Music Reviews

Tony Buck: Unearth

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 30 2017
Artist: Tony Buck
Title: Unearth
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
Berlin-based composer and drummer Tony Buck’s first solo release in well over a decade, “Unearth” is a single 51-minute track of thickly layered wind sounds, swelling drones, sparse and organic prog-rock-esque instrumentation, untraceable found sounds and processed noises. It’s interspersed with spontaneous percussive moments that are sometimes single hits that cut through the soundscape like blunt knives, sometimes more frantic repeated cymbal washes.

After a relatively sparse first five minutes, the multi-tracking gradually increases, and with it so does the sense of disorientation. It’s a bumpy sonic wallpaper, frequently introducing new noise variants to keep you on your toes, at times panning elements sharply across the stereo field as though trying to make you dizzy.

Around the fifteen minute mark guitar, bass and keys are gradually introduced, and this is where it takes a substantial step in the direction of avantgarde jazz or the most out-there side of prog rock. The analogue tone to the bleeps and radio effects that arrive here seem to throw proceedings back to a more 1970’s flavour, transforming it into a sort of improvised wig-out.

As we proceed into the second half, the melee is joined by deep piano notes and some strung-out bowed sounds that increase the tension and sense of alienation to a new level. Towards the finale the sense of a rhythmical pulse also increases, with the alarm-style notes in the final five minutes a very stark and broadly unpleasant wake-up call concluding something that initially sounded like it might have been sleep music.

It’s an expertly measured evolution of atmosphere and sound that progresses through a variety of styles without losing consistency. It feels at times like it looks backwards rather than forwards somewhat but appreciators of the most indulgent avantgarde edges of rock will definitely enjoy the ride.

The Mirror Unit: Wind Makes Weather

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 15 2017
Artist: The Mirror Unit (@)
Title: Wind Makes Weather
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
According to the explanation of saxophone players George Wisell and Tim O'Dwyer, the musicians behind this project (I should refer to them as 'units'), its name depends on the fact that they perform as if one reflects in the other, so that one acts like the mirror for the other and vice versa. The amazing aspect of their specularity, coming from a reciprocal knowledge and based also on the adoption of similar performative techniques, is the way by which they try to portray social situations, characters or even non-musical codes. The titles of each improvisations included in this output - entirely improvised and recorded live at the Peter Kowald Ort in Wuppertal on the 18th of June 2014 -, which became part of the huge catalogue of the Portuguese label Creative Sources in 2015, could be guidelines of what they are going to represent, even if the analogy is not that easy: for instance the scrawny structure, the constant segmented hops and even some occasional scream-like noises of "Arthropod" could be matched to arthropods' exoskeleton, their segmented bodies and sometimes the concern these invertebrates can inspire. Think about a mumbling, hardly busy and sometimes clumsy maid, while listening to "Whistling Maid", or some typically urban auditory startles, while listening to the opening "Authentic City". The author's winds could be imagined as a way to blink their coordinates in Morse code in the track "Morse", detectors of coming thunder storms in the title track of "Wind Makes Weather" or even the pencils of a sketch artist (check the sound of "Old Believer" and tell if it doesn't render the idea somehow...). The above-mentioned specularity could be better appreciated by the decision of recording each saxophone into two separate channels, Georg on the right channel and Tim on the left.

GIW: Never Is Always

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Aug 04 2017
Artist: GIW
Title: Never Is Always
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: ti-Records
An exercise in contrarianism, “Never Is Always” is Pablo Giw’s experiments with creating electronic music, both house music and darker more experimental works, but only using acoustic means- his trumpet, found sound percussion and his own voice. It’s an ambitious and diverse project and the results are intriguing and mostly very successful.

Opener “Morning Machine” is actually one of the weaker parts, with 60’s-style beat poetry updated for the digital age, an indulgent self-analysis involving rewriting one’s ego in binary, over a layered drone of trumpets and other noises- one of those tracks you wish there was an instrumental version of. Similarly “The Golden Calf” is more conventionally jazzy and more akin to what you might expect from ‘a trumpet album’, with late-arriving lyrics that are vaguely Karl Hyde-like in the way they manage to sound like stream-of-consciousness yet carefully planned at the same time.

As the work progresses though things get much stronger. “Hain” is a highlight, a long piece of unique-sounding dancing music with a simple and infectious groove. The layered atmospheric trumpet-sourced atmospheres like “What’s Outside Isn’t There” are very strong, as is “Gone” which sounds like someone trying to play a full Phillip Glass orchestral work on a solo trumpet at racing speed, yet somehow it works. “I Saw You - Trouble” is two connected short ideas, with “Trouble” an organic recreation of stuttering house music with a strangely endearing awkwardness. The dark sinister stepping electro of “Right Endeavour” is a short interlude that hints at a very different style that could easily be explored much further to great effect.

So while the poetry-driven tracks ultimately didn’t ‘click’ with me, overall there’s enough energy and originality in here to make it definitely worth checking out.

Ernesto Diaz-Infante: Manitas

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jul 24 2017
Artist: Ernesto Diaz-Infante (@)
Title: Manitas
Format: CD
Label: Kendra Steiner Editions (@)
Rated: *****
This new release by Ernesto Diaz-Infante is a structured improvisation where he tries to achieve, using his words, "a spectral way of playing" and was inspired by ecil Taylor’s ‘Air Above Mountains’. While his latest releases were based on strumming, this release is based on guitar lines without a tone center. This makes the first minutes of this release hard to follow for those unacquainted with this kind of musical development. The second part of this release, starting at approximately 10 minutes, is based, more than on the strumming with whom it begins, with the guitar as a sound source rather than on his traditional use so it's even noisy. The final part, beginning with another strumming, returns to the free form territories as if the structure called for a circle.
It's noteworthy how, instead of closing himself in a cliché, he decided to explore a different territory without resorting to the usual contemplation of guitar sound with strumming but entering a dimension closer to free improvisation exploring another level of guitar sound. Even if this could frighten a fan used to hear more or less the same music from a known artist i.e., have his expectation fulfilled, he's reminded how listening means being exposed to the unknown. Recommended.

Kimmig-Studer-Zimmerlin: Im Hellen

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jul 21 2017
Artist: Kimmig-Studer-Zimmerlin
Title: Im Hellen
Format: CD
Label: Hat Hut
This trio of violin, contrabass and violoncello perform improvised pieces with a playful earnestness that combines a slightly impulsive aesthetic of plucking, stretching and percussive approach to performance with a wise appreciation of minimalism, space, hiatus, and the power of the pregnant pause. The result is a 45-minute performance, recorded in 2015 in Radio SRF2’s Studio 1, that commands attention in the same way that an irregularly dripping tap cries out to be observed.

Opening piece “Im duetlichen Morgen” is a self-contained work of rise and fall. Especially in the opening few tracks, in pieces like “Was Wiesel Wissen”, it’s as though the trio are wilfully attempting to make the smallest sounds possible that would still constitute playing, this is one of those releases that needs to be heard on headphones in a quiet room to be appreciated.

“Gib Mir Honig” adds a note of tension, the addition of longer bass notes adding the sinister sense of something approaching, which pairs nicely with the dynamic peak of the album in “Safran Im Februar” in which the bowing becomes more violently stabbed and the layering more frantic. “Out Of Reach” with its faintly droney bed takes us back through suspense towards a more sci-fi soundscape. “Hinter WÄnden aus Papier” threatens momentarily to wander into jazz, but restrains itself. “Hinüber Oder Vielleicht” is perhaps the most conventional of avantgarde classical pieces, toying with discord and variations in attack and sustain in a way that feels like a throwback to half a century of preceding classical improvisations.

The quality is exemplary, the performances clean and powerful and the musical focus tight. It’s a really bold and clear musical vision that commands attention.
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