Cherry Red Records – Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1053 – CD Time: 48:59
Available at: http://shop.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=5158
Tracks: 1) Another Life 2) Look Up 3) Poison Town 4) White Lines 5) Life In Reverse 6) Burnt Down Trees 7) Satellite 8) Forest 9) Magazine 10) Rain 11) Actors 12) Another Day, Another Night 13) Poison Town Reprise
It’s hard for me to believe that it was 10 years ago John Hackett released his last “electric” album Checking Out of London, a collaboration with lyricist Nick Clabburn, brother Steve Hackett, keyboardist Nick Magnus and guest vocalist Tony Patterson. COoL was largely an album of contemplation of modern realities with a fairly narrow and relatively calm emotional range (the song Ego & Id being the exception). Since COol John Hackett has released a collection of acoustic collaborations (see photo, I’m sure some are missing from my collection) and a live album with Nick Magnus in 2010, in addition to other session work with Magnus and others.
In contrast, Another Life exists in a darker realm, and is cathartic, but also treats the subject matter, at times, with sonic irony—where the music belies the lyrics, almost mocking the hopelessness or anger, reveling in the pain, getting to an even darker place perhaps in the hope to emerge in a better elsewhere. It’s not, however, necessarily a nihilist point of view. I also hesitate to say that Another Life is a concept album, but there is a tightly knit theme throughout.
The title track opens the album aggressively and builds to a primal scream of sorts. After listening to it a few times, I detected a structural pattern similar to the verse and refrain comparing it to In The Court of the Crimson King, including the point where John Hackett’s flute enters…coincidental or an homage? In Look Up “Everyone is changing…” and it is reminiscent of the sound of the change The Byrds sang of in the late 1960s (and distinctive opening chords like ELO’s 10538 Overture). The song is embedded with foreboding, but it has a driving energy of what I characterize as hope in the words “Look up and feel the light…” Poison Town is one of the examples of where the music seems to contradict the message of the lyrics, it has a sort of chill-vibe with the soft keyboards and wah-wah treatment of the guitar…kind of swaying and comforted in the darkness of thought. White Lines delves into frustration, with the Doppler-Effect sound and motion of vehicles speeding past on a highway, following the road into a vanished point in the distance…a destination never reached on an endless journey.
Life In Reverse on one hand is bleak, but there is a sense of optimism and beauty in the music—the chord shifts, layered chorus vocals and the gorgeous bridge from John Hackett’s flute (the passage “This rented room…This rented life…” with the chord bends and vocals is powerful). Another example of the sharp contrast of the message in the lyrics and music is Burnt Down Trees, as if one is mocking the other. The music is funky, rhythmic with ripping guitar solos from Steve Hackett, almost as if the music is laughing at reality while the streets burn; like the conditions are so bad, one needs comic relief or escapism. Ant Phillips is a guest instrumentalist on Satellite (12 string guitar and harpsichord). A song of conflicted feelings, opens with Steve Hackett on harmonica, with flowing chords and harmonies from the vocals and guitars. Stark truth and minimal sentimentality “Say how you feel…I just want to hear you try…” By the time Phillips’ rich sounding harpsichord enters, the difficulties of reality return—a very emotional piece, one that cannot be played loud enough to hear all the depth to the layers. Holding onto beauty in the face of despair.
Forest, in a way harkens back, in sound and instrumentation, to many of the songs on COoL. Reflection and self-examination, pondering how things could have gone, yet living with how they turned out. Magazine is the one piece on the album where Nick Magnus is credited as a songwriter along with Hackett and Clabburn. It’s another in the canon of gentle and contemplative songs, somewhat like the early instrumental piece by brother Steve Hammer In The Sand, although it passes through a couple of grander orchestral codas. Rain is perhaps a relationship gone bad (the actual inspiration could be completely different!) and in this the music and lyrics are aligned—the twisting sadness of the minor chords and the forceful vocal refrain, punctuated by Steve’s sustained growling solos.
There was something about Actors that sounded familiar to me…the lyrics seemed to have a parallel elsewhere, and sure enough, portions of the lyrics were used in the Squackett (Steve Hackett and Chris Squire) song Divided Self (a marvelous song, by the way—lyrics also by Clabburn). It’s a song of internal conflict—“Two tongues speaking in my head…” with a curious I Am The Walrus-esque link in the middle before the first guitar solo and vocal choruses. Another Day, Another Night has some sounds of hope with its upbeat rhythm and instrumentation, and is where the message is delivered to whatever is causing the feelings of darkness to move on—kind of an ultimatum with signs of optimism.
And then…the Poison Town Reprise…and a bit of the darkness returns.
Fear not the subject, just get lost in the music—I certainly have…as I click REPLAY.
Big Otis Records – CD Time: 42:27
Tracks: 1) Jimmy Leg Mule 2) Loose Change 3) When We Were Young 4) Kingdom Come 5) Indian Summer 6) Dogwood 7) Simpleton 8) Cold Dark Hollow 9) Avondale Strut 10) A Drink w/ Stephen F. 11) Bad Part Of Town 12) Kentucky 13) Come Back John
Purchase CD here: https://markfosson.bandcamp.com/album/ky
Curious how things happen sometimes…
In the past few weeks I had been revisiting a number of acoustic guitar recordings from the United Artists era (early career) of Gordon Lightfoot, the vast acoustic 12 string guitar works of English composer Anthony Phillips (some recorded with Harry Williamson, like the open tunings of Gypsy Suite), Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthems series and even Mark Fosson’s Digging In The Dust. Then, I received a quite unexpected message from Fosson himself, asking if I’d be interested in reviewing his new album kY (named as an homage to his Kentucky roots and memories of his time there). His first album was recorded for John Fahey’s Takoma Records label in the late 1970s, but the label was sold before the album could be released (and it finally emerged courtesy of Drag City in 2006). Tompkins Square released Digging In The Dust in 2012, the 1976 demo recordings that ultimately led to the Takoma Sessions.
American Primitive Guitar, to some, is an obscure music genre (not to be confused with the American Primitivism art movement of the late 1890s). John Fahey’s pioneering acoustic guitar work in the 1950s developed an instrumental form of country blues finger-picking, and later attracted Leo Kottke, Peter Lang and others. In the 1960s and 1970s other techniques expanded the genre to include Robbie Basho, Mark Fosson, Jack Rose, and more recently Daniel Bachman, James Blackshaw and William Tyler (who works with both acoustic and electric guitars)…there are many others, and I am by no means an expert…just a general practitioner and admirer of many music genres and eras with some specialization in a few.
For background, Mark kindly provided a link to a recent interview at the excellent North Country Primitive website, which has some great insights on the album as well as what Fosson has been working on since those …Lost Takoma Sessions. For those interested in the specifics on the guitar tunings and instruments used on kY, I have linked directly to that interview here—it’s a great read. I have a hard enough time getting my slow fingers and feeble brain around the standard guitar tuning EADGBE let alone the many tunings like CFCFFC, so I marvel at the picking and musicianship within kY.
I am acquainted with some of Fosson’s other works spanning the time from 1976 to now, such as his solo work Jesus On A Greyhound as well as his band The Bum Steers. Fosson is also well known for the wit of his lyrics, but kY is an instrumental album, the music tells the stories, and the expressiveness and visual references emanating from the strings and fingers more than suffice in lieu of words.
kY is an album of clever and sensitive musical prose. Each piece being conceived and recorded almost spontaneously, most on first takes according to Fosson, to preserve the vibrancy of the moment. Laterally, this keeps the album unfettered of sentimentality, and refreshingly expressive even when the subject is poignant. A Drink With Stephen F, for example, went right to my core, and I felt like I had traveled through time and been a witness to the encounter—powerful stuff.
The pieces vary from portrayals of places, events and people. Four pieces are recorded with twelve-string guitar, two with banjo, one with dulcimer, two with guitars and bass (multi-track) and only two are in standard EADGBE tuning. I’m not sure what recording equipment Fosson used (analog or digital, microphones, etc.), but the quality and sound of the recording is so pure and crystalline—like a private concert in my living room. The final notes and harmonics on Come Back John just ring out, then sing on.
With the benefit of some insights from Mark Fosson (always helpful hearing it from the artist), an overview of kY, in the order of the recording:
Jimmy Leg Mule is a playful and somewhat unpredictable mule ride, with involuntary forays into mild dissonance due to that jimmy leg “condition”, along with moments of spirited progress, and occasional stubborn pauses–not unexpected from a mule. Loose Change is a somewhat gleefully reckless ensemble of guitar, bass, mandolin and slide guitar, which meanders from tight assemblage to rather “loose” chord interactions, and ultimately (and intentionally) to what author Henry Williamson referred to as a somewhat humorous “mingled despair” ending. Fosson recalls his grandparents in When We Were Young, a 12-string tribute, which varies from spirited interactions to moments of contemplation. The pace is that of a story being told, with occasional diversions (like pulling recollections from a distant hazy past), and resolved chords seem as welcome moments of reminiscing. Gradually, the themes fragment, and fade, like memories. When We Were Young periodically channels the sound of a venerable 19th century disc music box. Kingdom Come is a real place in eastern Kentucky (along with a State Park bearing the same name), and this banjo piece seems to capture the rugged yet reverent spirit of the place, although I have not been there…yet. As one might expect within a languid Indian Summer, Fosson’s 12 string jangles with a deliberate and steady heartbeat of keeping on, despite the heat.
I’ve always wanted to build a dulcimer, but for now listening to one will have to do, and Dogwood is a song of the country, and it could accompany a traditional dance or celebrate the arrival of spring, as those trees blossom. Simpleton has a cheerful and persistent aura with moments of pause for more intimate encounters. The second verse slips to a comparatively minor key, but the original balanced theme returns for the third. Fosson notes there was a man in his hometown with a sort of impairment who was a fixture. Fosson’s parents referred to this gent as the local “ambassador of good will”, others may have referred to him as something else less complimentary (we had one in my own town, we dubbed him: “the mayor”). It’s a jovial and charming portrayal.
Cold Dark Hollow is a slightly mysterious place where exploration is better fleeting with only brief moments of exploration, but not too closely, due to the chill. Fosson expressively flicks and buzzes his guitar. The second ensemble piece on the album is the 12-string guitar and bass Avondale Strut. It’s a lively gathering where folks have a good time after a spell of hard work. As I noted already, A Drink w/ Stephen F (in standard EADGBE tuning) stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it, with its poignancy and clarity. The Stephen F is Stephen Foster, often referred to as the “father of American music” who died far too young and in a bad way (rough going back then, in the Bowery, where he died). It’s a respectful homage with an elegant and relatively unadorned melody. Some of Foster’s work has been forgotten to time and some remains well known (and is often labeled as “traditional”—do-daw, do-daw). This just exudes history and respect.
Bad Part Of Town swaggers furtively, yet it’s a cautious adventure as the banjo-ed observer passes through a neighborhood that is sometimes better avoided. Although Fosson isn’t entirely sure of the exact source of inspiration, Kentucky picks and snaps with a spirited liveliness. Closing the album is Come Back John, and is a fitting 12-string homage to mentor John Fahey. Fosson notes it was his desire to evoke Fahey’s Sunflower River Blues, and he does so with gracious aplomb.
I am often left unfulfilled by music that demands my attention. kY, however, is an album where an observant and clever artist deftly translates memories from mind to fretboard and fingers, creating authentic and fulfilling recollections. I’m not entirely sure this album qualifies exclusively as American Primitive Guitar (remember, I’m no expert), and there are no sixteen-minute free-range ramblers, but Mark Fosson instead has given us a collection of tidy and cohesive sound-memories, and they all work just fine, thank you.
Word has it that Mark Fosson has much more in the hopper, ready to record—excellent news!
CD PR025 time: 40:53 (Also available as an LP, first 100 copies on coke clear vinyl)
1) Divine Waves – 12:11 2) White Wings – 8:53 3) Neon Mandalas – 6:58 4) Crown Canal – 12:48
Cory Allen: Hammond Organ, Harmonium, Tanpura, Rhodes Electric Piano, Violin, Voice, Mbira, Balalaika, Tibetan Singing Bowl, Gong, Tingsha Bells, Chinese Bells, Balinese Nut Shell Shaker
With Brent Fariss: Bass, Henna Chou: Cello and Lyman Hardy: Drums and Percussion
Preorder link: http://www.punctumrecords.com/shop/coryallen-thesource
Without any prior guided experience to an astral realm of enlightenment, I feel a bit underqualified in commenting on certain aspects that may have influenced or inspired this album, but I feel perfectly at ease in speaking on the restorative nature of music, meditation and private contemplation. The mind is often so pre-occupied with distractions that thoughts become fragmented, confused, and the ability to concentrate is diminished—so at times a realignment is in order. Cory Allen’s new album, The Source provides a gentle yet intensive framework to cleanse the mind and re-focus awareness. In tech-speak: defragmenting the hard drive.
The Source, I think, is both a reflection of Allen’s own achievement of radial balance and self-unity, as well as a sonic guide for others to experience. With repeated auditions of the album, awareness of both the individual instrumentation and the gestalt of the overall effect of the work increases. For those less familiar with Cory Allen’s oeuvre, and before listening, an important aspect to keep in mind, is to suspend conventional expectations of musical structure and melody, and allow oneself to be drawn into the experience of both listening and feeling the sounds in the recording. Also, Allen’s work often uses a loosely rules-based construction including guided improvisation.
Divine Waves slow-dances on the edge of something resembling a liquid jazz with the initial two, three and four note phrases exchanging between cymbals and bass (plucked and later bowed). A tanpura joins the ensemble and its whirr is sustained by merging with the bass, cymbals, and chiming of inter-mingled bells and bowls. I hesitate to say that the cello is a later mournful addition to the group, yet it adds a wistful calm with an electric piano gently weaving throughout. The instrumentation in the latter part of Divine blends into a soft vibrating drone and is as much about the sound heard, as well as the interaction of the vibrations being felt (to experience this, I recommend listening with well-placed speakers at a volume roughly equivalent to match the original live sound of the instruments versus using headphones).
Initially focusing on the interplay of two and four notes phrases on a balalaika, White Wings’ bowed cello and bass, drums and harmonium absorb and weave while stretching varying dissonances. A first sonic alignment appears at a little more than two-and-a-half minutes, before meandering many times again with loose guidance (visually, like a flock of migrating swallows as they gather in the autumn, at sundown, seeking a resting place for the night).
The most intensive experience on the album is within Neon Mandalas; initially there is a chorus of deeply toned voices (which I think should have extended even longer), and once held in that realm, other elements are introduced with their fleeting movements (percussion, drums, bass and tanpura). A choir of gently plucked Mbiras (like a gentle steady rain) and bells provides a sonic background for an emergent and focused organ that dissolves into a returning familiar plucked acoustic bass phrase—a sort of arrival.
Crown Canal seems to represent a departure, reflecting on the fullness of the experience. The cello has a somewhat somber recurrent melody, reminiscent of a recessional or postlude, and has a tonality of resolution within a duo of a harmonium and tanpura. The ensemble is gently punctuated with percussion and voices. Despite being the longest piece on the album it has a curious absorptive quality, which compresses a sense of time, while achieving a state of steady entrancement.
The more I have listened to this album, it seems there is a general framework describing Allen’s own experience—the album appears to be a journey in four parts, describing what I interpret as: preparation, journey, arrival and return. The recording and mastering achieves a profound clarity and realism that I have come to know in Cory Allen’s previous albums, The Great Order and Pearls that feel as if the listener is within the environment where the music is being created.
The Source will be released on June 30th, 2015.
More on Cory Allen’s previous albums that I have reviewed can be found here.
The vinyl version of The Source–beautiful color!
This is a solicited review.
Available as CD TRS053 in Digipak (150 copies) and a deluxe limited version (75 copies) Time: 40:37
Tracks: 1) The Hermit, 2) Ricordo, 3) Sator, 4) Come Un Immenso Specchio D’inverno, 5) The Liquid Room, 6) Mountain, 7) Camino
Memories get tucked away in our minds and emerge at unexpected moments; their return prompted by any of the senses, especially sound. Spazio Sacro (translation: Sacred Space) is a personal journey of Giulio Aldinucci’s time and recollections in and near his native village in the Tuscany region of Italy, where observances and sacred rites have occurred for centuries. It also appears there could be differing perspectives in this album, perhaps not just those of Aldinucci.
Giulio Aldinucci initially released three albums under the moniker of Obsil, and two albums since 2012 using his own name (Tarsia in 2012 on Nomadic Kids Republic label and the recent Aer on the Dronarivm label), as well as other side projects like his Postcards from Italy collaboration with Attilio Novellino (an album, live event and special gallery installation in London). His work travels fluidly between silence, edge of consciousness and crystalline lucidity.
I can speculate on whether a composition is a first or third person experience (as in The Hermit, which seems to start as an outdoor morning awakening, as a village returns to life), but it is clear when the memory is more personal and intimate, as in Ricordo. Initially, an observer in motion, traveling and then arriving. Eventually, there is slow movement through spaces, made apparent by different sounds passing by, entering and departing. Some sound images are clear and seem more recent, whereas those more distant in time are fleeting, layered and translucent (perhaps the memories less tangible and accessible with time). Yet, there is a sense of comfort in tradition and the sacred, heightened with choral voices.
Quiet moments are sometimes interrupted, from the initial reverie. Distractions enter and overpower the quietude of the moment in Sator. The chill of a season is evoked in Come Un Immenso Specchio D’inverno, while at the seaside with people nearby, where the winds and cold water can be heard. Liquid Room is the most ethereal, drifting in and out of choral passages and reverberant organ. There is also a peregrinating motion in this piece, as if wandering to seek a sonic focus which emerges at a little over three minutes in, before gently releasing its energy to silence.
Giulio Aldinucci at the Museo dell Antica Grancia in 2012 – Photo by Marco Masti
Mountain, while being from an experience of Aldinucci’s, instantly brought back a personal memory of a train trip that I took from Milan to Lausanne in the late 1980s, a rather bizarre experience passing from the northern Italian landscape by rail, then disappearing into a mountain, only to emerge on the other side in a completely altered countryside with buildings looking so different. It is in Mountain where the field recordings are absolutely vivid (some of the best I’ve ever heard in how they blend with the music). I actually found myself turning my head in my listening space to look for the source of some of the sounds, and to check if the birds that I was hearing was due to a window that I had left open—effectively deceptive in the transparency, recording and mastering of the album. The most curious and somewhat perplexing is the last track, Camino—I’m not sure if the title is a location (as in near Venice?). The title also translates to different things, depending on the language—and so, we have a mystery…sometimes music needs a conundrum. There is a strange rhythmically liquid sound mixed with periodic buzzing and a distant ship’s whistle, as well as cascading voices.
A common and most pleasant thread in Spazio Sacro is the recurrent appearance of gentle choruses and distant peaceful tones resembling a church organ, something that I have always found comforting, with or without a liturgical connection. Giulio Aldinucci’s work evokes a strong and clear sense of the places and times that occupy the memory chambers in his life, and the traditions at the heart of those recollections are timeless.
Photo of the Deluxe Edition
This is a solicited review.
CD Time: 57:57, Digital, 300 copies of CD or 150 copies of Deluxe CD #CCL011 & #IR003
Tracks: 1) Paisaje Primero, 2) Paisaje Propio, 3) Paisaje Artificial, 4) Paisaje Natural
Websites: http://damiananache.com.ar/ &
Think of the hour just before sunrise, in Spring especially, the Sun hasn’t yet peeked above the horizon. The songs of birds and sounds of other animals slowly rise with the Sun. Eventually there is a wondrous sonic aura filling the morning, until the Sun is firmly in the sky and the impromptu performance gradually fades. A similar effect occurs at sunset as the gentle evening-song of birds and other fauna greet the night. The sound landscape can, at certain locations, grow to be almost deafening, yet there still remains a feeling of ease and relaxation. Other sounds might enter: wind, rain, trees moving, a distant coyote howling to its pack or even the sounds of a city or shipyard. Taken as a whole, the soundscape has no apparent patterns or melodies, and it spontaneously exists without apparent forethought or design. Isolate individual elements with the ear and some patterns may be detectable, whether from a songbird or the rubbing of an insect’s wings.
Although Argentine composer Damián Anache’s method of creation for his debut album Capturas del Único Camino is different in its technical execution, the resulting experience is similar to how sound is generated in our environment. Anache’s works have been performed at events at the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia (Rome), National University of Cordoba (Argentina), Museum of Modern Art in Ecuador (Quito) and the Cultural Center of Spain in Buenos Aires, among others, in addition to his guest musician appearances at several performances of live experimental music, and as a producer of local rock bands in Argentina. This album is also an outgrowth of the research project Spatial Sound Synthesis in Electroacoustic Music, directed by Oscar Pablo Di Liscia at the National University of Quilmes.
In Capturas, Anache prepared a collection of recordings using acoustic instruments (piano, guitar, glockenspiel, percussion, etc.), voices (the composer’s voice, including falsetto), electronics and field recordings of water (distant and near-field). He then generated a series of four interconnected soundscapes using a software-based technique to randomly select and place the recorded sounds into an interlocked linear progression (I’m not familiar with the software, so I’m taking this at face-value). While the recordings are largely abstract, non-representational of place and without identifiable melodic or harmonic structure, they can be quite spatial in their interaction with each of the other recorded elements. There are also transitions between the four parts where fragments of the subsequent movement appear towards the end of the previous movement coupled with a mild crescendo to generate a disguising sleight-of-hand between the sections.
In Paisaje Primero, strings are plucked, hammered and bowed lightly, percussion is struck gently and the sounds are untreated and naturally resonant. This is the softest and most spacious of the four movements, more furtive than calming, and is without a detectable melody or pattern. Voices appear in Paisaje Primero within about two minutes of the transition to Paisaje Propio. There are also gentle whispers and hushed vocalizations combined with placid trills and hisses. At times, the voices have a character of bowed strings, and I could be wrong, but I also detect some sounds of what could be a cello.
Near the close of Paisaje Propio synthetic sounds are combined with the voices and the character of Paisaje Artificial shifts quite dramatically from the acoustic environment of the first two movements. Paisaje Artificial is more industrial with a static-electric atmosphere, where sounds could be generated by the interaction of conflicting frequencies of radio interference or magnetic waves as one moves through space. Some sounds are pure sine-wave, and the higher frequencies are crystalline and sometimes piercing; so the listeners’ ears should be somewhat prepared, especially if headphones are in use. On the cusp of passing from the Paisaje Artificial realm, the electronics seem to be mildly treated for the appearance of water in Paisaje Natural. Water is presented near and far, as drips, a stream, bubbles, waves and perhaps rain falling from a roof to the ground. There are short cycles in this piece that last about three or so minutes, like passing rain showers, so there is not only gentle motion in the individual recordings, but also in the overall movement. Near the mid-point of Paisaje Natural the sounds of birds appear in the distance, and the treatment of the recording shifts from one existing within the recordings to one of observing from a vantage point of some kind of shelter (this may be unintentional, and purely my own interpretation).
Capturas del Único Camino is well-suited to both a pure listening experience or as part of an audio-visual installation. Despite its apparent minimalist structure and execution, Damián Anache has created a curiously soothing yet complex realm in his debut recording. Rise early in the morn or linger at dimmity, and let the music be revealed.
This is a solicited review.
Label: Sound of Jura http://www.soundofjura.com/
SOJCD1501 CD Time: About 36 minutes
Tracks: 1) Semi-Precious, 2) Come Over To Me, 3) School Of The Heart, 4) Spinneret, 5) The River To The Cave, 6) If We Were Free, 7) Namesake, 8) Mote, 9) Infinity Pool, 10) Whey-Faced Phantoms, 11) A.J., 12) Memory’s Like A Hunting Hawk
Youth, on the verge of adulthood, in search of meaning and perhaps companionship. Young enough and determined to look forward and hope and old enough to reflect on memories and retain some wisdom from experiences; this I interpret to be the theme of Karl Culley’s latest album Stripling. This is Culley’s fourth album, and he now lives in Krakow, Poland, where the album was recorded, but still with strong roots remaining in the north of England and Scotland. His previous albums are: Bundle of Nerves, The Owl and Phosphor.
The songs on Stripling range from hypnotic meditations to something that might cause a gathering of folks (in a pub, perhaps) to spontaneously dance (or at least vigorously toe-tap). The sonics are relatively intimate and unadorned: It’s Culley, his guitar and his voice, but it’s a deeply resonant recording. Contrary to some of his finger-style guitar contemporaries like William Tyler, Daniel Bachman or James Blackshaw there are no lengthy rambling instrumentals. The songs are penetrating and get right to their point with an atmosphere, a memory or story. While others have made comparisons to the work of John Martyn and Bert Jansch, I’ll add the early acoustic works of Gordon Lightfoot (with echoes of his subtle vocal warbles) and the technical crispness and vigor of John Jorgenson and Tommy Emmanuel.
Judging from the reflective nature of his lyrics, it seems like Culley’s work takes time to gestate, but once a piece is fledged it’s cohesive and thoughtfully formulated. There are curious ironies and juxtapositions between rhythms and words. The somewhat brief Come Over To Me seems to be based on heavy subjects, yet the meter, fingerings and melody are lively, but not exactly upbeat. Mote has lyrics (“Floating like a mote through sun or angels trapped in amber, we fall…”) that reference the abstract yet there is a steady grounded rhythm and melody. Whereas Semi-Precious, School Of The Heart, Spinneret and Namesake are reflective, even tender meditations, with the rhythmic fingerings of Spinneret reminiscent of some of Nick Drake’s work—and there is a humble elegance in Namesake.
The mood of a song and lyrics can also be direct and related like the more serious The River To The Cave—not sentimental or wallowing, but observant of circumstances. Vibrant lyrics and melody align in If We Were Free, with much of the verses being slightly-pitched spoken word observations with the final incantation “3 men are lowered into the ground…” abruptly punctuated with silence before returning one last time to the vigorous refrain (reminds me of Richard Thompson’s work).
Stripling isn’t without musing, delighting in the possibilities of enjoying a figurative or literal swim in the reverie of an Infinity Pool—it also is curiously similar rhythmically to the acoustic version of Layla that Eric Clapton recorded a number of years ago. There are also moments where advice is presented or experiences recounted as in Whey-Faced Phantoms, which evolves into a cautionary mantra and A.J. recalling the desolation of unexpected endings—in both, the melodies and harmonies echoing the starkness of a mood.
The album closes with Memory’s Like a Hunting Hawk, intensively focused with desire. There is, however, a pensive gentleness in the longing…solemn and hauntingly lyrical all at once. Also of special note are the pen and ink illustrations that decorate the CD and cover, as if from a notebook of youth: pondering, exploring, even brooding yet freely expressing. This CD made a long journey to me, and I’m glad it finally made it.
This is a solicited review.
CD: 68bpm 001 Time: 41:26
Website: http://drummassage.com/ (Purchase option links at website will be “live” as of 4/28/15)
Tracks: Chimes (Intro), 68BPM, Interlude, Rolls, Heartbeat I, Chimes Coda, Heartbeat II
Performed by Phil Didlake, Leah Gramsjohnson, Isabella Iatarola, Tessa Kaslewicz, Ben Meyers, Clara Natonabah and Steve Wilkes, with support from the Berklee College of Music. Field recordings from the Hear Cape Cod project
Something a bit different from our standard music review…what is known as “functional music.”
Whether by means of self-hypnosis, meditation (such as TM) or other approaches, there is a point where the body and mind can achieve a surprising state of awareness in the midst of a deep calm. Along with others, Dr. Herbert Benson used the term The Relaxation Response to describe a multi-step process for achieving this state. One method to assist with relaxation is by using various forms of music. I can attest anecdotally to the healing and calming powers of certain forms of music.
The Drummassage album is an outgrowth of a project started by Steve Wilkes (a faculty member at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts). Some may recall that Steve Wilkes and Ginny Fordham brought us their Hear Cape Cod project in 2013, a set of field recordings accompanied with remixes by many well-known ambient and experimental musicians as well as a companion album of songs inspired by Cape Cod (another in that series will be released later in 2015).
Drummassage started as an informal gathering and exploration of the possible healing and calming power of drums and drumming at Wilkes’s Berklee studio (an aside: Berklee offers various degrees and concentrations in music therapy). As work advanced on the project and became better known, performances were held at venues around the Berklee community for larger groups with participants placed within drum circles along with the percussionists. Native American drums made with indigenous woods of various types in Wilkes’s collection are used in these recordings. Instrumentation is all-acoustic, and the performances include quiet repetitive and low frequency rhythms with occasional counterpoint from other ambient percussion.
This first recording is in stereo (two channel) with the ultimate goal to produce additional recordings using surround-sound 5.1 mixes to more accurately replicate the experience of participating in the actual performances and therapy sessions. The stereo version is quite effective and Wilkes recommends using either a high quality audio system or headphones to obtain the best sonic results.
Since I have experience with inducing the relaxation response from having practiced self-hypnosis for many years (although not nearly as often as I should!), I can confirm that this stereo recording is quite effective. Often, I found the greatest relaxation being achieved (surprisingly) during the more active rhythm sections. Frequently, I lost a sense of time and either drifted to a deeper meditative state, off to sleep (which is permitted!) or found myself relating visual memories to the sounds during to the interludes (which have field recording excerpts).
The CD has a brief spoken-word introduction mixed with resonant wind chimes. There are three sections (68BPM, Heartbeat I and Heartbeat II) of extended slow muted trance-inducing rhythmic drumming (these will be especially effective if the listener’s sound system also includes a sub-woofer). Interlude is a brief rain shower with thunder, followed by Rolls, a series of building thundering washes (reminiscent of a passing storm). Outdoor sounds (chirping evening insects) return just before Heartbeat I begins.
Heartbeat I builds slowly, first a simple three beats and rest, then a layer of triplets is added to create a pulsing that is later supplemented with what sounds like rain-sticks before diminishing to the straight beat. The last interlude, Chimes Coda passes through with a gentle mix of environmental recordings. The final session, Heartbeat II, reintroduces the foundational three beat and rest pattern, which transforms again into a series of three triplets and a diddle (percussion rudiment term, two struck notes in succession instead of three). Periodically shaken percussion is added. For those who haven’t intentionally tried to induce a relaxation response before, it’s quite an unexpectedly pleasurable and invigorating experience (and can be habit-forming too). It can also improve one’s sense of awareness following a session.
There will be a CD release event and performance at 7PM on April 28, 2015 at The Red Room @ 939, in Boston, Massachusetts located at 939 Boylston Street.
This is a solicited review.
Eilean Rec 88 CD Time: 40:53
More on Twigs & Yarn: http://www.twigsandyarn.net/
Tracks: Hibernate, Sonora, Channeling, Cave Bears, In the Valley, Lend a Hand, Laelaps, Floes
Lauren McMurray and Stephen Orsak are Twigs & Yarn, and on their previous album (The Language of Flowers, my favorite album of 2012), the duo created it over a great distance (between Japan and Texas). Their work presses all the right buttons for me: it’s inventive, tender, melodic, and at times unexpected. T&Y takes me on a new journey every time I listen, yet there’s an inexplicable familiarity that I find comforting. There is also a curious child-like quality of discovery in the music.
On April 5th, 2015, Twigs & Yarn did a live segment on KOOP Radio in Austin, Texas that was (thankfully) streamed over the internet, and T&Y noted they hope to release another album later in 2015. I will link to the recording of the program if it is posted by KOOP (EDIT: Here is the link to the entire program: https://www.mixcloud.com/fadetoyellow/episode-164-fade-to-yellow-still-forms-drift/).
Over the course of their new album, Still Forms Drift I wonder if there is an intentional arc of how the pieces were developed. I detect that the tracks move from more melodic to experimental, and from rhythmic to more atmospheric and subdued, so there is a nice combination of moods and progression on the album.
A layered sonorous hum opens and eases the listener into Hibernate; sounds eddy between the channels (headphone or speakers). The music builds gradually and blends into a delicate yet immersive fabric where voices and distant cloaked sounds are revealed. Sonora is absolute magic—so romantic, delicately rhythmic, playful and with a hint of some of Raymond Scott’s electronic experiments of the 1950s and 60s. As it progresses, there is increasing comfort, dissolving enmeshed sound, then melodic humming. Exploring the layers, with repeated listens is like a treasure hunt, but then just listen again and disappear into it. It’s like a tender and pleasurable whisper during a dream.
Channeling moves to the outdoors, contemplating with the fauna and environs, then dissolving into a trance of gentle guitar, voices and comforting pulses. Gradually, the reverie subsides and a gentle reality emerges. Cave Bears opens a bit like an antique bell-chime clock, steady and somewhat glitchy. Beats, shifted repeating sounds and guitar harmonics are added and the rhythm slows. In The Valley is another memory of place, although more ambient and disconnected compared to Channeling. There is a slight grittiness to it as it progresses, with sounds that are less tangible, as in the edge of a dream. Lend a Hand is a song with two different parallel veiled spirits; an expression of yearning that moves in and out of focus…one voice moves to the distance, but then returns; as if eavesdropping on a one-sided conversation weaving in and out of gentle waves of guitar and entwined low resonant hums…a slowly rocking boat in the doldrums.
Perhaps the most meditative (and curiously metallic) of the pieces is Laelaps. I speculate that it’s an evening of lying on the ground outdoors with gazes cast to the sky in contemplation. If I have my Greek mythology correct, it was Zeus who cast the dog Laelaps into the stars as Canis Major in pursuit of the Teumessian fox, Canis Minor. With a largo of synthetic electronic sounds and somewhat compressed voices Floes closes the album with hints of a lullaby reminiscent of a well-worn music box.
There is so much wonderful in this album, and I was instantly smitten.
This is a solicited review.
Label: InsideOut Music: Two Clear Vinyl LPs (with CD IOMSECD 417)
Time: About 65 minutes with bonus material (Other formats available)
LP 1: Side 1: Out of Body, Wolflight, Love Song to a Vampire; Side 2: The Wheel’s Turning, Corycian Fire, Earthshine, Loving Sea
LP 2: Side 1: Black Thunder, Dust and Dreams, Heart Song; Side 2: (Extra Tracks) Pneuma, Midnight Sun (with Todmobile), Caress (on LP 2, but not the enclosed CD)
After a pair of tremendously successful Genesis Revisited tours in Europe, UK, Japan and the US (with many sold out concerts and shows added due to demand), I’m thrilled that Steve Hackett is back again creating new music. He did the historic material from his Genesis era a worthy justice, clearly an important part of his life (and heck, mine too) and career, and some of that material will always be part of his live shows, but clearly it was time to move on to new things.
I was fortunate to have a chance to hear a preview of Wolflight in Steve Hackett’s studio in the autumn of 2014 and my immediate impression then was that the music is incredibly cinematic—vibrant sound and images in the tales unfolding in the music, whether vocal or instrumental. The music is drawn from experiences, places visited, dreams, nightmares, ancient history and inspired by love. I sense that there is still even a bit of delicately blended (and not yet completely written) autobiographical experiences.
Wolflight is an album of contrasts, from broad filmic passages, some briefly anthemic, to moments of delicate beauty. There is no formula being rehashed from his earlier work, but some elements that are pleasantly familiar are mixed with the inventiveness and varied regional instrumentation that I have come to appreciate in Hackett’s work throughout his oeuvre. Steve’s primary collaborators continue to be keyboardist Roger King and his wife Jo Hackett, along with live show bandmates and production team: Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann, Benedict Fenner and others.
Out of Body is the eerie wolf-howl call and then energetic overture to the album, a brief taste of what’s to come. Title track, Wolflight opens gently, setting a scene of calm, but the challenges of the tale are expressed in orchestral and sharp-edged guitar solos in contrast with the acoustic twelve-string verses—a powerful title track that has proven to adhere well in my memory, despite the complexity of the piece. In addition to the contrast of sound there is also the irony of subject—that of pleasure in pain and the attraction of potential danger, which is the exploration of Love Song to a Vampire with Hackett’s hushed verses (almost a lullaby), powerful refrains and soulful peregrinations on his Les Paul guitar.
The Wheel’s Turning revisits some of the sights and sounds of works as far back as the album Please Don’t Touch—carnivals of inspiration and a bit of time-travel (with shades of his Squackett collaboration with Chris Squire in the marvelous song from the album A Life Within a Day, Divided Self). At first there’s the basic song then orchestral moves to a devilish romp with a brief homage to The Air Conditioned Nightmare (from the album Cured) and then his album Blues With a Feeling before returning to strains of Bach and the memory of that distant carnival. Creating a strong sense of place, Corycian Fire, after a gentle opening, Hackett uses his highly processed vocals like an instrument to accompany the orchestral, choral and regional instruments in exploring the history of an ancient underworld, which has some similarities to his earlier and less adorned instrumental Steppes (from the album Defector for those who have listened since the early days). Earthshine and Loving Sea are a respite from the album’s vigorous beginnings (an intermission similar to the days of changing a film reel in a theater). Earthshine, a classical guitar fantasy merges into the joyful twelve-string and vocal harmonies of Loving Sea, sailing freely.
Black Thunder rumbles with raw emotion; part history and part social commentary on slavery and civil rights struggles of Martin Luther King with an homage (in the liner notes) to Richie Havens (and his well-known song Freedom) who worked with Hackett on his second solo album. Dust and Dreams is at first a vamp of languid movements and drifting mirages that adds layers and builds to portray scenes of divergent impressions and ultimately it’s resolved in a returning to the comfort of Heart Song, dedicated to Hackett’s wife and creative partner Jo.
The bonus material on side 4 of the LPs (two solo guitar tracks on either side of a collaboration with the Icelandic band Todmobile) fits quite well with the overall album. Pneuma (translates as breath, soul and spirit) is a subdued rumination, a calming re-centering of sorts. Midnight Sun is powerful, melodic and pleasing in its chord structure and rhythms. Caress gently closes the album (which is on the LP, but not the CD).
Despite the sharp contrasts in the instrumentation and sources of inspiration, Wolflight is a very cohesive album, which upon a few listens will become deeply and solidly embedded in the canon of Hackett’s work. The Steve Hackett Band will be celebrating his 40 year solo career with a tour in 2015, Acolyte to Wolflight. I hope to attend a show (but tickets sell quickly!) and I urge readers to get tickets to a show, which will certainly be quite a visual and aural experience, as all of Steve Hackett’s concerts have been since the late 1970s.
Seeing John Edginton’s recent documentary Genesis: Sum of the Parts, one might be left with the impression that after Steve Hackett left Genesis in 1977 he went on to do a few minor projects and then disappeared into the ether. On the contrary, after his highly innovative work with Genesis during the tremendously creative period from 1971 to 1977, Hackett has had a varied and successful solo career of nearly 40 years with as many albums, including some well-known collaborations, songs in international charts (Wolflight is in the UK charts, as I write this), and a faithful legion of fans who are spreading his work to a new generation of listeners.
If anything, Steve Hackett is more vital and relevant than ever with new-found and ever-growing energy that belies the span of his career—continuing to blaze new frontiers in music and live shows.
Tench – TCH-07 CD: About 35 Minutes
Label and Information: http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH07.html
Tracks: Stasis, Division, Hang, Counterpoise, New Lights, Congruence, Inertia, Parity
I read something recently by a musician whose work I admire about disconnecting from modern life, even for a short while, and in the time away a sense of one’s true self may return, even briefly. During that time, relationships with others might even improve. The mystic writer of the Victorian era, Richard Jefferies also wrote of this in some of his essays in the latter part of the 19th century. The pace of what I call life’s ‘carousel’ is sometimes so dizzying, and at those moments, no matter what beckons it’s often time to get away and seek a refuge. Personally, my quickest solution is to go for a walk in the woods, or even local streets away from the din in the mind or work at the desk.
M. Ostermeier’s new CD Still offers a cleansing respite with both passive and active listening. It took a few tries (first while doing other things and then sitting and focusing on the music) to condition myself, but by the time of the third audition, I was tuned-in. Most of the pieces have a piano-dominant center, the primary melody or phrases, and there are sonic backdrops delicately stitched in which complement a given theme. The melodic arrangement is often more akin to Far Eastern rather than Western musical structure, but it isn’t always the case. There is no ominous darkness here, only soft and gentle light. In fact, Stasis opens the album as if the Sun is rising and shadows can be observed to course slowly across the camera obscura of the imagination.
From what I recall of M. Ostermeier’s splendid last album, The Rules of Another Small World, this work seems more focused on acoustic instrumentation with electronics and sampled sounds taking a more secondary role. The album is largely a preservation of the quietude, but there are moments as in Counterpoise, the only marginally forceful piece on the album, where after attention is grabbed it turns into an almost gentle pattering massage, which is eased with a slightly distant piano and other microtones. The fabric of Congruence is gently percussive, reminiscent of dampened marimbas. The CD closes at its most broadly sonorous and harmonic in Parity, with only a hint of foreboding, yet thankfully, no sudden dose of reality.
As is often the case with meditation or self-hypnosis, one loses a sense of time, after entering into a state of deep relaxation. What the clock tells us is a half an hour feels as if it’s only moments, not easily parted from, but wanting to return–like a dream one doesn’t want to end. It’s often difficult to find time to escape to a quiet forest, lake or one’s favorite place for truly as long as is needed, so in lieu of that disappear into some contemplation and take time to think, reflect and be Still.