Ocean Colour Scene

Impressive group improv from four Swiss players on their Altbüron (WIDE EAR RECORDS WER049) record…the team of Urs Leimgrer, Omri Ziegele, Christian Weber and Alex Huber call themselves The Workers for this outing, and impressively turned in this 43:00 performance in a single live take in 2019, using just two saxophones, bass, and drums (plus some flute and free-form poetry action from Ziegele). Actually it’s more like four or five pieces woven together, so dramatic are the changes in musical style and direction. They can do the minimal-skeletal cryptical jazz thing as convincingly as their ingenious Ornette-influenced blow-a-thons, and at least one of the sax players manages the Evan Parker complexity loopage thing with aplomb and skill. The press release emphasises the individual voices of the players, and also the clashes between all-out free playing with the need for “dramaturgical clarity”, a very accurate description of the musical precision on display here. I haven’t yet discovered the “hardcore rock and roll” embedded within these bars, but I’m confident this strong team, composed of veterans and youngsters, can deliver the goods. Lovely packaging too, a card wallet with an inner sleeve. (09/02/2021)

Italian player Kaouenn (i.e. Nicola Amici) is here with his second record Mirages (ATYPEEK MUSIC), following his self-titled LP from 2016. Born in Jesi, he now finds himself in Nice in France, and has parlayed his travelling experiences into this album, which hints at nomadic dreams and experiences in the form of ambient-ish soundscapes with dubby beats and powerful electric guitar swipes. He filters this material through somewhat grandiose ideas of mountains, deserts, jungles and entire galaxies, as if informed by the ideas of Carlos Castaneda, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Sun Ra all at once. Playing a multitude of guitars, synths, keyboards, samples and adding background vocals too, Kaouenn – whose name translates as “Owl” in the Breton tongue – creates texturally rich, quasi-tribal episodes to express these psychic wanderings, sometimes helped by guest players Above The Tree and Sars Ardizzoni. Jointly released by four European labels, a vinyl edition exists. (11/02/2021)

Denis Smalley is a notable UK electro-acoustic composer who I associate with the University of East Anglia (where he taught for a time), but he also studied at INA GRM, University of York, and under Olivier Messiaen. Today’s record Vues Spectrales (empreintes DIGITALes IMED 21172) mostly focuses on works realised in the last 20 years or so, and ‘Spectral Lands’, ‘Ringing Down The Sun’ and ‘Resounding’ are all informed by subtle ideas about “spectral spatiality”, resonant sounds, and evocations of the great outdoors. If there’s any linkage between the three, it might be something to do with using natural decay to express the gradual fading-away of the universe, and this entropic theme is manifested in everything from recordings of church bells to the winds sweeping over a beach in New Zealand. All of these are (I assume) largely digital in their realisation, and there’s barely a single recognisable sound on offer, so thorough have been Smalley’s electro-acoustic transformations. However, the CD also includes a much earlier work, ‘Vortex’, from 1981-1982, which appeared on the Interpenetrations LP from 1984 which I happen to own. ‘Vortex’ has more substance to savour by way of drama and dynamics, and somehow succeeds in invoking the sense of a physical sculpture, with dimension, weight, and heft. It also conveys the “real and imaginary motion” which the composer was aiming at. (12/02/2021)

Superb and unique compositional work from the great Maja S.K. Ratkje, on her Vannstand (MOTVIND RECORDS MOT10LP) record. Besides being beautiful – a splendid combination of gentle, abstract acoustic music and field recordings – it’s also delivering a strong ecological theme about the water and the oceans, a message much needed at this time of climate crisis. Poignantly, the score is all played by children, whose voices are also heard on the record talking about the ocean, and it’s much to the composer’s credit that this aspect has been handled without any sense of sentiment or condescension towards the children; on the contrary, the point is that our children are the inheritors of the future, and what could be more fitting than their engagement with such a project, as enabled by this supremely talented and inclusive woman. Vannstand – the word translates as “sea level” – began life as a study of the Norwegian coastline, and Ratkje has translated scientific ecological data (sea level measurements) into her score. The children musicians were allowed to interpret the score according to their own lights, though it’s Ratkje who assembled the finished work through editing and compiling the tapes, resulting in this unique suite of sounds that has since been used as a sound installation work in various locations in Norway. Did I mention she began the project in 2015? Years of effort and commitment have gone into the production of this essential, utterly beguiling, wonderful piece of work. (12/02/2021)