Wednesday 15 September 2010


Please direct yourselves to and bookmark it. All the reviews that were published here have been transferred on the new website, though they're still archived here to make things easier for everybody who linked them. See you there!

Saturday 28 August 2010

JOHN KING – 10 Mysteries


“What I’m seeking to discover”, writes composer and violist John King, “is the unity of, rather than the distinction between, determinate, indeterminate and improvised music”. He refers to this as “trilogic unity”, employing any necessary means to reach a satisfactory interaction of the separate components. 10 Mysteries – performed by King as a member of his Crucible String Quartet (the other names being violinists Cornelius Dufallo and Mark Feldman, and cellist Alex Waterman) – offers an interesting portrayal of the essential concept. These are sounds that cooperate with the mind, exclusive of unwarranted laissez-faire despite the partial randomness of the events.

The three works comprised by the program were in fact written by following directives dictated by “chance and improvisation”, the scores strongly informed by the results of an I Ching-based symbol generator furnishing the musicians with a series of indications to follow, the interpretation rendered according to each one’s sensibility and intuition. The nine movements of the title track are, as a result, most significant. Their place changes constantly amidst momentous amassments of nervously deployed clusters and whirlwinds, and more propitious tendencies to consonance that, in any case, are too short for actual respite, unsystematic proliferations of phrases overwhelming the listener after brief pauses of relative stillness.

Both the remaining pieces – “Rivers Of Fire” and “Winds Of Blood” – apply the same logic to a system consisting of acoustic tones and live electronics. The former juxtaposes seagull-like glissando, anxious climaxes and deceptive falls of tension in a fairly intelligible mixture of involving realism and inextricable meta-phraseology. The latter is presented in two versions - the outcome again deriving by underlying principles linked to possibility – that magnify the effectiveness of King’s methods, the gathering of apparently conflicting suggestions under the umbrella of harmonically advanced congeniality.

Friday 27 August 2010

PETER WRIGHT – Bright Failing Star

Release The Bats

Two sides (yes, it is a vinyl) of chiming-and-droning grace, a modicum of found sounds and voices from the street – a matter of minutes, really – and even fewer piano notes in the closing stages of the first half. A sinisterly gentler side of Wright, already perceived on his previous An Angel Fell Where The Kestrels Hover (on Spekk), which in any case will put lovers of guitar-driven blissful ecstasy in a pre-orgasmic state as usual.

The music unfolds deliberately, either via a reiterative pulse (Reichian echoes at the very beginning…) or with minor variations, plus a few milligrams of essential melody. The rest is complete inertia, nearing lethargy. What changes is the thickness of the sound, progressively emphasized or decreased by different kinds of equalizations and superimpositions. Feedback is always lurking there, ready to jump on the somnolent tranquillity and transform it into utter misery. It’s all so beautifully planned and constructed, so visibly liquefied, that one’s willing to accept whatever consequence the initial immobility might threat of bringing on. But it basically ends as violence unexpressed (apart from the glare of acrid chords appearing towards the end of the album), leaving us prepared for the next round of ringing harmonics, desolate jangle, tormented rapture. This lexicographer of six-stringed beatitude has grown his followers used to these gifts over the years, and we’ve become addicts by now.

The limited edition in my possession contains an additional CD comprising a live performance from Paris, recorded in 2007, which starts with the same preaching drunkard heard in the Snow Blind album and continues with one of the most gorgeous pieces of recent remembrance, halfway through divine quintessence and stoned imperturbability, until thorny shards of jarring clangour gradually annihilate any propensity to contemplation. Yet the set is sealed by birds and flies in between the country’s silence, before a polite applause by the meagre audience concludes the whole. Latecomers, get your eBay search alerts going.


Black Truffle

In this concert, recorded at the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Centre in 2009, three distinct and very strong personalities construct a sonic edifice derived by a combination of experimentation, intensity and desire to abandon any inclination to affirm a status or define a genre. Ambarchi manipulates the guitar according to his renown, amassing imposing subsonic throbs and quaking bumps, generating a sense of profound vastness which reminds of human impotence in front of certain phenomena. O’Rourke plays the piano in all its components, eliciting clattering sounds, drones, percussiveness and atonal twinkle depending on the circumstance, seemingly content of remaining in the mid-background and simply contribute to the formation of the vibrational tissue.

On the other side, Haino utilizes electronics, a flute and a drum machine; needless to say, he’s better recognizable when the voice is a part of the equation. He delivers the goods impressively – scarily at times – through vocalizations that may start as invocations but, in “Tima Formosa 3”, end sounding like a desperate attempt to push back some sort of ferocious demon trying to steal the good vibrations that the music had generated until then. It is in those moments, where the full force of the collective vibe becomes substantial, that an expert listener realizes how this mixture of beguilement and violence involves artistic backgrounds and spiritual implications that the hundreds of wretched imitators can only dream of, despite glowing praise by bandwagon-jumping reviewers who acclaim stuff that has no actual grounding, similarly to their listening experience.


Aural Terrains

By disregarding any potential concern for manifestations that might be loosely associated to a notion of “tonality” (or just consonance), Chrysakis (laptop, electronics, rototom), Matthews (digital synthesis, field recordings) and Bernal-Villegas (percussion) gave origin to six very interesting and uniquely sounding improvisations. The kind of interaction that one gladly listens to, immediately appreciating hues, noises and impressions elicited, without finding words to pigeonhole the result. Which, of course, is great.

The shapes generated by the instrumentation are heterodox and with a tendency to the disintegration of compactness; all are characterized by timbral qualities that make them aurally attractive under many points of view. The mixture of computerized and synthesized emissions works perfectly, remaining halfway through piercing-and-stinging, sweltering and steamily chaotic; unpredictable discharges that replenish vacuums and suggest combustibility. The percussive designs - which, in a way, dominate some of the hypermodern vistas offered by the trio – are informed by a welcome non-invasiveness despite an obvious fractal temperament. It’s beautiful to hear the sound of a real drum skin amidst bubbles, sizzles and hisses, and also noteworthy is the musicians’ ability of letting decipherable human echoes (aircrafts, old records) mix seamlessly with the most erratic electronic activities. The resulting concoction, as heard in “II”, represents the ideal fusion of diverse sonic universes, revealing both the artists’ sensibility in manipulating machines differently and their finely tuned ears towards what surrounds them.

A satisfying release, defined by atypically stimulating sonorities, which deserves the worn-out compliment: “rewards repeated spins”.

Sunday 22 August 2010

ASHER / FOURM – Selected Passages / Set.Grey


Asher’s “Selected Passages” is fashioned after the ultimate residues of a research on acoustic materials gathered in 2008 (partially heard in the Intervals album). Following the investigation of field recordings, radio snippets and the sounds of a piano found in a room of his Vermont residency at that time, he focused himself on the latter. The five movements included in this CD consist of a choice of simple chords, extremely thoughtful and melancholic and dirtied by a patina of static dustiness and distortion that alters the essential qualities, highlighting the traits of the composer’s renowned perceptive intensity. Generated from a sheer instrument, they’re transformed in a classic late-autumn soundtrack of dejected recollection, slowly deteriorating as the minutes flow.

Fourm is interested in erasing the typical structural elements of what’s commonly intended as “music”, to leave us with something that is as intangible as a ghost. The question – given the unfeasibility of listening to these asymmetrical subterranean murmurs if not in a completely silent setting or in an installation – is: how many people will be able to actually grasp the logic of this representation? An iPod, or the regular noise of a familial environment, are going to utterly suffocate this work. And it would be a shame: the amorphously nebulous manifestations detectable by raising the volume in absolute muteness – vaguely recalling some of Asmus Tietchens’ most abstract conceptions at times – are frequently riveting in their subsonic constituents, complementing the stillness (both inside and, eventually, outside) quite powerfully.

Saturday 14 August 2010


Hot Cup

If “smooth” jazz (by the way, what the hell does that mean?) is comparable to a classic seduction in lingerie frequently ending in a "sorry-darling-it-was-not-my-night" failure, Mostly Other People Do The Killing are the big-bosom freckled girl that plops on your pelvis and proceeds to teach you everything in a single lesson. Arrived at the fourth release, this quartet stuffs such a number of influences, quotes, ideas and parallel dimensions in the hour of Forty Fort that following its totality might become an arduous task if the concentration is not on ten. That’s right, a brain can absorb only that much; yet the difficulty of assimilation is compensated by the amazing musicianship of the members, all recognized masters of their trade. The old commonplace according to which “the improvisation is so well executed that it sounds composed” is here totally subverted: Moppa Elliott’s scores (he wrote eight of the nine tunes) are a concoction of bent normalcy and unexpected incidents where even the notated parts sound unrehearsed. Maybe they are, who knows.

Stax, Weather Report, Albert Ayler, Brazilian Bossa, Sheena Easton, Spike Jones. These are names – some of them suggested by the press sheet, others by my own fantasies and associations – that flash in the mind while listening. The guys are enthusiastic in their proposals but not exactly attached to anything. Peter Evans, the greatest trumpeter around independently of the genre, has the chance to show both his scary technical command and the capacity of exchanging lines, noises and paradoxes with the fellow unprincipled virtuoso who goes under the name of (tenor and alto saxophonist) Jon Irabagon, the latter’s motley visions of contrapuntal partnership symbolizing the mutilation of the conventional role of a reedist in a combo. Indignation and joy advance on matching terms, often generating veritable sparkles of dissolution, ultimately returning to an easy theme in the flick of a switch. The couple meshes grippingly with Elliott’s arco too, the frenzy crescendo at the end of “Blue Ball” a typical example of cantankerous discharge flowing into an abrupt, or plain absurd conclusion (which the record definitely doesn’t lack). Kevin Shea’s torrential drumming is perfect for the scope: the man’s categorical antipathy against whatever resembles an ordinary fragmentation of a pulse corresponds to a fundamental engine for the music’s bouncy mocking of idioms. Not to mention the preposterous “drum solo” before the finish of the closing track, Neal Hefti’s “Cute”.

Elliott – a teacher by day, an excellent bassist and composer by night – achieved what not many artists are entitled to brag about: writing complex and humorous music that occasionally throws us in mild puzzlement, nonetheless energized by the infectious joie de vivre of these instrumentals. MOPDTK confirm themselves among the cream of multi-nourished musicians whose disapproval of fossilization is expressed without reticence, politeness be damned. This is a great CD that deserves recurring spins, and the liner notes (written by “Leonardo Featherweight” – pure genius!) are another curve ball to unsuspecting consumers.

Friday 6 August 2010


Killer Penguin

After four years from the great Attack Of The Killer Penguins, Welsh trombonist Gareth Roberts and his comrades – trumpeter Gethin Liddington, pianist Paul Jones, bassist Chris O’Connor and drummer Mark O’Connor – come back to help us forgetting the hard times in which we live, at least for 53 minutes. The fusion of constructive melancholy and detailed vibrancy characterizing these pieces – entirely penned by Roberts – is especially influenced by Charles Mingus and the Blue Note albums of the 60s. This retro mood is probably the winning card of Go Stop Go, a solid outing under every aspect.

The quintet’s mastery in maintaining the fluidity of the swinging energy even upon composed meters – the guys like to express themselves in seven, thirteen and the likes – is a thing to respect. Composing stuff whose pulse is not necessarily suitable for idiotically nodding with the head – jazz club style - is a rare feature these days, and there’s plenty here to rejoice for in that sense. Cock-a-hoop enthusiasm and profound eloquence are alternated in technically grounded, yet absolutely unsophisticated and unpretentious fashion. Singling out the musicians and what they do throughout the album is practically useless, for this is a record in which the collective orchestration and the overall instrumental yield are the features to admire. The playing is brilliant all over the place, be it enthusiastic or meditative. It’s human, for lack of a better adjective.

Any given track is convincing, but – should this writer be forced to choose only one – “Unlucky-Lee” would maybe win the contest: a frisky tune where each member has a chance to excel – either as a soloist or by becoming a fundamental element of the counterpoint - while the piece’s structure remains totally cohesive and engaging. The piano solo at the end of the last chapter - “Cwyn Mam-Yng-Nghyfraith” - is another favourite. In essence, this is a fine release by a self-propelling group led by an artist who, born as an engineer and math teacher, decided instead to leave cold numbers aside and let someone’s world spin slightly differently by managing to make those people smile, or just ponder about beautiful memories through his music. You have to be appreciative of this.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

CREMASTER - Noranta Graus A L'Esquerra


Turbulently logical as always, Ferran Fages and Alfredo Costa Monteiro organize a palette of noises generated by “feedback mixing board, pickups and objects on electric guitar” brilliantly, the resulting concoction qualifying more as composition than improvisation given the level of intricacy of its spontaneous design. The “interplay” has reached a point of reciprocal perceptiveness and instant reaction, warranting a rational temperament that’s often lacking in the work of other exponents of the extreme manipulation party. Fages and Costa Monteiro have been playing together for a very long time, and this bond is clearly perceptible. The music they present in Noranta Graus A L’Esquerra (Catalan for “Ninety Degrees To The Left”) definitely corresponds to the most mature that Cremaster have released to date, gifted with the same animated zest driving their research for new types of acoustic disintegration, yet devoid of that ear-torturing magniloquence exalted by the avant-garde (ha!) regime hyping theoretically radical “creative” phenomena.

The work is complex, sharp and hard-hitting, following a dynamic arc of events that starts at the extremities of auditory tolerance (careful with these frequencies when wearing headphones) and gradually shifts the mass towards places where the skilled monster even enjoys some moment of tranquillity. It’s there that one (barely) notices the existence of tiny purrs and infinitesimal hisses, realizing that the calmness is just momentary before the action resumes. The duo constructs a whole network of interconnected idioms, staying in the realms of lucidity without sounding domesticated. The crunchy discharges that might appear as excruciating at the beginning become a warmly greeted presence with subsequent listens, and trained brains will receive the following dispatches without problems, fusing crackles, rustles, munches and hums in a kinship with the physical equipment they manage. There’s nothing aberrant in this smartly dissentient record, terminated by the artists via the squeezing of the last droplets of the thinnest micro-feedback you can imagine, until silence falls. The lingering buzzing is now coming from the insides of your head.

Tuesday 3 August 2010



In keeping with the unlimited consistency that has characterized his craft over the decades (regretfully overlooked by certain specialized press when they reviewed the Sanctus / Amen / Omega trilogy: alter your course of action against a critic’s expectations and a bad reaction is guaranteed) David Jackman continues to exercise a deep interest in new forms of droning superimposition, having abandoned – for the moment, at least – the harmonious brutality of the earlier works in favour of scores that exploit a different kind of acoustic power, that coming from the layering of richer, if somewhat simpler qualities of instrumental resonance. This recent concern derives from studies on early sacred music, mostly evidenced by the extraordinary male choir singing in the above mentioned Amen, among the artist’s supreme masterpieces.

Although it’s not meant to “expand the trilogy still farther, but opens a new chapter in Organum’s career”, a vaguely comparable architecture characterizes the 41 minutes of Sorow, dedicated to Daisuke Suzuki. A static ground of organ and Indian tanpura is interspersed with brass-ish stabs (organ again? A harmonium, perhaps?) and compelling gongs and/or Japanese temple bells, maintaining a strong influence throughout. There are just minor variations on this essential score: loops seem - and I stress seem - to have been utilized (especially in regard to the tanpura parts), thus attributing an even more entrancing aura to the whole, the movement of an inner slow rhythm caused by the pulse itself. For all these reasons, you have to give room to this combination of frequencies by listening to it at significant volume: only then one realizes about the composition’s authority, established in a mounting wall of slight contrasts between placid sea-like chords, massive vibrations and imposing tolls.

After a mere couple of listens we’re already set to define the record as the logical continuation of a research that’s interestingly becoming analogous to an emblematic ascension: a substance born from amassed sonic detritus, transformed into ear-challenging infected wholesomeness, ultimately sublimated in an immaculate vision. When Jackman decides that the time is right for releasing a statement, preconceptions and agendas should be left aside, in the (perhaps pathetic) hope that those sounds are able to locate a small font of responsiveness in cold-hearted “professionals”. This, though, is a problem concerning other kinds of people; I’m comfortable on the opposite side, laid out by the glory of another hymn to the might of stillness.

Saturday 31 July 2010

IRON KIM STYLE – Iron Kim Style


Iron Kim Style is a quintet consisting of a couple of guitars (Dennis Rea and Thaddaeus Brophy, the latter on 12 strings), plus trumpeter Bill Jones, drummer Jay Jaskot and bassist Ryan Berg. The “inspiration” might reside in the figure of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il (who is even present, via pictorial superimposition, in the group’s photograph on the cover), yet the phrase “your boxing has no power” used as caption reminds of another Iron, namely the one and only Mike Tyson.

The music: not exceptionally original but, to remain inside the pugilistic ambit, still packing a punch and brisk enough. Technically evolved to a good degree – not to the point of resemblance to a series of exercises – the pieces range between many obvious influences, which you will find listed in other reviews of the same album. 70’s Miles Davis with aromas of Bill Frisell and Terje Rypdal, and – occasionally – tunes constructed upon a single bass riff à la Hugh Hopper. Some of the tracks sound like a pretext for jamming rather than real compositions; the problem is that those improvisations are not always at the maximum level of freshness, at times becoming quite wearisome.

Overall, the record’s liveliness is respectable - especially when we don’t want to think too much, just tapping the foot for a while. If the Tyson association stands, though, this group is comparable with the boxer’s post-incarceration version, circa 1995: the menace and the clout were not sustained anymore by the once-decisive speed and the bob-and-weave approach, and Evander Holyfield was lurking behind the corner.

Friday 30 July 2010



The title (Italian for “stellar droplets”) comes from Orion Nebula’s newborn stars, generated by the nuclear fusion of huge globules of gas and dust; stars are also the origin of the seven tracks’ names. Thus, associating the adjective “stellar” to the playing heard in this CD becomes commonplace. Philipp Wachsmann (violin), Charlotte Hug (viola), Marcio Mattos (cello) and John Edwards (double bass) conduct business with a combination of formal respect for the configurational clarity of a hypothetical composition: these pieces, recorded at the 2007 UNCOOL festival in Poschiavo, Switzerland, impressively resemble the upshot of written scores - with more than a hint to XX century’s literature - exalted and enriched by the kind of impulsive improvisation that one expects from musicians at this level of instrumental command.

In the liner notes, Caroline Kraabel makes a very good point about the initial trouble in recognizing the single voices even after many years of listening to them. Here lies the reason of this record's accomplishment: the global yield of polychrome pitches, fractal percussiveness and structural multiplicity overcome the difficulties elicited by the thorny convolutions and atonal spirals - permeated by a measure of intransigency - that the quartet constantly delivers. The performers apply a logic of intelligibility to everything they play, dividing the stereo space in well-defined sectors, remaining disengaged from rigid rules yet appearing solid all along. The typical characters connected to contemporary music for strings - including the exploitation of rarely attended parts of the instruments - are astutely employed, proof of a technically enlightened maturity. Serialism, lyricism, dronage and the average reviewer’s pet quote - Lachenmann (yeah, let's go and join the name-throwing party…) - get evoked and instantly disposed of in a matter of seconds.

Ultimately, the best way to tackle Gocce Stellari is absorbing it little by little over repeated listens, at first being flattened and somewhat pushed back by its bittersweet vigour, then dissecting the components to individuate and separate nuances and details. Both acts lead to the same conclusion: this is a persuasive record.

Thursday 29 July 2010

ROSS BOLLETER – Night Kitchen


The pathos of intemperate resonance that transpires from a ruined piano is nearly visible in the work of Ross Bolleter, who makes of this kind of tool a way of living. He has amassed a number of wrecked pianos over the years, five of them occupying his home's kitchen for the occasion; this fact and the choice of improvising during the night or at dawn ("at the latest") give this album its title.

Without recurring to the umpteenth quote of Bolleter's theory, we'll only invite the reader to consider this music similar to existential deterioration - not necessarily the progressive tarnishing of metal parts, or strings. The crumbling of a musical machine appears as the pictogram of a microcosm amidst superior forces, like a person gifted with an extraordinary potential that remains unexpressed and ultimately falls to pieces due to a combination of adverse circumstances. Listening to these weird radiations of huddled harmonics and detuned reverberations, and to the tangled rhythms generated by that peculiar hybrid of intoxicated gamelan and urban junk, you can't help but compare the original scope of that apparatus with what it embodies at present. Nobody in the real world would think of performing with a decayed instrument; no one stops a poor man in the street to ask for the story of his life.

On the contrary, this is exactly what this Australian artist does, eliciting incomparably awkward sounds - at times ironic, elsewhere severely introspective. We sit in front of a manifestation of uncompromising discord, born from a sonic organism that was originally created to be divided in small fractions of acoustic ordinariness. Now everything is fused in an unbreakable aura of dissonance whose morphology is nevertheless totally congenial to these ears. It's an inspiring experience that leaves us pondering about the pointlessness of perfection while appreciating the influence of mutability on what humans call "music" after having injected a good dose of customary triviality to an otherwise unstructured radiance. Yet the upper partials emitted by Bolleter's perished boxes need no intervention, shaping the surrounding environment with their past glory transmuted into transcendental tolls and glowingly malformed heterogeneity.

Monday 26 July 2010


Clean Feed

Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa is a liberal participant in lots of different situations gravitating around new jazz, her recognized “honorary musical godfathers” (Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Sun Ra, Coleman, Ayler, Dolphy, Kirk) constituting the primary source of inspiration for this debut as a boss, particularly in regard to the energy and the focus that those masters have transmitted to Lisa over the years. She was already involved in the “metal jazz” band Go-Go Fightmaster, whose members are a part of this recording: tenor saxophonist Aaron Bennett juxtaposes paradox and hostility in a confrontational style where romanticism is the last memory before dying, guitarist John Finkbeiner is a fissure-filling achiever of impractically skewed lines of exploratory modernity, and drummer Vijay Anderson is proficiently concerned with the guardianship of the pulse, yet he shows the impatience of a percussionist for what’s square, inserting rhythmic traps and shifting accents whenever the occasion calls.

The fact that Mezzacappa produces a cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Lick My Decals Off, Baby” gives the idea of a broadminded approach – you won’t find Van Vliet covered by many people these days. Instead, on “The Cause & Effect Of Emotion & Distance” the whole quartet seems to rise from the ashes of a previous thematic disintegration to turn into a cloud of aromatic scents. In general, the architectures conceived by the leader are characterized by sharp steadiness rooted in contrapuntal verisimilitude. She’s a credible instrumentalist, precise and solid but also able to extract a degree of passion from the most exsiccated, skeletally linear conception. The band’s ability in reciprocally trusting their instant choices and avoiding excesses of discordance is a major plus – everything sounds intelligible (including the tense blowout heard in the title track) and the potentialities of this wise frugality are evident in the acute lucidity defining the entire record.

Sunday 25 July 2010

KEITH BERRY – The Cartesian Plane

Elevator Bath

The fallibility of a human mechanism is inversely proportional to the illusions from which it absorbs nourishment. Confidence and unsettlement, inflexibility and hesitancy are but two of the infinite contrasts that perceptive beings meet while assembling a buried universe of personal inclinations alimented by their deepest wishes. Accordingly, another remarkable manifestation of necessary imperfection is the disproportion between the latter – meaning “any aspiration” - and the lack of occurrences that might help in fulfilling those expectations. This is the starting point of that kind of silent, inexplicable interior grief that can devastate a psychically fragile person, or fortify that individual’s awareness if the process of growth was accurately carried on.

Intent in listening to one of the five movements comprised by The Cartesian Plane, I notice a fantastic image cut by the frame of an open window: a perfect blue sky spotted by white clouds in a corner, and a wealth of green given by fully flourished branches. All around, a nearly scary quietness is fought by the incessant chant emitted by thousands of cicadas, in turn overwhelming uncommonly infrequent chirps - even birds seem to look for answers this afternoon. A typical flash during which I found myself asking “why”, not focusing on the cause of my controlled qualm. The reasons behind strange phenomena and dubious behaviors, I’ve stopped searching for them since ages. The rightness of certain combinations of sounds and colours is something that must not be rationally examined. At least not neurotically. That left me alone with the mere question. Why?

Still no response. The music is repeating its course for the third time, the reconnection with Keith Berry’s vision turned on via indiscernible hues and infinitesimal details. A side of this 12-inch picture disc (a limited edition of 233 copies) contains a pair of segments that are harmonically permanent, though we detect subliminal modifications in the fundamental matter of the droning formation, characteristically not specified by the composer. The other face of the album features a slightly different approach in terms of change: somnolently elliptical pictures of desolation are outlined in blurred stupor over the remaining three subdivisions, letting us intuit the vague presence of corporeal entities. It could be a sluggish orchestral fragment or a moribund choir, voices in the wake of the eternal issue. Why?

Following a lengthy stretch of almost complete silence, all it takes for Berry to put together again the threads of his resounding solitude is 47 minutes of merged tones that are both majestically entrancing and soul-consuming. Finding comparisons is a hopeless exercise reserved to pen-pushing bureaucrats. On the contrary, we will keep raising questions without receiving a solution. There’s a reason why people don’t really want to know that explanation, staying within the borders of a self-styled reality. When the truth finally materializes, it’s going to be terribly late for a dull analysis.

CURLEW – A Beautiful Western Saddle / The Hardwood


This CD/DVD double whammy reclaims important documents by my favourite embodiment of Curlew (George Cartwright, Davey Williams, Ann Rupel, Pippin Barnett, Tom Cora) from unjustified shadows. A Beautiful Western Saddle introduces, for the first time in the band’s existence, a set of lyrics penned by poet Paul Haines (an old objective for Cartwright’s admiration) and sung by Amy Denio. Leaving the analysis of the texts to those who are fascinated by this sort of revisionary act, let me tell you that the music was, and still is, fairly atypical in the quintet’s history. It does preserve all the fundamental features of classic Curlew: the awkward antagonism of the main themes, the incapability of missing a beat even in the most rhythmically tortuous fragments, the extreme flexibility of players who switch from composed parts to improvised sections with confidence and genius (hats off Tom Cora, wherever you are).

Denio’s charming yet vigorous accents, in union with a higher degree of structural straightforwardness, adjust the usual guidelines by attributing a distinct American flavour to the songs while magnifying orchestrations that sound - for lack of a better definition - rurally urbane. There’s more melodic open-mindedness in this record than anywhere else in the ensemble’s curriculum, and I bear in mind that this turn of events was reasonably startling for yours truly when it appeared on the market. Heard in the present day the project is warmly greeted and fresh-sounding, a one-of-a-kind experiment that deserves appropriate recognition (not to mention the elegiac magnificence of tunes like “Today” and “Human Weather Words”, or the hypnotic consequence of the minimalist “Paint Me!”). This writer stresses that the very best of Curlew lies elsewhere (Bee or Paradise being the personal suggestions, should someone need a first course). Make no mistake, though: we’re talking outstanding stuff here - no question.

If there were residual doubts about buying this thing or not, the “fuck yeah!” response might be brought out by the addition of the video material. The initial half includes The Hardwood – originally issued on VHS – shot at the Knitting Factory in 1991, a testimony of the tightness and energy of the original lineup, caught executing evergreens such as “Gimmie” and “To The Summer In Our Hearts” with the habitual perspiring ability of keeping the blood boiling and the fractured metres going (Rupel’s head-shaking trance and agile fingers are a must-see; she’s not playing nowadays, an awful shame for a great bassist and composer. Please come back, Ann!). The rest was recorded at Washington’s D.C. Space – also in 1991 – and is mainly based on Western Saddle’s repertoire, naturally with Denio joining on stage (and recklessly dancing with Williams in one of the DVD’s funniest spots). Given the rarity of the footage and the chance of appreciating the difference between the studio and the live renditions of the pieces, the somewhat rough quality of the picture is easily forgotten (it’s been almost 20 years, remember). This is the only way to observe this unique group in action from a comfy sofa, and that’s enough to warrant happiness.

Tuesday 20 July 2010



Tate goes a little backwards in his own era, presenting a new work that closely recalls some of the earliest outings on Fungal, the ones where the untailored quality of the assemblages seemed to be more important than any sort of structural design, thus confirming an often acknowledged worship for Dadaism. This particular record consists of a single 39-minute piece starting with gradual synthetic glissandos, continuing with a few electronic touches and a little spacey wavering, ultimately stabilizing (so to speak) into a coalescence of nocturnal urban ambiences - cars passing by are the predominant colour – that, as the time elapses, is progressively defined by nearly insubstantial splashes of guitars and keyboards, played with the same candor of a young kid having an initial approach on the instruments, with a modicum of echo. At about 23’30” a splendid droning undercurrent appears, and the earth loop’s hum is also very “in your face” over the final minutes, utilized – like all the rest – as just one among not many hues in a basic palette. At first, the resulting music sounds almost unimposing; already at the third listen, we’re finding ourselves once again enraptured by this man’s tenuous yet incomparable visions. If there is a musician who engendered a style definable with just that person’s name, that must be Darren Tate.

Wednesday 14 July 2010


Creative Sources

A crepuscular cooperative of alto sax, viola, cello and electronics with some concession to throaty droning and a clear tendency to unveil buried aspects of the instrumental combination to turn them into relevant traits. In “Mörkertid” a preliminary static exposition is subsequently splintered in parallel singularities, each instrument gently wheezing and rasping until the piece’s natural demise. “Kyla” is intermittently characterized by a chugging pulse over which the other voices try and find a place to exist without being noticed. This includes unpolished upper partials, barely hinted sibilance, pitches that oscillate between full tone and dispirited sighing. These sounds are nothing previously unheard of, but an optimal integration makes them appear more beautiful than they really are. The segment’s overall yield is a valuable one, especially when the quartet starts moaning and groaning around the thirteenth minute. The lengthy “Barmark” is definitely the most difficult track to translate, informed as it is by cyclical shrieking highs and “classic” tampering with strings and bridge in several of its parts. Accordingly, this is also the least involving chapter in terms of sheer timbral attractiveness; except for a couple of concentrated surges and a handful of captivating buzzes, it’s not excessively momentous in the economy of an album that nevertheless remains a valid alternative to futile silence.

Sunday 11 July 2010

ANDREW CHALK – Ghost Of Nakhodka


Except for the persistently enticing title track, opening the CD at about 20 minutes of duration, Ghost Of Nakhodka is a collection of rather short sketches – seemingly cut off longer sessions, abrupt fadeouts characterizing several of them – which confirms Andrew Chalk’s matchless aesthetic, adorned with a continuous sense of yearning for something that’s passed and given up for lost by now, a not-too-latent regret permeating the large part of the music album after album. Yet this time we must also take note of a somewhat easier detection of the sounds obtained – strings in particular – in some of the tracks.

Although Chalk has grown the listeners used to the lack of lists of sources, thus attributing an additional layer of secrecy to his creations, in this circumstance the emergence of acoustic guitars and other related instruments (perhaps a balalaika, somewhere else a cimbalom or a hammered dulcimer) lets enjoy a previously unheard kind of melodic tactility amidst an otherwise nebulous-as-always gathering of aural landscapes replete with backward tapes, stratified chordal elongations, disembodied harmonies and smile-inducing juvenile memories. There’s no actual indication of a way to follow in these touching pieces, and the individual response to the combinations of frequencies is the only correct method to assess this heartfelt work. As a general rule the sound is deceivingly timid, revealing its pale grace through repeated spins. Long-ago reminiscence and fragments of tunes mix effectively in the weak flickering of a sheltering pensiveness.

Chalk’s segregation from the rest of the world, both artistically and in any potential alternative meaning, is clearly dictated by the need of finding answers to issues that would generate depression in less intelligent human specimens, and that instead get transformed in vehicles for the propagation of evolutional resonance by a man who, despite living in a sea town, exclusively sails across reticent hopes permeated by extracorporeal vibrations.

Thursday 8 July 2010


Clean Feed

Is writing that a music can’t be retained in the memory a compliment or a reprimand? The crow keepers of official criticism might find lots of “authorized” terms to describe and classify the kind of interrelations occurring in Live At Roulette, but what remains in this writer’s mind following several thorough listens is a vague difficulty in accepting its imperfect, chamber-tinged arduousness. As if the instinctive connections that attribute naturalness to a creative stream had been severed by a malevolent entity, the musicians feverishly attempting to put scattered pieces and ideas together. Now and again successfully, otherwise rather inconclusively.

Cellist Levin decided to tape the material after noticing that the most remarkable occurrences between him and his comrades were situated “off the map into uncharted territory”, as opposed to the prearranged frames that he was trying to set for them to improvise upon when the group started in 2001. Including Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Moran on vibes and Peter Bitenc on bass, the potential and the actual technical yield of this collective is quite high. The dynamics at work are indeed many and multidirectional, the alternance of soloist spots, duets and sudden crescendos a memo of the theoretical highs that we were anticipating.

Ultimately, what’s lacking is exactly the sort of snapping break, of excogitative coup that characterizes the unforgettable chapters in the book of improvisation. When something comes that, at least for a while, reinforces our conviction of having individuated the right way, it sounds more an accident than the crop of instantaneous research. And usually it lasts for a too short moment in time, before the general sense of uncertain direction returns. To summarize, this is a record made by outstanding players that in this circumstance didn’t manage to reap the expected fruits, remaining at a midway point along the various paths.

Friday 2 July 2010

ANTHONY BRAXTON / JOËLLE LÉANDRE – Duo (Heidelberg Loppem) 2007


What is immediately noticed after listening to this double CD, marking a rare duo encounter between two masters, is that Léandre doesn’t seem all that much interested in her distinctive theatrics and operatic vocalizations. She does use the voice, but in a subdued way during a number of severe exchanges. One is brought to think of a sort of concentrated inviolability without the pomp, the musicians perfectly aware of the fact that this an occasion in which what’s stated will not be amended or retracted, and that the ensuing recording should be as clear as possible in terms of instantaneous creation of art and discernible intuition.

Braxton’s intelligent pressure (explicated through sopranino, soprano and alto saxes and contrabass clarinet) is garrulously foresighted. The exceptionality of his spiralling voraciousness is highlighted by a unique capacity of remaining confined within the limits of essentiality, so that a swarm of notes is perceived as a wholeness, not as a demonstration of technical dexterity (because, let’s face it, remarking about the latter would be hopelessly pathetic). Léandre builds upon grounds of guttural timbres and outstanding flights across both the pure and impure frequencies of the bass’ strings, a plain-spoken individuality cooperating with Braxton in the joint despoliation of improvisational compatibility from superfluous lustre and less-than-deep meanings.

This is a traditional example of the near-uselessness of a review given the names involved, alone enough to certify the virtual impossibility of expressing artistry under the level of excellence. You just need to relax and unfasten the mind’s locks, welcoming discursive whirlwinds, profound ruminations and atypical explorations of the instrumental registers with equal attentiveness and pleasure.

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.