Music Reviews

Leo Irsara: A Flower for a Mountain Sailor

 Posted by Tyran Grillo (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 26 2019
Artist: Leo Irsara (@)
Title: A Flower for a Mountain Sailor
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
I first encountered the troubadourial spirit of guitarist, singer, and songwriter Leo Irsara along the sunlit pathways of New York City’s Central Park in May of 2018. In the course of a conversation spanning the gamut from religion to travel, Leo revealed his passion for music. So began a long-distance exchange that culminated in the present subject of review, thereby re-inscribing the ability of music to collapse divisions of geography and culture to nil.

Leo’s music is a curious animal: one that doesn’t belong in a cage yet which seems content remaining in one, if only to have bars at the ready for rattling. His half-sung delivery bows to the primacy of self-expression in vocal art and toes the line of spoken word. Together with drummer Guliano da Ponte Becher, he paints in broad strokes which, after a period of settling in, develop a charming patina. His creations are a mélange of the personal and the political, and would be just as appropriate in a spaghetti western as on a street corner.

The album is framed by the two-part “Present for the Prisoner,” which introduces a running theme of freedom and its burdensome pursuit. “I have learned to be silent” he intones in the first, and leaves us in the second with: “Sometimes life can bring you to the other side of the wall and you will feel happiness inside you”—a line even more timely, perhaps, than when it was penned. In both, he seems to say, the worst prisons are ones of the mind.

“The Wind of the East Sea” pulls another thematic thread from the loom, both lyrically and melodically. Its maritime obsessions run deep and, like “Coins of a Beggar” (a highlight), feel like a Quentin Tarantino nightmare infused with folk spirits and self-deceptions. Such conflicts are at the heart of “Beginning of Changes,” a paean to adolescent breaking points, and “The Cart in the Sky,” which reiterates the possibility of wars happening within more than without.

Leo’s guitar often plays the role of commentator. In “At the End of the Road” especially, he builds the very solace he seeks in tense delivery. In both “The Wife of the Mountain Man” and “The Star of the Endless Harmony,” he understands that loving what you have comes before having what you love. The result is a collection of songs that eschew pleasantries for honest poetry, reminding us that the biggest dangers we face are faceless.

Evelyn Glennie & Roly Porter: One Day Band 17

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 26 2019
Artist: Evelyn Glennie & Roly Porter
Title: One Day Band 17
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Trestle Records
The seventeenth installment in the intrigueing One Day Band series might, arguably, not actually be a band. Instead it’s more like an EP of legendary percussionist Glennie’s improvisations that have been curated, produced and reworked by Porter.

A broad variety of instrumentation is the source, with Glennie utilising a truck-load of percussive instruments both familiar and unfamiliar, with live distortion through guitar amps as a first phase and digital post-processing and layering as a second phase through which the sounds are blended, stretched and disassembled into a set of four five-minutes-ish numbered soundscapes that tend towards the dark, sinister and sparse.

Part 1 is crisp and rumbling, giving tectonic noises of friction and low frequency power, before part 2 flips upside-down and fills itself almost solely with high, pure-sounding melodic notes, developing a tendency towards emptiness that’s compulsive and draws you in. After a third part focussed on more drawn-out sustains that flirt with discordancy, part 4 initially layers up to sound like an experimental ensemble performing a score that, if written down, would be expressed as waves and envelopes that would first interplay then build to an ‘everybody plays long notes at once’ suspense-laden crescendo that wraps it up nicely.

It’s a really coherent and engaging 21 minutes. Pedantry about the use of the word ‘band’ aside, it’s a great EP that leaves you wishing they’d stuck together for more than one day.

Klangwart: Bogotá

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 14 2019
Artist: Klangwart
Title: Bogotá
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Staubgold
Long-established but not particularly prolific duo Tim Reuber and Markus Detmer, generally labelled as ‘neo-krautrock’ or ‘avant-rock’, have travelled somewhat for this Bogotá project. As the name unsubtly suggests, they went to the Colombian capital in 2014 and collaborated with a variety of local musicians who each added a variety of organic elements that fuses well with the krautrock sound. The resulting flavour is a strong fifty-fifty blend of Spanish South American expression with more measured and teutonic rhythm work.

The album bookends “Porro A” and “Porro B” have an upbeat, hints-of-motorik beat that is strongly reminscent of the first Silver Apples releases. Save for a few production touches, most of the rest of the album sounds like it could have been contemporary to that late 60’s, wig-out, shades-of-early-prog-rock-and-alt-jazz musical make-up. However some more effects-laden sections, for example the dub-like reverbs in “Chocolate” or the brighter more modern-sounding synths in “Improv 2”, give away that it’s newer.

“Drum Battle” is a notable highlight, rolling live drum patterns around in an effects-laden space with rather trippy results that results in one of the album’s darker but most satisfying moments. This contrasts nicely with the fairly light-footed jazz meandering of longest track “Blind Date”, or the very chilled out groove found on “Rico”.

It largely sounds a little like it’s fallen through a wormhole in time and that the last twenty years of musical history haven’t happened, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing, and if you’re openminded to hearing a genuinely fusion-driven and well-rounded collection of krautrock blended with South American flavours, this will go down a treat.

Saba Alizadeh: Scattered Memories

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 13 2019
Artist: Saba Alizadeh
Title: Scattered Memories
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Iranian Saba Alizadeh’s debut album is largely built around his work as a player of the kamancheh, or ‘spike fiddle’, and on first introduction appears that it is going to be a fairly traditional work, drawing heavily on his country’s rich musical culture. But this is also a broader and more ambitious work as well, with the well-travelled Alizadeh obviously influenced by a wide variety of more experimental electro-acoustic works and soft-touch electronics as well, resulting in something that’s a genuine fusion of traditional and brand new sounds.

Sometimes it’s more of the former, with pieces like “Scattered Drops” drawing on the mesmeric patterning and near-cliché, sitar-style string sounds to build a slowly shifting pattern, that’s explored in reasonable length and only book-ended by more abstract sounds at either end. Last track “Fluid” has an expansive, languid feel to it, evocative of hot open plains and emptiness.

On the other hand, pieces like “Ladan Dead End” are handled very differently, with the acoustic instrumentation clearly a starting point, but on tracks which have clearly travelled a long way in production terms, with thick blankets of atmospheres, pads, reverbs, electronic clicks and post sounds that do, at times, bring to mind some Future Sound Of London works- slightly alien-sounding, barren and flute-infused opener “Blood City” being a case in point.

It’s a respectful and thickly textured blend of old and new instrumentation that draws on some sources that could sound stereotypical, yet successfully sounds fresh and newsworthy, traversing a path that carefully avoids the various traps of novelty and cultural appropriation to bring you something that you’ll certainly enjoy if you’re interested in hearing modern Eastern sounds.

Standing Waves: The Wave

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 11 2019
Artist: Standing Waves
Title: The Wave
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Staying fairly close to the comfort zone of ‘fusion music’, the exotic soundscapes of “The Wave” are a collection of bright instrumental performances that blend Eastern-sounding elements, particularly percussion and tabla, with more Western folksy and jazzy elements, in the piano and often prominent violin. It has an energetic, live, improvised ensemble feel to it for the most part, but later on, some more melancholy-infused pieces such as the two-part title track to give it a sincerity and depth.

The vocal work and ‘vocal overtoning’ showcased on the misleadingly titled “Frog Chorus” (there’s some actual frog ambience at the end, but not even a hint of Paul McCartney here) are quite intriguing, a-linguistic vocal exercises in melody and percussive mouth noises that at times borders on the territory of New Age Music (particularly in “Hildegard’s Dream”) but for the most part is a workable and refreshing substitute for conventional lyrical singing. It’s hard to tell sometimes what’s sampled and what’s original, with elements like the uncredited throat singing on “The Wave pt. 2” presumably a sample, but fused together with the real performance elements in a very convincing way.

It’s certainly a familiar-sounding approach to fusion, and a recipe that shouldn’t result in a platter that feels new. However it’s carried by the polished composition, performance and production that give it an undeniable richness, vibrancy and class. It also has potential as a stepping stone for listeners of more traditional music who are intrigued by something that’s just a shade more experimental without being challenging.
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