Tagged: piano

Strange Delights

Haxel Garbini
Uri
ITALY SNOWDONIA SW0077 LP (2015)

Massaging brains with his short ideas repeated is Italy’s Haxel Garbini, a new name to me, somewhat shadowy in both profile and in sound. The twelve process-based (de)constructions that make up URI find Garbini operating within a quasi-Minimalist frame: clipped phrases fed through effect-pedals ad infinitum. A faint whiff of cod-orientalism. Slender arrangements for distortion-driven dirge and highly nuanced composition both, with an enduring indifference to the possibility of reconciling such uncomplimentary approaches.

Typical of this pathology, ‘Estate 1984’ and its subsequent ‘Reprise’ have far less in common than good old chalk n’cheese: the former a swift, swampy elegy to forgotten toys, and its counterpart, a hypnotising harmony of reverberant organ tones that harken us towards a trance state. Neither blood relations, nor cosy bedfellows, such bi-polar antics are made acceptable only by the omnipresence of this unlikely pairing strategy: ‘Emergere/Fluttuare’ (to give another example) sees the sludgy, seabed stirring of a disgruntled cello beneath 100 atmospheres of pressure swiftly supplanted by the carefree play of pastoral folk guitar for a twittering avian audience. And so on.

While an escape route of sorts can be found in ‘Dobbiamo Scappare’, where Bruce Haack-like vocoder exhortations drift disembodied around a rudimentary bass pulse, for the most part listening to URI is rather like comparing photographs to their negatives. Garbini’s mixed bag of unresolved melodies, fidelities and koan, whose ongoing incompletion implies a contradictory appetite for new scenery and a cocoon-like resistance to new influences, provides many Gordian Knots for more literal-minded listeners to scratch heads over.

Komitas Vardapet
Six Dances
NETHERLANDS MAKKUM RECORDS MR17 / DE PLATENBAKKERIJ PB 006 CD (2016)

Pendulating between flights of filigree and fleeting respite are the fine-tuned fingers of pianist Keiko Shichijo, whose infatuation with the work of sacerdotal Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet recently saw her hidden talents scooped up by Amsterdam’s Makkum label. The clincher: a recital at the Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis, provides the contents of this EP, while the pieces were written during Vardapet’s spell in Paris in 1906, and played on a Steinway just 2.5 decades older. ‘Situation-struck’ Arnold De Boer of the Makkum label was straight away sold, and set about documenting the momentous occasion on 10” and CD formats.

Of Shichijo herself, little is noted, so she shares the obscurity of the object of her devotion, along with an enduring fascination with the music of times and places long gone. Ordained as a priest in his youth, Vardapet composed his early work in late 18th Century Armenia and later, with sponsorship, in Berlin, where he introduced Europeans to folk musics Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish, becoming in time an avowed ethnomusicologist. Though he composed this six-stage cycle for piano, it is informed by his musicological research, drawing themes from folk dances and sounds from instruments such as the dap, shvi, dhol and tar – local variations on instruments such as tambourine, reed pipe and hand drum.

Shichijo (re)animates this mythology with detail and finesse: in ‘Yerangi’ florid arabesques fade to absent-minded lapses that hold a light to the piano’s inner chambers. To her credit, she doesn’t over-egg her reading of instructions such as ‘delicately and majestically’, which Vardapet liberally applied to dances for men and women: the held notes of ‘Unabi’ are brushed lightly by brisk ornamentation; an ambivalent joyousness fueled by the player’s absorption into historical reverie. ‘Shoror’ – the swaying dance for ‘heroic men’ – maintains the majesty, but hangs a question mark on every sustained end-note.

Given the attention to detail, the brevity remains a mystery. ‘Shoror’ towers over at 6:34: enough time to house three other pieces, but probably not enough for a dance to get going. It’s more likely that the cycle was composed as a museum piece, patiently inlaid with the stories and sensibilities of its fading origins, but sufficiently adulterated for the curious listeners who might have been alienated by a direct encounter. Indeed, the days were numbered: Vardapet was arrested on the first day of the Armenian massacre in 1915, and though released with the help of the American ambassador, remained traumatised for the twenty years till his death in 1935. Gone, but thanks to Keiko Shichijo, not forgotten.

Suomalaista Elektroakustista Musiikkia: seven compositions of intriguing soundscapes

Various Artists, Suomalaista Elektroakustista Musiikkia / Finnish Electroacoustic Music, Creelpone CP 217 CD

The birth years of the seven composers of electroacoustic music appearing here on this disc range from 1929 to 1952 so the original release by the Fennica Nova label cannot have been earlier than the late 1970s and I am guessing the record came out around 1980. (I have since realised the original release date was 1978.) Listeners will discover a very interesting range of soundscapes here though several do seem very restrained, even a little formal. All seven compositions are very good though some stand out more than others. It becomes a matter of personal preference as to which the seven tracks deserve more prominence than the others.

Paavo Heininen’s “Maiandros” is a piano-based piece featuring jazzy-sounding piano experimentation and insertions of piano string manipulations. The sounds that emerge seem familiar and yet strange. Jarmo Sermila’s “Electrocomposition I” is an arresting space-ambient melody with strange bubble noises and a grand rising-and-falling finale. As its title, “Pisces” suggests, Jukka Ruohomaki’s contribution includes field recordings of the sea and amorphous methods and strange effects hinting at the numinous nature of the marine environment. Perhaps the best music has been saved for last with Herman Rechberger’s boisterous “Cordamix” which packs in string-based tunes from Greece, India, Japan and other places into six minutes of repeating cacophony.

Hardly a dull moment is to be found here, even in those tracks where the music doesn’t jump out and threaten to drag you by the scruff of your mangy neck out into the blue yonder but instead is content to pursue its own path regardless of who’s following. The folks at Fennica Nova certainly had a good ear for electroacoustic music and knew a good piece when they discovered it. You wonder if this compilation represents a small snapshot of the formal electroacoustic scene in Finland some 30+ years ago.

Contact: Broken Music

Love and Peace: a beautiful set of highly expressive solo piano performances

Girma Yifrashewa, Love & Peace, Unseen Worlds, CD UW13 (2014)

Lovers of highly expressive solo piano performances and fans of Ethiopian traditional / folk music genres are in for an unexpected treat in this album of five short piano-only pieces by Girma Yifrashewa. Throughout this recording Yifrashewa expresses his hopes for love, understanding and harmony among all the peoples of the world; and celebrates aspects of Ethiopian culture, Christian Orthodox spirituality and the majesty of Ethiopia’s physical geography. The album’s pared-down style – this is all just Yifrashewa and his piano, no more and no less – demonstrates the man’s skill in coaxing an astonishing array of emotions and moods, often in the space of just a few minutes.

Each track is distinctive in its own way and has very individual melodies and motifs, some of which however can be familiar to armchair students of Ethiopian music – this is especially so of the sombre track “Semenen” which uses a key or mode of traditional Ethiopian music that shows up on some of my copies of various of Buda Musique’s Ethiopiques releases. While each song can express a variety of feelings, overall one or two emotions are dominant, from the mostly wistful and plaintive “The Shepherd With The Flute” to the celebratory “Chewata” and the dark and intense “Semenen”, a piece that refers to a transitory state between being dead and being alive. The album starts on a fairly hopeful and upbeat note and from the fourth track on develops a more ambivalent and complex landscape of feelings and moods. But whatever the mood is on a particular song, it’s sure to capture the listener’s attention and hold it spellbound.

Beautiful in its apparent simplicity yet turning out to be more complicated than it appears, and giving the impression that it has much more to say than it’s already doing, this album has a very strong hypnotic quality. It can be surprisingly soothing as well even as it acknowledges the darker, sadder moments of life. You won’t believe that solo piano compositions can be so succinct in pinning down the complexity of human feeling and desire.

Undicititoli

Massimo Pavarini
X Sounds Extremely Mysterious
ITALY SUSSIDIARIA SD009 4 x CD (2016)

The emergence of this bulging quad c.d. box set comes as a homage to, and an overview of the works of Italian composer/multi-instrumentalist Massimo Pavarini (1970-2012). A nicely appointed retrospective details his genre-hopping career from the years 1988 to 1994, showing a restless, mercurial talent who, as contributors to the accompanying booklet will attest, was also his own sternest critic. Projects that began with the best of intentions would be casually ditched and bulk-erased from the memory banks, much to the chagrin of his close friends and contemporaries. I’m thinking here of someone that, working practice-wise, seems to resemble Arthur Russell (himself no slouch in rapid genre shifting), combined with the mindset of a pre-fame Syd Barrett. I seem to recall reading that a number of his works at art college would be discarded/destroyed (?) soon after receiving their very last drip of paint, as if going through the artistic process was an end in itself. However, in Massimo’s case, his work has been retrieved from places unknown and have been lovingly and painstakingly restored.

“Alea”, his debut, matches arthouse electronics against hushed piano introspection and was originally issued in cassette only format on the Rosa Luxemborg label. On “Alloro a Colazione”, we can see the dapper spirit of Monsieur Erik Satie hovering over those ivories, genie-like. But that largely unadorned piece ill-prepares the listener for the eye-watering gas cloud of white noise that eventually engulfs “Over the Rainbow” (from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (!)). Dear Judy and her mutant entourage would soon realise that some things are even more psychologically disturbing than those damnable flying monkey-things. The startling “Impulso è Rigetto” has Massimo ‘breaking glass in his room again’ with lung-straining sax skronk and mangled guitar emissions recalling certain violent juxtapositions/jump-cuts found in the early Goebbels & Harth songbook. The “Undicititoli” collection (c.d. no. 2), sadly unreleased at the time, again finds our teenage (!) hero teetering between light and shade. For every “Nativo”; a bewitching Italian cousin to the “Kes” soundtrack, there’s always an “Ingrandire un Policlinico”, in which pounding drum tattoos are but a mere click-track set next to the ‘a to z’ of factory demolition tonalities that follow.

Another artistic zig-zag takes place with the “Danze” c.d. with the artist in question’s apparent brainwashing at the hands of the sinister house/techno-ambient cabal. Well, I’m happy to report that their efforts weren’t that successful as tracks like “The Good Clerk” and “the Curling Ducks” are too hard-edged to occasion thoughts of the loved-up ones throwing shapes with glo-sticks. Mercifully, this approximation of a U.K.-based ‘scene’ (cough) has been partially bent out of shape by an outsider’s p.o.v. and seems to align itself with grainy b/w photos of Hard Corps or Nitzer Ebb instead.

Massimo’s collaborative exploits find a home on “Gruppi”, the final disc in this foursome, and covers his involvement as principal drummer/rhythmic synthesist with Le Orbite, Marmo, Le Forbici di Manitù and Tomografia Assiale Computerizzata. Recorded mostly live, Le Orbite were a 2g/b/d vox outfit that could’ve easily slotted into the Creation Records roster right next to Slowdive. This kinda ‘my bloody mary chain-lite’ choonage (at its best on “Over and Over” and the “6 Colori” instrumental really does fail to match the sense of invention displayed on the previous discs. Sadly, the lure of a bowl cut and a hooped t-shirt must’ve proved to be too overwhelming…

An earnest/moody vocal package and trebly white boy funk guitar signals the arrival of Marmo. Excised from vinyl/cassette comps, the Hula/Chakk-esque rumblings reach their boiling point with Massimo’s ‘noise guitar’ cameo on “I Cinque Angoli”. Laboiusly slow grinding, subterranean rhythms and T.A.C. leader Simon Balestrazzi’s dark mutterings and insinuations seem to share thoughts and deeds with Anti-Group and 23 Skidoo. But perversely, this mainstay of the Italian underground (for over twenty years…) hits real pay dirt with “Ingoiare Chiodi” (from the “Hypnotischer Eden” c.d. on Discordia) which could almost be a great lost Morricone theme. Those chasing unusual sonorities scoped from exotic sources will do a double back flip over T.A.C.’s genius deployment of scraped propellers, ‘walkie-talkie’ voices, Ethiopian drums and the Turkish Zurna. Le Forbici di Manitù’s piece marks Massimo’s last recorded work. With its archetypal synthetic waveforms, “Esilio nel Deserto delle due Lune” could easily have hatched from any period in the last half century or so and is taken from the “Luther Blissett Soundtrack” on Alchemax Records.

So there we have it… a long ‘n’ sprawling response to a tragically brief yet sprawling career path. A sincerely constructed tribute from drawing board to finished article.

The Masked Ball

On Before I Was Invisible (SIREN WIRE / WILD SILENCE), Welsh songstress and pianist/composer Susan Matthews teams up with the French visual artist, record collector and musician Rainier Lericolais. This multi-media fellow has hung his work in many French galleries and collaborated with a number of excellent musicians; it seems he’s released over a hundred records, with evocative titles such as Médiumnique Musique and My Song Exaggerated To Dilate Horizontally. He and Matthews have worked together before, for instance on When The Ghosts Are Within These Walls and Homothetique Ricochet, both small-run editions published in 2008 by Matthews on her own Siren Wire Records imprint. Lericolais lends his collage skills to create the cover artworks for this album. They’re a tad conventional, in thrall to Max Ernst, but that’s no bad thing – and they suit the mood of this delicate and enchanting release.

‘The Healer’s Art’ is an extended work of minimal piano trills, gently pulsating electronic tones, and a compelling mood so taut you hardly dare to breathe…occasionally interrupted by fragments of a song delivered in a hesitant voice, a plaintive whine from a woodwind instrument, and distorted found recordings that might be coming from the mouth of a mechanical doll made in the time of Benjamin Franklin. If the plan was to try and pin down the mysterious moods of a dream on tape, much as the surrealists aspired, then the collaboration can be counted a success. Some may scorn its fragile and introverted surface; not me. If you enjoy the somnambulist worlds of Joe Frawley, this eerie broadcast from the night gallery is the one for you.

‘Truth Past the Dare’ is likewise a series of long tones, presented in an unhurried and non-linear fashion…the musicians seem to bring in sounds or musical drones as needed, rather than adhere closely to a schematic plan. Intuition may be a key word here. A beautiful piece to be sure, even if at times it comes close to tipping over into romantic sentimentality.

‘Your Ghost Moves With Me’ is a piece which in title continues the preoccupation with departed souls and vanished friendships, themes alluded to on the earlier 2008 album, and is another highly beguiling work; the voice of Matthews is repeated and overlaid in short, non-logical loop patterns, producing strange overlaps and harmonies, the breathing and short phrases creating a diaphanous mosaic of sound. This translucent veil of vocal music is occasionally bolstered with percussion samples that appear like unexpected supernatural visitors, and the puzzling mood is deepened as the track develops into a quiet and meditative stretch, with very distant and muffled piano music, backwards tapes, and other foreign elements. This piece builds on the dream-like atmosphere established by track 1, and whisks us away further down the pathways of Slumberland towards an oneiric oblivion. We might never wake up again, and we feel excited by the dangerous prospect. From 17th October 2016.

Saint Paul In The Yantra

Welcome return to these pages of Susan Matthews, the fey musician from South Wales from whom we haven’t heard since A Kiss For The Umbrella Man, her highly personal take on the music of Erik Satie, noted in 2012. Her record From Veliko (SIREN WIRE RECORDINGS SW108) is a shortish work, just three tracks in 14 minutes, but it’s a very heartfelt statement. Piano, keyboards, voice and field recordings are used to create a spell-binding mix of songs, tunes, mood pieces, and poetic observations, and the theme is highly emotionally charged. Part of it is derived from an actual trip to Veliko Tarnovo, and the artist’s take on wandering around this beautiful medieval city. She was particularly struck by the hanging houses, which are poised on the edge of a gorge above the Yantra river and in imminent danger of falling into the water, if they haven’t already done so. Crumbling foundations, ancient buildings, clinging onto a precipice – it doesn’t require much imagination to apply these elements to the human condition, and realise how close we all are to tipping over into melancholy, despair, or even madness. Matthews also alludes to “a metaphor for a psychological journey from the darkness of depression back towards the light”, a highly personal revelation, and one which takes some fortitude to admit to and deal with. If Susan Matthews is working out her personal problems through music, she has succeeded admirably with this understated yet highly cathartic music; I defy anyone to hear her fragile voicings and subdued but intense piano work on this record without being deeply moved. From 17th October 2016; was also released by Pilot Eleven.

Popular Belief

Superb set of compositions by the American composer Eric Wubbels is called Duos With Pianos Book I (CARRIER RECORDS CARRIER 030). We’ve received many release from this New York label Carrier Records and enjoyed every one of them. Members of Wet Ink Ensemble, previously noted in these pages for their work with Sam Pluta, accompany pianist Wubbels on this set of compositions dated from 2007 to 2014. The press notes characterise Wubbels – who happens to be co-director of Wet Ink Ensemble – as “a rare virtuoso of extended piano technique”, and there’s abundant evidence on the grooves that follow. But he’s also a hyper-intelligent composer with a conceptual depth that enriches every one of these pieces.

For instance ‘Shiverer’ – a compact but dense explanation is given in the CD notes for this equally dense music. It’s something to do with “relationships between the instruments” and the way they play. Piano and flute in this case. Right away it’s clear Wubbels is a composer who understands how instruments actually work, and the extremes to which they can be pushed, an adventurous spirit we’ve been missing since the time of Charles Mingus. Wubbels admits this is a “dfficult” piece, but the main problem for players is the complex co-ordination of ideas and actions which they have to achieve. In these eight minutes we’ve got a rich flow of traffic, of ideas compressed into notes, and the sparks fly when one or more of these bundles intersect. Further, Wubbels has the notion that he’s making the musicians pass through “a series of gates” – a metaphor which would please those who like to interpret Mark Rothko’s paintings in that way – and through technical skill and mental effort, a spiritual epiphany may be reached. Whew.

‘The Children Of Fire Come Looking For Fire’ arrives in two long parts. Scored for violin and prepared piano. While previous piece seemed like it could almost pass for very advanced 1960s classical avant, this one owns up in its opening seconds to its contemporary “noisy” influences. Josh Modney’s violin scrape throughout is intense – acoustic Merzbow on the cat gut! Rarely heard such wild atonal screeches on that instrument. But this sound of his didn’t just “happen” one fine day when they strolled into the recording studio; rather it’s the result of months of planning, rehearsals and hard work which Wubbels instigated. It earned Modney a printed dedication; one senses it was a painful process for him. Apparently this piece is derived from a small section of a Brahms piano piece, where Wubbels has zoomed in on a few precious seconds of music and used its form as the basis for an entire compositional structure. To put it another way, he’s taken what he calls a “contrary motion wodge shape” from Brahms and repurposed it into these 25 minutes of astonishing music; I can’t understand more than the gist of his explanatory notes, but once again it feels like he’s pushing something to the utmost limits, when he speaks of a “neume that functions on every structural level…from global trajectories to micro-gestures”. This approach seems very comprehensive, and no doubt accounts for the remarkable richness of ‘Children Of Fire’’s content; it’s like reading a thick 400-page treatise on an abstruse subject, and quite often the challenging ideas are presented with tremendous speed. Yet it’s not incoherent or disjunctive; even though highly structured and near-abstract, this comes over as a very convincing argument, thought-through from start to finish.

‘Doxa’ is another two-parter, scored for prepared piano and prepared vibraphone. Only the most minimal of notes are supplied by Wubbels for this mysterious piece; almost like two lines from a modernist poem. Part I = (mind cannot be grasped). In stark contrast to the busy-ness of the previous pieces, Doxa part I is a blank canvas occasionally decorated with bursts of light and colour from the two percussion instruments, chiming into the silence as if reluctant to disturb the stillness of the atmosphere. The carefully-programmed silences in this piece give us a chance to breathe, finally. True to its title Part I does convey something of a mental problem which can’t be solved, a philosophical investigation into a metaphysical conundrum. Part II = appearances/phenomena. Even more restrained than its brother, but at least the sound it makes is continuous, a beautiful limpid near-drone of crystal-clear music which slowly grows in richness and complexity. With its relatively limited range of notes and the repeated patterns, ‘Doxa Part II’ is like Morton Feldman enriched with vitamins and power drinks.

Lastly, the 20-minute ‘This Is This Is This Is’, two alto saxophones with a prepared piano. Dedicated to the writer David Foster Wallace whose thinking had quite an influence on the composer Wubbels; indeed he’s decided to try and articulate, in music, a particular type of consciousness that was propounded and advocated by Wallace. It’s something to do with moving beyond the habits of thought patterns which we all accumulate in our lives, and also trying to transform everyday life into something sacred and meaningful. Certainly ‘This Is This Is This Is’ does seem, in places, to zip by at the speed of thought, and there are no end of repeated patterns in the music. A sense of struggle is conveyed, Wubbels trying perhaps to break free from the very shackles of his own ideas. “Extended repetition as a force against habit,” as he would have it; and if this music doesn’t represent a significant advance on the repeated arpeggios of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, then I’ll eat my hat. From 7th October 2016.

Petalody

Karoline Leblanc
Velvet Oddities
CANADA atrito-afeito 006 CDR (2016)

This arrived with a hand-written note on a very nice piece of marbled paper. Perhaps the marbling is the work of Karoline Leblanc as well, perhaps not. The design of the cd sleeve is also very striking. A warm-yellow sleeve; a single fold-over piece of card, but professionally printed in full colour; the yellow on the outside augmented with a four bar graphic – three turquoise bars and one red on its face. Upon opening, on the inside the background is red with the same graphic but with one red and three white bars. There is no written information on the inside apart from the indication that these are nineteen individual pieces of piano improvisation. This description is included on the back cover as a helpful subtitle for the casual observer. The longest piece of music is just under four minutes while the shortest is very brief at only 58 seconds. I use the term “music” deliberately; these are very “musical” improvisations; no extended technique, Cageian preparation or augmentation with everyday objects here. These nineteen tracks actually work very well if listened to straight through in one sitting and perceived as a whole piece, or a whole movement. Leblanc demonstrates some very technical playing and clearly she is a very buy kamagra online accomplished pianist – I think she plays instruments other than piano as well, namely violin, harpsichord, organ, and most interestingly, the Ondes Martenot: an early electronic orchestral instrument. If you are not familiar with the Ondes Martenot, imagine something not unlike a scaled-up Stylophone. And go and source a copy of Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony and be amazed. I’d be very interested to hear her tackle the Ondes with a similar approach to this.

She appears to be involved with an improvising scene in Montreal; I think her initial entry-point some time ago being through free-jazz. She runs the atrito-afeito label with another musician, the improvising drummer, Paulo J Ferreira Lopes. I think Velvet Oddities is a very impressive piece of work with a good flow throughout the course of the album. Indeed, with this many short pieces, I’m sure a lot of thought would have gone into the sequencing of tracks, which benefits the material greatly. It works very well; is very dynamic, and because of the high level of technique, a lot of it is leaning towards – or revealing the influence of – classical piano music more than it is Electro Acoustic Improvisation. But that’s no bad thing. Yeah, I like it. Edition of 100.

Four Pianos

I’ve been enjoying Angelina Yershova’s spacey craft for some weeks now, without necessarily knowing how to sell it, as I frequently find myself drifting into unknown pastures of the mental antipodes when I should be taking notes. On Piano’s Abyss (TWIN PARADOX RECORDS TPR001), she specialises in deep water ambience of a distinctly Robert Henke (Piercing Music-era) flavour, albeit more tidal, more insistent in its space-sweeping pulsations than Henke’s drip-fed, hour-long seabed soaking sessions. These pleasantly primordial scenes she decorates with such lilting, rolling piano passages as one might find hanging in the air at a luxury spa or scoring a screen saver rich in deep purple hues. Pleasant enough, though she pulls of a skilled balancing act between cacophonous and calming as events head towards a sinister climax of similar dimensions to David Shea’s ‘Inn of the Green Dragon’: a perspiring, metallic landscape that stretches to and fro like a beachfront fed through an Infinite Probability Drive.

Another piano-powered debut recording that doesn’t set out to dazzle as much as it seduces the listener with the slow-burn treatment (with dry ice as the chosen combustible) and makes a virtue of dead air; it seems safe to say that Sanctuary (Overtones And Deviations) (FROZEN LIGHT FZL 041) will receive recognition once this young composer’s subsequent works have earned him a bigger name. It offers a glimpse into James Batty’s quirky preoccupations and processes via gradual exposure therapy between astringent piano stylings ringing out across a cosmos shaped by other-worldly, process-based electronica. Except things are not as they initially seem: this alien astringency may partly result from Batty’s having ‘digitally hacked’ the piano to expand its 12 notes into a set of 16, giving his tinkerings the manner of someone doing a daunting dérive across a lunar surface. More considered are the swooping, Radiophonic synths and sound effects that shed light on bleak, Tron-esque cyber-surfaces crossed by digital tumbleweed and bored animals pissing in the digital water; dispassionate passages of Jim O’Rourke-esque concrète drone and a bonus track closer pounded numb by Pan Sonic-style industrialism.

Last enjoyed Florian Wittenberg’s music while listening to his collection of Artefacts, describing it as ‘a whirling void of dense and delicate textures’ born of the resonance of mystery instruments like the ‘Messertisch’ – something like a chopping board pinned down by a row of kitchen knives. Eagle Prayer (NURNICHTNUR 116 01 20) – while more terrestrial in origin, is frequently just as ethereal. Take ‘Willow Tree’, in which bowed wine glass samples converge with data drawn from photographs of the titular willows to supply a ghostly backdrop for Wittenburg’s numb-toned recitals. That software should have equipped Wittenberg to transpose images of trees into sounds might not be such a feat nowadays, but the backdrop conveys the maudlin movement of a windblown weeping willow surprisingly well. Those not inclined towards poetry may take heart that Wittenberg’s delivery is such a noncommittal murmur that it is almost eaten by the undergrowth, though perhaps not thoroughly enough for some. Also arboreal in name at least is the longest piece here: ‘One White Tree’ – a plaintive rumination for solo piano sostenuto, which may be the album’s emotional centrepiece, pipping even the pithy title track and its suave command of the patois of the African Fish Eagle.

A bit of a left turn for Mr. David Shea, whom we last heard indulging in beguiling, Fourth World soundscapes as informed by mystical religions as by devotees such as Giacinto Scelsi. Even with a soft spot for such preoccupations, I couldn’t fathom how I felt about Shea’s Rituals. Similar ambivalence abounds on this occasion, as Shea’s notoriously plunderphonic instincts on Piano 1 (ROOM40 RM476) are reined into a set of reference-laden piano pieces that pay homage to the young Shea’s personal pantheon of perfect pianists (Scelsi, Feldman, Ligetti and… Mancini among them). The defining sound is stark, minimal tonalities that hover and slide like paint droplets running down a wall, the odd flourish or splatter notwithstanding. Fancying himself the samplist-cum-composer, Shea does not play any piano himself, for reasons of apparently technical ability. Which is mysterious, as none of it sounds especially complicated. I get the impression that his outsourcing has Zorn-esque puppet master pretensions, allowing him to adopt a position of detached interest towards his ruminations. Though the collection consists of a couple of suites including one entitled Suite; the other a schmaltzy-but-distant and incongruous Mancini tribute, these are markedly less interesting than the gloomy climatologies of the more agreeably aimless stand-alones ‘Mirror’, ‘Magnets’ and ‘Trance’ – which suggestively explore the piano’s tonal drift zones with a far lighter hand.

Hvilken vei er ingen steder (del 3)

stop_freeze_wait_eat-34907423-frntl

Ivar Grydeland
Stop Freeze Wait Eat
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBRO 3538 LP (2015)

Enveloped in warm and fuzzy nocturne is this serene yet sturdy surprise from the ever-reliable Hubro label, nestling within which we find the laconic Norwegian multi-instrumentalist, one Ivar Grydeland – member of improvising trio Huntsville (previously reviewed here) – and his 6 and 12 string guitars, drowsily picking and tapping out morse code m’aiders in honeyed droplets to the sound of soporific alarm bells. However, the draping of every long tone in echo serves more than simply a sedative function; it is Grydeland’s ‘extended now’ that allows him to improvise atop the sounds of his own playing in a window of time that he likens to a painter’s stepping back from the canvas to regard the work underway. Meanwhile the listener is free to sink deep into a crackly dream world of pin-pricked, low-frequency harmonics; a less focused take on Oren Ambarchi’s soundworld, but a cosy blanketing that never smothers.

hubrocd2566

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra / Christian Wallumrød
Untitled Arpeggios And Pulses
NORWAY HUBRO MUSIC HUBRO HUBROCD2566 (2015)

Our first (and last) encounter with the Norwegian ‘jazz’ pianist Christian Wallumrød was bemusing to say the least, an effect partly brought about by the connotations of using the j-word, by Wallumrød’s history with the ECM label and by that record’s unfailing ambiguity of style and intention. Intriguing to a fault, Pianokammer defies the finger of categorisation, falling somewhere ’between the realms of easy listening and cold abstraction’, to the point at which questions such as ‘do I like this?’ become redundant. Whatever motivations led to the recording of that strange selection, they remain invisible to the naked ear.

Its successor – Untitled Arpeggios and Pulses – arrives in a similar cloak of cool mystery and a title suggestive of the anonymity and simplicity of its ethereal ways. Carried by The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra as a commission for Kongsberg Jazz Festival’s 50th anniversary in 2014, the ‘action’ has moved from the fire-lit living room in winter to the chilled auditorium where quiet coughs mingle with the steam of musicians’ breath. Suspended in air, rendered sluggish by hibernation instincts or lurching like locked groove vinyl, the four sections of this 50+ minute composition consist of short, semi- and atonal phrases repeated ad infinitum by small and unusual instrumental assortments that include piano and pedal steel peddling peace and forgetfulness (part 2), to a trudging, trash-coated behemoth for graunching guitar, Supersilent-style electronics and jubilant bursts of winter-numbed brass.

Clearly intended for a single sitting: walk in at any moment to find an absolute mess. Sit back however, and enjoy the unfurling from afar and things might start to click into place. Devoid of straight up ‘jazz’, the orchestra’s dedicated pursuit of the ‘pulse’ overrides all other aesthetic commitments. It’s challenging music in the best possible sense, and best of all, it knows when to keep its mouth shut.