AMN Reviews

AMN Capsule Comments: Mike Eisenberg’s Recent Playlist (August 1, 2021)

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

PFM – “Per Un Amico” (1972) 

It’s very possible that I’m one of the few not familiar with this album.  I enjoyed them at NEARfest but that was the extent of my PFM interactions. After two listens, I realized what I was missing, and it was quite a bit.

The album opens with some downright gorgeous mellotron/organ chording that builds into a symphonic climax as an electric guitar comes in with an earworm of a short melody.  After that, it’s off to the races.  The playing from all is superb (you all probably know that already) but shout outs to Flavio Premoli’s keyboard antics (sounding at times like Oscar Sala going ballistic on his Trautonium) and Franco Mussida who was doing some wonderful things, not only on electric guitar but his acoustic passages were sublime.

At 34 minutes, a relatively short album…but that’s ok, because it was packed to the gills with detail.  So much detail that I need to go back for a few more helpings to start to decode this thing musically.  Lots of so-called “prog” composing is stitching disparate musical “parts” onto each other.  That way, they can say…”hey man, I wrote this ‘suite’ and it’s quite sophisticated with all its different passages, it’s like a labyrinth man.”  The problem though is, unfortunately, the parts really don’t flow naturally and what you have is a 20-minute epic comprised of something like 10 totally unrelated musical events or ideas that don’t work as a whole.  Well, that AIN’T HAPPENING with this record.  Yes, there are tons of ideas being presented here, and the transitions from one to the next are completely natural.  At the end of each song, I felt I was really listening to a cohesive and fully developed statement instead of a hodgepodge of ideas Dr. Frankenstein-ed together.

So, great start for me on a PFM journey.  These guys were the real deal and I now totally get why they are a favorite.  Looking forward to my next step. 

Philip Jeck – “Spool” (2009)

This is a short (around 18 minutes) recording that was originally released as a cassette but (thankfully) has been given the digital download treatment. It’s 4 pieces, all of them sounding like they have the same structure, but each is radically modified / embellished / tweaked. As the recording progresses, these mods get more and more whacked with the 4th one reaching extreme levels of bass guitar torture sound field chaos.

Oh, did I not mention that all sounds were created by bass guitars? To say my adoration of the low end is fully slaked would be a tragic understatement. As I said, this stuff is pure chaos, but the details and layers are fascinating. I said in an earlier write-up that Jeck is a name I’ll be investigating and, on this release, only the second one I’ve heard…my desire for more is accelerating. Till the next one!

Trembling Strain – “Tower” (1998)

TS is the brainchild of electronic composer Pneuma but on this release, there is little to no electronics used. Instead, we get something akin to a Japanese influenced Third Ear Band. Even though “Tower” can be looked at as a tour through many world music’s, the primary driver is the extremely lysergic, ritualistic mysticism that this music is steeped in.

Much of it (not all) is propelled through the use of exotic percussive beats that do a great job of capturing the (well, this) listener and transporting him/her down into the rabbit hole of Shamanic ceremonial frenzy. Pneuma, along with a small ensemble of like-minded friends perform using a truckload of unusual instrumentation from around the world, and this includes sound makers of the more ancient/medieval ilk as well. At any given time, you will be hearing Psaltery, Darabukke, Celtic Harp, Hammered Dulcimer, a whole family of Hand Drums, Shakers, Gongs and Whistles, Oud, Syrian Flute, Berimbau, Saz, Throat Singing (The list goes on) along with the more mundane (for this lot) stand-up Bass and Acoustic Guitars.

The 71-minute trip this record took me on was well worth it and even though that list of instruments would suggest a very dense listen, I would posit that this music has a very sparse, open vibe to it. Regardless, it was easy to get lost in, and, believe it or not, it really grooves in parts. If you are a World Music aficionado, this comes highly recommended.

Michael Eisenberg

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