AMN Reviews: Frédéric D. Oberland – Même Soleil (2021; IIKKI)

Frédéric D. Oberland is known for his contributions to Oiseaux-Tempête and for co-founding Nahal Recordings. Même Soleil is his third solo album, an organic, trancelike excursion into parts both familiar and unknown.

Oberland takes the concept of the solo album seriously playing all instruments himself, including analog synthesizers, mellotron, flutes, alto sax, duduk, vocals, percussion, electric bass, and guitar. To this, he adds field recordings and tasteful drum programming. At points, Oberland toys with structures that approach Riley’s In C , in that small, repeating themes combine and fall apart in minimalistic patterns. With an emphasis on synth, strings, and percussion, he provides slowly-evolving motifs and patterns that combine subtle jazz and blues inflections with sound collages. The unrushed nature and haunting weirdness of some of these pieces have a psychedelic air…one in which strange noises flourish in the presence of a one-man jam session. As the album progresses, it takes on the feel of a low-budget 1970s science-fiction movie soundtrack, and does so in an utterly charming fashion,

Même Soleil is one of those “greater than the sum of its parts” releases. Fresh, unique, and different, this one gets two thumbs up.

AMN Reviews: Ana Foutel & Edgardo Palotta: Ritual [Plus Timbre PT121]

Recorded in Buenos Aires in the first half of this year, Ritual is the second collaboration between pianist/percussionist Ana Foutel and multi-instrumentalist Edgardo Palotta. That the recording was made live with both musicians present wouldn’t under ordinary circumstances be remarkable, but during the time of COVID it represents an almost defiant assertion of the durability of human connections.

That connection is amply demonstrated by the sure-footed acoustic music the two recorded. Foutel and Palotta explore a spectrum of improvisational possibilities ranging from melodic duets to confrontations of abstract sounds. The very first track, for example, introduces the set with Palotta’s stentorian but ultimately mellifluous reedwork, which robustly overlays Foutel’s elegant pianism. By contrast, a track like Acá no nieva moves smoothly from pitch-based to unpitched sounds, with Palotta’s Indian flute providing the pivot. In addition to Indian flute, Palotta plays bass clarinet, clarinet, and pizzicato double bass. On the three tracks featuring the latter instrument, Palotta sets out slowly varying, repeated figures that Foutel picks up on piano and transforms through variations of her own.

Daniel Barbiero

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

AMN Reviews: Various Artists – Unexplained Sounds Group – 7th Annual Report (Mid Year Edition) (2021; Unexplained Sounds Group)

The Unexplained Sounds Group has done more for ambient, electronic, and experimental music than just about any organization lately. Its mid-year review of these genres drives that point home, with four hours of material that is mostly new and hard to find. While one could lump many of these artists under the dark ambient or cinematic monikers, there are also pieces on this compilation that focus on synthesizer, drone, electroacoustic, kosmiche, IDM / beat-driven, minimalism, and classical / chamber music as well.

Artist representation includes those who are reasonably well-known (at least to followers of the label). To that point, Simon McCorry offers up lilting classical with processing and effects, Mauro Sambo provides drones and abstract electronics, and Grey Frequency contributes haunting soundscapes with oscillating tones. But there are inevitably some pleasant surprises on a collection of this scope. These include the creative chaos of Farabi Toshiyuki Suzuki, the GRM-like stylings of MODO AVION, as well as the Dockstader-influenced sound art of TRISWARA. In addition, Med Gen provides a textural ambient piece, Slow Abyss supplies thick, oppressive walls of synth combined with martial rhythms, and A.M. Ferrari Fradejas imparts unusual choral forms coupled with synthesized chamber music.

All said, this is a stellar release. It is a challenge to combine music that is so different in composition and structure, but do so in a way that maintains coherence. Somehow, the Unexplained Sounds Group has achieved this goal across 37 artists. Whether you are a season listener or looking for a place to start dabbling in cutting-edge experimental music, 7th Annual Report (Mid Year Edition) comes highly recommended.

AMN Reviews: Shrine Maiden – The Call in the Dawn (2021; Bandcamp); Dylan DiLella – Human Shield (2021; Nefarious Industries)

Heavy guitar duo Ryan Betschart and Rachel Nakawatase offer up their third album of slow-moving distorted power chords and soundscapes. The most obvious comparison is with Sunn O))), given Shrine Maiden’s grinding drones and ponderous themes. But this pair is distinct sonically, with one or both guitars focused on manipulated feedback and effects. There also are further lines that appear from time to time that are either heavily processed guitar or other instruments. Case in point, A Warning to the Curious is a lush yet foreboding ambient landscape with plenty of subtle details. But this does not imply the absence of oppressive, face-crushing, overdriven madness, of which there is plenty.

Solo guitarist Dylan DiLella hangs out in a similar aural location, using feedback, loops, and other processing to create walls of distorted sound. Human Shield consists of three long (12-15 minute), discordant tracks. In addition to unusual chording, DiLella employs speed picking, effects, and varying pitches that merge into massive sonic assaults. But he is more than just a metal guitarist making a lot of noise. DiLella’s playing is loosely patterned, yet unpredictable, incorporating aspects of free improv. The closest comparison is probably Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, or perhaps the recent solo works of Alvaro Domene. In any event, your ears will be ringing after this one.

AMN Capsule Comments: Mike Eisenberg’s Recent Playlist (July 27, 2021)

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

Atlas – “Blå Vardag” (1979)

I felt like ye olde school prog and, when it comes to ye olde school prog, the Swedes did it swimmingly! Atlas was a 5 piece with two keyboard players, guitar, bass, and drums and (I think) this was their only album. Obviously, with the two dedicated keyboardists, their palette was quite symphonic and these guys played it to the hilt. They were very fond of the “BIG ORCHESTRAL BUILD-UP”, and they did it really well too. One of the keyboardists loved his Mini Moog in a huge way and like all the Rick Wakeman’s before him, he definitely held his own on that particular axe. (Sorry, nowhere close to Kit Watkins from the American band Happy the Man.)

All the other players are pretty excellent too (don’t you have to be, to be in a prog band???). The guitarist often switched from Acoustic to Electric within the same song and he didn’t shy away from the (more than) occasional jazz chording’s, which added a nice touch. Overall, there were quite a few memorable melodic moments on this record. I have the 1995 reissue which adds some bonus material from a reformed version of the band. I really enjoyed this listen from my long-haired leaping gnome days.

Värttinä – “Ilmatar” (2000)

Värttinä is a Finnish ensemble fronted by 4 female vocalists who sing in their native Karelian dialect. The energy on this album is off the charts and the 4-part vocal arrangements were magnificent. I couldn’t help being reminded of the highly complex vocal work in Magma and, while sounding nothing like Zeuhl, this quartet of singers certainly summoned down the old gods with their chanting.

The backing band consisted of accordions, fiddles, and other Scandinavian folk instruments. I think I heard some hurdy-gurdy, lots of drums and percussion, and some incidental electric keyboards rendering some dark forest atmospheres.

They don’t stick to only Finnish folk either, throughout I heard Balkan dance rhythms, Irish fiddles, and even some Middle Eastern melodies. This is the only album I have by them but, I’m thinking that may change sooner rather than later. The music doesn’t sound overly complex if you were casually listening to it, in fact, it’s pretty danceable…but if you take a peek under the hood, the rhythms are certainly not standard 4/4 and, those vocal arrangements…insanely creative. High rec!  

Fläsket Brinner-“The Swedish Radio Recordings 1970-1975”

This is a big 4 cd box of live and live-in-studio recordings and it does a great job of showing the 5 year evolution of this band, all in fantastic sound.

Fläsket Brinner falls squarely into the jazz-rock camp with maybe some slight Canterbury nods. The backline of electric bass, drums and keyboards (mostly organ and electric piano) do an excellent job of providing the rock-solid bedrock for lots of Sax soloing and some really intense guitar pyrotechnics. Playing from all is tight and you can tell these guys were very well-rehearsed and comfortable playing with each other. The extended jams reach high levels of intensity, and I would imagine what great shows these must have been if you were there to witness them live. Their sound morphed from a very loose Psyche-Jazz vibe on the early discs to a more fleshed-out, slicker sound later on. This was due to a much higher keyboard presence. I personally prefer the earlier stuff but, at the end of the day, it’s all excellent showing a band that was very much on top of their game.

Michael Eisenberg

AMN Capsule Comments: Mike Eisenberg’s Recent Playlist (July 26, 2021)

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

Art Zoyd – “Le mariage du ciel et de l’enfer” (1985)

This was AZ’s 6th album, but my first. “Berlin” was already released and after I heard this one, I acquired “Berlin”…how you say…post haste! “Le mariage…” is music for a ballet, such ballet (and the music that went with it) must have been spawned by the unholy union of Vlad Tepes and a 3 horned goat cuz, back then, this music was considered darker than the black pit of the abyss.

I believe this album was an inflection point for this ensemble (I hesitate to call them a band) because they seemed on the cusp of going from fully acoustic to adding electronics. Now, of course, AZ is pretty much 100% cold electronics, but this album may have been the genesis for this.

So, did it hold up for me? Well, kinda yes, kinda no. Back then that whole avant chamber prog scene was new and fresh to me, and when I heard this I nearly soiled myself at how malevolent it sounded. I totally dug it, and played the shit out of it, and pretty much picked up every Zoyd album before and since. The problem I’m having (with “I” being the operative word) is, I pretty much got off that chamber prog train about 10ish years ago. So, for that reason, this album didn’t move me, well…certainly not as much as hearing it in 1985.

That being said, this is Art Zoyd for pete’s sake, and Art Zoyd “did” this music better than anyone else out there at the time, and I think since. Big doff of the cap to Gérard Hourbette (RIP) and Thierry Zaboitzeff, the primary composers along with Patricia Dallio who was absolutely integral to the group for many years. You want this kind of music, reach for AZ first, and then move on from there. I still will recommend this album in a big big way! 

Archimedes Badkar – “Tre” (1977)

This is a great release and, unfortunately the only one I have by this “Swedish Embryo” as they are sometimes referred to. It also sounds like a HUGE band with numerous percussion players, lots of brass, piano, (excellent) drumming, and other exotic things like Kalimba (thumb piano). Generally, each song is based on a groove, and that groove can span the globe. I hear Balkan, African, Indian, Middle Eastern, Swedish (and others I’m probably missing) influences all blended together and chopped up into something that resembles world jazz. It’s most definitely jazzy, and it swings like mad too. On top of the rhythms, the group adds various melodies that, if listened to enough, I could easily see turning into earworms. Sometimes there is a “stoned hippy” vibe going on but hell, whatever they were smoking sure didn’t hinder their abilities to play…these guys were hot. If you feel like world music/jazz and you’ve exhausted your Embryo collection, move on to the Badkar, you won’t regret it!

Michael Eisenberg

AMN Reviews: Camila Nebbia & Patrick Shiroishi – The Human Being As A Fragile Article (2021; Bandcamp); Camila Nebbia – Corre el río… (2021; Ramble Records)

This duet by experimental saxophonists Nebbia and Shiroishi explores human vulnerability through ten tracks of varying lengths. Along with freely-improvised sax warbling and fragments of thematic development, the pair also employs field recordings (birdsong, environmental noises), percussion (bells, chimes, tapping), spoken and chanted voice, and other elements. Their lines weave in and out of one another, shifting between clean and distorted tones, as well as from inside to outside and back again. The voices serve as yet another instrument rather than for purposes of song – a further layer of dialog between Nebbia and Shiroishi in addition to their sax work.

Corre el río… (I’m shortening a much longer 20+ word title), features an all-female quartet led by Nebbia and including Barbara Togander on vocals and turntables, Violeta García on cello, and Paula Shocron on piano, vocals, and percussion. The album centers around one very long piece (almost 40 minutes) that is a musical representation of an Argentine gender violence map covering January – July 2020. Such a serious topic deserves and receives a commensurately a serious approach from Nebbia and company.

In a structural improvisation with little in the way of melody or rhythm, García and Schocron contribute a muted sense of urgency with staccato percussion and grinding cello. This haunting soundscape is eventually overlaid with frenetic piano from Schocron and forceful outside sax explorations from Nebbia. While rough and textural, the piece covers a wide variety of moods and tones as it alternates between explosions of sounds and quieter moments. The voices are virtually continuous, again spoken rather than sung.

Admittedly, my first listen through was without reading the liner notes, and I came out of it with the gut reaction that this was a moving and compelling example of modern improv with a strange darkness hanging over it. After understanding the inspiration and source material for the album and listening again, I felt a more focused set of emotions – the anxiety and trepidation of that now-identified darkness.

AMN Capsule Comments: Mike Eisenberg’s Recent Playlist (July 25, 2021)

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

Feilu Gasull and Joan Albert Amargos – “Feilu i Joan Albert” (1977)

This album really deserves more recognition, not only from the prog borough but from music lovers in general. Why? Well, this is undeniably some fine FINE, very Spanish-influenced music.

Cousins Feilu (g) and Joan Albert (kbds) completely bring the house down with their virtuosity. Feilu sticks mostly to acoustic guitar with the occasional bass and electric guitar added at just the right times while Joan Albert is a ridiculously talented piano (and quite a bit of synths too) maestro. This is pretty much drummerless (not missed one iota) but they do drop some well-placed percussion, and on the one track that has a full kit (below)…well, let’s just say that when it presents itself, the proceedings turn into a full-blown orchestra. It was very unexpected and inserted perfectly in the grand scheme of things on this delightful record. The vibe? Very Catalonian, very energetic (thanks to Feilu’s brilliant guitar moves) and, very satisfying. Honestly, at 38 minutes I didn’t want it to end, it’s that good! Table pounding rec from me. 

Thelonious Monk – “Thelonious Monk-The Columbia years ’62-’68” (2001)  

I’m not even close to being a Monk completist, more like a “slightly better than casual” fan and, since I haven’t heard a decent size block in quite a few years, it was time for this re-do. I only have a 3 or 4 of his Columbia records so, I took the lazy way out and listened to this box instead of choosing which record to play.

The set is a great cross section of live and studio recordings of different aspects of his career, from solo piano renditions of “Round Midnight” and others, to trio’s, quartets, and even some of his 10-piece big band workups. Some of the recordings are restored and, for the most part, the recording quality is amazing on this box. My main takeaway…Monk’s piano playing was truly remarkable. Something clicked with me this time around…I always thought that his style was quirky/fun at best and ham-fisted at worse. Well excuse me for being so full of shit, his playing is brilliant and oh so original! What I previously thought of as being “ham-fisted” presented itself this time around as unique and wholly original. What sounded simplistic back in the day, now sounds totally appropriate…in service to the melody, the rhythm, and his other bandmates.  Mo Monk! 

Nikola Kodjabashia – “Reveries of the Solitary Walker” (2005)

Discovered this one through the ReR catalog, I liked the way Chris Cutler’s review read so that brought it up the want list. Couldn’t find much info on this but Kodjabashia is a Macedonian composer living in the classical world.

This record has him stepping out into a more minimal, Balkan-influenced folksy sound. Working with a small ensemble of piano, acoustic bass, some brass, percussion, and a violin duo I hear a very sparse, open soundscape that conjured images of bleak winter mornings. It’s a clean, crisp recording that sounds excellent through my earbuds as well as my speakers. Of note, I love the way the violins are recorded, it sounded like they were very close mic’ed so you were able to hear all the sounds you typically aren’t meant to hear like the creaking of the wooden body, the bow scrapes, etc. All in all, this is a great Balkan influenced contemporary music recording and comes highly recommended

Michael Eisenberg

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