Monday, March 8, 2021

Music Reviews

Jeff Greinke: Other Weather

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Artist: Jeff Greinke (@)
Title: Other Weather
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: * * * * *
I'm not going to give Greinke any points for originality on the title of his latest album; previously he's released works with titles such as 'Before The Storm,' 'Moving Climates,' 'Changing Skies.' 'Big Weather,' 'Weather From Another Planet,' and of course, his last- 'Before Sunrise.' One might think Jeff Greinke was obsessed by the skies and the weather, but considering he was a student of meteorology while at Penn State in the early '80s, it should come as no surprise. Greinke himself says, "My interest in the weather has always been predominantly experiential, and as I get older I find myself attracted to its subtler and quieter aspects. I see a connection between this interest and the kind of music I like to make. This feels especially true with this album."

As with 2018's 'Before Sunrise,' 'Other Weather' spans the genres of modern classical, electronic, and ambient as it gently evolves through a refined set of impressionistic ambient chamber music. Blending electronic ambiences and effects with an acoustic ensemble that includes piano, cello, viola, violin, French horn, clarinets, flutes, and small percussion. This album is really a modern neoclassical/ambient hybrid with a touch of the experimental. Piano is particularly dominant on this album in a way that it was not on the previous one. For example, the first two tracks - "A Stretch of Sun," and "Rain Through the Night" are thoroughly piano-centric, so much so that I thought at first this was going to be a New Age piano album, and it almost is. 'Other Weather' uses the ensemble (Heather Bentley - cello, viola, violin; Greg Campbell - French horn, small percussion; Alex Guy - viola; Paris Hurley - violin) differently than on his previous work, in what I think is a less adventurous capacity. There is a lack of mystery, but the melancholy is ever present here. The heavy complexity of much of 'Before Sunrise' is eschewed in favor of abstraction that sounds more like improvisation on the simplest of motifs.

I think that one can read anything they want into an artist’s work, and the weather connotations may be influential to the listener’s perception of what they are hearing on ‘Other Weather’ but there is no doubt in my mind that Jeff Greinke fans are likely expecting something richer and deeper than this, as well as less steeped in piano, the most overused of all instruments in the New Age genre. Well executed, but still somewhat of a disappointment.

Celer: Being Below

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Artist: Celer
Title: Being Below
Format: CD & 12"
Label: Two Acrons
My past and very positive experience of Celer music is with works that could be described as long-form- long ambient albums which draw you in for a good, indulgent hour. So this EP is something of a surprise- an 18-minute EP comprising six tracks initially described as ‘songs’. Would this represent a massive change in direction? Is Celer about to rock out?

For better or worse, the answer is no. From opening track “Great Circles” on it’s clear that these will still be gentle ambient manoeuvres, full of soft hums and calm washes, but always managing to avoid being cheesy. Celer’s music has been perfect for lockdown since before lockdowns were a thing.

“The Absence Of Atmosphere” accurately describes its own sci-fi, deep space tone, also adopted in the alien “Geodesy”, while pieces like “Two Months are Past, and More” and “After Departures”, while very similar in construction, feel a little more introspective and thoughtful.

Think of this like an artist’s small sketchbook, or a sampler, and enjoy a little snippet of the fairly straightforward but beautiful pleasures that Celer’s longer works offer you in more abundance.

NOR_POL: Construction

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Artist: NOR_POL (@)
Title: Construction
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: * * * * *
NOR_POL is the result of the collaboration between ukasz Szaankiewicz aka Zenial and Jorgen Knudsen which is sometimes a guest in the former's releases. "Construction" is their first release and, while it could be categorized under the ambient genre, the music has a sort of organic feel instead of the usual electronic sounds linked to the genre.
The sonic organization of the first two tracks, "Durational (Jazz version)" and "C.PH.E Bach", is focused on acoustic instruments with the electronic component in an ornamental role. "Dangerous Chemicals" marks a section of this release with is closer to Zenial's music and it's centered on synthetic sounds and evolves from ambient territories to noisier ones bordering idm. The album ends with "Twice Less" when small clumps of noise introduce a voice as after a successful radio tuning.
This release has a precise musical movement from almost catchy territories to more experimental ones, so the listener is cleverly conducted towards this journey moreover if he's not accustomed to this sounds. A truly enjoyable gem.

Denis Smalley: Vues spectrales

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Artist: Denis Smalley
Title: Vues spectrales
Format: CD
Label: empreintes DIGITALes
“Vues spectrales” gathers together three of Denis Smalley’s multichannel works from between 2001 and 2011, converted to stereo. (It also bolts on one older work “Vortex” from 1982, more about which later on.)
Each of the formerly-multichannel works is a roughly 15-minute, ambience-driven, atmospheric construction that are dominated by great swathes of space and patience. “Spectral Lands” is, as the title suggests, something of a landscape portrait, with moderately natural-sounding rustlings akin to bird noises and wind through trees, but with more alien and ambiguous sonics grafted in to increase the complexity.
“Ringing Down The Sun”, by way of contrast, feels somewhat more alien. Low metallic rumbles open, hollow bottle-like distant melodies follow but at such a low level that you suspect you might be imagining them. There’s a tale being told here- not with excessive drama, but with a few more percussive and unexpected twists- and it’s gently sci-fi, but with a dose of introspective sorrow.
“Resounding” opens with a bell, then silence, before adopting a variety of other quite church-like tones of hammering and reverberation for something which manages to remain ambient and sparse yet have a dose of theatricality about it as well.
The older work “Vortex” is markedly different. While there are still periods of breathing space, it’s much busier and at times more chaotic, with a decidedly Radiophonic Workshop feel at times, very much reminiscent of the Doctor Who soundtrack work from around or just before 1982 when it was created. It’s curious, but without offering up a strong reason for it having been dug up, or attached to a series of more measured and more recent works with which it arguably doesn’t belong.
As usual, Empreintes Digitales has unearthed some intriguing pieces from the archive, and while there’s no revelations or masterworks in here, it’s certainly a collection of interesting textures.

Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen: Strange Gravity

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Artist: Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen (@)
Title: Strange Gravity
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Electronic music veteran Craig Padilla and electric guitar virtuoso Marvin Allen team up once again for their second collaboration, 'Strange Gravity' on the Spotted Peccary label. It was back in 2019 that I positively reviewed their previous album, 'Toward The Horizon,' and compared it to Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour working with Tangerine Dream. That's not much different than what's happening on this outing, and although the title track takes a long time building to break out of new age embryonic egg, by nearly the fourteen minute mark you will be amply rewarded with soaring guitar and synth drama. There are only five tracks on the album of varying duration (the aforementioned title track being the longest at 18:47) clocking in at 65 minutes for the album. Padilla and Allen work hand-in-glove together as each composition may start off on a sea of calm, but Marvin's fiery guitar playing soon rockets you beyond the stratosphere. Even when he's not ripping off those explosively soaring riffs, Allen's guitar work is sublimely engaging. The combination of the two meshes so well together you'd think these guys had worked in a band together for years.

The music on 'Toward The Horizon' seemed like Padilla and Allen felt they had something to prove with their collaboration, but that's all been done now, and 'Strange Gravity' has a more relaxed sound overall. That doesn't make it any less potent, just different (but not radically different), like a sophomore album should be. There's plenty of power ("Fractured Illuminations" is rife with it) as well as contemplative passages too. The pieces take a while to build, but it turns out that it's well worth the wait to reach the summit. Even when a long time is spent cruising (like the middle of "All Around Us," another 18+ minute track) it's still at a high altitude. I really don't know why more artists aren't collaborating with in the Berlin School electronics/bluesy space guitar vein; there is certainly a market for it. These guys do it so well though that they're setting a standard that will be hard to beat. My only disappointment is that there's not more percussive oomph in places where there could have been. Still, a very good album.