Three threes always

Sunday 2 April 2023

I don’t want to be nasty. Almost all the music I discuss here raises ideas that interest me and I want to engage with, even if I dislike it. I’ll usually delete the dismissive comments made in draft because I’m approaching these as an artist as much as a critic; nobody’s getting rich in this genre so there are no real mercenary or cynical efforts to dismiss as unworthy. Having said that, appreciating the craft of a piece of music is a different thing entirely from trying to give it the respect of considering it as a work of art. Keep this in mind if I carp that Bruno Duplant and Seth Nehil’s collaboration the memory of things doesn’t beat you over the head with attempts to be stunningly original in form or medium – most things don’t need to be. Not familiar with Nehil at all but Duplant’s work with him here has produced a trilogy of very slick aural collages, each about the same length, which allude to sounds rather than present them directly, much in the fashion pioneered by Brian Eno’s On Land. Anything too specific is overlaid with a patina of clicks and crackles, which will strike you as either too calculating to induce nostalgia or as a means to direct you away from ambient vagueness. It’s another marker of Duplant’s eclecticism in his musical practice, which values intellectual curiosity over a firm identity.

Les Capelles documents the very first time Garazi Navas, Miguel Angel Garcia, Àlex Reviriego and Vasco Trilla played together as a quartet.” I’m always dubious of these things where improvisers get together and expect some magic to happen right off the bat. It puffs the spurious ideals of spontaneity and authenticity that hamper improvisation as a medium. No matter how good it sounds, you always wonder how much it better it could have been after some more work together. The above quartet play accordion, electronics, double bass and percussion respectively, all in that evocative style where everything sounds electronic even though it isn’t until the accordion shatters the illusion. As with the Duplant/Nehil album, there are three pieces here of equal length and I would take it as a compliment to the depth of the acoustic performance that it took me a while to get stright in my head which album was which. They do not bore, and it’s all played in a chapel in Barcelona so it sounds lovely.

I’m listening to a set of three pieces all about the same length (again?) by Erik Blennow Calälv, with pianist/composer Lisa Ullén, Finn Loxbo on guitar with Ryan Packard on percussion and electronics to accompany Calälv’s bass clarinet. They’re all experienced and judicious improvisers, so I presume there’s an openness to the scores to allow the slow but free interplay that flows through each piece. Each piece – Bi, In yo & Iwato – is apparently based on a traditional Japanese scales, but what with the overall texture and Ullén’s prepared piano goddamn it sounds just like Magnus Granberg to me. I mean, that’s great and all, but still. The smaller scale adds to a more accessible intimacy, so if you’re pressed for time then this album’s a good way to get a surrogate Granberg fix in more manageable chunks.

Isolation Pianos (2): Lisa Ullén, Bobby Mitchell, Frederic Rzewski

Tuesday 30 June 2020

More odious comparisons: pianos, this time. This was going to get posted yesterday and include Alex White’s Transductions but I got a bit carried away about that one. I’m catching up on Takuroku’s weekly set of releases by musicians working in self-isolation over the past few months. Lisa Ullén’s Gold, 20-minute solo for prepared piano, was recorded in her living room on 1 June and I’ve just finished listening to it for a second time. Prepared piano is a difficult medium for musical expression; the overbearing timbres tend to push composers into resorting to extremes, either extravagant pyrotechnics or carefully isolated gems of sound. Ullén here stakes out a middle ground, and perhaps suffers for it. With paper threaded through the piano strings, she sets up a buzzing haze through which clear tones gradually emerge. From there, her concentration turns from timbral density to variety, picking out deliberate melodic fragments mixing muted and untreated piano notes. That middle ground of avoiding extremes makes it all feel a little safe, but then this piece isn’t about creating and resolving tension. It’s an extended study in contrasting timbres and textures, with the latter half cannily avoiding any perceptible shape to balance out the former.

Pianist Bobby Mitchell has given Takuroku something that’s as close to trad as the series will presumably get, with a suite of pieces from Frederic Rzewski’s Songs of Insurrection. A veritable Old Master of virtuoso piano composition, Rzewski shows that his compositional and motivational spark are as vital as ever with this piano cycle composed in 2016, drawing material and inspiration from popular songs of World War II soldiers, partisans and civil rights protesters. The slightly rough-and-ready recording conditions suit the idiom perfectly and Mitchell gets stuck in with the right attitude, playing with an athelticism that always lands with feet planted firmly on the ground, with a tenderness that’s never soft-hearted. There’s a great unity of purpose here between composer and pianist, each unafraid to get into some dense passages without fear of getting the listener muddled. Right now, there’s no other legitimate way to get hold of a recording of this piece so it’s kind of essential for late Rzewski.