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Music Reviews

Ghana Soundz Vol. 2 [coll] – [Soundway Records]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, International

Soundway label boss and musical archaeologist Miles Cleret comes correct with another outstanding collection of funky, obscure sounds from 1970’s Ghana. It’s hard to pick out favorites on a collection as rich as this one, but I’ll give it my best shot. First up, there’s the previously-unreleased and criminally-short ‘Olufeme, – an Afro-beat love song from Oscar Sulley, who’s making his return appearance here on Volume 2. On a jazzier tip, you’ve got guitarist Ebo Taylor, also returning from Volume 1, this time with the track ‘Atwer Abroba.’ Next, Ebo Junior gets even funkier than his daddy, with some help from Wuta Wazutu, on ‘Mondo Soul Funky.’ One of my favorite keyboard sounds, the Farfisa, shows up all over this compilation and features prominently on The Sweet Talks? ‘Kye Kye Pe Aware.’ Highlife makes a token appearance on ‘Aboagyewaa? by K. Frimpong & Vis a Vis, though it’s a strikingly unusual and moody take on the genre. The fourth and final side of wax brings us a classic James Brown funk workout, courtesy of The African Brothers? ‘Sakatumbe,? and Marijata’s enthusiasm on ‘No Condition is Permanent? appears to be quite a challenge for those African VU meters in the recording studio. In a market seemingly glutted with Afro-funk compilations, let us pause and give thanks to Mr. Cleret, who continues to unearth and expose some of the most valuable music never heard outside of Africa. Please sir, I want some more!

Harper, Billy – “Capra Black ” – [Strata-East]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, Jazz

Texas-born saxophonist Billy Harper had played with many of the greats (Gil Evans, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones) before recording this first album as a leader in 1973. Influenced heavily by Coltrane, Harper was part of the ‘black consciousness? movement in jazz, which fueled such artist-owned labels as Strata-East in New York, Tribe Records in Detroit, and Black Jazz in Chicago. This session for Strata-East features an all-star cast, including George Cables (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), Julian Priester (trombone), Billy Cobham (drums), and more, including a special appearance by drummer Elvin Jones on the track ‘Sir Galahad.’ One of the quintessential traits of this strain of jazz, the vocal chorus, is featured prominently on the two tracks from Side Black, linking the music to its roots in gospel. The equally-important blues influence shines through clearly, as well; just check out the track ‘New Breed? for evidence of that. All in all, an impressive debut from Mr. Harper. Interesting bit of trivia: Harper’s next album release was BLACK SAINT, inaugurating the label of the same name, which is still active today.

Grimes, Henry Trio – “Live at the Kerava Jazz Fest ” – [Ayler Records]

Rococo   7/9/2005   CD, Jazz

Not many jazz musicians have a back story as interesting as that of bassist Henry Grimes. Trained at Julliard, Grimes spent the 1960’s as sideman to jazz legends like Coltrane, Mingus, Shepp, Ayler, Rollins, and others. Then around 1970, Grimes moved to the West coast and dropped out of the jazz scene entirely. Spending most of the 70’s battling with manic depression and working odd jobs, Grimes completely lost touch with his former jazz associates, and even sold his bass! Then in 2002, he was re-located by writer and social worker Marshall Marrotte, who re-introduced Grimes to the music world through an influential article in The Wire. Given a new bass to play by William Parker, Grimes was soon ready for more musical action. This live trio date, featuring Hamid Drake on drums and David Murray on sax and clarinet, finds Grimes on equal footing with his forward-thinking counterparts. The trio format, in particular, seems to be a good one for showcasing the bass, and Grimes contributes two of the four original compositions here, as well. Energetic and passionate playing from all involved.

Magnus Lindberg “Aura / Engine” [DG 20/21] (cd)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library

2 pieces from Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg, who grew up Finnish but thankfully ended up with a decidedly more continental and experimental bent.
Tr. 1-4. Aura (36:51): A large work for a late-Romantic-sized (i.e., big) orchestra whose emphasis is on tone and overall harmonic structure (most of which I can’t grasp). The opening 2 movements are long, and the final 2 are short. Listening in its entirety you can sense (but not really hear) a carefully-planned underlying structure. The 4 movements differ enough in color, but careful, they track together. Overall, the orchestration is incredibly incredibly dense, the mood is heavy but not negative, and there are many brilliant orchestral passages, many involving an international array of percussion. A concerto for orchestra, really.
Tr. 5. Engine (14:19): Incredible etude by Lindberg., showing off his more experimental nature. This piece was essentially composed by software written by Lindberg. This alone is a feat, but the success is that it doesn’t sound all that different from Aura!
Both pieces ably handled by Olly.

-Cujo, January 2005

Luigi Nono “Voices of Protest” [Mode Records] (cd)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library

Once in a while a protest poem, this time from communist/anti-fascist resistance fighter/lawyer Luigi Nono (1924-1990), the leading avant-garde Italian of his time. He spent the 50s in Darmstadt experimenting with the avant-garde elite; the result was a lifelong interest in electronic and aleatoric music which he applied to highly political music. This CD is one major late 60s composition and two remarkable filler pieces. Factoid: Nono married Schoenberg’s daughter.
Tr 1. A floresta – jovem e cheja de vida (40:28): ‘The Forest Is Young and Full of Life?. This is the 2nd commercial recording of this sensory whopper for soprano, three narrators, clarinet, copper gongs, and tape. The text is a collage of fragments by guerrilla fighters, communist leaders, famously executed South Vietnamese, Berkeley students, factory workers, committees, etc. The overall work is a slightly bleak landscape of musical electronics, explored by the clarinet and soprano. Let’s go on a tour: slow beginning featuring tape, leads to serene passage starting around ~8:00 which lasts until a huge gong climax around ~12:20, text on tape leads until ~26:00 when the soprano sings brilliantly, things wind down with more great voice writing leading to a climax at ~33:00 then thing wind down from there. For an interesting comnparison, check out the original (Nono-overseen) 1979 DG recording featuring badass clarinetting by Bill Smith (SJPL has it).
Tr. 2. ‘Donde estas hermano? (5:19): A short chorus adapted in 1986 from an earlier opera, this time scored for 2 sopranos, a mezzo, a contralto. Otherworldly sounds emanate, but there is no electronic altering here, this is just brilliant singing by Voxnova.
Tr. 3. Djamila Boupach? (4:53): A solo soprano aria (from a larger work) to an anti-war poem by Pacheco. More brilliant singing by the Voxnova soloist, featuring huge pitch leaps and dynamic range.
-Cujo, Jan 2005

Sofia Gubaidulina “The Canticle of the Sun/Hommage to Marina Tsvetayeva” [Chandos] (cd)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library

Two 1990s compositions by Russian-Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina

The Canticle of the Sun (36 minutes)
This 1997 work is based on St. Frances of Assisi’s nature-praising texts and features a curious lineup of 1 solo cellist, 3 percussionists, and one each of SATB. Things get to a slow but not uninteresting start with chimes and upward glissandos on the cello’s C-string heralding new verses, along with a theme which sounds like the beginning of the Back To The Future song. Pot comes to a boil at track 8 with full sound from only 7 performers, after which the cellist becomes percussionist (must be fun to watch live), ‘playing? the bass drum and a flexatone(!). The finale (track 12) is a heavenly meditation featuring wavering cello, triadic chorus, and my favorite, the celeste. For full effect, this should be played in its entirety.

Hommage – Marina Tsvetayeva
This is a bleak a capella choral work based on the poetry of Marina Tsvetayeva, who ended her miserable Russian life (made all the worse by WWII and exposed adulteries) in 1941. The gravitas weighs heavy, aided by well-timed silences, sung sighs, and some striking staggered entrances by various members of the Danish National Choir. This also should be played in its entirety, but try the 5th movement alone if you must save time.

-Cujo, January 2005

Constellations: Electro-Acoustic Music From Sweden [coll] – [Phono Suecia] (2-cd)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library

Roll up your sleeves and let’s dig deep into the Swedish electronic music scene. This definitive eclectic coll is mostly what your ears would expect from such a title, except I found the offerings more dreamy and cinematic and less abrasive than expected. All the 5-15 minute compositions are of the ‘instruments and electronics? variety, check out the listings on the back for a combination that might suit your fancy. I starred 2, but leave it to you to find the other star-worthy ones (there are at least 3 more). The 1st track (1959) sounds a bit silver-apple-y, but by the late 80s where the rest of the tracks date from, the later generation seems to have found an individual voice.
Cujo, Jan 2005

The Gianluigi Trovesi Octet “Fugace” [ECM] (cd)

cujo   7/5/2005   CD, Jazz

Unique Italian octet led by reedman/composer Trovesi plays 3637 seconds of tightly-controlled, masterfully-performed, ultra-calm, improvisatory soundscape of clarinet sturdily buttressed by pairs of brass, drums, and low strings. Along the way, you will hear strains of swing, harpsichord interludes (the sipariettos), funk, Jimi, W.C. Handy, Satch, scratch, electronic doodling, Ennio, calypso, Italian folk song, Alfredo Casella. The liner notes would have you believe the success of this smoky flowing jazz journey is all due to Trovesi’s upbringing in some kind of Italian post-war musical melting pot, but I hear the success owing far more to the decade these 8 have spent together improvising. Smooth like a good gelato.

-Cujo, January 2005

Robert Ashley “Perfect Lives” [Lovely Music] (CD)

cujo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

A little ditty bout Raoul and Buddy, two kids in the American Heartland, as epically conceived by underappreciated American media artist Robert Ashley. This post-ONCE, post-Mills 1978 TV opera was commissioned by The Kitchen and premiered in the U.K in 1984. Runs 3 hours in 7 acts on 3 audio CDs. What you can be assured of: a near-constant bed of warm electronic blanketing. Non-stop delirious piano playing by ‘Blue? Gene, often in a boogie-woogie style. Ashley’s non-stop dead-pan sing-song delivery of a novella (really, what else can it be called?) about love, supermarkets, bank robberies, music, nothing, bars, cars, and life in the midwest. This is phenomenal.

-Cujo Jan 2005

3-Word Review: Titanic American Gesamtskunstwerk

Solvent – “Apples & Synthesizers ” – [Ghostly Interntional]

Rococo   7/5/2005   A Library, CD

Toronto-based Jason Amm, aka Solvent, takes a break from his own Suction Records label to release his fourth album of retro synth-pop on Ghostly International. The instrumentals are very Kraftwerkian in feel, though the tracks featuring Amm’s vocodored vocals (3, 6, 7, 9) sound a little bit more personal. Of the latter, ‘My Radio? is probably the hit, with its infectious bassline, melancholy melody, and wistful lyrics about radio’s past. It’s all quite sweet, but not saccharine.

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