1) glide 2) of a feather 3) rafters 4) watcher 5) duo 6) flutter 7) flying south 8) head cut off 9) nesting 10) caged 11) skitter 12) twin crested peaks 13) albatross
M. Ostermeier: piano and sounds
Christoph Berg: violin on glide and of a feather
Photography: James Luckett – consumptive.org
In my part of the world, some birds that used to winter elsewhere now seem to stay here, but many still migrate: from swallows by the millions (spectacular departure throughout October) to songbirds like warblers to the more solitary bald eagles that pass through here on their way to nesting areas along local rivers and up to the Adirondack mountains in upper New York State. Just before the first break of Spring, woodpeckers return or emerge and the local forests can sound like giant marimbas as the oversized pileated variety pronounce their territorial claims, rapping on hollow trunks.
M. Ostermeier’s latest album is the avian themed Tiny Birds. There is a slightly different approach to Tiny Birds compared with his prior album still on Ostermeier’s Tench imprint. The piano instrumentals on still tend to meander somewhat with more liberated abstract forms whereas Tiny Birds is a more controlled series of repetitive melodic vignettes with variations—perceptive yet humble etudes with minimal embellishment or peregrinations—some more dulcet than others.
Despite their apparent simplicity there is still a great deal of subtle texture and depth in the recordings, and notwithstanding initial minimalist appearances, Ostermeier is quite adept at layering and revealing micro-sounds into his recordings, as in his earlier album The Rules of Another Small World. Soundscapes can be taken in as a larger whole while in a place or one can focus on the intimate.
The overall mood in Tiny Birds is mostly comfort with varying passages ranging from delicate to vibrant, but never jarring. The point of view is that of a bystander in quiet contemplation observing the moments, and as a result the music evokes visual memories. I try to resist comparisons to the works of others, but this one locked in my head and I couldn’t shake it: there are connections with some of Satie’s works and the pace (without vocals) is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s two meditations: Julie With and By This River from his 1977 album Before and After Science.
Aside from Ostermeier’s piano and delicate melodic and percussive treatments, Christoph Berg enhances the first two tracks, glide and of a feather with deftly restrained violin accompaniments. It also sounds like there might be some cello in the somewhat mournful flying south, adding weight to the depth of the long cyclical journey. A piano is generally the foundation throughout, and in glide the violin moves in and out of earshot like a golden eagle riding thermals high-up in the sky on the edge of human sight. Of a feather has slight chordal shifts and Berg responds to the piano phrases with a gentle sway.
In summer days of my youth, some of my family used to help a farmer hay his fields and then methodically transfer hay bales from carts into an old barn loft while barn swallows were on the wing above in the rafters—this reminded me of those days, many years ago. Alighted and above, in the breezes, is the watcher, with languid wind chimes below, in a subtle duet. And as if in mid-conversation, duo picks up a somewhat less structured dialog between two birds in trees (is it an actual transcription?), like sometimes at dawn when windows are open and two great horned owls are conversing from opposite ends of the yard, or two robins singing their evening-song at dusk. Some visceral low frequencies pass through this too.
The most musical piece on the album, flutter, is at first a duet, then a trio, perhaps even a quartet, with brisk playful variations on the original melody. head cut off is a slow meandering stagger of sobering paired tones (no birds were harmed in the recording of this…I assume!). Gentle rustling with more intimate microphone placement at the piano, nesting has a slightly voyeuristic quality of a webcam keeping an eye on birds and chicks in a tree, safe from dangers below while swaying quietly in the breezes. The monotony of confinement is depicted in caged, where there are few changes with the passage of time. Skitter has five, perhaps even six sections with both an untreated and a slightly phased piano, punctuated by pure tones in between the melodic phrases. Twin crested peaks is a hypnotic call and response, with the regularity of an EKG taken at rest.
albatross can have several meanings, a golf term (AKA double-eagle, a rare three under par—a bird reference!), a psychological burden or the majestic sea bird with an enormous wing span (up to an incredible 12 feet) and they are often long-lived. There is a tagged female Laysan albatross named Wisdom that has returned to Midway Island for at least 63 years, and this year she mated and had another chick (estimated to be her 36th)– truly remarkable. This closing track is graceful of flight and steady, yet it carries the enduring burden and insight gathered with the passage of time.
My favorite tracks on the album are: glide, of a feather, flying south and albatross.
This is a solicited review.
2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
Olan Mill – Half Seas Over (Live performances 2012-2014)…too short for an album, too long for an EP, but what the heck!
An Accidental Concert Photo