Friday, 29 June 2012

Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till, Wino - The Songs of Townes Van Zandt

Perhaps most celebrated for the song “Poncho and Lefty” which was famously recorded by Willie Nelson in 1983, Townes Van Zandt never had anything approaching significant fame in his lifetime. His tunes have, however, been covered over the years by a wide range of artists including Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Hoyt Axton, The Tindersticks, Norah Jones, Robert Plant, Mudhoney and the Cowboy Junkies. Born into a well-known local family in Fort Worth, Texas in 1944, John Townes van Zandt’s childhood was spent travelling as his father worked in the oil industry.
After graduating from High School he attended military college for two years, and it was around this time he was diagnosed with manic depression. After abandoning a law course at the University of Texas he resolved to become a folk singer. Sadly, Van Zandt’s life came to an end in 1997 at the age of 52, 44 years to the day after the death of fellow country music legend Hank Williams.
After performing Van Zandt pieces in an assortment of collaborations over the years, Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till (Neurosis and Tribes of Neurot) and Scott “Wino” Weinrich (The Obsessed and Saint Vitus) have come up with an inspiring tribute to the great singer/songwriter, capturing the poignant fragility of the music whilst at the same time leaving their own impression on the tunes. Armed only with acoustic guitars for the main part, the covers appear faithful to the original, losing none of their distinctive courage. The lyrics of Van Zandt appear to paint a vivid private picture, and follow a striking narrative that the attentive listener will be able to draw from and relate to their own personal life. Opening with “If I Needed You” by Steve Von Till, the lyrics ache with Van Zandts characteristic vulnerability. “St. John, the Gambler” by Scott Kelly may lack the growl of Von Till’s voice, which appears to be the product of a thousand Marlborough cigarettes, but loses none of that candidness. Wino, who performs “Rake”, “Nothing” and “A Song For” has a soulful, melodic voice that is the perfect vehicle for these narratives. The longest track on the album “Tecumseh Valley”, performed by Scott Kelly, drives forwards unremittingly, as the tale unfolds, allowing the sparse instrumentation to highlight the frailty of the lines. These covers may lack some of the spring of the original versions, but none of the implication. These are gloomy stories of drunks, losers and the browbeaten....

Read the full review at Scratch the Surface

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Soulsavers - The Light the Dead See

Soulsavers - The Light The Dead See

Rich Machin and Ian Glover form the nucleus of a musical collective that go by the name of Soulsavers. Previous releases have ventured into the world of electronic and dance music, whilst “It’s Not How You Fall, It’s the Way You Land” in 2007 and “Broken” in 2009 featured vocals from the stirring Mark Lanegan.

On this release Soulsavers have recruited Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode to provide the voice for a collection of tunes that are a cinemascope of emotion and uncultivated passion. Gahan himself has been no stranger to personal turmoil and life affecting trauma, following an overdose in 1996 and a malignant bowel tumour in 2009.

Each song that makes up “The Light The Dead See” aches with poignancy and sentiment. The opening instrumental “La Ribera” sets the scene, almost like some spaghetti western soundtrack title sequence. “In the Morning” shimmers with strings and desolation, until the vocals swell up through the instrumentation raising the song to ardent new levels. “Longest Day” urges the listener to sing along in joyous contemplation, “This must be the longest day, and the night has yet to come” whilst “Presence of God” is the sound of an anguished spirit seeking redemption.

By the time we reach “Just Try” and “Gone Too Far” the listener may either be struggling to remain attentive to the melancholy or totally engrossed and indulged. By the time the listener has drifted through “Point Sur Pt.1” and onto “I Can’t Stay” the listener is put on to begin considering their very sentient being. The atmosphere created by these songs is by no means dark and unwelcoming, but somnolent and confessional. “Take” warns the listener, “There’s a price that you pay, with the games that you play, with that Devil” delivered with an intimacy that is almost disturbing. Probably the most animated piece on “The Light the Dead See” is to be found at the end with “Tonight” with strumming guitar chords and an almost stadium friendly temperament....

Read the full review at This Is Not A Scene

Soulsavers – The Light The Dead See

Monday, 18 June 2012

Richard O'Brien Project - Hot Potato

Richard O’Brien Project – Hot Potato

Coming from a family background with disparate influences ranging from jazz, funk, rock, blues, soul and hip hop, must have an influence on the development of an artists sound. Add in to the mix being raised in the cultural smorgasbord of Bristol, and Richard O’Brien has a head start when it comes to producing music that exhibits spirit, passion and enthusiasm. As well as being an active member in bands such as Trip the Switch, Mango Factory, In Extremis and The Trish Brown Band, he has found time to produce “Hot Potato” under the Richard O’Brien Project.

One look through the list of musical influences should give some indication as to the pedigree on offer; Marcus Miller, Miles Davis, Alice Russell, Cinematic Orchestra and Jaco Pastorius. This release features Matt Brown on drums, Joe Price on guitar, Sam Mills on keyboards, John Herbert, Jonny Pratt and Jonny Bruce on horns, Rich Jones on violin, Jack Skuse on vocals and O’Brien himself on bass.

The album opens with the guitar driven title track ‘Hot Potato’ which is not only drenched in overwhelmingly catchy riffs, but has a progression that is not easy for the listener to remove from their subconscious once the track has finished. The solos are tight and punchy, and are restrained enough to fit appropriately into the songs taut framework. The horn section on “Definitive” again, is tight and uplifting, and provides the tune with a hook that is not easily forgettable.

By the time the listener has reached ‘Momentum’ the pace has slowed and the tender vocals introduce another level to the composition. ‘Whiskey Fever’ shows the band displaying confidence in their abilities and an authentic display of collaboration. The bass soloing is never ostentatious but remains true to the spirit of the music. ‘Sweet Protection’ and ‘Pastiche’ are affectionate, and augmented latterly with the addition of the violin, which is at times reminiscent of the playing of Jon Luc Ponty in the Mahavishnu Orchestra. ‘Frisky’ is, as the name suggests, playful and bold, whilst ‘Funkyard Jam’ lives up to its name, with searing horn and guitar passages that do nothing to detract from the overall collective sound. The album closes with the filthy, throbbing, ‘The Grudge’, featuring solo bass mischievousness from O’Brien....

Read the full review at This Is Not A Scene

Saturday, 16 June 2012

trioVD and Roller Trio, Fox & Newt, Leeds 15th June 2012 live review

An inclemently cold and wet Friday evening in Leeds, and England are playing Sweden as part of Euro 2012 on the big screen in the bar of the Fox and Newt on the outskirts of Leeds city centre. Upstairs in a peculiarly v-shaped room, Fusebox are hosting their final jazz/improvisation event of the season. This evening celebrates album releases from two of the city’s finest exponents of experimental music.  As the room slowly fills to the strains of Fela Kuti’s “Zombie” album over the PA, Leeds based Roller Trio take to the stage.  Featuring James Mainwaring on saxophone and electronics, Luke Reddin-Williams on drums and Luke Wynter on guitar, Roller Trio deliver an incendiary combination of disparate influences which come together to form a truly distinctive sound. At times throughout the set one may have been reminded of music from Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way” or “Dark Magus”, at other times the guitar passages were reminiscent of the almighty Sonny Sharrock. Add to that mixture Eastern flavour, and the dissonance of some of the greatest purveyors of improvised saxophone such as Evan Parker, Albert Ayler and Alan Wilkinson, and you come close to imagining the sound of the Roller Trio. The use of electronics to mutate acoustic sound can occasionally be overdone, and subtlety can often be the key to success in mastering the effect. Thankfully the Roller Trio have integrated these elements into miniature landscapes of beauty and fire. The pieces tonight appear to be fashioned from extended improvisations that have been bolstered, rather than overwhelmed, by electronic trickery.

After a short interval, to funnel the audience back downstairs to the bar area, and back, trioVD take command of the stage. It is indicative of the influence and appeal of the band that their latest album “Maze” has been reviewed in magazines that specialise in jazz, classical music and extreme metal, and on the strength of tonight’s performance it is not difficult to see why. Eschewing the traditional tactic of promoting the latest album by playing it in its entirety, Chris Sharkey, Chris Bussey and Christophe de Bezenac embark on an extended improvisation incorporating their traditional guitar, saxophone and drum amalgamation, enhanced by electronics, found sound, distorted samples and the lonely voice of Bob Seeger on “Hollywood Nights”. Elements from their latest release were incorporated into the set, and indicate that the band are honing their formidable blend of angular riffs, mathematical time signatures, chanting vocal and high speed cut ups. The sound of trioVD is an amalgamation of witticism, tense arrangements and violent tangential meanderings. There was genuine humour in the performance tonight, as Sharkey and Bussey toyed with their assortment of gadgets, which lifted it up out of a more traditional arena and into one that could appeal to a wider, receptive audience. The audience at the Fox and Newt were obviously mesmerised by the set, and some members were seen to be dancing to these peculiar tempos in the manner of Stacia at a Hawkwind concert in the early 70’s (fully clothed).

The characteristic sound of Leeds jazz has matured, it could be argued, from its close affinity to the local DIY alternative music scene. Hopefully this marriage will prosper to produce more music of the sort that was in evidence this evening, and hopefully organisations such as Fusebox will continue to work hard to bring it to those willing to listen. The sign of a successful concert can sometimes be gauged by the activity at the merchandise stall at the end of the evening, and hopefully no one was disappointed with their purchases that night.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Echoes of Yul - Cold Ground

Elongated drones with distant, scratchy voice samples that mutate around the tone are generally a brave introduction to a collection of recorded music. If however, the listener favours the innovative and the experimental, then “Octagon”, the first track on “Cold Ground” is stirring news. Echoes of Yul, essentially Michal Sliwa and Mateusz Czech, originate from Opole in Poland, and will challenge the listener with this latest release which can broadly be described as disquieting. “Foundations” is a writhing collusion of extended guitar riffs, drones and vocal samples that stalk the listener’s subconscious, upsetting them further with passages of dissonance and anguish.
“Look you’re hurt.....It’s nothing......You’re filthy...” creep voice samples eerily over ponderous riffs and desolate percussion on “The Tenant”, whilst “Numbers” is pushed laboriously onward over clanging chords and pummelling rhythm. Probably one of the more accessible pieces on the album “Libra”, features the characteristic riffs and enigmatic electronic effects, but pushes the tempo and vigour up, whilst incorporating the vocal samples into the music itself, as opposed to using them to enhance the overall atmospheres. “The Message” is to some extent evocative of the distorted hip hop collections put together by bassist and producer Bill Laswell, as the beats are pushed low down into the mire of the mix, which is dominated by inscrutable vocals and bass. “Chrome” incorporates a similar hip hop mentality but uses it as a vehicle for further monstrous riffs and daunting vignettes of voice and sound. The title track “Cold Ground” is perhaps the most varied journey on the album, as it features a number of sections welded together into a dignified opus of progressions, while the final “Chrome” is a ten minute passage of rite, as it features repeated phrases which accumulate into a crescendo of otherworldly sound and ambience....

Read the full review at Scratch the Surface

Mike Patton and the Ictus Ensemble - Laborintus II

Mike Patton & Ictus Ensemble - Laborintus II

It must be said from the outset that anyone not familiar with Mike Patton and his breathtakingly diverse body of work would do well to investigate the back catalogue and familiarise themselves with the artist who has successfully taken on any number of disparate projects.
In 2010 Patton, together with the Brussels based Ictus Ensemble andNederlands Kamerkoor, performed “Laborintus II” by Italian composerLuciano Berio at the Holland Festival. Berio created the piece in 1965, to mark the 700th anniversary of the birth of Dante, basing it on the poem “Laborintus” by Edoardo Sanguineti, and concerning itself with the “timelessness of love and mourning”.
The chamber opera had its Dutch premier at the Holland Festival in 1972, and featured a set that compromised, amongst other items, a giant blow up doll and car tyres. Lieven Bertels, former artistic director of the Holland Festival, described bringing the piece to a new, younger audience, and incorporating narration from Mike Patton, who, quite rightly, has the versatility and open mindedness to tackle such an assignment, and has openly paid tribute to Italian composers in his work in the past.
It is said that Berio composed “Laborintus II” whilst teaching in California, and was listening at the time to jazz, pop and folk music. Careful listening to all three sections of the piece featured on this recording would suggest that these influences have been skilfully woven in to the texture of the set....

Mike Patton and the Ictus Ensemble – Laborintus II

Monday, 11 June 2012

Ulver - Childhood's End review

Ulver - Childhood's End

It has been a year since Norwegian Black Metallers Ulver released the celebrated “War of the Roses” album, and it has been an audacious move to release “Childhood’s End” as a follow up. Producing an album of cover versions of psychedelic tunes from the sixties, may, on first encounter, appear to be another worrying sacrilege. Rather than attempt to recreate the ambience of the originals however, Ulver have embraced the tunes and welcomed them into their fold.

The album opens with the Pretty Things “Bracelets of Fingers”, which faithfully recreates the joyous mood of the original, whilst still clinging enigmatically onto a contemporary sound. “Lament of the Astral Cowboy” (by now you get the general idea) is a more obscure cover of a Curt Boettcher tune, and again pays homage to the original without twisting its unique meaning out of shape. Gandalf’s “Can You Travel in the Dark Alone?” evokes the perceptible sixties ideology, as does the Jefferson Airplane’s “Today”. Probably the reference point for most listeners to the album who are unfamiliar with the more esoteric tunes on offer will be The Electric Prunes “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night”.

Already reasonably familiar to the most hardened sceptic, the tune here is given a thoroughly modern make over for relevance to the modern listening experience, yet still retains the untamed psychedelia of the original. As the album progresses the cover versions explore more deeply the principles of the sixties subcultures with the Beau Brummels “Magic Hollow” and the United States of America “Where is Yesterday?” to close.

The album itself was recorded over a three year period, but never sounds fractured as a result, but has the spirit of a labour of love to share the music that has stirred both music and memories from years gone by. It would be truculent to dismiss “Childhood’s End” as simply an album of cover versions of fifty year old tunes. Indeed there have been many fine cover versions throughout the history of music that could be argued to have surpassed the original (Johnny Cash “Hurt”?). The album cover features the iconic 1972 Nick Ut photograph of the nine year old Phan Thi Kim Phuc running towards the camera following a napalm attack. That image, and the imagery evoked on the album serves as a poignant tribute to the artists and activists of that era....

Read the full review at This Is Not A Scene

Ulver – Childhood’s End

Friday, 1 June 2012

Simon Little - (Un)Plugged review

Simon Little - (Un) Plugged

Session bassist Simon Little is probably best known for his work with The Divine Comedy, Clare Teal and Ian Shaw. He is also to be found on recordings by Chris Difford, Jamie Cullum, Beth Rowley, Ben Folds and Norma Winstone. He is, however, an accomplished improviser and composer in his own right, and his latest release, available through his own website and Bandcamp, features nine recordings of spontaneous music played on acoustic bass using token effects and loops. Improvised music could be argued to be at the very essence of composition. Inventiveness and lateral thinking in real time may be considered to be a truly honest expression of sentiment and reaction. What Simon Little shows us here is how this can be put into practice.

“(Un) Plugged” begins with the gently meandering “Frostbite” which immediately exposes the intimacy of the playing, as each squeal of guitar string and finger tap can be heard through gossamer thin bass lines. Phrases echo, delay and glide behind bass lines that appear to emanate directly from the musicians’ very core. Becoming more strident in tone “In the Out” loses none of the intimacy, but displays more vigour and buoyancy. Loops and effects appear momentarily, but do not drench the fragility of the lines. Bubbling electronics are evident just below the surface on “Lie Down and Be Counted”, whilst melodies play joyfully in the foreground. The title “Repetition is a Form of Change” describes perfectly the route on which the piece takes, as looped phrases, and repeated passages maintain the momentum, over which solo improvised lines weave. The repetitive bass lines become more muscular on “Kalimba”, and the multi-directional electronics provide a bed of warm sound upon which short, sharp frenetic guitar cascades over the harmony. One cannot help but be reminded of the twitter of birdsong as these blues-like phrases tear through the wilderness. “Breathe” and “The Avant Gardner” scatter fragile harmonics with poignant vignettes, whilst the closing “Midas Barber” encompasses all the elements that have previously been explored, into a tender, effects laden, stream of melancholia....

Read the whole review at This Is Not A Scene