Wednesday, 20 May 2020

VA ‎– Spiritual Jazz Vol. 11: SteepleChase (2020)

Style: Contemporary Jazz, Avant-garde Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Jazzman Records

01.   Mary Lou Williams - Ode To Saint Cecilie
02.   Billy Gault - The Time Of This World Is At Hand
03.   Sam Jones - Jean Marie
04.   René McLean - Aida
05.   Jim McNeely - Tipe Tizwe
06.   Johnny Dyani - Magwaza
07.   Jackie McLean & Michael Carvin - De I Comalee A
08.   Ken McIntyre - Miss Priss
09.   Khan Jamal - Dark Warrior
10.   Jackie McLean & The Cosmic Brotherhood - Camel Driver
11.   Michael Carvin - Naima

Mastered By – Colin Young
Producer – Nils Winther
Compilation Producer, Compiled By – Gerald Short

What better way to kick off a spiritual jazz album than with an ode to the patroness of musicians, Saint Cecilia. First heard on the CD reissue of her 1975 album, Free Spirits, the Mary Lou Williams Trio, consisting of on bass Buster Williams, who celebrates his 78th birthday this month, and Mickey Roker on drums, was her only release for the Danish SteepleChase label, operating out of Copenhagen under the watchful eye of founder, producer, photographer Nils Winther, who began recording performances at Jazzhus Montmartre as far back as 1972 (the club had been recording artists like Dexter Gordon from 1962, a physical release on the SteepleChase label in 1978), with his first release that of Jackie McLean, who subsequently recorded a little over ten albums for the label. Here on ‘Ode To Saint Cecilia’, the bass line from Buster Williams – at a time when Buster was with the New York label, Muse – draws the listener into the funkiest of riffs, and one capitalised by FARS on their track ‘Flying Minds’. A delightful piece of music clearing the way for ten more worthy selections. 
There are two distinct points to be made as we savour this eleventh release in this series from London’s Jazzman label; firstly the relative ease at which the original albums could be obtained. This is a wonderfully curated collection that has focused on the quality of the music, and apart from perhaps the Johnny Dyani and Billy Gault releases hovering around the £40 mark these days, everything here could be picked up cheaply. That says far more about the passion behind this, the latest in the series, than some of its predecessors. The second note of importance here is the focus on drummer Michael Carvin, who features on four of the tracks. In 1975 Carvin had already been working with Black Jazz records and went on to work for MPS, Flying Dutchman (notably Expansions with Lonnie Liston Smith), RCA Victor, Impulse! and Strata-East through the mid-late ‘70s, and of course his work with SteepleChase. There was also a stint as a session drummer for (Berry) Gordy/Motown. Michael, quoted as having a “crisp, pressing cymbal, which animates the beat” more recently has worked alongside Marcus Strickland and Dezron Douglas. 
Billy Gault’s ‘The Time Of This World Is At Hand’, René McLean Sextet’s ‘Aida’, Jackie McLean and Michael Carvin’s ‘De I Comahlee Ah’, Michael Carvin’s ‘Naima’ and Jackie McLean and The Cosmic Brotherhood’s ‘Camel Driver’ all hit the shelves in 1975, a time when Elaine Brown chaired the Black Panther Party. Gault’s charming vocal provides a platform for singer Ellen DeLeston, who had been working with Norman Connors, to shine. A firm favourite by this writer that will surely now reach new ears. René McLean (son of Jackie McLean and member of Woody Shaw, Doug Carn, Yusef Lateef and Walter Bishop Jr. groups) had but three releases under his own name, with Watch Out being his first. Here he delivers ‘Aida’, with assistance from Buster Williams on bass that overwhelms with the latter use of the bow. Jackie McLean is perhaps the star name on this gatefold double vinyl release. His various groups over time led to a huge volume of releases, but one has to ask if his 1956 version or Charlie Parker’s original ‘Steeplechase’ had any influence on Nils Winther? His pairing with Michael Carvin on the Antiquity album where ‘De I Comahlee Ah’ has been drawn from joins the party with chanting and dynamic drumming – something more akin to Strata-East than SteepleChase. Incredible. 
Ron Mathews’ modal composition, ‘Jean Marie’, from the 1978 Visitation album by the Sam Jones Quintet, features Terumasa Hino on cornet, Ronnie Matthews on piano and Al Foster on drums – names alone would bring on a state of elation for most before the needle even touches the vinyl. Of the selections here, this is one of very few that have lived with me for some years, and one that just about ticks every box. Chicagoan, Jim McNeely and his Quintet’s ‘Tipe Tizwe’ from the Rain’s Dance album had a familiarity about it, but not a song that was instantly recognised. Previously working alongside Billy Hart and John Scofiled, McNeely brings in percussionist Sam Jacobs on African Mbira, giving the audience a taste of Zimbabwe, before it opens further with piano and conga – this piece of music is all about Jacobs. The 1978 version of Witchdoctor’s Son, by Johnny Dyani, John Tchicai and Dudu Pukwana delivers ‘Magwaza’ here, which must shine as a huge selling point on the compilation, supplies us with a traditional piece reinterpreted by Johnny Dyani in all its 13min glory. But it’s not the openness of Tchicai’s blowing that lights up this number for me, it is Dyani’s effective use of bass, Afredo Do Nascimento guitar and the various uses of percussion and African overtones that raise this composition to quite possibly his magnum opus. This was at a time when E.W. Wainwright had put together the African Roots of jazz, a Horace Tapscott/UGMAA talent pool celebrating the bringing together of jazz and African influences. 
Terumasa Hino returns with the Ken McIntyre Sextet on ‘Miss Priss’, from Introducing the Vibrations album, with percussionist/drummer Andrei Strobert, Andy Vega on congas, and pianist Richard Harper. Multi-instrumentalist, McIntyre, for his fourth outing on SteepleChase, had emerged from The New York Loft Jazz Sessions, a series of performing spaces as an alternative to the commercially driven venues, with his Sextet and brought in Alonzo Gardner for this recording. Bassist newcomer Gardner would go on to work with Dollar Brand alongside Vibrations man Andrei Strobert but who here holds his own behind the more established group members. Another face on the Loft scene was vibraphonist Khan Jamal, whose ‘Dark Warrior’ from the 1984 album of the same name is a far more modern affair with a bass reminiscent of Tony Dumas’ style. In fact, it is the unison between Rickey Kelly on Vibraphone and Dumas on bass on ‘Danakil Warrior (1979)’ that first sprung to mind when initiating the first spin ‘ever’ of ‘Dark Warrior’ – I will be pursuing that theory further during the lockdown. Hearing this SteepleChase piece for the first time is an incredible feeling indeed. 
And so to the final two selections. Michael Carvin’s ‘Naima’ with Sonny Fortune and Cecil Bridgewater rounds off the CD release, while Jazzman’s double vinyl option inserts the Billy Gault composition ‘Camel Driver’ by Jackie McLean and The Cosmic Brotherhood from the New York Calling album, an illuminating set which features Billy Skinner on trumpet over the just short of 9min composition. One would need not to own a turntable to bypass this attractive choice, which truly embellishes the whole project. One which has been curated with adventure, knowledge, passion and understanding. 
What is most remarkable here is, after revisiting the previous Spiritual Jazz catalogue, I have enjoyed this new release far more as a whole. It has flowed through each song with respect for the music therein and for the SteepleChase label, a label I must admit before now has been more about the last twenty years for me than anything during the ‘70s – although I am staring at a Frank Strozier Quintet album as I type! – and in respecting the label would encourage more to delve into their huge catalogue and investigate names like Ronnie Cuber, Billy Harper Quintet and Coronarias Dans, to name but three.
Steve Williams  / UK Vibe

Einstürzende Neubauten ‎– Haus Der Luege (1989)

Style: Industrial, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Some Bizarre, Rough Trade

01.   Prolog
02.   Feurio!
03.   Ein Stuhl In Der Hölle
04.   Haus Der Luege
05.   Epilog
06.   Fiat Lux
        a. Fiat Lux
        b. Maifestspiele
        c. Hirnlego
07.   Schwindel
08.   Der Kuss
09.   Feurio! (Caffery/Einheit Remix)
10.   Partymucke
11.   Feurio (Turen Offen)

Producer – Einstürzende Neubauten
Vocals – Nainz Raymond Watts, Gareth Jones
Music By – Alexander Hacke, Blixa Bargeld, F.M. Einheit, Mark Chung, N.U. Unruh

The first song on Haus Der Luge (House of the Lie) alternates between spoken word segments by vocalist Blixa Bargeld and harsh, noisy freak-outs. If the simple brilliance of this tracks does not make you smile from ear-to-ear or laugh hysterically, this album is not for you. Einstürzende Neubauten pushes the industrial humor developed by bands like Throbbing Gristle to new creative peaks; taking a genre of music only meant to offend and confuse people into even more ***ed up territories. Yet, the music is surprisingly tragic, strangely moving, and is an experience that can only be called 'artistic'. 
Einstürzende Neubauten (Collapsing New-Buildings), is a German industrial band formed in 1980. The band uses custom built instruments that are mainly built out of scrap metal and construction equipment. The band sometimes incorporates traditional instruments, like guitars or drums, but are either altered or played in unconventional ways. Haus Der Luge shows Neubauten embracing more conventional musical styles into the music, but it also shows the band at their most creative and versatile. The second track, Feurio!, is probably the most surprising piece of music Neubauten had made at this point in their career, because it could be considered by many to be a 'normal' song. The track is basically a late 80's dance tune, but with Neubauten's metal-against-metal flourishes. 
Haus Der Luge benefits greatly from being spastic, never allowing the listener to predict what is around the corner. Neubaten's traditional junkyard percussion can be expected, but the band had added many more elements to their music by this time. In its short 35 minute run time, Haus Der Luge gives spoken work pieces, dark post punk tunes, and immense experimental movements, as well as more creativity and originality than most bands could ever hope to achieve. Due to the album's short run time, Einstürzende Neubauten avoids over-indulging, making this album the easiest entry point for those looking to get into this very inaccessible genre. 
Like every other Einstürzende Neubauten album, Blixa Bargeld's vocals are the cornerstone of the band sound. Never has a band had a vocalist that fits so well with its persona. Bargeld delivers wild rambling, calm spoken word segments, and mournful shrieks that were praised by Nick Cave as "a sound you would expect to hear from strangled cats or dying children." Lyrically, this album is very strong. Even through a translation filter the lyrics remain unique, visual, and with a witty style of dark humor throughout. Stand out moments include the lyrics in Ein Stuhl in der Holle that are done in style of a drunken folk song and the title track that elegantly describes a series of insane patients like exhibits at a museum. 
The massive, multipart, Fiat Lux deserves mention as it shows how easily Einstürzende Neubauten can transform noise into something enthralling and memorable. The song starts out in ballad-like fashion with the sounds of flies buzzing, but soon collapses into brilliant ambience. The second movement has out-of-tune guitar chords and humming over samples of rioting and speeches. The track's arrangement is simple, but it is effective at getting under the listener's skin. This movement is one most successful uses of noise in Neubauten's career and crashes directly into the radically different, percussion heavy movements of Maifestspiele and Hirnlogo.

Considering the album's cover and the fact that it is composed with mostly junk yard equipment, Haus Der Luge is enjoyed best with a bit of humor. However, Einstürzende Neubauten maintains such a high level of attention to detail in their compositions that they become so much more than just a novelty act. Einstürzende Neubauten shows that creativity should be the main driving force in music and do so by never repeating or copying a style. Yes, this is industrial music, it can still be used to offend the general public; but for us that are initiated, this is high art.
The Endless Empty  / sputnik music

La Monte Young ‎– The Well-Tuned Piano 81 X 25 6:17:50 - 11:18:59 PM NYC (1987)

Style: Modern Classical, Drone, Minimal
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Gramavision

1-1.   The Well-Tuned Piano Part 1
2-1.   The Well-Tuned Piano Part 2
3-1.   The Well-Tuned Piano Part 3
4-1.   The Well-Tuned Piano Part 4
5-1.   The Well-Tuned Piano Part 5

Composed By, Piano – La Monte Young
Producer – David Farneth, La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela

The masterpiece from the minimalist composer is an as-yet-unfinished piano solo played on a piano tuned specifically to elicit unfamiliar emotions from unfamiliar harmonies. 
The story of La Monte Young’s solo piano composition “The Well-Tuned Piano” feels infinite. Though he hasn’t performed this massive piece in many years and he has never considered it finished, it is possible to quantify some moments on its timeline. After Young conceived “The Well-Tuned Piano” in 1964, a decade passed before he performed it in concert, and another 13 years went by before he released a commercial recording. The work itself, which he’s played in public over 60 times, takes him up to six hours to execute on a piano that needs a “minimum of a few weeks” to be tuned and ideally remains in its exact location for three months before a concert. The first commercially available recording, a 1987 five-disc box set on Gramavision documenting his 55th performance of the piece in 1981, lasts a little over five hours. 
But how long does it take to understand “The Well-Tuned Piano”? Judging by all the literature and analysis surrounding it, the answer could be “forever.” Young’s own notes are long, detailed, and deeply technical. They include a four-page list charting the exact times of over 400 “Themes, Chordal Areas, and Durations,” which bear titles as basic as The Chorale Theme and as fanciful as The Flying Carpet and The Cadence of Paradise. Many others have attempted to explain “The Well-Tuned Piano” too, the most monumental effort being Kyle Gann’s 30-page 1993 essay in Perspectives of New Music, which mapped out its inner workings using numbers and graphs. The mere idea of listening to a five-hour piece of music is daunting enough. But immersion in the legend of “The Well-Tuned Piano” reveals it to be not just a work of art, but a complex mathematical and philosophical system, one to which scholars could devote whole lifetimes. 
Despite the piece’s staggering reputation, there is at least one simple idea at its heart: Specific sounds can create specific feelings. Young came upon this idea through his obsession with “just intonation,” the tuning system on which he based the composition. Most pianos are “well-tempered,” meaning each note is slightly off-center so that all 12 musical keys can be played. Young’s version of just intonation, by contrast, is more exact, with the intervals between each string following rigid whole number ratios. It’s difficult to tune a piano this precisely, which is why the process starts well in advance of the performance, and why Young usually plays on specially-modified pianos. As he put it, “The manner in which I play the piece, and how well, is directly inspired by the nature of the tuning.” 
But the goal of “The Well-Tuned Piano” is less technical precision than emotional expansion. “It seems to me that each harmonically related interval creates its own unique feeling,” Young says in his box set notes. “Through this system we can, first, catalogue each feeling with its corresponding rational number, and then actually create, store, and retrieve, and finally and most importantly, repeat the feeling, relative to the musician’s ability to tune the intervals.” Even further, because “The Well-Tuned Piano” uses novel and rarely-heard intervals, it could potentially upend conventional notions of which emotions different keys produce. Young suggests it could even induce feelings that have never before been felt in response to music. 
The musical path that led Young to “The Well-Tuned Piano” was a kind of avant-garde roller coaster. He studied jazz saxophone at UCLA, soon playing with such stalwarts as Eric Dolphy and Don Cherry. As a graduate student at Berkeley, he experimented with tape and electronic music pioneers Terry Riley and Pauline Oliveros. He moved to New York in 1960 to study with the groundbreaking avant-garde composer of chance music John Cage, later creating conceptual compositions in conjunction with George Macunias’ Fluxus movement (which included Yoko Ono). In the mid-’60s, Young delved into long, sustained tones with the Theater of Eternal Music, birthing a new movement that would soon be known as Minimalism. That group included future Velvet Underground member John Cale and multi-media experimentalist Tony Conrad (whose math expertise helped lead Young toward whole numbers and just intonation). In the late ’60s, just a few years after he conceived of “The Well-Tuned Piano,” Young and his partner Marian Zazeela encountered the work of Pandit Pran Nath, whose perfectly in-tune singing and the emotions it elicited changed Young’s life. 
Much of this personal musical history poured into various sections of “The Well-Tuned Piano,” which began life in 1964 as a 45-minute improvisation in Young’s New York loft. Though the piece constantly evolved over the next decades, some portions date as far back as when Young improvised on his grandmother’s piano as a teenager. His studies of other composers influence numerous passages, including some with explicit titles like Homage to Brahms and Hommage a Debussy. And his extensive multicultural knowledge played a heavy role. Young felt his tuning system helped him access the feelings associated with “the modes of such ancient classical systems as the musics of Greece, Persia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Far East,” offering him “an infinite universe of eventual possibilities.” 
Perhaps most importantly, Young’s playing in “The Well-Tuned Piano” is an extension of his early saxophone work. The piece begins in the key of E-flat, which he first grew accustomed to on his E-flat sopranino sax. In the ’60s, he devised a method of playing his horn so fast that it sounded like he was creating sustained chords rather than flurries of notes. Young translated this technique to his piano, concocting “clouds” of sound, or as he put it, “extraordinary periodic acoustical beats [that] became suspended in the air like a cloud over the piano.” This is perhaps the most emotionally affecting aspect of “The Well-Tuned Piano.” When Young’s notes coalesce into whirlwinds, dazzlingly alien sounds emerge. “The flow of momentum marshaled the vibrations of air in the room, slowly making the ear aware of sounds that weren’t actually being played,” Gann reported from one performance. “The play of combination and difference tones created astounding aural illusions.” As a result, Gann was convinced that Young was singing—though he never did—and also thought he heard bells, foghorns, and machinery. 
While Minimalism is often more about hypnosis than engagement, “The Well-Tuned Piano” is enthralling and rarely a “difficult” listen. Young’s playing is filled with dramatic changes, moving ambiance, and cinematic swells. As critic Robert Palmer wrote, “Unlike much of the work of the academic avant-garde, it is music that asks to be experienced, that seeks to produce an immediate, deeply felt sensation.” Even when he repeats notes for long stretches, Young creates compelling beginnings, middles, and ends. There are lots of stories inside “The Well-Tuned Piano.” 
Of course, whether anyone can actually be fully engaged by anything for five straight hours is almost unanswerable. The very concept of absorbing one piece of music for that long seems absurd, requiring a new conception of what it means to listen to an album, much less to just simply listen. Though I’ve owned a CD copy of “The Well-Tuned Piano” for over a decade, I’ve only once found the time to hear it all in one sitting, following along with Young’s roadmap the whole way. I’m not sure how often I was focused completely on the music—I’m not sure the word “focus” even has meaning here—but I do remember how striking the piece’s circular arcs were when heard all together. “The Well-Tuned Piano” is distinctly about themes and variations, filled with tensions, climaxes, and resolutions. 
That sets it apart from the more static and repetitive work of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and much of the Minimalism movement of which Young is often cited as a father. As Gann puts it, “...while both Minimalism and Serialism aim for music devoid of memory or anticipation, Young plays Wagner-like, with constant suggestions of themes past and present.” Gann even insisted this piece shouldn’t be called minimal—his Village Voice review was titled “Maximal Spirit”—although Young was apparently happy to use that name. Ultimately, “The Well-Tuned Piano” sits between traditions and movements. It’s equally possible to hear it as a repetitive work erasing the concept of time, as a narrative in which ideas emerge, dissipate, and return in progressing cycles or an unclassifiable hybrid that feels static and moving at the same time. 
The diversity and richness of “The Well-Tuned Piano” come not only from Young’s innovative tuning and compositional structure but from his improvisation. He always performed the piece from memory, without a written score. He saw each chance to play it as an opportunity to advance it, making it a living, unending composition. With each public iteration, he added new sections and changed existing ones. (The piece was well-suited for such expansion: At one point in the 1970s, two major portions were added when Young simply changed one note of his tuning). “I get no satisfaction unless the piece grows,” he once said. 
Its evolution might seem irrelevant when listening to a single fixed recording. But this version that was released—which Young titled to include the show’s date and start and end times—was, in fact, one of his most improvisatory. Though he claims that “I would [always] follow the dictates of my muse, no matter how extreme,” Young usually played with a clock at his side, so not to spend so long on any one section that he’d run out of steam for the rest. But during the October 25, 1981, performance, he left the clock at home and was surprised afterwards to find that what usually took him three to four hours to play lasted over five. He called it “not just the longest, but most imaginative and creative realization of ‘The Well-Tuned Piano’ that I have yet played.” A few years later, he claimed that the piece had grown so much that no single performance could contain it all. 
With only one other recording to compare it to (a harder-to-find DVD of a 1987 performance, released by Young’s own MELA Foundation), it’s hard to judge if this version is the most imaginative. But it certainly feels remarkably present and immediate, as if Young has discovered and inhabited an infinite, ever-expanding moment. Moods change rapidly given the piece’s scope, and even when he’s traversing slower, quieter passages, tension courses. Often the drama comes not just from its arcs and shifts, but also from the sense that at any moment something new—or something that you haven’t heard in a while—lies just around the corner. That something new might even be a feeling, an emotion familiar yet uncannily novel, tweaked into an outer realm by Young’s devout interval-shifting. If any five-hour work can keep you on the edge of your seat, this is it. 
That sounds almost like a magic trick, and it’s tempting to assign a mystical aura to “The Well-Tuned Piano.” Many of Young’s other projects—with their references to dreams, and in the holistic experience of his New York space The Dream House—suggest his creative approach has a spiritual aspect. But when writer Ian Nagoski expressed surprise that Young’s devotion to just intonation wasn’t about the harmony of the spheres, Young replied, “I really work with sound as it appears in the real world.” By doing so, he discovered profundity in concrete things: mathematical equations, thought-out structures, individual sounds as direct catalysts for individual feelings. He found a way into the core of music and its effect on the listener through exacting methods, accessing a reality no other artist ever had, simply by tuning and playing piano in his own singular way. Which means one simple statement he made sums up “The Well-Tuned Piano” perfectly: “Equal temperament reminds one of the truth; just intonation is the truth.”
Marc Masters / Pitchfork

Ruby Rushton ‎– Ironside (2019)

Style: Contemporary Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: 22a, Octave

01.   One Mo' Dram
02.   Where Are You Now
03.   The Target
04.   Return Of The Hero
05.   Eleven Grapes
06.   Lara's Theme
07.   Prayer For Grenfell
08.   Ironside
09.   Triceratops/The Caller
10.   Pingwin (Requiem For Komeda)
11.   Lara's Theme [Alternate Take]
12.   Where Are You Now? [Alternate Take]

Drums – Tim Carnegie
Electric Piano, Keyboards, Piano, Bass– Aidan Shepherd
Flute, Soprano Saxophone, Synth, Pedalboard, Percussion – Ed Cawthorne
Trumpet, Percussion – Nick Walters
Written-By – Krzysztof Komeda
Written-By, Arranged By – Aidan Shepherd, Ed Cawthorne

Ruby Rushton's Ironside is like a trip back to the jazz of Dave Grusin's late 1980s film soundtrack The Fabulous Baker Boys. Hard driving bop, the music bubbles along with syncopated riffs and upbeat, energetic shuffles interlaced with soulful intervals. 
Woodwind player Edward Cawthorne penned six of the tunes, keyboardist Aidan Shepherd penned two more, and the two collaborated on "Triceratops / The Caller." The group also covers Krzysztof Komeda's ballad "Pingwin (Requiem For Komeda)." Most of these compositions have an urban vibe—gleaming skyscrapers, zippy highways, or a jaunty walk down a bustling sidewalk. 
Shepherd's work has a modal and bluesy quality, reminiscent at times of McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul. And, interestingly enough, he adds a little Paul Bley in the opening number "One Mo' Dram." One would be remiss not to mention that, without a bassist, Shepherd fills in with some excellent bass synth work (check out "Ironside"). 
Cawthorne offers up scorching and soaring soprano sax lines (think John Coltrane) over the rolling and funky rhythms. Take his work on "Where Are You Now" and "Laura's Theme," work that flows effortlessly through changes and often peaks with earnest squeals of ecstasy. When he switches to flute, he sounds a lot like Hubert Laws. His flute solos on "Ironside" and "The Target" suggest weaving through traffic congestion like a knife through butter. He exhibits a softer approach on "Return of the Hero," like a bird playfully surfing the wind. And there's even a little Paul Horn quality to his spiritual solo on "Prayer for Grenfell." 
Trumpeter Walters shows his chops on "Where Are You Now" and he alternates between gliding and emphatic solos (for example, his efforts on "Return of the Hero" and "Triceratops / The Caller") and those that feature light skipping accents ("Lara's Theme"). His muted playing on "Pingwin (Requiem for Komeda)" is certainly a highlight. 
One would think that with all of this action, it would suffice for Carnegie to just keep the rhythm. Nothing could be further from the truth. His all-over and controlled drumming combines great cymbal work, rim shots and snare rolls to lift the music onto a bouncy foundation. 
For those who enjoy music with a nice backbeat delivered in a head nodding, foot tapping, body shuffling manner, Ruby Rushton's Ironside delivers. Enjoy the drive.
Don Phipps / All About Jazz

Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes ‎– Paix (1972)

Style: Prog Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Mercury, Mantra, Philips

A1.   Roc Alpin
A2.   Jusqu'à Ce Que La Force De T'aimer Me Manque
A3.   Paix
B1.   Un Jour... La Mort

Drums – Michel Santangelli
Organ – Patrice Lemoine
Percussion, Bass Guitar – Jean-Sébastien Lemoine
Lyre, Acoustic Guitar – Patrice Moullet
Vocals – Catherine Ribeiro

Beauty and chaos intermingle in these early-1970s touchstones of avant-garde folk. The French-Portuguese singer’s unearthly voice and searching lyrics made them cult classics. 
The first three records by the French-Portuguese singer Catherine Ribeiro and her inventive, psychedelic backing band Alpes are the types of elusive record-collector gems that feel like transmissions from another world. These new reissues from Anthology Recordings mark their first official release in the United States, and, up until now, their legend was due in part to their scarcity. Kim Gordon, one of Ribeiro’s most vocal supporters, recently noted that she only discovered Alpes’ 1971 sophomore album, Âme Debout, around a decade ago, possibly hipped to it by Jim O’Rourke. A lot of people arrive at Ribeiro’s music with similar stories. You hear this unearthly voice emerging from somebody’s speakers. You listen to the wild, visionary music accompanying it. Suddenly you need to know everything. 
Ask Ribeiro, and you won’t find many answers. The accompanying liner notes sketch her life prior to Alpes’ debut, 1970’s Nº2, in stark terms: “It was an immense pile of waste and solitude,” is how she summarizes her formative years. In her 1999 memoir, L’Enfance, Ribeiro dives deeper. She was born in Lyon, France during wartime. Her brother died as an infant. She spent an inordinate amount of her youth hiding in the darkness of a makeshift bomb cellar. Before she immersed herself in music, Ribeiro was an actor, appearing in Jean Luc Godard’s 1963 anti-war film Les Carabiniers. In her most memorable scene, she watches her soldier husband display a series of surreal, beatific postcards from the war. The message was simple: Look how we suppress and miscast the brutality of our lives; look how we reenact that violence on others. Ribeiro swore to never make this mistake in her art. 
With Alpes, Ribeiro filtered nihilism, anger, and empathy into triumphant, multi-layered collages, galloping and stuttering as though the acid had kicked in midway through a hike at sunrise. “Peace to those who howl because they see clearly,” goes one of her iconic lyrics. Ribeiro does just that, but her voice is such a versatile instrument that it cannot be limited to one mission. She laughs, she caws, she screams, she mourns, she barks, she brays. She sings about suicide, about motherhood and madness, about doomed affairs between Eastern European women and politicians from imagined countries. The music—which calcified into the sound of an identifiable avant-garde-leaning psych-folk band throughout these three LPs—touches on the swirl of 1960s rock and the theatrical swell of 1970s prog, stretching both genres to their most impressionistic extremes. As a group, Alpes can sound eerily beautiful or demonically possessed, sometimes whiplashing between those modes as if satirizing the entire scope of rock music.

Prior to the formation of Alpes, Ribeiro mostly sang folk songs. Among her first recordings was a French translation of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” In her home country, where solo singers were still more fashionable than bands, she summoned a backing group called 2Bis, featuring multi-instrumentalist Patrice Moullet. Their music rattled and buzzed like something wild in a too-small cage: You could hear Ribeiro trying to break free. When she rebranded as Alpes, Ribeiro fully embraced chaos. Nº2’s “Poème Non Epique” spans 18 minutes as she intones with ferocity against Moullet’s rumbling backdrop. Inspired by Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano (and the hallucinogens Lowry reportedly ingested to complete it), Ribeiro aimed to make music that spoke to her “cravings for freedom, for incomplete epiphanies, for spontaneous careless decisions.” Smoky and uncontainable, Nº2 finds her embarking on that journey like she’d been waiting her whole life to take it. 
From here, her music would grow more disciplined and more boundless. Moullet would remain the only consistent member of her band, alternating between gorgeously fingerpicked classical guitar and noisy, invented instruments like his “cosmophone,” which looks like a lyre but sounds like a buzzsaw. Âme Debout, the sparsest release of the three, peaks with its ballads at the beginning and end: “Diborowska” and “Dingue,” acoustic laments that Ribeiro sings in a frayed, desperate tone like she’s trying to tear them apart from the inside. At the center of the album is a series of tracks titled “Alpes” that feel improvisatory, almost drone-like, save for one thrashing element (Claude Thiebaut’s restless percussion in “Alpes 1,” Ribeiro’s unsettling growls in “Alpes 2”). The crescendo resolves with the wordless “Aria Populaire,” a prayer that forecasts the emotional clarity to come. 
If Âme Debout was the sound of a band finding its footing, then 1972’s Paix is when they become airborne. It stands as Ribeiro’s masterpiece because it comes the closest to containing her multitudes, housing her most beautiful composition (the love song “Jusqu'à Ce Que La force de T'aimer Me Manque”) and her most wildly experimental. The music is driven by an incessant rhythm, echoed by Patrice Lemoine of the prog/space-rock band Gong on organ (maybe the sound that most directly time-stamps this music to its era). Throughout, Ribeiro gazes toward the future. The final third of the epic title track resembles doom metal in its descending bassline and Ribeiro’s spectral vocals. But instead of building to a roar, it simply sustains, melting into the closing “Un jour... la mort”—a nearly half-hour piece that’s alternately ambient and explosive, earthy and weightless. 
For all its hallucinogenic qualities, Ribeiro’s work, as you dive deeper, proves to be less of an escape than a magnification: She zooms so deep into her psyche that all its turmoil appears as stillness. Unlike some cult acts, Ribeiro’s career has continued long after these quietly influential albums. Among her later recordings are faithful covers of Edith Piaf’s songbook: music that, even at its most traditional, Ribeiro can’t help but scour for its latent mayhem. Listening back to her early work, you can hear her challenging herself to find the darkness within traditionally beautiful sounds—the horror that’s always on the other side of awe. “Calm is not of this world,” she commands in “Dingue.” “What’s the point of being calm? I want to go crazy.” It’s the legacy she created, a mantra for the legions of disquieted minds who heard themselves in her voice and howled along.
Sam Sodomsky / Pitchfork

PZ ‎– Rude Sofisticado (2012)

Style: IDM, Experimental
Format: CD, MP3
Label: Meifumado

01.   Introdução Maligna
02.   O Que Me Vale És Tu
03.   Passeio
04.   Autarquias
05.   Mundo
06.   Croquetes
07.   Sem Ponta Por Onde Se Pegue
08.   Horários Marados
09.   Sempre A Mesma
10.   Cheque

Mixed By – Zé Nando Pimenta
Music By – PZ Pimenta
Product Manager – Duarte Araújo
Vocals – PZ Pimenta

Cantar em português 'fica-lhe muito bem' e a opção tecnológica 'também não está mal'. Mas os tempos são outros: e PZ Pimenta não muda os modos expostos em 2005 para abraçar a 'causa tecno' ou aderir à libertinagem estética onde a pop nacional, por fim, se banha.
Ricardo Saló / Expresso "Atual"

"Rude Sofisticado" é como luz para olhos adormecidos. É pop - pois claro - rude não apenas no imediato tom de desafio, quase niilista, à métrica, mas também no conteúdo das palavras, que são terrivelmente mordazes e realistas. É pop sofisticada, de construção cinzelada, baseada na electrónica e na tecno-pop alemã cerebral e provocativa.
Não, não é uma espécie de "electrónica de intervenção", porque sobra sempre o gozo e o divertimento de temas como "Croquetes", "Passeio" ou "Horários Marados", e por isso, PZ é a sério, mas tem piada.
André Gomes de Abreu / BandCom

Apesar das referências é um objecto insólito, não filiado em escolas ou inclinações, feito de distensões electrónicas e digitalismos saltitantes que navegam a velocidades variáveis sem nunca se deixar enredar na dinâmica dançante óbvia. É rigoroso mas ao mesmo tempo exala um gozo enorme. Bom, portanto.
Vitor Belanciano / Ipsilon

Annette Peacock ‎– X-Dreams (1978)

Style: Avantgarde, Jazz-Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Aura, Tomato, Femme Music

A1.   My Mama Never Taught Me How To Cook
A2.   Real & Defined Androgens
A3.   Dear Bela
B1.   This Feel Within
B2.   Too Much In The Skies
B3.   Don't Be Cruel
B4.   Questions

Keyboards – Peter Lemer
Congas – Brother James, Darryl Le Que
Bass – Jeff Clyne, Kuma Harada, Peter Pavli, Steve Cook, Stu Woods
Drums – Bill Bruford, Dave Sheen, John Halsey, Rick Morotta
Saxophone – Dave Chambers, George Khan, Ray Warleigh
Guitar – Brian Godding, Chris Spedding, Jim Mullen, Mick Ronson, Phil Lee, Tommy Cosgrave
Producer, Vocals – Annette Peacock

When Annette Peacock emerged from seemingly out of nowhere in 1972, her most prescient statement in sound was captured in the startling, mesmeric conception of I’m the One. An impressive document of nearly impossible desires and arcane sound, I’m the One is an emotional eclipse, a passionate red mess that bleeds with drama, both animal and human. It wasn’t her first album, however. An early recording, entitled Revenge, made a few in the industry nervous with its long stretches of sonic experiment and the resulting label issues ensured that the album had a rocky release. It is thus often believed that I’m the One is Peacock’s formal introduction to the world, and it may as well be. 
It’s just as well that I’m the One would find itself into the public’s consciousness as the embodiment of what Peacock’s sound is about. The album’s boldly sensual strut traced a mean line through an electrical storm of complicated desires; it was the anxious answer to the unasked question of the female drive – a referential point of which women of the ‘70s discovered ideas about artistic mobility. 
Peacock would struggle to gain status beyond a cult symbol of female empowerment, despite the clear fact that her music spoke directly to those who were exploring modes of communication in new ways that looked to the future; her work embraced and encompassed both men and women. I’m the One came and went, leaving an indelible impression on some of the most forward-thinking artists in the music industry (David Bowie, in particular) before submerging into the depths of obscurity. 
So when Peacock resurfaced in 1978 with X-Dreams, her statement in both music and female-centric narratives arrived as a gentle reminder of what came before in her work. X-Dreams was in no way a second chapter of what she had articulated on I’m the One. It was the energy of the times projected into a reality far ahead of the present possibilities – the collective sentiments which seemed to emanate from a realm beyond corporeal existence. As the album title suggests, X-Dreams depicts the endless streams of language found in dreams, a transient moment that has been frozen by the coiled magic of Peacock’s words and her uncanny ability to capture image in sound. Overall, it's a phantasmagorical exercise in harnessing the slipstreams of dreamed noises. 
A vast aural terrain of confused desires and heartbreak not readily articulated by the vernacular language, X-Dreams explores the points of transitions in a young woman leaving the world of her youth behind. Nothing personifies more the turbulent emotions of pain, excitement, anxiety and longing than the opening number “My Mama Never Taught Me How to Cook”, written about Peacock’s relationship with her mother and its rippling effects on the men in her life. 
A curiously astute observing of maternal impositions, Peacock’s swampy groove executes a steady walk across a poem of restless self-determination. Here, the struggles between women who battle conflicting ideologies created in the rift between generations are realized with poignancy and humour: “My mama never taught me how to cook/ but my brother taught me how to eat”, she saucily relates over the dirty slink of the sensuous funk. In the interplay between sax and guitar, there's the clear centered voice of a cosmic verse turning in on itself with the riddling questions of pride and despair.

Those cosmic forces found in the flowing diction of Peacock’s poetry blossom into the nebula of “Real and Defined Androgens”, a steady groove etched with the rough lines of electric guitar and the jazzy licks of piano. The blue-mood poem intoned over the brewing rhythms speaks of sexual ritual and behaviour. When the song’s second half closes out with the anxious circles of a saxophone drawn around various instrumental threads, a new language is signalled in to negotiate a certain space in semantics. In these interstices, all possibilities of love are referred. It's a brave, unflinching, nearly formless expression contained neatly within the contours of a carved and shapely poem; the substance of the language has no definition but it fills the blank verse like a waterlogged vessel. 
Experienced through the vistas of “My Mama...” and “Real...”, one learns how codas and linguistic slips in Peacock’s work are indeed modules of musical dialect. Often abandoning the formatted structures of song verse, Peacock’s practice in poem-assemblage leads to a constant reformation of text; every narrative seems caught in a moment of revision, either on its way down toward a base of conceptual matter or on its way up toward its construction of design. Coordinated in practice yet wholly improvised, Peacock’s words are strung together in ways that suggest a dialogue in poem, discussions to be had in stanzas. 
Even in the moments of convention, when the artist wishes to merely sing her worth of heartache, the airs of alien desire hang. “This Feel Within” promises a composition of pure drama rested within a block of immovable structure. Constructed like the cool, glass tank of an aquarium, we watch what we hear. That is to say we “see” the sounds float by; emotions, like animate matter, producing movements in an essence both liquid and human. Here, an aquatically-stretched vocal rides a slow wave of rhythm and all dreams are sent upwards from these depths.

When those dreams find a most ambiguous point of destination, it's in the vaporous airs of “Too Much in the Skies”. A chilled groove of soft, fresco-inspired blues-pop, the colours with which Peacock uses to paint a day full of marvels are simple but illuminating. By the song’s end, an image has come into focus: in the calm, quiet airs of a lonely afternoon, the notion of an improbable man has been made real – a dream personified in human flesh. In the submission of self and soul, the chemical jazz of a superlatively lush offering is boiled down to the waft of perfumed steam. 
Such impressions of oneiric designs are transfused into Peacock’s silvery jazz-pop cover of Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”, the album’s lone composition not written by the artist herself. The arrangements here render the tune completely unrecognizable; it may as well be an entirely different number altogether. Shrugging off her usual diffuse and dreamy poem-speak for the bold terrains of simple pop music, she turns Presley’s original into an artful exercise in reframing testosterone-driven rock ‘n' roll as something stridently cool and resolutely feminine.

Concluding the album with an equivocal statement of love, “Questions” hangs in the air with the suggestion (or hope) of closure. Circling around the restless angst of feelings not yet discarded in relationships now ended, Peacock sings of moments relived, of opportunities granted once again. The love has not ended and its accompanying feelings stretch over into the eternity of dreams. In these dreams, a woman searches the endless skies for some incomplete answer that points the way to an infinite love. 
Just what are these skies? It’s the siren-call of the synths you hear overhead, providing the song its slow hiss of serene air. Or an untapped feeling, its image invoked and given shape by some theory or adjacent emotion. Perhaps it's some inhibited space in the heart and mind where all our dreams lie in wait. 
From some unknown periphery comes a pressing query – a point of genesis from which all answers in the ether float...“Why?”
Imran Khan / PopMatters

Awalom Gebremariam ‎– Desdes (2016)

Style: African, Folk
Format: CD, VinylFLAC
Label: Awesome Tapes From Africa

01.   Desdes
02.   Tehhelo
03.   Teumat Chena
04.   Aadu
05.   Eritreana
06.   Salel
07.   Segamaye
08.   Malegaanya
09.   Gwaal Haagaraye
10.   Showite Sigem

On listening to Desdes, the title track of Eritrean exile Awalom Gebremariam‘s new album there is an immediate appeal. An acoustic instrument (a one-stringed fiddle) plays beautiful riffs, and the sweet, gentle quality of his voice draws you in. The relentless beat gives the music a hypnotic quality – at first. But by the time you get to the third track you begin to tire of it, and by the tenth you’re wondering how the arrangements can be so unimaginative. 
The very high female backing vocals sound like he’s pitch-shifted his own voice, which itself has a rather limited range. Some tracks have lovely lilting pentatonic scales, and the backing vocals are reminiscent of nomadic Fulani music. Track five ‘Tehhelo’ has a slightly Arabic feel to it, but that’s the only drama you get on this album. 
The soundworld is limited by the dominating electronic drum. Its sound is identical on every track with no rhythmic variation, playing just the main beat from start to finish, usually at exactly the same tempo as the song before it. When so many tracks are also in the same key it just sounds repetitive. 
Without any other cultural references it’s rather hard to make judgments about this music, which was originally released in 2007. The songs mainly speak of love, so there’s no particular political agenda here. The use of an autotune effect on the vocals places this music the popular domain of African r&b or hip-hop and it probably had some appeal amongst young Eritreans at the time. So, a strange mixture of traditional and popular music, pleasant enough, but rather unadventurous and certainly not groundbreaking.
Griselda Sanderson / Rhythm Passport