Sunday, 27 September 2015

Karda Estra - Strange Relations

Last year a curious album by the name of Strange Relations came my way, and over the months since it has slowly revealed its many delights to me. For many years now, Richard Wileman has been ploughing a thoroughly individual furrow as Karda Estra, releasing several albums since debuting with A Winter In Summertime back in 1998. While I have heard some of the back catalogue, it is this strange and beguiling twelfth album that has completely hooked me.

Marrying complex rhythms and a modern classical sensibility to an exploratory nature allows Richard to make a unique music that would probably fall within the avant sphere if one was looking to conveniently categorise. "Avant"  can mean whatever you want it to, but would always suggest a sense of adventure, and Strange Relations has that in joyous quantities.

The six-part suite of music that comprises Strange Relations was co-written with Muffins' drummer Paul Sears, and the duo are joined in the composing credits on Strange Relations 2 by Kavus Torabi, a man whose musical path seems to be criss-crossing mine with increasing regularity these days. Kavus adds some atypically restrained and effects-free electric guitar playing to the track, giving it a languid, alt-jazz feel, especially in juxtaposition to Mike Ostime's plaintive trumpet.

Richard invests his compositions with a sense of space that allows the listener to float away with his or her imagination, and his ear for melody and subtlety keep this well away from the stridency and angularity that can sometimes be to the detriment of the more wilful exponents of music in the avant world. Strange Relations 1 has an otherworldly quality that I can easily imagine being enhanced by an individualistic voice, perhaps Robert Wyatt? Now there's a combination that would be a delight to behold!

The music of Karda Estra covers a large sonic spectrum, from ethereal psychological thriller movie soundtracks to gorgeous sci-fi waltzes, taking detours into cerebral modern classical along the way. Strange Relations 4 is that sci-fi waltz, and a lovely  thing it is too. Keyboards, guitars, oboe and cor anglais, the latter two from long-time collaborator Caron De Burgh combine in the most sublime fashion imaginable. Part romantic fairground fantasy, part chamber rock, this exquisite music is uplifting and soulful in equal measure.

Paul Sears' playing caresses the rhythms rather than forges them on a drum skin anvil, and the subtlety and grace with which he guides the melodies is fascinating to follow, and I say that from the perspective of one who has never sat behind a drum kit. Most of the other contributing musicians have worked on previous Karda Estra albums, in particular vocalist Ileesha Wileman who has been there from the beginning, whose wordless multi-tracked choral singing imbues another layer of mystery to the already mist-shrouded Strange Relations 5.

The suite unravels in the most unforced way with the final part, highlighting Richard's avant classical leanings. Reflective and wide in scope, Strange Relations is an unfolding musical tale that will delight and intrigue in equal measure.

The album ends with two separate pieces, Ylla, inspired by a similarly named Ray Bradbury short story, and The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa, a piece of music composed for a compilation based on 14th century Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron. The former fits in with the musical theme of Strange Relations rather well, Amy Fry's clarinet and saxophone weaving melody in and around Richard's piano and electronica flights of fancy.

The naturally medieval feel of The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa, Ileesha's one-woman harmonising leading to a descending scale acoustic guitar combining with brass and reeds, transmits a knowing air of implied frolicsomeness. Later, there be shenanigans. A nice "bonus track" with which to conclude an absorbing album.

1. Strange Relations 1 (4:31)
2. Strange Relations 2 (5:27)
3. Strange Relations 3 (9:15)
4. Strange Relations 4 (6:47)
5. Strange Relations 5 (9:09)
6. Strange Relations 6 (5:27)
7. Ylla (4:45)
8. The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa (7:41)

Total running time - 53:02

Line up:
Richard Wileman - electric, acoustic, classical and bass guitars, keyboards, samples, percussion, zither, rastrophone
Caron De Burgh - oboe (4, 5, 8), cor anglais (4, 8)
Amy Fry - clarinet (4 , 7, 8) , saxophone (4, 5, 7)
Mike Ostime - trumpet (2)
Paul Sears - drums (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), percussion (6)
Kavus Torabi - electric guitar (2)
Ileesha Wileman - vocals (5, 8)


Karda Estra website

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