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Archive for the ‘Chamber Music’ Category

TRACKLISTING:
1. Big Sur (4:51)
2. The Clearing  (2:21)
3. Leaving The Woods (5:40)
4. Symphony Hills (1:07)
5. Lily In The Garden (4:15)
6. Auburn Road (0:43)
7. Mustang Song (5:40)
8. Stay With Me (0:51)
9. A Viennesian Life (3:50)
10. Broome’s Orchard (7:56)
11. ‘Cross The Williamsburg Bridge (1:33)
12. Where Will We Go (6:39)
13. Finale (1:28)

LINEUP:
Janel Leppin – cello, Indian cello, violin, Saarang Maestro DX,  Prophet 5, piano, koto, electric guitar, Hammond organ, Mellotron, harpsichord, vibraphone, detuned autoharp, singing spoon, loops, electronics
Anthony Pirog – electric and acoustic guitars, baritone guitar, electric sitar, lap harp, lap steel, bass mandolin, bass, cymbals, gong, vibraphone, music boxes, loops, electronics

With:
Mike Reina – mellotron (9)

Janel Leppin and Anthony Pirog are two accomplished multi-instrumentalists who grew up in Vienna, a charming Northern Virginia town that is part of the Washington DC metropolitan area, where they attended the same high school. During those years, they began playing together at Leppin’s home village of Wedderburn, though they only started performing as a duo in 2005. Their eponymous debut album was released in 2006, and since then the duo has attracted a lot of attention on the independent music scene. The memory of the two musicians’ idyllic teenage years and the loss of the Leppin family home (converted into yet another housing development) is the inspiration behind Where Is Home, their sophomore effort, released in the summer of 2012 after three years of  steady work.

Janel and Anthony have different, yet complementary musical backgrounds: Pirog, a Berklee graduate, is a guitarist with a jazz background and an eclectic attitude, while Leppin is a conservatory-trained cellist deeply influenced by North Indian and Persian classical music. Those wide-ranging sources of inspiration converge in the duo’s musical output, which even the most obsessive classification geeks would find it hard to label, and even harder to compare to other acts. Seamlessly blending acoustic and electric instruments with cutting-edge electronics, enhanced by  a discreet sprinkling of percussion (though without drums), Janel & Anthony’s music possesses a uniquely intimate charm and gently wistful tone that would make it the ideal soundtrack for a crisp autumn evening. Though the instrumentation featured on the album is surprisingly rich, the compositions hinge on the sleek interplay between Leppin’s cello and Pirog’s electric guitar on an entrancing backdrop of skillfully employed loops. the high level of complexity is realized with an elegant subtlety that contrasts with the over-the-top antics of so many modern prog acts.

The elegiac nature of Where Is Home – steeped in the nostalgia for a bygone era, and suggested by most of the track titles –  unfolds gradually, as opener “Big Sur” is jaunty romp with the heady Eastern flavour contributed by Leppin’s sitar and Saarang Maestro DX (a digital version of the tanpura, a long-necked North Indian lute), while pizzicato cello lends a sharp, almost percussive rhythm that complements the insistent chime of Pirog’s guitar. Then, “The Clearing” marks a shift in tone, introducing a slight element of dissonance in the track’s sedate, meditative mood vaguely tinged with menace – a mood that continues in the haunting “Leaving the Woods”, based on a slow, measured conversation between guitar and cello, which sometimes merge, sometimes go their separate ways. The longer tracks are interspersed by short, ambient-like interludes mostly based on electronics, though the album itself runs at a very restrained 46 minutes – the ideal duration for such a sophisticated, mood-based effort.

While the cello-driven “Lily in the Garden” exudes a lovely autumnal charm, intensified by the almost monotonous pace of the guitar, “Mustang Song” sees Leppin and Pirog engage in a bracing guitar-based duet, shifting from a soothing, melodic tone to a more assertive one. In “A Viennesian Life” two mellotrons (one of them courtesy of sound engineer Mike Reina) are brought in to add further layers to the lush atmosphere of the piece, in which several different strains play at the same time and are expertly meshed by the two musicians. In contrast, the longest track on the album, the almost 8-minute “Broome’s Orchard” has a more straightforward structure, and the many instruments involved act discreetly, without disrupting the sparse, meditative mood of the piece. Finally, the middle section of “Where Will We Go” introduces atonal elements and eerie electronic noises, bookended by more melodic parts.

An exquisite album that conflates impeccable formal skill with genuine feeling, Where Is Home is highly recommended to lovers of chamber-rock and instrumental music that privileges atmosphere and emotion over complexity for its own sake. In spite of the “avant” tag that Janel and Anthony’s association with Cuneiform Records or events such as the Sonic Circuits festival might evoke, the album is surprisingly accessible, and will hold an almost irresistible appeal for those for whom music means more than just a backdrop to everyday activities.

Links:
http://www.janelandanthony.com

http://www.janelleppin.com

http://www.anthonypirog.com

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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TRACKLISTING:
Absence (29:38):
1. overt (2:25)
2. primo frammento (2:24)
3. epicicli I (2:24)
4. secondo frammento (2:09)
5. arioso (2:01)
6. terzo frammento (2:12)
7. un coeur mécanique (2:14)
8. resti (quarto frammento) (1:58)
9. epicicli II (2:22)
10. toccata (2:29)
11. hélas avril (2:15)
12. danzante (quinto frammento) (2:05)
13. clos (2:41)
Upon a Ground (15:29):
14. part I (5:22)
15. part II (6:01)
16. part III (4:00)

LINEUP:
Michele Epifani – Hammond organ (1-13), e-piano, synthesizer (14-16)
Stefano Colombi – e-guitar (1-16)
Luca Falsetti- drums, percussion (1-16)
Valerio Cipollone – clarinet, bass clarinet (1-13)
Maurizio Fasoli – grand piano (1-13)
Antonio Marrone – e-bass (1-13)
Pierluigi Mencattini – violin (1-13)
Cristiano Pomante – vibraphone, marimba (1-13)
Carmine Ianieri – tenor sax (14-16)
Massimo Magri – cello (14-16)
Simone Pacelli – e-bass (14-16)
Manuel Trabucco – tenor sax (14-16)

Subtilior (Latin for  “more refined”) is the name adopted by Michele Epifani, keyboardist and main driving force of Italian “retro-prog” band Areknamés, for his first solo outing. With its rather obscure reference to a musical style of the late Middle Ages, called ars subtilior, the project hints at a highly complex, sophisticated offer, and indeed –  very much in keeping with AltrOck Productions’ consistently high level of quality – this is what Absence Upon a Ground delivers.

Though Epifani is credited as composer on all the 16 short pieces featured on the album, Absence Upon a Ground is anything but one of those ubiquitous (and often tiresome) “solo pilot” projects that clutter the oversaturated progressive market. It is instead very much an ensemble effort, to which each of the 12 musicians involved contributes his unique expertise. In some ways, this album is a perfect complement to Altrock Chamber Quartet’s Sonata Islands Goes Rio, as both represent a fusion of traditional chamber music and progressive rock that demands a lot from the listener, but will offer rich rewards to those who will have the patience to give it their full attention.

Due to Absence Upon a Ground’s peculiar structure, a track-by-track analysis would be hard to conduct, if not actually counterproductive. The album features two main multi-part suites – the almost 30-minute “Absence”, and the 15-minute “Upon a Ground”. Epifani, drummer Luca Falsetti and guitarist Stefano Colombi perform on all the tracks, while the other artists appear on either one or the other composition. Valerio Cipollone and Maurizio Fasoli of Yugen are among the performers on “Absence” (Epifani guested on both Le Uova Fatali and Iridule, the second and third release of the Milan-based outfit). In true chamber-rock tradition, the instrumentation blends rock staples such as drums, guitar and bass with reeds (clarinet and saxophone), strings and the haunting chimes of marimba and vibraphone, which combine seamlessly with the warm, fluid sound of the grand piano. Epifani’s signature Hammond organ, though credited in the liner notes, is barely perceptible, while the reeds, strings and percussion form the most readily noticeable layer of the sound’s fabric.

“Absence”  (which, as the title suggests, is meant to be a reflection in musical terms on the topic of absence) comprises 13 short movements – all around the 2-minute mark – that are meant to be taken in as a whole. The chamber feel is very strong in the stately pace and often sparse texture of the music, or in the occasionally lively, conversation-like interaction between different instruments. Dissonance is used sparingly, and hints of melody – though handled in rather unconventional fashion – surface to bind the parts of the suite together. Sudden flares of intensity leave room to rarefied, ambient-like moods with a meditative, almost autumnal feel. The overall effect is one of understated elegance, though with an underlying density that makes repeated listens essential.

The 15-minute “Upon a Ground” features three longer, relatively self-contained sections, characterized by a more cinematic feel that leans more towards the RIO/Avant-Prog side of things. Mainstays of the genre such as sax and cello, as well as eerily intriguing electronic effects, replace the lyrical sounds of clarinet and violin, and the texture often feels looser, almost improvisational – in that deceptive fashion typical of Avant-Prog that effectively disguises a high degree of compositional discipline. All the three movements alternate atonal, knotty passages, with bursts of tenor sax and underpinned by the steady, mournful drone of the cello, and more subdued moments sprinkled by the gentle, tinkling sound of the mallet percussion.

If I had to level some criticism at Absence Upon a Ground, I might say that the album may come across as slightly cold and detached – a not uncommon problem with a lot of Avant/chamber rock. On the other hand, the sheer quality of the performances and the superior compositional skills involved are undeniable, and will delight those who privilege this particular manifestation of progressive music. Highly recommended to lovers of RIO/Avant prog and chamber music – as well as any open-minded listeners – the album is, however, unlikely to appeal to those who like a more “mainstream” approach to progressive rock. As usual for AltrOck releases, the visual aspect of the packaging (with Paolo Ske Botta in charge of the artwork) is top-notch, adding to the album’s interest value.

Links:
http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=eng_&id=188&id2=193

http://altrockproductions.bandcamp.com/track/subtilior-medley

http://www.allmusic.com/album/absence-upon-a-ground-mw0002389334

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Snake Eating Its Tail (1:44)
2. Norrgarden Nyvla (3:03)
3. Hands of the Juggler  (4:44)
4. Rethinking Plague (3:49)
5. Presage (10:21)
6. Land Arf   (6:19)
7. Brachilogia (3:08)
8. Distillando   (4:11)
9. Crossroads (4:37)
10. Luoghi Che Aspettano (6:44)

LINEUP:
Emilio Galante – flute, piccolo
Valerio Cipollone – bass clarinet, clarinet
Andrea Pecolo – violin
Bianca Fervidi – cello

With:
Massimo Giuntoli – piano (6)

As my readers will have noticed, this blog generally deals with music that, in one way or the other, belongs to the rock universe. However, the album that will be reviewed in the following paragraphs (as the ensemble’s own name aptly points out), while conceived as an homage to a movement in whose name the word is prominently featured, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as rock.

AltrOck Chamber Quartet is the brainchild of gifted flutist and composer Emilio Galante, known for his work with avant-jazz ensemble Sonata Islands (hence the album’s title), who is here assisted by Valerio Cipollone (also a member of Yugen, one of the finest modern outfits in the RIO/Avant vein), Bianca Fervidi and Andrea Pecolo. The album’s witty cover artwork (a brilliant concept by AltrOck resident graphic artist Paolo Ske Botta), showing a violin adorned by Brazilian-themed images, plays on the possible misunderstanding of the word RIO  by those unaware of the acronym’s meaning. Composer Giovanni Venosta, who was responsible for the transcription of three of the original compositions featured on the album, revisits his first experiences with the Rock in Opposition movement in the album’s foreword (offered also in an English-language version, with an eye for AltrOck’s growing international following).

Recorded in February 2012 and released a few months later,  Sonata Islands Goes RIO might be  called (at least in part) a rather highbrow take on a very popular rock product such as the tribute album. Indeed, half of the 10 tracks on the album reinterpret well-known RIO/Avant compositions, while the remaining five are the work of modern Italian composers (including Galante himself) who have been influenced by the subgenre’s distinctive modes of expression. In true chamber tradition, the music is performed by a very limited number of instruments – flute, piccolo, clarinet, violin and cello – ruling out the presence of percussion, guitars or keyboards (with the exception of Massimo Giuntoli’s “Land Arf”, on which the composer himself guests on piano). While at first the result is very intriguing, even fascinating, those who are not chamber music devotees may find things a bit heavy going after a while – even if the album, at around 48 minutes, is by no means excessively long.

For the chamber-music novice, the most approachable tracks are definitely those in the first half of the album, especially the three Fred Frith compositions, “Snake Eating Its Tail” (transcribed by renowned clarinetist Mauro Pedron), “Norrgarden Nyvla” and “Hands of the Juggler” (both transcribed by Giovanni Venosta). In the second, Galante’s flute adopts a particularly assertive, almost harsh tone, while the first makes the most of the lively dialogue-like interplay of the reeds, and the third skillfully shifts from stately melody to dissonance. Galante’s revisitation of Thinking Plague’s “Love” – aptly titled “Rethinking Plague” –  conveys the  elaborate angularity of the Denver band’s sound, while adapting it to a somewhat different musical format. However, Venosta’s string-driven transcription of Univers Zéro’s iconic “Presage”, while undoubtedly faithful to the spirit of the original, cannot fully convey its hauntingly martial allure, and the absence of  Daniel Denis’ imperious drumming diminishes the impact of the final product .

On the other hand, the more recent compositions seem to  be much more suited to the minimalistic chamber format – starting with Francesco Zago’s jagged, intricate “Brachilogia7”, led by Galante’s sharp-toned piccolo. Massimo Giuntoli’s brisk, almost upbeat piano lends a sense of fullness and rhythm to “Land Arf”, whose melancholy middle section showcases Andrea Pecolo’s violin to great effect. Galante’s own composition “Distillando” (originally commissioned by the History Museum of the north-eastern Italian city of Trento) is sparse and almost ethereal in spite of the piercing tone of the piccolo, while the lilting tango of Tiziano Popoli’s “Crossroads” reintroduces a measure of melody in its engaging duet between violin and reeds. “Luoghi Che Aspettano”, penned by Stefano Zorzanello, closes the album with its ambitious but surprisingly effective combination of eerie dissonance and more upbeat, almost melodic flow.

From the above description, it should be quite clear that Sonata Islands Goes RIO is not for everyone. Chamber music in itself can be an acquired taste even for classical music fans, and the daunting nature of anything bearing a RIO label has been discussed all too often in this blog. However, the sheer excellence of the individual performances and the often riveting quality of the music should be enough to attract open-minded listeners who are looking for something more challenging than traditional progressive rock. Needless to say, the album will delight fans of RIO/Avant Prog and contemporary chamber music.

Links:
http://www.altrock.it

http://www.allmusic.com/album/sonata-islands-goe-rio-mw0002397513

http://www.sonataislands.com/

 

 

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