AMN Capsule Comments: Mike Eisenberg’s Recent Playlist (July 24, 2021)

From time to time, AMN writer Mike Eisenberg revisits older albums that he has not listened to in a while and provides comments.

The Chicago Underground Trio – “Slon” (2004)

Rob Mazurek (cornet, computers), Noel Kupersmith (acoustic bass, computers), Chad Taylor (drums). This group, both in their duo setting and, on this one, their trio setting has two things going for it that make it a winner for me. A post-bop, outside Chicago jazz vibe and…a fair amount of (primitive sounding) electronics and field recordings (love that second aspect!!!). They rarely mix the two elements together and the electronics are used as interludes between the acoustic jazz numbers, although some of those “interludes” can be extended to the 4-5 minute mark. When they are in their jazz mode, the sound is very natural and very open. The bass has a deep, natural sonority and the drums sound like they are un-mic’ed and very live sounding. The cornet is mixed beautifully into this, and the overall feel is akin to watching them perform in a small dumpy jazz bar somewhere. Mixing electronics into a setting like this gives the album an unexpected, unique ambience…at times reminding me of the analog retro-modern experimentations of bands like Trans Am.

Beverley Johnston – “Impact” (1986)

Beverley Johnston is a Canadian percussionist and this album is one that I revisit from time to time…and for good reason…like, it’s great! On “Impact”, she is credited with percussion and electronics and, she also teams up with clarinet player James Campbell on a series of shorter “cadenzas”. The album has a modern classical feel, especially the duet pieces with Campbell, but it really shines when she goes solo with just her percussion rig and electronics. These longer pieces have a much darker feel and the electronics (I assumed triggered off the percussion) really give the compositions a full orchestral sound. I would imagine seeing this performed live would be awesome. This is another album that sounds phenomenal at loud volumes, especially those tympanies. At points, I was reminded of Art Zoyd’s more modern classical pieces, so this album should (and would) go down really well with the avant-prog crowd.

Bill Nelson – “Das Kabinett” (1981) and “La Belle et la Béte” (1982)

These are two soundtracks to stage performances of the films “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (Weine) and “Beauty and the Beast” (Cocteau). They were issued as a twofer in 1984. They both serve as fantastic impressionistic tone poems. (Bill prefers to call them “art” pieces.) Both are comprised of short synth based vignettes that, although sound of “their time”…have aged extremely well to these ears. In fact, given the nature of the old analog equipment used, I would say they sound pretty fantastic just from a sound quality basis. Where they really shine though is from a musical enjoyment perspective. Both albums masterfully capture the mood/feel/vibe of early 20th century when these films were made. Admittedly, I have seen neither but, just listening to these works transports me back to an era that, at least in my head matches what I would imagine the mood would feel like. Not sure if both of these films would fall into the early 20th century “weird” bucket (Was that just reserved for writers like Dunsany, Hodgson, Blackwood, Machen, etc., etc.) but, the fantastic atmospheres that both of these albums conjure puts me right there. Both…excellent! Bill Nelson’s catalog is deep and wide and it’s been at least 10-15 years that I’ve heard any of it. 

Michael Eisenberg

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