Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Steven Hess/Miles Tilmann - Departures (other electricities)

A set of six tracks released on vinyl (relatively brief, about 1/2 hour). The initial impression was of a take on Jon Hassell's Fourth World music and while that tinge remained throughout, the bulk of the music is far more reminiscent of Radian, Hess not quite as supernaturally metronomic as Brandlmayr but in the same ballpark. "Departures" doesn't have the same bit, though. It's lush and easy to sink into, but I wanted to hear more grit, more urgency. The final cut, "six by six" comes the closest. Hear a bit for yourself at the OE site

Esther Venrooy/Heleen Van Haegenborgh - Mock Interiors (entr'acte)

Very smooth hums and drones, verging on the "too smooth" but never quite settling there, always containing an itch here, an uncomfortable squiggle there. Van Haegenborgh contributes piano and harmonium to Venrooy's electronics, keeping things generally tonal and calm. External sounds occasionally intrude, but overall the 11 pieces bubble and flow along, never quite achieving the depth of Venrooy's prior releases on the label, but enjoyable enough. For listeners wanting to get beyond Eno, etc. (btw, my copy came enswathed in black crepe--not sure if this was a packing decision or the intended packaging but, whatever, it was coolly mysterious)

Chamber Music Concerts, vol. 1 (Okura, Sugimoto, Unami) hibarislubloadfactor joint release, 3 discs.

Tom & Jerry (Sugimoto) One is tempted to hear this as a hyper-slowed down cartoon chase and violence scenario befitting its title. Organ (or an approximation thereof) and drum and silence. Fine subtle over- and undertones in the keyboard, good use of space, inevitably recalling kabuki. Oh, and those rising scales appear, a bit truncated. It's the kind of piece I imagine I'd having a tough time sitting through if in the same room, but could enjoy from an adjacent space as one sound-element in a larger situation. Not sure if that's complimentary or not, though I think Taku wouldn't mind.

one, two, three, and many (Okura) A relative plethora of sound with Xavier Charles (clarinet), Sugimoto (acoustic guitar) and Unami (acoustic guitar). As almost everything on this production, it's spacious; here the odd twang (reminds me a bit of Partch's kithara) offsets the occasional soft, reedy cry. It's warmer than the preceding piece and I could see enjoying it live, no problem. Nice work.

4 pieces for violin accompanied with 2 guitars (Unami). Same guitarists as above, this time on electric, along with Hiroki Chiba on violin. Meatier still (while remaining lean), in four shortish sections, the first featuring lovely held tones from the violin over struck and strummed guitar--excellent piece. Next, more agitated bow strokes, a staccato feel while the third is almost playfully pointillist. The final portion dissolves almost completely into small drops and smears. Interesting little suite...

Infold (Okura) for solo harp (Yuko Uesu)
--eh, didn't much for me...bland.

Thirteen Steps (Unami) for koto (Ryuko Mizutani), bass clarinet (Okura), acoustic guitar (Sugimoto) and "contraguitar" (explanation, please) (Unami). Again, despite the coloration, didn't grab me--maybe the pacing was too regular, dunno.

Life with Gravity (Okura) for trumpet (Axel Dorner), alto (Okura), and two electric guitars (the Taku's). More interesting, somehow. The repeated trumpet tones toward the end get quasi-hypnotic and the piece carves out a good space.

D (Sugimoto) for three electric guitars (Tetuzi Akiyama & the Taku's) Quite beautiful, kind of an attenuated version of his music from the "Opposite" period.

Chamber Orchestra I (Sugimoto) A septet including two voices, gradually won me over after a dry start--the repeated (every 30 or so seconds) guitar chords provide a friendly tonal center.

Bass Trombone & Chamber Orchestra (Sugimoto) Kanji Nakao on the low horn + two altos and three guitars. A minute of silence, a deep foghorn bellow, then a series of points and a handful of held tones, over only five minutes. The trombone does get a bit scalar...not to the piece's benefit.

Kinoshita-Kun (Unami) Quintet for violin, alto & three guitars. This one works quite well, nice offsets between long drones on the violin and brief guitar plucks, with the breathy alto acting as glue. Good one.

Uesu-san (Unami) Solo harp. Very beautiful track, its spareness interrupted mid-piece by a disturbing stereotypical harp flourish, clearly achieving the goal of disorientation.

Ezaki-san (Unami) For trumpet (Ezaki), trombone (Nakao) and tuba (Takero Sekijima). OK, but failed to compel real interest, maybe due to the similarity in tones. Interesting, in this extreme context, which structures work (for me) and which don't.

xc (Okura) Solo clarinet (Charles) eh, sounds like a warmed-over Braxton piece from 1977.

Red Scarf, Red Curtain (Okura) For violin and two guitars. Like the title, not the piece so much. A little high-strung and wheedling.

Tres Amigos (Okura) Three electric guitars. Getting a bit tired maybe, but again, didn't find anything special on this track. Reminded me of parts of Crimson's "Moonchild", not a bad thing, but...

California Guitar Trio (Unami) Beautiful work to end the set with, again getting into Partchian tonalities at certain points, dreamy with a tinge of queasiness.

So overall, obviously, a mixed bag but in general, I thought Unami's pieces took the cake. Happy to have as wide-ranging a collection as this one out there and if you're at all interested in the area, pretty much a must-have. Besides, I imagine opinions will vary as to the value of given works.

I believe erstdist is stocking them.


Richard Pinnell said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the chamber music discs Brian. My feelings are very similar overall, a mixed bag but with one or two really nice pieces amongst it all. Generally speaking I preferred Unami and Sugimoto's works over Okura's, but I'll write something about it someplace soon.

Richard Pinnell said...

"contraguitar" (explanation, please)

An explanation here:

I've always known it to be a big, bassy guitar. the first time I ever saw Unami play live in London he was playing contrabanjo...

Brian Olewnick said...

I was guessing it was a kind of acoustic bass guitar used in Mexican music, a marvelous instrument I'm surprised you don't see around more often. Back in the late 70s, Rick Lopez, who played bass with John Fischer and Mose Allison, demonstrated one for me--it's tone and richness was striking.

Robert said...

Nice job tackling that triple set Brian, not one easily amenable to a summarization. I just finished listening to the whole thing today and while I need some more listens I actually liked quite a bit of it. I didn't like Tom&Jerry much though like you said it just kind of blended into the background. I didn't like any of the harp tracks but that may just be my familiarity with the instrument. I agree that the Unami stuff was the most interesting to me so far. Not too surprising really, as I think he has been the most interesting of the Tokyo composers. I was happy to hear some Sugimoto that I quite liked as well.

Again I have to listen more, but in this case I actually want too! Even on just one listen I think this is among the more interesting music from these guys in a while. My feeling is that there is some maturity in these compositions. For quite a while it seemed like they were focusing purely on ideas, but with a number of these tracks I feel like there is music coming out it as well. Perhaps they have become comfortable enough with their ideas that they don't need to emphasize them so much?

Anyway I need to listen to it some more before saying any more.