Two Trios and One Duo

NORWAY HUBRO CD2518 (2012)

Origin – Norway. Translation of album title – ‘Hymn Bicycle’. Nominal area of operation – Jazz.

A trio (piano, bass, and drums) on the title track that introduces the album sets out their stall fairly well. A pleasant, freewheeling rhythm section, a lightness of touch and the immediately apparent bonus of a sympathetic recording that strikes an intimate and natural note. It also introduces a predilection for rather schmaltzy piano work that becomes more prominent as the album progresses. The bike in the cover photo reminded me of the cover of Etron Fou Le Loublan’s first album – I wouldn’t be surprised in this case, however, if Moskus’s cover Hymn Bicycle had been converted into a ‘fixie’.

There are possibilities pointed to in the playing, but there are also, as noted, hints of the contrived. The drumming is as springy as a grasshopper, bass work is likewise limber and all is recorded pleasingly unadorned, tactile rimshots and piano-pedal creaks giving an unforced and peaceful sonic intimacy that unfortunately is squandered, with over-egged piano parts that appear to derive partial inspiration from American gospel tradition (perhaps that is where the Hymn part of the Hymn Bicycle comes in). These hints, which may arrive at a couple of removes via ECM-style jazz, contribute, rather than emotional, spiritual, or indeed musical depth, a certain complacence which is not the most endearing trait, even (or especially) as here combined with an easy jauntiness. The use of such musical material (the ‘use’ of it rings alarm bells somewhere) can shade into the glib or platitudinous without fervency or fire to back it up. I find this a little frustrating as by all accounts other releases on the label are well worth listening to and enjoyable – I note that Ed has reviewed one that referenced both Eric Dolphy and Morton Feldman, two names that grab my attention immediately – indeed, there is a lot of playing on here that is worth listening to: nuanced, breezy, sprightly, with a sense of space like the air between spokes. When there are nods towards dissonance and more knotty structures in track 5, or when abstract percussion exploration opens track 6, then it is much easier to like, but these are, in the end, just nods and as a whole, whatever subtle touches there might be in the playing, the ultimately saccharine content of the compositions is a little harder to enjoy. The Hymn Bicycle rides – with a measure of playfulness, it’s true – around a superficially pleasant but rather too ‘respectable’ neighbourhood.

Moskus Trio

Jérémie Ternoy Trio
Another piano led trio that fails to fully deliver the goods, or perhaps is too distracted by shifting goods, is the Jérémie Ternoy Trio whose album ‘Bill’ (referring to Evans, presumably) again features deft-ish playing injection-moulded into easy-to-swallow shapes. ‘Bill’ again features a solid rhythmic backbone, chunkier and more foursquare in this case, without the breeziness of Moskus but featuring some marked Latin inflections. These are sometimes carried by the piano as well, with genteel tango curlicues decorating the chord progressions. There seems to be a stab at accessibility which involves various jazz signifiers being bolted on to different chassis. Notably in one track some very Reichian (Steve not Wilhelm, otherwise this would be a very different and more orgone-saturated review) arpeggiations appear. Relaxed and approachable, but rather bland at the same time, there is also a taste, again, for some easy-queasy chord progressions. In both albums there are texturally diverting moments but rather than a basis for jumping off they are flourishes and diversions decorating retrograde impulses. What we end up with is akin to a gentrified jazz, redeveloped and safe, simulacra signifiers inserted more in a spirit of pastiche than due to the promptings of inspiration. Note the almost obligatory track on each album (tellingly entitled ‘Ligeté’ on ‘Bill’) utilising more chromatic playing – ‘we can cover this base, too’. Of the two, Moskus displays far more personality in playing and recording, but both still veer too far towards easy-listening for me.

Jérémie Ternoy Trio

Parallel Worlds & Dave Bessell
DiN41 CD (2012)
Hoping for something with more bite I turn to Parallel Worlds & Dave Bessell’s Morphogenic. I know somehow I am partially hoping that through some twist of sympathetic word association they will turn out to be Morphogenesis. Needless to say, they don’t.

Pretty much all you need to know is that they are on Ian Boddy’s DiN label and that there is a gear list printed on the digipak listing high-end modular synth systems. Serge, Moog and Buchla – potent names radiating arcane magical auras to anyone with an interest in the history of electronic sound, but clearly implying different potentials to different people; worryingly, and symptomatically, modern prestige boutique systems and custom software are also listed. With no apparent distinction between the modern and vintage, computer and hardware. Heresy! Klaus Schulze would be rolling in his studio, if he could move for MIDI gear.

The genesis of this music and its main part is lodged in that peculiar 80s world of UK Synth Music. A world where the sequencers of men like Mark Shreeve and Ian Boddy strode the earth like bouncing colossi. Where the pertinent work of Tangerine Dream was not their visionary early-to-mid seventies output but their early eighties Hollywood work.

To recreate: engage various synths and sequencers, immerse in a big bath of reverb, soak, repeat. It seems a little wasteful to disguise the various (lovingly catalogued) synths’ characteristics with such liberal application of homogenising sheen, not to mention to essentially use them simply to play melodic pads and occasionally some IDMish beats. As far as musics utilising Buchla systems go, I would much rather listen to the wild, atonal, alien drones and dances of Morton Subotnick or Pauline Oliveros, for example. On the terms it sets out for itself, however, the album does exactly what it intended doing and is expected to do, with additional hints of the past two decades impinging such as the aforementioned rhythm programming, and there must be a happy audience for it: the press release speaks approvingly of ‘another fine release to add to the DiN canon’. I could imagine, as well as staunch UK Synth enthusiasts and DiN collectors there being a crossover to fans of more-recent, polite FAX-style ambience, or those to whom the prospect of a cyborg John Carpenter and a band of blue Avatar aliens playing the Future Sound of London’s Lifeforms in a bubblebath with a dash of prog-metal bombast swirled through sounds in any way appealing. Personally, I couldn’t enter into the requisite headspace in which to enjoy that, although I may just be still unsettled by recently having to rewire my listening set-up due to equipment failure.