Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Music Reviews

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.

Artist: Ultramarine
Title: Folk
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Foam On A Wave
Ultramarine’s first album Folk gets an overdue reissue and remaster for its 30th anniversary (it was remastered in 1995 too but that doesn’t count). While Ultramarine became better known for tracks like “Kingdom” a few years later, it’s a welcome opportunity to revisit their first album output. It is an instantly recognisable and unique blend of folk, jazz and electronica that instantly says Ultramarine.

That said, the electronica aspects are a little more set back than on later tracks, leaving the ‘real’ instruments with more space to play, and as a result, landing it more firmly among the ham-fistedly labelled “world music explosion” that was going on around 1990, as musical diversity and the idea of fusion became in vogue for a bit. “Lobster” has shades of the word of David Sylvian and Robert Fripp from around the same period, while “Bronze Eye” brings to mind Edward II and the Red Hot Polkas, thanks largely to the accordion work.

A rolling, poppy, somewhat Madchester-ish beat crops up several times, in “Antiseptic”, in “Bastard Folk”, in “Softspot” and so on. For the most part it’s an instrumental album, with minor exceptions such as the spoken-word samples on “Lobster”, with “Softspot” the only track that offers up a sung melody line- and even then, literally just one line.

“Bullprong” has enjoyable dubby elements to it, while “Vulgar Streak” is anything but vulgar, with some utterly beautiful clarinet work that’s stepped a little modesty into the background. Final track “The Golden Target” adds a funk-like, almost sleazy swagger.

With 30 years’ distance since the original release, Folk is an album ahead of its time in some ways, and very much of its time in others- but for any fans of the band’s later work, or anyone with fond memories of the more optimistic and open-minded explosion of eclecticism around that period, it will go down an absolute treat.

Artist: Vilhelm Bromander & Fredrik Rasten (@)
Title: ….For Some Reason That Escapes Us
Format: LP
Label: Differ Records
This is the work of Vilhelm Bromander on double bass and voice and Fredrik Rasten on bowed, plucked and e-bowed guitar, voice. The label describes this album this way: “the instrumental and vocal sounds entwine into a collective body of harmonics, interference and difference tones; a complex wherefrom a tangible sonic space arises and listening becomes tactile. The music echoes an imagined old music, inhabiting both melodic and textural entities in continual motion.” This album was created with the support of the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs.

The record starts off with “Harmony for two or more voices I,” which is a short track of slowly bowed strings with a nice resonance, but at just under 2 minutes long it is over a bit too quickly. Next up we have “A glimpse through a thousand examples,” which takes up the bulk of this side at almost 14 minutes. This is a nicely done track of heavy drones and lightly audible breathing. There are breaks in the composition, giving it the feel of separate tracks. There are bits of plucked strings and rubbing on the instruments that provide bits of contrast to the heavy drone. “Harmony for two or more voices II” closes out this side and could reasonably be viewed as a continuation of the first track, as it moves slowly with long pulls of bowed strings.

Flipping the record over, we start with “Gentle mountains / Toward,” which is more slowly bowed strings. It is kind of hypnotic, but it starts to get a bit dull. “Gentle mountains / With” was a bit more interesting, as it was continuous drone as opposed to dotted half notes of drone then quarter rest. “Gentle mountains / Onward” closes it off with pounding on the instruments with dull thuds and plucked strings. This was one of the more experimental pieces on the album.

Overall, this was pleasant listening, but I really would have liked to see them push the envelope a bit. It was peaceful and somewhat hypnotic, but it became repetitive over time and in the end didn't really seem to go anywhere. This record is limited to 200 copies.

Artist: Martin Taxt
Title: First Room
Format: CD
Label: Sofa
The debut solo album from microtonal tuba player and composer Martin Taxt, a duet with Inga Margrethe Aas on viola da gamba and double bass, sits in a middle ground between classical solo and drone. It’s melodic, but many of the notes are so long and so sustained that they start developing their own drone-line textures.

It’s a single 35-minute piece that layers up live and studio recordings, with a reactionary concept at the core where the performers respond to the previously recorded layers. Perhaps the most striking parts are the pauses- while some drone works deliberately avoid stopping for breath, this work has several points where the tone ebbs away into silence or near-silence before gradually returning for another, different wave. Exposing the creaking tones of studio furniture adds extra texture at the top.

Taxt recently finished a masters degree in Music & Architecture, and this work is described as a tribute to the Japanese tearoom and the tatami mat- but if anything it seems to describe slightly larger, emptier rooms, studio spaces, or some kind of geometric cave. It’s a lovely nuanced bit of work that brings character and a sense of storytelling with tones normally used in flatter, more open drones, and it does it all rather nicely.

Artist: Luca Collivasone & Gianni Mimmo (@)
Title: Rumpus Room
Format: CD & 12"
Label: Amirani Records (@)
Rated: *****
Now this is a surprising delight- a collaboration between avant-garde soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo and Luca Collivasone, the player of the unique "Cacophonator" instrument - a tricked out and wired up 1940's sewing machine aggressively modified into a bizarre musical instrument. Although Mimmo is new to me (he's been releasing albums since 2005), I reviewed Collivasone's 'Vostra Signora Del Rumore Rosa' LP here back in 2018, and if you want a more detailed description of the cacophonator you can refer to that review. This certainly isn't the first collaboration of between a jazz instrument and electronics (or something like it) but because of Luca's highly varied instrument it sounds like something fresh that's never been done before. Something that comes to mind as vaguely similar are the collaborations between free jazz multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee and synthesist John Snyder, but even they pale in comparison to this.

'Rumpus Room' opens with a track titled "Township Ecstasies" with Mimmo running up to the highest notes while Luca provides bizarre rhythmic input on the cacophonator. Lots of other strange but familiar sounds emanate from it too, and it even manages to provide double-bass that could have come from Bruno Tommaso or Charlie Haden. As the players delve deeper into the instrumental interplay feeling each other out, the track serves as a showpiece of what these two are capable of, and it's formidable. Over the course of eight tracks clocking in at a mere 31 minutes, these two musicians challenge each other in a way they've probably never been challenged before. After a few listenings it almost seems as though this combination was a match made in avant-garde free jazz heaven; there is so much chemistry at work. The general aura is mysterious melancholy, and I'm reminded of Tuxedomoon in that regard, although this is really further out. While Collivasone provides the environment this strange trip is set in, Mimmo plays the part of the protagonist who must navigate it, and does so with nimble aplomb. While some might find some of the weird sounds that pop out of the cacophonator distracting, I found it to be a source of endless inventiveness and amusement. It is the ultimate X-factor in improvisation, and really takes the avant-gardeness of this free jazz experiment to a whole new level. Mimmo's virtuosity on the soprano sax cannot be overstated; he's just that damn good, and with the Collivasone Cacophonator as his foil, this surely is a dynamic free jazz duo.


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