Music Reviews

Joana Gama and Luís Fernandes: At the Still Point of the Turning World

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 06 2018
Artist: Joana Gama and Luís Fernandes
Title: At the Still Point of the Turning World
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
Joana Gama and Luís Fernandes have been collaborating since 2012 and if “At The Still Point Of The Turning World” is any indication, it’s one of those musical connections that fits into place beautifully. What they offer up here is a short but perfectly formed collection of pieces blending natural small ensemble orchestra sounds with the deftest of electronic processing into something that must surely be considered a prime example of the best of cutting-edge classical from today.

Opening piece “Neither Flesh Nor Fleshless” is a stark and bold offering, beginning and end with a steady ominous thumping which is first joined then abandoned by shrill sustained string sounds. From the pizzicato strings that begin “Perpetual Possibility” things get a little more layered, but the sombre tension persists throughout the slow crescendo of piano and fantastically slow string unfolding.

After two relatively natural-sounding bits of modern classical, “The Pattern Is Movement” adds a whole new electronic aspect to proceedings, shifting the slow progressions into synthesized and processed sounds to which the traditional orchestra only very subtly contributes at first. This time when the full orchestra re-emerges it feels strangely pastoral by comparison, since everything is relative. “Through The Vibrant Air” has an almost inverse approach, opening initially as a piece of more conventional avant garde (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) classical before devolving into electronic clicks and glitches.

Final two pieces “Lucid Stillness” and “Shaft Of Sunlight” are slightly sparser, piano-led affairs with an exquisite sense of control and balance in which the electronic arrangements are truly unified with the orchestral elements, the former being more of a fixed melancholy, the latter leading towards a form of audible sunrise that ends the album far more optimistically than it began.

This is one of those releases that makes you stand up and pay attention to it, not through any brash or loud characteristics but because the sheer, almost luxuriant quality of it really draws you in.

Sandro Mussida: Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 29 2018
Artist: Sandro Mussida
Title: Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili
Format: Blu Ray disc (BD)
It’s worth pointing out from the offset that I’m reviewing the 2-track stereo version here of a 25-minute work which was originally conceived for and performed in a surround-sound six-point-star arrangement with the audience in the middle of a circle of performers. So the high-quality-studio-recorded, surround-sound Blu-ray edition may bring a whole dimension to this work that a stereo mixdown can’t capture.

Even with only two speakers, what we get there is an elegant bit of avantgarde modern classical music featuring prominent piano decorated with some tense long violin notes, equivalent but softer offering from a flute and clarinet, sparingly-plucked electric guitar, super-light percussion (most prominently high-pitched xylophone sounds often used in films to indicate where nightmares and lullabies collide), “and computers” which manifest mainly as occasional synth-like key sounds and some distant odd loops.

Across the two parts, we circle around arrangements of mood, players responding to each other’s gradual changes of tone that sways us between tension and mild discontent on one side, and mellow melancholy on the other. There’s always a degree of space, never chaos, with an admirable sense of moderation and mutual respect- whilst not overall particularly minimal, each musical element exhibits minimalism most of the time. The result is broad and expansive tone that wallows in reverb with a degree of suspense.

A high-end product from the world of Italian modern classical.

Goh Lee Kwang & Christian Meaas Svendsen: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 21 2018
Artist: Goh Lee Kwang & Christian Meaas Svendsen
Title: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Nakama Records
Gibberish, balderdash and drivel are words my Dad would use to describe these three “nonsensical musical conversations” between Goh Lee Kwan’s nylon guitar and Christian Meaas Svendsen’s double bass, musicians who, musically speaking and perhaps even literally, had never met before.

Three relatively frenetic, jazz-ish improvised pieces in which the two instruments are variously arguing, counterpointing, or just acting completely independently, even the press release admits that they were “totally failing at making any sensible dialogue”, which is unusual in a genre dominated by high concepts.

The notes bend, the pace wobbles, structure is defied, and despite being quite openly meaningless it’s still strangely enjoyable. “Gibberish” is the most manic of the three pieces, with “Balderdash” allowing a little more space and more back-and-forth between the two players. Final piece “Drivel” is the longest, and the piece which most encompasses a variety of different tones, sometimes barren, sometimes more manic, sometimes exhibiting a slightly more aggressive slap-happy performance.

It was recorded with a handheld device in an art gallery close to Kuala Lumpur. Despite this the sound quality is fairly good, but you do get a slightly dampened sound and more ambience than would be customary from a studio recording- particularly when, in “Gibberish”, somebody’s phone starts going off.

The CD and LP versions come with a custom-made pencil which you can use to draw your own artwork on the cover, further emphasising the refreshingly tongue-in-cheek nature of this release. It’s a level of mild silliness that ought to be encouraged.

Alameda Duo: The Luminous Guitar Craft of Alameda Duo

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 12 2018
Artist: Alameda Duo
Title: The Luminous Guitar Craft of Alameda Duo
Format: CD
Label: Instant Classic (@)
Rated: *****
This intense avant-folk release by Alameda, the project by Jakub "Kuba" Ziolek and his long-lasting collaborator and friend Mikolay Zielinski on guitar, is an awesome musical bridge between the so-called American folk primitivism and the obscure (but really luminous indeed) tradition of ancient Greek music, that Ziolek knew through Rafal Iwanski, who let him listen a tape "Music of Ancient Greece" (dating back 1946 and reissued after decades by Orata records) where Christodoulos Halaris, a sort of archeologist of composition, who tried to study and recover some old ethnic traditions (mostly the Greek and the Byzantine ones), tried to remove the dust away of some ancient Greek music, including the notorious Delphic hymns. The environment where Alameda recorded "The Luminous Guitar Craft of Alamada" in a couple of nights (in order to avoid distractions and dirty interferences of daytime) in an evangelical church in Bygoszcz, the native town of Jakub in the Nortwestern Poland, could have influenced the blissful nuance of the melodies, the virginal singing and the "spellbound" sound together with the link to Greek music (people who only know sirtaki could notice some resemblances with the sonorities of the popular dance in the first part of "Laurel" only!) and the myths they quoted through titles and lyrics (not only the Greek ones of Ate and Daphne - "Laurel" is the alternative name of Daphne as she got transformed into this notorious and scented tree according to the moving notorious myth -, but they also quoted the Norse one of Yore). I particularly appreciated the alternation of moments when the almost hypnotical "quotations" of Greek music prevail and the ones where they push those melodies into more modernist styles, as it happens, for instance, when they unleash a hectic tapping after the first five minutes of the opening "The Silver Chant of Ate" or when they let guitars fade out to give space to some evocative field recordings, wrapping the recitation by Tomasz Nosinski on "Ming".

Park Jiha: Communion

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 08 2018
Artist: Park Jiha
Title: Communion
Format: LP
Label: Glitterbeat / tak:til
For her first solo album after some success as part of the duo [su:m], Park Jiha brings her classical training in traditional Korean instruments like the oboe-esque piri and the mouth organ-like saenghwang into strictly modern and avant garde compositions and arrangements. Some of the instrumentation is so unusual-sounding that it’s natural to assume it’s synthetic, but apparently it’s all authentic, albeit very far removed from what may traditionally have been intended.

Initially these arrangements are generally bold, featuring relatively few layers of instrumentation and with a predilection towards loud, strong tones that give everything a purity and clarity that’s generally very strong. Opening track “Throughout The Night” is underpinned by some urban atmospheric noises, but pieces like “Accumulation Of Time” live in their own independent and reverberant space that gradually builds from solo performance through to near-cacophony.

The second half is more plaintive generally. “Sounds Heard From The Moon” is a more conventional piece that may (pardon my ignorance) be performed on the yanggeum (hammered dulcimer), and pairs well with the introspective “The Longing Of The Yawning Divide”. “All Souls’ Day” is a little quirkier in tone, while the saxophone (?) on last track “The First Time I Sat Across From You” has more than a shade of lost-love jazz about it.

The first half of this album is vigorous and energetic, attention-seeking performance that brings something genuinely fresh to modern classical, and while the second half isn’t quite as notable, it’s still a very strong package that ought to bring Park some new attention.
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