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Ground and Sky » Avant-Garde
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I have a hard time with albums or live performances that consist of a single solo instrument (with the exception of solo piano). Acoustic bass in particular is tough for me to handle in a solo setting - I believe I saw improviser Reuben Radding do a solo upright bass set some years ago and truly had difficulty staying awake, even though Radding is a massively talented musician.
So when I received a package in the mail some time ago with the new Aranis album Songs From Mirage (yay!), and a recording of Aranis composer Joris Vanvinckenroye’s works for solo bass (under the band name Basta!), it’s not surprising that I spent some time with the full-band record and, embarrassingly, none at all on the solo bass record. I’m only now getting around to the Basta! disc, Cycles, and that’s a shame, because it’s fantastic.
Cycles has Vanvinckenroye’s stamp all over it, of course, not just in the instrumentation but in the compositions. The 12 pieces on the record are chock-full of the tasty melodies, rhythmic grooves and intriguing counterpoints of Vanvinckenroye’s Aranis compositions. But wait, you say: counterpoints? On a solo record? Yes, there are tons of overdubs going on here. This might as well be a full band recording, if the full band were all playing basses; it’d be impossible to pull off live as a solo show, but who cares? A far cry from an improvised set tossed off as an accompaniment to the new Aranis record, Cycles is a fully realized set of engaging compositions that just might be better than Songs From Mirage.
I’ve given it one and a half listens so far and you can bet that it’ll be getting many more.
Well, it’s finally here, after years of hard work, and we’re really proud of it. Roger Trigaux’s (ex-Univers Zero) band, PRESENT, returns with a vengeance on this release: a new studio album CD, plus a three-hour DVD. These are compositions that spread out and expand upon the style of the bands latest works, NUMBER 6 and HIGH INFIDELITY, and include the Trigaux duo’s latest epic, VERTGES, as well as Present’s slick version of JACK THE RIPPER, and Pierre Chevalier’s fiery, A LAST DROP. The DVD is comprised of live footage from the band’s two RIO France performances in 2007, and roughly half of the Gouveia Art Rock Festival performance from 2005. As an added bonus, there is archival footage, some of which dates back to the early days of the band, featuring Daniel Denis and Christian Genet. All of this has been exquisitely recorded and mixed by Udi Koomran, with post-video work by Asaf Carmeli, both of whom were out to re-define the parameters of modern-day Rock In Opposition products. The disks come in a spiffy, 8-panel digipack.
Obviously, this sounds amazing. It’s also steeply priced at nearly $40, but I’m sure it’ll be well worth it. In addition to the new piece, I’m really stoked to hear the recording of “Jack the Ripper” - when I saw Present’s show in North Carolina in 2005, one of my absolute favorite moments was when they unexpectedly launched into that classic Univers Zero composition.
Been inactive here, sorry. Have not been inactive in general. The latest thing I did was a review of Shub Niggurath’s Introduction over at the Washington City Paper (it’s in this week’s print edition as well). To go along with that review, I also did a Q&A with Udi Koomran, who is responsible for remastering the original tape, and who also got me a copy of his early remaster so that I could review it for this site a few years ago. The review here is geared towards someone familiar with the RIO/avant-prog axis; the review at the City Paper is more for laypeople.
Readers of this site will be interested in the question I ask Udi, towards the end of the Q&A, about what he’s been working on lately. Bands like Present, Guapo and Eskaton are involved.
Also in that same question, be sure to check out the link to Udi’s contribution to the Radio Village Nomade soundscape project - a lot like Chris Cutler’s Twice Around the Earth project. Very cool stuff.
I love going back and listening to great albums I haven’t touched in years. “Laahustaja” makes me bang my head as much as any metal album has in recent memory. Alamaailman Vasarat has some great cello lines, but the one in “Laahustaja” is pretty much untouchable.
I still remember the performance that Höyry-kone put on at ProgDay 2000; definitely one of the best live sets I’ve ever seen. I have an image in my head of a bunch of solemn dudes in black suits onstage, except the cellist looked like he could have been in a punk band, and the singer had this huge beard and a tophat and sounded like he should have been fronting an opera. That image could be completely fabricated, but I like it.
Except that it actually was, during Avant Fairfax last Saturday (my brief writeup and photos are at the City Paper). This is literally the only time I have ever laughed at someone yelling “Freebird” at a concert. Every other time I want to hunt down the culprit and do something violent to him or her.
Towards the beginning of Cheer Accident’s headlining set, someone yelled out “More cowbell!” Thymme Jones (above, singing) made some disparaging remark in his general direction, something like, “Next thing you’re going to be yelling ‘Freebird’.” I appreciated the takedown. Thymme rambled on a bit more, some more music was played (they were pretty great btw, if a little disjointed), and then the Avant Fairfax organizers gave C-A the bad news: they would have to cut their set short because it was 2am, long past the time the show was supposed to have been over. They were given ten more minutes to finish up.
Thymme hemmed and hawed and asked no one in partiuclar, “what can we do in ten minutes?”
Via Downtown Music Gallery’s invaluable newsletter comes info about this release, which I hadn’t known anything about at all, until now. Ducret, the avant-jazz guitarist whom I know and love through his work with Tim Berne, has apparently put together an 11-piece group (instrumentation: guitar, bass, drums, keys, sampler, vibes, 3x reeds, trumpet, trombone) and recorded an album called Le Sens de la Marche, about which Bruce Lee Gallanter of DMG gushes:
This is most likely the largest ensemble (11 piece) that Marc Ducret has led, certainly on record it is. It would seem that Marc has taken some time to compose this adventurous music and whip this ensemble into shape. No easy feat since the music is complex and the group is super-tight and obviously inspired… “Total Machine” starts with Ducret’s distinctive sleek guitar tone with some twisted yet funky horns in counterpoint (great bari in there). When that marimba soon enters and the horns play those intricate arrangements it feels we have entered Zappa-land via The Grand Wazoo. I dig the way the band is broken into a few different layered and inter-connected parts simultaneously, another great trick that us Zappa fans savor. The first smokin’ sax solo comes from Hugues Mayot, with the rest of the band in splendid form around him cheering him on. This piece ends with a suspense-filled minimalist dreamscape that is surprising but works perfectly to let us down slowly back to the planet earth. “Tapage” is another Grand Wazoo-like piece with an ominous marching beat, layers of horns, superb vibes solo and some incredibly tight and complex rhythm team work. The interplay between the guitar and clavinet is especially snazzy. Although “Le Menteur Dans L’Annexe” starts with a calm, thoughtful intro we soon find our way into an intense, crazed el. guitar and Fender Rhodes duo, then back to some ‘Waka Jawaka’-like wackiness with layers of goofy spoken word vocals in the background. At nearly 73 minutes, this treasure has to be one of the best and most ample progressive/jazz-rock discs of this year or any other year in recent memory.
The above is a clip from a DVD I grabbed from Dimeadozen a couple days ago, filmed at Zu’s release show for their new album Carboniferous. It’s representative of the quality of the DVD - excellent audience recording, steady camera, pretty good sound. About an hour long, which, like any of Zu’s actual albums, teeters right on the edge of being too exhausting to get through in one sitting. This band is a rhythm-and-noise monster, with few melodies to divert attention from the pummeling beats and the unfathomable sounds that Luca Mai (bari sax) and Massimo Pupillo (bass) manage to squeeze out of their instruments.
Maybe it’s just the camera angle, but Mai in particular is a looming beast, shrieking, squawking and skronking his way through the Carboniferous songs in a way that’s just mesmerizing. I love how he beats on his sax when he’s not playing - the sound on this recording isn’t quite good enough for me to tell if it’s actually to add another percussive layer to the sound, or if he’s just in a performative trance, tapping out the rhythm absent-mindedly as he waits his turn to tear shit up.
Vialka, a French husband-and-wife duo of drums and baritone guitar, played at the Velvet Lounge on Tuesday night. I previewed the show at Black Plastic Bag, complete with plenty of hype and one wildly inaccurate comparison (no, these guys do not sound anything like Ruins).
The show definitely lived up to my expectations. As I wrote in my preview, the band describe themselves, glibly, as a “turbo folk micro-orchestra,” whatever the hell that means. But what they really are is prog, albeit prog in the Etron Fou sense more than anything else, minus a bit of the dadaism. They played a number of lengthy compositions that flitted whimsically through two to three seemingly unrelated themes, most of them involving tricky but somehow bouncy rhythms, gratuitously sung/screamed/declaimed vocals (all in French), and a hell of a lot of fancy guitar fretwork.
Vialka combine the manic, stop-start spasticity characteristic of so much proggy avant-rock with a melodic sense that draws straight from Eastern European folk and what I ignorantly categorize in my head as “French music.” There’s a sense of whimsy that’s very un-American going on in their writing, which probably makes them sound ridiculous to some of the more jaded types out there, but gives them a certain irrepressible charm for me.
In concert, all the quirkiness embedded in the compositions came out in the open. I got a chance to chat with both band members - Eric Boros, the guitarist, and Marylise Frecheville, the drummer - before and after the show, and my very enjoyable conversations with them gave no hint of their stage personalities. When the show began, Eric donned a shiny metallic shirt and Marylise a sequined spaghetti strap top and the quirkiness just kept going from there. They danced around a lot - Marylise leapt up from behind her kit to dance in the middle of the crowd on two occasions, and Eric was bouncing around with a huge grin on his face the whole time - but more than that, their personalities just seemed to shine through in the vocals and the sometimes hilariously disjointed rhythms.
The reception was quite good, and they sold a few CDs, always nice to see with a band likely so far outside the experience of your average American concertgoer (even one who frequents the Velvet Lounge). Good times.
There are a few more photos in the full Flickr set - mostly of Marylise as the lighting was almost nonexistent on Eric.
I recently picked up DFA’s much-heralded new album, 4th. A long long time ago, I gave Duty Free Area, their last studio album, quite the rave review. When this new one came out, it immediately started garnering very very positive comments in the usual circles, so I was pretty psyched to spin it for the first time. I did, and… I was bored out of my mind. Have my tastes really changed this much in the past eight years? I suppose it’s quite possible. I’ll be giving 4th a few more spins in the hopes that my first impression was a situational fluke, but we’ll see.
Instead, I’ve become totally enamored with Secular Works by Extra Life, which is a band led by Charlie Looker, the guitarist/keyboardist who recently left Zs. This stuff is was more accessible than his old band, though — imagine complex math-rock superimposed on early music and monophonic medieval chants, and you have a very rough idea of what this sounds like. The opening track, “Blackmail Blues,” is completely amazing and one of the coolest things I’ve heard in a long time. Listen to it at Myspace.