Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sinikka Langeland "Starflowers" (ECM Records, 2007)

Artist: Sinikka Langeland
Album: “Starflowers”
Release Date: May 28, 2007
Genre: Norwegian-Folk, Kantele-Music, Nordic-Traditions
Mood: Autumnal, Intimate, Wistful, Plaintive
Reminds Of: Eivind Aarset, Jacob Young, Arild Andersen, Susanne Abbuehl
What People Think: JazzChicago, Spirituallity&Health
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse, HbDirect

1. Høstnatt På Fjellskogen
2. Den Lille Fløyten
3. Sølv
4. Treet Som Vekser Opp-Ned
5. Saltstein
6. Sus I Myrull
7. Støv
8. Stjernestund
9. Langt Innpå Skoga
10. Det Er Ei Slik Natt
11. Vindtreet
12. Elghjertet
13. Har du Lyttet Til Elvene Om Natta?

ECM has always looked for new ways to interpret traditional music from different cultures. As far back as 1973, saxophonist Jan Garbarek's Triptykon used a traditional Norwegian folk song as the starting point for open-ended improvisation. More recently, British traditionalist Robin Williamson has teamed with artists normally associated with free improvisation for The Iron Stone (2007), combining original and traditional music with contemporary and centuries-old words, for some adventurous and often edgy free play that breaks down every barrier of convention in its path while remaining somehow reverent to its sources. 

Born to a Norwegian father and Finnish mother, singer Sinikka Langeland is in many ways Williamson's Northern European counterpart. Her approach has gradually evolved towards original music that explores the dichotomy of her dual-lineage through more archaic forms, and the freedom of open-minded interpretation. Starflower, her ECM debut, combines her cross-cultural, cross-temporal writing with the poetry of Hans Børli. Langeland has recruited, with the additional advice of label owner/producer Manfred Eicher, a group of Scandinavian/Finnish artists commonly associated with jazz, but who have all proven themselves capable of meshing in any context. Langeland also plays the kantele, a 39-string Finnish table harp. It's a lush yet fragile sound that defines much of Starflowers as does her voice, which possesses strength equally capable of subtly delicacy. 

 Starflowers reveals its breadth gradually. Opening gently, with only Langeland's kantele and voice, it establishes a flexible time sense that's long been a powerful interpretive device in solo performance, with Langeland stretching and compressing time as she pleases. The ensemble magic unfolds on " Den Lille Fløyten," with trumpeter Arve Henriksen's shakuhachi-like trumpet, Trygve Seim's resonant tenor, Anders Jormin's robust bass and Markku Ounaskari textural percussion working naturally in similarly elastic time. Slowly they move towards a firmer pulse for a hauntingly beautiful solo section, with Henriksen and Seim simpatico at the most subliminal of levels. 

Langeland creates narrative continuity throughout the set by using the same theme on the melancholy kantele/bass/percussion trios of "Sølv" and "Støv," the former featuring Jormin's pizzicato, the latter his arco. "Støv" leads into "Stjernestund," which begins with a percussion solo that's all color, ultimately returning to Langeland's theme from "Sølv" and "Støv" as a vocal interpretation of one of Børli's darkest yet most evocative poems. 

There are moments when the ensemble approaches greater abstraction. "Elghjertet" begins in darkness, with Langeland's recitation supported by Seim and Henriksen, who continue to transform their instruments in unexpected ways. A kantele pulse finally emerges, but the approach remains free, even as the others begin to coalesce around it.

The album closes with the expansive "Hard du lyttet til elvene om natta," which melds initial melancholy with a finale of greater optimism. It's the perfect ending to an album that, in its allegiance to both modernity and antiquity, is one of ECM's most appealing explorations of seemingly disparate concepts that ultimately feel completely at home with each other.

(source: AllAboutJazz)

“Unattached to any  specific time or space…”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Klaus Nomi "Klaus Nomi" (RCA Records, 1981)

Artist: Klaus Nomi
Album: "Klaus Nomi"
Release Date: 1981
Genre: Synth-Pop, New-Wave, Dark-Cabaret
Mood: Theatrical, Irreverent, Cold, Dramatic
Reminds Of: Fad Gadget, Soft Cell, Lene Lovich, Sparks
What People Think: RYM
Definitely Worth Buying: CdUniverse, Amazon

1. Keys Of Life
2. Lightning Strikes
3. The Twist
4. Nomi Song
5. You Don't Own Me
6. The Cold Song
7. Wasting My Time
8. Total Eclipse
9. Nomi Chant
10. Samson And Delilah (Aria)

One of the first prominent persons to die of AIDS, Klaus Nomi mixed rock and disco stylings with a classical and operatic repertoire. He was born Klaus Sperber in Berlin in 1945, but moved to New York in the mid-'70s, working as a pastry chef and nightclub singer. One of his sets impressed David Bowie, and Nomi soon found himself backing the star on Saturday Night Live. He began touring Europe and the U.S. as a cabaret act and signed to RCA in 1980. His first single was a cover of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," and his 1982 debut album included compositions from Chubby Checker alongside Charles Camille Saint-Saëns. Nomi later worked with famed electro producer Man Parrish, but covered baroque composer Henry Purcell as well as Donna Summer. He died on August 6, 1983, after which several compilations were released plus a live date in America.

It only takes a quick look at the cover to get a reasonably decent idea that this isn't your typical pop album: Decked out in a grossly oversized suit and heavy theatrical makeup, Klaus Nomi is not your typical pop singer, either. Both the cover and the music within lean heavily to the dramatic -- Nomi's delivery is all in a very operatic falsetto, though most of the music itself is more of the early-'80s European dance school (indeed, one of his collaborators here was Man Parrish, probably best-known for his later work with Man 2 Man). Only one of the tracks here was self-penned; rather, Nomi gets down to work here as an interpreter, turning in suitably skewed versions of "Lightning Strikes" and Chubby Checker's "The Twist." The real highlights here are his take on Kristian Hoffman's song "Total Eclipse," and a rather straight (ahem) reading of the aria from Saint-Saens' classical work Samson and Delilah. It's pretty hard to imagine your typical classical music buff embracing this song, let alone the entire album, but fans of off-kilter pop music will certainly find a lot to love about this album.

(source: allmusic.com)

"I'm a simple man, I do the best I can, I got a simple, simple plan, I hope you understand"

Watch Klaus Nomi performing "Total Eclipse" live...
A short interview of Klaus Nomi...
Read more on wiki...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Autechre "Incunabula" (Warp Records, 1993)

Artist: Autechre
Album: "Incunabula"
Release Date: November 29, 1993
Genre: IDM, Experimental-Techno, Ambient-Techno
Mood: Trippy, Hypnotic, Quirky, Slick
Reminds Of: Aphex Twin, Plaid, Mouse On Mars, Boards Of Canada
What People Think: AllMusicGuide, AmazonUsersReviews
Definitely Worth Buying: CdUniverse, Amazon

1. Kalpol Introl
2. Bike
3. Autriche
4. Bronchus 2
5. Basscadet
6. Eggshell
7. Doctrine
8. Maetl
9. Windwind
10. Lowride
11. 444

Way back in 1993 and 1994, Warp Records released a series of albums under the "Artificial Intelligence" series that have all nearly gone on to be classics. One of these releases was Autechre's Incunabula, and although they've done some more experimental and fairly interesting work since then, this album will always be their benchmark. It's one of those rare electronic releases on which individual tracks all manage to sound different, yet the album has an amazing cohesive quality. Not only that, but it's one of the major releases that helped to spawn the whole "IDM" (Intelligent Dance Music) movement and propel Autechre into the spotlight.

Over the course of nearly 78 minutes, Sean Booth and Rob Brown take you to a world where machines rule, but instead of sounding harsh or industrial (except slightly for a couple moments), they draw you in even more with their delicate and overlapping sounds. It's a highly melodic trip through a warm bubblebath of electronic textures that will make you feel like assimilation with machines maybe isn't such a bad deal after all.

If you've seen the movie Pi, (and especially if you own the soundtrack), you've already heard the first song on this album entitled "Kalpol Intro." It's a moody, gurgling track that provides the perfect, short beginning that helps tickle your inner ear and lead you along and into the rest of the disc. Mixing seemlessly into the next track (as every song on the album does), the group gets things moving a little more with the track "Bike." After a shimmering opening part, it moves right along with a shuffling little beat and some seriously deep backend bass.

Basically, you're not going to go wrong with this disc if you like electronic music that isn't the run-of-the-mill dancefloor bilk. Whether the group is cranking out the awesome "Basscadet" (probably the most upbeat song on the album with a muffled kick drum and all kinds of blips and squeaks) or the slowly-progressing epic of "Windwind," nearly every single moment on this disc is interesting and changing. Although some of the noises used on the album sound a little dated, the arrangements of the actual songs themselves are timeless and the disc flows from beginning to end without nary a hitch.

It's moody, shimmering, and beautiful and quite possibly one of the best intelligent electronic music albums ever made. If you've heard newer material by Autechre and it's a little too cut up for you, don't write them off. Instead, head for this album and listen to it several times over. Play it loud on a good stereo or headphones and hear the subtle layers and textures. If I had to choose only 5 electronic albums to take to an island with me, this would be one of them. 

source: AllmostCool.org

"The album's title is a Latin word, the plural of incunabulum, the term used for printed books published prior to 1501, or more generally for something in its infancy or early stages or development..."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Kammerflimmer Kollektief "Cicadidae" (Staubgold, 2003)

Artist: Kammerflimmer Kollektief 
Album: "Cicadidae"
Release Date: April 14, 2003
Genre: Abstract, Neo-Classical, Chamber-Music, Post-Rock
Mood: Sophisticated, Autumnal, Fractured, Elegant
Reminds Of: Jaga Jazzist, Flanger, Triosk, The Cinematic Orchestra
What People Think: Discogs, Amazon
Definitely Worth Buying: Boomkat, Amazon, CdUniverse

1. Neumond Inselhin 
2. Sie Tranken Regen 
3. Über Die Wasserscheide 
4. Blood 
5. ...Denn Nacht Ist Jetzt Schon Bald! 
6. Sie Tranken Regen (Version) 
7. Mantra 
8. Eierdaunen (Gerupft) 
9. Irgendwann: Frühling 
10. There's A Weight On You, But You Can't Feel It 

Good electronic music should be a dissociating experience, taking you away from whatever you're doing without holding you captive to some narrative or tired verse-chorus-verse strong structure. It's about mood and the ability to spirit you out of mundane logics to hear the isolated beauty of pure sound and noise -- the creation of an active background soundscape that pokes and prods at your consciousness and never drowns it.

Which describes perfectly Kammerflimmer Kollektief's Cicadidae. At work, when I'm performing some dreary, repetitive task that requires a modicum of attention (but not much more), it's a perfect soundtrack. No single mood ever dominates and Cicadidae, the third release by the German six-piece, is by turns ominous, dreamy, driving and creepy. It is never boring or predictable.

In fact, for electronica -- a label that sells short the work's ability to cut across genres -- the range is striking. Opener "Neumond Inselhin" charges forward with a piano melody washed by synthesizers, and shuffling jazz beats aren't rare on the album. But most of the songs are less than directed, made up as they are of meandering fuzz and chirps and chimes.

The overall feeling is one of disembodied beauty -- the piano and droning guitars -- always on the verge of plunging into chaos and confusion, represented by some screeching free jazz elements. But while Thomas Webber, the man behind Kammerflimmer Kollektief, never loses control of the compositions, his restraint is never heavy-handed. The work has a light, airy quality.

All of this, plus the band's name, which translates to "Shimmering Collective," makes the work sound more academic than it is. In reality, Cicadidae is, quite simply, beautiful, evocative mood music that even in its defiance of genres is always focused and never extravagant. It's certainly worthy of place on the shelf next to Aphex Twin, Portishead and Phillip Glass.

(source: prefixmag.com)

After blowing me away with a debut release (that was largely the work of one man - Thomas Weber), the Kammerflimmer Kollektief disappointed me with each of their subsequent releases. Always one to give someone a second (or third) chance, I bided my time for the domestic release (it was released on Staubgold in Europe) of Cicadidae and settled in with the group once more. Once again, the sound of the group has changed somewhat, but this time it's for the better. Whereas the debut Mäander mixed sampled beats and a healthy dose of noise with some instrumentation, their second (Hysteria) and third (Incommunicado) were varying degrees of improvised and slightly deconstructed jazz that also found the one-man operation expanding into a full-fledged group.

Whereas those last two releases were simply too loose and rough around the edges to hold my attention much, Cicadidae really feels like the group coming together and working as a solid unit. In 10 tracks and just over 40 minutes, the release exudes a warm calm that works in subtle ways and actually seems to move in the exact opposite of their random noise freakouts of previous efforts. From the opening track of "Neumond Inselhin," it's clear that this is a different release from the group. An upright bass and very quiet percussion provide a thin skeleton on which quiet rises of strings, guitar melodies, and processed noise (including a slight harsh moment around the mid-point) and chimes ride. It's celestial electronic jazz, and it's one of the best tracks that the group has done to date.

Elsewhere, the group mixes a touch of spaghetti western in with their sound ("...Denn Nacht Ist Jetzt Schon Bald!"), slow-burning, dark lounge ("Blood"), and even a touch of dub ("Eiderdauned (Gerupft)"). As can probably be surmised from the above, the release is cinematic as all get-out. "Sie Tranken Regen (Version)" is all alternately quivering and hushed layers of strings and horns that slowly slink around one another and build into a haunting close while "Mantra" mixes some dusky piano and guitar into another slow-burner that pays off with a nice tension.

There are a lot of groups right now that are doing their own take on jazz and electronic music, but like Jaga Jazzist and the Tied And Tickled Trio, Kammerflimmer Kollektief is definitely carving out their own path. It's different than either of those groups, yet fans of either would probably find something to enjoy in this release (although it inhabits much quieter corners). As with other times a group has came back and surprised me after letting me down a bit, I'm glad I gave the group another chance. 

(source: allmostcool.com)

"The kind of music that makes the heart feel tangy beauty and longing captured in pristine simplicity, yet it has the noise and imperfections of the real world..."