Music Reviews

Stephen Guaci / Kris Davis / Michael Bisio: Three

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 14 2011
Artist: Stephen Guaci / Kris Davis / Michael Bisio (@)
Title: Three
Format: CD
Label: clean feed records (@)
Rated: *****
We don't get much in the way of jazz here at Chain D.L.K., but trio SKM (Stephen Gauci- tenor saxophone; Kris Davis ' piano; Michael Bisio ' double bass) is a free jazz collaboration with some very noteworthy moments. All have impressive credentials in the field of jazz with numerous collaborations and recordings under their belts. The big difference on 'Three' is the lack of drums allowing for a much freer improvisational atmosphere. In fact, all tracks are improvised, except #6 ('Now') by Michael Bisio.

The result of this collaboration is a wide variety of expression from track to track where although the instrumentation is obviously the same, the form is not. On 'The End Must Always Come,' which opens the album, Davis take the lead with a wildly rhapsodic improv that spurs on Bisio's bass to counter from every angle. It's almost like sparring the way the instruments dance around each other and Guaci's sax doesn't even enter until the 2 ½ minute point, tentatively at first, then more definitively as the piece progresses. Davis seems to get temporarily stuck in this one repetitive musical figure that has the effect of propelling Guaci's sax all over the place. Davis later employs the same technique to actually soothe the sax and wind things down to its conclusion.

'Like a Phantom, a Dream' begins with a beautiful sax solo from Gauci and even when the piano and bass come in (and the sax drops out), seems almost melodically conventional. Lots of extended runs here move very quickly eventually rejoined by the sax. Davis drops out and the piece turns quite moody with just sax and bass. The moodiness is replaced by agitation for awhile, before it turns back to being moody at the end. I really kind of grooved on this one.

'Something From Nothing' proves that you don't need a drummer to carry a rhythm as piano, bass and sax provide muted percussion sounds. To a large degree, it seems like an exercise in creative restraint, and things only show any sign of busting loose when the 9:36 track is two-thirds over. Still, it never quite gets out of hand, and is interesting from start to finish.

'Groovin' for the Hell of It' is an oddly enigmatic piece that changes directions more times than a soccer ball on a football field. At one point when Davis starts pounding out these offbeat dissonant chords, it really seems to shake things up. It's hard to quantify this one; when Davis gets going on another one of her repetitive cycles toward the end, she is nearly alone in her own world.

'Still So Beautiful' is a lovely abstract ballad that may seem loose but the playing is tightly interconnected as the instruments weave an amazing braid around each other. Bisio's composition 'Now' is the most unusual piece on the album, with a mad arco technique that exhorts all manner of twisted sounds from is double bass. It hardly seemed as long as the 5:20 it is. 'No Reason To or Not To' is a sparse balladesque moody piece that finds Davis's piano plunking around percussively in the lower register to begin with, while Bisio's bass and Gauci's sax tentatively dance around each other to establish a motif. Bisio is the more active of the two even though he often plays off Gauci's sparse riffing. At this point things are rife with possibilities. It is well over three minutes before Kris's piano decides to enter with some counter-melody, and it gets into a pretty cool post-Bop groove, courtesy of Bisio's trad-jazz baseline. Gauci's sax work is smooth as silk, reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's more soulful and introspective work. Things really heat up and take off at half past six with in all directions divergent yet converges back together for the balladesque finale. 'Just To Be Heard' begins with sax and bass in a riffing race while Davis throws in the occasional chordal fragment or phrased accent. Bisio's running like a wildman possessed propelling Gauci's agitated sax into a region of mewling squeals and squalls while the piano keeps knocking at the door of this melee right up til the end.

The album is hard to describe in words. It has a lot more to do with musical feeling than anything purely technical or aesthetic. There are moments of absolute brilliance on it, and at other times you get the impression the musicians are searching for something not easily found. Through most of it Michael Bisio exedues an intuitive confidence and direction I've not often heard from a bassist (except maybe Charlie Haden) in this type of free jazz collaboration. Kudos to Kris Davis too for her willingness to take risks and skirt the fringe of the oblique. As for Gauci, I got the impression that at times he was holding back, perhaps for good reason to let the other players take a more dominant role. Still, there is no question that his work here is impressive when he wants to step out, and supportive when he deems it best to lay back. A challenging listen by any means, lovers of free jazz should find this quite engaging. I look forward to their next collaboration together.

Puin + Hoop: Door

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 08 2011
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Artist: Puin + Hoop (@)
Title: Door
Format: CD
Label: Narrominded (@)
Rated: *****
After the already reviewed release with Hermen Wilken and Coen Oscar Polack, narrominded release this new work of this dutch trio. According to the press release this album "presents a rich trip though sound, encompassing the gray area between improvised music, post industrial drone and glowing synthscapes" and, honestly, this definition well describes the artistic relevance of this release.
This is an album which title seems to suggest that the listener have to go from a place to another, in a sort of musical journey into experimental fields illuminated by a bright dark light.
"Het Wondere Toeval" is a noisy opener for the second track "Bomendocumentaire" that is a mesmerizing loud and heavy drone while "Huidig Tijdsgewricht" is instead a slowly moving and dark description of dangerous situation. "Complotkanaal" took the listener into the heavy atmosphere of the beginning of the record with a final talk between piano and synth. "Ceci n'est pas une Puin + Hopp" is almost an exercise in post-rock structures with clear ideas in mind and a funny joke title. "Zuurstof III" is the last and longest track of this good album and is constructed above a romantic piano juxtaposed on an abstract soundscape with an hypnotic effect.
Even better than their recent live release "de objectieve lach", it's a record of uncommon variety and full of details. A remarkable release. Highly recommended(^_^).
This album is available also as free download @, another reason not to miss it.

BRASIL & THE GALLOWBROTHERS BAND : in the rain, in the noise

 Posted by Andrea Ferraris (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 03 2011
Title: in the rain, in the noise
Format: CD
Label: Catsun/Monotype
Rated: *****
I'm sorry it took me a while to write this review, but sure in the meanwhile I've had the time to dedicate many listenings to this weird band coming from Poland. Brasil & the Gallowbrothers Band reminded me of some open musicians' collective operating here and there and with their roots stably planted in the seventies. We're not talking about freak-rock or anything close, this music is much closer to ambient/new age music or to movie soundtracks and i dare you to deny it's not easy to imagine a movie during fifty minutes length of this work. This band consists of four multi-instrumentists playing harmonica, flute, voice, guitar, marimba, synth, samples and several other things. The cd is a really freaky experience, the instrumental interventions come in and go out really gently and are well melted with the field recording, despite their psychedelic nature they never become too old-fashioned. After a twenty minutes opening track that grows like an acid trip, the surprise comes from a pop-psychedelic folk tune with vocals and a quite simple melody. The third song brings back to a quasi kraut atmosphere while the fourth episode has a particular song structure and brings the band into a diluted atmosphere. The closing episode reminded me a lot of Faust and by some means I'm tented to say these musicians have a lot in common with them and Can above all for what concern the musical approach to a "whatever feels good" idea. A soft and old-fashioned trip, nice.

Goatvargr: Black Snow Epoch

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 31 2011
Artist: Goatvargr (@)
Title: Black Snow Epoch
Format: CD
Label: Cold Spring (@)
Rated: *****
One of the first human being speaking about the "black snow" was presumably Anaxagoras: this notorious Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher on the basis of the diaphaneity of the water mantained even snow was black as black colour is tantamount to the absence of all colours. Likewise if the premises originating a concept is wrong and there is nothing mistrusting the opposite premises on the logical path, it's possible to be wrong in obtaining some results. This concept has fascineted a lot of artists and could be the conceptual framework of this Black Snow Epoch, the second sonorous calving coming from the reproductive session (just musical one!) between Henrik "Nordvargr" Bjorkk, a Swedish sound adulterator - maybe some of you have already listened something signed under other pseudonyms such as MaschinenZimmer 412, Hydra Head 9, Folkstorm or Toroidh (my favorite one, maybe for some musical nuances close to Raison d'Etre releases) -, quite famous for his artistic fruitfulness in the so-called "grey area" for being one of the first sound-artists dealing with the so-called "black industrial" music (something which some reviewer names "dark ambient" as well nowadays), whose nickname means "northern wolf", and the American noise artist Andy O'Sullivan aka Goat, whose researches are more noise-oriented as well, giving to birth this freaky creature called Goatvargr - you can imagine some bestial character, whose body is half-goat and half-wolf... -, which musically could stand as a sort of alternative path towards the thick woods of power electronics, black metal and cinematic ritual drones.

If you already have listened to their self-titled debut album, you'll easily notice this time the noise sounds more "organized" - just some parts such as the deafening Wall of Wolf tread on noises in a cacophonic way - as whereas this two beasts don't pummel each other, the atmospheric grips intertwined with heavily dragged metallic marches have been preferred so that they finally emphasized the suggestions and somewhat sinister fascination of this gloomy record, alternating the feral gaits of those animals and the disquieting glacial silence with terrific buzzing or quartering through voices which sometimes sounds human, sometimes turn into more brutish timbres (have a listen to the initial Goatsbane/Scapewolf - nice wordy trick for a title! - for a thorough sample of such a transmutation...) and reaching the highest peak in the almost solemn final anthem of A Black Drum Droning. By rewording sleevenotes printed on the booklet (you can turn it into a poster with the drawing on front-cover by French), "during the black snow epoch, the true hunters will pursue"...

Seven That Spells: Future Retro Spasm

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 31 2011
Artist: Seven That Spells (@)
Title: Future Retro Spasm
Format: CD
Label: Beta-lactam Ring Records (@)
Distributor: Beta-lactam Ring Records
Rated: *****
Seven That Spells is a Croatian Psychedelic Space-Rock band with elements of Math Rock and Avant-Garde jazz, at least on this album. Formed back in 2003 by guitarist/keyboardist Niko PotoÄnjak, aboard on this trip are: saxophonist Lovro ZlopaÅ¡a; drummer Stanislav MuÅ¡kinja; and Narantxa on bass. My first experience with STS was on the Beta-lactam Ring compilation 'Music For Personality Disorder' which I reviewed a little while ago. The track on the comp was 'Terminus Est' which is on this album as well. I described it thusly: 'Imagine latter day King Crimson, Gong, and John Zorn thrown in a blender and set to puree. Totally chaotic and dissonant. Fans of obscure outfits like Amalgam should love this.' Well that was an off-the-cuff description, accurate to some degree, but certainly not the whole picture of this album. In order to get a little musical background on the band, I went back through some of their tracks on previous albums and discovered that 'Future Retro Spasm' isn't a whole lot like some of the stuff they've done before. My general impression of their prior work was a less focused group, maybe in part due to the influence of Acid Mothers Temple's Kawabata Makoto. In any event, 'Future Retro Spasm' is an album that you can't just take blissfully lying back and expect it to waft over you. It will hit you on the head'¦HARD.

Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel's most famous amp may go to 11, but these guys' amps start at 11 and go to ??? 'Olympos' begins with Lorvo's frenetic sax riffing crazy arpeggios over an 'Astronomy Domine' style bass & drums until the Gong strikes'¦then a simple ascending motif begins and the band riffs off that on the improv. It is clearly Lorvo who is showcased here, although MuÅ¡kinja and Narantxa have their manic moments. Just when you thought it seemed like going to die down, it comes back FULL FORCE like an unstoppable freight train. Imagine LPD on STP and a totally freaked out Niels van Hoorn and you get some idea of what's going on.

'G' begins with a single repeating note anchor of guitar and sax before Muškinja and Narantxa strike up a tight Wetton-Bruford era King Crimsoid rhythm while the guitar holds down the single repeating note and the sax riffs off it all. It gets better when Niko abandons the annoyingly repetitious note and lays down a fast Fripp-like guitar pattern which the sax plays off of. There are some moments of magic here, and when Niko's guitar takes off into the stratosphere things really heat up. Absolutely wild in its semi-controlled chaos.

I've described 'Terminus Est' before but that description isn't entirely accurate. Sure, comparisons could be made to King Crimson and John Zorn (and his various offshoots), but there are also elements of Philip Glass and Steve Reich in the repetitive riff cycles employed on this track. It has the power and fury of a herd enraged charging elephants, as the sax squealing often gives the impression of the trumpeting cry of wild beasts. 'The Abandoned World of Automata' slows it down for a calmer psychedelic atmosphere, with repetitive heavily verbed guitar arpeggios as the bass moves in melodic lines. Eventually the sax sneaks in for a bit of laconic Eastern noodling, which goes on for a good while. And that's the problem with this track. At the halfway point of this 14 and a half minute opus, the guitar switches to an ascending 8 note scale patterns before taking off into cosmic territory. I suppose they were trying to build up into it, but it just took too long to get there. It is something else though in terms of psychedelic improvisation when they finally arrive. This track could have been shorter by a third, maybe even half.

'Death Star Narcolepsy' is sheer, uncompromising manic freneticism with a Middle Eastern bent, and it's well over five minutes they keep it up before there's a break. When it does come, it turns into a mad dervish dance ending in the inevitable chaos that follows. Last track, 'Quetzalcoatl' is the shortest on the album but in a certain sense the most varied, and a definite melding of Zorn and Crimson on amphetamines. Yikes!

I'm kind of ambivalent about 'Future Retro Spasm'; what Seven That Spells lacks in finesse they try and make up for in exuberance. It's that lack of finesse that bothers me though, as it seems that control (and structured songwriting) isn't this band's strong suit and the music often comes across as heavy handed, with little in the way of subtlety. As far as the improvisation goes, there are many passages of absolute brilliance, and incredible musicianship, and if that's ultimately what you're looking for, you just may find it on 'Future Retro Spasm'.

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