Music Reviews

Fredrik Rasten: Six Moving Guitars

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 01 2019
Artist: Fredrik Rasten
Title: Six Moving Guitars
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofa
Frederik Rasten’s first solo release is simply built. Gentle acoustic guitar strumming, slow and steady, tracing gentle and unchallenging patterns between different chord progressions, is essentially the whole work. It’s decorated by occasional found sounds and oddly scratchy atmospherics, but it is essentially a 38-minute collection of gentle acoustic guitar chord noodling that eschews virtuosity or complexity in favour of a calm reverence of simplicity.

Longest piece “Wandering” is, as the prosaic names suggest, the hardest of the tracks to predict and has at least a faint semblance of dynamic. The other pieces throw up some interesting chord contrasts, most notably on “Circling, Alternating”, that sit somewhere between music-and-maths analyses of chord comparisons, and idle strumming.

It’s mellow, and certainly relaxing, but it somehow fails to justify itself or generate more than the sum of its parts. If it is imbued with a sense of purpose, then unfortunately I missed it, because this just felt like faintly indulgent sonic wallpaper. Undoubtedly pleasant, but unfortunately I didn’t find it either engaging or impressive. You can’t win them all.

Véhicule: Le Temps du Chien

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 29 2019
Artist: Véhicule
Title: Le Temps du Chien
Format: Tape
Label: Midira Records
Sylvian Milliot’s debut album as Véhicule is a very smooth, yet odd, hybridisation of classical instrumentation (ensemble-style cello and woodwind sounds) with jazzier elements, found sounds, a mostly-but-not-always-ambient approach and deft electronic touches, to form one of those releases that really is hard to categorise successfully.

It’s a collection of ten sonic vignettes that stand alone, each of them with their own unique properties and moods. Some are fairly thick and semi-cinematic, but in unconventional ways, such as opening track “Rites”, the tensely cyclical “Voila la” or the more sombre “Adolescence”. Others, like “Test” with its tiny vocal noises and long warn notes, are both sparser and calmer.

There’s plenty of room for playfulness and outright weirdness too- exhibited in the curious time signatures and prog rock virtuoso twistiness of “Tourne”, or the pitch-bended angsty vocal noises of “Je-vous” that are contrasted against short spoken-word French poetic lines and an almost glib-sounding organ. The contrast of stressed vocal notes against almost daft- and random-sounding organ notes in “Tambour” is downright confusing in terms of how you as a listener are supposed to respond to it. Final piece “Pompe” draws certain comparisons to the jazzier side of French techno- but severely bent out of shape.

A really unusual debut showing from Véhicule, offering up an album with a genuinely unique character. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to something so pleasant yet so puzzling.

Anders Vestergaard & Finn Loxbo: Saint Erme

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 16 2019
Artist: Anders Vestergaard & Finn Loxbo
Title: Saint Erme
Format: CD + Download
Label: Gikt Records
After collaborating as a duo for a few years with larger arsenals of instruments, guitarist Finn Loxbo and drummer Anders Vestergaard have stripped their approach back to a much simpler arrangement- an acoustic guitar, two drums, an analogue feedback system and a sine wave generator. “Saint Erme” is a single 46-minute piece, premiered in October 2017, with its second-ever performance at the Stockholm Jazz Festival, telling you roughly where this sits.

The press release says Vestergaard & Loxbo “have mainly worked with improvised music”, but it’s ambiguous as to whether this has an improvisational element. Certainly it feels improvised- centred as it does around short impulsive bursts, single unexpected drum hits, long silences followed by a handful of acoustic guitar notes, it has that consciously arhythmic, anti-call-and-response tone to it. Tiny melodic motifs repeat and then dissipate in ways where it’s hard to spot the underlying motivation. Leaving the longest silences before the hardest drum hits feels like contrarianism at times.

The drums and the guitar are dominant throughout, with the feedback and sine wave generator providing some additional texturing at very subtle levels- often so high-pitched and so faint that they become almost tinnitus-like, fading into nothing if you’re listening in a non-silent environment. Towards the end of the work, a long bass sine wave note arrives in force- a crescendo of sorts, a speaker-showcasing hum of marvellous purity and a real neighbour-shaker.

It’s experimental and improvised (I think) jazz at some of its most stripped back and minimal, this is a release that draws you in and which is certainly appreciable- but if seeking fresh musical turf or a ‘wow’ factor, then you may want to look elsewhere.

Thomas William Hill: Grains Of Space

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 13 2019
Artist: Thomas William Hill
Title: Grains Of Space
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Village Green Recordings
UK-based multi-instrumentalist Thomas William Hill’s second album on Village Green Recordings began its life as a series of improvised minimal loops made with just a viola da gamba and a loop pedal. However the urge to ‘join the dots’, as Hill puts it, and compose into the space between the existing notes, turned this project into something much more ambitious and epic, in which Hill layers up a selection of his own diverse instrumentation (Tibetan singing bowls, African kalimbas, metal tongue drums as beyond), as well as introducing other musicians that add elements such as violin, trumpet, double bass and harp into the mix on certain tracks. The result is a fully fledged symphonic affair with a distinctly classical sound, often extremely traditional-sounding, but with the original electronic looping and repetition underpinning proceedings in a subtle yet complex way.

There’s a consistency to it which makes it feel like one single 46-minute work, potentially mislabellable as a soundtrack album, so selecting highlights seems arbitrary. However notable parts include the understated and emotive “Furnace”, with its simple but powerful piano backbone, the oddly danceable “Refract”, and the lyrical positivity that infuses “Tongue” that pulls up its slightly sorrowful-sounding string arrangements. The steady everyday pace of “Willow” feels like a musical portrait of modern routine, evoking thoughts of daily commuting and yearning for holidays.

The building tension inherent in “Flock” certainly has a ‘prelude to final battle’ feel to it, while final piece “Whorl” starts out with an extremely Glass-like pattern of string arpeggios that gradually flows into more open melodic waters, implying a musical freedom which is briefly threatened by glitchy noise atmospheres.

It’s an extremely impressive output, and a strong indicator of classical music’s healthy ability to retain its form but adapt to the pulses and processes of modern life. It’s beautiful work.

Hervé Perez: Imploding Stars

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 30 2019
Artist: Hervé Perez
Title: Imploding Stars
Format: CD + Download
Label: Focused Silence
Hervé Perez works in sound design and recording, and also plays the soprano sax. For “Imploding Stars” he’s turned these two facets towards each other, taking a series of impulsive and experimental sax recordings and twisting and bending them, both with live processing and post production, into a collection of avantgarde electro-acoustic works. In various manners, these thoroughly disassemble the stereotype of saxophone music and use the shattered pieces to build a variety of soundscapes, many of which are obtuse and rather pointy.

Opener “Deconstruct Variable” sounds relatively normal in comparison to what follows, with a more simple laying and stuttering approach, but it’s only a taste of what’s to come as the tones and melodic elements devolve into often chaotic arrangements. “Shipping News” transforms the saxophone from a musical instrument into a sound effects device (most obviously an imitation foghorn), while pieces like “Waiting For Space To Contract”, which hinges on a series of alien-sounding wave effects, or the sparse and scratchy “Peculiar Particles”, are so heavily processed that the original instrument is unrecognisable.

“Secrets Whispered Sometimes Spread” is notable, a deep and breathy affair that jumps between slow and fast playing in a catch-me-if-you-can manner. “Landscape In The Mist” is another highlight, a somewhat calmer affair (in relative terms) that feels like a deliberate soother after some of the more difficult moments.

There’s a palindromic conceit visible in the song titles- “Deconstruct Variable” at the front, “Variable Construction” at the end, “Waiting For Space To Contract” the fifth track from the start, “Waiting For Space To Expand” the fifth track from the end and so on, but it’s not a concept that reaches the listeners’ ears in any strongly discernable fashion.

At 78 minutes, and built from a relatively small palette of sources and ideas, it’s quite an indulgent release that could perhaps have benefitted from some tripping or moderation- a situation perhaps explained by the catalogue number PEREZ0001 that implies a self-release. But there’s some fascinating and sometimes challenging audio nuggets here that are definitely worth checking out if you like your soundscaping scratchy and oblique.
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