Sunday, July 5, 2020
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Music Reviews

Ryan Choi: Whenmill

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Artist: Ryan Choi (@)
Title: Whenmill
Format: CD EP
Label: Off (@)
Rated: *****
You may recall that not too long ago I reviewed Hawaiian baritone ukulelist Ryan Choi's initial release, 'Three Dancers'. For those not familiar with Choi's style, clear your head of any notions of traditional ukulele music from Hawaii. This certainly is not that. Think of it as more akin to improvisational classical and jazz guitar with some avant-garde leanings. Although 'Three Dancers' and 'Whenmill' are both CD EPs, the similarity ends there. For one, 'Three Dancers' was very busy, and all over the map at times. It was as Choi was attempting to showcase his skills and various techniques throughout the EP. Here on 'Whenmill,' Choi seems much more confident in his improvisations and hence, the music is only busy when it has to be. There is also a marked classical tone throughout, signifying a serious, rather than playful attitude. 'Whenmill' consists of four pieces - "Quixano" (2012), "Inn Blue" (2012), "Whenmill" (2013), and "South Aleksandr" (2011), the last being the longest at 12:23, while the others are well under six minutes each. "Quixano" has a distinctly Spanish flavor, and although it employs numerous classical guitar techniques, it never develops a distinctive theme or motif. "Inn Blue" seems far more introspective and oblique, and somewhat enigmatic. "Whenmill" pushes even further into the obscure, and just when you think you've got a handle on this piece, Choi changes it up and blows away any preconceived notions you may have had about it. The playing here ranges from strictly genteel to hard-charging. "South Aleksandr" is the show-stopper though, with Choi starting out in a rather mellow vein, but then moving into a fantasia of differing forms. As it progresses, Choi strays from the classical leaning previously exhibited moving into jazzy and bluesy territory without ever being solidly grounded in either. Towards the end, Choi's playing becomes harder and more intense, really wailing on the uke. Played live, this piece would likely bring an audience to its feet by its conclusion. 'Whenmill' shows Choi's growth as an artist composer with his uncompromising vision. It may be a little more difficult to grok than his previous release, but for those who do, ultimately rewarding.


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Artist: Oren Ambarchi / Stefano Pilia / Massimo Pupillo
Title: Aithein
Format: 12"
Label: Karlrecords (@)
Rated: *****
The name of the brilliant Australian composer and multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi is maybe the better known name of this trio, having been one of the most incontinent musician in the last 20 years by means of an incredible number of collaborations - the most famous ones are maybe those with John Zorn, Phil Niblock, Sunn O))), Evan Parker, Jim O'Rourke, Keiji Haino, Z'EV, Otomo Yoshihide and Richard Pinhas - and solo works, but it could be a matter of statistics as the Italian virtuosos that grouped together Oren have a likewise enviable musical path. Electric bass player Massimo Pupillo was one of the founding member of jazz-core trio ZU and could brag about excellent collaborations such as the ones with Mats Gustafsson, Paul Nilssen-Love, Lasse Marhaug and both Brötzmann (father Peter and son Caspar), while Stefano Pilia worked on many awesome sound installation after a strong activism in the Italian punk and rock more or less underground area and grouping together two other big names of the contemporary scene like David Grubbs and Andrea Belfi. I could have been influenced by the inspiring cover artwork that Sara D'Uva made for the silk-screened sleeve of this release, but their guitar-driven blend in between progressive, avant-garde, post-rock and drone sound to me as a possible soundtrack for this sort of Kali Yuga that mankind is currently experiencing at the mercy of the numbing power of media and technology. A plenty of whirling emotions and thoughts are going to run over the 33 minutes lasting suite from the very first sonic slices of the first titled "Burn" - whose preface sounds like the one of a sci-fi movie - to the rising shimmering explosions of the last minutes of "Shine". Have a check.


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Artist: Aidan Casserly
Title: Music X
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: House Of Analogue
This 29-minute, 9-track album is Aidan Casserly's third album release of 2016 and we're barely halfway through the year. Aidan wears his heart on his sleeve and this is a brief musical journey through both sadness and optimism, and as the prolific speed of his output might suggest, there's a raw, immediate, and in some places almost improvised feel to it.

It's predominantly works for solo piano, or solo piano with subtle orchestral accompaniment. There are some powerful melodies and heartfelt performances in there, that wouldn't seem at all out of place in a film score- mostly accompanying the end-of-Act-2 scenarios when the hero begins to worry that all is lost and that no rescue is possible. Some of the orchestration is impressively arranged, though on a couple of tracks, such as "Bullet Valentine", the extent to which synths can sound like genuine full live orchestras is just slightly over-stepped.

"Echoes Backward" is the first of two songs on the album, a very brief piano-and-voice number with an unusual melody which at some points sounds like it could potentially have been recorded backwards. The other vocal track is the album closer "My Father Sleeps", deeply raw and sorrowful in its lyrics yet moderately restrained in the musical arrangement, and once you reach it, you suddenly feel like the entire album has been gradually working towards this point, like this was the story all along. The pathos is strong and well earned.

Of the instrumentals, "Walking To Drift" stands out as a highlight, with its angry synthetic opening is a rare flourish of anger in an otherwise melancholic collection. "Eye Of Horus" with its broad ethnic feel and almost jazzy flute playing is worth a listen too, and could perhaps have spent longer with the flute and less with the piano.

This is a short but powerful bit of emotional self-expression from an artist who's far away from the synthpop home turf on which I first heard him. The only thing I don't like about it would be the bold artwork and faintly naff title "Music X", that seems over-simplistic, over-modern, and somehow at odds with the nuanced music.


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Artist: Oiseaux-Tempête (@)
Title: Unworks & Rarities (2012-2015)
Format: CD
Label: Sub Rosa (@)
Rated: *****
Despite the substantial lack of stylistic and conceptual uniformity, this collection of b-sides and unreleased stuff - recorded between 2012 and 2015 - by Oiseaux-Tempête, the brainchild of French musicians Frédéric D. Oberland and Stéphane Pigneul crystallises significant collaborative outputs in the development of their sound. The opening 10 minutes of the gently morphed ambient suite "Eclipse & Scirocco" manages to evoke the matching of ideas of its title: occasional distortions of delicate layers, which sound like sedimenting layers of vapor fading the hallucinations within the fading lights of twilight, bright melodies getting dimmer and dimmer in the act of entangling the listener till the rising of Christine Ott's Ondes Martenot voice. The obscure and bluesy Americana-like guitar phrasing on the following "Quai De L'Exil" seems to tighten the stronghold and to wither at the same time until these two processes find their highest peak at the end of the track. The sound of the same dim guitar slips away from the worrying echoes of riots and urban battles like a silent mist, an amplifier of the thought of "No Go(l)d No Master", a transliteration of the well-known anarchist slogan "No God No Master", tangling the political theme they explored in their recent album "ÜTOPIYA?". The bluesy declension of post-rock evokes bitter sips of dust and whiskey in "Black As Midnight On A Moonless Night", the track that precedes "The Strangest Creature On Earth", one of the most touching moment of the album - particularly after the recent sad news from Istambul -, named after a poem by Turkish poet N'zm Hikmet Ran, interpreted by former The Ex frontman and singer GW Sok. Another hook to recent facts occurred in Paris cut the grinding guitar, bass and drum lines of the final "Nec Mergitur", where Oiseaux-Tempête's music seems to summarize the first part of Paris coat of arms "Fluctuat Nec Mergiter", meaning "Tossed But Not Sunk". Very good collection of unreleased tweets of rising fury...


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Artist: Bande À Part (@)
Title: Caixa-Prego
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
This release by Portuguese trio Bande à Part - I'm not sure if they named their trio after the well-known movie by Jean-Luc Godard, one of the milestones of Nouvelle Vague including the famous dance scene by Anna Karina over Michel Legrand's music - is another relatively old entry from the pile of records by Ernesto Rodrigues' imprint Creative Sources that deserves attention. The most interesting aspect of their sessions is the total lack of a real leading instrument as well as an absolute simplicity: a simple melodic or sometimes just tonal phrase is the sparkling element of each session, it defines a sort of emotional framework that sounds like a rickety ladder joining two contrasting moods, the other instruments and wisely grasped resounding objects and percussive elements by Carlos Godinho acts like a light make-up. The more lengthy suite, the elegant central piece "Chapa 3" (Chapa is Portuguese for "plate", not slang Spanish for...well, many of you should guess) shows how they can gradually interchange rules (pay attention to the interesting interaction between Joana Guerra's cello and Ricardo' Ribeiro's soprano and bass clarinets) in the same piece, a sort of bipolar attraction where they play on harmonies like they got stuck a rubber band, which got continuously expanded and contracted. The percussions as mentioned earlier and objects by Godinho mainly sound like enzymes of this interactions, but there are tracks ("Chapa 2" and "Chapa 4") where their eruptions become prominent. Another highlight is the fuzzy final track "Chapa 5", sounding like an entirely drunk version of some stuff by King Curtis or Lalo Schifrin. Amazing stuff.



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