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Review: Brainkiller – Colourless Green Superheroes

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RareNoiseRecords CD RNR033 Time: 45:53  (LP version coming soon)

http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/brainkiller-store

Tracks: 1) The Vindicator Returns, 2) Scribble, 3) Empty Words (featuring Coppé), 4) Top Of The World, 5) Orange Grey Shades, 6) A Piedi Verso Il Sole, 7) Plates, 8) Noodlin, 9) Labratorio, 10) Secret Mission, 11) Otaku Goes To A Rave, 12) Viv, 13) To Be Continued

Band: Jacob Koller: Piano/Fender Rhodes/Keyboards, Brian Allen: Trombone/fx, Hernan Hecht: Drums

Wit and subtlety are often hard to find in much of what passes for music today.  Then there’s music that takes itself so seriously that it might collapse under the weight of its own ponderous self-importance.  Music isn’t always about the sound, it’s sometimes about the spaces and the silence—it doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-frontal assault on the senses.

A few years ago Brainkiller released their first album The Infiltration on RareNoiseRecords (#RNR010).  Initially, this album caught my attention because it was a trio with a trombone, their music sounded playful and quirky, and it had some roots in other artists whose work I admired (Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Brand X, Godley-Creme, Weather Report, Return To Forever).  Here’s a sample track, Casketch from their first album:

Casketch 

Colourless Green Superheroes is a series vignettes (some atmospheric like Empty Words, and some funky) exploring melodic, rhythmic and at time ethereal motifs and the tracks don’t rest long on a given theme before shifting direction.  In a way, this album is a soundtrack in search of a film.  There is also a restful ease throughout the album (making it perfect for a languid summer day or when the night is young), but there are moments when cool breezes blow and there is a jaunty awakening, as in Scribble.  The spirited Fender Rhodes opening phrases take me back to Brand X’s Disco Suicide*.  There is, however, an unexpectedly laid-back funky response from trombone and percussion, a bit like The Tortoise and the Hare—as if the Tortoise retorts, “Chill, I’ll get there…”

Scribble

The themes introduced in the anthemic opening track The Vindicator Returns are explored further in Top Of The World, at first on a solo piano before the full trio plays off the rhythms and melodies.  As in their first album, there are moments of recorded studio banter or live voices, which add a sense of spontaneity—also evident in the veiled conversations during the furtive Orange Grey Shades (my favorite track on the album).  One can make up their own story to accompany the music.

The Vindicator Returns

There are times when the album is more contemplative as in A Piedi Verso Il Sole, a reflective lament of sorts.  Yet the album shifts (before the vibe gets too heavy) to more raucous themes in Plates.  The mood lightens further with Noodlin—a spirited piano solo (think a leisurely evening at a night club…at first), before moving to lighthearted voices (steering the improvisation), muted trombone solos and ultimately a vigorous trio romp.  The upbeat repartee continues with the march-like Labratorio and perhaps the most vigorous track on the album Secret Mission (like a chase scene from one of the Bourne films)—see the video below for an excerpt.

 

Earlier themes are again revisited in the closing tracks of the album Otaku Goes To a Rave (my other favorite track on the album) mixing in some Scribble[s] and polyrhythms from the drums and piano.  There’s an interesting combination of 1970s-era electric piano work combined with energetic phrasings similar to what the band Zammuto (ex-The Books) is working on these days.  The album closes with the peculiar and brief Viv—a prepared piano musing, followed by To Be Continued, a reflective and somewhat subdued “roll credits” piece.

This album functions well as both incidental music or for straight-on listening and as soon as it ends I wonder where the time has gone…and so, REPLAY!

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Photo of Brainkiller Courtesy of RareNoiseRecords

* – For those curious about Disco Suicide by Brand X: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdAPEEW-OUA

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This is a solicited review.


Review: Berserk! (Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari and Lorenzo Feliciati)

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RareNoise Records CD RNR031 Time: 49:41 (vinyl soon and hi-res digital)

http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/berserk and www.facebook.com/berserkband

Tracks: 1) Macabre Dance, 2) Fetal Claustrophobia, 3) Blow, 4) Not Dead, 5) Clairvoyance, 6) First, 7) Dream Made Of Wind, 8) Wait Until Dark, 9) Latent Prints, 10) Dream Made Of Water

Band: Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (Voice, Electronics, Organ, Guitar) and Lorenzo Feliciati (Electric and Upright Bass) with: Gianluca Petrella: Trombone & Effects (tracks 1,2,4,5,7,10), Fabrizio Puglisi: Piano & ARP Odyssey (6,8,9), Jamie Saft: Keyboards (1,2,9), Eivind Aarset: Guitars (3,4,7,9,10), Sandro Satta: Alto Sax (3,9), Cristiano Calcagnile: Drums & Effects (4,5), Pat Mastelotto: Drums & Effects (6,8,9), Simone Cavina: Drums (1,2)

Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari aka LEF and Lorenzo Feliciati form the core of Berserk!, along with some other familiar names in the RareNoiseRecords stable, including Feliciati’s fellow Naked Truth bandmate Pat Mastelotto.

We all need a venting catharsis now and then—some folks resort to primal scream therapy, but generally I’ll pick music to assist with exorcising my darkened bilious tendencies.  The new self-titled album from Berserk! seems like an effective cure for those intractable days when the pile gets too deep and the unrelenting Myth of Sisyphus comes to mind.  Despite the band and album moniker, there is a broad mix of dynamics in the album and it’s marked by many (nearly neck-snapping) contrasts in sound and rhythm.

Berserk! isn’t a broad spectrum motoric assault on the senses, but it deftly selects its points of release, building like a suspense thriller with the rage boiling over every so often.  The album also teases and mocks (from the gently maniacal whistling in the opener Macabre Dance to the background telephone ringing in Fetal Claustrophobia…yes, I turned my head to see if my phone was ringing!).  There’s also a brief moment of saxy playfulness (albeit dark) in the reflective interlude Blow before entering the backstreets and dark alleys of Not Dead (shades of the growling Tom Waits and Sparklehorse duet Dog Door from the 2001 album It’s A Wonderful Life) with raspy voices and clusters of percussion pushing against an unyielding darkness.

 

Feliciati’s bass work throughout the album is reminiscent of Percy Jones’s work with Brand X, particularly the earlier freer-form improvised and less commercial version of “The X”.  The aggressive horns, meandering piano, fast-changing rhythms and moods (as in Fetal Claustrophobia) also remind me a great deal of one of my favorite King Crimson albums, Lizard (under-appreciated until Steven Wilson remastered it with Robert Fripp).  The treatment of Gianluca Petrella’s horns throughout much of the album often sounds like the thundering Mellotron horns used in Lizard.  The sharp inventive contrasts in instrumentation also remind me of Frank Zappa and early albums by Godley and Creme (as in the albums L and Freeze Frame).  Yet, there’s little humor in Berserk!—the focus is strictly business.

The middle portion of the album is furtive and contemplative in spirit (like the tracks Clairvoyance and First) and eventually LEF’s vocals (sung here, not spoken) break through, channeling John Wetton.  Note: Don’t forget to listen for R2D2.  There’s a brief pause (the calm before the storm?) with ethereal atmospherics and horn work in Dream Made Of Wind before the closing section of the album begins with a tender solo piano largo and transition to a massed rhythmic vocal and ultimately a full band assault in Wait Until Dark leading into an alto sax ensemble of Latent Prints (the feeling of KC’s Lizard returns) and moves into a roaring full-clustered rip.  The album closes with the ominously thunderous and raging vocal domination of Dream Made Of Water—there’s the Berserk!

Had a tough day in the trenches? Hold the rage at-bay (warn the neighbors, shut the doors and turn up the amp) and have a listen.  I think you’ll feel better.

LEF_FELLorenzo Feliciati and Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari – Courtesy of RareNoiseRecords

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This is a solicited review.


Concert: Stick Men – Infinity Hall and Bistro – March 27, 2013

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Stick Men: https://www.facebook.com/stickmenofficial

Tony Levin: http://www.papabear.com/

Pat Mastelotto: http://patmastelotto.com/

Markus Reuter: http://www.markusreuter.com/

Stick Men dot Net will take you to: http://iapetus-store.com/album/deep

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I’m not often prone to numerical connections, but it occurred to me last night on the long quiet drive home from the woods of northwestern Connecticut that here I was in year 13 of this century and it has been (almost to the day) 31 years since I had last seen Tony Levin on stage in Syracuse, New York with the 1982 incarnation of King Crimson (Fripp, Bruford, Belew and Levin) in support of their incredible return album Discipline.  Although Tony Levin might disagree, to my eyes his energy and spirit hasn’t aged a day in those 31 years.  Last night’s concert in Norfolk, Connecticut was an incredible display of musicianship, sound and an intimate connection between the musicians and the audience (especially in a small hall like Infinity with great acoustics, sound system and a beautifully restored historic building).

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In one way or another this trio of Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter all have a connection to King Crimson (and Robert Fripp) in various incarnations and ongoing KC ProjeKcts, but Stick Men while embracing KC’s influential work, have continued to develop their own voices in progressive rock including vital relationships with other bands, artists in addition each members respective solo work.

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The Bows Come Out!

The set list last night was largely from their new album DEEP (all but two tracks) in addition to some real treats.  Tony Levin made a special point to express appreciation to the audience for being so receptive to the new material, rather than insisting on hearing only the old (including many King Crimson favorites)–in effect progressive rock music…PROGRESSES.  One thing that I wanted to see after listening intensively to DEEP is just how much of the melodies each instrument would take, and I was surprised to see that many sections that I thought were coming from Reuter’s Touch Guitar turned out to be melody exchanges between Reuter and Levin (the Chapman Stick being an extremely versatile instrument—not just for the bass line).  Here are the tracks (along with some brief notes…not on every track, and nothing that I can write will do justice to the intensity and clarity of the sound last night–something to be experienced first-hand!):

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1) Nude Ascending Staircase: As is the beginning of the album DEEP, this performance set the tone for the entire night, a seriously raucous (and fun) sound with deep visceral notes from Levin’s stick.

2) On/Off

3) Crack In The Sky

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4) Breathless (from Robert Fripp’s 1979 solo album Exposure): This Fripp album is incredible, and it’s still as vital as when I first placed the LP on my turntable in 1979.  This was an absolutely shredding performance of this piece.  Markus Reuter’s faithful interpretation of Fripp’s work (searing guitar) was just chilling.  The trio seriously cooked on this.

5) Cusp

6) Infinity Improv (free improvisation): Tony Levin noted that they record each of their performances (and I had noticed some stage and ambient microphones on stage before the show) in the hopes that some of the improvisations and recordings could lead to future releases.

7) Horatio: Thunderous!

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8) Whale Watch: Tony Levin noted that despite his many years of having played the Chapman Stick, he was still learning more about what the instrument could do (and its often unpredictable results).  He noted that some nights Whale Watch could turn out differently, depending on whether the instrument needed to be wrestled to the ground (I’m paraphrasing).  It’s the story of being on a whale watch, from the start of an ocean journey to spotting, pursuit and arrival to see a whale up-close.

9) Industry (from the 1984 King Crimson album Three of a Perfect Pair): The growl and electronic percussion.

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Pat is A-blur

10) Hide The Trees: The growing tension, exchange and release in this piece is deliciously enticing.

11) Open, Pt. 3 (from Stick Men’s 2012 improvisation-based album Open)

12) Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2 (from the 1973 King Crimson album Larks’ Tongue in Aspic): It was exciting to hear this piece live again, as it was in the concert in 1982 (and previous KC concerts that I had attended)—also, on the heals of the recent 40th anniversary release of the re-mastered album.

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Tony Levin playfully taking a stage photo for the ongoing Crimson Chronicles

13) Encore: A Stick Men arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird: Let’s hope that this ends up on a future live album—a forceful and experimental rendition of Stravinsky’s 1910 work.

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After the Encore

It was a real treat to observe the persona of each musician on-stage: Tony Levin’s classic broad stance and kinetically expressive movements (resulting in many blurry photos!), Markus Reuter’s calm scanning of the crowd as he switched from touch-fingering his guitar to using it in a more conventional guitar-stance, and Pat Mastelotto’s highly expressive performance on percussion and electronic devices—and just when I thought that he had no more tricks in the bag, out he’d pull even more paraphernalia, including a bow!

At one point during the night Tony Levin noted that King Crimson was still alive, not broken-up, yet (somewhat comically) Levin noted that Robert Fripp had recently attended a Stick Men show (and paid for his ticket, despite a guest pass) and in response to a question about when a King Crimson tour might occur again, Fripp responded “Pain.”  I think Mr. Fripp has moved on, and is enjoying his semi-retirement and over-seeing of the re-mastering and re-releasing of their massive archive of concerts and other recordings.

Stick Men Deep

If you’re within striking distance of a Stick Men show—please go see them!  They’re appearing at the Iridium Jazz Club this Friday (March 29) and Saturday (March 30) nights in New York City.  I’m sure they’ll be on the road again soon.  Bravo and thank you to the Stick Men!  Oh, and buy their new album DEEP–see also this great review of the album by my friend over at Horse Bits: http://horsebits-jrc.blogspot.com/2012/11/deep-by-stick-men.html

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Note:  Click on any photo to see an enlarged version.  Please contact me if there are any factual errors in what I have written above.  I have many other high resolution photos of the show, and if you chose to copy or repost any of the photos, please credit me “wajobu.com”.  You can’t see them, but the photos ARE watermarked.

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Cheerful Pat!


Catching The Groove with Martin Schulte

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More information on Martin Schulte: https://soundcloud.com/martinschulte

Musician and DJ Martin Schulte is the nom de plume of Marat Shibaev, who is from Kazan, Russia (about 500 miles east of Moscow, in the Republic of Tartarstan).  Whether working, relaxing or out for a night, there are times when a groove just needs to be caught, and Martin Schulte helps get me there.  Without getting too much in the sub-genres of his music (which could spark a debate like which speaker is the best, in audio circles), let’s just stick with words like Electronica, Techno with small doses of ambient field recordings.

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His music is solidly rooted in analog modular sequenced synthesizer works (latter day Kraftwerk, for example).  His latest album Slow Beauty is inspired by photography and memories, including images he has taken of the beautiful landscapes near his home (in sharp contrast to the stark winter vista depicted on some of his previous albums).  Some tracks have deep visceral* grooves, others are more delicate, sampled and atmospheric, but there’s always infectious motion involved.  I have favorites on all four of his albums that I’ve referenced—excellent soundtracks for all sorts of places and experiences.

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Since I’m rather old-fashioned, and prefer physical releases, to date I have four of Martin Schulte’s CDs, three released on Lantern/Nature Bliss and one on RareNoiseRecords.  All are available at Darla Records (US Distributor).  There are many other releases available, including some live recordings (see links at his Soundcloud page).  Samples of each of his albums are shown below.

* – Although not essential, a subwoofer is a beneficial accessory for the full effect.

Slow Beauty (2012):

Treasure (2011):

Silent Stars (2010):

Odysseia (2009):

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Please Note: With the exception of the cover of the album Silent Stars, all images are by Marat Shibaev and are used with the permission of Marat Shibaev who retains all rights, credit and copyrights to these images.


Review: Naked Truth – Ouroboros

RealNoiseRecords RNR029 (CD & Digital) Time: 49:51

Record Label Websites: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/

Sound Samples: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/jukebox/naked-truth/ouroboros/

Tracks: 1) Dust; 2) Dancing With The Demons Of Reality; 3) Garden Ghosts; 4) Orange; 5) Right Of Nightly Passage; 6) Yang Ming Has Passed; 7) In A Dead End With Joe; 8) Neither I

Ouroboros, the eternal consuming and replenishing serpent can be seen in the singular (nothing outside of itself) or in a broader societal context.  In this case, my interpretation is more of a collective urban consciousness.  This is an album of motion, not of rest, an album of experiences, not of contemplation (at least until after the intense experience is over).  It’s a fusion-brew of industrial, urban and cosmic sounds, and a potent follow-up to the 2011 album Shizaru (the lesser-known fourth primate of see, hear, speak, and DO no evil).

Graham Haynes has joined the Naked Truth quartet on electric cornet and trumpet (following Cuong Vu’s departure) along with original members, King Crimson alum drummer Pat Mastelotto, English keyboardist Roy Powell, and Italian Lorenzo Feliciati on electric bass and guitars.

Shizaru from 2011

First a warning: Prepare your audio system (and your ears) for a workout.  Ouroboros will shake out the cobwebs.  The opening track Dust is the warm-up, the testing of the systems.  It’s a more keyboard dominant, brass punctuated bookend before entering the fuzzed sonic maelstrom.  It has the atavistic fibers of many eras, and I’m old enough to have been around for the many incarnations of King Crimson, Weather Report and other Jazz-Fusion, Progressive Rock variants, and it’s all there–the solid musicianship and the sometimes angst-filled drive.  There’s also a hint of Miroslav Vitous’s 1976 spacey funk inspired album, Magical Shepherd.

Track One: Dust

 

Next, place yourself in a traffic jam with an impetuous case of not-so-mild road rage (in the aggressive spirit of KC’s Neurotica, sans vocals), and that’s Dancing With The Demons Of Reality.  The pauses are the waiting at traffic lights, restoring momentary sanity, but tension builds with pressurized chromatics, electronics and percussion before subsiding.  Garden Ghosts is a respite; at first a progression of sonic fragments, a meandering prepared piano, percussion and fuzz-bass.  The trumpet is the roaming spirit joined by a languid beat, murky electronics and guitar background; ultimately it ends as a brass-teasing percussive danse macabre.

At the start of Orange it’s disguised as an atmospheric piece, a quiet evening perhaps—serenade with cornet, but then diverts quickly with syncopated rhythms (bass, guitar and keyboards reminiscent of Kazumi Watanabe’s work), before returning to the more sedate themes.  Right Of Nightly Passage is an instrumental recasting of the driving rhythmic “heat in the jungle” anagram.  Clustered horns interlace with the cadence of the frenetic scene.  The spirit of Miles Davis’s later more electronic work is channeled in Yang Ming Has Passed.  It’s a menacing and deeply rhythmic piece (sounding like it could be dock-side in a shipping yard) with traded riffs between bass, percussion and trumpet meshed together by a high-cover of electronics.

The heavy backbeat continues in the darkly raucous In A Dead End With Joe.  The trumpet soars and trills against the syncopated drums, electric guitar and keyboard phrases.  Neither I is the other keyboard-textured closing bookend of the album.  It displays some Far Eastern influences, and is more experimental and atmospheric with clustered brass, melodic percussion and roving piano before finding its beat.  By contrast to the rest of the album, it closes with a gentle yet furtive purity.

Ouroboros is an adventurous and deliciously brash album that reveals glimpses of the eternal and sometimes daunting cycle of existence from different perspectives.  Naked Truth is a sturdy, tight and vibrant quartet, and I’ll be very interested to see and hear where they take us next.

Naked Truth – courtesy of RareNoiseRecords

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This is a solicited review.


Review: Animation – Transparent Heart

RareNoiseRecords RNR028 – Time: 76:59 (CD & Digital Files)

Label & Soundfiles: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/jukebox/animation/transparent-heart/

Artist Website: http://www.animationismusic.com/

Band: Bob Belden: sax/flute; Peter Clagett: trumpet & effects; Jacob Smith: bass; Roberto Verastegui: keyboards & samplers; Matt Young: drums

Tracks: 1) Terra Incognito; 2) Urbanoia; 3) Cry In The Wind; 4) Transparent Heart; 5) Seven Towers; 6) Provocatism; 7) Vanishment; 8) Occupy!

Bob Belden is a composer, arranger, conductor, musician as well as past head of A&R for Blue Note Records.  He is also has a strong sense of the history of Jazz, including being a scholar of the works of Miles Davis, and having received Grammy Awards for the reissues of Miles Davis’s work on Columbia Records.  In his own work, Belden is a story-teller of the lives of others, whether orchestral, jazz-fusion or soundtracks.

Perhaps his best known works are the 2001 Grammy Award-winning Black Dahlia (the mysterious tragic death of actress Elizabeth Short’s in 1947) and the more recent collective world jazz fusion productions (with Miles Davis alums) Miles From India (2008), and Miles Español – New Sketches of Spain (2011).  In the guise of the project known as Animation, Belden released the album Asiento in 2010, a live interpretation of Miles Davis’s 1970 album Bitches Brew, along with a 2011 3D60 surround sound remix of the album, entitled Agemo (both on RareNoiseRecords).

Belden’s latest album Transparent Heart represents a shift in his work; this time the story is his own.  It is a musical memoir of his life in New York City for more than the past three decades, and the dramatic changes seen since his first arrival in Manhattan in 1979 with Woody Herman’s band—the post-disco era.  Not only is this album personal, it’s also a social and political history and commentary of this period.  There are common threads throughout the decades (not the least of which is fear: from Communism to terrorism and the latest, the corporate takeover of America and the rise and fall of Wall Street and the financial sector and the revolt against it and corporate dominance).

During this period there was a gradual change from the mean streets of the 1970s (as depicted in the films French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and especially my favorite Taxi Driver) to the gentrification and commercialization of many areas throughout the five boroughs of NYC.  We have seen huge changes since the 1970s in the music and arts scene, and in places like Times Square, Harlem and Greenwich Village.  New York City in 1979 was a LONG way from Belden’s own home in Goose Creek, South Carolina.  For Transparent Heart, Belden assembled a group of young musicians from his alma mater, the University of North Texas, ranging in age from 19 to 32.

Like the opening to a 1970s era film, Terra Incognito is the overview, the panning shot of Manhattan with its cavernous avenues of towers, and Belden’s first impressions seen wide-eyed with young optimism.  It’s a majestic and confident arrival, although a view from above.  By contrast, in this new city, there is another side; despite the city’s size and population there is isolation and the unknown, and living in the rough neighborhoods, a long way from home is what Urbanoia is about (and the old NYC time clock on the other end of the phone, a companion to some).  The track also has a contrasting section, more up-tempo giving the impression of a city on the move; pulsing and lurching.  Trumpet and soprano sax trade solos like people dodging the traffic of the rhythm section in mid-town or up-town.  There are phrases in this track that remind me of works by Weather Report (funk and fusion), Miroslav Vitous’s Magical Shepard, and even sections of Deodato’s (popular at the time on the radio) 2001 Space Odyssey, a reinterpretation of Strauss.

As big as New York City is, there is also the personal side to the city, and encounters with people in need.  Cry In The Wind recounts the aftermath of a woman in Belden’s neighborhood being stabbed, and him staying with her until help arrived.  It’s the somber voices of solo flute and trumpet, and the isolation of the moment.  Some of the hopeful opening themes are reintroduced in Transparent Heart, this time with a more turbulent undercurrent pulse of the city and stronger rhythms.  This is the era of Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock (with the ground-breaking hard-hitting percussive and inventive track Rockit) and a bit later, Miles Davis’s Tutu.  This was also the time when there was a great effort by NYC authorities to fight crime and clean-up the streets.

In some respects Seven Towers begins its life in February of 1993 with the first terrorist bombing on the World Trade Center.  First-responder and air-traffic control radios open the track, and the undercurrent of rhythm and state of alert and fear that surrounded the south of Manhattan for eight years until September 11, 2001 when the bottom fell out of everything (security and economic).  The track deteriorates into a frenzy of chaotic and searching rhythms and solos as the events unfold.  Scattered electric piano, flute and drums continue in the middle of the track as if they are the ongoing cloud of debris and smoke that existed for days after the attack as determined rescuers cleared the debris and searched for survivors.  The track closes with a building and re-energized rhythm and trumpet solo, as if Manhattan is determined to recover, and get back to normal.

 

After the 9/11 attack lower Manhattan was a different place, businesses closed, clean-up began, people were searching for missing loved-ones, and NYC was in a constant state of alert.  Posters and memorials appeared spontaneously as people ventured out onto the streets to see the aftermath of the attacks.  Provocatism is about the post-9/11 experience, survival, surveillance and exploration in the neighborhoods, with an energetic pace of fighting for survival.  Much like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, many residents in lower Manhattan, including artists and musicians left the area and could no longer afford to return as damaged neighborhoods were redeveloped.  Vanishment is the embodiment of this sense of loss; a lone flute, mournful rhythm, and the lament of a muted trumpet.

With the Recession economic meltdown of the mid to late 2000s, it was the big banks and Wall Street financial institutions that received the bailouts, not the people whose jobs, assets and homes were lost due to risky bundled investments sold by the very institutions that received the bailouts (perceived by many as economic terrorism by corporations against citizens who ultimately would pay the bill).  The reaction was (and still is) the Occupy Wall Street movement that spread across America.  The final track Occupy! expresses the anger and frustration of the protesters and law enforcement trying to contain the crowds.  In this the full band plays the part of the crowds of protesters (sometimes organized chaos) and solos are the voices of the town halls and mike-checks interlaced with field and law enforcement recordings.  Glimpses of the original (although altered and subdued) trumpet and sax theme return from Terra Incognito to illustrate that it’s still Manhattan, but things have changed with the passage of time.

Transparent Heart is an album of discovery, wide-eyed optimism, conflict, activism, conflicting ideologies, displacement, and the results of terrorism (warfare and economic) on a city, its art-scene and most of all, its people.  This is not an album for sitting down and relaxing to; it’s a thoughtful, skillful and eye-opening musical diary that forces reflection about the state of our world, politics and economic foundations in the spirit of composers and activists like Stravinsky and Copland.  It’s thought-provoking and riveting.

 

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This is a solicited review.


Winter Garden: Eraldo Bernocchi – Harold Budd – Robin Guthrie

RareNoiseRecords - RNR021 - CD 2011 - 47:21

Available from: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/bernocchi-budd-guthrie

Also available from: http://darla.com/index.php

Tracks: 1) Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You; 2) Losing My Breath; 3) Winter Garden; 4) Entangled; 5) Harmony And The Play Of Light; 6) Heavy Heart Some More; 7) White Ceramic; 8) Stay With Me; 9) South Of Heaven; 10) Dream On

There are certain situations, places, visions, works of art or music that evoke emotions or memories that defy explanation; reactions that are beyond words, or perhaps descriptions that cannot do a sensation or experience justice. They are in effect, indescribable.  This is the alluring feeling I am left with after listening to “Winter Garden”, the first simultaneous release by Eraldo Bernocchi (Italian musician and producer), Harold Budd (pianist and composer) & Robin Guthrie (producer, guitarist and founder of Cocteau Twins and Violet Indiana) on the RareNoiseRecords label.

In the December 2011 issue of HiFi Zine I reviewed Harold Budd’s latest solo work, “In The Mist”. (Please see: http://www.hifizine.com/2011/12/harold-budd-in-the-mist/ ).  I won’t dwell much on Budd’s many prior collaborations, other than to say that he has worked with many artists, including Robin Guthrie on at least seven releases.  I am familiar with Budd’s work with Eraldo Bernocchi on Music For ‘Fragments From The Inside”–music for an art installation by Petulia Mattioli (a long time collaborator of Bernocchi).  “Fragments…” was recorded live in 2006 and released on Sub Rosa as catalog #SR239 JC.  Coincidentally, Petulia Mattioli provided the graphic design and photos for “Winter Garden”.

I admit to knowing little of Eraldo Bernocchi’s extensive prior work, and that exploration is for another time, so I will stay focused here on what I know.   For background, I offer some brief thoughts on recent overlapping collaborations with both artists and Harold Budd: the 2011 Darla release entitled “Bordeaux” with Robin Guthrie, as well as “Fragments…” with Bernocchi.  In “Fragments…” Budd’s piano work presents as a languid yet grounded introduction to Bernocchi’s electronic peregrinations consisting of treatments, rhythms, samples and deep pulses.  Budd’s piano seems to reach for and tame the electronic wanderings while sensuously weaving, almost teasing Bernocchi’s explorations.  To close the seven-part work of “fragments”, Budd’s piano returns as the foundation of the work—how this related to the video installation, I don’t know.

With “Bordeaux”, the nine named tracks aren’t driven by rhythm, but by Guthrie’s guitar work forming fabrics of textures, colors and emotions for Budd to gently punctuate.  The feeling of this work is of warmth and sensuousness.  Guthrie usually leads-in with his layered shimmering guitar before Budd responds, to play off the direction and mood that Guthrie has set.  There are exceptions to this on pieces like “So Many Short Years Ago”, “The Belles of Saint Andrew” and “Southern Shore” where Guthrie’s textures respond to Budd’s piano phrasing and chord changes.

In “Winter Garden”, as the album’s title suggests, there is a chilled and mysterious sense of expansive desolation throughout.  It is imbued with the vividness of the changing color of a winter sky; sharp golden light to warm the blue-grey chill of the winter air.  There is also a dream-state cinematic quality to this album.  The trio of Bernocchi, Budd & Guthrie play as a meshed ensemble with each artist taking the lead, depending on the piece or feeling being expressed.

I posit that this album is more than just collected individual tracks, but it is a sonic novella.  The titles and accompanying music express a direction, emotion or location in a somewhat enigmatic unknown story.  Perhaps it is imagined or real, or a combination of both.  It is evident that the opening track “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You” is a beacon cast as the main theme (played by Budd) that later returns in “Winter Garden” and again in track 9 “South of Heaven”, each in slightly altered forms.  I speculate that track 9 is the actual ending of the overall “story”, with track 10 “Dream On” being a postscript.  To me, this album presents in sound, as a cohesive and plausible story.  A brief overview of the tracks:

1) Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You: Budd’s piano takes the main theme with Guthrie’s layered guitar and light treatments from Bernocchi.  The theme is an entreaty of sorts and there is a feeling of longing and desolation in the music.

2) Losing My Breath: There are long pauses that create a sense of tension in the theme, played by Guthrie, with brief responses from Budd.  A sense of suspension and anticipation is apparent with slow movement to arrive at a destination.

3) Winter Garden: The title track, with main theme by Budd and supporting chords and bass line by Guthrie and Bernocchi.  Despite what seems to be a desired arrival and sense of place, there is a dissonance in the sound overlays that I perceive as portraying doubt, a possible foreshadowing. Yet, there is also comfort and resolution in the theme.

4) Entangled: Bernocchi begins with a pulsing bass line, a sense of apprehension, but also movement with descending keyboard tones as the piece progresses.  The “conversation” is between Budd’s treated and bending piano and Guthrie’s guitar melodies and chords, with Bernocchi overlaying rhythmic intrigue.

5) Harmony And The Play Of Light:  A soft bass pulsing with layered keyboards and guitar, but here the piano is compressed, piercing the background and giving a sense of brightness.  There is also a feeling of suspension and anticipation.

6) Heavy Heart Some More: The feeling in this track is somber, with a foreboding as it advances: deep piano and bass notes creating a sense of darkness.

7) White Ceramic: This track, to me, seems to be a pause of sorts (and I admit to having some trouble placing this is in the overall story).  Perhaps it’s an aftermath.  The tones are bell-like and the phrasing and melodies are wandering, and seem to me to be searching.

8) Stay With Me: A quiet beginning, piano and layered electronics leading to a subtle rhythmic backdrop and then movement, a sense of traveling somewhere again, perhaps from the winter landscape to return to an unknown destination.

9) South Of Heaven: The recapitulation of the slightly altered opening theme on piano, layered in shimmering guitars and bending electronics and subtle (deep) comforting bass notes, suggesting an ending and perhaps resolution.

10) Dream On: As if the sun is descending on a chilled landscape, a chorus of guitars and layered electronics move with the waning sunlight, a flowing bass line in support and piano as if thoughts are wandering…in reflection.

The recording of “Winter Garden” is expansive and crystalline.  I found it so easy to listen to with rapt attention.  It draws one into whatever the story that is being told.  As soon as it ended, I wanted to begin again–gorgeous.

Stay With Me (Track 8):

Note: This article will be published shortly at a music & audio equipment-related online e-zine and IS a solicited review (although I already had purchased the recording).


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