Friday, November 27, 2020

Music Reviews

WERL3: s/t

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Artist: WERL3
Title: s/t
Format: LP
Label: Midira Records
“WERL3” is a recording of a one-off improvised set with Gareth Davis joining the regular WERL duo of Aidan Baker and Tomas JÄrmyr. It was recorded in the Christuskirche Bochum, as part of 2019’s Moving Noises Festival, but the sonic quality of it is so spotless that it certainly has all the tonal qualities of a studio recording.

After an initial ten minutes of more-or-less calm with soporific warm drone, the first part gradually builds up a sense of jungle adventure, and in turn, jungle danger- the clarinet at times sounding like distant animal calls, and the drums becoming more tribal. The third instrument of the trio is a guitar, though it’s largely so heavily effected and experimentally played that at times it is hard to recognise. This jungle-like business falls away towards the end of part one into a more open space, where the tone and texture of some of the instruments and in particular the echoing effects can be better appreciated.

This flows unbroken into part two, which is a marginally more tempered and structured affair. The clarinet edges into the foreground, politely, and a marginally more avantgarde jazz flavour is attained. As in the first part there is a gradual build, a gradual weathering increase in the frequency and menace of the drums, but the clarinet sails over it somewhat unaffected, lost in its own little world almost.

For a completely improvised live performance, the innate sense of shared expression on show here is extremely impressive. Whilst some my find it a little on the undramatic side, it is a rather entrancing experience and it would undoubtedly have been captivating to watch live.

Chris Abrahams: Appearance

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Artist: Chris Abrahams
Title: Appearance
Format: CD
Label: Room40
Chris Abrahams has a track record of electro-acoustic works on the Room40 label, but “Appearance” offers up something different- his first solo piano work for the label. Comprising two pieces, each around twenty minutes long, it’s entirely constructed from the conventional playing of a reverberant, grand-sounding piano- no tricks, no effects, no scratching or interfering, just tinkling.

Much of “As A Vehicle, The Dream” arrives in waves, with moderately long pauses and breathers alternating with faster cascades of notes, though never truly fast. It’s gentle, relaxing and fluid, and for its duration, mostly undramatic.

“Surface Level” has a similar tone, and still plenty of undulating, but has a slightly more romantic leaning, with top line melody notes that feel wistful and more structured- balletic, and almost but not quite danceable at times.

Undeniably virtuoso and elegant, it’s a solo piano album with very few surprises up its sleeve, but which certainly still has plenty of charm.

Joana Guerra: Chão Vermelho

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Artist: Joana Guerra
Title: Chão Vermelho
Format: 12"
Label: Miasmah
Cellist and singer Joana Guerra’s “Chão Vermelho” (“red floor”) is a series of laments about the increasingly dry ground in the area of South Portugal where Guerra lives. It is part folksy, part tribalistic, part experimental, but in every case it wears its emotions on its sleeve- predominantly sorrow, but with elements of love and hope. Regeneration is the hope.Guerra herself, as well as cello and voice (mostly Portuguese, but English on “White Animal”), also plays Portuguese guitar, prepared electric guitar and keyboard, and is joined by friends contributing violin, percussion, “objects”, bass, and additional voice. The length of this list suggests a busy sound, or a party, but it is nothing of the sort. Most of the pieces are limited to only two or three performers at most, concentrating on one instrument each and with a focus on the space between the notes. Unnecessary virtuosity or complexity has been stripped back to concentrate on the texture and expressiveness of single notes and plucks- though there does seem to be at least a slight sense of enjoyment of the sound-bending process, exhibited for example in the rubbery bass tones of “Lume”.There’s either a discordant edge or an attitude to the bowing in pieces like “Onna-bugeisha”, and a strong theatrical sense that comes through in pieces like “Oasis”. It’s an unusual blend of somewhat longer pieces, five or six minutes, contrasted against tiny sketches such as the 26-second-long “Entropicar” or the frantic scratchy solo cello work of “Reducao”.There’s both a bleakness and an intimacy at play in “Chão Vermelho” that is at times uncomfortable, but there is a power behind it that makes it a very engaging and mood-changing listening experience.

Babe, Terror: Horizogon

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Artist: Babe, Terror (@)
Title: Horizogon
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Glue Moon (@)
Even if I'm not really persuaded by the fact that pain (particularly when undeserved) is the element that turns a piece of art into a masterpiece, some interesting artists are resurfacing from the depths of oblivion or the chaotic ocean of web during the surreal pandemic situation we're experiencing. Babe, Terror, the brainchild of Sao Paulo-based soundscaper Claudio Szynkier, could be considered an interesting re-discovery. On "Horizogon", he collected six pretty long suites lasting almost one hour in total, but in reality it's a multimedia as each track got hooked to the six clips belonging to the footage "Os (Brazilian-Portuguese meaning "the poles"), that Claudio made during the first days of the pandemic in Sao Paulo, showing what is related to this assumed medical emergency that anyone can imagine and maybe experienced. In spite of the crucial and somehow inescapable visual part of the project, the music is so evoking that it doesn't really need a visual support to evoke those scenes and its obscure emotional framework. Slo-mo playbacks of bleak choirs, sombre piano choked phrases and dry and austere chord tunes that sound like curling, fading and sometimes trembling on "Scalar Velodromeda", wisely cross breeding sonic clues of that glossy tropicalism of late 70ies and 80ies movies on the following track "Alcalis", whose atmosphere almost evokes a raped illusion of an earthly heaven and a certain sense of disenchantment by a sound that could match an anthem for an imaginary spooky version of The Love Boat, the famous sitcom set on the fictional luxury passenger cruise ship S.S.Pacific Princess, whose crew and passengers turned into zombies or ghosts. The funereal chorus opening the following "Horizogon Squadra" got masterfully melted with a tune that sounds coming from a synth-trumpet-driven 80ies television commercial and could be the perfect ironic and iconic national anthem for a Brasil in Bolsonaro format, as well as the spectral music-driven intensive care by any possible instrumental phrasing in e track "Estuario Transurania", whose circling all-pervading ghostly choir impels the listener to the weird catalepsy of the following "Salina Lumen", whose black procession lead to the final grinding glitches of what could be labelled as doom-jazz of the final "Horizogon Catalase".

James Rushford: Música Callada / See the Welter

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Artist: James Rushford
Title: Música Callada / See the Welter
Format: CDx2 (double CD)
Label: Unseen Worlds
James Rushford offers up a solo piano performance of Catalan composer Federico Mompou’s four-part work “Música Callada” (“Silent music” or “Voices of silence”) put side-by-side with an original composition and ‘companion piece’ to the Mompou work, named “See The Welter”.

“Música Callada” comprises four books, originally published several years apart between 1959 and 1967, with each book split into individual movements and phrases, almost all of which are under three minutes long. This succinctness and frequent stopping gives something of a vignetted feel, with individual chord and arpeggiated explorations allowed to unfold loosely and individually. It’s undeniably sweet, and Rushford’s playing is light and romantic, though at times there’s a slight shortage of the sense of a larger structure at work- it can feel more like a series of thoughtful interludes in sequence. Book I has something of the post-war reclusion into traditional romanticism about it, while Book III was a form of reluctant calm and a touch more avantgardeism. Dynamic moments do appear, such as in Book II’s jumpy “Allegretto”, but often it feels like a musical diary- individual bite-sized introspective chunks of expressive musical mood, with no planned overriding narrative.

“See The Welter” is structurally quite different, comprising seven long ‘pages’, averaging over ten minutes each. Instead of the compact chapters of the Mompou work, this is more meandering, long sustained-note melodic wanderings that are allowed to breathe and roam freely- especially as most pages roll directly into the next, with reverb inbetween, so almost no pauses at all. There’s a definite commonality though, which is found in the mood and tone- that same sense of introspection and space. It isn’t the traditional melancholy that sparse solo piano works sometimes adopt as a kind of default- there’s a certain positivity threaded through it too.

It’s a sweet bit of piano portraiture and Rushford has done an excellent job of presenting and replying to Mompou’s original works. The result is an indulgent two and a half hours of captivatingly small, space-driven solo piano that is very much worth losing yourself in.