Wednesday, 30 June 2010

NOAH CRESHEVSKY – The Twilight Of The Gods


Difficult to find a composer today whose music evolves with the same rapidity of Noah Creshevsky’s. With each new record, his painstaking assemblages of samples – aptly seamed to bring “hyperrealism” into being – acquire a progressively superior degree of complexity, nearer to a kind of perfection that even a non-expert ear can accept as a natural occurrence. The distinguishing feature that separates this artist from the “wild sampladelic bunch” is the terrific musicality of those hotchpotches: one individuates and incorporates an element – if just for fractions of seconds - before receiving the successive message, so that the logical sequence of mercurially quick reasoning that these works elicit is respected at all times. As a rule, this doesn’t happen with the gazillion of disjointedly incoherent minute snippets that are typical of other entities active in similar areas. Instead, by standing in front of these multiform beasts, body and mind behave according to nature’s law amidst thousands of pitches, keys and modes. An utterly galvanizing practice.

There’s serious omnivorousness involved as far as influences are concerned, an additional reason to eagerly welcome the effort. The opening Götterdämmerung” utilizes Klezmer ingredients (provided by The Klez Dispensers) to conceive a virtual hybrid of scatting women, agitatedly swinging wisecracks and hopping cadenzas. Contrariwise, Creshevsky quotes “Brother Tom” - an effective construction of transposed vocal tones by baritone Thomas Buckner - as a “mature” piece that “he would not have written as a young man”. “Estancia” manufactures an awfully intricate, and yet absolutely charming ensemble of nylon-stringed guitars in an implausible counterpoint, an abstemious magniloquence that leaves open-mouthed. “Omaggio" (its components, for unknown reasons, causing this writer to erroneously perceive the presence of morsels of Frank Zappa’s Studio Tan and The Yellow Shark on a first listen) is dedicated to one of Creshevsky’s teachers, Luciano Berio. The cleverness of this dissentient but fulfilling juxtaposition is among the most admirable features of the disc. Another track that I wouldn’t hesitate in using to symbolize the visionary brilliance of this artist’s aesthetic canons is “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now”, a sonic edifice possessing the advanced characteristics of a sophisticated architecture while maintaining traits that connect a listener to the past (ideally represented by snatches of opera and pompous orchestral turnarounds interspersed by absurdly efficient voices of all genders and registers).

Perhaps the deus ex machina’s favourite might be “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, a manipulation of strokes of Ellen Band’s voice generating “exotic, possibly somewhat Middle-Eastern” sonorities without recurring to clichés. The finale - closely recalling a Jewish chant - is a strangely touching moment: a sort of humanoid acknowledgement of the composer’s family roots that once more shows how idiosyncrasy is capable of pushing electroacoustic art a long way from the misery of detestable stereotypes. The Twilight Of The Gods is a rewardingly inventive statement from the sphere where those who work quietly, ignoring the glittering lights of popular reception, usually produce stirring treats for the ears of truly sentient addressees.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

DAVID MAHLER – Only Music Can Save Me Now

New World

David Mahler is not the kind of musician interested in belonging to an elite or appearing as an icon, preferring to mix with regular people – specifically, within neighbourhoods and local communities where he teaches, plays, sings and organizes joyful events such as assemblies of amateur instrumentalists and children choirs. In fact, singing is the fundamental nucleus around which this man’s vision revolves, and a recurrent element amidst other important qualities: unfussiness, virtuosity and sentiment, all amalgamated in a brilliant artistic individuality. This collection presents a wide panoramic view on Mahler’s talents, articulated through different kinds of score masterfully executed on piano by Nurit Tilles (who shares with him a passion for ragtime) and – when applicable - sung by the composer, alone or with his wife Julie Hanify and the pianist herself. The four versions of the (unfortunately) short “Chorale” interspersing the 37-minute cycle “”Day Creek Piano Works and The Teams Are Waiting In The Fields” are alone worth of owning the record: as a charming vocal counterpoint as you could wish for.

I’ve always been inclined to define recordings that cause evocative reflection as “afternoon music”. Several pieces here elicit that feeling: the initial “An Alder. A Catfish” and the magnificent “Frank Sinatra In Buffalo” stand out in that sense. Chords that call to mind summer scents, solitary walks, revealed secrets, the sorrow linked to an unsympathetic object of love. Then there is the mathematic aspect expressed by selections like “Cascades”, for sure the most reiteratively dissonant segment in the program, presumably requiring extraordinary concentration (not a problem for a performer of Tilles’ calibre), and “IV. Three Against Two” that made this writer think “Charlemagne Palestine”, if only for a few instants. The conclusive and utterly splendid title track represents the ultimate synthesis of the above mentioned themes, combining minimalist tendencies and sober melancholy over the course of almost sixteen minutes. As the time elapses, one thinks that Mahler is a wonderful person. A man who just gives, seemingly wanting nothing in exchange. That’s possibly the reason behind the still insufficient recognition of his opus, which is a veritable shame. Right now I’d pick Only Music Can Save Me Now in a sizeable quantity of celebrated contemporary releases lacking the same modest luminosity, intelligence and warmth. The record’s name alone should be everyone’s dogma.

Sunday, 27 June 2010



Firstly released on compact disc in 2009, La Barca (also an audiovisual performance) was reissued in a limited 2-LP edition comprising the entire content of the first as well as a selection of previously unpublished tracks, perfectly complementary and functional to the rest of the program. Having followed Köner’s output since the very beginnings, and enjoyed masterpieces such as Permafrost and Unerforschtes Gebiet I think I’m entitled to say something not entirely encouraging. In fact, although this record is instilled with evocative poignancy and impressive reverberations, a completely positive response to it is delayed by a series of question marks arising every once in a while during the listening session.

For starters, the sonic foundation is principally derived from sluggish looped fragments of grief-stricken melodies and orchestral snippets. Whereas the emotive consequence is incontestable, this working method puts a musician who made of his originality a trademark too close to other realities who do this kind of job better than the German. Specifically, certain sections seriously summon up ghosts of William Basinski and, especially, Keith Berry. Not exactly what we were looking for.

Then there is the thorny matter of field recordings. The whole work is defined by the echoes – manipulated or less – of various levels of people across the world speaking in their native language. Some of those idioms are comprehensible, others are more obscure and fascinating. To this, the composer adds touches of spiritual exoticism and daily life routine that risk to drag the music down to a lesser level. Muezzin calls are a dime a dozen these days, and the intercom messages captured in Rome’s subway reminded me that tomorrow I have to take those awful trains again. What this reviewer means is that nearly two hours reiterating the same concept can be excessive, even if a master like Köner is doing it. It’s still relevant enough stuff, mind you; but the man has definitely delivered superior opuses.

Last but absolutely not least: if a label decides to publish music by an artist who is celebrated for the use of low frequencies on vinyl, the latter must be of the highest quality. The copy in my possession – not a promo, it was bought – thrice emits horrible farts due to that black substance’s inability to contain the above mentioned lows, and in the fourth side (the one with the unreleased sections) there’s a lengthy section that’s impossible to listen to because of the constant sticking of the needle on defective grooves. An objectionable way of enjoying loops. The right solution would be publishing a third version of La Barca – on double CD at the price of a single.

SAM AMIDON - I See The Sign

Bedroom Community

Being a reviewer becomes an unenviable situation when a record like Sam Amidon’s I See The Sign appears, completely changing a day (or a whole phase of existence) by helping to bear with escalating difficulties, and – maybe in a perfect dream – throwing a heavy stone in the stagnant waters of popular music. This is exactly the type of release that might revolutionize the current unrecoverable state of things, if just people started to listen a little more attentively. Everything points to the “epochal masterpiece” status – because this IS an epochal masterpiece – placing it side by side with the finest albums of the last four decades, independently from the genre. Everything. Memorisable tunes, impressive arrangements (by Amidon himself and Nico Muhly), a welcome female counterpart (Beth Orton). Sorrow, fun, grace, any kind of emotion. And that unique voice. Mark these words: one day, the kid’s detachedly non-virtuosic accent will be filed among the immediately recognizable timbres of celebrated songwriters such as James Taylor or Tim Buckley (or – why not – Antony Hegarty). He may be working on traditional songs, ballads and hymns, yet the pieces are perceived as personal statements. And they strike the bull’s eye of your individual essence.

That would be sufficient already. Let me mention a few episodes, though, many of which linked consecutively in the program. “You Better Mind”, a deliciously pop tune - sang in duet with Orton – that’s going to put eternally overhyped Prefab Sprout to shame; the title track, a symbol of the infeasibility of describing our sentiments if not through someone else’s music. “Johanna The Row-di” is enough to transport yours truly back to the primordial eras of private fingerpicking studies (breaking his heart in the meantime) while the orchestration of “Pretty Fair Damsel” is alone a lesson in the harmonization of a melody. “Kedron” is another of the countless highs, Amidon’s solitary frail tone accompanied by an acoustic guitar’s arpeggio and meagre touches of strings.

There are instrumental solutions whose quality is also instantly acknowledgeable: in “Rain And Snow”, for example, a drum roll seems to prelude to a powerful opening at one point, only to leave room to a melancholic sequence of rarefied piano chords. The bump-on-wood pulse characterizing “Climbing High Mountains” sustains an effortless song marvellously enriched by contrapuntal lines of horn and bassoon and – again – subtle piano and guitar. The record is chock full of these gems: distant references to Jim O’Rourke and Van Dyke Parks come easy, but this young man is in a class of his own. Two additional fundamental presences help elevating the rank: producer Valgeir Sigurđsson and multi-instrumentalist wizard Shahzad Ismaily, a former collaborator of Tom Waits, Laurie Anderson and Rage Against The Machine.

In the equally gorgeous “Relief”, the lyrics recite: “What a relief to know that there’s an angel in the sky”. Judging from the emotional response that both myself and my life companion experience every time we’re listening to this album, that feeling is substantiated by having actually heard that angel sing. You could do it, too, letting this disc spin incessantly in your homes. Rewind to the initial sentence: what about the objectivity of a write-up, I hear somebody asking. Who fucking cares, is the answer. Sam Amidon gained a ticket to the pantheon of the greats, and watching this happening three years after intuiting something (when reviewing the previous All Is Well on the same label) feels great. Now let’s see if a clever dissemination of this work can educate the masses at least a bit by eradicating the concept of “disposable product” from those brains.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

TOM JOHNSON - Rational Melodies

New World

Tom Johnson's Rational Melodies had been released twice already in the past, both times featuring a solo instrumentalist (flutist Eberhard Blum and clarinettist Roger Heaton respectively). This edition constitutes the first recorded version of the piece performed by a chamber group, for the occasion France's Dedalus. The painstaking study of the material and the zeal shown in tackling it caused an encouraging response from the composer, according to whom "the interpreters have added so much insight to the music that the music itself has grown". Saying that after 28 years from the initial sketching means a lot, but Johnson is quite right. Although the work is incontrovertibly influenced by his typically minimalist mathematic designs, different stylistic factors and a sense of dry humour are astutely brought to the fore by the performers.

It's difficult to trace elegiac tints or emotional resonance in a score that consists of reiterated straightforward figurations, only altered by adding or subtracting notes, shifting the pauses and challenging the instrumentalists with the juxtaposition of diverse metrical sequences. Dedalus execute all of the above with a mix of technically superior acuity and visible paradox: one can't help but think about Sylvester the Cat tiptoeing behind a wall as cyclical string pizzicatos distinguish certain sections, and some of the chromatically melodic passages might be useful for an Arabian parody. The way in which the events - and absences thereof - are calculated to succeed allows each movement to engrave the memory enough for a transient positive reception. Yet what ultimately lingers on is the sonic core of a conception which still sounds strikingly effective, perfectly in line with this man 's musical interests over several decades.

Friday, 25 June 2010



Rather appealing things and a clutch of good vibrations come from this trio formed by saxophonist Gies (alto and tenor plus glockenspiel and rattles), soprano vocalist Ronni Gilla and percussionist Denis Stilke, recorded at Berlin’s Johanniskirche in 2009. The church location is ideal for this music, the acoustic properties of the sacred edifice exalting a type of interplay which – quite intelligently - leaves a lot of breathing room for the single elements to reveal their nuances. So, what are these people doing? Picture a cross-pollination of leisurely unfolding ceremonials, a few ECM echoes (this being told with optimistic intent) and a female voice whose gamut comprises influences ranging from native American chanting to Meredith Monk, technically grounded in impeccable fashion. I don’t know exactly why, but certain accents from Gilla – who’s not really a revolutionary singer, yet her performance is outstanding throughout – transported my imagination across territories bordering with Arvo Pärt’s work, at times influenced by African currents. She interacts with Gies’ conscientious dissection of multiphonics and reliable phrasing adequately, Stilke providing the right percussive gradations for any setting with expert hands and caring ears.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


The Orchestra Pit Recording Company

After acknowledging the wonderful name of the releasing label, let’s take a look at the tools. Violin, saw, bicycle wheel, lentils, FX pedals, voice (SH); accordion, guitar, autoharp, marble chute, percussion (MA). The instrumental array is more or less what was expected from these artists, the duo’s brilliance lying in the unremitting exploitation of the consequent nuances which in Reduced are plentiful, vivacious and, in various instances, surprising in peculiar ways. Hallett and Adcock embody the concept of instant creativity informed by an innocence comparable to that exuding from children at play (check “Only Tulle” to have an idea). The outcome is an album that offers episodes of wholesome evocativeness together with others that sound a little timid, if equally imbued with earnestness. The very first tracks appear in fact as a sort of reciprocal questioning between players intent in finding useful ideas through the exploration of timbres that may lack an actual weight, but still make sense in the grand scheme of things. The initial “Gewgaws” – an indescribable “acoustic sci-fi” atmosphere with wavering pitches and percussive droplets – is a virtual miniature portrait of the pair’s untainted quintessence.

Several are the outstanding qualities in this music, features that the memory gladly retains as orientation points over the course of mandatory repeated listens. The clever use of loops is a welcome reminder of how a typically useless trick that, in other circumstances, hides an absolute creative poverty becomes instead a means to transcendence in the right hands. Hallett uses the device as the basis for the engrossing harmonic motionlessness of “Strange Power! I Trust Thy Might”, whereas in “Betty Martin” - another favourite of mine - the magnificent conversation of a seagull-like violin and a melancholic accordion gradually morphs into a mild hallucination, overlaid amassments of whirling figurations generating huge masses of grainy vibration. The conclusive “Shudder To Think” is characterized by a sinuously oscillating acute tone – supposedly Hallett’s processed vocalizations, yet it actually resembles a Theremin – against Adcock’s clusters in the high register. It leaves us suspended in doubt, once again confirming that excessive certainties eradicate purity from naïve inventiveness.

Despite the simple components, this is a record that requires persistent attention, ready to repay our absorption with lots of uniquely charming sounds and curious improvisational concepts. A cloaked gem, really.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010



“Each sound has its own narrative!” is the original motto of Beam Stone, the trio of Per Anders Nilsson (computer, synthesizer), Sten Sandell (piano, prepared piano, electronics and voice) and Raymond Strid (percussion). Formed in 2006, the group plays intensely through a cycle of electroacoustic prospects that seem to defy whatever logic people might try to relate to the resulting music. It is indeed a type of improvisation that is “viscerally cerebral” and essentially textural, not linked to any kind of universally intended linear or harmonic concept, if not in a futuristically brutal form linking these investigations to the analysis and subsequent decomposition of a defined timbre. According to that, the record offers more than a moment of illumination to those who are growing tired of listening to pre-digested “free formats” typically informed by repeated visits to the extremes of jazz and its derivative ramifications.

Obviously the conspicuous effect of synthesizers, computers and electronics on the listener’s consideration is a primary factor, and one of the most attractive ones. The clouds of gaseous matters elicited in “Peneplain”, for example, are underlined by a constant hum that almost defines the track as a drone piece, despite the presence of divergent noises and other forms of eccentric propagation. The preposterous morsels of detuned rarefaction heard at the beginning of “Luster” blend admirably with the piano in an overall mood of alien anarchy, leading to next-to-incongruous modifications of pitches and chords. The acoustic explorations are handled with the usual cold efficiency by Sandell, an idiosyncratic pianist like few others. He chooses a series of notes, builds entire castles upon their obstinate repetition, bringing the harmonics out and fusing those characteristics with Strid’s individual indeterminacy (although perennially immersed in concreteness). This uncontainable whole is swallowed and regurgitated in triturated protrusions by Nilsson’s computerized setup. Periodically we find ourselves looking at a partial dissolution of common sense; that’s also the exact reason for which this set shines of an absolutely distinctive identity.

BOB MARSH / JIM RYAN / SPIRIT – The Spirit Moves Us


The Spirit Moves Us fuses three chief practitioners of free interplay of San Francisco’s Bay Area in a completely spontaneous session recorded in May 2009. The recording gives the idea of a single microphone take, lots of natural reverberations surrounding the ceaseless spurts and fluxes generated by these stray combatants. The title is obviously borrowed from percussionist Spirit, who characterizes the procedures quite effectively via a complete redesigning of the essential concepts of rhythm, which gets literally pulverized into minuscule scraps useful for every occurrence. Over this extreme fragmentation, Jim Ryan confirms a typically wide-minded approach to phrasing, inserting zigzagging splinters of serenity, reflective quirkiness and slight scents of primitive rites amidst a continuous melodic fluctuation that – either through saxophone or flute – keeps defining him as a singular reed player not easily fitting in categories (unless we want to include “semi-principled liberty” among them). Marsh's cello often sounds deep and cavernous like a double bass. I don't know if this comes from the use of pitch transposing devices (the trio seems to recur to digital delay regularly and gladly), but the result makes one think nonfigurative painting rather than chamber music. His arco discernment locates supplies of interesting colours mating with the rest of the timbral palette well enough to sustain our interest for a fair while. Infrequent spots of improvisational tiredness are present, yet they get negated by the artists’ irrefutable integrity.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

JEAN-LUC GUIONNET - Non-Organic Bias

Herbal International

I’m not the kind of person who squanders precious time in decoding people’s visions when they’re expressed via written concepts that, even after an accurate translation, bury the exact aims and grounds of an artistic statement under the dozens of question marks engendered by a (willingly?) unclear explanation, or the transliteration of a daydream. This happens when I try and read Jean-Luc Guionnet’s notes to the three pieces comprised by Non-Organic Bias, which make your purple prose merchant resemble a hieratic minimalist in comparison.

Therefore this writer reverted to the more palatable food. That means the music which, in this occasion, was born from the sound(s) of organ(s), subjected to various types of alteration, granularization and dismemberment. It was not an easy mission to accomplish, despite the hypothetical unfussiness of the music’s gestation and overall structure. The main motive: a big discrepancy in the results generated by the two traditional methods of enjoying the content of a disc. In fact, the frequencies privileged by Guionnet are so damn near and below the ground that, from the speakers, the large part of this double album behaves like an all-engulfing gathering of humongous purrs and potent winds as heard from within a padded room, sporadically interrupted by jarring clusters in the higher registers, or rendered totally awesome through the use of sloping slow motion and other kinds of techniques. In those circumstances, the composer nears some of our favourite masters’s expressive nuances. Xenakis (mais oui!), Kayn, a smidgen of flanged-out Palestine and Niblock in a few brief instances. I’m shivering at the thought of the nonentities who might have the guts to sample parts of this record and reprocess them for their own worthless businesses.

But if you need to assess the actual compositional value of this outing, headphones turn out to be necessary. Also, they must be able to tolerate the centre-of-the-earth throbbing grumble that a piece such as “Espace Bas” constantly elicits, otherwise what you’re hearing is going to be inexorably blemished by the gnarly rattle of earphone membranes unable to perform a truthful conversion of the acoustic mass (in this place a recent cheap Philips worked much better than an old expensive Beyerdynamic). Only at that point one is in the condition of acknowledging Guionnet’s subtle craft, his finely tuned superimposition of roar, wheeze and flutter, the diligence in placing slight substrata and virtually inconspicuous details in the mix. And become acquainted with the presence of extremely acute pitches and foreboding virtual choirs (“Estuaire” is fantastic in that sense). We’re as distant from “ambient” as a metropolitan inferno is from an airport’s waiting hall, regardless of what can be peeped around the web. These are the organ’s bowels screaming, get the picture?

This stuff should be experienced intensely, differently and continually to merely break the external ice of its impenetrability. Success is not a given, which is one of the many reasons behind my attraction towards this thick slab of a release. Consequently, let me join the admiring queue and declare that a copy of this item is mandatory in a serious listener’s collection. The verbal contortions are entirely forgiven.

Friday, 11 June 2010


Ambiances Magnétiques

Ugly Beauties is the first CD for the threesome of Lerner (piano), Brubeck (cello) and Fraser (drums). Difficult to place this music in a context without resorting to typical definitions. There is a lot of improvisation mixed with carefully trimmed material; there aren’t surpluses of extended techniques, although the musicians do explore more peripheral regions of the instruments when the time is right. Definitely it’s not something linked to reductionism, for the interplay mostly generates rather dense textural interconnections and clear phrases that, even when a rarefaction of events prevails, glow as luminous stars in a summer sky. Ultimately, what’s this record like?

The answer is “nothing that I can call to mind at this instant”. The trio is nimble and precise in the exposition, the playing revealing a degree of contrapuntal poetry – atonal romanticism, if you will - quite frequently, letting us catch glimpses of untainted ability that never figures as the motivation for germ-free exercises. The improvisations may appear nonchalant in their manifestation but consequential as far as technical grounding and plausibility of creative choices are concerned. A concession is made to a couple of stylish digressions, and there’s a swinging interlude in “Harold Lloyd” that sincerely was better left out. Fortunately, these are rare occurrences: for the large part, the quality of the instrumental interaction is so rewarding – just check the gorgeous “Ding An Sich” - that one’s immediately pushed to listen to it again, in order to comprehend the actual reasons behind a work that doesn’t strike that hard, yet digs deep enough to warrant a laudatory mention. A gracious treat to the ears, full of great tones and distinctive acoustic perspectives, in spite of the impermanence of a proper characterization in our memory.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010



This is the debut album by Dawn Of Midi which, despite the name, is an entirely acoustic transcontinental group consisting of Amino Belyamani (Morocco, piano), Aakaash Israni (India, contrabass) and Qasim Naqvi (Pakistan, percussion). Dissipating any doubt about the possible incidence of electronics - there isn't any - and mostly avoiding the typicality related to a supposed synthesis of local influences (apparently absent, yet still detectable in certain scales and moods) the musicians set themselves in a specific field, namely that of the freely expressing trio slightly influenced by jazz-tinged reminiscences.

Belyamani is a sincerely restrained improviser, presumably familiar with Bill Evans but also Claude Debussy (the press release got it right this time), his gestures on the piano keyboard eliciting an aura of redemptive reverberation or instigating mild minimalist obsessions when the moment comes (the conclusive “In Between”, for instance). Israni's work is elegantly discreet, characterizing the music with a substantial economy of movement concealing a remarkably immediate understanding of the ongoing contrapuntal processes. Naqvi looks like the most open-handed among the three, a rhythmic multiplicity at the basis of the only moments in which the interplay sounds constellated with welcome accidents.

In general, there's a sense of unplanned dilation of the spaces around the notes, whose relative scarcity does not subtend to easy contemporary posturing, being instead perceived as a necessity for the pieces to evolve and self-define. Even when the reciprocal instrumental responses cause the mix to become a little more populated, intelligibility ultimately prevails in this crystal-clear album.