Vikki Jackman - Of Beauty Reminiscing
For those who don't know, Vikki Jackman is the partner of WWR fave Andrew Chalk and indeed she is often to be found providing the musical backbones upon which he does his remarkable thang. Here we see (hear) her flex her own musical muscles on what is undoubtedly the most beautifully fragile set of piano pieces it has ever been my pleasure to listen to. There is a timelessness here that stretches minutes into hours isolating the listener in a 'non-place' where it becomes almost impossible to hear the same part twice. The music shifts and twists always seemingly finding a new route towards it's goal. And always managing to find a route that leaves you breathlessly wishing you could retake the journey but wracked with the anticipation of journeys yet to come.
Vikki Jackman - Whispering Pages
(Faraway Press 14)
A beautiful new album from Vikki Jackman on that sees her returning to the delicately placed piano compositions of her previous release, 'On Beauty Reminiscing'. This time out the onus seems to be on a more atmospheric form of ambience than the sparse, wistful melodies of the other. Her palette is considerably wider here using (amongst others) drones, effects, field recordings, strings and at one point a rhythmic bassline to augment her piano.
'Whispering Pages' was always going to have to go some to exceed my expectations as 'On Beauty' was one of my picks for best album of 2007 but exceed them it does by dint of being so very different from it's predecessor. Yes it's retained the characteristic Feldman-esque broken piano melodies but she has wrapped them in an ambience of such sumptuous, easy and natural beauty that one cannot help but be enveloped in the music to the point that all other considerations become secondary.
Expect to see this album on my (and many other) end of year lists. Breathtaking.
Peter James – There is Only Now
(Sirenwire Recordings SWE016)
I have no idea of who Peter James is and this album on Susan Matthews Sirenwire Recordings was handed to me by Sue the other week and god I’m glad she did, it’s magical.
The basic premise of the alum is fairly simple. 3 tracks of fairly static drones augmented by extra sounds such as the chiming (prayer bowls?) on track 1. Over this bedrock each track features a guest soloist who provides the gloss.
Opener, ‘Call to Mind’, features Jennifer Jo Oakley on Oboe and vocals providing sparse extended, vaguely ethereal, singing that gives the track a distinct exoticism. She returns on track 2, ‘Everyday a New Goodbye’, but this time on piano where her playing gives the piece a gently persuasive an airy ambience quite apart from the gutsy psychedelia of the two tracks that bookend it.
Closing the album is a powerfully hallucinatory drone wash featuring the vocals of Saskia Dommisse.
I am in awe of this album. Truly beautiful music.
The Jelas - Blood Smash
Dada-ish turmoil in a vaguely Gong meets The Fall style that has been recorded with no gaps between the tracks and with the notion that the album can be reassembled into any shape and still work as a single song. Does it work? Yeah kind of but the problem is that it's not the best of songs to start with. It's alright, but the playing is rudimentary, the singing is slightly tuneless and it generally feels quite self-indulgent. None of these things bother me greatly. Indeed they are often things I see as positives in a recording but I must admit I struggled to find the will to re-listen to these recordings to try out the various connotations. Maybe you'll have better luck - I hope so.
The Rick Jensen Trio - Optimistic About Nothing
This is an incomplete review as my promo copy of this album would only play the first three tracks but as I'd thoroughly enjoyed them I decided to still give this one a little shout out.
More jazz from the Knockensache label this time in the form of the London based Rick Jensen Trio. As ever there is no accompanying info but from what I can hear they are bass, drums and sax. The music here lacks the fire-power of the other Knochensache release this month (by KonstruKt) but they operate in an altogether more sedate and sinuous jazz arena than that other beast. It's clean and assured and nicely assembled with a depth of textures that keeps the sound as fresh as it's going to be for the duration (or at least as much of the duration as I was able to hear).
jgrzinich - Phase Inversion
(Mystery Sea MS51)
Jgrzinich is a name that's been hovering around the edges of my attention for quite some time now but it took the ever wonderful Mystery Sea label to finally wave him in front of me. Phase Inversion is a set of three contrasting compositions. The first, 'Dispersion Trajectory', is a long undulating drone marked by the addition of skitteringly amorphous insectile sounds. The second, 'Membrane Formation', is a melding of washing tone and drone with clattering and sawing instrumentation and the third, 'Spectral Remnants', is a short, gentle set of gong-like tonal ripples.
I found the first to be a little too cold and remote for my tastes the slow addition of the scuttling extra sounds helps open the track up but I prefer a little more warmth in my music. The second is easily my favourite track here. It seems fairly minimal in it's strategies but there's a humanity to it's composition that envelops the listener. The final track offers a small coda to the album that's perfectly formed and full of interest but is a little too brief to fully immerse oneself in.
If I have seemed a little negative towards this album then I apologise. It's fair to say that Phase Inversion isn't my favourite album this month as, for the most part, it all feels a little too clinical for my tastes and I struggling to hear the composers personality but, it is extremely well made and most definitely a worthwhile listen as are all Mystery Sea releases.
Joe+N - Head Cold
(Dirty Demos DirtyCDR015)
Two tracks of "Loud guitar with distorted and looped melodica" recorded live in Rochester, New York. Joe and the very enigmatically named N produce lo-fi drone, scrape and rumble guitarscapes that they pile high with cascading, mal-formed melodies and gritty guitar stabs. The sounds used and the quality of the production means that Head Cold isn't the most accessible of albums but I really don't think it's trying to be. It's got the feel of a jam to it which warmed me to it immediately but the playing is rudimentary and so are the compositions. Interesting to hear but not necessarily recommended.
Daniel Jones – MTT
A new release from Pierre Gerard’s minimalism net label is always a welcome arrival here.
Jones, who I know absolutely nothing about, produces a brand of minimalism that constructs starkly crenulated noisescapes from malfunctioning electronics.
After a slightly overdone start the album soon slips into a game of hide and seek of barely present sounds. With the arrival of a distraction it's easy to forget the album's playing until suddenly you realise someone in the room with you has just hit a drum or set of a metallic ringing.
I'd be lying to you if I said this all works. There are a couple of moments that I thought were misteps but on the whole this is a deeply absorbing and thoroughly enjoyable set.
Rolf Julius - Music For The Ears
(Western Vinyl WV075)
I must confess to complete ignorance of the impressive musical pedigree of Mr. Julius as spelled out in the accompanying press release. This German artist has, it seems, established a reputation that has settled him amongst the pantheon of experimental musicians.
As Music for the Ears is my first foray into this particular soundworld I am unsure as to what I should be expecting to hear. Opening track, 'Songs from the Past', is a long piece consisting of short clusters of bamboo flute (?) melodies interspersed with extended periods of silence. The second, 'Music for Two High Poles', is a sumptuously dense conurbation of thick tones and eastern-tinged melodic flourishes. The music is tightly controlled and delicately sparse in the case of the first, impassably solid and densely harmonic in the second. Unremittingly minimalism in both conception and execution Music For The Ears is certainly not an easily digested experience. Indeed, I think I need 4 or 5 plays before I even scratched the surface of what was on offer within it's sounds. It is a set that rewards repeated and deep listens.
My sole quibble though lies not with the sounds but with pieces such as these context is extremely important and as such the lack of info on the sleeve or the press notes was slightly infuriating. I truly would have loved to know the conceptual framework behind the music. Without this though we are left with just the music and that is certainly no bad thing.
Rolf Julius - Music For A Distance: Small Music no.2
It was with sadness that within days of receiving this CD through the post I learned of the passing of Mr. Julius and my belated condolences go out to all who knew him. It is small consolation but in his stead we have the enduring legacy of his music.
Julius is one of the unsung voices of minimalist composition. His music is compositionally precise and razor sharp. There are no spare sounds in the 2 compositions that make up this CD, nothing is superfluous or extraneous. The disc is dominated by the 40 minutes of 'Music for a Distance', a, 6 year in the making, sonic tapestry of such breathtaking delicacy that one is loath to move in case something immeasurably precious is broken. At it's opening the music presents itself as a digital tangle of electronic tones, cathode radiances and mechanical emissions. Slowly, the nature of these sounds become more organic as they reveal themselves as a forest of nocturnal insectile chittering augmented with occasional flutters and flurries of amorphous noise.
Rounding the CD off is a much shorter track originally composed for an exhibition in MoMA PS1 in New York in 1983. 'Music in a Corner' offers a glimpse of the density of sound that Julius would spend 7 years refining (2003 - 2009) in 'Music for a Distance'. It's flickering minimalism is alive with vibrant stroboscopic colour that affixes itself upon a point and compels the listener to emulate it's line of sight.
Julius' music is so starkly unorthodox that it is destined to forever be a pleasure appreciated and enjoyed by very few and this will always be a shame. For those of us lucky enough to be both exposed to and appreciative of the purity and depth of his compositions it is a pleasure to be cherished.
Rolf Julius - Raining
(Western Vinyl Small Music no3)
I've been the lucky recipient of the two previous Rolf Julius releases on Western Vinyl and they were both compulsive listens filled with invention and surety of purpose. This third release in the series is, I think, even better. It retains both the above aspects and bolsters them with a disarming natural charm.
The album's centrepiece is undoubtedly the 53 minute title track of rain, wind, animal noises and assorted aural fragments. So many field recordings are content to only document the ecosystem at it's most tranquil that it's a joy to hear a recording that embraces the multitudinal and multifaceted cacophony of the world.
The 15 minute 'Weitflachig' continues with the theme of bucolic soundscapes but here the rapidly shifting textures of the water are bolstered and augmented by electronic tonalities that tumble along with, through and over them. Whether these are sounds that have been added on to the field recordings or are processed and re-contextualised versions of those self-same recordings these ears cannot tell but it's a sublime listen nonetheless.
Closing proceedings is 'Music for a Glimpse Inward', a piece described as intending to heighten the 'listener's perception of space and stillness'. It's a very restful close to the album being far more reserved in it's presentation. Again field recordings - birds and water, predominantly - provide the texture of the piece but underlying these is a slowly unfurling breathless drone that gives off a deliciously subterranean ambience. It's over all to quickly which is a real shame as it feels like it has far more to say than it is able to in it's allotted time.
Another magnificent release and another invaluable and unmissable chapter in the epitaph Western Vinyl are creating to Julius.