Posts Tagged ‘Heldon’

Richard Pinhas doesn’t rock, but he rocks

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Last Thursday, I saw Richard Pinhas at the Velvet Lounge here in DC, a tiny venue into which 40-50 people packed in to see this semi-legend of electronic music. This concert was promoted pretty well, and got coverage in a ton of places around here, from the weekly Washington City Paper to the daily metro paper Washington Post Express to the hipster DCist blog, and the turnout was pretty impressive.

DC’s Insect Factory opened — I saw them opening for Zs a few months back and wasn’t especially impressed, but I really enjoyed the very short set that they played this time around. This is an ambient project involving a guitarist and drummer, whose style is very soothing and mostly consonant. I’ve started coming around to really enjoying ambient music in a live setting (something I never really thought would happen, as when I listen to ambient music on record I almost always listen while doing something else), and Insect Factory was generally pushing the right buttons for me.

After a short break, Pinhas and his laptop sidekick, Jerome Schmidt, took the stage and wordlessly began their set. Their concert would consist of one very long (40+ minute) piece as a duo, and then a much shorter (less than 15 minutes, I’d imagine) piece with Scott Verrastro, the drummer from Insect Factory and the guy for whom we all had to thank for the show happening in the first place. I found this a fascinating show to watch: the nature of this sort of electronic music is it’s often very difficult to match sounds with the musicians’ actions, thanks to all kinds of looping, processing and delaying techniques, to say nothing of Schmidt’s laptop work (I never did figure out exactly what sounds he was contributing, except when there was something obvious like a programmed drum beat or a spoken word voiceover). Occasionally Pinhas would let loose with a blistering “solo,” but more often than not it would be buried intentionally in the mix, with his squalls of electric guitar work merely adding a certain edge to the louder, more amorphous wall of ambient electronic sound. This reminded me a lot of some of his solos on Fossil Culture, the collaboration with Peter Frohmader that, curiously, Pinhas doesn’t seem to think too much of these days (on the contrary, it’s one of my favorite pieces of his work).

The YouTube clip in the previous post is much more indicative of what this show sounded like than anything I could possibly write (especially since I think I lack the vocabulary to describe this sort of music adequately), but the layers and layers of seemingly formless sound, punctuated by the occasional burst of melody, were pretty enticing. I was sitting on the floor in front of the stage for the whole show, and I was surprised at how these two guys held my attention for 40 minutes straight during their first improv. I actually think I like the music in the YouTube clip better than what I saw in person, but it was fun to watch Schmidt and Pinhas interact — most of the time it actually seemed like Pinhas was taking his cues from Schmidt and not the other way around. I had a hard time telling how much of the show was improvised, but I’d guess a fair bit.

Another bonus of the show was that I picked up the 3CD Heldon live set recently put out by the Japanese label Captain Trip. This set consists of two concerts, one from 1975 and one from 1979; I have a bootleg of the 1979 show and it’s just blistering. Haven’t had too much of a chance to listen to this, but I couldn’t resist picking it up, as they were selling it for $30, far less than the $40-$70 (!) I’ve seen it going for online.

What’s spinning, November 13 edition

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

For some reason, September and October were two of the most prolific CD-purchasing months I’ve ever had. I’m still struggling to keep pace in terms of listening to and digesting all the new stuff I’ve gotten in the past couple months — and I’m failing, and thus trying to cut back on new purchases in the near future. (This is aided by the fact that my purchase rate for the past couple months has been entirely unsustainable.) But, here are a few quick thoughts on some of the things that I’ve been hooked on. Most of these are new acquisitions I got in the past couple months, but some are older things that just happened to catch my ear recently.

  • Cos - Viva Boma
    Canterbury-styled fusion has never really done much for me; something about the light, breezy nature of things and the wispy keyboard tones has always turned me off a bit. But Viva Boma gets it right: it’s breezy Canterbury-esque fusion all right, but the band isn’t afraid to rock out at times, and a really strong, almost funky electric bass presence and some rather seductive female vocals definitely help. Definitely need to explore these guys further — conveniently, Musea appears to be reissuing a lot of their albums that were previously out of print.
  • Grits - Rare Birds
    And here we go again: if not quite as clearly Canterbury-influenced, Grits’ jams on this live album are definitely “breezy fusion.” The heavy Rhodes presence makes it palatable to me, along with the fact that the melodies are just really tasty. I remember Steve Feigenbaum griping on rec.music.progressive years ago about how the Grits albums were going out of print. I sure wish I’d picked them up way back then; I’m definitely happy I got my hands on this now. Fantastic stuff aside from a couple really embarrassing poppy vocal tunes, and now a feverish search for As the World Grits is about to start.
  • Ensemble Nimbus - Key Figures
    Another brand of prog/RIO that is kind of hit-or-miss with me is the sort of fusionish avant-rock of the sort practiced by Zamla Mammas Manna, Miriodor, The Muffins and so on. Key Figures falls into that category, but like Viva Boma I am lovin’ this shit. Not implying it’s as good as the Cos album, but this is fun stuff, and I even like the programmed drums. Glad I have this one, as it’s on the long-defunct APM label and, like everything else on APM, has disappeared without a trace in recent years.
  • Heldon - Stand By
    Would you believe that this is the first Heldon album I’ve ever heard? As a serious King Crimson fan it’s always been evident to me that I need to hear this band. And especially after hearing Richard Pinhas’ work in other contexts (such as Fossil Culture with Peter Frohmader), I knew I’d like this stuff. Yet somehow I’ve just never gotten around to buying any Heldon, until now. And now, I know I need all their albums, because this is great stuff.
  • Cecil Taylor - Conquistador!
    And another “would you believe?!” This is the first Cecil Taylor I’ve heard! And while this is a bit mind-bending and challenging to digest, especially consisting as it does of two 20-minute tracks (but hell, if I can handle Tim Berne’s sprawling compositions, I can handle this, or so I tell myself), Taylor’s playing is phenomenal and I can enjoy it even when all I’m doing is just letting the sheer intensity of it wash over me. Must get more… I seem to be writing that a lot, which bodes poorly for my wallet…
  • Enslaved - Isa
    If you like what Opeth is doing but kind of think they’re a bunch of proggy pansies who need to toughen up their metal cred a bit, maybe this is the band to turn to. Accessible, melodic black metal that caught my ear from the first listen, unlike much extreme metal which tends to take a while to sink in with me. And yet another band whose back catalog I still need to explore!
  • The Beta Band - The Best of the Beta Band
    Considering that I have all of this band’s releases, it might seem at first that purchasing their new greatest-hits album is a bit perverse. But it has a bonus CD with a full live performance on it, and I always thought these guys were much better live than on record. Still, it seems like a very odd marketing strategy to pair a greatest hits collection and a live album on one release. Presumably greatest hits albums appeal to casual or new fans, while live albums appeal only to die-hard fans and completists. Maybe they were hoping to snare both audiences. Well, it worked on me, at least. (By the way, the live album is excellent. I haven’t bothered to listen to the greatest hits disc yet, and don’t really expect to.)
  • Nil - Nil Novo Sub Sole
    I’ll be reviewing this one in the near future. I got this a few months ago and was really surprised when it kept finding its way back into my CD player. As a rule, I’m pretty jaded when it comes to symphonic rock, but something about the moodiness and dark edginess of this album has been keeping me not just interested, but even enthralled. I’m not really taken with all of the album, but a couple of the songs are just tremendous. Always a pleasant (and rare) surprise to find new symphonic prog that can push my buttons.
  • Zs - Zs
    I wrote about this one a couple months ago, but it never really sunk in until now. Dual saxes, dual guitars, and dual drums sure sounds like a helluva fun lineup, but what these guys do often seems like it’s as annoying as it is fun. But once I started paying more attention, my jaw basically dropped to the floor at the tightness of this ensemble and the complexity of their compositions. I would love to see these guys live, I can’t imagine how visceral it must be. On record they come off as pretty much entirely academic.
  • Tim Hodgkinson - Each in Our Own Thoughts
    Here’s one that I keep expecting to floor me, but it just never has. I bought it for “Hold to the Zero Burn” (aka “Erk Gah”), which was originally a Henry Cow piece and has been described as the missing link between “Living in the Heart of the Beast” (for the me absolute definitive Henry Cow composition) and Western Culture (my favorite Henry Cow album, overall). So far, though, I haven’t found the visceral appeal of the former or the intellectual delight of the latter in “Hold to the Zero Burn,” and in fact the whole album seems a tad bit anemic to me. It’s so highly-rated by people whose tastes correspond to mine, though, that I keep trying and I don’t intend to give up anytime soon.