Saturday, 25 August 2012

Tohpati Bertiga - Riot

Since discovering the quite wonderful guitar playing of Tohpati Ario Hutomo early last year via his Indonesian ethno-jazz fusion combo simakDialog, I've kept a close watch for new product, so I was more than eager when MoonJune announced the release of this album.

In contrast to simakDialog this is a much heavier record where Tohpati lets rip in all manner of styles, fusing the influences of Holdsworth, McLaughlin, Beck and a host of other stellar names to create his own inimitable and peerless sound.

Riot is rightly described in the press release as "a power-trio session with his group Bertiga" and ably assisting the main man are bassist Indro Hardjodikoro and drummer Aditya Wibowo (unsurprisingly aka "Bowie"). Trading punches like three twinkle-toed lightweights on speed the three of them bounce off the walls on opener Upload, and there is no looking back. Careering along at a fair old lick, the odd time signature of this tune leaves me breathless and dizzy. Upload is metal-jazz fusion of the highest order, believe me. The middle section even has a kind of twisted sub-Sabbath bass line over which Tohpati shoots off way beyond the pull of gravity.

Some fusion of this type can be mere arid displays of techno-flash, but this is a satisfying and wholesome meal with bags of soul. Recorded live in a small studio in Jakarta, intervals between the songs are occasionally snippets of laughter or conversations, showing that this band are having fun, again something not always associated with the sometimes too serious world of jazz-fusion. I Feel Great is self-explanatory and after the battering of the opening track is a welcome breather for the listener as casual funk flows from the instruments of our three players. You can almost see the bass player strutting as he leads the band, on the one, of course!

Having served his apprenticeship as a session man backing various Indonesian pop stars over the years, in a parallel fashion to Jimmy Page, Tohpati certainly knows his chops, but his playing shows a depth of feeling as well as heaps of technical ability. The title track for instance uses some very odd time scales, but in a way that is not at all clinical, and the following song Middle East uses a recurring pattern that might seem more obvious on first listen but becomes ever more intricate the more attention you pay to it. On this song the drummer cleverly juxtaposes the fluid runs of the guitar and bass with minimalistic snare and cymbal. Another great lesson in "less is more" that I'm sure any tub thumpers amongst you would appreciate. This man knows where the hole is, but knows when to leave it uncovered.

Here's the band in action with Pay Attention:

Amongst many other highlights are spotting the references on the tongue-in-cheek Rock Camp, which shows Tohpati can play it straight...kind of...when he wants to. You can almost see him grinning his way through this song. See how many tributes you can spot! Absurd seems to have several time signatures going on at the same time, and features some crazy call and response between the guitar and bass that seems chaotic but never falls apart.

The carefree and fun nature of the record shines through in the twists and turns of Disco Robot, and then we get to what for me is the high point of the album, the stellar exploration of Lost In Space, a languid and seeming casual trip through the cosmos that encapsulates the sheer vastness of the heavens with a subtlety that is quite delightful. To think that this is the same band that gave us the math-shredding of Upload earlier on is quite something.

The album ends with the tightasthis syncopation and guitar-as-treated piano-synth Frippian oddities of Bertiga, and 60 minutes have flown by. Only one thing to do now and that's hit the repeat button.

If you only listen to one non-Western plank spanker this year, you could do far worse than buy this fab album....or maybe Ligro...damn, there's some hot stuff coming out of Indonesia, and I ain't just talking about the food!

Listen and buy here - MoonJune Records

Track listing:
1. Upload (7:58)
2. I Feel Great (6:41)
3. Riot (5:34)
4. Middle East (5:14)
5. Pay Attention (7:13)
6. Rock Camp (4:43)
7. Absurd (5:37)
8. Disco Robot (4:11)
9. Lost In Space (7:22)
10 Bertiga (5:34)

Line up:
Tohpati Ario Hutomo - Guitars, effects
Indro Hardjodikoro - Bass
Aditya Wibowo - Drums

Friday, 24 August 2012

Änglagård - Viljans Öga

To cut a long story very short, I have always been into complicated music as I'm sure you know, but back in the late 70s prog had become a bloated and excessive beast that was elitist in the extreme and about as far removed from its fanbase as modern day football is from the terraces of old. It had to die, or at at least suffer a severe pruning, and here in Blightly along came punk to do the culling.

My musical tastes took a sharp left turn at around the same time, mostly due to the much missed John Peel. I still listened to the prog classics, but the era of keyboard players consuming takeaway curries on stage while the rest of the band indulged in an endless faux-Buddhist percussion clattering was well and truly over.

Prog continued gamely on well under the radar, although the second wave prog bands of the 80s were far removed from anything that might be termed "progressive", preferring to hark back to the glory days for their servings of pale imitation, and were ignored by yours truly and almost everyone else.

Music for me was and is a constant search for the new, and back in the early 90s scanning mail order lists my eyes were alerted to the cover art of Anekdoten's Vemod, the cover being highly reminiscent of Keef's colour negative art for my obscure label of choice, good ol' Vertigo "Swirl". This was pre-internet so I had no samples to go on but I took the plunge as the description reckoned King Crimson similarities. When I got my hands on the CD I was blown away by the new Scandi-Gothic twist on the mighty Crims as belted out by these obscure Scandinavians, so the mail order list was scanned again, and just above Anekdoten was Änglagård, who not only had a similar sounding name and a similar line up but also hailed from Sweden. How could I resist the enticingly titled Hybris? Thus, Änglagård and Anekdoten were responsible for re-kindling my interest in a long neglected musical avenue, and the rest is indeed history.  

Hybris came out in 1992, followed in 1994 by Epilog which had an unfortunate literal meaning as apart from the live album Buried Alive which was released in 1996, that was it, or so we thought. After an aborted attempt at relaunching the band in 2002, a successful reissue program over the last three years saw the band getting together again, writing and recording Viljans Öga (Viljan's Eye*) and playing live, most notably at the final NEARfest earlier this year over in the USA. Looks like we'll just have to wait over here!

I tracked down a copy of the album, which was not easy as I seem to have bought one of the very few that went on general release, but the good news is that according to the record label webpage the new edition will be on sale soon. I've put a link near the end of this piece to the only site I can find selling it, albeit on pre-order only, as well as to the record label and the band's webpage. All I can say is, keep checking!

Logistics aside, the aural delights that greeted me on spinning the disc were like hearing a greeting from a group of long lost friends. Whereas Anekdoten took King Crimson as the main ingredient in their Viking melting pot, Änglagård went for early Genesis as a base. Both bands then mixed it all up with Scandinavian folk influences and black visions. That early Genesis infulence was slowly subsumed by Änglagård's own sound and Viljans Öga continues that development into something that is simply "Änglagård", no more no less. The aural canvas here is familiar but tempered by maturity, both in the composition and in the playing; the brooding Scandinavian dark but pastoral prog and folk-tinged vista has been widened by an expanding intricacy and cohesiveness in the composition, and the playing throughout is sublime. While the music on this album cannot be said to flow seamlessly, and is not intended to as the dissonant passages in opener Ur Vilande attest, there is definitely a more cohesive whole on display here than on the last album Epilog, good as it was. The whole thing sounds like a soundtrack to an epic Viking legend, something for Thor to put his feet up with after a hard day smiting minions. Lovely!

With only one of the original band not present on this album it soon becomes apparent that the chemistry between the players is still there as the interplay feels instinctive rather than forced. There are four tracks, all instrumental and all of around fifteen minutes in length, and all four go through many twists and turns. The familiar swathes of mellotron blended with epic but tastefully restrained guitar passages rudely interrupted by avant dissonance are all present and correct, as the song above attests. The instrumentation this time round is further expanded from that on Epilog (see below) and this adds to the epic quality of the music. Having said that, there is nothing here that fans of the band would be surprised about other than the seemingly effortless nature of the playing after all those years.

Finally, Johan Brand must be complimented for the lovely and melancholic artwork and photos both on the fold-out digipak and on the tasteful booklet.

Younger readers who are not familiar with this band should check them out as should anyone with a liking for Ian McDonald era Crimson, early Genesis and modern bands such as Gösta Berlings Saga; you will not fail to be impressed. Indeed, drummer Mattias Olsson has a close connection with Gösta Berlings Saga, and their keyboard player David Lundberg appears with Änglagård on stage. You will probably have to make do with an earlier album though until the new one is re-pressed, as explained above.

Track listing:
1. Ur Vilande (From Dormant)*
2. Sorgmantel (Mourning Cloak)*
3. Snårdom (No translation offered)*
4. Längtans Klocka (Longing Clock)*

* Google Translate - might not be 100% accurate!

Line up:
Jonas Engdegård - guitars
Anna Holmgren - flute, tenor saxophone
Johan Brand - bass, Taurus
Mattias Olsson - drums, percussion, noise
Thomas Johnson - pianos, mellotrons, synths
Tove Törnberg - cello
Daniel Borgegård Älgå - clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone
Ulf Åkerstedt - bass tuba, bass trumpet, contrabass trumpet

Record Heaven - pre-order only as of today (24/08/12)

Alvarsdotter (record label) - release news and order links

Änglagård (band website) - more release news and hopefully order links - the lengths I go to!

The best review of anything, ever?

I know not, nor care who Chris Brown is, but I can hear his awful rubbish in my head just by reading this. Although the name Chris Havercroft appears on the top of the review, it was actually penned by Chloe Papas. Here's the link to her original review at X-Press Magazine, based in Perth, Western Australia:

This wild piece of punk-shredding makes me wish for an album of "catastrophic clusterfuck" to land on my doormat just to see if I can reach Chloe's higher level of righteous venom. Go, Girl!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Soft Machine Legacy - PizzaExpress Jazz Café, Soho, London, 7th August 2012

A bit of serendipity by Phil W led to this wonderful gig. Taking a coffee at a café in Shoesville with his good lady the previous Friday Phil noticed an advert for this gig in a newspaper someone had left on their table. As this is a band that Phil & I had been wanting to see for years, but doubting if we would ever get the chance, this was a must and diaries simply had to be hastily rearranged. Telephoning the venue not unreasonably expecting to be told that the gig was sold out, Phil was surprised and delighted to be told that there were indeed tickets available, which were duly snapped up. It seems tales on the news of London entertainment venues suffering during the Olympics were correct, luckily for us! The gig was part of a week long John Etheridge residency at the club, the respected guitarist showcasing his wide range of fretboard abilities, playing as part of an acoustic combo, as leader of the Zappatistas, and as part of duos with singer/pianist Liane Carroll and pianist John Holder, as well as this one, with Soft Machine Legacy.

After a quick hour-long train ride down to the capital on a pleasantly warm, and for once, dry Tuesday afternoon, we ventured across town to the pre-gig entertainment which consisted of a visit to Somerset House, home to an exhibition of photography celebrating 50 years of The Rolling Stones, very good it was too, and, amazingly, free to enter!

Next up was a scrumptious meal in Chinatown, and then onward to Soho and eventually downward into the cellar that is the PizzaExpress Jazz Café. Any venue that boasts a corporate sponsor as part of its name always fills me with a little dread, as big business and art do not make natural bedfellows, but as I later discovered this now global chain has supported jazz at its intimate Dean Street venue since 1969, my worries were completely unfounded.

We were led to our table to the left-hand side and next to the small stage which was crammed with wires and sundry boxes of electronic gadgetry. You can see from the picture that we would be "up close and personal", the only drawbacks being our proximity to John Etheridge's guitar monitor which meant a slightly unbalanced sound, and a view of John's back was sometimes the central visual focus.

These small niggles were more than compensated for by some blistering playing by the highly experienced ensemble. Drummer John Marshall and bassist Roy Babbington, now both the other side of 70 kept things flowing with a dexterity belying their age. John's drum solo after the cacophonous The Relegation Of Pluto, a tune from Theo Travis's Double Talk album, was a jazz percussionists dream, subtlety and power flowing seemingly effortlessly from his wrists.

Opening the set with two tracks from their 2007 album Steam, a powerful rendering of The Steamer followed by an uptight'n'funky In The Back Room set the scene for a great evening's entertainment. It wasn't too long before one of my favourite later-period Soft Machine songs The Nodder was given a suitably atmospheric reading, and the first half of the set was later brought to a close with a storming version of Grapehound, Theo Travis putting his own stamp on Elton Dean's sax parts. Theo played a blinder throughout, but the undoubted star of the show is John Etheridge and his fluid soloing, Grapehound being a perfect example, especially where the solo is replaced by a cyclical riff in some strange time signature that was both powerful and hypnotic. You could not fail to be impressed!

John was also an engaging front-man, one snippet of his early life on the road with Stephane Grappelli in the Deep South of the USA being particularly amusing. I won't repeat it here in case you're going to see Mr Etheridge any time soon, tease that I am.

The second part of the evening also starred Theo's live debut on a piano on Black and Crimson (I think), playing a distinctly Steven Wilson-like chord sequence, if my ears did not deceive me. The set ended on a rocking version of John E's Pump Room, before the obligatory encore, this time a spacious and funky rendering of Gesolreut, a song now almost 40 years old, not that you'd know it.

Sometimes the best gigs are those attended at short notice, and this was definitely one of those. A storming night - thanks for having that coffee, Phil W!

To your left is the setlist (click on it to enlarge), scribbled on the back of a bar tab for me by Theo, who, along with the rest of the band stayed behind to chat, and who also revealed that the next SML album is in the can for a release later in the year. So much for my companion and I fearing that this may be last we will see of the band, given their infrequent live appearances and their age - Theo apart of course, who was jokingly introduced by John E from the stage earlier as a "young man"! Keep on keepin' on, lads!

2019, the insanity grows...

Odd title for an annual music review, but them's the times. With these words I aim to provide you with an escape from the creeping madne...