Only a Northern Song

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Barbara Romen / Kai Fagaschinski / Gunter Schneider
Here Comes The Sun
RUSSIA MIKROTON RECORDINGS MIKROTONCD23 CD (2012)

We all love The Beatles don’t we? (This is a rhetorical question.) And what better ironic, tongue-in-cheek way to commemorate those lovable Liverpudlian longhairs than to record an album of difficult avant-garde music and then name it after one of their most successful tunes. Ho ho, you guys! As a wholly irrelevant aside, I seem to recall that the Beatles’ tune “Here Comes The Sun” was the theme for the BBC’s flagship holiday programme presented by Cliff Michelmore back in the 1970s. And that George Harrison; he’s the man. He was always my favourite.

Anyway. Great to hear hammered dulcimer played by an accomplished technician in an improvised setting that doesn’t simply rely on the irresistible potential of simply scraping all those strings in “new and interesting” ways. Barbara Romen’s name is unfamiliar to me, but on the strength of her involvement in this release I’m going to search out more of her music.

This is a strong collection of six recordings, all very self-contained and unique in their own ways, but still standing together as a unified whole. The first track, “Who’s There?” offers a coherent appraisal of each of the player’s interests over a twelve and a half minute duration that seems to fly by. If I’d heard this piece at a concert rather than on a cd I think I’d feel slightly short-changed perhaps. The languorous way the players pluck at, agitate, trill and breathe on their instruments seems to collapse time, (at least during the first ten minutes – things get slightly more demanding toward the end), with overlapping long tones driving things gently along.

Next out of the six is another longish piece at fourteen minutes; “Feelings Without End”. Here, the dulcimer sounds more like a piano at the very beginning. During one listen, I admit I was beginning to get a little bored until a hail storm hit the house without warning at around 8 minutes and turned it all into something quite magical.

“Dazed And Diffused” – another bloated and hirsute rock n’ roll institution reference; this time Led Zeppelin, you jokers! – is shorter at just under six minutes, and crawls along on its face with a sense of panicked yet resigned dread. “The Last Words” incorporates gorgeously warm long tones. It is followed by the intriguingly titled “At The End Of The Tunnel There Is Always A Lie” which does nothing but perpetuate the feelings of unease instigated by “Dazed And Diffused”. The second half of the disc feels as though (though probably isn’t – I have no real evidence to back this up) the last three tracks are all part of one long improvisation, with ID positions inserted at appropriate points. This adds to the overall cohesive and structured nature of these pieces and enhances the enjoyment of same immensely.

Mikroton should be commended for their impeccable programming of quality titles and Here Comes The Sun is the latest in a line of top-drawer recordings released by this Russian label. Their impressive back catalogue features other great projects involving big names like Jason Kahn, Lee Patterson, John Butcher, Rhodri Davies, Mark Wastell, Tetuzi Akiyama, John Tilbury, Werner Dafeldecker, Keith Rowe and many more. Well worth spending some time investigating this label, I’d say. Let me know how you get on. Edition of 300.

Mikroton

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