Saturday, 16 January 2021

Greg Foat ‎– Symphonie Pacifique (2020)

Style: Jazz-Funk
Format: CD, Vinyl, FLAC
Label: Strut

01.   Prelude
02.   Symphonie Pacifique
03.   Undulation
04.   Anticipation
05.   Mu
06.   Yonaguni
07.   Island Life
08.   Nikinakinu
09.   Man Vs. Machine
10.   Before The Storm
11.   After The Storm
12.   Meditation On A Pedal Steel
13.   Lament For Lamont
14.   Pointe-Vénus
15.   Mother’s Love
16.   Epilogue: Three Tenors

Viola – Felix Tanner
Violin – Kana Kawashima
Cello – Jessica Kerr, Niamh Molloy
Choir – Elina Ryd, Erik Dahl, Hannah Tolf, Pablo Copa
Congas, Percussion – Eric Young
Double Bass, Electric Bass – Phil Achille
Drums – Clark Tracey, Moses Boyd 
Guitar, Percussion – Warren Hampshire
Harp – Heather Wrighton
Pedal Steel Guitar – Thomas Frank 
Tenor Saxophone – Rob Mach
Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone – Dave Bitelli
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Art Themen
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Trevor Walker 
Tubular Bells, Grand Piano, Fender Rhodes, Vibraphone, Synthesizers, Prducer – Greg Foat

I hadn’t even heard of Greg Foat until I picked up his latest album for this review. It is needless to say, yet worth underlining, that I regret not finding his music earlier. From what I gather, Greg Foat is basically at the top of the jazz food chain in the UK. Something that really made a lot of sense upon diving properly into the record at hand. There’s something ineffable about the modern British jazz scene that makes it vibrant in a very special way. I also gather that Symphonie Pacifique is merely the latest in a long line of Greg Foat‘s musical repertoire. Unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure of reaching in and going through past works to obtain that welcome insight into how sounds may or may not have shifted.

Whereas a great deal of the albums I do decide to take up for review leave me speechless and in something of a general confusion in terms of a write-up, Symphonie Pacifique makes the words flow much like itself. That would be cursively, gently, and colorfully (without too much flash). I’d like to begin with how I caught myself laughing heartily at the fact that, after five laps around the album, I realized I didn’t remember a single note or phrase, as if I had never heard it. Now how can something like that happen? It occurred to me a few laps later that I simply zoned out hard because of the laid-back vibe. It’s something hypnotic, albeit not the kind of trait that immediately pops in the foreground. Naturally, I continued zoning out until I remembered I have a life to attend to and I just can’t keep doing this.

Of course, it’s not just the laid-back vibe that lends magic to the whole journey. The soft and mellow instrument tones and the apparent lack of timbral (or tonal) dynamics when paired with the consistent compositions keeps everything steady and focused, kind of like a mantra. I say apparent lack because at a glance there isn’t a lot of boom throughout, however there is plenty of nuance and engagement scattered throughout for fans of the genre and for the patient listener.

From a compositional standpoint, I can’t say that there’s anything revolutionary going on, although simultaneously I can’t find a single weak spot. From top to bottom, we’re looking at a very solid piece of work with the kind of consistency that doesn’t end up being monotonous, which is great considering that the album goes on for a proper hour. As mentioned previously, there is plenty of nuance to go around, in spite of no particular emotive cues being brought onstage. Obviously that isn’t anywhere near a reason to complain, however it would’ve been something nice to have. In that aspect I am reminded of We Like It Here by Snarky Puppy.

Similarly, the same level of top notch musicianship is present, like in Snarky Puppy. I also assume that besides these parallels, I have been tempted to make the comparison to Snarky Puppy because there are a lot of textures and vibes that feel like they share plenty of common ground, what with being mostly so lively and upbeat. What is, however, one of a kind is the production. On the tracks in the beginning we hear the percussion on the right, the bass on the left and the piano simply fills up the rest of the space. This reminds me strongly of Ryu Fukui‘s Scenery. I find that kind of panning oddly satisfying, reminiscent of how you would listen to a small jazz band playing in a tiny cafe. On other songs, such as “After the Storm”, we’re treated with a highly atmospheric type of delivery which feels almost out of character from the preceding tracks.

Instead of going for a track-by-track breakdown, I’ll leave it at this – there’s plenty to experience in this album and it would be a downright shame to spoil all of it right away. Symphonie Pacifique has already been out for a while now, and some of you may have already heard it. For those of you that haven’t and are going through these lines, stop reading and start vibing out to this record. It’s a lovely sonic discourse that will surely make it to the end of the year lists.
Robert  Miklos / Everything Is Noise

Fred Frith ‎– Gravity (1980)

Style: Folk Rock, Jazz-Rock, Avantgarde
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: RecRec Music, Ralph Records

01.   The Boy Beats The Rams (Kluk Tluče Berany)
02.   Spring Any Day Now
03.   Don't Cry For Me
04.   Hands Of The Juggler
05.   Norrgarden Nyvla
06.   Year Of The Monkey
07.   What A Dilemma
08.   Crack In The Concrete
09.   Come Across
10.   Dancing In The Street / My Enemy Is A Bad Man
11.   Slap Dance
12.   A Career In Real Estate
13.   Dancing In Rockville, Maryland
14.   Waking Against Sleep
15.   Terrain
16.   Moeris Dancing
17.   Geistige Nacht
18.   Life At The Top
19.   Oh Wie Schön Ist Panama!

Alto Saxophone – Dave Newhouse 
Alto Saxophone, Clarinet – Marc Hollander
Bass – Billy Swann
Bass, Guitar, Violin – Fred Frith
Drums – Fred Frith, Hans Bruniusson, Paul Sears
Guitar, Mandolin – Eino Haapala
Keyboards – Fred Frith 
Piano, Organ, Accordion – Lars Hollmer
Tap Dance – Olivia Bruynhooghe
Producer – Etienne Conod, Fred Frith

Recorded in 1979, Fred Frith's first solo album proper after the demise of Henry Cow probably came as a bit of a shock to die hard fans. With the Cow, Frith's angular, sour melodics had mapped an alternative route for progrock guitar heroics, while his solo guitar recordings suggested our Fred as the missing link between John Cage and Jimi Hendrix.

Gravity however, was Fred's dance record; not the fashionable mutant disco of the early downtown New York scene (where Frith was in the process of setting up stall) but a celebration of rhythm that borrows from folk music, rock and God knows what else. Not that I could imagine dancing to it, but theres no denying the infectious beauty that Fred and his co-conspirators (drawn from Swedish avant folkies Zamla, Aqsak Maboul and U.S. progsters the Muffins) create.

Kicking off with a burst of manic laughter, a spot of tap dancing and random percussion overlaid with Frith's distinctive keening violin, Gravity manages to be wildly eclectic yet avoids incoherence. A few years before World Music became the accepted method for revitalising washed up rock stars careers, Frith had created an album that seems to be from everywhere at once yet from nowhere in particular. While the tricky metrics of "Hands of the Juggler" and the slurred fiddle gymnastics of "A Career in Real Estate" hint at some half remembered Slavic folk tradition (as did some of Frith's writing for Brechtian industrial doomfolk trio The Art Bears), the supple immediacy of tunes like "Spring Any Day Now" or "Norrgarden Nyvla" sound at once familiar yet like nothing youve heard before or since.

"Crack in the Concrete" prefigures Frith's avant power trio Massacre, with coruscating e-bowed guitar soaring over edgy, dissonant chords and a massed kazoo choir of horns in the distance, though its bumptious rhythms come with a lopsided grin as opposed to furrowed brow intensity. Likewise Fred's gleeful de/reconstruction of Martha and the Vandellas "Dancing in the Street"; a bizzarely harmonised guitar negotiates the melody over a boiling mass of feedback and tape manipulation (including a recording of Iranian demonstrators celebrating the capture of American hostages), eventually settling into a spare, gorgeous guitar solo over the closing chords.

Even at its most intense, Gravity is a joyful noise. If you can manage dancing in the time signatures Fred and his mates cook up, you'd better start moving the furniture in anticipation. A brief snatch of the 13st Puerto Rico Summertime Band closes Year of the Monkey; "ten seconds of the real thing" said Fred in the sleevenotes to the original issue; he shouldn't have been so modest. Absolutely essential.
Peter Marsh  / BBC Review