Lamb” is the rather prosaic name for Ensemble Neon’s performance of “To Two Tea Roses” by Phill Niblock and “Parallaxis Forms” by Catherine Lamb. The two twenty-something-ish-minute ensemble drone pieces, both composed within the last decade, make excellent companions, displaying patterns of similarities and contrasts that make it a rewarding two-chapter listening experience.

“To Two Tea Roses” is relentlessly steady, a plateau magically generated from a large number of ebbing and flowing parts that manage to almost cancel one another out indefinitely, with no beginning or end yet somehow the feeling of progression that you can’t put your finger on, a progression that manages to prevent something so flat from being tiring.

“Parallaxis Forms” has the same broad timbre, but is far emptier. Individual drawn-out elements, most strikingly vocal sounds but also strings, suddenly find themselves in solo or very thinly layered environments where their separate textures can be more easily discerned. Melodic change is introduced, deliberate beginnings and ends of pitched notes with such length and sustain that the performance requires both athleticism and finesse, which Ensemble Neon clearly have in abundance. Calming, bordering on romantic, it feels like quite an indulgent experience.

A beautiful and intriguing pair of supremely slow works with a velvet touch.

Mats Eilertsen: Reveries and Revelations

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 06 2019
Artist: Mats Eilertsen
Title: Reveries and Revelations
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hubro
Established bassist Mats Eilertsen is no stranger to live performance as an experimental jazz bassist, but set about building “Reveries and Revelations” in a different manner to usual. Rather than capturing any live improvised elements, “Reveries and Revelations” is studio-centric. Eilertsen would constantly re-edit and layer his own work whilst composing it, making the production integral to the composition. Furthermore, each of the guest artists who appear throughout the release never performed any of this together; each was sent elements of the work and invited to contribute their own ideas, which they sent back for incorporation into the evolving work.

The result, unsurprisingly, is a heavily ‘produced-sounding’ album- rich, warmly and intimately recorded analogue instrumentation, treated respectfully to bring out the textures and qualities of each element.

Compositionally, it ends up having the flavour of a soundtrack album, composed by a single person with help from his friends; each of the ten short pieces seems to have been crystallised around a particular mood or idea that could potentially be tied into larger storytelling. “Endless” for example has a tense and journeying aspect to it, while “Bouvet Blues” makes no effort to escape the bass tone’s long-standing association with film noir and black-and-white detective stereotypes. “Venus” allows Eilertsen’s double bass the chance to shine as the lead melodic element in a darkly romantic nighttime scene, while “Siberian Sorrow” sets classic ‘death-of-the-hero’s-mentor’ emotive string work onto odder rhythms.

Odder moments include “Signal”, which gives the impression of having been built around the sound of small tools and spanners accidentally being dropped, and “Polynesia Pluck” which samples ethnic-sounding rhythmic elements but reforms them in a thoroughly post-modern European chin-stroking fashion.

It’s a compact and emotive little work over which a great deal of care has been taken. There’s nothing particularly novel about it, nor challenging, but if you like your jazz cinematic, thoughtful and bass-rich, you’ll certainly enjoy this particular sonic blanket.

The Cray Twins: In The Company Of Architects

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jul 31 2019
Artist: The Cray Twins
Title: In The Company Of Architects
Format: CD + Download
Label: Fang Bomb
The second album from Paul Baran and Gordon Kennedy as The Cray Twins is an expansive and spectacular affair, featuring a broad range of instrumentation- synthesizers aplenty, but also organs, flutes, clarinets, occasional vocal work, casual interference of found sound, and more. These are respectfully arranged in a manner that seems to imbue narrative, and which allows each to have massive quantities of breathing space, retaining musicality for the most part but also allowing periods of structureless ambience. But it’s never just lazy or over-comfortable- tonally there’s always something being expressed.

The main piece is the 38-minute title track. Single chime sounds resonate extensively. Operatic soprano vocal tones are so distant and so treated that they sound like either field recordings or exhumed archive material. Under this runs a series of slowly shifting and evolving hums and warm drones that knit the otherwise fairly disparate sounds together. In the final few minutes it’s bold organ chords that walk purposefully to the fore, adding to the sense of theatrical structure and sounding more than a little bit sci-fi to boot, particularly in the almost daftly gothic final crescendo.

Two additional tracks complete the work. “The Absence Of Architects” showcases a spoken word poem, under which runs spaced-out analogue synths and floaty synth work ploughing prog rock-ish melodic paths. “Anarchitects” also offers some spoken word context over lullaby-like chime sounds and slightly disquieting wind noises, before contrasting sharper-sounding synth arp noises against the soft vocal tones that seep through the wind noise.

The poetry in the second and third pieces didn’t quite connect with me and it felt somehow unnecessary, but other than that one subjective detail, this is a refreshing open-minded musical approach that underlies this extremely polished and accomplished release that really stands out for both character and quality.

Anemochore: Suites And Seeds

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jul 25 2019
Artist: Anemochore
Title: Suites And Seeds
Format: CD + Download
Label: Creative Sources Recordings
The quartet of Franz Loriot (viola), Sebastian Strinning (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet), Daniel Studer (bass) and Benjamin Brodbeck (drums) here offer up a thoughtful collection of spontaneous avantgarde jazz performance, all studio-recorded in a single day.

Anemochore are plants or flowers where the seeds are distributed by the wind, and at times it feels like an elaborate instrumental telling of the life story of some of these seeds. The first part of “Vortex” evokes images of gentle wind on a Summers’ day, light and spacious, while the second part seems to say that to a small seed, even a small wind must seem huge and chaotic. There are moments of unstructured triumph, others of calm, and plenty of journeying abstraction inbetween.

There are also a few moments that seem unintentionally comic, such as “Wings” which seems to bring to mind images of a seed pratfalling and bouncing around in a clown-like fashion. The three-part “Vortex” at the beginning and three-part “Dehiscence” at the end are the more immersive self-contained suites with a serious tone and distinct sections, with the seven tracks inbetween feeling somewhat sketch-like, almost playful.

It’s another exemplary performance from an accomplished roster of jazz musicians who are proving quite prolific without ever letting standards drop. Thematically unusual, this is art jazz for connoisseurs.

zeitkratzer: zeitkratzer performs songs from the albums „Kraftwerk 2“ and „Kraftwerk“

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jul 19 2019
Artist: zeitkratzer
Title: zeitkratzer performs songs from the albums „Kraftwerk 2“ and „Kraftwerk“
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
When this release first landed on my desk, my initial reaction was, “didn’t I already review that a couple of years ago?”. Sure enough, a collection of Zeitkratzer’s cover versions of tracks from the albums “Kraftwerk” and “Kraftwerk 2” was released in 2017, and this release is volume 2, with almost identical artwork save for the colours. This is Zeitkratzker going back and filling in the gaps, covering literally all of the tracks from those two albums which they didn’t include on volume 1 on 2017. Logically, there can be no volume 3. In fact in my playlists I’m tempted to reassemble the tracks into the order Kraftwerk released them, but that’s for another day.

What I said about the first album is still so applicable here that I will shamelessly copy and paste one paragraph from it: “Focussing only on the earlier Kraftwerk albums which had a thinner and arguably more abrasive tone, the ensemble of woodwind, strings, a couple of brass instruments, piano and drums faithfully recreates the barren soundscape that was originally electronic, in an almost exclusively acoustic way. It’s admirable for its attention to detail and an excellent tribute.”

“Harmonika”, the short finale track from “Kraftwerk 2”, is the opening prelude number here, a mostly shapeless drone. Initially the segue into “Stratovarius” is very smooth because both parts are relatively flat, sedate and abstract- but the second track breaks out of that eventually, with some impulsive jumps in energy and sudden twists into chaos that, eventually, almost ten minutes into the album, finally turn into a discernible rhythm and form which a listener will recognise as an acoustic ensemble interpretation of that classic Kraftwerk groove. In its more settled moments, it’s more than a little reminiscent of the Cinematic Orchestra in its tone. Across its twelve minute span “Stratovarius” has many sections and covers a broad range of styles, making it come across like a theatrical soundtrack almost.

This strong dynamic continues through “Vom Himmel Hoch”, a bold exercise in experimental string work that bends tones and traces a broad variety of escalations and impacts at various speeds, including a fair dosage of frantic, especially in the middle.

Final piece “Wellenlange” is mostly more sedate, with a twangy guitar sound that unexpectedly transforms it into a brooding bit of ambient-country-Americana. Through the slow introduction of repetition this gradually becomes more recognisable and formed, but it remains one of the most unusual interpretations of a Kraftwerk track you’re likely to hear.

It’s satisfying and rewarding that Zeitkratzer have gone back and filled in the gaps, taking on the challenge of the ‘missing tracks’ from the early Kraftwerk material. It was certainly worth completing, and far from being any kind of cash-in or novelty item to trade on the Kraftwerk name, the result is a second volume of fascinating acoustic works that stand up in their own right, very strongly indeed.
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