Bach Compote

Guitarist Ivann Cruz here with his OTTO duo performing with drummer Frederic L’Homme…Cruz has made regular appearances on group outings for this French label over the years, and we were most impressed with his solo bash Lignes De Fuite. Today’s offering Danses (CIRCUM-DISC microcidi027) is somewhat unusual, a record of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach originally composed for the lute or cello, performed with much vigour and imagination by our fun-loving duo. As it happens, Cruz is more than familiar with the material having learned to play classical guitar in his earliest youth, and presumably Bach was among the sheet music given to him as he curled his nimble digits around what must have seemed an enormous fretboard to his younger self. But he and L’Homme are taking tremendous liberties with the sources, freely adding in jazz, rock, and noise elements, taking these courantes, bourrees and chaconnes for lengthy romps around the sculpted gardens of 18th-century Leipzig much like an entire troupe of performing horses, or dogs in fine regalia. The precision, clarity, and architectural genius of Bach not only continues to shine, but is at times enlivened by these syncopated free-form tumbling rhythms, and it’s equally pleasing to have the strict tones of the lute or violoncello give way to these fuzzed-up distorted sounds whizzing out of Cruz’s amplified electric guitar. The press note speak of “mischief” and “troubled sonorities” when describing the duo’s work here, but it’s done with affection, care, and real musicianship. Only the most diehard classical purist could be offended, or fail to enjoy Danses. (05/04/2022)

David Lee Myers, who also records as Arcane Device of course, may have softened his edges and become less abrasive than he was in the 1980s, but the sounds emanating from the Lustre (PULSEWIDTH PW017) album are still strange and even vaguely troubling, tending to burrow their way into your soft supple midriff like gigantic friendly caterpillars rather than assault you like angry steel-winged moths with black heads. He’s still one of the all-time maestros of controlled feedback, second only to Japan’s Toshimaru Nakamura, and the Myers Method is present alongside modular synths and additional audio processing tools. Much to savour here in the assured, unhurried pace at which these long tracks unspool, yet no-one could accuse Myers of wallowing in “slow music” nor dipping his torso in the endless river of “ambient”. Matter of fact, he takes a certain pride in being contrary, defining his own genre with the invented term “nonambient”. Indeed there is much complex abstractoid detail at work here, swimming about like water-dwelling microbes in amniotic fluid, running counter to the mesmerising deep rhythms of his lower-register tones. The press note invites us to imagine “catacombs” and “spacious infinities” in these works, while pointing out that it’s hard for the explorer to keep upright on the ever-changing and treacherous ground that shifts beneath our soles. Mysterious, insoluble riddles await the listener…(05/04/2022)

Digging the conceptual framework for The Torres Cycle (NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR321), from new composer Wilfrido Terrazas, who is drawing on traditions and rituals of his native Mexico. If War Arrow / Lawrence Burton still contributed to the magazine, I could have consulted his expert knowledge, but from internet “research” I learned the significance of the four cardinal points in Mesoamerican and Mexica culture. Each point of the compass was associated with specific deities, and with specific signs; an entire religion and cosmology evolved on the basis of the four directions, expressing the four corners of the Mexica world. You can find evidence of this belief system in stone carvings and reliefs going back to the time of the Olmecs, about 3500 years ago. Wilfrido Terrazas proposes Seven Cardinal Directions on this “music ritual” of his, and he directs the Torres Collective performing on brass, woodwinds, strings and percussion – he himself is an accomplished flautist, and appears on ‘Torre del Oeste’ in these recordings made in Mexico, San Diego, and other locations.

I see Amy Cimini wrote the sleeve note here – she is the American viola player, one half of Architeuthis Walks On Land, whose music I am very partial to. She may not appear on today’s record, but is evidently familiar with the music of Terrazas, and to illustrate it she describes her own private performance of looking across the cityscape in San Diego and turning according to the four points of the compass; as she shows, the sight of a radio tower antenna causes a mini-epiphany for her, and she assumes that she and the tower are both engaged in realising a “version” of The Torres Cycle. Musically, the plan here is make much of the “timbral diversity” of the players, but the composer also makes use of improvisation, and – notably – spatialised performance instructions, which might mean the players are separated from each by some distance. One achievement to my untrained ears is how “fluid” all the music sounds; all the instruments seem to bend, snake and slide around the room in a sinuous and agile way, and the small ensembles blend their voices to form clouds of haze and mirage. Many forces of nature are suggested, such as animal and insect life, winds, sky, water. Personal favourite – ‘Totem I, Camino sobre la tierra’, with the remarkable oboe work of Juliana Gaona, but the whole cycle is a triumph; mysterious, magical, charming. (01/04/2022)

Brief mention for this oddity by Koenix, the only medieval folk-rock band from Switzerland to have crossed our desk. Their Eiland (HICKTOWN RECORDS HR21 026) LP arrives with a fairy-tale album cover depicting a ragged mad scientist steering some bizarre craft across uncharted waters, with an illustrated booklet filled with clock face images, and the entire record may be a conceptual portrait of “a place of longing…where anything is possible”. Jonas Martin Schneider and his compadres play bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, shawm, whistles, hammered dulcimer, bouzouki and sitar against lively rock and ska rhythms, producing songs and instrumentals that freely mix cultures from different time periods and locations. I guess this fits squarely in the “folktronica” genre, something I’m not massively familiar with, and though this is well-played and energetic, it doesn’t quite gel for this listener. Koenix are enthused players, but the record has a forced jollity which I don’t trust, like being dragged onto the dancefloor at a wedding. (20/04/2022)