Manafonistas

on life, music etc beyond mainstream

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Das Jazzfest Berlin beeindruckt jedes Jahr mit einem einzigartigen Programm bekannter und zugleich durchweg spannender internationaler Musiker/innen aus dem weiteren Jazzbereich. Ich kann hier immer wieder Anfang November, nur wenige Minuten von meiner Wohnung entfernt, eine beeindruckende Menge hochinteressanter, oft auch seltener Konzerte erleben.

In diesem Jahr hat die neue Leiterin Nadin Deventer die vier Festivaltage so geschickt wie ambitioniert nach thematischen Überlegungen geordnet, unter anderem gab es den „Fokus: Chicago“ mit Nicole Mitchells Black Earth Ensemble, dem Projekt ihres aktuellen Albums Mandorla Awakening, das Art Ensemble of Chicago erstmals seit 27 Jahren wieder in Berlin und Trompeten-Jungstar Jaimie Branch. Zusätzlich traten unter dem thematischen Überbau „Blick zurück in die Zukunft afroamerikanischer Musik“ (Überschneidungen offenkundig) u.a. Irreversible Entanglements, Moor Mother, Roscoe Mitchell und Jason Moran auf. Allein diese Namen waren bereits große Versprechungen, und ich hatte mir, wie in den Vorjahren, vorgenommen, einiges anzuschauen/anzuhören. Meine frühzeitige Bewerbung um Pressekarten führte jedoch zu wenig Erfolg, was leider erst in den letzten Tagen vor den Veranstaltungen mitgeteilt wurde, und da waren dann schon fast alle Konzerte ausverkauft … zumal mein trister Kontostand als Unter-Hartz4-Satz-Verdiener mir auch nicht wirklich einen Erwerb weiterer Eintrittskarten ermöglichte.

Am Ende besuchte ich daher also auch in diesem Jahr nur eines der vielen tollen Konzerte und kann so leider keinen wirklich ergiebigen Festivalbericht erstatten, wie ich das gerne getan hätte – sondern belasse es stattdessen bei ein paar persönlichen Zeilen zu dem letzten Konzertabend. Am Sonntag beschloss nämlich Bill Frisell, dessen jüngste Alben hier ja einige begeistern, das Festival mit einem intimen Auftritt, den er in ein und derselben Position ohne große Worte, allein mit einer Gitarre, im kargen Licht sitzend, bestritt. Der ganze Abend stand unter der nicht ganz adäquaten Überschrift „Melancholic Sunday“, was, wie seine aktuelle Karriererückblick-CD Music is verrät, immerhin ganz besonders auf Frisells bewegendes Programm zutraf. Manchmal können diese unaufdringlichen Improvisationen etwas lang werden, doch der ganze Saal im Haus der Berliner Festspiele lauschte gebannt und zeigte sich hinterher mit langem Applaus begeistert von dieser unprätentiösen, fast schon weisen Lebensreise des 67-Jährigen. Als ich ihm hinterher bei der kleinen Signier-Viertelstunde mitteilte, dass ich seine jüngsten ECM-Mitwirkungen besonders schätze, verriet er, dass im Februar ein weiteres Album mit Thomas Morgan erscheinen soll. (Das brachte mich auf die Idee, dass man vielleicht mal ein Portrait-Video von Thomas Morgan machen müsste.)

 
 
 


 
 
 

Zur Zugabe holte Frisell die jüngere Kollegin Mary Halvorsen zu einem Duett auf die Bühne. Halvorsen war beim diesjährigen Jazzfest „Artist in Residence“ und entsprechend in vielen unterschiedlichen Formationen, Auftritten und Veranstaltungen aktiv – was vielleicht erklärt, warum sie beim ersten Europa-Auftritt ihres Oktetts (mit dem Programm des Albums Away with you) eine erstaunlich untergeordnete Rolle einzunehmen schien. Man konnte den Eindruck gewinnen, dass sie vielleicht schon etwas müde war. Einem Freund, der das Konzert ebenfalls besuchte (aber nicht wie ich im Parkett, sondern oben in der Loge saß), gefiel es nicht, dass Halvorsens Gitarre gegenüber den anderen Instrumenten kaum zu hören war (War das evtl. oben mehr ein Problem als unten?), speziell auch, weil neben ihr Pedal-Steel-Gitarre von Susan Alcorn so viel Raum bekam. Mich störte das weniger, aber es fiel schon sehr auf, dass jede/r der Mitwirkenden ausgiebigen Raum für Soli, meist mehrfach, bekam, während die Chefin sich diesen Raum nicht schenkte und geradezu bescheiden am Rand saß und spielte, als wäre sie eine Nebenfigur des Ganzen. Ihre Mitmusiker waren durchweg beeindruckend und mitreißend, speziell Bassist John Hébert und Saxofonist Jon Irabagon kamen beim Publikum sehr gut an. So unterhaltsam ich das etwa 45-minütige Programm auch fand, es schien mir auch ein klein wenig enttäuschend konventionell, in American-Jazz-Mainstream-Weise, weshalb mich sehr wunderte, dass Bill Frisell die Zugabe mit Halvorsen später mit den Worten einleitete: „It blew my mind. I’ve never heard anything like that.“ Denn so vielseitig und eingängig Halvorsens Oktett-Programm auch war, dass man das, womit die acht oder neun hier dargebotenen Stücke aufwarteten, nicht bereits irgendwo so oder ähnlich gehört hätte, konnte man nun wirklich nicht sagen.

Dabei fällt mir ein, dass in einem Kurzbericht zum Festival (im RBB, wenn ich mich nicht irre) ein paar Gäste nach den Konzerten befragt worden waren, und einer dieser Interviewten, laut Selbstaussage seit vielen Jahren ein regelmäßiger Jazzfest-Besucher, brachte es tatsächlich fertig, in seinen kurzen Statements sicher sechs- bis achtmal zu sagen, dass das Programm in diesem Jahr besonders „anstrengend“ (gleichwohl lohnend) sei, „so anstrengend war es noch nie“. Man darf daher mit einiger Sicherheit annehmen, dass der Herr sich über das zumeist ruhige Programm des „Melancholic Sunday“ sehr gefreut haben dürfte. Leider war ich nicht bei dem Doppelkonzert am Nachmittag, obgleich Maria Fausts großartiges Ensemble-Programm für eines der besten und fantasievollsten im zu Ende gehenden Jahr veröffentlichten Jazzensemble-Alben (Machina) gesorgt hat, das ich liebend gerne live erlebt hätte, zumal in der Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche und gefolgt von einem Soloauftritt von Kara-Lis Coverdale.

Zurück zum Abendprogramm: Während Mary Halvorsens Oktettstücke also mit Abwechslungsreichtum und Publikums-Eingängigkeit punkteten, das Konzert indes leider ein wenig steif und unflexibel wirkte (ein Eindruck, den mein Freund oben auf der Loge ebenfalls bekam – jedes der vielen Soli vermittelte weitaus mehr das Gefühl von Pflicht als von Kür, schade), war der Auftritt von Kim Myhrs Septett, der den Gitarren-Konzertabend eröffnete, gewissermaßen das Gegenteil: Interessanterweise machen die Stücke seines Albums You | Me in ihrer etwas ausgebauten Live-Variante (erweitert auf ganze vier Gitarristen!) erst einmal den Eindruck streng durchgeplanter und unflexibler Minimal Music. Wer das Album kennt, weiß, dass es sich hier um zwei epische Kompositionen für Gitarre und mehrere Perkussionisten (Hans Hulbækmo, Ingar Zach und Tony Buck) handelt, die in der Tradition von Steve Reichs „klassischem“ Material stehen, gefiltert durch leise Anklänge an norwegische Volksmusik und die aus dem Osloer Sofa-Music-Umfeld (oder ähnlich auch von den Necks, apropos Tony Buck) bekannte Ambient-Improvisation, wo Kim Myhr und Ingar Zach mit dem Sofa-Label und ihren zahlreichen Bands und Projekten seit mindestens 15 Jahren wesentliche Protagonisten sind. Der Ansatz, den diese Musiker verfolgen, ist oftmals der eines hypnotischen Musizierens mit sich ineinander verzahnenden und auseinander herauskristallisierenden Entwicklungslinien, was auch beim Zuhörer gerne einen latenten Trance-Zustand evoziert. Das gelang auch beim Auftritt am Sonntag Abend sehr schön und vor allem ohne, dass es je steif und formal geworden wäre, nicht zuletzt weil sich die sieben Musiker offenkundig seit vielen Jahren kennen und gut verstehen. Man darf dabei freilich keinen konventionellen Jazz erwarten, wie das wohl die beiden etwas älteren Besucher/innen neben mir hatten, die nach dem Myhr-Konzert kommentierten, dass das die Konzerte aufzeichnende Radio jetzt fürs erste wieder genügend banale Dudelmusik für die Minuten vor den Nachrichten in petto habe. Schätze, die beiden waren mit dem deutlich jazzigeren, aber auch gefälligeren Auftritt des folgenden Oktetts dann gut bedient.

Gerne hätte ich wie gesagt auch andere Konzerte erlebt, zumal der erwähnte Freund sehr positiv über die Auftritte von Jaimie Branch, Moor Mother und Irreversible Entanglements berichtete. Bill Frisell hat er wiederum durch diesen Abend schätzen gelernt. [Fotos © Camille Blake. (Die zweite Gitarre fasste Frisell während des ganzen Auftritts übrigens nicht einmal an.) Ein paar Fotos von dem Abend kann man hier bei der Jazz-Zeitung sehen.]

Two weeks ago I went to see (and hear) Sigurd Hole’s trio at Berlin Mitte’s jazzclub b-flat. Sigurd had invited me to the concert after we had failed to meet in Oslo, even though our short-term residence (the apartment of friends who spent some time in our flat in Berlin) was only a few streets away from his apartment. I had already been well familiar with his versatile work in various bands – Karl Seglem’s acoustic quartet, five Eple Trio albums, a fascinating free-improv album with Seglem and Jonas Sjøvaag (West Wind Drift), and, most recently, Tord Gustavsen’s new trio album which I like so much more than the earlier trilogy of trio albums, among others. So when he sent me his two new albums which he released this year, I was surely interested in reviewing them. 

I was not prepared, however, for such a unique trio recording: Sigurd recorded Encounters with Jarle Vespestad (whom he got to know through Gustavsen’s trio), who has already inscribed himself into recent Norwegian music with countless idiosyncratic projects and an always mesmerizing personal style of playing drums and percussion, and the younger Håkon Aase (whom Sigurd got to know though his teaching at Oslo’s music academy), whom I had briefly met in Kongsberg this summer, whose own bands (Yūgen, Filosofer) have shown innovative approaches between jazz, improvisation and folk and whose playing in other people’s bands (Mats Eilertsen, Thomas Strønen etc.) has caused Manfred Eicher to speak favorably of him. Which is why I was actually a bit surprised that Encounters was not released as an ECM album. It has all the necessary qualities for it. Anyway, Manfred Eicher probably likes it and I am positive that the next album by this trio will be recorded with him as a producer – and Encounters will have been „discovered“ by more people by then. It’s a truly beautiful and inspired recording, and their two-hour concert was a delight from beginning to end, with all of them playing jazz in sometimes unorthodox and always entertaining ways, while showing their best qualities as a band with unique instrumentation.

Elvesang, Sigurd’s other 2018 album is a more introspective album for bass solo, and even though it may not as immediately emotional, it is a very personal project, recorded in his home region, the rural municipality of Rendalen (Rena valley) somewhere between Oslo and Trondheim, „surrounded by farmland“, as he writes in his liner notes. This music seems to have grown out of this rural Norwegian place, you can even hear the weather and some birds. 

 

 

I was curious to hear more about the background of this music:

 

  • What is your connection to Japanese culture? I notice there are references on both these albums. 

Well, it all started – triggered during my travels/tours in Japan – as a fascination with the Japanese culture and the history of Japan, especially focused around the role Zen Buddhism has played in both the Japanese society as a whole and in different kinds of Japanese art. This fascination has also lead to a keen interest in Zen Buddhism in particular, resulting in the reading of many books, experimenting with Zen meditation and visiting numerous temples in Japan. I find Zen temples a great source of quiet inspiration. I have walked down this road not to become a hardcore Zen Buddhist, but because I find in Zen ways of dealing with different aspects of life that I believe can be of great benefit both on an individual and collective level in a modern, western society. Not a groundbreaking discovery in itself as Zen has been adapted into the western world for a long time and has grown to become quite popular, however it has been an important discovery for myself.

Zen’s relationship with nature, and the key insight that human beings are a completely dependent on and an inseparable part of nature and all life on earth, and therefore should act accordingly in treating all our surroundings with the utmost care and love, is in my opinion the most important wisdom derived from Zen that we should strive to make part of our own lives. Looking around me, I sometimes feel like modern man, in general, has lost track of this sensation of unity with nature. Instead of being a part of nature, we strive to control and manipulate nature just to serve our own needs, without taking into consideration nature’s vulnerability. I believe it is of the utmost importance to renew our relationship with nature, as a humble, caring and inseparable part of a greater whole. Only then, with this starting point, I believe can we find the inspiration and motivation needed to change our way of life into a truly sustainable relationship with our surroundings.

 

  • So how did this become an influence on your music-making?

 

The aspect of meditation has always, I believe, been an important part of my approach to music – both in practicing, playing solo and in playing with bands. Working more often than not with rather soft dynamics in minimalistic movements, long shapes and static situations in music, one may say that my general approach to music has an introvert quality. However, I do also enjoy the more playful aspects in music. I see no conflict between the two, quite the contrary, I see opportunity for developing meaningful dialogues between the meditative and the playful – within an aesthetic whole.

In Shakuhachi flute music, Honkyoku (traditionally used in the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism in the practice of suizen – blowing meditation), I found many elements in the way of shaping sounds, phrasing, the use of quarter tones, and also in the aspects of time and silence, similar to what I was already doing in my solo work (this discovery happened maybe some four or five years ago). My airy and almost flutelike approach to arco playing has similarities to the sound of the Shakuhachi, making it a very natural approach in many ways. I also found inspiration in some of the written musical material for the Shakuhachi that I have tried to translate the double bass. 

Another thing I find inspiring in Zen, is the approach to the now – the immediate way of responding to ones surroundings being completely in the now. For me, this is something very akin to being an improvising musician – always listening to ones surroundings with the utmost care, ready to respond to whatever happens. All in all, I find great resonance in Zen for what I want to express in my music on a deeper level. I hope to invite my audience into an almost meditative state of listening, giving a feeling of tranquility and inner peace – and at times also a feeling of restlessness and curiosity that might aspire to evolve a closer and more caring relationship with nature.

 

    • What was the original starting point for the solo album? Where did the set of solo compositions start — and when was the point in time when you noticed it needed to be a solo album?

 

Ever since starting with Eple Trio in 2003, and later also in particular in my collaborations with Karl Seglem, I searched for ways of expressing myself on the double bass that had a relationship somehow with Norwegian traditional music. After a while, in every concert with Seglem, I was given a spot to play completely solo based on this musical approach. This became an important playground for me to experiment with the double bass as a solo instrument, trying out different approaches both on the practice room and then on stage – the best way of learning through getting an immediate response on communicating the music to an audience. Apart from the pure instrument-specific aspects, the aspect of time and timing was a very important thing in this process, feeling how long the different parts and movements should be in the whole of a solo composition / improvisation. The idea to make a solo album was maybe lurking in the back of my head, and in 2012 I believe, Misha Alperin (r.i.p.) heard me play solo at an award ceremony in Oslo. Afterwards, he told me that I should make a solo double bass album. It was very inspiring to hear someone like him say this, and it made be believe that I really could do this. However, it took still four years before I got the actual recording done – in July 2016. I learned a lot from the recording process, both in distilling and preparing the material on beforehand, the recording itself, and then the selection of parts and making the order of the album – it felt very satisfying to get to explore and concretize my ideas on an album.

 

    • I have heard quite a few solo bass albums (Barre Phillips, Nils Davidsen, Joel Grip, Adam Pultz Melbye, Håkon Thelin…), and in a way they sometimes tend to be somewhat austere as by nature the bass is not the instrument most people would go out and buy a solo album of… So did you actually feel the need to develop an overall vision or idea for this album before you recorded it, to give yours a specific, unique approach, to address your personal vision to an audience — or did you go the other way, i.e. just follow your intuition without thinking about an audience during recording and writing?

 

The creative and great work of Stefano Scodanibbio, and also Håkon Thelin, have in recent years become important sources of inspiration for me in learning playing techniques I did not know before. In some of their material I might also find ideas that I “steal” and use as a starting point for making something else.

I never think of an audience when I compose or practice. However, this is not entirely true. Because I am listening myself, right? So in a way there is an audience present at all time. You need learn how to become a good listener to your own music when you are making it, to make decisions, what is good, what is bad, what to keep, what to throw away, and so on… but I never think “this will probably sound good to the kind of audience I want to reach with my music”. For me, thinking like that completely destroys the creative process. If I love what I make, there is also a chance that others might also like it. Which is of course very important to me. That being said, I believe that unconsciously, as a result of previous experiences performing music for an audience, the audience might play a minor role in the decisions I make in composing even though I am not aware of it.

The overall idea for Elvesang, for a long time, was simply to make an album where I explored the different playing techniques I used in my solo playing, giving each composition its own character based on the playing techniques. This way I could learn about my own playing, decide what is and what is not a clear enough musical idea to be something. So, it basically came from an idea to explore and distill the ideas in my own playing. Then, while preparing the different ideas in the days leading up to the recording, walking along a river on the way to my borrowed study in Rendalen, came the idea to make a piece called Elvesang (Riversong). To imitate, in an abstract manner, the sound of a river as the basis of an improvisation. This then became the bearing artistic idea behind all the pieces (apart from the opening track, Prelude, by far the most composed piece on the album): making small, abstract musical pictures of my own experience or sensation of different situations and different objects in nature.

2018 25 Sep

Jeff Tweedy mal 2

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2018 24 Aug

Scott Walker goes Pop again

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60s pop star turned darling of the avant garde Scott Walker has joined with Australian pop singer-songwriter Sia to score Vox Lux, the forthcoming second feature by director Brady Corbet, starring Natalie Portman (…), after Walker penned the tense, oppressive score for Corbet’s debut film, ‚The Childhood of a Leader‘. – The Guardian

 

 

 

2018 19 Aug

On Edition Records, Part 3

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Since our view [here on this blog], when it comes to jazz albums, is (most of the time) predominantly focused on albums from our favorite label in Munich, I would, once again, like to draw some attention to the U.K. With a similarly unique visual and artistic style as well as at the same time a broad variety of contemporary (mostly) jazz albums (and the music on the “fringes“ of jazz), Dave Stapleton’s Edition Records have just celebrated their tenth anniversary this spring and have released a string of fascinating albums this summer.

Firstly, the work of tenor and soprano sax player Tim Garland would fit nicely into ECM’s releases (just take a look at the colourful cover image), but being an English musician (he was born in 1966 around London) and his latest project being inspired by the scenic, mountainous Lake District in North West England, he’s no doubt more at home on Edition. Weather Walker (droll title) features a whole orchestra, which Garland not only wrote for but also conducted, with Yuri Goloubev on double bass as well as Jason Rebello and Pablo Held on pianos. Like many Norwegian recordings, this grand, one-hour suite in 12 parts (on a side note, it somewhat reminds me of my favourite Abdullah Ibrahim album African Suite), bears a similarly strong connection to nature to Norwegian jazz composers’ works as well as that one by Ibrahim, and much of it is also based on folk music, specifically an English folk tune called The Snows They Melt The Soonest, “that can still cast a powerful spell“, as Garland puts it. There you have some obvious parallels to quite a lot of contemporary jazz from Norway. So it is not far fetched to adhere that – like some of Jan Garbarek’s works with orchestra – Weather Walker draws a fascinating line from European classical music to intimate chamber jazz. Garland’s approach, though, is a probably lighter and more elegant, while in parts also much more rhythmic one. He likes to use the orchestra in a percussive manner, which I find rather entertaining and would love to hear in a concert situation. Like the old Concerto Grosso, Garland says, Weather Walker sometimes works with an 8-piece within the large 35 piece string orchestra, to reach a lucent, sweeping sound. An album as warm and gentle as it is full of atmosphere – the cover image makes that clear it right away.

Around Edition’s 10th anniversary, Pianist Pablo Held has furthermore released his 10th album in his own name – with his trio again, their first on the British label, after the preceding 2016 album Lineage came out via Bavaria’s now defunct Pirouet Records and was rightly praised with top ratings and recommendations in German media. (The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel called them “Germany’s most democratic and most adventurous piano trio“, among other things.) Strangely enough, last year Pablo Held was part of not one, but at least two extensive features on young and promising German jazz musicians in major German magazines, though the trio has (in its still current form) been existent since 2005, has released 6 or 7 albums, one of which featured John Scofield, with Investigations being Held’s 1oth album overall, plus more than 25 album appearances as a sideman. Anyway, I really like that Held, who lives in Köln (or, Cologne, as the Besatzungsmächte still like to call it) with his family, calls Herbie Hancock his favourite musician. And when he replies with Miles Davis’ Filles De Killimanjaro, Federico Mompou’s Complete Piano Works, and Joni Mitchell’s Song to a Seagull to the question about his three favourite albums, one can get a sense of where his music might be heading towards.

Which is, well, somewhat misleading… And I am not sure how I feel about that. Would I prefer Held’s albums were more extravagant, like many by the daring Hancock? I am still somewhat undecided if I prefer Investigations over its predecessor, Lineage, but this new album does show an even more matured group, whose members appear highly at ease with each other – and a more intuitive selection of tracks that hardly ever follow a beaten path. This music is rhythmically and melodically complex while the performances remain impressively immediate and playful. And speaking of ECM, it is noteworthy, I think, that there is a quote by, of all people, Ralph Towner in the album’s booklet, saying: “The beautiful music of the Pablo Held Trio strikes me as an important example of the evolution of the piano trio in jazz. They embody the poetry and depth of this tradition, while extending the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities of the tradition. The music of this trio brings me joy knowing that this great art form continues to grow and flourish.” If it wasn’t for the rather silly, pastel coloured cover image, I think I’d be a huge fan of this album. [Side note: The pianist administers a website called Pablo Held Investigates, where he uploads conversations with other musicians, like John Scofield and Chris Potter.]

 
 
 


 
 
 

Another trio, which couldn’t be more different from the Pablo Held Trio’s modern approach, has also just released a new album on Edition, their third one, and first one with a new guitarist, and has captivated and surprised me a lot more right away. To be honest, I don’t remember having heard any of the Leeds based Roller Trio’s music before I put New Devices into my CD player, even though their debut album had been a Mercury Prize nominee in 2012… well, the Mercury Prize is obviously as big in Germany as it is on the British Islands. New Devices is definitely contemporary jazz, well, is it jazz?… never mind… taking shreds of the past and the present and merging it into a wholly unique kind of music. Some people will hear rock music in there, others heard hip hop, while electronica is surely a strong influence (all members are credited with programming and synths besides their respective principal instruments – saxophones, guitar, electric bass and drums). Also, it is possible to describe them as Terry Riley jamming with Tortoise, while a strong urban feel dominates most of the album (reportedly they included sounds sampled from the Leeds night life, seamlessly, I must say). This is a wild album, highly energetic – with some slower tracks as well – very organic tracks as a result of collective improvisation, definitely on of my favourite jazz-etc records of the year, and easily the best Edition release of 2018 (so far).

I also wanted to write about Tonadas by Julian Argüelles, but for some reason I can’t find the CD anywhere (always a bit annoying with those thin promo copies… they easily get lost), so I’ll have to do a follow-up. I can’t remember much about this album, as I have only listened to it before I went to Norway for the whole summer… Right now I am listening to Bloomer, the debut album by saxophone player Tom Barford, Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize winner, about whom Evan Parker is quoted saying, “We are witnessing the birth of a new star in the jazz firmament.” I don’t know about that (yet), but the album plays vibrant and dynamic, with sax, piano, drums, bass and an impressive Billy Marrows on guitar. I haven’t heard the new Dinosaur album Wonder Trail (yet), mainly because I only received it as a download, and I never manage to work through all those downloads in my tons of folders I download throughout the year. But I am looking forward to listening to this album some day, as the quartet’s first CD, Together, As One, a couple of years ago, was truly intense and still deserves a strong recommendation. And, yes, the new Phronesis [another forward-thinking piano trio on Edition] album is terrific, as were several of their predecessors.

Finally, I’d like to draw some attention to the untitled album by the electrifying trio Enemy, which my fellow Nordische Music writer Stefan strongly recommended, saying:

 

Enemy is about continuing the history of the piano trio. For this [Petter Eldh] has teamed up with British pianist Kit Downes (who recently succeeded with a completely different kind of church organ project on ECM) and his fellow countryman James Maddren on drums, and they brilliantly prove that this story is far from over. Unlike Gogo Penguin, who seek (and find) renewal in this discipline by retreating into patterns and structures, Enemy succeeds more out of tradition. Because the riffs, which often underlie the pieces, could just as well originate in bebop. They are, however, staged astonishingly (poly-)rhythmically complex, tempos are constantly stretched and compressed, and one hears radical groove switching. […] Everything they present happens on the edge of what is technically possible, and yet they move (apparently) playfully and “tightly“ around all the cliffs. Luckily, all this is possible without being highbrow or elitist in any way; rather, the three garnish their playing with a good dose of humour […]

2018 16 Aug

60

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my favorite Madonna song from very different times

 

 

Top 10 song selection (chronological order):
 

  • Material Girl
  • Vogue
  • Justify my Love
  • Human Nature
  • Swim
  • Ray of Light
  • Bedtime Story  [co-written by Björk]
  • Impressive Instant  [Madonna & Mirwais frankly copy Daftpunk]
  • Don’t tell me  [co-written by Joe Henry]
  • Hung up  [Madonna & Stuart Price grab ABBA]

 

2018 28 Jun

American Utopia

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American Utopia is not the fantastic album I had hoped it would be (even though Eno had some influence on it, and even though I find it mostly entertaining and enjoyable), but as I was way too young to go to rock concerts when the Talking Heads existed as a band, I decided to see David Byrne’s current, and highly praised, world tour stopping in Berlin, less than ten minutes from where I live.

It is impressive to see how contemporary these songs, which were written and recorded 35 to 40 years ago (I Zimbra, The Great CurveBorn under Punches, Slippery People etc.), sound more contemporary today than songs by many bands of the last 20/25 years – even though they are being performed very true to their original Talking Heads versions – though with very different, and mostly much younger [younger than me], musicians, like guitarist Angie Snow and bassist Bobby Wooten and lots of percussionists.

The new songs sound better in their live versions than they do on the album, in particular Doing the Right Thing, which they turned into a heavy rock number with metal-like guitar sections, and also the weird opening song I Dance Like This with its funny noisy sections. Still, most of the more recent Byrne songs come across a lot more conventional than the old Talking Heads hits, which the audience greeted and danced to enthusiastically. They must have appeared experimental and out-of-this-world in 1979/1980, but they still sound more modern than rather nice pop tunes like Every Day is a MiracleBullet and Like Humans Do. Even Blind from Talking Heads‘ final album (1988) sounded more energized (and energizing).

Excellent show with a minimal stage design and 12 musicians moving across the whole stage for the duration of the performance. If one wasn’t able to experience the Talking Heads live (apart from the remastered Stop Making Sense re-release in movie theaters some years ago), these performances of Remain In Light and Fear of Music songs must be as close as one can get in the 21st century. Looking forward to the live recording.

2018 5 Mai

Some album recommendations

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For quite a while I have wanted to take the opportunity to recommend a few current albums that are not (yet or otherwise) mentioned here. There are already numerous albums on this list, which is why I’m now shortening my recommendations in a telegram-like style.

Although I have been a big fan of the English duo Autechre since the mid-1990s and appreciate and strongly recommend almost all their albums, I can only be amazed at their latest album. This is not necessarily because the opus is eight hours long (the previous album elseq 1-5 was almost five hours long, the preceding exai a 2-CD album of over two hours, and the two preceding ones – Quaristice and Oversteps – were each followed by a one to two hour-long „EP“). Autechre have released so many CDs since the early nineties (and their numerous so-called „EPs“ were in most cases album-length releases, plus their first live album consisted of nine tracks each lasting around an hour) that it is almost astonishing how varied and complex, how imaginative and surprising and at what high level each new release still is – even though Autechre still keep their own unmistakable style and never have guests or producers on board on their regular albums. NTS Sessions 1-4 is an 8-hour-opus; as of now it is only available as download, but the 8-CD-version can be pre-ordered at the Autechre Bleep store and will be produced according to the numbers of the pre-orders.

Mark Smith writes in his epic Resident Advisor review (and he actually only states „Autechre“ as their „style“ or „genre“):

 

The majority of artists in Autechre’s cohort either dropped off in quality or entered the extended victory lap period of their careers. […] ‚NTS Sessions 1-4′ […] their best record in many years. […] The range Autechre get out their patches is staggering. You can feel their own sense of discovery as they’re pushing and pulling parameters. They navigate treacherous skies but they always breach the cloud line, providing clarity, a sense of scale and structure. Even though they’re challenging themselves, there’s no doubt as to who’s created the rules.

 

Without question one of this year’s top 10 albums.

 

Far less spectacular, but most likely also among my album favourites at the end of this year, is Meshell Ndegeocello, an extremely versatile and fascinating songwriter, singer, bassist and producer (Anthony Joseph, Jason Moran and others) from the U.S., who will celebrate her 50th birthday this August. 25 years ago a certain Madonna released Meshell’s first CD Plantation Lullabies on her then newly founded label Maverick, and since then I have fallen in love with almost every Ndegeocello album. Ventriloquism is a personal collection of songs the singer interprets as if it were her own. Which is obviously because she has a very personal relationship with each one of them.

In the frequently very recommendable songwriter podcast Sodajerker, Meshell Ndegeocello talks very openly about her work process and also mentions her many role models and inspirations, some of whom she has already honoured by interpreting songs in her very personal way, such as her gorgeous Nina Simone tribute album Pour Une Âme Souveraine with guests like Valerie June or Sinead O’Connor, among others, and a flamboyant version of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. Taking into consideration that I can easily recommend every single Meshell album with all my heart, Ventriloquism (with a terribly uninspired cover image, though), reflecting personal episodes and recent experiences, may be an album rather for the advanced listener, an unusually quiet one at that, but the intensive, masterful 7-minute rendition of Prince’s (another one of the singer’s idols) Sometimes it snows in April, which condenses the song to its essence and emotional core, is worth the purchase of the album alone.

At this moment I am listening to Eurythmics’ 1983 album Touch — admittedly I have never been a big Dave Stewart fan, but Annie Lennox has been one of my favorite pop artist since the days of my childhood. So it is worth mentioning that all but one of Eurythmics’ studio albums are now, long overdue, being re-released on vinyl, and PopMatters’ Adam Mason has written this extensive recommendation of their body of work. No two albums of theirs sound alike, but arguably best of them, and my personal favorite for 30 years — though most people prefer Touch —  is 1987’s Savage. Both these albums are halfway between avant-garde and pop. Mason concludes,

 

we are here to witness again the powerful counterblow of ‚Savage‘, now becoming the firm fan favorite of the Eurythmics catalog, while building up a reputation as the duo’s ‚Revolver‘, or maybe ‚Low‘, with an experimental sound dominated by Stewart’s adopted digital synthesizer of choice, a synclavier, facilitating Lennox’s excursions into concept-album territory, where the distinctive two sides of the record tell the unsettling story of a woman’s descent into heartbreak, cynicism, emotional devastation and masochism.

 

 

Jon Hopkins, whom some of you will know as Eno’s collaborator on the wonderful Small Craft on a Milk Sea album, finally has a new album out, five years after his deserved breakthrough with the excellent techno-ambient-electronic album Immunity, which ended up on many best-of-the-year lists in 2013. I loved Immunity, and I instantly loved Singularity on first listen. „As striking as Immunity was, Singularity feels more developed, and it’s ultimately a tough call as to which album is more exciting,“ writes Paul Simpson. And Paul Carr summarizes, „Jon Hopkins‘ Singularity evokes the euphoria and vivid awareness of a psychedelic experience.“

The man behind the pseudonym Amen Dunes is Damon McMahon, and his fourth album Freedom is strongly reminiscent of the songwriting and style of Robert Forster, though with a different, slightly softer and more versatile sound. „Everything feels silvery and romantic, like a hallucination of the classic-rock songbook,“ writes Sam Sodomsky.

Meg Remy reaches a new level of complexity with her latest album under her U.S. Girls alias, In A Poem Unlimited, an idiosyncratic sound palette of noise pop, funk with saxophones, trumpets, synths and multilayered percussion; she crafts catchy songs between old-fashioned pop and contemporary art. „[…] her glorious, danceable new album is a righteous collection of razor-sharp songs, full of spit and fury, a high-water mark for political pop music,“ says Jonah Bromwich.

Mouse On Mars, another unique duo, this time from Germany, has also recently released a fascinating new album, which – while retaining the duo’s peculiarities – once again sounds completely new and different from any of their 14 preceding albums. They changed their M.O. and recorded Dimensional People abroad with dozens of (star) guests, including Justin „Bon Iver“ Vernon, rapper Spank Rock and the National bros. Bryce and Aaron Dessner. In the band’s 25th year the album may sound less radical than some predecessors, Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma may enter their „mature“ phase, but they are by no means less inspired and dazzling. The epic, 13-minute opening piece in three parts already surprises with its confrontation of Steve Reich’s stylistic devices and Bon Iver vocals. Mouse On Mars remain their unique universe. Benjamin Moldenhauer:

 

None of this should really fit together. But the perceptible naturalness with which techno, hip-hop, dub, krautrock, indie pop, drum robots, violins, ambient, dissonances and all kinds of indefinable things are brought together here is very delightful. […] Perhaps Mouse on Mars are the most thorough dialecticians of the electronic avant-garde. Two opposing attitudes determine what happens: that of the child euphoric about his own world discovery, who wants to touch everything and tests its suitability for his own, purely intuitively controlled mind. And that of the control-mad tinkerer, who still has to define the smallest sound shred and can do so. ‚Dimensional People‘ draws its tension from this entanglement of exuberant joy of discovery and demiurgical virtuosity.

 

Germany’s currently best rock band is arguably Die Nerven (The Nerves). Even Thurston Moore recommended them. Their new album Fake may not be as urgent and punchy as the preceding Out, but it is still great. Andreas Borcholte: „The fundamental [..] disorientation of society is the theme of Fake. It is, that much is already certain, one of the most haunting German albums of the year.“

 

… to be continued …

 
 

 
 

2018 1 Mrz

Sakamoto in Berlin

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Da Ryuichi Sakamoto in diesem Jahr Mitglied der internationalen Berlinale-Jury war, präsentierte das Festival in der „Special“-Reihe den Konzertfilm Ryuichi Sakamoto: async Live at the Park Avenue Armory (Trailer). Kein unbedingt sehenswerter Dokumentarfilm, vielleicht am ehesten für Fans; es wird schlicht zum ersten Mal das Album async dargeboten, in kompletter Länge und ziemlich nah am Original. Zwar geht aus dem Film kaum hervor, was de facto live in concert gespielt wurde und was „vom Band“ kam, doch der intime Konzert-Doku-Film ließ mich das Album mit neuen Ohren hören, da man den Meister beim präzisen Gestalten einiger Klänge erlebt und daher besser verstehen kann, was er für die CD tatsächlich gestaltet und ausgearbeitet hat, und so regte der Film (mit dem sehr guten Saal-Sound) auch ein bewussteres Wiederhören der CD zu Hause an. Hier ein kurzer Ausschnitt aus dem „Publikumsgespräch“ nach der Vorführung im Haus der Berliner Festspiele letzte Woche; Sakamoto fasst zusammen, worum es ihm bei async ging.

 

Sakamoto’s solo album have always leaned more toward the avant-garde sonics of John Cage or Terry Riley than his more conventionally melodic, accessible film scores. At one point in this performance, he leans into the guts of his piano and plucks pizzicato notes from the interior strings with what looks like a chopstick. Later, he abandons conventional instruments altogether and generates sound from a cluster of modernist sculptures, bowing a curved set of chiming metal rods before teasing out ghostly squeals by scraping microphones across a sheet of glass. These experimental digressions may sound almost comically pretentious on paper, but the effects they create are often sublime. […] There are few concessions to nonfans in Live at the Park Avenue Armory, but neutral newcomers to Sakamoto’s brand of high-art music may find themselves captivated by its exquisite beauty and understated emotional force.

Stephen Dalton, THR

 

Eigentlich ist async Live at the Park Avenue Armory ja nur die Coda zum Film Coda, dem persönlichen, im letzten Jahr in Venedig uraufgeführten  Dokumentarfilm über Sakamoto auf dem Weg durch seine Krebserkrankung, hin zum schließlich entstehenden Album. Der Trailer sieht toll aus, und was ich bislang über den Film weiß, macht mich sehr neugierig darauf, ihn zu sehen. Hier sprechen Ryuichi Sakamoto und Regisseur Stephen Nomura Schible im Rahmen des Filmfestivals in Venedig über den Film.


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