Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Steve Reich - Tehilim (1982)

Steve Reich's third album in his ECM trilogy, Tehilim (Psalms, sung here in the original Hebrew) for sopranos and ensemble followed up on its predecessor by digging even more explicitly into the composer's cultural and spiritual heritage.  In an interview (scroll to bottom) with Charles Amirkhanian around the time Tehilim was composed, Reich can be heard discussing Judaism becoming more central to his life and his work, and the studies into Torah chanting that he'd been undertaking would find full flower in this, his first vocal work.

The four-part Tehilim on record was, at under half an hour, the shortest LP that ECM had ever released, and I doubt very much they've since released a briefer one.  Huge kudos then to Reich and Eicher for resisting the temptation to pair Tehilim with another work on the album (perhaps there just wasn't one around), as it doesn't need it - it's utterly gorgeous on its own.  The intricate, flowing counterpoints of Part I lead into the heart-bursting wonder of Part II on the album's first side, with the voices perfectly accompanied by mostly just organ, reeds and percussion.

The marimba and strings-underlaid Part III is the shortest part, apparently written by the movement-shunning Reich via the gentle persuasion of conductor Peter Eötvös, before the original percussion picks up again for Part IV's setting of the last Psalm ("praise him on the..." etc), bursting into a final joyous gallop for the final 'hallelujahs'.  Essential, life-affirming Reich.

mega / zippy

Monday, 23 April 2018

1-A Düsseldorf - Konigreich Bilk (1999)

Only a few months after Fettleber, 1-A Düsseldorf's second album appeared.  Named in tribute to a district of Düsseldorf, Konigreich Bilk saw Thomas Dinger and Nils Kristiansen expand to a trio, with Steffen Domnisch now credited for synth & vocals.  As noted before, 1-A Düsseldorf had been on the go for over a decade before these CDs started to emerge from Captain Trip, and it's not clear when the material was actually recorded.  The presence here of a soundscape piece titled Bagdad 91 might suggest tracks being recorded over a longer period before release - or they could've just been commemorating the Gulf War a few years after the fact.  Who knows.  Anyway, to the music on Konigreich Bilk.

As with Fettleber, the overriding focus is very much 'unfocused', and this album starts on an even weirder note than anything on the debut, with an old-timey (and uncredited) record of Home On The Range being paired with some metallic clanging.  After that, the more typical sounds of heavily flanged guitar and an odd rhythm track make up Unschlitt, with more melodic keyboards being introduced in Im Märzen Der Bauer.

There's a bit more variety in the sound here compared to Fettleber: The title track sounds like an attempt at mid-tempo heavy rock with vocal samples, and Music Is Love Is Music with its more eerie vocal sound brought to mind Jaki Liebezeit/Phantom Band's Nowhere for me.  The almost Indian-sounding influence of Schlaf Mein Engel is another cleaner, more accessible track, and the album ends with a fifteen-minute slow, dreamlike crawl through wandering guitars and slurred vocals.  There would be another two 1-A Düsseldorf releases in Thomas Dinger's lifetime, that I'll definitely get hold of at some point - especially the Live album, as it features la! NEU?'s Viktoria Wehrmeister on vocals.

mega / zippy

Friday, 20 April 2018

Chick Corea & Steve Kujala - Voyage (1985)

A particularly gorgeous one-off on a label stuffed with them, particularly in the 70s and 80s, Voyage was recorded in July 1984 following a tour between these two Americans, the legendary Corea who was no stranger to ECM by this stage, and innovative flautist Kujala, making what would be his only appearance on the label.

Chick Corea is on fine form throughout these five tracks - three original compositions, interspersed with freely improvised co-creations with Kujala.  Bringing his sprightly upbeat pianism to the fore straight away (in a typically sparkling digital recording), Corea leads an energetic mid-morning skip to the beach on the lengthy opener Mallorca, originally written to be a guitar/piano duet with Paco DeLucia.  Kujala, who pioneered a kind of 'bending' flute technique that could take its sound closer to that of a shakuhachi, fills in the atmosphere like a gentle breeze through the trees.

The second 10+ minute track, and the first free improv, Diversions might inevitably be more abstract, but still sounds gorgeous throughout, particularly when Kujala is given an unaccompanied spotlight about five minutes in, after which he returns the courtesy to Corea.  We get more solo Corea at the start of the album's second half, in the almost indescribably beautiful Star Island, before Kujala returns a minute and a half into the next on-the-fly duet,  titled Free Fall but still full of gentle ease and repose.  The album ends on an upbeat note with one more Corea composition, Hong Kong.  In conclusion, if you were charting a voyage through the more unexplored seas of ECM, this might just be one of the singularly paradisaical islands available to discover.  Unreservedly recommended.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Toru Takemitsu - Asterism, Requiem, Green, The Dorian Horizon (1969)

Four stunning pieces of early Takemitsu (1930-1996), courtesy of this classic RCA release with its appropriately-hued Jasper Johns cover.  There's only been a couple of digital reissues of this album, one of which was tucked into a 'Masterworks of the 20th Century' boxset that anyone who's been with this blog since the beginning might remember me banging on about (links still up for Boulez, Extended Voices, Columbia-Princeton, and more recently Crumb and Partch).  The Toronto Symphony are superbly recorded in this brief but wonder-filled recording from 1969.

The most then-recent work is up first, a piano concerto of sorts called Asterism (1968) with a stunning crescendo that gradually builds towards the end.  This is followed by the earliest piece, Requiem (1957), a slightly more conventional but gorgeous bit of string writing that was famously played to Stravinsky by mistake whilst visiting Japan, the favourable reception launching Takemistu's international profile.  Completing the album are Green (1967), a short orchestral piece inspired by Takemitsu's admiration for Debussy's music, and The Dorian Horizon (1966) for 17 strings in two groups contrasting harmony and dissonance, with eerie pizzicato and glissandi.

mega / zippy

Monday, 16 April 2018

Gordon Mumma - Studio Retrospect (2000 compi of works 1964-84)

Another ear-bending and brain frying collection from Gordon Mumma, who previously featured here with Electronic Music of Theatre and Public Activity.  This CD from Lovely Music is an equally well-rounded presentation of what made Mumma's electroacoustic music so interesting - the six works here might be missing their theatrical elements, quadrophonic mixes and the like, but the pure sound is still so engrossing and often noisy and jarring that it rewards repeat listens.

Taking up the retrospective theme straight away, the opening track here is called Retrospect, a mix of earlier tracks spanning 1959 to 1982, including Chilean president Allende's quip to the New York Times on the day of his death that he'd have to be "carried out in wooden pyjamas".  This is followed by a couple of works from 1964-5, which were first released on a 1979 LP along with Megaton (see link above).  Music From The Venezia Space Theatre is a whirring, hissing piece of electronic mayhem from a live multimedia revue organised by Luigi Nono, and The Dresden Interleaf 13 February 1945 commemorates the WW2 bombing of that city with a proto-SPK grind in which the silent intervals are even more unsettling than the noise onslaughts.

From 1978, Echo-D is an extract of an evening-long dance performance, and musically is based around a pedaled D note on a harpsichord whilst a Buchla synth and other sound layers float in the space around it.  Very minimal stuff, but fascinating to listen to as it progresses over 15 minutes.  The following Pontpoint underwent a lengthy and frequently interrupted creation between 1966 and 1980.  Its eight short sequences features an instrument Mumma made frequent use of, the bandoneon, and a bowed zither, both 'cybersonically' modified by him.  The resulting sounds, that gradually mutate in pitch, timbre and rhythm, are probably my personal highlight of this collection.  There's still a four minute postscript to go though, in the nice little mix of acoustic and digital spectral sounds that makes up Epifont (1984).

mega / zippy

Friday, 13 April 2018

Keith Jarrett - Dark Intervals (1988)

A typically transcendent hour of live Jarrett, recorded at Tokyo's Suntory Hall in April 1987.  The longest track here, the 12-minute Opening, might start out under the little white clouds on that cover image, but a storm soon brews up.  And hold on a sec... 12 minutes is the longest track on a Keith Jarrett solo concert album?  Yep, there's no half hour plus improvised voyages in sound on Dark Intervals, just eight pieces averaging about 7 minutes, with applause between each.  IIRC he'd only do this another couple of times, again in Tokyo, and then in Rio de Janeiro.

On first listen, especially if you're accustomed to Jarrett's more epic workouts like Köln, Bregenz/München etc, the shorter pieces and applause throughout can seem to hinder the flow of the concert, but the upside of this arrangement is undeniable - it puts the spotlight squarely on the quality of each miniature masterpiece of improvisation.  They're pretty much all somewhere between very good dark melancholy and just outright magnificence - if I had to pick favourites they'd have to be the gorgeous Americana or Ritual Prayer and the constant motion of Parallels.  Dark Intervals is one of many essential Jarrett solo concerts, and perhaps the most accessible post-Köln, for its relative brevity.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Conrad Schnitzler - Con 3 (1981)

Even by Conrad Schnitlzer's standards, this is an incredibly strange album.  Attempting to make a pop album of sorts, Schnitzler and collaborator Wolfgang Seidel returned to Peter Baumann's Paragon Studio, and Schnitzler elected to sing on every track, the first full-length album on which he'd done so.  The resulting combination of minimal, repetitive synth sequences and equally underwritten, largely absurdist lyrics remains a fascinating listen.

Schnitzler's voice might bark out at you on some tracks like an odd predecessor to Laibach, but becomes intentionally comical on Coca, perhaps the best known track here, a loungey (complete with glockenspiel), surreal ode to surviving on Coca-Cola in the desert.  Nächte In Kreuzberg from Consequenz gets a groovier makeover, Hongkong channels The Residents, and the quite lovely Tanze Im Regen closes the album on a hushed note closer to the bucolic sounds of Roedelius - fittingly, this was Schnitzler's only album to be released on Sky Records.  There's a Con for every taste on Con 3.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG:

Monday, 9 April 2018

U Potrazi Za Novim Zvukom 1956-1984 - Croatian Electroacoustic Music (2016 compi)

An authoritative, and engrossing two-and-a-half-hour immersion in electroacoustic music by Croatian composers.  The criteria for inclusion on this 2CD set was that the pieces represented were either significant in the history of Croatian electroacoustic music, or the composers first work in the medium, or both.  This gives 21 tracks by 14 composers to wrap your ears around, all the way from the tape & generators heyday of the mid 50s through to 80s computer music.

The first disc covers the years 1956-1973, and fans old-school tape music will find much to love here, right from the two Ivo Malec tracks (from '56 and '61) that open the compilation.  Highlights of CD1 for me were the later Malec track Lumina, by which time that composer had hit on a stunning synthesis of orchestral and tape music; the more electronic focus of Silvio Foretić's pieces; and the chance to hear a couple of early works by Dubravko Detoni, who in 1967-8 was using vocal, percussive and piano sounds to create Phonomorphia 1 & 2.

The second disc, spanning 1969-1984, is even better.  First up is Igor Kuljerić's Impulses I (1969-70) for string quartet and tape, which could almost be an early Avram/Dumitrescu, and further highlights for me were Zlatko Pibernik's voice-warping Etida (1975) with its atmospheric backing; the epic 18 minutes of Davorin Kempf's Interferencije (1977-80) for organ and tons of electronics; and an actual appearance by Acezantez (see Detoni link above), featured on Zlatko Tanodi's eerily pulsing Echolalia (1979-80).  All in all, this compilation definitely hits the spot if you're 'in search of a new sound' as per the Croatian title.  A highly recommended mix of some wonderfully out-there music.

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

Friday, 6 April 2018

A Winged Victory For The Sullen - s/t (2011)

A Winged Victory For The Sullen's debut opens with a gentle, warmly embracing but melancholy string flourish - just what might be expected from a project including half of Stars Of The Lid.  It's quickly joined by some heart-tugging minimal piano - the other half of AWVFTS is pianist/composer Dustin O'Halloran.  There's more Tired Sounds-esque languorous string sweep to be had in the following two-part Requiem For The Static King, but again given a new twist in AWVFTS's more decisively neoclassical approach and O'Halloran's gorgeous Budd-like piano passages.

O'Halloran is further showcased on Minuet For A Cheap Piano No. 2, with the textures close to Nils Frahm territory, fittingly for an album that Erased Tapes picked up for European release (also appropriately, it's on Kranky in the US), as a dreamy wall of Wiltzie billows in the distance.  The album's great centrepiece is still to come, in the shape of the 12-minute A Symphony Pathetique.  An object lesson in slow-building loveliness, it's possibly the best example here of what an inspired pairing Wiltzie and O'Halloran is.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Jani Christou - s/t (2001 compilation, rec. 1967-77)

Jani Christou (1926-1970) was a Greek composer, born in Heliopolis in Egypt, and before his death at just 44 in a car accident, produced some truly mindblowing and disturbing music.  He came to my attention through one of my favourite films of last year, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer.  As mindwarpingly bizarre and squickishly repulsive as a 90s Whitehouse album, the movie also had an inspired soundtrack, based around a generous amount of Sofia Gubaidulina's music.  One of the most memorable pieces for me however was Christou's Enantiodrama, which starts off this compilation of his late work.

Enantiodrama (1965-68) starts with faraway squeaking strings that gradually intensify into a Penderecki-like insect swarm.  Halfway through, this calms back down, but not for long, and shouted voices, chaotic percussion and brass are added into the mix.  Praxis (1966-9) is a piece for juddering string orchestra and piano, the barely-held-together chaos relying on a graphic score and patterns in constant conflict, and with more declaiming voices in its second half.  The CD ends with the bonus of the original version of Praxis for 12 players.

Next up is Epicycle (1968), a tape piece for instruments, actors and voices, its score allowing for improvisation.  A maelstrom of noises and unsettling vocal sounds crackle over the top of a rhythmic pulse until an abrupt end.  Anaparastasis III (1969) for piano, ensemble and tapes comes in with a menacing low-level hum over which fragments of instruments gradually appear.  Yet another tortured-sounding voice groans and screams in the ominous space, where the piano and ensemble intermittently spring into attack.

Christou's final work, Mysterion (1969) was planned as a full-scale opera for choirs, orchestra, actors and tapes, based on ancient Egyptian funeral rites, but in the wake of his death the premiere never took place, and all that remains are rehearsal tapes.  The Prolog featured here starts with echoing solo voice before a mechanical rhythm kicks in and other percussive noises click and scrape.  These five recordings were originally collected on an early 90s LP - on this CD reissue there's two handy additions: the original version of Praxis as mentioned above, and another Anaparastais, this time the first one in the planned cycle.  The text is from the Oresteia legend, with yet more wonderful orchestral chaos supporting the spoken material.
original LP cover, 1992
mega / zippy