Friday, 14 October 2016

Autumn Roundup - Part Two

Part Two of my rummaging about in the "to do" box...

Virus – Memento Collider

As any collector knows, back in those most fertile of times in the early 70s, buried deep within the German culture bunker that I prefer to term Deutschrock was a freaky acid rock-jazz collective by the name of Virus, who had the benefit of one Konrad Plank at the controls. This modern identically named band bear little musical comparison, but for all that I can detect a definite link to the loose limbed rhythms of classic Deutschrock.

Virus have been extant since 2003 and Memento Collider is the group's fourth album. The songs within are a combination of guitarist Carl-Michael "Czral" Eide’s dissonant chord riffing, Petter "Plenum" Berntsen’s surprisingly melodic bass parts, and Einar "Einz" Sjursø's propulsive elektolurch on the drum kit. Czral is aided in the guitar department by Voivod’s Dan Mongrain making a guest appearance.

Czral also sings in a similar portentous style to Pete Murphy, lending an inevitably air Gothic to proceedings. However the real star on this rather fine and very alt record is drummer Einz whose flailing rhythms are the thing that keeps this Virus infectious.

Virus are  a part of the growing stable of Norwegian label Karisma Records, who are carving quite a name for themselves on the prow of their longship, with acts such as the fabulous Seven Impale, Airbag, Magic Pie, and others.

Virus Bandcamp

Karisma Records


This album came as part of a slim package from that home for stray north western stoners, the aptly named Stone Premonitions label. There was no PR sheet and the cover gives very little away, but if that's not John Simms' guitar then my ears are in a worse state than I thought. The singer has to be to be Tim Jones too, so this sounds like it's the fabulously wiggy Census of Hallucinations under another name.

The music is mostly fairly languid, featuring much acidic guitar and drifting synthscapes with occasional bubbling pulse beats and noises off. Well trippy in fact...

Unfortunately neither band nor label appear to have a Bandcamp or Soundcloud page, and I can't even find a YouTube clip, so no samples.

Stone Premonitions

Kevin Heard - Cydonia

One piece of info on the card cover of the TRAM promo CD was that the fab sleeve was designed by one Kevin Heard, who it turns out is a musical polymath. On this solo album he plays everything from flutes, saxes, guitars to synths, electronica and various percussion as well as signing, designing the cover, and writing and producing and engineering the thing. I hope someone made him a cup of tea now and again.

What comes out of the glorious stew of instrumentation is a well-crafted space opera with high production values that belies its DIY "bedroom" origins. With nods to Charisma-era Hawkwind and Sendelica the opening rocker of a title track flies by at warp factor 5, changing down the gears to drift idly by on the following Kingdom Come. With many "mission control" snippets between the tracks, this is a fun ride into deep space, exploring many different grooves on the way, from the rocking Cydonia to the space dust whimsical funk of Ice On The Pyramids to the space pop of Under Blood Red Sands, Kevin Heard proves that this pony knows much more than just the one trick.

Another fine shiny piece of plastic from the Stone Premonitions stable, who really should get themselves a Bandcamp page, but at least Kevin has put a few tracks up on YouTube...


Stone Premonitions

Gary Lucas & Jann Klose - Stereopticon

I picked this up having appreciated ex-Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas' collaboration with Peter Hammill, Other World, from 2014. Suffice to say this album with singer Jann Klose, who among many other things was the voice of Tim Buckley in the film Greetings From Tim Buckley is as different as can be, but hey, my taste is nothing if not catholic. A collection of acoustic songs occasionally featuring close harmony singing, and drawing on Americana, this is a charmer of an album, and to be honest, I'm sorry I've let it slip by - I received it in February!

Downhome and with a warm heart, it is easy to get lost in Stereopticon's welcoming arms after a hard day at the computerface. And, it's as far from Prog as can be, so what's not to like?


Ashley Reaks - If I Hadn't Become An Artist And A Musician I Would Have Been A Serial Killer Or Killed Myself


Ashley Reaks the artist makes strangely unsettling and uncompromising collages usually featuring cartoon depictions of various sexual practices featuring our glorious rulers in sundry states of debauchery.

Ashley Reaks the musician makes albums that take inspiration from classic pop, ska, reggae, and punk where the music is in innocuous and complete contrast to the stark lyrics that narrate various ill-begotten strains of the lives of the disenfranchised, all for your enjoyment. For his sins he is cursed with supporting Sunderland AFC, but we all have our crosses to bear.

Assisted by a full band and the complimentary tones of Maria Jardardottir, the music makes this pleasantly listenable but if you listen too closely the lyrics will
deliver a sucker punch to your conscience. Oddly, it works!


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Autumn Roundup - Part One

In this wunnerful whorl of reviewing, one struggles to come up for air as wave upon wave of new music is delivered to your inbox, or in rarer cases now, your physical mailbox. Inevitably due to the constraints of available time some releases become sidelined. Whether this happens intentionally or not, a sense of duty brings me to this, the first time I have attempted a roundup of those poor waifs and strays that have fallen by the wayside. Herein may be that lost gem you are searching for, or it could just all be entirely forgettable. That is for you to judge, but to assist these be my thunks on the matter...

The task in front of me will start with actual physical releases as the labels or bands concerned have gone to the expense of having a shiny disc made and posted to me, so first up is:

Meson - 5c4l3

A release on Martin Archer's Discus Music of itself indicates experimentalism and no truck with conventionality, and this one is most decidedly an oddity.

Bo Meson gives his name, itself derived from particle physics, to the improvisational collective Meson. Bo is described as "...a metaphysicist whose poetic musings reinvigorate those around him."  "His constantly evolving and apparently self-contradictory world view..." informs lyrics which "...are inspired by both mundane and celestial issues of scale, ethics and dogma" "With Bo, what seems simple is often complex and the difficult is as easy as 1, ב, ξ."

What we end up with is an improvised inner and outer space opera with Mr Meson declaiming portentously on top, not afraid to lapse into semi-pretentious prose. One feels that criticism of his esoteric style is mere space dust off the cosmic duck's back. In places this reminds me of the also singularly driven NYC-based poet-cum-band leader Copernicus, but with a far more avant outlook.

kem-na mazda features what one assumes is Bo (actually Wolfgang Seel, says Martin) singing in a rather fine baritone that somehow lends an almost religious air to the track, He also uses a female lead voice  - possibly the beguiling frostlake (it is, says Martin)- for some of the recitals, and a chorus of voices here and there make for a multi-dimensional vocal melange, thoroughly in keeping with the rarefied intellectual subject matter. Musically this album rises and falls on waves of cosmic radiation, attaining a quality akin to a Deutschrock version of Hawkwind. Violins, synths, reeds, electronic treatments and standard rock instruments from a cast of 14 combine with Bo Meson's distinctive words for an atmospheric but highly unusual whole.

Discus Music

Listen & Buy HERE

Inclusion Principle - Third Opening

Another CD from Discus Music, Inclusion Principle are a trio comprising a myriad of electronics, found sounds, laptops, keyboards, reeds, drums and percussion. They make minimalistic experimental music focussing on incremental change and micro-detail, often ruptured by noises off and rhythmic shifts, both humanly and electronically generated.

This strange hybrid produces a world where the space is as important as what fills it. Oddly hypnotic, but far from meditative, Third Opening maintains the Discus tradition of sprawling double albums where time ceases to have meaning. The oft used electric piano and the nature of the beats puts this album firmly in a nu-jazz bracket, a pigeonhole that seems to me to have no boundaries, and is therefore more than fitting in this case.

Third Opening is described aptly on the PR sheet as "CD A - mainly abstract, some rhythms. CD B - mainly rhythm, some abstraction." Definitely one for the adventurous among you!

Discus Music


Listen & Buy HERE

Vasil Hadzimanov Band featuring David Binney - Alive

A name virtually unknown outside of the countries that were formerly known as Yugoslavia, and their immediate neighbours, pianist and keyboard player Vasil Hadzimanov has a strong musical heritage, and has played with David Gilmore and Nigel Kennedy, to name but two of a long list from his CV.

With the addition of saxophonist David Binney, Vasil and his band, consisting of guitar, bass, drums, much percussion, and occasional wordless vocals, turn in a consummate performance of ethnic-flavoured jazz fusion recorded on a Serbian tour in 2014 in front of an appreciative audience.

This is the band's sixth album, which explains why they are well rehearsed, but in a genre which is prone to such things, they are never sterile or flash for the sake of it. Vasil's synth work on Zulu alone is a delight, and all in all this album is a good listen.

MoonJune Records


Zombie Picnic - A Suburb of Earth

A while after I reviewed his rather fine acid-folk offering The Ranger & The Cleric, Irish guitarist and composer Jim Griffin sent me a CD of his band's latest waxing A Suburb of Earth which turns out to be a melodic acid rock extravaganza of some merit. In places Jim's guitar has a similar melodic quality akin to that of Eric Bell during his Thin Lizzy days, and opening track The B141 Frequency uses Jim's expressive style to good effect. Intermittently spacey and occasionally garagey, The Adamite Bomb lights up a big one before getting on the charabanc...and so she blows, and so she blows...

Occasional voiceovers invoke beat poets and sci-fi writers as the the music takes the well-used cosmic bus to the terminus over four long but not excessive tracks, giving the band time to stretch out. No envelopes were pushed during the making of this record, but after the first two albums in this article, that can be a blessing!


That's it for now...more to come...

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Dennis Rea Tanabata Ensemble - Black River Transect

Dennis Rea is a guitarist and musical free spirit who resides on the north western edge of the USA up there in Seattle where he is a well known presence in that far-flung city's left field music scene.

In the past I have ventured deep into the densely populated hinterland of Dennis' musical legacy, a never less than interesting journey that has spotlighted some real musical gems, the common thread being a quest for new and innovative ways of expression.

The latest chapter is Black River Transect, an intriguing album of stark contrasts, recorded live in Seattle's Chapel Performance Space on two different dates in 2013, by Dennis' Tanabata Ensemble.

The opening four tracks where recorded on 25th February of that year, and the album opens with the lovely and romantic piece ASJ (septet), named for Dennis' life partner Anne Smith Joiner. The gentle and cosseting opening tune is in full contrast to the guided improvisation of the title track that follows, which opens with the unsettling airs of a didjeridoo, accompanied by odd sounds with a likeness to a barking wild dog, and later something akin to a distressed elephant, and of course Dennis' steely sharp guitar, sustained on scything notes that gradually up the ante to arrive at a rhythmic cacophony deep in the jungle. A transect is "a straight line or narrow section through an object..." and the schism between ASJ (septet) and Black River Transect illustrate that perfectly.

The line is re-crossed for the lilting but edgy Swaylone's Island, Dennis' keening guitar melody leading the ensemble in a slow waltz across glowing embers. We return to improvisation for Harmoniker, a guided piece during which "each improviser played only those scale degrees that occurred within the spelling of their name; e.g., Beth Fleenor = B, E, F." Good job the band were not of Polish origin, eh? Joking aside this is an intriguing piece that is as different from the coruscating improv of title track as can be, slowly revealing a sense in the madness, before becoming loud and righteous in its final section.

The final track was recorded later in 2013, on 6th July, and features Dennis' colleague in the marvellous furious-prog instrumental band Moraine, James DeJoie, who arranges a "trombone choir" in an extended and beautiful "slight return" to the theme of the opening track. 

Unfortunately I cannot find any samples to link to, so this is just like one of those reviews from the pre-internet'll just have to take my word for it!

Bookending an album of typically single-minded experimentation merged with composition, Dennis Rea has made a musical sandwich with a highly unusual filling that is neither "jazz" nor "avant" nor indeed any convenient post-hole, but stands on its own, just like the rest of his singularly individualistic canon. Most definitely one for the adventurous!

1. ASJ (septet)
2. Black River Transect (for Princess Angeline)*
3. Swaylone’s Island
4. Harmoniker 
5. ASJ (trombone choir) 

Line up:
Tracks 1-4:
Dennis Rea – guitar
Stuart Dempster – trombone, didgeridu
James DeJoie – bass clarinet
Beth Fleenor – clarinet
Kate Olson – soprano saxophone
John Seman – double bass
Tom Zgonc – drums

Track 5:
Dennis Rea – guitar
Kate Olson – soprano saxophone
John Seman – double bass
Paul Kikuchi – drums
Trombone choir: Sara Mayo (alto trombone); Stuart Dempster, Moc Escobedo, Masa Ohtake, Naomi Siegel (tenor trombones); Steve Harreld, Jen Hinkle, Chad Kirby, Greg Powers (bass trombones); Benn Hansson (contrabass trombone)

Links & Info:

I have scribbled various articles about the works of Dennis Rea in the past, type his name in the search box at the top of the page, and take your pick! Essentially though, you should at least have a gander at his vast discography, my overview of which can be found HERE.

* From Dennis' notes: 

The title invokes the vanished Black River that once drained Lake Washington from its southern end into Elliott Bay in the Salish Sea, before the excavation of the Ship Canal in north Seattle lowered the level of the lake and left this once-vital transportation corridor and its Native villages nothing but a memory. The track’s dedicatee, “Princess Angeline” (Kikisoblu), was the daughter of Chief Sealth; she spent much of her life in a hovel on the tide flats where, like her dispossessed people in general, she was subjected to callous indignities by the fast-growing city’s residents.

**Adendum 4th October 2016
Dennis has informed me that snippets of the tracks from the album can be listened to on Amazon, iTunes, etc.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Courage Of Others

You know me, I don't particularly like Prog, a style of rock music that rather than move on from its roots regularly exhumes the corpse to take it on yet another Bryden Two Step into the dance hall of nostalgia...or summat.

Apart from its musical museum curating, another problem with Prog are its lyrics, which for the most part delight in telling us in oft repeated ways how shit everything is...really? I had no idea..., mixed with a generous helping of "woe is me". There are exceptions to this rule of course, which would seem to apply to prog metal more than anything else. Modern prog lyrics also shy away from anything directly political, preferring to remain in the field of personal politics, or occasionally making vague ironic generalisations along the lines of "We don't need no educashun". Not that Floyd were a Prog band anyway, but that's another discussion.

For a long time now, one of the bands that seem to me to epitomise this ginnel for backward looking navel gazers is The Tangent, a group mysteriously revered by men (and a few ladies) of a certain age. To them, their leader Andy Tillison can do no wrong, and the comment "Tillison is God" has cropped up in many a forum and YouTube thread over the years.

I've had a few run-ins with Tangent fans and indeed Mr Tillison in the past, but as often occurs, the man at the centre of this turns out to be a decent chap, for Andy is a bloke whose worldview is from the heart, and his taste in music is almost as good as mine! When I heard recently that he had unleashed yet another twenty-minute epic on the world, although obviously it was good to see him fully active again after his health problems, I inwardly groaned...o gawd, not another one, I thought.

And there it is, A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road in all its glory.

Mr T's lyrics have often ventured into social commentary in the past, sometimes more successfully than others, but I don't want to drag up that album again. However with this new one he goes for the jugular in the manner of the old punk rocker he really is with an outpouring of justified righteous anger that burns down post-Brexit Britain like an unstoppable flow of molten lava. Yes, some of his arguments are over-simplified, but this is Yorkie plain speaking, telling it straight like Boycott minus the grating irritation factor. What Andy venomously spits out, looking uncannily like an unhinged Arthur Brown in the video all needs saying, and it is 100% spot on. I have not heard a prog rock song this angry since...ever? There was a moment just before Gustav Holst's Thaxted is wrung out of Luke Machin's guitar, when Andy's rising tide of anger and frustration at his fellow Brits' calamitous decision on 23rd June hits an emotive crescendo that made me well up, and sent a shiver down my spine. I never in a million years suspected that anything by The Tangent would be remotely capable of getting that reaction from the cynical old bugger that is yours truly. Knock me dahn wiv a fevver, Clevor Trevor!

The music is almost secondary, painting a fine canvas, with the reed blowing of Theo Travis being a particular highlight. In typical overblown Tangent fashion this epic probably would have worked better as two songs as there is a natural split not long after the Thaxted section. Frankly though, that criticism is irrelevant, as Andy Tillison has written a lyric that will send ripples out across the Progpond for many a week to come. There has already been some averse reaction from conservative-minded fans saying he should leave the overt politics alone, and that they have no place in Prog, or that it makes them feel "uncomfortable", poor lambs. Bollocks say I, all good art, let alone music, takes risks in dark times to expose the heavy manners it was created under, otherwise an anodyne bland Hell awaits.

All good art also requires an open mind to enable its creation, and frankly I have never understood how anyone who purports to be a lover of art, in this case music, can have a closed and conservative (big and/or little "c" optional) mindset, thus leading to the kind of criticism mentioned. You may not agree with the politics (boo to you!) but surely you can only admire the heart-on-sleeve honesty? This song is a courageous move by Andy Tillison, and I salute his bravery, flying in the face of the cosseted outlook of a lot of his own fans. More power to him, I say!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Pulling Fish Through Grandma's Eyes

Lunch, day two of Inglund's Test Match at the crickball against Paraguay, and Inglund were holding up rather well against the long feared world beaters at the intricate game, as fortunately Paraguay's propensity for conjuring reverse swing in 19/8 time on any surface you care to imagine had yet to rear its maniacally grinning head.

Jonners Agnew is in the talkbox, once more regaling us all with his lifelong post-Gabriel Genesis and Phil Collins obsession, flummoxing his listeners with reams of useless information pertaining to the once all-conquering purveyors of pop-prog for Sunday golfers and upmarket car salesmen. Joining him is Archjook Geff'ry Boycs, ex-crickballist and pugilistic student of cutting edge avant garde progressive music. Back in the 14th century Duke Geff'ry legendarily held onto his wicket throughout the entire course of the Six Week War, scoring a mere 57 rounders in the time, until Sire Iron Broth lost his by then tenuous grip on patience, and had Boycs run over by a groundsman with a roller. No-one cared that this was strictly illegal as Boycs was mightily pissing off everyone, thus laying the ground for a career invoking unreasonable irritation in even the most mild-mannered of peasants up and down the land. As we know to our cost this continued after he retired from the game, with his ongoing and seemingly endless stint in the talkbox. These days Boycs maintains his knack of annoying those of a reasonable dispostion, as his grating natter is now into its 67th season, and shows no signs of stopping. Mind you, he knows his minimalist avant-funk, amongst other wilfully obscure musical ginnels.

Jonners: Good Morning to you Geff'ry, how are are you on this fine sunny day?

Boycs: Ah'm grand. Ma dad used to work six days a week down t'pit tha knows, so ah'm grand. And tha can stop thy blather about Genesis, they split up centuries ago. There's some reet proper music being made by folk who still function, and it's about time tha was educated.

Jonners: Whoever you are referring to are not popular, are they? They have not had megatastic hits of such splendiferousness as Invisible Crutch, or Cheesy Lover, or Ps-ps-pseudio, or...

Boycs: Oh do shut up Jonners. It's our job to put bums on seats, and ah knows you were one of those intolerant johnny-come-lately dolts throwing furniture at Devo at Knobwerth in 1978. Ah recommend the new album by that Colin Robinson fella. He's from ma neck o' t'woods, although ah'm none too sure about all those arty anarcho-hippy types who live up thar in 'Ebden Bridge, 'appen. Jumble Hole Clough is name o' t'band and Bela Lugosi's Dad is name o' t'album.

Jonners: Are they anything like Genesis, then?

Boycs: Aye, well, is David Steele like Viv Richards? They both played crickball. Imagine another band from God's Own County, them Gang of Four chaps, mek 'em stop being gloomy buggers and hide their trenchcoats and well-thumbed copies of Das Kapital, and you'd be absolutely nowhere near, as Jumble Hole Clough also dabble in fragile ambience inspired by their lovely locale.

Jonners: Gang of who?

Boycs: Ah'm sorry, but you av to tell it straight. That is simply not good enough. In ma day the captain would av you up against the lockers for ignorance like that. By 'eck you mek me feel reet old. Now then lad, this is going to take a while, let's start again.

Jonners: (Giggling) Did you know I've just bought a second home by the sea?

Boycs: How old are you? Twelve? Pay attention son, you might learn something. This Robinson chap must be some sort of socialist, he releases all his music for nowt. Not a bean. Now, tha knows me, ah'm no fan them socialist types. Only t'other day ah was moaning about why can't ah get my groceries delivered at two in the morning. If there's a market for it, it should be provided for, ah reckon. Ah'm sure some nice Polish fella'd be up for it. Anyway, this Robinson chap, he's very prolific, ah can't keep up with him. But while we're at lunch ah thought ah'd mention his new album as it's nay bad at all. Ah never realised...or ah forgot, ah'm not as young as thee...but Bela Lugosi's Dad has some proper songs. Aye, that means lyrics, and reet bloody surreal they are too:

"53 men, huddled in the hall 
To all intents and purposes, there’s no-one there at all 
Just a little up the road, that’s where it will end. 
Forgotten men around the bend 

Get the mucus moving"

Tha's from a snappily titled tune called A cardboard box containing my mother's hair.

Jonners: That makes no sense at all...

Boycs: Spot on...'appen that's the point son. It means whatever you want it to. You should see Sailing with me on the Zuider Zee. Insanely catchy and quite nonsensical, it'll get tha singing in the shower.

Jonners: I can't imagine you singing. Shouting, yes, but not singing.

Boycs: Tha cheeky young whippersnapper. I'll have thee know ah was in t'school choir.

Jonners: I'll bet you unintentionally slowed the beat down. Or deliberately, come to think of it.

Boycs: Ah avn't come here to be insulted...

All: Oh yes you have, that's why we pay you!


1. I reached into the chimney and pulled out a sewing machine (25th October 1415) (5:03)
2. A cardboard box containing my mother's hair (3:20)
3. Abandoned Lunch Invokes State Of Nirvana (3:21)
4. Twilight of The Mods (3:23)
5. En prélude à une entorse au poignet (6:34)
6. Henry is still missing (4:21)
7. Ikarus preparing to leave the Great Synagogue (4:10)
8. Mother surrounded by silence (2:22)
9. Neglected Crazy Golf Course (3:51)
10. Rain / train / aeroplane (2:05)
11. Wedding car outside a chip shop in Halifax (3:04)
12. Sailing with me on the Zuider Zee (2:33)

Line up:
All songs written, played, recorded and produced by Colin Robinson, with:
Richard Knutson - microKorg (track 1)
Liam Robinson - electric double bass and bass guitar (tracks 2,4 and 12)

Jumble Hole Clough Bandcamp

Monday, 1 August 2016

BBC Proms 2016 - David Bowie

Opening with Warszawa was a smart move, as it is probably Bowie's most symphonic piece, and segueing into the atonal chug of Station To Station seemed only natural. The vocals were led by Neil Hannon who was giving it his best Thin White Duke impression, ably abetted by Amanda Palmer.
Bowie was one for never doing the obvious,  and looking down on the increasingly surreal world he has left behind, can only have approved of the scope and daring of this secular celebration of his musical legacy.

A percussive arrangement of Life On Mars was fronted by a typically full on Marc Almond, the drama of song and singer being a perfect fit. Anna Calvi put Lady Grinning Soul firmly in the Berlin cabaret with a portentous arrangement from the orchestra that was my favourite interpretation of the concert. She ended it with some cacophonous slide work on her Telecaster. Marvellous stuff!

Other successes were Conor O'Brien giving a heartfelt and soulful performance of The Man Who Sold The World, Paul Buchanan's querulous AshesTo Ashes, and John Cale's suitably avant Valentine's Day. Cale and Calvi got together for Sorrow, but it was more like a rock band backed by some strings and seemed rather out of place, even though Calvi in particular made a marvellous racket!

The expansive and anthemic pop of Heroes perhaps did not work so well, although ultimately the strength of Amanda Palmer's delivery won the day. A lot has been said about Marc Almond's delivery of Starman. Let's just say it was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting given some of the more barbed comments I have seen. He might have got a bit carried away, but he never has been quite on the note, has he? Bless him.

The only way to take on songs as recognisable as these is to reinvent, and of course the chamber orchestra takes it halfway there, it then becomes the task of the singer to complete the remodeling. Most of the time that was the approach taken, but conversely Laura Mvula's take on Fame stayed faithful and the sound of a chamber orchestra getting funky was a delight.

Laura stayed for the moving Blackstar trilogy, joined by Paul Buchanan and Anna Calvi. These songs are still fresh, so radical reinterpretations are no real shock, more than maintaining the raw emotions of the originals. Amanda Palmer and Anna Calvi channeling Blackstar while both wearing black and crowns of thorns was particularly moving, with a superb arrangement from the orchestra to top it off.

The most adventurous reinterpretation has to be David Lang's complete restructuring of Always Crashing In The Same Car, led by an electric harp and sung in the upper register by classical countertenor Phillipe Jarousky. Quite enthralling I must say.

The large cast assembled for Space Oddity, led by John Cale's iconic baritone, backed by the House Gospel Choir. Despite the numbers on stage it was a tastefully restrained, unhurried, and unusual rearrangement that worked a treat. The entire cast plus the RAH organ assembled for the grand finale of After All, started off by the slightly wayward Marc Almond. A typically unobvious song to end an evening out of left field, just as David Bowie would have liked. The celebration ended with a crowd singalong to Let's Dance, proving it wasn't all high art.

Overall the concert was an undoubted artistic success, as long as it was approached with an open mind, which is exactly what is needed where any format of progressive music is concerned, as this Proms certainly was. Mr Jones would have, please can we have some of the reality back that you seemed to have taken with you when you left our beleaguered planet?

Monday, 18 July 2016

Markus Reuter - Fool In Music

Markus Reuter is a name you may have heard of, but likely as not, you haven't. Those of you to whom the name is unfamiliar are in for a treat, as Markus Reuter is one of the most innovative musicians of our time, and has played with many, many people, and composed hundreds of pieces of music. His favoured instrument is nominally the touch guitar, but that is only the start of it. Markus has extracted noises out of his various stringed instruments via all kinds of manipulations and in tandem with varied exotic electronica, that those of us musically challenged twangers who barely got beyond 12-bar blooze have nary the capacity to even dream of.

Those of you who are familiar with the name will, like me initially, probably know him as a member of Stick Men, where he plays the studious foil to founder members Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto's more animated presence, and on this compilation his trusty touch guitar never seems too far from the picture.

What really grabbed my attention was catching Markus' documentary on the recording of his modern classical tone piece Todmorden 513. The documentary was broadcast a few years ago on BBC4, and is a captivating if understated film, rather in tune with Markus' low-key personality, telling the story of a truly fascinating piece of music, composed for a full orchestra by our unassuming hero.

Here's the full documentary...well worth watching, save it for later!

Sorry, got slightly sidetracked there for a moment! The point of this article is Fool In Music, which is a two and a half hour long career-spanning compilation, naturally including one of the movements of Todmorden 513. Everything on this compilation is a delight to listen to, and all facets of Markus' many-sided musical personality are revealed. Beginning with the Rypdalesque creeping black wash of ambience that is Mundo Nuevo, Part 2 from the titular album of collaborative soundcscapes released last year, we are taken on a journey guided by the satnav of Markus' never obvious muse into strange but always interesting sonic lands.

Getting the more well known Stick Men in early, this time featuring David Cross, is a good attention-grabbing move. From last year's rather fine Midori live album, the second track on this compilation is the rollicking Hide The Trees, and it tells you everything you need to know about this great band's intuitive chemistry.

In case you were worried that I was going to go through this thing track by track, fear not, I am not that cruel, or of an inkling to write endless Joycean-length sentences in that prosaic reviewing style, you will no doubt be pleased to hear! No, suffice to say in summary that everything between the two opposite poles of those first two tracks is present and correct on Fool In Music. I will however make honourable mentions for a few highlights, which in itself is difficult enough as there are no obvious low points to goes:

The Inner Voice is from Lee Fletcher's Faith In Worthless Things, a fab album to which Markus contributed a major part of the writing, and on this track we hear his touch guitars doing their thang with aplomb. This tune is a the first of only a handful of fully fledged songs on the compilation, which for the most part is entirely instrumental. This time out, we find Lisa Fletcher's lovely unaffected vocal taking centre stage. If Lee is reading this, please get out from behind that mixing console and make another album!

The Wedding is the first of four tracks by Markus' post-everything electronic experimental band Centrozoon, who first peeked over the horizon in 1999, and who are still occasionally releasing music, their last album being the tumescently titled Boner in 2012, which I have yet to hear. Obstensibly a duo, with Markus' touch guitars and electronic manipulations being joined by fellow German Bernhard Wöstheinrich on synths, electronic percussion and other weird and wonderful effects, Centrozoon have added guests along the way including Tim Bowness, Tobias Reber, and Markus' long-time musical colleague Pat Mastelotto. Pat crops up on numerous offerings on this compilation.

How Things Turned Out, Part 7 is taken from a nine-part rule-based minimalistic improv, and perhaps points the way to Markus' grand opus Todmorden 513. For me the best example of ambient here is Markus' collaboration with Zero Ohms aka Richard Roberts whose "wind-controlled synthesisers & over 50 various flutes, saxes, & other woodwinds" added to Markus' touch guitars and some weird thing called a "recursive accumulation device" create a stately construction of meditative contemplation during the unfolding mystery of Indescribable. This is contrasted completely with the following brief atonal cacophony of Amsterdam. Modus 7, from the superbly named Quartet for The End of Time play out an Escher staircase of strange ascending scales that reaches a plateaux nervous thrumming pent up energy, before carrying on ever upwards.

Colour Vision sees Markus teaming up with renowned alt-electronica figure Ian Boddy, a collaboration that has produced many albums over the years. It is another twist on ambient technique, that unusually features a guitar...that sounds like a guitar. Icily calm and crystalline, it is another dreamscape of seemingly effortless assemblage.

TUNER are Markus and Pat Mastelotto, and they function both as a production team and as a wilfully strange "rock" band, the unsettling rhythmically propelled lurch of Up, Down Forward and Return being yet another compilation highlight. Centrozoon return with the slinky funk of Pop Killer, featuring the last vocal on the album, delivered in typical swoonsome fashion by the unmistakable Tim Bowness.

Most, if not all these tunes seem to come from Markus' more recent output of the last few years, and Velveteen by Nocturne Blue is part of a work in progress, being a song-by-song release as they are individually crowdfunded. Aiming to be completed by 1st October 2016, the album is titled I Came for the Light and Stayed for the Shadows. Nocturne Blue are Markus, Adrian Belew Power Trio bassist Julie Slick and audio-visual artist Dutch Rail. The track itself is an unhurried revelation of serenity, giving one pause for thought.

Ehkor by Namgar is a fusion of traditional Mongolian instrumentation, with Namgar's haunting vocal, married to modern studio techniques. The end result is quite beguiling, and draws inevitable comparisons with Peter Gabriel's "world music" (gawd, I hate that term, how about "Non-Anglo"?) influenced output.

After the atypically heavy Impulse Response by Adrian Benavides, we end where we almost began, in the more familiar terrain of the Stick Men. Despite promising not to do a "track-by-track" dissection, it has been hard omitting anything, as these two and a half hours have flown by, and none of it is wasted time. I have highlighted less than half the album's 28 tracks, but hopefully that has been enough to tempt you to at least follow the link below and give Fool In Music a listen.

Get this FREE compilation of a truly individualistic talent, pick your favourite and buy a download, it's the least Markus Reuter deserves.

No chance! Go to Bandcamp and get it HERE.

Line up:

Markus Reuter website
Markus Reuter Bandcamp
Centrozoon Bandcamp
Stick Men Bandcamp
Lee Fletcher Bandcamp
Nocturne Blue Bandcamp