REVIEW: Eloisa Manera Ensemble’s “Invisible Cities”

Eloisa Manera Ensemble photo EloisaManera_cover_zpsl2xhmgto.jpg For some odd reason, parts of hearing Invisible Cities (Aut) reminds mE of parts of the 1970’s film Midnight Express where some elements sound foreign yet very close by. Some of it sounds very classical and jazzy, then it gets locked into a nice funk that forces me to go “well damn, I want to stay in this place” before it drifts off into a place I’ve never been to before. If I am to judge the music based on the credits alone, it does go everywhere: double bass, electric bass, cumbus bouzuki, recorders, ewi: one is still unsure of where the music goes but you want to stay in and see where it takes you. It has that incidental feel where it is just music with the right visuals missing or perhaps this is what it is meant to be, a soundtrack to a mental eyeful.

Even after reading the liner notes which explain the theme of the songs (i.e. a series of cities, each with female names), you’ll want to hear it once more and see if you can sense what Manera tried to do with this concept, or simply listen to it based on the song titles alone. Either way, Invisible Cities is a journey to places that you’d like to see but can only imagine if you wish to do so.

REVIEW: Szilárd Mezei, Tim Trevor-Briscoe & Nicola Guazzaloca’s “Cantiere Simone Weil”

Szilárd Mezei, Tim Trevor-Briscoe & Nicola Guazzaloca photo Mezei_cover_zps75wfvm5i.jpg As Cantiere Simone Weil (Aut) was beginning and processing, my first assumption was that this was a contemporary classical piece. Then as the music goes on, the saxophones were going off on a different label, making me realize “is this more on the jazz side?” Then I realized it may be a bit of both, or none.

The album by Szilárd Mezei (viola) Tim Trevor-Briscoe (alto and tenor saxophones, soprano and bass clarinets), and
Nicola Guazzaloca (piano) begins almost out of nowhere and even as the music slides along the way, I was unsure of where it was going, what it was doing or when I would be able to say “this is more classical than jazz but wait a minute: this IS jazz. Or is it?” Guazzaloca has always bee peculiar but in a good way and it’s nice to sit through the three piecs here and wondering where the end points will be or if they are just segueways towards the inevitable and if there is an inevitable, will I know if it is a true ending or just another starting point? Nonetheless, it was quite enjoyable, hearing it as a solid trio or as a light touching towards something that could be bigger and brighter.

REVIEW: Hanam Quintet featuring Tristan Honsinger’s self-titled album

 photo Hanam_cover_zps2842fea1.jpg Alison Blunt (violin), Anna Kaluza (alto sax), Manuel Miethe (soprano sax), Nikolai Meinhold (piano) and Horst Nonnenmache (double bass) are the five that make up the Hanam Quintet, who recorded the album in two different locations, the Lumen Church in London and the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin. The pieces are untitled as they speak to one another in a very comforting manner, as if they were people having a casual conversation at the park or at the mall. You can hear them as being oddly freaky or sensually beautiful, a bit like watching the origins of something being creative at high speed. The last part of the album is a three-part, 17 minute composition that features cellist Tristan Honsinger, who helps to bring the quintet into his world and he into theirs for a bit more conversation, although sometimes the silence shared between themselves is what makes this work nicely too. I also found the artwork by Sandrao Crisafi to be quite engaging too, allowing myself to interpret it along with the music if and when I wanted to.

AUDIO: Disparition’s “Analog”

This new single by Disparition is said to play “with tensions between automation & alienation, tradition & stasis. Between the single & the dual.” How does it do this? By being itself, which is the norm, which is the abnormal. See what I’m getting at? Disparition is Jon Bernstein, who plays piano, synths, guitars, loops, and percussion on this, and also incorporates contributions from Gabriel Royal (vocals and cello) and Tom Monaghan (percussion) to bring “Analog” to the level needed.

SOME STUFFS: Kishi Bashi prepares for 2nd album splendor

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Lighght (pronounced “light”) is to be released on May 12th through Joyful Noise Recordings, and the man who was called by NPR the “Best New Artist Of 2012” is quite happy about the results. His name is Kishi Bashi, and with an album with such titles as “Bittersweet Genesis For Him AND Her”, “One Upon A Lucid Dream (In Afrikaans)”, and “The Ballad of Mr. Steak”, you know there has to be some heady stuff going on. Why not try “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” to see and hear what Bashi is about. If music called “jarringly kaleidoscopic” is of interest, wait until you actually hear it.

REVIEW: C. Spencer Yeh/Okkyung Lee/Lasse Marhaug’s “Wake Up Awesome”

 photo CSpencerYehWUA_cover_zpse01baaf4.jpg With Okkyung Lee already having made one of my favorite albums of 2013, her participation in a project with Lasse Marhaug and C. Spencer Yeh has resulted in something satisfying on a completely different level. Wake Up Awesome (Mexican Summer) is a combination of real instrumentation, electronic fuckery and found-sound to where you’re unsure when Lee may be fiddling with her cello strings or if someone is moving magnetic tape over a head or digitally messing up any form of input. The tracks go in and out, left to right, forwards and backwards and whatever other direction (or non-direction it wants, and I love the feeling of something feeling so uncontrolled and yet that has to do with trusting the musicians/artists involved and saying “go for it”. For those who love their experimental/avant-garde sounds to be unpredictably everywhere, this is for you.

REVIEW: Giacomo Papetti/Emanuele Maniscalco/Gabriele Rubino’s “Small Choices”

 photo PapettiSC_cover_zpsc58d4e47.jpg Small Choices (Aut) is a jazz album that is built from the bottom up, or the inside out, or there are portions where the playing of Giacomo Papetti, Emanuele Maniscalco, and Gabriele Rubino sound as of they’re outside trying to play their way in. While the outside exterior may sound like free form jazz, hearing the way the piccolo and soprano and bass clarinets are used may make some listen to this as a classical piece, which would make sense. “Escape From Ainola” sounds like a song you may expect to hear in a dramatic film shot in the fall or winter while “Béla Bartok in memoriam” is deliberately mournful. A nice and welcome energy boost can be felt in “Hu Rock”, where the three musicians create a close-to-jam that never quite gets there but it’s the attempt in getting “there” that makes it special.

One hears music like this and while distinctively European, you can hear how their influences transferred over to not only American jazz, but our own folk musics as well, the passing of cultures and how that steady stream still exists. What the actual small choices may be is unknown but by looking at the cover artowkr, it may be about making tough decisions that aren’t so touch, but the choice made could cause a ripple effect in your live and others around you. Hearing an adventurous album like this is a mere choice, but a wise one that will lead to positive effects.

(Small Choices may be purchased directly from Aut Records.)

SOME STUFFS: A preview of the forthcoming C. Spencer Yeh/Okkyung Lee/Lasse Marhaug project

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The names C. Spencer Yeh, Okkyung Lee, and Lasse Marhaug will bring a bit of delight to those who know what they create. Now imagine them coming together for a project. You’ll be able to hear that idea in full when the Software Recording Co. releases Wake Up Awesome on November 12th, and the sample below are excerpts of the tracks “Throw Down The Fishcake”, “Anise Tongue”, and “Durian Wet Dream”. It is safe to say that even if you know and understand the music of Yeh, Lee, and Marhaug, you will not have imagined what Wake Up Awesome has created.

REVIEW: Okkyung Lee’s “Ghil”

 photo OkkyungLee_cover_zpseffb6773.jpg When I had briefly made a mention of Okkyung Lee on twitter in reference to what I had heard on Ghil (Ideologic Organ), Lee herself replied back by saying that my assumptions on the sounds she created were not made with the equipment I had stated. In truth, I didn’t say the equipment/partial gear list as a small factoid of what she did or didn’t use, but that the sounds she made sounded like it was created with certain things. It was then I admitted to her that the album had become one of my favorites of the year and it wasn’t just to toot any horns or anything, it was fact. At least to me, it is.

Lee and her music has come across to me many times over the years, be it in articles/blog entries I’ve read or on albums released by Tzadik and Ecstatic Peace. It was either through music she released, or her contributions to other recordings (such as Billy Martin’s great Starlings album on Tzadik), but regardless of where I found her name popping up, one never comes fully prepared for what’s to come, but that’s a good thing. That’s when I decided to put on Ghil.

I love the sound of the cello, but I really like it when a musician plays in unconventional ways, to the point where the cello ends up something like anything but the cello. One might enter Ghil and assume it will be one thing but at the end, it either becomes something very hideous or something remarkable and beautiful. Upon hearing these pieces, I thought of a few things. There was a lo-fi feel in these recordings and as a fan and admirer or analog recording, I wondered if this was recorded to tape. It could’ve been a reel going at 30ips or maybe 15ips. There was tape hiss but it could be anything from studio/room ambience to the music itself being caught at a low volume so one has to use peak levels during mixing and mastering and raise things so her cello work can be heard consistently with the rest of the songs. During the first part of the album, her playing begins unconventional, which isn’t new but hearing these recordings were a new/refreshing experience. All of a sudden, the cello begins to turn itself inside out. Is she plucking/pulling/stretching/scraping the strings? Then there weer moments where it sounded like a blues guitarist, but wasn’t sure if she was using a bow, a bottle or something else. In some of my own early taping experiences, I loved getting the microphone build for the reel-to-reel recorder I had and scraped it across guitar strings, so that it would become a dirty pick-up. I had wondered for a brief moment if she had done the same thing.

There are other pieces on here that absolutely do not sound like a cello at all, more like an avant-garde guitarist humping the amps and to my ears, it sounded as if the microphones to her cello were hooked up to effects pedals. It sounded awesome, even if I didn’t quite understand what I was hearing or how the sounds were being made, but then again, the sounds were leading me to think about so many things. Was Lee on the ground playing these sounds? Did she remain on a chair just moving her hands all over the place? It’s an incredibly wild listen, and I loved it because this is what I enjoy listening. Then for me to tweet about it and have her say that it wasn’t created by effects pedals popped the bubble I had made and set the music here closer to Earth. One can make the wildest sounds with nothing but an old cassette recorder and a microphone, and it just so happens that it caught a cello creating the most un-cello sounding things. I have found Ghil to be a pleasure because I found beauty in chaos at times, and there’s nothing like a lot of noise to force me to realize it’s a lot more original than a good amount of music I listen to on a regular basis. I reaffirm: this is one of the best albums of 2013.

REVIEW: Ulver’s “Messe I.X-VI.X”

 photo Ulver_cover_zps2571e8c4.jpg Messe I.X-VI.X (Jester/Neuropa) is an album Ulver recorded with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra. I was unfamiliar with Ulver and their music before this, but if their other music is as thought provoking and moving as this, I definitely want to begin exploring. For the first 24 minutes, Messe I.X-VI.X is a classical album, going into dark and haunting moments that helps to put the listener in a proper place and mind frame. With titles such as “Shri Schneider”, “Glamour Box (ostinati)”, and “As Syrians pour in, Lebanon grapples with ghosts of a bloody past”, there’s obviously a message going. When the vocals appear in “Son Of Man”, you realize that we’re now in a spiritual place, complete with a vocal choir and orchestra, and the feel of the music sounds like either Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, or Atom Heart Mother-era Pink Floyd. When the lyric “the massacre of the innocent and the sacrifice of the son/what kind of choir of angels will receive us” is heard, you realize you’re still in the middle of the album evolving and things are probably going to continue to expand.

When the album closes with “Mother Of Mercy”, you feel as if you were just placed in the middle of a prayer or church/temple service. Perhaps it might sound unholy to say that it feels like a rock opera but without the rock, it’s a union musical communion that honors the belief of one and many, of some and few. Messe I.X-VI.X could be considered a classical album with a brief electronic passage, or progressive electronic music with classical movements. Regardless of what one considers this, it’s an engrossing listen.

(Vinyl pressing of Messe I.X-VI.X is available from Neuropa Records.)