Karl Culley – Last
Format: Digital only
Time: About 74 minutes
Tracks: 1) Perfection Only Exists In The Mind 2) Nastassya 3) In A Sky Of Infinite Suns 4) Listen 5) Mistakes 6) The Föhn Wind 7) Wedding And Funeral Shoes 8) Amethyst 9) Devil In A Damn Fine Suit 10) Being Alive 11) 1, 2, 3 12) Delivered (My Maja) 13) Windows 14) Ghost Made Blood 15) Reality Is Like The Sun 16) How It Works 17) The Siege Of Antioch 18) Dale 19) St. Crispin’s Day 20) Embers 21) Looking Back Blues
Some readers may remember my review of Karl Culley’s 2015 album, Stripling. His new album Last (to be released on September 1, 2018) was recorded over the last three years in Culley’s home of Krakow, Poland. The good news is we have new music from Culley, and he is also now a father of a young daughter. The sad news is the turmoil in his life, a divorce, and due to various responsibilities he has decided this will be his “last” album of music.
The engineers for this album are Jaroslaw Zawadzki in Poland and Daniel Webster in England (the two tracks: Nastassya and Listen, with Webster playing all instruments, except for Culley on acoustic guitar). At first, I listened to this album at home, in my little studio, then I took it on a long road trip to and from the Adirondacks (in upper New York State), to get to know it better. It’s an excellent road trip album, by the way.
The subjects of this collection are both within the mind (things that can be imagined) and actual experiences (both joyous and painful). This album is pretty dense, and with 21 tracks, I found that I needed about two sittings to get through it, which is NOT at all a negative comment. Just the opposite, since the album is of a quality that demands a listener’s rapt attention. In my opinion, this is not a collection of background music. Coincidentally, at the mid-point of the album, is the metronomic instrumental 1, 2, 3, which serves as a bit of an intermission, before part two.
Culley deftly conveys the emotion of a given moment or the subject with only his acoustic guitar (ignoring the lyrics, for the moment), since the rhythms, strumming and picking reveal the intent of the song, like gently descending notes (like Embers falling in a fire) or a galloping heart beat (Being Alive) or the tender waltz (rocking cradle) beat and comfort and contentment in Delivered (My Maja). Maja also plays tricks with time, at first it’s the marvelous intimacy of having a newborn child on one’s chest, and then four lines later to “…unfurl to your consorts…” In a sense, preparing to release her to the world in her later years (children DO grow up quickly, as I can attest).
Without knowing (or wanting to know) the details of Culley’s private struggles over the last three years, it’s clear from this album that there are many complexities to love, relationships, and resentment. Have a listen to the darkness in Nastassya (which I am told is based on Dostoyevski’s The Idiot) or the anger and harsh reality in How It Works.
One of my clear favorites on this album is In A Sky Of Infinite Suns, with its snappy taut rhythm–I found that I kept hitting replay on my car CD player to keep the energy going. Another of the near-breathless pieces is Being Alive, with its galloping rhythm of angst “…just being alive hurt so much…looking into the mouth of a liar…like walking through the fire hurt so much…” (also sounding like a fast-beating heart with the lyric “…swells in the blood…”). By contrast there are contemplative meditations like Listen, and Reality Is Like The Sun that are both reflective and perhaps self-analytical (just like the more energetic and playful Mistakes). I wonder if KC finds that his own music can function as a form a therapy? I certainly find music to be quite therapeutic, whether energetic or comforting.
There are moments of keen observations of the bizarre, but absolutely true aspects of life, like in Wedding And Funeral Shoes, as well as moments of levity, Devil In A Damned Fine Suite. Overall, Last is a fine balance of musicianship and storytelling in a similar vein to the earlier acoustic works of Gordon Lightfoot, and if one listens carefully, one might pick-up the descending tones reminiscent of the opening to Nick Drake’s Chime Of The City Clock in The Siege Of Antioch (a pretty heavy observation on the First Crusade). The last song on the album, Looking Back Blues, is a reflection of sadness for a time past, but (perhaps) an appreciation that the passage of time can yield after the breakup of a relationship…there will always be a connection, especially when a child is involved.
I am sorry that Karl Culley is leaving the music scene, alas the realities and responsibilities of life somehow do take over, but I hope KC finds other rewarding endeavors for his talent and creative spark, and hope he enjoys watching his daughter grow up.
Take care and best wishes, Karl.
This is a solicited review.
The Dwindlers – Allegories
CD: #has002 Time: 29:15
Limited Edition (50 copies per edition) on-demand published with illustrated booklet, poetry & credits. Review copy is from First Edition.
Band Website: http://thedwindlers.com/
Member websites: http://www.michelleseaman.net/ and http://www.benjamindauer.net/
Heart and Soul label: Allegories
Previous Album on FeedbackLoop label: Dreams
Tracks: 1) The Pelican and The Girl; 2) Monkey; 3) How The Ostrich Became a Girl and Her Bicycle; 4) Pickering’s Hyla; 5) Widow, Daddy, and the Wolf; 6) Peacock and the Kitty; 7) Dolphin
Spoken word recordings have existed since the advent of wax and foil cylinder recorders. In the 1920s as Jazz was developing as a musical genre, poets were exploring differing rhythms and styles in their works, breaking away from more traditional forms of meter and rhyme. These were the explorations of E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Jazz Poet Langston Hughes and others. Syncopated rhythms, phrases repeated, and with some poets, the rejection of traditional conventions of punctuation and manuscript.
The Dwindlers are poet Michelle Seaman and bassist composer Benjamin Dauer. Their collaboration started in 2002 in Chicago and they now create their work in the southeastern US. Their first album was the digitally released “Dreams” on the FeedbackLoop Label #FbL 008.
Allegories combines instrumental Jazz with poetry and includes printed poems (of tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7) with illustrations by Seaman and instrumentation (I assume) by Dauer. It’s a very interesting and challenging album and I find the approach to be quite refreshing! It is a relatively short recording, spanning between a long EP and a full-length CD. Subjects relate to fauna, instincts, desire, observations, phobias and inner monologues (without being self-indulgent). The printed poems appear to be a framework for the apparently improvised recorded performances (might there be further improvisations during a live performance?).
As Jazz music is about listening, sharing, improvising, and responding, poetry can be used as another instrument or voice in an ensemble for counterpoint or support. Beat Generation writers expanded on this, like Jack Kerouac who was sometimes accompanied with improvised music during poetry readings (composer David Amram was known to sit-in and jam piano or bongos during readings). Jazz and Jazz Poetry has also been about activism and in the 1970s Gil Scott-Heron emerged (being influenced by Hughes) as a powerful voice in topical and confrontational spoken-word Soul, Jazz & Blues. Scott-Heron (also a rap music pioneer) greatly influenced later hip-hop groups like Public Enemy.
Other artists have continued to explore the spoken-word with a variety of music and multi-media artists influences: Jim Morrison and The Doors (described as “electric poets”), Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Harold Budd (as on his 1991 album By The Dawn’s Early Light), and more recently the 2011 collaboration of Brian Eno and poet Rick Holland on their album Drums Between The Bells, and the growling reflections of Leonard Cohen on his 2012 album Old Ideas.
The voices of Allegories are sultry with occasional interplay of the technically descriptive. There are changing points of view and perspectives—seeing through another’s eyes (not necessarily human). The way the words are phrased against the music; they sometimes transform into layered double-entendres. The often-hypnotic and stark instrumentation punctuates the spaces between the words with a foundation of acoustic bass, layered electronics and percussion, adding to the tension and release.
The Pelican and the Girl starts with a shimmering veil and then plays between female and male voices and further heightens an implied sexual tension as descriptions shift from bird to woman and back. There are points where the words lure one into an imagined scene only to be returned to a stark lesson on natural history. The drums and bass during Monkey are reminiscent of Morello & Wright’s vibe on Take Five (from the album Time Out) and voice, although monotone; is similar to the interplay of Desmond and Brubeck. Pickering’s Hyla is an instrumental break and sounds akin to a forest at the vernal pools at dusk. The second half of the album is more layered, electronic and ambient after a sensuous acoustic “theme and response” bass introduction to Widow, Daddy and the Wolf. Peacock and the Kitty and Dolphin gently pulse with Seaman’s voice stroking fur, feather and flowing through water.
Allegories is a provocative and engaging album of poetry—vivid and shifting with very musical, alluring and technical Jazz counterpoint. The recording has a welcomed softness that does not compromise the clarity. It would certainly be suitable as background music (and would likely pique the curiosity of a roomful of listeners), but I found it best played at the level of a live performance to fully appreciate it.
The Pelican and the Girl (and two others) – The Dwindlers
This is a solicited review.