Monday, July 6, 2020
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Music Reviews

Artist: Let Spin
Title: Steal The Light
Format: CD + Download
Label: Efpi Records

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Let Spin almost exist in two distinct parallel realities, their live performances are driven by an intoxicating, visceral energy, momentum building inexorably before crashing into frenzied climax. Their studio offerings lose none of this power but integrate the idea of the studio as a medium in itself. An extra layer of complexity and depth is added with the post-production additions and manipulation. There is no concept of one being a commentary on the other they both exist as statements perfectly apposite for their environments.

The four piece supergroup of Chris Williams (alto sax), Moss Freed (guitar), Ruth Goller (Bass) and Finlay Panter (drums) put their egalitarian philosophy at the front of their identification and it is easy to hear why aside from their sharing of compositional duties. This is music that depends on micro-level interaction and sympathy. Their individuality clearly expressed but subsumed by service to the music, each pulling and testing the limits of self-expression within the ensemble. Starting from common inception they pull at threads, weaving through the layers of possibilities, stretching the elastic parameters of improvisational exposition before coalescing, returning as if through the prism of a greater understanding and eschewing mere recapitulation.

Stuttering, stumbling grooves and shifting time feel like cornerstones of this album. Restless and unpredictable foundations juxtaposed with flowing melodic lines, dirty, industrial grooves and beats as contrast to ethereal beauty and linear exposition, everyone in turn assuming propelling, supporting and elevating roles, switching swiftly as each turn refocuses energy and direction.

Goller’s bass at the start of the albums single Sketch explodes with crackling hard-edged rock intensity, driven by Panter’s incandescent hip-hop flavoured drumming, the track feels headed towards a febrile avant-rock bonfire before the subversion of Williams and Freed’s entry with beautiful wide open harmonic lines, evoking an ECM/Frisell-esque dream state, red and white hot flames pulling and feeding each other before a turn-on-a-dime change in pace. Let Spin are a dextrous ensemble, their music is complex but deceptively beautiful, able to imbue rhythmic complexity and harmonic adventurousness with an an effortless mastery, at turns provocative and playful.

Ghostly produced by Kit Downes sets itself apart without incongruity, recut and multi-layered, with sonic reminiscences of Naked City’s Absinthe and Kagel’s Improvisation Ajoutee, the joyful, transcendental chaos and convergence of this track makes the three year gestation from recording to release, and the five years since 2015’s Let Go worth the wait alone.

Each of the album’s tracks are individual sonic edifices deserving and rewarding of repeated listening, explosive and beautiful at first listen there is more here than it is possible to digest without immersion.

Artist: Dave Douglas (@)
Title: Dizzy Atmosphere
Format: CD + Download
Label: Greenleaf
Rated: *****

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Maybe its easy to forget with the passing of almost 80 years since the Bebop revolution, that Dizzy Gillespie wasn’t the clowning showman of grainy youtube footage watched all at once with time compressed into meaningless instancy but a fearless sonic radical, changing and innovating, moving through revolution and change creating and assimilating myriad influences, restless and experimental. He was fired from Cab Calloway’s band ostensibly for the firing of a spitball at the leader (for which he was blamed) but more likely because he kept playing all that “Chinese music’ incongruent with Calloway’s sonic safe space.

Dave DouglasDizzy Atmosphere tribute draws on these conceptual ideas of experimentation and evolving music, tribute as continuation of ideas rather than slavish recreation.
Of the albums nine tracks only two are Gillespie compositions, placed at the heart of the album, allowing Douglas’ originals to spread and spiral out from their legacy as if they are the planet and the new compositions are the atmosphere made possible by their existence.

The dual trumpet front line with Dave Adewumi allows for infinite sonic blurring and possibility, their tones coalescing and diverging as if brush strokes, definable but with blurred edges bleeding into the music and refusing to be tamed into straight lines. Their numerous interactions evoke not the ‘cutting contests’ of Minton’s jams, apocryphal or real battles but the feeling of artists in pursuit of a intangible perfection, mutually inspiring each other to greater heights and revelling in the sonic treasure of the rarefied atmosphere.

The record is lush and beautiful, Fabian Almazan’s piano creating deep and immersive lagoons over which the trumpets wallow romantically and soar with angular dexterity, moving effortlessly between wistful romanticism and hard-edged corners. Shades of Mingus and Ellington evoked with effortless mastery, whilst other moments of orchestration have wistful traces of Kenny Wheeler.
Matt Steven’s guitar acts almost at times as an anchor in modernity, the use of subtle effects and pedals pulling us forward and rooting us in now, juxtaposing without jarring, always sympathetic, channeling us down another path of possibilities.
The Bass of Carmen Rothwell provides consummate anchoring of the ensemble and also acts as portentous foreshadowing of change, ominous cadences prompting fiery pyrotechnics.

Dizzy Atmosphere is a complex and layered work, creating sound worlds built from seemingly divergent sources all masterfully and sympathetically built into a series of shifting realities that undulate and stream into new environments propelling the improvisation and interaction into an interconnected stratosphere. Made possible by a dextrous and beautifully attuned ensemble, building huge sonic environments and capable of the tiniest of subtle intricacies as well as the large almost overwhelming impressionistically orchestral vibes.

Crucially though, Dave Douglas on any project is always instantly identifiable. He has his own distinctly recognisable sonic identity and language which transcends the idea of imitation, allowing him to transcend superficial ideas of artificial genre construct. Whether as a side musician or leader he always sounds like himself and is always in the service of the music, never shrinking into a facsimile but constantly connected to a vast infinite heritage of musical input. With his tribute projects he draws us inside a process, holding up a torch in a swirling vortex of infinite possibilities and picking a path. An exploration of the endless continuum of inspiration his uniqueness is a perfectly apposite admixture of heritage and innovation.

One of the strengths of the music here is the way it propels and implies, it’s almost impossible to listen to Cadillac without hearing Gillespie’s gravely voice drift across the trumpet coalescence of the melodic centrepiece, likewise Pickin’ The Cabbage is a wild ride through implied big band motifs and large ensemble power, a black and white newsreel footage ride through 52nd Street in Bops heyday and contains a delightful Joey Baron solo which brings Chano Pozo to the forefront of your mind without ever sounding like anything but Joey Baron.

There is restless innovation as well as deep respect and appreciation here, constant tension and release, the ensembles pulls you in different directions very tangibly exploring the endless possibilities for this music and often leaving you dazed by the amount of ideas introduced, explored and developed seemingly in a short space of time. The hypnotic effect of the beauty of the ensemble building and exposition places a timelessness on all this material, its possible to get lost in this music and I will continue to joyfully do so.

Artist: Juhani Silvola (@)
Title: Post-Biological Wildlife
Format: CD + Download
Label: Eighth Nerve Audio
Distributor: Musikkoperatorenen
Rated: *****
Post-Biological Wildlife is a 6-track album with electro-acoustic contemporary music by composer, musician and producer Juhani Silvola.

I'm thrilled: The music on this album is something of the best I've heard in the past few months! Compositional and music-performing craftsmanship and creativity combine to create a masterpiece. Listening was a real pleasure! The compositions captivate with creative simplicity, intelligence, with great attention to detail, and testify to an incredible sense of aesthetics and beauty. It is music that sounds like an artificial, futuristic soundscape of nature and wildlife - and it's very well done. Bravo!

Track number one "Ritualrytmikk" appears modest at first. But this first impression is a fallacy, as you will quickly notice. Every single sound appears razor-sharp, carefully edited and then skillfully arranged. The musical craftsmanship is convincing right from the start and thus draws the listener's attention. "Ritualrytmikk" is mainly percussive sounds with clear, stringent lines in the aesthetics of their arrangement, and with subtle but targeted dynamics: The arrangement of the sounds and the quality of the sound modifications captivate the listener within seconds with enormous suction power - not intrusive, but striking. An invitation to research: How wild can a "post-biological wildlife" be?
The first track then takes you directly to “Machines of Loving Grace”. This second piece bores like a needle into the percussive landscape, which was drawn with "Ritualrytmikk". The wildlife of this electroacoustic wilderness shows its claws and hunting skills. The music stalks the listener attentively ... what happens now? It's a hunt in the most delightful way; and I truly enjoy being the hunted one. This track immediately creates a cinema in the listener's mind. The listener finds himself in the middle of the music, surrounded, curious, driven, challenged: what's next? Not only are the percussions vibrated, but also one's own emotions, and everything gets electrified. An impressive composition - massive but never overwhelming. Fantastic!
The third track is titled "Vaster Than Empires". Here with skillful violin playing by Sarah-Jane Summers. The craftsmanship of instrumental performance and composition is still maintained at a very high level. A composition in which tenderness and tension are paired - playing around each other, carefully probing and then falling over each other. What a dynamic! I listen spellbound and become part of a very intimate and intense moment, in the middle of a large, lively jungle. Where is the journey going now?
With "20th Century Meditation" the journey goes deeper into this jungle ... As a listener you really feel like a researcher on a wilderness expedition. Now the music is pulsating, mystical: the lianas of the mallet percussions surround the listener. At the end of the piece you wake up like from a dream - or was it real?
Post-Biological Wildlife: It sounds like a woodpecker is pounding, the wind is blowing, birds are chirping ... The electro-acoustic music with all its facets and differences is equally balanced: harmonious and virtuoso at the same time. Somewhere between fact and fiction, between natural history and fairy tales. Magical, futuristic and realistic - all at the same time. The listener has arrived at the edge of the forest: more bright spots, more transparency, more air. Chirping here and there. Stop! Wait! Listen! What was that?
With "Speculative Phonography pt. 1", the last track on the album, the listener suddenly realizes that he is not in a dream world anymore, and that he is not a researcher who understands everything and who has everything under control, but is actually still being hunted. The "sound predator" likes the transparency into which it has preyed: the field is open and wide for the grand finale of the chase. The tension rises (skillfully evoked), step by step, the breathing comes closer, and finally the hunter and the hunted face each other. What exactly is happening here? It feels like a complete fusion of music and listening experience: Who is the one breathing? The listener or the music? Everything seems to be interwoven. The hunter and the prey have become one, the boundaries between music and humans, electronics and acoustics have dissolved.

My research results: These compositions of Juhani Silvola show us that music lives on regardless of the sound possibilities of the future; free in the meaning of wide-ranging, wild in the meaning of challenging, and purposeful in regards of artistic expression - in every kind of soundscape. Highly Recommended!

Artist: Jo David Meyer Lysne & Mats Eilertsen
Title: Kroksjø
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hubro
This collaboration between Jo David Meyer Lysne on guitar and Mats Eilertsen on double bass is a fairly straightforward blend of acoustic music and ambience, with short or sporadic but relatively conventional musical playing being woven through with a variety of clicks, from vinyl and other sources, and other atmospherics. The result is still very firmly in the chill-out zone that the Hubro label does such a good job with, but adds enough texture and variety to keep things interesting for more attentive listeners too.

A closely-recorded tapping sound in “Byakjela” becomes an intermittent and slowing heartbeat, while the vinyl crackling on several occasions translates itself into sounding more like a cosy campfire, perhaps because that’s a more expected setting for the acoustic guitar work. The bottle-like high whistling tones in “Furumokjela” are also a curiosity.

The musical elements are richer and more diverse than originally pitched too. The warm, stretched-out, organ-like keys on “Lamyra” and “Byakjela” are the very epitome of soothing. Folky and thoughtful guitar work dominates pieces like “Snoensøya”, but the bass comes into its own on “Finna”.

Calm but characterful, this is a release you really need to listen to if lockdown is getting you down and you want to listen to something that’s supremely relaxing, yet still interesting.

Artist: Edikanfo
Title: The Pace Setters
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Glitterbeat Records
The story behind Edikanfo’s debut album is almost as colourful as the music itself. Produced by Brian Eno, who was openly in search of a “vision of a psychedelic Africa” at the time, it was released in 1981. On the very last day of that year, a coup d’état in their native Ghana led to enforced curfews, gutting the live music scene and ending the band. Amazingly, this is the first ever re-issue of the album, essentially lost for almost forty years.

But once you’ve listened to it, it’s the music not the story that you’ll come away with in your head. This is bright, bold African disco music that represents the sound of an eight-piece band full of energy and enthusiasm, and it certainly raises a smile. With big horns, deeply funky bass work, and part-sung part-chanted choruses, all the ingredients are there.

Lead track “Nka Bom” has a fairly DJ-friendly six minute structure (bar the ending) and a funking groove that’s absurdly infectious. “Blinking Eyes” has a cheery transcontinental groove that makes you feel like nothing can possibly be wrong in life, while “Daa Daa Edikanfo”’s call and response structure makes you want to join in.

There are slightly more subdued moments, such as the verse sections of “Something Lefeh-O”, but these are little more than breathers for what is clearly a band who prefers to party than to challenge. “Gbenta” puts so much emphasis on the funk that it’s almost kitsch, as though it ought to be soundtracking some 1970’s cop show about a cop with an afro swaggering after criminals through the wider alleyways of New York.

The production quality does sound like an album that’s almost forty years old, but the mastering seems good. It would’ve naturally ridden the wave of popularity that engulfed ska around the time, and it predated some of the more high-profile cases of Western artists ‘discovering’ African music (Paul Simon etc.). If I had to guess one thing that may have held it back, the lack of an obvious lead single with a catchy radio hook might have been the reason. So there’s certainly a case for this release being restored to its rightful place in music history. But don’t buy it just for that reason. Buy it if you like disco music with a live, positive vibe- because this release is absolutely full of it.


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