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Mr. D. N. Reece (Birmingham, UK)

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High Noon
High Noon
Price: 14.17

4.0 out of 5 stars High Noon, 17 Mar 2009
This review is from: High Noon (Audio CD)
On High Noon, electronic sampling, cut-up wizard Christian Marclay and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp have fun messing around with the sounds and atmosphere of the Spaghetti Western, deconstructing, obliterating, reworking and updating them through sonic interplay as each musician pushes the other into submission like two old, scarred and dirt-trodden gunslingers meeting one last time for an impressive, final showdown. Marclay's electronics are warm, fuzzy, soaked in a dense, earthy quality simulating sheep bells, billowing wind and the dust and heat of the desert. Sharp's various instruments are minimal and abstract, his guitar plucking on opener 'Blinding Shadow' is sparing and slick evoking the distant memory of some 19th century outlaw folk ballad, later to be accompanied by a similar kind of jaunty piano tune, barely recognisable after Marclay's electronic dissection, warping the traditional into the digital present.

I remember watching High Noon as a child, impressed by the films use of real time to create tension and suspense, waiting for the clock to strike noon and Miller and his gang to come and have his day and take revenge on abandoned sheriff Will Kane. Marclay and Sharp manage to maintain this stylistic tension through a combination of rapid beats (that sound like clocks ticking, chiming, wearing down time itself as that fateful hour approaches) played off against slower instrumentation from Sharp like on the beginning of 'I'll Come Out... Let Her Go!'. The onslaught of sampling comes quick and fast like a gunman drifting from one town to the next, causing trouble, having his way with the local women, upsetting the simple townsfolk and disappearing into a desert of ever-changing rhythms, walls of sound, all-out feedback and twisted electronics, until the haunting finale plays itself out with long, slow guitar drones over a tumbleweed-esque breeze of microtonal clicks and beats.

Improvisations - Saxophone Solos
Improvisations - Saxophone Solos
Price: 7.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impropositions, 17 Mar 2009
One of the things I love best about rain is the ability it has to hold my attention for long periods of time just looking through a window upon a framed world gradually becoming soaked in water. This gazing can be misinterpreted as daydreaming, but that would imply that my mind was wondering elsewhere and not really thinking about the rain before me and that isn't true - well most of the time that isn't true. So what does that have to do with Mats Gustafsson? Well, listening to Impropositions is a bit like watching the rain - the process is slow, almost meditative, there is a beauty about it that isn't immediate and it takes a while to fully appreciate the complexity and the beauty behind that process.

Impropositions bears a striking resemblance to John Butcher's Resonant Spaces of last year - there is an emptiness which lingers within a loosely defined space as notes scrape out of Gustafsson's various instruments (Soprano, Baritone and Tenor Sax, Alto Flute, Flageolet and his own specially made Fluteophone which comprises of a mouthpiece attached to a flute body). What I imagine as I listen to Gustafsson's complex patterns and harmonies is a large room, at first silent until water begins to drip through the cracks - the first drop, splash, ripple emphasises the silence and shortly another follows and then another in a sequence that reminds me of the end of Tarkovsky's Stalker as the three men reach their destination. Notes then pour out and every now and then explode as Gustafsson pushes a big breath of air right through the instrument. At times it sounds as though Gustafsson is fighting with his instruments. At others he seems to step back and let long notes hang suspended in the air.

Compared with two of my other favourite Saxophone improvisors - Evan Parker and John Butcher - Gustafsson's improvisation through advanced circular breathing and technical prowess rather more disturbs than seduces the listener, often opening up the space around you only to suddenly close you in, trapping you in a powerful jarring section that dissects the fragility of the preceding silence the same way a brief spell of hard, heavy rain, blown by a gust of wind crunches against the window. It's something that certainly requires patience to appreciate, but when you're in one of those observant moods it's a real pleasure to listen to something so spellbinding.

Price: 13.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Radiale, 17 Mar 2009
This review is from: Radiale (Audio CD)
A collision of continents as Chicago trio Spaceways (Ken Vandermark, Hamid Drake, and Nate McBride) crash head first, fists flying, kicking and screaming straight into Italian Jazz-Rock-Dub trio Zu (Massimo Pupillo, Jacopo Battaglia, and Luca Tommaso Mai). The result is a blast of dark, heavy, rumbling bass, pierced by squealing saxophone and reed playing and rock-orientated, beat-heavy drum bashing.

The two drummers (Battaglia and Drake) and the two bassists (Pupillo and McBride) split the album down the middle as the Zu members take the first half of the album and the Spaceways crew the second. Luca Tommaso Mai on Saxophone and Ken Vandermark on Reeds are the two main players each vying for space throughout, launching into at times aggressive melodies trying to outdo the other in a constant game of push and shove often turning into wonderful cacophony if at times a little too brief like towards the end of 'Thanatocracy.'

The last thing I heard Pupillo play on was a new Peter Brötzmann recording from the Bimhaus in Amsterdam and there's actually some strong similarity between the two sessions - though Radiale is certainly less intense. His bass rings out like a buzz saw at times finding a little room now and again to really stand out as Battaglia pounds his drum with military like precision. On 'Pharmakon' Battaglia builds up slowly, maintaining a steady beat though at times I did find his playing a little too predictable following a strong rock-style structure, but when it works it works really well and allows Mai and Vandermark to show off their skills in the foreground.

As you'd expect the second half of the album with the switch around of bassist and drummer is a more jazz-orientated affair, especially Drake's drumming, which never ceases to impress me. McBride who I don't really know that much about keeps a steady rhythm without driving as much as Pupillo (whose playing is definitely beginning to grow on me).

The second half also features a cover of that Art Ensemble classic - 'Theme de Yoyo' which seemed to me to emphasise the importance of the vocals in the original, though the breakdown is still strong and Mai and Vandermark add about 10 seconds (a little short for my liking) of impressive improvising in the middle. And finishing with the Sun Ra cover I think works really well. Again this is a song that takes its time to get going, but allows the players, especially Drake and McBride more freedom to improvise and set the scene until about half way through the familiar rhythm kicks in and everyone follows suit, rolling happily into its almost Krautrock-esque jam band finale.

23 Constellations of Joan Miro
23 Constellations of Joan Miro
Price: 13.68

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró, 17 Mar 2009
"It was about the time that the war broke out, I felt a deep desire to escape. I closed myself within myself purposely. The night, music and the stars began to play a major role in suggesting my paintings."
Joan Miró

This piece was originally composed for a multimedia event held in Birmingham, UK in 2004, inspired by unsurprisingly given the title by the 'Constellations' of artist, Joan Miró. Bobby Previte (who I've always found extremely hit and miss as both a composer and drummer/percussionist) was - so the story goes - so amazed by Miró's series after seeing them at a Miró Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1993 that he felt almost compelled to write a series of his own musical interpretations of the work.

Each of Previte's compositions reflects not only the instability of the gouche paintings, but also the size of each constellation as well (15 by 18 inches) - in quick improvisations, giving a strong immediacy to the music. The major problem for any musician attempting to translate visual art into the aural realm is how to maintain the substance the of the original work, and offer something distinctive in itself. Something I don't think anyone has ever come as close to as Morton Feldman with his beautiful Rothko Chapel compositions.

Looking at art is inevitably more immediate - you can in almost one glance get a sense of the image as a whole - music takes longer to form and to sink into your head, but at the same time to really understand (as far as possible) a painting or other such static visual work you have to spend time looking at it, taking everything in. The image as whole is only a starting point, after that where you go is up to you - your eyes may dart from one detail to the next, they may try to find connections, pick out symmetry or other such arrangements of space, but ultimately this is a very personal response. So what Bobby Previte does brilliantly is reverse this process - so instead of starting out with a whole, you start off with little details, he makes connections, introduces new elements to reflect changes in colour, changes in shape and slowly over the course of his compositions a whole image is formed that somehow stands as equal to the image of the original Miró.

Like Miró's work, Previte's compositions seem to float, a kind reflection of the stars that Miró was so in love with. And like the paintings, Previte's music pulses, wavers, occasionally blisters and bursts through ostinati and glissandi. I suppose it helps that Miró's paintings are in the first place like the work of other artists like Kandinsky similar inspired by musical origins.

Previte does well to maintain a careful balance and harmony created by well-timed counterpoints - 'Acrobatic Dancers' jump around lightly (vibraphone), float in air crafted by the trumpets of Ralph Alessi and Lew Soloff and then quicken their pace as Previte pounds his drums, before eventually returning to ground as Elizabeth Panzer's harp glides celestially from one track to the next - beginning the soft, mournful sounds of 'The Nightingale's Song At Midnight And Morning Rain'. At times, there's a dense cacophony of sounds like those on 'Wounded Personage where Wayne Horvitz's electronics add a sort of 70s retro-futuristic chic to the mix and at others the music becomes reminiscent of a late-night, Eastern European bar room, comic shanty as witness on 'The Poetess'.

Joe Barbato's accordian on 'The Poetess' certainly adds a lighthearted touch, but the composition still maintains the dark undertones, which run throughout Miró's work. The power of which seems to stem from their inherent instability, and their ability to oscillate between light and dark, being paradoxically both welcoming and disquieting in order to reflect the ever changing flux of the world itself. Imagination is the most powerful force behind Miró's work and Previte manages, with each of his compositional responses, to tap into that force, offering a textural tour-de-force of colliding sounds in brief sketches - the longest of which is just over three minutes - which can switch unexpectedly from the gaiety of a major key to the sobriety of minor, opening up the Universe before your ears.

Requiem: En Deux Temps Et Dix [VINYL]
Requiem: En Deux Temps Et Dix [VINYL]

5.0 out of 5 stars A Musique Concrète Masterpiece, 17 Mar 2009
Chion's Requiem probably represents one of the defining moments of the musique concrète canon, a work all other pieces must be judged by and one of the few absolute masterpieces of the genre. Things begin with a high pitched tone soon joined by an electro-acoustic, echoing wind and then just after 40 seconds, silence, a man narrating a few lines in French and the start of a slow buzzing, chant-like humming, dripping water, echoes, reverbs and more French vocals repeating the words 'Requiem Aeternam'. And all of this is only two and half minutes into this labyrinthine construction which comes close to nearly annihilating the standard structure of a requiem. Traces of the traditional Funeral Mass remain (largely through the titles of the various movements), but have been so brutally deconstructed that it's very difficult to know exactly at which point in the proceedings you are experiencing. In fact, it's almost as if Chion wants to create all moments at once, stopping time so that everything and anything can happen simultaneously, purposefully disorientating and confusing the listener.

Chion himself has stated that the work is a test of the listener's memory and challenges their ability to be able to connect all the various fragments together in their head. At one moment, you find yourself assaulted by an artillery of static, overwhelmed and confused to then a few moments later be suddenly freed, caught by a single tone, then a fractured libretto (which seems to be transmitted from the nether regions of space), and finally thrown onto an oscillating radiophonic pulse, a powerful wave of sound and whispered vocals, which seem to evoke the passage through time, a calling from another world, the transition from one life to the next. Initially familiar sounds repeat themselves like the three second choral passage introduced in the 'Dies Irae', but slowly as time passes and the journey spins into the unknown depths, those familiar sounds being to dissolve, becoming more and more impossible to cling onto. Towards the end of the piece, after traveling through a maze of sound, disorientated now, the last few minutes of the journey seem to take place alone - the familiar patterns of the beginning have all but disappeared now and through pounding drums, the start of a new harmony emerges. Childlike voices break through from distant realms, as the final waves draw to a close, floating slowly and cautiously with a final flourish before the subdued finale, laughter and then silence.

Her First Dance
Her First Dance
Price: 12.76

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Misha Alperin - Her First Dance, 27 Oct 2008
This review is from: Her First Dance (Audio CD)
A distant clock strikes midnight as I stroll through falling snow along deserted Parisian streets. Getting lost in the whiteness of winter, I stumble upon an alley where a masked figure in a dinner jacket beckons to me, inviting me to come over as if he had been expecting me for some time. His manner is reserved, but polite and soon he is pushing me through a door at the end of the alley where I emerge in a dusty room where an old painting of some forgotten Count licking his lips watches over me. Smoke washes the deep purple velvet walls of this antechamber, performing elaborate pirouettes and dissolving into air.

Beyond a heavy red curtain I hear the faint sounds of piano notes and find myself drawn towards the simple melody. Pushing back the heavy red curtain, I step into a small hall where a stage lies before me and at its centre rests an impressively sized grand piano. Sitting with her back to me, black hair tied up neatly into a bun in a sort of Oriental fashion, wearing a long dark green gown is the pianist playing that ethereal melody. She pays me no attention, but as she twists her neck towards the hall, I see that she too is wearing a mask, birdlike and glittering with gold and silver, and the faint trace of a devious smile marks the edge of her lips, scarlet red and incredibly appealing. Scattered throughout are several more masked figures, the men in neat and tidy, stylish suits and the women wearing various gowns of subdued colours or perhaps it is the smoke in the room which makes them appear subdued when they are normally vivid and striking.

What strikes me as strange is that the handful of figures all sit apart at small circular tables, but perhaps this is a necessity since there is no more than one chair at each table. The majority of them hold long cigarette holders and exhale with dreamy puffs of smoke in time to the rhythm of the pianist. The hall itself is French fin-de-seicle Art Nouveau, predominantly red with gold detailing of playful cherubs, freely frolicking against golden plants that twist and curl around pilasters and up, up towards the arching roof, to the centre where an exquisite chandelier hangs proudly, illuminating faintly with flickering red candles.

I take off my jacket and sit down at one of the empty tables towards the back of the room and moments later another sound, deeper than the piano, weaves itself in between the sparse Satie-esque notes of the pianist. Unsure of where it comes from, I scan the hall until I notice yet another masked figure stood with arching back in hazy light atop the central balcony over the stage, moving his hands hypnotically up and down the horn he is playing.

As the performance continues the room turns cooler. More and more smoke fills the air. Then I hear the sound of the cello, the rich, earthy sound of the plucked strings that echo the melody of the pianist as a rich counterbalance and despite the haze around me, my thoughts turn surprisingly lucid and then in a light and breezy moment, I imagine that I am hearing the sounds of an animal left out of Saint-Saens' Carnival, an owl perhaps or a snake of some kind, a nocturnal hunter.

Through the waltzing smoke that obscures my vision I can just about make out the deep red stage curtains being pulled back, revealing, behind the pianist, the slender figure of a woman wearing a simple black dress, below which the criss-cross pattern of fishnet stockings shimmers across her pale skin and down her legs to a pair of plain, black ballet shoes. Her eyes are like jewels and from her forehead emerges an extravagant headdress of exotic feathers and golden embroidery. She turns, smiles at the dreaming audience and steps forward to the edge of the stage.

After a deep breath, she closes her eyes, spins slowly on her tips of her toes and falls back. At the exact moment she begins to fall another figure emerges from the shadows and catches her in his arms. He is assertive, strong, a great magician of a thousand spells, who wears an elegant waistcoat offset with a grey and silver paisley cravat. As he rises from the floor he twirls the girl into the air and she revolves around him. They embrace and begin to dance.

The show progresses, movements become more entrancing, his muscular body marks a striking contrast with the delicate, butterfly like motions of his female companion, the musicians weave melodies in celestial whispers, ghostly communications, the audience, enraptured, hold their breath in anticipation and I gaze intently at the beautiful, dancing couple who seem to have shed their earthly qualities. At one moment, they leap like leaves through the air and hang suspended for what appears to be a long length of time, though I must confess that I have by this point lost all sense of time. At the next moment they fall into one another, consuming each other as their limbs contort, twist and bend. And then they disappear into dust as if an illusion all along. And the pianist, she turns towards me and smiles with those delicious lips, then quickly turns away as the light in the room begins to dim until completely extinguished and in the blackness a few lingering notes hang solemnly in the cold air.

In the silence I think of all the things I have seen this evening, now unsure of whether or not I am still dreaming if I ever was dreaming and I can only recollect vague images, but what I remember most clearly are the simple melodies of the evening as the last few notes play themselves out, the final key becoming a reflective reminder of everything that has passed, before dissolving into nothing so only blackness remains.

Donovan Quinn & The 13th Month
Donovan Quinn & The 13th Month
Price: 11.07

4.0 out of 5 stars Donovan Quinn & The 13th Month - Self-Titled, 22 Oct 2008
Donovan Quinn likes to sing about love, but not the happy clappy falling in love where it's all sunshine and rainbows, but the sticky, messy, bitter and dejected sort of feelings you get after love. `And I hate the sounds of your voice ... You haunt this town / Every street ... What kind of love is this?' Quinn sings on the country-esque opener `October's Bride', but isn't that what country music is all about? Except Quinn soon loses the steel guitar and returns to his more typical Americana, blues style playing, so this isn't really a country music album at all. The deceptive opener is typical of Quinn and his lyrics are certainly a reflection of this, as he narrates all kinds of tales centred around that mysterious thing we call love.

Compared to October Lanterns this is far easier listening. The melodies are neat and structured, mostly following standard conventions (note the chord change on `Patterns on Your Summer Dress'), the instruments are nothing special, guitar strumming, a fiddle, piano etc. and Quinn's delivery has the strange familiarity of traditional psych-folk inspired songwriters, and can be at times a little bit graining. So what makes this different from any number of solid indie folk acts out there at the moment? It's the album's apparent effortlessness, the conviction of Quinn's delivery and frank confessions that he spurns out over the fourteen songs that make the album enjoyable without ever being insincere or affected. It's basically as far from the overblown drawling yelps of someone like Conor Oberst as it could be, though I guess comparisons are likely.

They're going to Pick Us Apart - `Hazy Sun / That's all I've done since you've gone / Since you've gone like ... I sink / For winter has come to the coast / I hide my head and live like a ghost / You must marry me one day / Before New Year's day - the lyrics are bleak, the tune is surprisingly upbeat, but it's very much in danger of drifting into clichéd songwriting territory.

Apparently Quinn grew up on a horse ranch in California, which is a good indication as to why there's an eerie, lonesome longing to most of the songs on the record. There's definitely an autumnal feel, but the sun's not quite gone down and the songs reflect that calm, contemplative moment just before sunset. There's a definite wistfulness to the whole record, and Quinn asks about as many questions as he answers, pondering the perennial ideas of love and death. It's definitely more pop-orientated that anything he's ever done with the Skygreen Leopards.

There's also bitterness at the heart of this record, but the quiet reflective pieces are so much more than simple foray's into familiar break-up territory. Not everything is lost - and you get the impression that the sarcastic touches are far from resentful, but affecting insights into the fragility of all relationships.

On `Moose Indian', Quinn sings about how his brother dies and then wanders what that look in his eyes was all about. He then goes on to sing about his brother's girlfriend leaving him with `lipstick lips' and `hair all full of rain' and then how his own girlfriend died just last night and he didn't say goodbye, but doesn't like to see her change even into a butterfly. The imagery is bizarre, but touching and I'm not sure the gentle guitar strumming really does much to enhance the melancholy beauty of the song. It reminded me a little of an Elvis Perkins song of some years ago, where he sings about how his mother actually did die in the night. And despite Perkins' more pop-rooted inclinations, the song worked better, because of it had a much stronger melody.

Listening to this album for a while reminded me of Jana Hunter. Both musicians have a low-key, melancholic approach to songwriting, with touches of the familiar combined with odd whimsicalities and pychedelic twinges, in sort of happy-go-lucky arrangements. They're able to drift from the good old-fashioned traditional folk of independent American songwriters like Dylan or even Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead to the charming pop idiosyncrasies of songwriters like Robyn Hitchcock and Skip Spence and still manage to do something original in between. `Dark Motel' even has a bit of Neil Young about it, but the problem is the whole thing comes across as a little bit disjointed. There are some definite highlights on the album, like `Patterns on a Summer Dress' and `Sister Alchemy', but they come too early on in the album, and the rest of the songs are pretty, but not as memorable.

I'm not sure this is going to be a major breakthrough record for Quinn, it's certainly more mainstream than what he's done in the past, but if anything it may end up polarising older fans. The fact that he's traded in his more haunting, Jandek-inspired, bluegrass rooted playing on October Lanterns is probably going to be missed by some people, especially given the fact that this album does have a few too many similarities with The Skygreen Leopard's 2006 album, Disciples of California, just a little bit less country. We'll have to wait to see how The Skygreen Leopard's forthcoming Hickory Rainbow fits in amongst all of this, but I'm starting to get the impression that like James Toth of Wooden Wand, Donovan Quinn is content to leave all the psychedelic weirdness behind him and move on. But in the end this is a pretty solid record, but like Jana Hunter, I'm sure it's going to be destined to pleasant obscurity. Patience is rewarded, but a little greater diversity would have been just as welcome.

Back to Life
Back to Life
Price: 13.61

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fred Frith - Back to Life, 1 Oct 2008
This review is from: Back to Life (Audio CD)
I've only recently come across Fred Frith, but like similar British improvisational pioneer, Derek Bailey, here's becoming quite a regular on my stereo. Back to Life however, isn't an improvisational album, but a collection of Frith's chamber music over the past few years, and Frith doesn't actually play anywhere on this record. The ensemble is composed of former Kronos quartet cellist, Joan Jeanrenaud, percussionist William Winant, who has worked with some of the great avant-garde musicians of the past from Lou Harrison to Sonic Youth, the pianist Stephen Drury and the Belgian musician Daan Vandewalle.

`Seven Circles' for solo piano has touches of Morton Feldman and John Cage, and there's definitely something abstract and Indeterminate about the playing. As with John Cage's piano works, the spaces in between the notes are often used to add emphasis and define the piece. But the sparse nature of `Seven Circles' isn't really where Frith's talent as a composer lies. His real talent comes to the surface when he's writing for two instruments, and perhaps that's why `Seven Circles' was spread across the album rather than left as a single piece. `Save As' is one of the best pieces on the album, because of the beautiful interplay between the Xylophone and the Cello, which really demonstrates Frith's ability as a composer. It's certainly an unusual combination, but interesting because of the interaction between the short droning movements, careful plucking and cacophonic noises of the cello coupled with the strange playfulness of the percussion. Eventually the piece breaks out into a long, minimal and melancholy section before sinking back into playfulness once again. And playfulness is certainly Frith's forte.

By far the most accomplished and satisfying of the pieces is the title track. Despite being the most conventional, it's also the most beautiful and least dissonant. The oboe remains at the forefront for the majority of the piece, becoming entwined from time to time with the richer notes of the cello for additional depth and the soaring notes of the Arve Henrikson style trumpet for lightness.

The dynamism between light and dark is especially noticeable on on `Bridge is Bridge' as the piece continually shifts from the frantic to the contemplative. The trumpet lifts the piece in a series of sort of medieval-esque moments, making great use of empty space. The repetitive cycle of Winant's percussion forms a strong foundation as the trumpet cries out and the oboe and cello weave their way in and out, softened by the gentle marimba playing. There's a strange wintry feel to these pieces, which is in part due to Frith's most obvious classical influences. There's the occasional break out into Ligeti like `micropolyphonic' percussive flourishes and the polystylistic techniques owe something to Schnittke.

Darkness and the unknown linger across the whole album in a sort of Eastern European, Svankmajer-esque surreal, Alice down the rabbit hole, way. When listening to most of the pieces, I can almost picture Svankmajer's puppet's performing some strange internal journey into their past to recount particularly traumatic events that are simultaneously played out with stop-animation clay effects in the foreground. But that's probably one of my main criticisms of this album - the something extra which seems to be lacking. It's almost as if these works were written with something else in mind, a missing theatrical accompaniment, a contemporary dance etc. The dropping of a ping-pong ball followed by the screeching cello on `Save As' is all well and good if it's used to build up tension in a dramatic scene, but without the scene it doesn't quite have the same effect.

Having said that, there are some striking passages in these works and perhaps all the more striking because of how we reach them. In between the flickering shadows there's a very definite beauty, but it exists briefly as a kind of transient moment that's never truly captured, always lingering just beyond reach. The title Back to Life certainly emphasises the album's dreamlike nature, in a way which implies that it's only when you've reached the end that you've truly returned Back to Life. Rather than a journey through life, it's a journey to life.

Price: 11.08

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sylvie Courvoisier - Lonelyville, 1 Oct 2008
This review is from: Lonelyville (Audio CD)
Lonelyville is one of those great recent improvisational records that manage to combine discord with harmony and heaviness with lightness and never fall short anywhere along the way. Sylvie Courvoisier, a vanguard of contemporary European music, leads the way with her chopping chordal rampages on the piano. The classically trained pianist has a good ear for composition, rhythm and texture and is able to carve a sense of coherence throughout the record that the other members of the quintet can then play around with. It also helps that the members of the quintet are some of the most respected and pioneering members of the musical avant-garde and have worked together before.

On Courvoisier and Feldman's previous album, recorded for John Zorn's Book of Angels series, the interplay between Courvoisier's heavy piano and Feldman's soaring violin was very fluid, playing more on texture than colour, but on this record, it's much more striking and probably the best thing they've ever done together. `Texturologie' begins with the cold and rather beautiful violin work of Feldman, but is soon accompanied by Ikue Mori's otherworldly electronics, Cleaver's gentle cymbal tapping and the earthly sounding cello of Vincent Courtois. But before long the haunting passage is over, the drums gradually begin to kick up more noise and Courvoisier's comes in striking a rampage of notes on her piano, only to explode into brief silence and then a delicate cello solo. But moments later, it breaks out again in ferocity with a wonderfully colourful interplay between the players. This is one of those records that has that rare electricity between the players that makes improvisational music so exciting.

At each moment, the music is rich with both colour and texture, whether it's the bizarre soundwork of Mori, the sliding violin work of Feldman, the delicate plucking of Courtois on his cello or Courvoisier's smashing blocks of sound on the piano. And Cleaver succeeds in holding everything in place with his complex rhythmical foundation. Lonelyville strikes a perfect balance between improvisation and composition and it's a treat to listen to. Anyone who's a fan of pianist Cecil Taylor's free jazz work of the sixties and seventies is sure to find something to enjoy here.

Price: 13.83

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ulaan Khol - I, 19 Sep 2008
This review is from: One (Audio CD)
Steven R. Smith is a busy man. Already this year, he's released an excellent self-titled release under his Thuja moniker, not long after releasing 2007's Owl under his own name and Heave the Gambrel Roof under his Hala Strana pseudonym. And now, he's begun a new project, and with each new project comes a new style. This time round it's so dense it's like being lost in a desert as a slightly muted sandstorm kicks up around you. The album is the first part of a trilogy, which Smith is calling `Ceremony'. Part two, or II as its unsurprisingly entitled is due for release towards the end of this year.

The cover is a pretty good indication of the sound you're going to hear. The texturally rich, quite painterly, golden blur of the album artwork reflects those deep, autumnal sounds of the record. The cover brings to mind the work of Odilon Redon - in those strange abstracted dissolving forms, a strange beauty exists - you have to listen out for it and maybe it's not immediately obvious, but Steven R. Smith's playing has that same power to craft mystery.

Each untitled piece is a fuzzy, crackling soundscape, not dissimilar to the work of Japanese Noise Rock guitar legend, Keiji Haino. Like Haino, Smith enjoys layering dense, heavy sounds on top of one another, which ultimately become dense and droning, but like all good music, there is a wealth of variety within those layers. On `Untitled 3', Smith builds the song around a selection of notes, to reach a climactic peak near the end - it's powerful, not in the Sigur Ros - crescendo followed crescendo way - but because it doesn't force itself upon the listener. The progress is slow and gradual and if anything there is an almost anti-climatic ending as the volume decreases. But in doing so, the layers of sound begin to split open to reveal their core and pour out into the next song. Another artist that it brings to mind is Tim Hecker, whose spectral noise and electronic compositions share the same interest with Indeterminacy. The theory of musical Indeterminacy was advocated primarily by the composer, John Cage, who proposed that: in a piece of music all sounds should be given equal value and there should be no predetermined structure behind any given work.

In I, the lack of strict structure only helps to further the psychedelic, eastern tinged guitar space out, as Smith gradually introduces prolonged tonal shifts like a magician who isn't really there. As always with this type of haunting drone music, there's a very meditative quality, which can put the casual listener off. Unlike James Blackshaw's Litany of Echoes, Steven R. Smith's music doesn't sound so pretty. It's dark and all its drama appears initially only in miniature form - don't expect any pop hooks here - but given the patience, over time, the noise of the record begins to seep into everything around you. That's why one of the best times to listen to this kind of music is on a train with a good pair of headphones. Look at of the window, and the world begins to melt. Cities dissolve to countryside and then to dust, eventually becoming hypnotic fragments of some primordial past. OK, maybe not all the time, but sometimes it's nice to think in cosmic metaphor. It's a strange experience, but ultimately very satisfying.

Say what you will about drone music, but it's not about waiting to hear that next chord change, the coda, the middle eight or the chorus. It's as structured as it needs to be for each new layer of sound and mirco change to be noticeable, and to paint the kind of vivid imagery it aims to. And I certainly has plenty within each piece to listen out for, that it'll keep any patient listener entertained for some time to come.

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