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Archive for the ‘Ambient’ Category

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TRACKLISTING:
1. “There Seem to Be Knifestains in Your Blood” (4:17)
2. The Sheltering Waters (6:30)
3. The Counterfeit Pedestrian (2:36)
4. (A) Glimpse (of Possible Endings) (15:24)
5. The Worst Is Behind Us (8:40)

LINEUP:
David Lundberg – all instruments
Mattias Olsson – all instruments

With:
Kristofer Eng Radjabi – theremin (1)
Rob Martino – Chapman stick (2)
Einar Baldursson – electric guitar, slide guitar, e-bow (4)
Leo Svensson-Sander – cello (1,4), musical saw (4)
Elias Modig – bass (4)
Yann Le Nestour – bass clarinet, metal clarinet (4)
Martin Von Bahr – oboe (4, 5)
Tiger Olsson – vocals (5)

Just one year after the release of their debut Necroplex, the dynamic Swedish duo of Mattias Olsson and David Lundberg – aka Necromonkey – are back with their sophomore effort, titled A Glimpse of Possible Endings. While both musicians have continued their regular recording and concert activity (Lundberg with Gösta Berlings Saga, Olsson with, among others, The Opium Cartel and barnstorming Italian newcomers Ingranaggi della Valle), they have also kept up their collaboration throughout the year, ensconced in Olsson’s state-of-the-art Roth Händle Studios in Stockholm (where Gösta Berlings Saga’s magnificent Glue Works was also recorded).

While marking a continuity of sorts with its predecessor, A Glimpse of Possible Endings is also different in quite a few respects – notably more ambitious and more focused. On the other hand, the first thing most listeners will notice is the album’s very restrained running time of a mere 37 minutes. With so many bands and artists opting for sprawling opuses that are inevitably packed with filler, this definitely sounds like a statement of intent on the part of Olsson and Lundberg. In no way affecting the interest value of the compositions – which, in their own way, are as complex as any traditional prog numbers – this streamlined approach makes the most of the duo’s impressive instrumentation, supplemented by the contribution of a number of guest artists (including Gösta Berlings Saga’s guitarist Einar Baldursson, who had also guested on Necroplex, and talented US Chapman stickist Rob Martino). Interestingly, the mellotron’s starring role is interpreted in decidedly unexpected fashion – more as an endless repository of samples of various instruments than a creator of retro-tinged symphonic atmospheres.

The five tracks on the album are conceived as impressionistic vignettes rather than highly structured compositions, though not as random as they may first seem. They range from the two minutes of the sparse piano interlude “The Counterfeit Pedestrian” – backed by the faint crackle of a blind record player – to the 15 of the title-track. This most unconventional “epic” is an intricate but oddly cohesive sonic patchwork in which the hauntingly organic texture of mellotron, piano,  marimba and xylophone, bolstered by cello, woodwinds and dramatic massed choirs, vie with Einar Baldursson’s sharp, almost free-form guitar and a wide array of riveting electronic effects.

Opener “There Seem to Be Knifestains in Your Blood” sets the mood, though with an unexpectedly catchy note. A jangling, Morriconesque guitar, backed by unflagging electronic drums, weaves a memorable tune at a slow, hypnotic pace, soon joined by the ghostly wail of a theremin. The very title of “The Sheltering Waters” will not fail to evoke one of “new” King Crimson’s most iconic pieces – and, indeed, the presence of Rob Martino’s Chapman stick, combined with the gentle, echoing guitar and eerie percussive effects, ideally connects this hauntingly atmospheric track to its illustrious quasi-namesake. The album’s wrap-up comes with the stately, surging synth washes of “The Worst Is Behind Us”, whose subdued, serene ending indeed suggests the calm after a real or metaphorical storm.

As already observed in my review of Necroplex, Necromonkey’s music may be an acquired taste, and disappoint those who are looking for connections with the high-profile Scandinavian outfits that brought Olsson and Lundberg to the attention of the prog audience. In any case, A Glimpse of Possible Endings is a flawlessly performed album, in which Olsson and Lundberg’s outstanding musicianship and compositional skills are subtly displayed, yet never flaunted – just like the music’s high emotional content. It is perhaps a more “serious” endeavour than Necroplex, bound to appeal to fans of non-traditional progressive music (not necessarily rock) rather than those with more mainstream sensibilities, and requiring repeated listens in order to be fully appreciated. The stylish, sepia-toned cover artwork by Henning Lindahl, with its faint Art Deco suggestions, rounds out a most excellent musical experience.

Links:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Necromonkey/109218875773387
http://rothhandlestudios.blogspot.com/2014/02/necromonkey-glimpse-of-possible-endings.html

 

 

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Pensiero-Nomade

TRACKLISTING:
1. Barcarola (4:25)
2. Cerchi d’acqua (4:26)
3. Danza notturna (5:14)
4. Calce e carbone (5:09)
5. La colomba e il pavone (4:17)
6. Tournesol (4:28)
7. Prima dell’estate (5:50)
8. Scirocco (5:03)
9. Imperfetta solitudine (6:19)
10. Sensitive (2:54)
11. Verso casa (4:07)

LINEUP
:
Salvo Lazzara – guitars
Luca Pietropaoli – trumpet, flugelhorn, contrabass, piano, electronics
Davide Guidoni – drums, percussion

With:
Clarissa Botsford – vocals (10)

Pensiero Nomade is a solo project by Sicilian-born guitarist/composer Salvo Lazzara – previously know to fans of Italian progressive rock as a member of Germinale, a band that released three albums for Mellow Records in the Nineties, and also participated in some of the tribute compilations released by that label. At the beginning of the new century Lazzara moved to Rome, where he realized that his musical interests were changing, and took up the study of jazz and improvisation. Pensiero Nomade was born from that experience: the project’s very name hints at the wide range of influences that inform Lazzara’s compositional approach, from jazz to world music to ambient/electronics. The project’s debut album, Per questi e altri naufragi, was released in 2007, and followed by Tempi migliori (2009), Materie e memorie (2011), and, finally, Imperfetta solitudine in the summer of 2013.

While Pensiero Nomade’s previous album saw Lazzara flanked by a group of four musicians, including a flutist and a keyboardist, the lineup on Imperfetta solitudine is a stripped-down trio that features Luca Pietropaoli on trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, contrabass and electronics, and Davide Guidoni (one-half of Daal, as well an excellent graphic artist) on drums and percussion. The result is an album that, while undoubtedly “progressive”, is quite far removed from “prog” in a conventional sense.

Indeed, unlike many contemporary prog albums, Imperfetta solitudine is neither brash or loud, though it would be a mistake to consider it mere background music. It certainly needs to be savoured at the right time and in the right surroundings, preferably after the sun has gone down, and when it is possible to lend it some attention – as is the case with albums in which subtlety and nuance are much more important than forced variety. Nothing is fast or hurried here, and the musical texture is loose and atmospheric, though not random. The sounds are organic, never jarring, but not artificially smooth either. The gentle movement of Lazzara’s acoustic guitar in opener “Barcarola” evokes flowing water, while the trumpet’s smoky, melancholy voice sounds almost human. The same pensive tone, almost an aid to meditation and reflection, can be found in the melodiously wistful “Calce e carbone”, the ethereal  “Tournesol” and solemn closing track “Verso casa”. The faintly disquieting “Sensitive” is the only number to feature the haunting vocals of guest artist Clarissa Botsford; while the uplifting “Cerchi d’acqua” exudes an almost vintage West Coast feel.

The 11 tracks are all relatively short, and only the title-track – a lovely, harmonious guitar bravura piece in which Lazzara uses the strings to create a percussion-like effect – exceeds 6 minutes. While the emphasis is firmly placed on the seamless, constantly riveting interplay between Lazzara’s guitar and Pietropaoli’s trumpet, Guidoni’s elegant, accomplished rhythmic touch adds dimension to otherwise low-key tracks such as “Scirocco” and La colomba e il pavone”; then it comes into its own in the lively “Prima dell’estate”, where it engages in a striking “dialogue” with the trumpet, and” and the stately “Danza notturna”, to which hand percussion adds a discreet touch of warmth.

Although Imperfetta solitudine is very likely to have flown under the radar of most “mainstream” prog fans, it can be warmly recommended to lovers of music that speaks to inner feelings and emotions as well as the ear, and evokes far subtler moods and atmospheres than those usually associated with the pomp and circumstance of classic progressive rock. Complemented by stylishly minimalist cover photography that reflects the nocturnal, meditative nature of the music, this album will appeal to devotees of the output of labels such as ECM or Moonjune Records, as well as those who are keen to explore the thriving diversity of the Italian music scene.

Links:
http://www.reverbnation.com/pensieronomade

http://www.myspace.com/pensieronomade

http://www.zonedimusica.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Two Views on Flight (4:17)
2. Ankoku (4:55)
3. Words Lurking (3:12)
4. Kurai (5:50)
5. Flow My Tears (4:17)
6. Ananke (1:34)
7. Running Water (5:04)
8. The Ghosts of Dawn (4:14)
9. In Darkness Let Me Dwell (4:55)
10. A Knife Under the Pillow (1:22)
11. Coming Back Home (3:56)
12. Waiting For the Crash (2:08)
13. A Dark Vanessa (3:03)
14. This Night Wounds Time (3:16)

LINEUP
:
Paolo «Ske» Botta – keyboards
Jacopo Costa – vibes
Elaine Di Falco – vocals
Maurizio Fasoli – piano
Pat Moonchy – electric zen garden
Giuseppe A. Olivini – percussion, theremin
Francesco Zago – guitars, mellotron, bass

With:
Bianca Fervidi – cello (1-3)
Rachel O’Brien – vocals (5)

2013 was another very busy year for guitarist/composer (and AltrOck Productions co-founder) Francesco Zago. In the summer, his new “vintage prog” band Not A Good Sign made its recording and concert debut, and a few months later  he appeared on In Between, the new album by his long-time associate Markus Stauss’ outfit Spaltklang – to which should be added his participation in original RIO band Stormy Six’s live CD/DVD Benvenuti nel Ghetto.

However, it is with the Empty Days project that Zago offers his most distinctive contribution to the rich musical landscape of the recently ended year. Featuring some of his Yugen cohorts (the ubiquitous Paolo “Ske” Botta, Jacopo Costa, Maurizio Fasoli and Giuseppe Olivini), plus Milan-based sound/noise artist Pat Moonchy and US-based vocalist Elaine Di Falco (of Thinking Plague/3 Mice fame, who had also guested on Yugen’s 2010 album Iridule), Empty Days was not conceived as a studio-only project: the release of their eponymous album in September 2013 was accompanied by a few live appearances in Italy and Switzerland, as well as at Wurzburg’s Freakshow Festival in Germany.

Clocking in at about 50 minutes, Empty Days includes 7 songs and 7 instrumentals, all relatively short, which represent the two main directions of Zago’s current musical interests: art-rock songs with brooding lyrics and ethereal melodies, and darkly rarefied ambient compositions, arranged in a neatly alternating pattern. Unlike Yugen’s intricate, carefully composed pieces, the tracks are more like impressionistic sketches created through a shimmering sonic palette in delicate patterns of light and shade.  Interestingly, Empty Days’ outstanding artwork, with its muted sepia shades and  austere layout, for once is not credited to AltrOck’s in-house graphic artist Paolo “Ske” Botta. While the cover image was provided by renowned contemporary artist Salvatore Garau (who is also Stormy Six’s drummer), the booklet is credited to Zago himself, proving the versatility of his artistic inspiration.

Elaine Di Falco’s performance is one of the undisputed strengths of Empty Days. Here she shows a different side of her art than on Thinking Plague’s 2012 album, Decline and Fall – where the music’s mind-boggling complexity forced her voice into an apparently flat, yet oddly riveting timbre. Here, her dusky contralto displays more curves than angles, lending a hauntingly soft quality to Zago’s wistful vignettes, and providing the ideal vehicle for the pensive, often rather gloomy lyrics. Only one of the songs, the well-known “Flow My Tears” by English Renaissance composer John Dowland,   is interpreted by a different singer – mezzo soprano Rachel O’Brien, whose classically trained voice adds to the piece’s mournful feel.

Di Falco’s multitracked vocals, complemented by Fasoli’s rippling piano and Costa’s gently chiming vibraphone in opener “Two Views on Flight”, weaves a magical, dreamlike atmosphere reminiscent of Dead Can Dance or Kate Bush (or even Gentle Giant), while the somber drone of the cello fits her like a glove in the delicate “Words Lurking”, echoed by Zago’s subtle guitar. “Coming Back Home” revisits one of the songs featured on Not A Good Sign’s debut in understated yet markedly atmospheric fashion, enhanced by mellotron surges and ethereal guitar arpeggios. On the other hand, “In Darkness Let Me Dwell” (another Dowland composition) and “A Dark Vanessa” (from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire) hinge on Di Falco’s deep, almost whispered vocals and minimalist instrumentation to create a mysterious, faintly unsettling mood. The album’s centerpiece, however, is the arrestingly beautiful “Running Water” (with lyrics by Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney), whose title is evoked by Fasoli’s flowing piano and DiFalco’s compelling voice, almost chasing each other in a hypnotic movement.

Ranging from the almost 6 minutes of “Kurai” to the barely over one minute of the piano interlude of“A Knife Under the Pillow”, the instrumentals, explore the instruments’ potential to build up cinematic ambient soundscapes that veer from the soothing, Japanese-inspired “The Ghosts of Dawn”, with its rarefied, crystalline sound effects, to the strident, menacing “Ananke” and “Waiting for the Crash”. The longest track on the album at almost 6 minutes, “Kurai”, with its sparse, ominous texture, slashed by sudden cascading chimes and eerily reverberating sounds, aptly reflects its title (Japanese for “dark”, and also the name of another of Zago’s projects, whose album was released in 2009). The 5-minute “Ankoku” is a spacey, faintly discordant piece anchored by Bianca Fervidi’s cello’s muted drone; while in closing track “This Night Wounds Time” piano and mellotron surge in unison, echoing between pauses of near-silence.
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As I anticipated in my 2013 retrospective, Empty Days fully deserves to be included among the year’s landmark albums. Though, not surprisingly, its main target will be the ever-demanding RIO/Avant crowd, the strong melodic quotient of the songs make the album potentially more accessible for people who are normally daunted by “weird” music. In any case, Empty Days is a thing of beauty, lovingly crafted by one of the most genuinely creative artists on the current progressive rock scene, and highly recommended to anyone who loves music that flies in the face of today’s depressing commercial trends

Links:
http://www.francescozago.com

https://www.facebook.com/FrancescoZagoMusician

http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Pea (3:11)
2. Asshole Vote (6:16)
3. Elements (4:17)
4. Tuba Melt (2:04)
5. Small Rome (2:35)
6. Every Dead Indian (8:37)
7. Empty Traps and Nightfall (2:49)
8. Spoken (2:58)
9. The Utopian and the Teaspoon (5:04)
10. Winds Over Iceland (1:21)
11. Knock Knock Hornets Nest (6:29)
12. Notebook Memory (2:04)
13. Last Entry (4:56)

LINEUP:
David Lundberg & Mattias Olsson – keyboards, guitars, drums, percussion, drum machines, electronics, sound effects

With:
Cecilia Linné – cello (1, 2, 5, 6, 13)
Michele Benincaso – bass (2, 5, 6, 7, 9)
Ulf Åkerstedt – contrabass trumpet (2), bass trumpet (2, 4, 9), tuba (2, 4)
Einar Urgur Baldursson – electric guitars, e-bow, electric sitar (9), baritone guitar (10), electric 12-string guitar (11), mandolin (13)
Yann LeNestour – bass clarinet (6, 9, 12)
Ulph Andersson – additional editing (2), reading (4)
Matti Bye – Hammond L-100 (6)
Noah Gest – lap steel (11)
Shep Gest – voice (8)
Elvira de Troia – voice (2)
Akaba & Tiger Olsson– vocals (13)

Necromonkey was born from the meeting of two artists whom a thousand-odd US progressive rock fans had the pleasure of seeing on stage in the summer of 2012. Drummer Mattias Olsson is a household name in prog circles, being a founding member of legendary Swedish band Änglagård (which he left in the autumn of 2012), while keyboardist David Lundberg is one-fourth of NEARfest Apocalypse revelation Gösta Berlings Saga. Olsson (a classically-trained percussionist, composer and producer) met in 2008 during the recording sessions for Gösta Berlings Saga’s second album, Detta Här Hänt, and realized they were kindred spirits. Lundberg was subsequently invited to join the reformed Änglagård as a live keyboardist for their 2012 dates, while Olsson joined Gösta Berlings Saga on stage at NEARfest for the band’s exhilarating encore.

Necroplex, the title of Necromonkey’s debut album (composed and recorded in 2010 at Olsson’s own Roth-Händle studios in Stockholm), refers to the Echoplex tape delay used by many notable guitarists in the Sixties and Seventies. While Olsson and Lundberg handle the majority of the instruments, combining cutting-edge technology with vintage equipment, a number of guest musicians (including Gösta Berlings Saga’s guitarist Einar Baldursson) contribute to the final result with an array of acoustic and electric instruments. Clocking in at about 52 minutes, the album features 13 relatively short, mostly instrumental tracks that – unlike so much of the formulaic, somewhat “safe” fare that seems to be popular these days – challenge prog fans’ irresistible urge to label everything.

Debunking the stereotype of the dour Northern European, Necroplex is pervaded by a healthy dose of slightly absurdist, tongue-in-cheek humour, evident in the track titles and the descriptions included in the CD booklet, emphasizing that the making of the album was a relaxed and highly entertaining process for  Olsson and Lundberg. Though first-time listeners may be disappointed to find a different animal than the bands with which the two artists are associated, successive listens will reveal subtle but unmistakable references to the sound of both Änglagård and Gösta Berlings Saga.

Melancholy and appealingly zany in turn, balancing acoustic, electric and electronic elements with skill and delicacy, Necroplex possesses a hauntingly cinematic quality that hints at Olsson’s experience as a composer of film and theatre soundtracks. Variety is the name of the game, each track telling its own story in exquisitely multilayered fashion. From subdued ambient interludes such as “Winds Over Iceland” (featuring Einar Baldursson’s meditative baritone guitar), the sparse bass solo of “Empty Traps and Nightfall” and the rarefied clarinet of “Notebook Memory” to the free-form avant-garde leanings of the wacky “Tuba Melt” and the surreal narration of the aptly-titled “Spoken”, the album offers a veritable journey through moods and atmospheres as wildly shifting as the clouds depicted on its cover.

The liberal use of drum machines imparts a martial, almost robotic pace to tracks such as the angular “The Utopian and the Teaspoon” and “Asshole Vote”, where it is reinforced by scratchy turntable effects, and softened by Cecilia Linné’s sober cello, while the ever-present mellotron confers to the sound an orchestral quality through an array of choral and string effects. “Small Rome” has the allure of a classical chamber piece, with its cello and flowing piano, while the album’s two longest tracks – the 8-minute “Every Dead Indian” and “Knock Knock Hornet’s Nest” – merge harsh industrial suggestions with the surging post-rock sweep of Gösta Berlings Saga, driven by Olsson’s eclectic drumming and accented by chiming guitar. Closing track “Last Entry”, on the other hand, privileges the warmth of acoustic instruments such as mandolin, vibraphone and glockenspiel, enhanced by gentle chanting and mellotron, introducing a note of folksy Scandinavian wistfulness that evokes Änglagård and Anekdoten at their most introspective.

Forward-thinking lovers of instrumental music will not fail to appreciate Necroplex – an album whose thoroughly modern stance also pays homage to the likes of early Pink Floyd – as will those who have been intrigued by some of the bands and artists covered in this blog, such as Ergo, Knitting By Twilight, Lüüp and the obvious choice, Gösta Berlings Saga. All in all, this is an album that rewards patience, and proves that vintage prog staples and cutting-edge technology can be successfully combined to produce music that is genuinely progressive, yet appealingly down-to-earth. Even if released early in the year, I expect Necroplex to appear in many “best of 2013” lists. Fans will also be glad to hear that Olsson and Lundberg are already working on a follow-up.

Links:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Necromonkey/109218875773387

http://www.youtube.com/user/RothHandle

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Horse Heart (6:06)
2. Taurokathapsia (4:52)
3. Cream Sky (6:23)
4. Spiraling (12:48)
5. Roots Growth (5:47)
6. See You in Me (7:50)
7. Ritual of Apollo & Dionysus (4:00)
8. Northern Lights (5:49)

LINEUP:
Stelios Romaliadis – flute

With:
Lisa Isaksson – vocals, balalaika, harp, flute (1)
David Svedmyr – mellotron, zither, bells (1)
Jennie Ståbis –  vocals (1)
Fotini Kallianou – cello (1, 2, 5, 7)
Katerina Papachristou – double bass (1, 2, 7)
Fotis Siotas – viola, violin (2, 5)
Lefteris Moumtzis – vocals, acoustic guitar (3)
Alex Bolpasis – acoustic guitar (3)
Pavlos Michaelides – violin (3)
Andria Degens – vocals (4, 6)
Giorgos Varoutas – electric guitar (4)
David Jackson – saxophones (5)
Elsa Kundig – cello (5)
Nikos Fokas – Fender Rhodes piano (5)
Nikos Papanagiotou – drums (5)
Greg Haines – cello (6)
Georgia Smerou – bassoon (7)
Georgia Konstadopoulou  – cor anglais, oboe (7)

The distinctively-named Lüüp (an idiosyncratic spelling of the word “loop”) is a project by flutist and composer Stelios Romaliadis, a young but very gifted artist based in Athens (Greece). Lüüp’s recording debut, Distress Signal Code (released in October 2008 on Musea Records) saw the participation of legendary ex-VDGG saxophonist David Jackson. The project’s second release, Meadow Rituals, was released in May 2011 on independent label Experimedia, but only recently came to my attention – thanks to the networking opportunities offered by the social media scene.

Unlike Distress Signal Code – which had been recorded with the input of a restricted number of musicians – Meadow Rituals involves a large cast of artists from different European countries who supply a varied, largely acoustic instrumentation ranging from strings to guitars. Some of the guest musicians, such as David Jackson, vocalist Lisa Isaksson (of Swedish outfit Lisa o Piu) and pianist Nikos Fokas, also performed on Lüüp’s debut. The album was recorded in Greece, Germany, Sweden and the UK – the home countries of the musicians involved.

While certainly progressive, both in spirit and in actual execution, Meadow Rituals is not a rock album, and traditional rock instruments only make occasional appearances. Vocals – whenever present – seamlessly blend with the other instruments so as to enhance the delicate, almost brittle nature of each piece. Though Romaliadis’s flute, as can be expected, is at the core of Lüüp’s music, each instrument contributes to the development of the compositions in its own individual way.

In opening track “Horse Heart”, vocals take centre stage: Lisa Isaksson’s pure, ethereal voice – supported by backing vocalist Jennie Ståbis and a heady mélange of mellotron, zither, balalaika and harp – tempers the dark, melancholy feel of the piece, and the deep-toned twang of Katerina Papachristou’s double bass evokes memories of Pentangle – though in a more experimental vein. Intriguing world music suggestions emerge in the riveting “Cream Sky”, where flute, acoustic guitar and violin find a perfect foil in Lefteris Moumtzis’ soothing baritone – reminiscent of Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry. The album’s centerpiece, however, lies in the 12-minute “Spiraling”, masterfully built around the subdued yet deeply haunting voice of Andria Degens (of British act Pantaleimon), with its timeless Celtic tinge complemented by sparse guitar, violin and flute, which  mesh with the vocal line to create a magical atmosphere. Degens’ voice returns in the nearly 8-minute “See You in Me”, accompanied by Romaliadis’ flute and British composer Greg Haines’ cello in an almost avant-garde workout of austere beauty.

The remaining four tracks are all instrumental. In the solemn “Taurokathapsia” (a Greek word for the ancient Cretan ritual of bull-leaping, depicted in Minoan frescoes), the interplay of deep, resonating cello and double bass and delicate describes the scene in sonic terms, with violin injecting a stately, classical feel. Another strongly descriptive number, “Ritual of Apollo & Dionysus” conveys the dialogue between the two gods through the alternation of flute and oboe on one hand, and cor anglais and bassoon on the other; while in closer “Northern Lights” Romaliadis’ flute evokes the titular phenomenon with trills and leaps, followed by pauses of quiet. On the other hand, “Roots Growth” is the closest the album gets to a more conventional rock sound, and the only track that features drums, as well as electric piano – though there is nothing conventional about it. A folk-tinged number, with a lilting, dance-like movement, it revolves around the contrast between Romaliadis’ pastoral flute and David Jackson’s more assertive saxophone.

Clocking in at almost 54 minutes, Meadow Rituals is a well-balanced, carefully structured effort that, as hinted in the previous paragraphs, is focused on atmosphere rather than energy. While those who need the adrenalin rush provided by guitar solos or banks of keyboards will probably find it disappointing or just plain uninspiring, fans of world music, New Age, ambient and the whole ECM catalogue – as well as classical and chamber music, especially of the 20th-century variety (Debussy comes to mind) – will find a lot to appreciate. Highly recommended to those who have been intrigued by some of the music that I have reviewed in recent times (such as Janel & Anthony, Ergo and Knitting By Twilight/John Orsi), Meadow Rituals is beautiful aural and visual experience, whose stunning photography and haunting musical content will engage your mind and soothe your soul.

Links:
http://label.experimedia.net/015/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/L%C3%BC%C3%BCp/193352967368528

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Crescent Park (2:36)
2. Hodges’ Lodge (4:17)
3. Jaldi (2:26)
4. Togetherness (2:30)
5. Companion Wheel (1:39)
6. Two Trains Passing in the Night (not that many trains pass in my night anymore) (9:39)

LINEUP:
John Orsi – all instruments

Although he would amply deserve to be a household name to devotees of progressive rock in all its forms, John Orsi is quite content to occupy a niche – as he has been doing for the past 30 years or so. The talented multi-instrumentalist and composer, hailing from the historic New England city of Providence, has been active since the early 1980s with a number of projects, which – even though they might have flown under the radar of most “mainstream” prog fans – have been characterized by a constant flow of creative ideas, as well as intensive research into the possibilities offered by percussion instruments, both canonical and unorthodox.

Since 1994, Orsi has been channeling most of his creative efforts in musical collective Knitting By Twilight, as well as a few other projects (such as Incandescent Sky and Herd of Mers), and A Room for the Night is his first solo release in quite a long time. The 23-minute EP –  released in August 2012 , while Orsi and his “guitar mates” were waiting for their respective schedules to be sorted out before taking their music to the stage –has been conceived on a much smaller scale than Knitting By Twilight’s Weathering or Incandescent Sky’s Four Faradays in a Cage. On the other hand, it allows Orsi to indulge in a less formal style of composition, as well as handle all the instruments (both the “proper” and the “improper” ones, as the artist points out in the liner notes with his customary sense of humour).

Those who witnessed Dame Evelyn Glennie’s amazing performance during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics earlier this summer might be intrigued to learn that the Scottish percussionist is one of Orsi’s major influences, together with a host of other artists, some of them quite obscure, others instead familiar to a wider public. Indeed, those who are always looking for terms of comparison will recognize some echoes of Kate Bush’s most experimental work (such as showcased in her 1982 album The Dreaming) while listening to the EP.

While unlikely to attract fans of the more elaborate forms of prog, A Room for the Night is an utterly charming slice of instrumental music that is hard to label, though the ambient component of Orsi’s inspiration is very much in evidence. The six tracks – most of them rather short, with the sole exception of closer “Two Trains Passing in the Night”, which, at over 9 minutes, expands on the themes introduced by the previous compositions, reproducing the motion of a train through the alternation of different rhythm patterns – are like sonic sketches that listeners are almost encouraged to flesh out in their mind. Bound together by discreet keyboards, the music showcases Orsi’s lifelong love of percussion, bringing very unusual implements into the musical arena – such as tin pie plates and metal tubs – as well as more conventional gear, albeit belonging to different ethnic traditions than the Western one. The addition of  recordings of diverse sounds and human voices (taken from real-life situations) produces the sonic equivalent of an artistic collage based on found objects  – riveting to the eye (or, in this case, the ear) even in its somewhat fluid, unplanned quality. The result is 23 minutes of music that shifts from whimsical to meditative, with some occasional forays into vaguely ominous, cinematic moods created by sustained keyboard washes and subtle layers of percussion patterns.

As the previous paragraphs make it clear, a track-by-track analysis of A Room for the Night would be counterproductive, as the EP should be enjoyed as a whole – possibly, as Orsi himself suggests, with the help of headphones, and in the right situation. This is not sonic wallpaper meant to unobtrusively fade in the background, but rather the kind of ambient-tinged music that will stimulate the mind as much as the ear. With Orsi’s usual attention to the visual aspect of his productions, the lovingly-packaged CD comes accompanied by the delightful artwork of early 20th-century illustrator Kayren Draper. A delicate, almost brittle, hauntingly fascinating collection of musical pieces with no other purpose than creative expression, A Room for the Night may not be the kind of release that appeals to everyone across the progressive rock spectrum. However, just like all of Orsi’s back catalogue, it is definitely an effort highly deserving of attention on the part of adventurous listeners.

Links:
www.overflower.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Sorrows of the Moon (5:10)
2. Two for Joy (6:50)
3. Little Shadow (11:48)
4. If Not Inertia (6:57)
5. The Widening Gyre (8:01)
6. Gonz (6:38)
7. Let’s  (5:23)

LINEUP:
Brett Sroka – trombone, computer, whistling
Sam Harris – piano, prepared-piano, Rhodes electric piano
Shawn Baltazor – drums

With:
Mary Halvorsen – guitar, effects (1, 5, 6)
Sebastian Kruger – acoustic guitar (7)

Electroacoustic trio Ergo was formed in the early 2000s by New York-based trombonist Brett Sroka, who was inspired by the seamless blend of electronics and more traditional instrumentation featured on Radiohead’s 2000 album Kid A. After the 2006 release of their debut, Quality Anatomechanical Music Since 2005, original drummer Damion Reid was replaced by Shawn Baltazor, while current keyboardist Sam Harris (who replaced Carl Maguire) joined in 2010. Ergo have been signed to Cuneiform Records since their second album, multitude,  solitude (2009), and have performed at a number of on avant-garde music festivals, such as Washington DC’ Sonic Circuits  – where they will be appearing again in September 2012.

The sinuous curves rendered in minimalistic black and white of the artwork (titled “Loop in Layers”) that graces the cover of If Not Inertia, Ergo’s third CD release, come across almost as a statement of intent. Indeed, the band’s sound hinges on the use of loops and a wide range of other electronic effects, controlled by Sroka’s trusted computer, which mesh with the warm, organic tones of the trombone, drums and piano. Ambient, avant-garde and free jazz mingle in seven tracks that offer dissonant patterns underpinned by insistent drones, and some unexpected snippets of skewed melody that temper the austerely rarefied quality of the music.

The seven compositions included on If Not Inertia range from the 5 minutes of opener “Sorrows of the Moon” to the almost 12 minutes of “Little Shadow”, for a total running time of around 50 minutes. Some of the tracks offer intriguing sonic renditions of celebrated literary works in a way that – while markedly different from the grandiose approach of the average progressive rock band – undeniably makes for an arresting listening experience. The three band members are supplemented by renowned avant-garde guitarist Mary Halvorson (guesting on three tracks) and acoustic guitarist Sebastian Kruger on one track.

If Not Inertia is an album of light and shade, made of sounds that possess a somewhat brittle quality, like glass that is about to break. The main instruments often seem to be playing different lines, which nevertheless coalesce to create a texture reminiscent of an abstract painting, at the same time ethereal and intensely expressive.  “Sorrows of the Moon” recreates the Baudelaire poem of the same name in melancholy, haunting fashion, depicting its inherent languor and ennui through the mournful voice of the trombone and a droning piano line overlaid by almost melodic guitar. “The Widening Gyre”, inspired by William Butler Yeats’ iconic poem “The Second Coming”, like the titular item starts out slowly with measured drums and gentle piano, then erupts into trombone-led chaos that conveys the poem’s stark, powerful imagery (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”). While “Two for Joy” and the title-track rely on plenty of sound effects (such as whistling) to weave an ethereal yet slightly spooky atmosphere, the buoyant trombone in closing track “Let’s” is almost catchy, bolstered by drums, piano and lilting acoustic guitar.

If Not Inertia will delight lovers of ambient and experimental jazz, as well as those with a keen interest in the use of computers for music-making. This is an album for adventurous listeners, and those with a high tolerance for dissonance and the lack of a recognizable structure – which means it may be of somewhat limited interest for the traditional prog fan. On the other hand, open-minded music buffs will find it a challenging but rewarding listen.

Links:
http://www.ergoisaband.com/

http://www.myspace.com/ergo

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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