Friday, 17 November 2017

Ghédalia Tazartès - Tazartès' Transports (1980)

Second album from Parisian outsider legend Ghédalia Tazartès, whose beautifully strange music I was first introduced to via - you guessed it - the Nurse With Wound list.  Recorded in 1977, and first released in 1980 on clear vinyl with no track titles, Tazartès' Transports on CD is split into 15 tracks with... no track titles.  So, one to just dive headfirst into for sure.
That LP cover isn't the only thing that brings Faust to mind for me - listening to these tracks, with each sudden jump-cut going off at a totally new tangent, is quite a Faust Tapes-esque experience.  The opening moments of the album throw up a couple more German reference points - a pretty Roedelius-like piano incongruously paired with a harsh, Tietchens-ish rhythm - before Tazartès speed-shifted voice replaces the piano, and we're plunged into his wonderfully weird sound world.  Chiming cathedral bells, electronic squiggles, more loops of different voices, a mournful wind instrument emerging from the embers of a noise onslaught - that's just track two.

Listing the many delights of the remaining 13 tracks would be a pointless exercise - just listen, enjoy and discover the many looped elements, found sounds and little snatches of actual music, and on repeat listens, hear something different every time - that's the enduring magic of Tazartès' music for me.  His singing is a constant joy in whatever form it takes - plaintive wailing, throaty droning, or rasping Dada-esque nonsense in one of his comic personae.  Don't miss the spoken word closing track, intoned in English - "All animals have a personality, a personality, a personality... I'm a dancer,  I'm a dancer, moving on a stage, moving on a stage...".  A memorably bizarre ending to a magnificent, absolutely essential record.
alternate CD cover
mega / zippy

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Azimuth with Ralph Towner - Départ (1980)

Autumnal ECM loveliness of the highest order.  Of course, that description could apply to about half of the label's catalogue, especially from its mid 70s to early 80s golden era.  This album though, recorded in the last month of the 70s, even has a track named Autumn, complete with suitably evocative lyrics from Norma Winstone.

Winstone, along with John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler, had by this point recorded two wonderfully airy, hypnotic albums as Azimuth, taking as much inspiration from Reichian minimalism as from the British jazz scene of their backgrounds.  For this third outing, ECM 's Manfred Eicher suggested adding a guest guitarist, and all three requested Ralph Towner, who they'd met the previous year.

Towner's chiming 12-string is therefore the first accompaniment to be introduced to album opener The Longest Day, over the top of Taylor's circular piano figures, before Winstone and Wheeler begin to take flight.  He switches to classical guitar for the aforementioned Autumn, and for the first two parts of the Touching Points suite.  This mid-album four-parter is particularly interesting as there's increasingly less typically Azimuth drift and more choppy free improv (especially in the third section), plus a chance to hear Taylor on Terry Riley-esque organ on the fourth section.  He sticks to organ for the gorgeous title track's intro, returning to piano for Winstone's brief haiku-like lyric, before everyone soars into the stratosphere again.

mega / zippy

see also: 
Sounds & Shadows (Towner)
Somewhere Called Home (Winstone with Taylor)
Double, Double You (Wheeler)

Monday, 13 November 2017

Martin Davorin Jagodic - Tempo Furioso (Tolles Wetter) (1975)

Sole album release by Martin Davorin Jagodic (b. 1935, Zagreb), who settled in France in the 1960s.  Having apparently worked at GRM, been involved in installations and performance pieces and composed numerous Cage-esque graphic scores, it's a shame there isn't more recorded evidence of Jagodic's work.  What is available here, though, is 42 minutes of top-notch sound manipulation that more than justified Jagodic's place on the Nurse With Wound list (see last Monday's post).

Starting from a stew of queasy, gently pulsing electronics, it soon becomes clear that the 'Tempo Furioso' title doesn't have anything to do with the pace of the work, and may have just been applied for ironic/comic value.  Adding to the mix are various voice snippets and loops, naturalistic sounds of lapping waves and birds (Jagodic must've been out taping in the 'great weather' of the album's subtitle), and samples of classical and rock music.  An early highlight of the second track is a lengthy sample from a period-drama radio play, surrounded by more agitated electronics, before things settle down again.  A highly recommended sound experience from start to finish.

mega / zippy

Friday, 10 November 2017

Laura Nyro and Labelle - Gonna Take A Miracle (1971)

Absolutely love, love, love this little gem.  For her fifth album, Laura Nyro took a break from songwriting to put together a heartfelt tribute to the music she grew up listening to in The Bronx in the 50s and 60s.  With new friend Patti Labelle and her group singing backup, and Gamble & Huff producing at Sigma Sound, the result was a perfect mix of classic girl-group and soul material with a now-legendary Philly sheen.

A huge part of this album's charm for me is its spare instrumentation and production, and just how alive and joyful each track sounds.  According to legend, everything was recorded first-take in a single day, after almost all the studio time had been frittered away just goofing around and enjoying the songs that everyone knew so well.  This freshness makes the uptempo selections absolutely burn through their grooves (Jimmy Mack, Nowhere To Run, the medley of Monkey Time and Dancing In The Street) and the ballads shine in their ethereal, stark beauty (Desiree, and my personal album highlight The Wind).  And if anyone's recorded a more perfect version of Spanish Harlem that just drips with languid, urban midsummer eroticism, I've yet to hear it.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Tomasz Stańko/Freelectronic - Freelectronic In Montreux (1987)

Stańko's mid-80s fusion ensemble in action at the 1987 Montreux Jazz Festival.  Possibly not the full performance, unless they did only appear for 35 minutes, but enough to get a flavour of their nicely odd trumpet-bass-synth-synth sound.  Yep, there's no drummer here, with the rhythmic drive being provided by Witold Szcurek's bass slapping and Tadeus Sudnik's arsenal of tweaked synths and 'self-made electronics'.

I'll readily admit that my initial listen to this recording just elicited a response of 'arrrgh 80s cheese', and I even referred to it in a previous Stańko writeup as 'hilarious', but scratch below the surface sound (the twanging bass, and a very much of-its-time DX7) and repeated listens throw up the little idiosyncrasies that keep me coming back to Freelectronic In Montreux.
Alternate cover
Most of this is down to Sudnik, whose little whooshes and burbles take the group's sound into a weirder dimension than upbeat opener Lady Go would otherwise suggest.  The atmospherics of Asmodeus and Too Pee are more interesting still, suggesting a definite Vangelis presence in Sudnik's record collection.  Stańko himself is on fine firey form on the uptempo numbers (and on the loose soundscape of Too Pee), and coolly melancholic elsewhere, looking forwards to his mature ECM years.  The MC at the end appears to say "rebel of Polish jazz - Tomasz Stańko", and on this evidence he very much still merited that crown in the 80s.
Another alt cover - had they employed the guy who drew for Ozric Tentacles or something??

mega / zippy

Monday, 6 November 2017

Trevor Wishart - Journey Into Space (1973)

Described as an "audio movie" on the original self-released vinyl labels, Journey Into Space was the first release by English electroacoustic composer Trevor Wishart (b. 1946, Leeds).  The charming DIY-ness of the double-LP's back cover is reproduced in this CD reissue, with sleevenotes very much of their time (see below), and advice that copies of the album could be obtained directly from the composer at his York University department for £3, plus 40p P&P - not exactly a bargain! - but fair play to Wishart, he'd completely self-financed the album.

One of those copies (or a subsequent release) may well have found its way into the hands of a trio of teenage sound-hounds in London, as Wishart features on the original Nurse With Wound list.  The massive amount of tape manipulation involved in Journey Into Space is a clear precursor to NWW, but in the early 70s Wishart appears to have been much more interested in making the mundane and everyday gradually warp into a fantastic dreamscape, as opposed to Stapleton's full-on surrealism.
"Journey-into-Space is the allegorical journey of a man towards self-realisation.  It begins in a strange landscape of Birth from which emerges the cry of a baby.  The man, as if waking from a dream, sets off in his car with the sounds of a space-rocket launch on his car radio.  The two journeys coalesce in his mind as he continues through many strange musical landscapes, eventually arriving at a doorway. 
On passing through the entrance-hall he emerges once more into the birth landscape, but now the music develops in an entirely new direction as the threads of the dream are drawn together."                                (from original LP liner notes)
The LP release just had four untitled sides, but this has been tidied up for CD to make Birth Dream the 13-minute introductory piece.  Comparisons to Throbbing Gristle's Medicine are perhaps inevitable, but Wishart's evocation of birth is far less, well, medical.  The main meat of the work follows - The Journey on CD runs for an uninterrupted 47 minutes, as the character's journey progresses as above from the mundane to the magical.  The 'music' as such was derived from blown bottles, children's toys and many other found objects, as well as the occasional brass honk and lots of evocative vocal sounds.  Lastly, the 18 minute Arrival does indeed draw the dream together in style, pulling together the various sound sources into a mindbending finale with an abrupt ending.  In short, fellow NWW fans will love this one - but it's also well worth anyone's time for the ingenuity in sound manipulation that Wishart was conjuring up in his University of York Electronic Music Studio.

mega / zippy

Friday, 3 November 2017

Steve Hackett - Defector (1980)

Having previously posted my favourite and close-second favourite of his albums, let's round up with my third Hackett-of-choice.  The very loosely Cold War-themed (it only really works for the first two tracks, although some fan reviews try to stretch the concept to the full album) Defector received a mixed critical reception, but IMO is still essential Hackett.

For starters, two of his most unmissable instrumental mini-epics are here: the lovely swirling jazziness of Jacuzzi, and the suitably stark and windswept atmospherics of album opener The Steppes.  Aside from the bonkers robot-rampage of Slogans, the remaining instrumental material is of a mellower, soft-focus nature, making Defector stand out in Hackett's Charisma era as the late-night atmospheric one.

This extends to the vocal tracks too, which more than once recall the guitarist's final Genesis era.  Leaving and The Toast respectively invoke Wind & Wuthering and Trick Of The Tail; the latter song could almost be a mini-Entangled, with the wooziness of anaesthesia being replaced by a more everyday, self-imbibed wooziness.  Comparisons are also often noted to Camel of a similar vintage, who I haven't really listened to enough to comment.  Don't miss the cute little closing gag of Hackett using an Optigan keyboard and period-piece vocal to evoke 1940s novelty jazz - I really don't get all the hate that Sentimental Institution receives from some fans, it always makes me crack a grin.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Hugues Dufourt - Erewhon (1999 recording, Les Percussions De Strasbourg)

Staying with Les Percussions De Strasbourg for today, and with Hugues Dufourt; here's Erewhon - Dufourt's percussion epic written between 1972-76, its title taken from Samuel Butler's novel of the same name.  Originally in five parts, one section was taken out to become a piece in its own right - Sombre journée, which we heard on Monday's LPDS post.

The hour-plus Erewhon allows Dufourt's evocative writing for percussion to stretch out and show its full dramatic range - right from the thunderous eight-minute introductory section that focuses on skin percussion.  This is followed by the longest section at 27 minutes, described by Dufourt as "an essay in fantastic stereo dynamics", which leaves much more room for the percussion, metallic this time, to resonate in space.  Erewhon III is more atmospheric still, and definitely my personal highlight of the work; Dufourt called it "an imaginary landscape in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, the far-off resurgence of a residual echo".  Lastly, Erewhon IV draws together the full ensemble for a stunning finale.

Given its structure, Erewhon as whole brought to mind for me a version of Steve Reich's Drumming where all the strict rhythmic drive was removed, and the focus was instead on the dynamic and atmospheric qualities of the different percussion types.  Dufourt's Erewhon is certainly an astounding work, full of variety, and rewards repeat listens.

mega / zippy
 
see also: Dufuort's Saturne, for orchestra & electronics

Monday, 30 October 2017

Les Percussions De Strasbourg (2CD compi 1993, rec. 1967-71 + 1992)

Founded in 1962 as the first ensemble dedicated to contemporary percussion music, Les Percussions De Strasbourg's modern-day lineup is still going strong.  This 2-CD set was released to mark the ensemble's 30th anniversary, with the first disc being freshly recorded and the second featuring recordings by the original lineup from 1967, 1970 and 1971.  The common thread between almost the works on these discs is that LPDS regularly sought commissions for new material from contemporary composers, and these are just a small sample of the unique results of material written specifically with the ensemble in mind.
Disc 1, recorded in December 1992 by the lineup pictured above, starts with Hiérophonie V by Yoshihisa Taïra, a Japanese composer who settled in France.  Punctuated with martial shouts from the performers, it's a striking and powerful piece interspersed with some quiet passages.  Next up is a half-hour suite, Le Livre des Claviers, by Philippe Manoury, with mostly mellower tones from the vibes and marimbas.  François-Bernard Mâche's Khnoum is fairly interesting, but the disc ends on a high note with Sombre journée by a composer posted here not long ago, Hugues Dufourt.  The introductory rolls gather steam into a piece of great momentum, before an eerie atmospheric end.
Disc 2, as noted above, collects vintage recordings, and starts with the oldest piece, which actually predates the formation of LPDS by some three decades, but which was startling in its day and still sounded fresh - Edgard Varese's legendary Ionisation.  Hailed by Frank Zappa as the spark that inspired him to pursue a career in music, this siren-pierced cityscape owed as much to the noisemaking Futurists as it did to its structural inspiration of molecular ionization.

LPDS included Ionisation on their 1970 album 'Americana', one of several they recorded for the Prospective 21e Siècle series released by the Philips label, with their striking reflective covers created on engraved aluminium foil.  The remainder of the CD here gives us two of these albums in full, the first of which paired Maurice Ohana's Quatre études chorégraphiques with Miloslav Kabeláč's 8 Inventions.  Both suites are highly listenable and almost deceptively straightforward - just as well, as you need to brace yourself for what's to come next.  Yep, it's SGTG favourite Iannis Xenakis. 

Xenakis' 1969 work Persephassa, like Persepolis, was written for the Iranian Shiraz Arts Festival, and was performed there by LPDS in scorching desert heat.  As with many Xenakis works where the performers were scattered throughout the audience, you can only get a tiny approximation of Persephassa's spatial majesty on a stereo recording, but the insane intensity of the work is still enough to require a bit of a lie down afterwards to recover.  Unmissable stuff to cap off a great and wide-ranging compilation.

Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy

See also: Pléiades/Psappha by Xenakis (not performed by LPDS) 

Friday, 27 October 2017

Keith Jarrett - The Köln Concert (1975)

How can I possibly resist a request to post one of my absolute favourite albums of all time?  It's difficult to think what I can even write about Köln, but here goes.  Let's just keep it simple, rather than a 'saved my life more than once' emotional gush.  29 year old pianist arrives at the Cologne Opera House tired and sore, only to find that the house staff have wheeled out a crappy old rehearsal piano by mistake.  Has to be just about coaxed into even playing by 17 year old concert promoter.  Goes on stage at 11:30pm (following the evening opera) and makes the most of the piano that he can; captures lightning in a bottle for an hour.

The irony continues to this day that two lengthy improvisations (the encore [Part IIc] was a Jarrett composition, Memories Of Tomorrow) that were born out of making the best of the circumstances above have become so indelibly etched, note-for-note, in the minds of millions of listeners, me included.  That could largely be said of any recorded improvisation, but the 'millions of listeners' bit is down to Köln's enduring magic.

From the smallest germ of an introduction (the melody played by the opera house bell to summon the audience for a performance, hence their just-audible recognition at the beginning), Jarrett goes on to create 25 minutes of sheer melancholy transcendence, ending in a triumphant, life-affirming finale.  Suitably energised, he starts the next half hour on a rollicking bluesy note, before settling for largely calmer waters for the rest of the second improvisation, then, as mentioned, delving into his written repertoire for the crystalline gorgeousness of the finale.  Jarrett might have started out this concert being not entirely pleased that the tape was running, but the world should be grateful that it was.

mega / zippy