Archive for the ‘AMN Reviews’ Category

61WQg2yP+mL._SX425_For almost a half-century, Magma has influenced dozens of bands (Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, etc.), spun off several others (Weidorje, Zao, etc.), invented their own language (Kobaian), and created a unique category of music (Zuehl). While they were not the first jazz/rock-oriented group to combine those influence with classical music, their remain one of most notable and idiosyncratic.

Count me amongst the few Magma fans who prefers the version of the band that emerged in the late 1990’s over that of the original, classic lineup on the early 1970’s. That said, if you’re still reading, this new EP is still well-worth your time and money.

Apparently, Magma’s leader, Christian Vander, was never satisfied with the original 21-minute arrangement of Rïah Sahïltaahk that appeared on 1971’s 1001 Degrees Centigrades. Thus, over 40 years later, he has set out to rectify the situation.

And the result? There are plenty of familiar passages throughout this 24-minute version. However, Vander has broken up the original single-track piece into seven separately-named tracks. Also gone are the horns of the 1971 recording, notably the distinctive bass clarinet of Yochk’o Seffer. In the place of the brass and woodwinds, we get guitar, vibraphone, and female vocals. All in all, not a bad tradeoff.

But when listened back-to-back, a few textual differences become apparent.  The 2014 version is tighter, less jarring, and not as abrupt or shrill.  This is probably due to the said lack of horns, as well as Klaus Blasquiz not taking part in the recording.  In the balance of Vander’s influences, Coltrane wins out over Wagner, despite omission of the saxes.

Also, due to modern technology, this EP has a cleaner, clearer mix than the original. Regardless, the soulful joy that is Magma at its best shines through into the digital era. One of the band’s better efforts of their modern incarnation.

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cover170x170The relationship between an instrumental performance and its setting is a symbiotic one: room acoustics, the location, number and types of instruments, the placement of the listeners, and so forth will affect—sometimes decisively—the way that the sound is produced, received and decoded. Norwegian double bassist Michael Francis Duch’s solo performance in Oslo’s Tomba Emmanuelle, recorded on 13 May 2013 with his Czech-Ease bass, shows how deeply an acoustically distinctive space can affect the sound, and even the architecture, of an unamplified performance organized around minimal harmonic movement.

In a sense any live performance is site specific, being shaped by the contingent factors that determine the acoustic response of its setting. What sets this performance apart from many is the fairly extreme nature of the venue. The Tomba Emmanuelle is a large, barrel-vaulted space renowned for its echoing acoustics. Originally built as a museum for the work of artist Emanuel Vigeland, it became his mausoleum and, after being opened to the public, has been used regularly for concerts.

Duch’s performance, a single 28-minute long piece, makes full use of the mausoleum’s peculiar acoustics. At the beginning Duch settles into an apparently simple, steadily and evenly bowed drone grounded in the bass’s low G. Aided by the accumulating echo, the drone turns out to be rather complex. About five minutes into the performance the G seems to ramify as the lower partials become audible; an A emerges as well, possibly the effect of the adjacent A string beginning to vibrate in sympathy with the bowed E string. The sonority ramifies further into a chiming, bell-like chord, which itself multiplies into something sounding like a harmonic cycle played on a carillon. After a brief fade Duch resumes the drone an octave higher—presumably on the open G string—and over time brings in a variety of techniques to alter the timbre: flautando effects through changes of bow and/or finger pressure; bowing on the bridge for a brittle, glassy sound; playing microtonal near-unisons to produce a sound like the throbbing of unsynchronized airplane engines as well as a phasing effect. As the performance develops Duch gradually introduces more tonal and harmonic variety against the drone, and ends with rapidly played harmonics alone.

With fundamental pitch held more or less constant throughout, the listener’s attention can turn to the microstructures of the music—the local changes in texture and dynamics that the room’s acoustics help to bring forward and that cumulatively shape the performance’s macrostructure. Although the resonance of the space tends to pile up sounds and make for a thick texture, within the thickness there is some variation, particularly when the lower tones drop out about 19 minutes in. Duch’s manipulation of attack and accent through changes in bowstrokes also exploit the ambient echo to momentarily increase and then lessen the density of the sound, in addition to introducing nuanced variation of dynamics.

A fine recording of a mesmerizing performance, best heard through headphones.



Henry Cow with Robert Wyatt performing at the ...

Henry Cow with Robert Wyatt performing at the Piazza Navona, 1975. Left to right: Lindsay Cooper, Robert Wyatt, Dagmar Krause, Chris Cutler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend of AMN provided the following review of last night’s Lindsay Cooper tribute performance, featuring compositions from the catalogs of Henry Cow, Music For Films, News From Babel and Oh Moscow.


The concert was conceived by Chris Cutler as a tribute to Lindsay Cooper. After getting commitment by the musicians to do it, if someone would present it, Cutler went searching for a gig. Finally he got someone associated with the London Jazz Festival to do it, and that was tonight’s concert. They have added a show November 22nd in Huddersfield (near Leeds) and another on November 23rd in Italy.

These concerts were meant to be a tribute to Lindsay Cooper and not a Henry Cow reunion. They only played music written by Lindsay Cooper.

Chris Cutler appeared nervous a few hours before the concert. I got the impression from him that the Henry Cow portion, the perception of it, and their ability to execute it like they did when they were an active band, were really worrying him.

The Barbicon holds about 1300 and I think they had about 1000 people in attendance. I got 3rd row center on the first balcony, a great seat, great sound, great sight lines. Clearly there were Henry Cow fans from all over the world at this concert. And contrary to the rumors, no Robert Wyatt or Geoff Leigh.

They set up as one group – so it was Henry Cow, News from Babel, Music for Films and Oh Moscow. Occasionally people walked on and off the center stage and sat on the side when they weren’t playing.

Sally Potter opened and closed the event with a few nice words about Lindsay Cooper.

The Henry Cow set was: Half the Sky, Gretel’s Tale, Look Back, Falling Away, and Slice.

It started pretty rough. In fact they cut the first tune after a few bars and restarted. They did that several times throughout the night, across formations. It was done with humor and the audience did not seem to mind. It reminded me a lot of Carla Bley’s live gigs in the 80’s as she would do that all the time. Anyway, the Henry Cow portion was amazing. No, not the tight band we hear and see on the live box set, but that configuration hadn’t played together in almost 40 years till tonight. That’s right, Greaves, Hodgkinson, Frith and Cutler have not played all together in almost 40 years – something Greaves reminded the crowd of after the Cow portion. They pulled it off because there was no nostalgia, no trying to recapture “the day,” and other useless sentimental marketing. All I can say is that Henry Cow played 6 songs in London tonight and it was amazing! It had the drive, the commitment and the attitude we expect from these musicians and it caught fire by the end of the 6th song. My only complaint – no Dagmar in the Cow segment. But she shined during the News from Babel segment.

News from Babel made their first ever live appearance tonight, and the rumor was that Robert Wyatt was going to show and song a song with them. But he did not. They played: Moss, Black Gold, Dragon at the Core, Waited/Justice, Late Evening, and Victory.

This configuration included everyone on the bill at some point except Sally Potter. They were amazing, and for the most part much tighter than the Cow segment. However, there were a few restarts. Clearly there had been a major change in Lindsay’s writing style by the time News from Babel came along. With Henry Cow her writing was very complex and a lot very dense textures with frequent meter changes and tempo changes. But her writing for News from Babel while it still had her “style” was much more focused and clear with less abruptness and more transitions into change. One thing that stood out to me was how well she wrote for bassoon and bass. The interplay between the two to make contrapuntal bass lines has always been something I really liked about her writing. Berckmans did an outstanding job on bassoon, oboe and English horn. Alfred 23 Harth provided his outstanding Teutonic Free Jazz noodling and received several ovations. Berckmans also did an incredible bassoon solo with electronics during the film music portion. Zeena Parkins was really, really great and anchored this group with the harp. Greaves was fantastic on bass and vocals, and Phil Minton proved once again why he is one of the best male vocalists in the world. And then there was Dagmar, she looked great (all grey) and sounded perfect. I wish they had her sing more. It was so good to hear her with Frith, Cutler, Greaves, and Hodgkinson even though it was under the moniker of News from Babel.

After the Babel set they took an intermission. They crowd was stunned. I figured that would be the highlight of the evening. It was just two of the highlights of the evening.

The entire group then became Music for Films and they played mostly from the Gold Diggers, I think the songs were: Women’s Wrongs, Lots of Larks, General Strike, Iceland, Empire Song, Plate Dance, and As She Breathes.

Highlights were the violin solo from Anne-Marie Roelofs and a killer tenor solo from Alfred 23 Harth and Sally Potter. She can sing and she has the British folk think in her sound and it was fantastic. As I mentioned earlier Berckmans did a great solo with electronics. Hodgkinson had a nice short alto solo. But ironically there were just very short solos here and there from Frith and Hodgkinson. Alfred 23 Harth had the lion share, and then Roelofs and Berckmans. This set was the tightest and since many of these are vocal songs Lindsay’s writing is easier for the instrumentalists as its mostly accompaniment. However, there are some sections that are virtuosic along the lines of her Cow and News from Babel writing. Beautiful set.

They finished with the song cycle Oh Moscow. Sally Potter and Phil Minton brought the house down on the title track. Absolutely spectacular! They played: England Descending, On German Soil, Lovers, Oh Moscow, and Forgotten Fruit.

That brought the crowd to their feet for two curtain calls then finally an encore with the entire cast and I wish I could remember the name of the song, but I can’t. The encore was good. Cutler was beaming and was frequently beaming throughout the performance as was Tim whom I wish was a bit more featured. They seemed as a group relieved that they pulled it off and that the crowd loved it. Another curtain call and then that was it.

AMN Reviews: Taavi Tulev – Kuku! (Self-Released)

Posted: November 20, 2014 by nepets in AMN Reviews

a0556453714_2Hearing the call of the cuckoo immediately makes one feel at home in the forest, regardless of how foreign the forest. You can hear the cuckoo in so many places around the world that ornithologists classify them as “cosmopolitan.” Soundscaper Taavi Tulev captured his Kuku! in a national park in Estonia.

The cuckoo´s call means it´s daytime and everything is well in the forest. While all the other birds hold their Polish parliament, the cuckoo picks his spots. Each time he unfurls a new banner of calls, he sings from the same music sheet, cutting gracefully but authoritatively through the incessant, high-pitched chatter. Tulev´s straightforward execution is the quintessence of brevity as the soul of wit.

Kuku! comes in perhaps the most heartwarming packaging of the year, playful and interactive in a childlike, pre-digital way. The disc is only partly covered with the silver spot of music, adorned with doodles, and the cover landscape is drawn featuring only the basics, so that you can make it your own by choosing figures from an accompanying sheet of tiny stickers (birds, bees, trees, smiling clouds and a happy little boy). Take a close look, even the barcode on the back cover has been clevery incorporated into the art.

Kuku! won a silver at the Estonian Design Awards of 2014 for best packaging. Tulev´s previous release of playful electronics also deserves a standing ovation for elfish design.

Stephen Fruitman

by Dan Coffey

large4835Reviewing a new Peter Hammill album is never easy, but it’s always fun. Never more so than now.  Hammill’s had something of a late-career renaissance, producing some of the most intellectually dense (Incoherence) and emotionally moving (Thin Air) albums in the mid to late 2000s, plus the outstanding Otherworld with Gary Lucas, released earlier this year.

But here’s the fun part: none of those albums, or indeed anything in Hammill’s expansive oeuvre, could prepare one for the sprawling …all that might have been… Welcome to a musical film, where, as Hammill says, the music is both film and soundtrack. Welcome to the world of Alien Clocks and Piper Smiles, to vocals as wild as anything since Hammill’s guest stint on Robert Fripp’s Exposure. And while you’re walking around this sonic wonderland, you won’t be able to ignore guitar riffs lifted straight out of Hammill’s pre-punk Nadir’s Big Chance album, and overall the most sonically dense and widest palette of sounds Hammill’s thrown together to date.

…all that might have been… comes in two formats. The main presentation of the work is meant to be a 70-odd minute audio version of a film. To that end, snippets of songs are woven together to form a kind of anti-narrative that nonetheless gives clues as to situations and predicaments. The film that Hammill’s making, of course, isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster. It isn’t even new. Instead, it plays out like an homage to the French New Wave films, film noir, and perhaps a certain Japanese film called Audition. Hammill’s character comes off as an amalgam of all the tough-guy romantic gangster types with, if not hearts of gold, a sense of existential dread – think Belmondo in Godard’s Breathless or Pierrot le Fou.  The unsettling time jumps in Hammill’s work are also a nod to Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour.

The Japanese theme of the last film mentioned isn’t an accident. A good portion of the action in this album takes place in a metropolitan area of Japan. (Perhaps Hammill was doing research during his extended residencies in Japan over the past several years.) What happens in Japan stays between the 0s and 1s of the disc, but we get enough of a sense to know that our character has brought a heap of trouble on himself.

And then there’s the Piper Smile. In a sense, this story, such as it is, draws heavily from several of the faerie myths of the Piper, who gave a gift to a poor soul with instructions to never disrespect the gift. As these tales go, the gift’s recipient inevitably messes up, and is left bereft once more. The woman Hammill’s character is romantically involved with is the Piper. Her gift was narrative.

Peter Hammill of van der Graaf Generator at th...

Peter Hammill

An unsettling but wholly satisfying piece of work for sure, but there’s more. Hammill is releasing this cine-album as a single disc, but he’s also releasing It as one of a three-disc set. Disc two of this set comprises the full songs from which the snippets that weave in and out of disc one are taken. A curious move, for sure, to release the album of actual songs as an “extra.” But Hammill’s confidence in the cine-album as having enough strength to be the leading card is well-placed. The songs, probably because in some sense Hammill knew that they were going to be spliced up, are themselves full of changes. Almost all the songs go through several dramatic changes and rarely end up where they started. It’s as if one of the epic and lengthy songs by his band, Van der Graaf Generator, was compressed into a five-minute frame, with all the abrupt changes left intact. Disc two, consists of ten excellent new songs by Hammill, which provide a hell of a musical ride of another kind. The third disc is simply four long tracks with improvisations on the main themes presented in the first two discs. A nice listen, but without the punch of the “cine” disc or the “songs” disc.

Hyperbole is its own worst enemy in the genre of music reviewing, so believe me when I say I’m taking the leap anyway and putting my money on this one being the most ambitious and successful album of Hammill’s career.

Related reviews:
Van der Graaf Generator – ALT
Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas – Otherworld

cd-silvia-tarozzi-virgin-violin-mediumAs an accomplished improviser accustomed to shaping performances in real time, Italian violinist Silvia Tarozzi often works with composers to develop pieces reflecting her interest in exploring sounds and the physical aspects of her instrument. All three performances on this new release are the result to varying extents of Tarozzi’s collaboration with their composers, and all bear the marks of the violinist’s own approach to the creation and elaboration of sounds.

The first track is Circle Process (2010), a 27-minute investigation into microtonal relationships and pure sound by French composer Pascale Criton, who worked with Tarozzi to craft a piece that would draw on the violinist’s experience as an improviser. Accordingly, the work calls for a series of extended techniques centered around gestures performed over various parts of the violin, whose strings are tuned 1/16th of a tone apart. This scordatura comes to the foreground in several passages in which two or more strings are sounded at once, setting up beats and mutual sonic interference patterns that give the sound a palpitating, fluttering quality. The title of the work seems to refer to the circular bowing—sometimes rapid, sometimes slow and often on muted strings—that recurs throughout.

On Thirteen Changes: for Malcom Goldstein, a 1986 composition in thirteen parts by Pauline Oliveros, Tarozzi supplements the austere solo violin with voice, objects, stones, radio, and recordings as well as Massimo Simonini’s electronics. The score consists of thirteen verbal phrases describing scenes, impressions or situations that are meant to serve as starting points for the performers’ improvisations. Tarozzi responds with economical and atmospheric collages in which identifiable sound sources combine with pure timbre. On the thirteenth piece Oliveros’ voice, reading the thirteen phrases, emerges from the sound of the violin being tapped, scraped and prodded over a field recording of rain.

The final track is a performance of French composer Eliane Radigue’s Occam II (2012), one of a series of solo instrumental pieces inspired by 14th century English philosopher William of Ockham’s dictum that that explanation is best that requires the fewest possible causes or assumptions. As Occam’s Razor reduces explanation to its simplest elements, Radigue’s Occam reduces music to its simplest constituent: A single tone. Using long bowstrokes—and what may be two bows at once–Tarozzi draws out the latent harmonic complexity of the fundamental tone by revealing its upper structure of overtones. The piece ends with the solidity of the drone dissolving into ghostly harmonics.

By Dan Coffey

people_3xawoman_tcPerhaps the least important thing about this furious and hilarious bass, drums, and guitar combo (with occasional brass conspirators) is that the electric guitar player is Mary Halvorson. Along with her bandmates, Kevin Shea (Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and Kyle Forester, she has created People, a band that is aware of the line between avant-garde “post”-rock and improvisational jazz, and is keen on obliterating it. Halvorson, of course, is the jazz critics’ current darling guitar player, and she seems keen on releasing as much music in as many band formations as she can. But in People, she takes a back seat to the overall conceptual humor and chaotic noise.

Which is not to say she doesn’t make her presence felt.  There are quite a few spots throughout the album, especially on the few longer tracks, where things slow down a bit and her non-distorted jazz chords pop up. But mostly she’s content to play what’s needed, and sing the lead vocals. This is not to say the album’s uncomplicated; time signature changes abound, complex vocal harmonies challenge the instrumental passages, and then there are the lyrics, courtesy of drummer Kevin Shea.

Lyrically, this album is conceptually self-aware, and precious almost to a fault; its saving grace is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In 1977, Peter Blegvad, John Greaves, and Lisa Herman released an album called Kew. Rhone that could be called a precursor to this album, both in terms of its own way of obliterating the line between jazz and rock (rather than submitting to fusion) and self-referentiality. But where Blegvad and Greaves wrote songs whose lyrics described the artwork included on the album sleeve and consisted of anagrams of the album title, People go one step further, and, seemingly impossibly, lyrically dissect the very songs they’re performing. And taking a run at Lionel Richie.

While the album, oddly, starts out with a New Orleans-influenced brass-only piece that begins in a funereal tone and ends up as a bright, ecstatic toe-tapper, it then abruptly goes into high-speed car-chase momentum with titles like “These Words Make up the Lyrics of the Song,” “A Song with Melody and Harmony and Words and Rhythm,” and the clincher, “The Lyrics Are Simultaneously About How the Song Starts and What the Song Is About,” in which Halvorson and Shea explain to you what you are hearing and urge you to guess what is about to come next in the song. There are also a few songs that, as the album title suggests, take on the lyrics of a certain Lionel Richie/Commodores song: “What’s So Woman About That Woman,” and “Reinterpreting Confusing Lyrics to Popular Songs.” Unfortunately the lyrics are somewhat hard to make out, but it’s clear that Richie is getting the business for the absurdity of his famous and titular line, “You’re once, twice, three times a lady.” People (the band) make fun of the mathematical implications as well as the problematic gender and sexual overtones.

Yes, humor belongs in music. What doesn’t belong is snobbery, and this CD would be a great thing to toss the way of hipsters who have come to disdain jazz and “respectable” journalists for major newspapers who claim that jazz is dead, eviscerated, and irrelevant. This is the new thing.