A look at music on the rise and causing waves around the globe
Lorelei Ensemble and James Kallembach – Antigone mvmts 11-12
Only Antigone gets billed in the title of this cantata by James Kallembach for female chorus (Lorelei is an eight-voice group, ideal for reasons explored below), cello quartet, and soloists. The work does tell Antigone’s story, from Sophocles and from Greek mythology, in three parts, titled “Two Sisters” (Antigone and Ismene), “The Arrest of Antigone,” and “The Death of Antigone,” plus a choral Latin prologue. However, each of the three parts carries an epilogue from the writings of German student Sophie Scholl, who was guillotined with her brother in 1943 for anti-Nazi activities. Kallembach writes that Scholl’s writings “seemed to meld directly into the words of Antigone,” and indeed, he has compiled an exceptionally effective libretto.
The topic of Scholl was arrived at jointly by Kallembach and Lorelei conductor Beth Willer, but the Antigone scenes were added by Kallembach himself, and he delivers on what he promises in juxtaposing these two diverse figures who questioned authority, with fatal results. Part of it is that he chose a fine translation for the Antigone sources (it is not specified other than to say it is in the public domain), modifying it slightly for dramatic effect. More important, though, is Kallembach’s overall conception. The speeches of King Creon and Antigone’s sister Ismene are set as solos, but those of Antigone and of Scholl, as well as the basic narrative, are sung by the chorus, sometimes reduced to a trio. The effect is to make the stories into something of a Greek drama, heightened by tonal, antique harmonies that give the music a tragic, sober quality. Although the work is just half an hour long, it feels dramatically complete, and it is to be hoped that this recording will prompt further performances, perhaps in university settings. The sound from the acoustically fine Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts, is superb. — AMG
Marcelo Maccagnan – Black Hole Sun
Fusing contemporary jazz with the Brazilian music of his homeland, and rock and electronic music of his youth, bassist Marcelo Maccagnan presents his latest album, Night Tales, on July 29th. Based in New York City, the bandleader brings together some of the city’s rising stars for a record whose influences run the full spectrum from Milton Nascimento to Third Rail and Donny McCaslin. This self-titled “Progressive Jazz” is perhaps representative of a city which welcomes musicians from every corner of the world – as is the line up; featured guest vocalist Simona Smirnova hails from Lithuania and joins Korean pianist Sukyung Kim, French drummer Maxime Cholley and Malaysian guitarist Andrew Cheng.But whilst the music embraces this melting pot of styles, it never loses sight of the improvisation and communication central to jazz. Intricate grooves, soaring riffs and wailing guitar lays the foundation for glorious, high-energy solos and group interplay. And, in a nod to his early years as a rock musician, the album’s sole non-original composition (Black Hole Sun) is from American band Soundgarden, showcasing just how creative the modern musician can be when interpreting songs into a whole new ballpark.
Opening track Creatures of Habit features a powerful vocal cameo from Simona Smirnova, whilst Gungi (Japanese for ‘flock’ or ‘herd’) showcases a group connection and musical synergy that only hours of performing together can create. Bringing together various styles into one cohesive whole, Night Tales offers something for hard-core fans of both jazz and rock, as well as everyone in between. – Jazzfuel
Meridian Brothers – Metamorfosis
What kind of group writes songs about a Kafkaesque metamorphosis from human to robot? The answer is the imaginary outfit El Grupo Renacimiento, an allegedly “legendary” salsa band from the 1970s, though in reality the modern-day creation of Colombia’s Meridian Brothers. The Meridians themselves are but one identity of Bogotá’s Eblis Alvarez, a prolific, shape-shifting musician who over two decades has championed both the avant garde and tradition, mixing psychedelia, electronica and rock with Latin styles, especially Colombia’s own cumbia.
Here, Alvarez and his sidekicks enjoy themselves with a fantasy playlist from El Grupo Renacimiento, its numbers ranging from anti-police protest to addiction to broken love, the lyrics given a surreal twist and each cut paying tribute to one of salsa’s many subgenres. For example, Triste Son sends up Cuban son, complaining of “grey fateful melancholy” to a cha-cha beat. Poema del Salsero Resentido warns: “The rhythmic apocalypse is coming”, while Metamorfosis sings of becoming “transhuman” to a percussive overdrive. Although the album is an affectionate Latin Spinal Tap – there’s a short, cartoon mockumentary to go with it – the rhythms are taut, the music playful. Appropriately, it’s out on the revived iconic Ansonia label, its first new release in 30 years. — Guardian
Sofiane Pamart – Dear
Times are strange for emerging stars in the classical music world. Sofiane Pamart, the Moroccan-French piano prodigy who was one of the ten most-streamed classical artists in the world last year and is set to play a major UK debut headline show at the Barbican on 17 July, has found a route out of the refineries and elite spaces and into the public sphere via a series of collaborations with leading Francophone rappers, including the breakout 2018 album Pleine Lune with Belgian hip hop artist Scylla. With the boost in profile under his belt, his solo compositional work enjoys an elevated platform, and in justification, the music itself continues to set him well above the fray; 2019’s Planet, a gold seller in his homeland, is now followed by his finest work to date, a disarmingly personal and confessional body of work.
Letter lays its stall out before you even press play: its 18 tracks are titled by one word, together revealing a sentence straight from Pamart’s heart: “Dear public, your love saved me from solitude forever. Sincerely, Sofiane. P.S., I wrote this album in Asia.” Almost inevitably, the solitude referenced is at least partially related to Covid, but these are tracks that delve deep into Pamart’s character, his entire history offered up as a palette and brush, his memories and passions lending plentiful inspiration for this hour of tranquil, assertive brilliance.
These tracks are pointedly uncomplicated, targeting the parts of us that are easiest to access, but hardest to satisfy. The album is enchanted by childlike wonder throughout, from the delicate eyelid blinks of ‘Dear’ to the swirling, passionate ballroom of ‘Me’. There are, of course, precedents for such top-line piano expression, from Chopin to Satie, Glass to Frahm, but Pamart seems unconcerned by what anybody else might have thought about. ‘Solitude’ is a case in point; there is truly a sense of an individual in isolation, but where others may have fallen into mournfulness, Pamart finds the contentedness, and we as listeners are wrongfooted by his own idiosyncrasy. A true composer’s touch. — loudandquiet.com
Akusmi – Cogito
Pascal Bideau is a French composer based in London who has written and arranged music for dozens of films and documentaries. He has studied Indonesian gamelan, and in his alter ego of Akusmi he explores some of the tropes of this stately, percussive ceremonial music, mixing it with minimalism, jazz and rave.
Fleeting Future is rather lovely. Each piece is based around the hypnotic riffs used in gamelan, all using the pentatonic slendro scales, but Bideau orchestrates them by multitracking saxophonist Ruth Velten, trombonist Florian Juncker and drummer Daniel Brandt. Cogito starts with a simple riff and assembles so many layers of woodwind over it that it begins to sound like Steve Reich played by a trad jazz ensemble. – John Lewis, The Guardian
Max Richter: The New Four Seasons – Vivaldi Recomposed – Summer 1
When Max Richter’s Recomposed first exploded into our collective ears almost a decade ago, a 59-minutes-28-seconds sonic starburst, the effect for so many people was total. We hadn’t heard anything like that, ever. Experiencing it felt as though we were being catapulted onto another plane, reverberated through the cosmos by this epiphanic soundworld. In this “alternative rendering”, Chineke!, the groundbreaking British ensemble consisting of majority Black, Asian and ethnically diverse musicians, and the brilliant soloist, Elena Urioste, are playing on gut strings and period instruments: the sort that Vivaldi would have heard, and played, in his own time.
Richter is enthusiastic about this blend. “I love the slight grittiness and earthy feeling that gut strings have,” he says. “I wanted to match that flinty, haptic, tactile texture with the electronic elements.” The new record is produced on an analogue mixing desk, with the composer himself playing an early Moog, dating from the seventies. “Those are the first-generation synths, and I’ve heard them described as the Stradivarius of the synthesiser,” he laughs. “They have a certain presence and authority about them. I mean, they are crude in a way, but they are also like someone inventing the wheel. They have gravitas.” – www.maxrichter-fourseasons.com
Madalitso Band – Musakayike
The duo known as Madalitso Band once busked the streets of Mtandire, a slum in the country’s capital Lilongwe, between holding down regular jobs as gardener and watchman and were discovered, by chance, by a local producer.
The eight tracks on this new album, the title of which translates as “do not doubt us”, are high-energy and infectious in the extreme, although, somewhat paradoxically, the subject matter is often commenting upon the harshness of daily life in what is one of the world’s poorest countries, alongside thoughts on love, romance and success. The duo comprises Yosefe Kalekeni, on four-string guitar (acting as a Malawi banjo), and a cowskin foot-drum which is thumped with the heel, and Yobu Malingwa, who plays babatone, a home-made one-string slide bass. Both artists provide vocals.
With the guitar holding tight to the rhythm, lead singer Yobu’s long-necked babatone serves as both bottom end and lead. This “Malawi banjo music” is derived from South-African rhythms and exemplified by other artists such as the imperious Kachamba Brothers in the late 1960/1970s, and more recently Mouse Boys, Tonga Boys and Gasper Mali, certainly owes a nod of debt to South African Kwela and jive music.
Having toured extensively in Europe, the Roskilde Festival, Womex and Womad, for example, and having featured on BBC’s Global Beats, this release sees their extended live renditions fine-tuned and trimmed back but still retaining the zestful zip and spontaneity which is their hallmark.
Considered the true musical prophets in Malawi, Madalitso Band’s Musakayike makes for compulsive listening, guaranteed to brighten up the dullest of times. Surely only those with a happiness-bypass could fail to enjoy such intoxicatingly accomplished and compelling music? With sounds as joyous as these, there is certainly no reason to doubt them. — folkradio.co.uk
London Odense Ensemble – Sojourner
In recent years London has become an epicenter for experimental, visionary jazz. On this unique session, two of the finest exponents of the London jazz scene, Tamar Osborn and Al MacSween, join forces with members of the celebrated Danish psychedelic underground – Jonas Munk, Jakob Skøtt and Martin Rude – to create a heady sonic brew.
On this first volume of material there’s everything one could hope for in such a collaboration: sonically it summons the free flowing euphoria of Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders’ work in the late 1960s and early ’70s. But there’s also a focus on rhythmic energy and vitality that calls to mind the grooviest krautrock or electric period Miles Davis, as well as a healthy dose of electronic experiments.
Throughout these five tracks the quintet paints with a colourful palette. Tamar Osborn shifts between baritone sax and flutes. Keyboardist Al MacSween doesn’t just stick with the tried and true electric piano – an instrument which he masters – but showers these tracks in analog synths and effects as well. Add to that the fact that Jonas Munk took a somewhat creative approach when editing and mixing these pieces – with effects boxes wired in, occasionally giving the mix a dubby, ambient atmosphere. Similar to Munk and Skøtt’s main project, Causa Sui, digging into the past becomes a vehicle to open up the future. What the quintet has created in these sessions is something quite unique. — elparaisorecords.com
Sault – Air
In a dramatic departure from their previous output, the UK collective Sault taps into the spirituality of choral music and contemporary classical in an uplifting, celebratory, utterly gorgeous album.
AIR – the mysterious UK group’s sixth album in only three years—tilts the balance back toward the positive. In a drastic turn from their previous output, SAULT have cast aside almost all of their identifiable hallmarks; gone are the funky rhythms, driving disco beats, and soulful crooning. As opener “Reality” begins with a crescendo of strings, horns, and a classical choir, your first thought might be that you’ve put on a record that should be filed closer to the choral works of György Ligeti. Sonically, there’s little anchoring AIR to the group’s previous output, but its themes still zero in on a critical element of the Black experience: the need for self-care and celebration of individual Blackness. – Shy Thompson
Flora Purim – If You Will
While it’s true that Flora Purim‘s voice and disciplined improvisational style embody the very essence of jazz, classifying her as a “jazz singer” is woefully inadequate. Since the middle of the 1960s, she has innovated on the form by melding samba, psychedelic MPB, jazz, and Latin fusion to an inimitable brand of creative improvising. Long regarded as Brazil’s queen of jazz, Purim’s talent has been employed by musicians as diverse as Duke Pearson, Return to Forever, Dizzy Gillespie, Santana, and George Duke among others.
At 80, If You Will is her first album since 2005’s glorious Flora’s Song. Produced with Italian DJ Roberta Cutolo, this music crisscrosses her long career. There are re-envisioned tunes from her discography alongside new material.
The album captures the arc of Purim’s career as new versions reflect the breadth and depth of her contribution. Her musicians include husband Airto Moreira, daughter Diana Purim, guitarist José Neto, percussionist Celso Alberti, and human beatboxer son-in-law Krishna Booker (he is Diana’s husband and Eyedentity bandmate). f You Will is a revelatory exercise. 80 year old Purim — whose voice remains unsullied by time — is easily one of the most groundbreaking singers jazz has ever produced, but more, she’s an architect and translator of vastly intricate, gorgeously articulated sound worlds. Flora Purim is a genre unto herself. – Ann Powers
Miles Okazaki – Stardust
Thisness is the third Pi Recordings outing from guitarist/composer Miles Okazaki and his Trickster quartet featuring keyboardist Matt Mitchell, drummer Sean Rickman, and bassist Anthony Tidd. Whereas 2019’s The Sky Below offered eight tunes that balanced labyrinthine narrative lyricism with canny, mischievous counterpoint, Thisness approaches a four-movement suite of subtle, spacious, inquisitive electro-acoustic jazz. It was informed, in turn, by a watercolor painting from the guitarist’s mother, Linda Okazaki; historian and Thelonious Monk biographer Robin D.G. Kelly’s critical writings on surrealism; observations on architecture from producer David Breskin; and the glorious wide-open poetry of jazz’s first Afro-futurist, Sun Ra.
The four works here are of similar duration (between nine and ten minutes) and focus on structured improvisation. While Okazaki’s compositions offer form, weight, and harmonic function, they are, conversely, wide open in expectation, allowing for and following winding, sometimes non-linear lines of inquiry. Thisness is advanced and idiosyncratic, yet almost compulsively listenable. Its mysteriously constructed melodics and elliptical improvisations are at once provocative, challenging, and alluring. – Thom Jurek
Penguin Cafe – Landau
Penguin Cafe are back with a lovingly produced 10th anniversary reissue of their debut album, titled A Matter of Life… 2021. Besides being completely remastered, the record also features a brand new 2021 recording of lead single ‘Harry Piers’, a song commemorating Arthur Jeffes’ late father and Penguin Cafe Orchestra founder Simon Jeffes. A Matter of Life… 2021 is a chance for a classic example of the beauty that’s found in collaboration to reach fresh ears, and an opportunity to breathe new life into fan favourites. The album, performed by a mix of personalities — including Neil Codling of Suede and, on percussion, Cass Browne of Gorillaz — incorporates the aesthetics of the original PCO, seasoned into a confident and redefined style, maintaining that quintessentially English sound, but adding a fresh direction and a sense that they are evolving into something new and very much their own. – Erased Tapes
Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 – Olá!
Welsh-Brazilian samba might seem an unlikely musical match; even less so with the addition of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. But, give Yn Rio a try and you might be as pleasantly surprised
as this reviewer was. It’s the third such South American-influenced album produced by this
singer-songwriter from Cardiff, following Joia! (2019) and Mas (2020). It all started when Ellis was invited to join the Pretenders’ line-up in Rio in 2017, and was instantly inspired by the city’s famous musical creativity.
With familiar COVID-19 restrictions, however, for Yn Rio Ellis was forced to record his vocals and guitar alongside the orchestra in one take, adding the Brazilians’ tracks separately. The result is an upbeat fusion of samba, bossa nova and tropical rhythms, with soaring orchestration and Ellis’ smooth Welsh lilt. Some tracks don’t quite hit the mark; others, in particular Botafogo Blue – named for the area of Rio in which Ellis recorded the first two albums – and Olá!, released as a single, are euphoric and infectious. Ellis explained that Yn Rio was based on one day spent in Rio, and could be the next best thing to being there, recreating, ‘days so idyllic you just want to be able to jump back into them at the touch of a button.’ – Songlines
Vanessa Wagner – Etude N°16 (Philip Glass)
Hailed as “the most delightfully singular pianist of her generation” by Le Monde, Vanessa Wagner is interested in establishing a new, modernist canon of writers that understand the merits of true minimalism and the serene clarity that unfussy themes can elucidate. With her new album, Study of The Invisible, she brings together fifteen pieces by composers from the last half-century, many of them rare or even unpublished works.
Wagner is able to translate her rich and deeply felt playing style to the full gamut of composers
Do not mistake minimalism for simplicity; what elevates Wagner’s playing here is not the dizzying blur of her fingers or any reinvention of form, but the character that she imbues into these pieces. There is great skill in inhabiting other people’s compositions this personally, with the emotional expression of internal character somehow having to translate into something audible. When every motion is felt intently and every decision is made with a profound understanding of the material, like it is across Study of the Invisible, then you are knocking on the door of transcendence. – Loud & Quiet
The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble – Step Down
The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble are definitely on a roll coming off of their third LP, Build Bridges, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart. Their new and fourth LP, Step Down, is a direct reflection of the heavy times they were written and recorded in. Covid-19, two Presidential impeachment trials, the George Floyd murder and resulting social unrest, a seditious attempt to subvert the democratic process at The Capitol…
With titles like Step Down, The Other Side, Time To Rebuild, Omnificent, Love Age, and In Common, The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble uses their music to beautifully paint a picture of societal woes, but also points toward the solution and a better world. Heavy Cinematic Soul, spiritual Jazz-Funk, upbeat Afro-Funk, and deeply introspective rare-groove cuts lace this ten-track transmission vessel. The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble is deeply defined by the sum of their influences, but always have their eye focused beyond the horizon as well. – Bandcamp
Charlie Halloran and The Tropicales – Voltige Antillais
From the opening upbeat notes on the jubilant song The Rhythm We Want, Charlie Halloran and The Tropicales prove that they have the goods to deliver a rollicking time via their New Orleans-based sound, directly influenced by 1950’s era Trinidad and the French Caribbean offerings.
Shake the Rum, released on Hi-Tide Recordings, presents eleven tracks that effervescently course through the ears and make it hard to sit still while the horns blow, low-end rumbles, and guitars strum.
The Tropicales, led by Halloran on trombone, are Tomas Majcherski on sax, John Maestas and Joshua Starkman on guitar, Pete Olynciw on bass, Doug Garrison on drums, and Cesar Bacaro providing percussion. The calypso and beguine fire flows throughout the album, musically tying together his love of New Orleans and the Caribbean. Shake the Rum is a joyous musical concoction that overflows with strong musicianship, dance-inducing tunes, and a feeling of happiness much needed during trying times.
Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer – Snåcko
In 2017 Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer traveled together to the Åland Islands (an archipelago that is host to around 6,500 islands) in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. They headed to the islands with the intention of helping two friends (mother/daughter duo Jannika/Sage Reed) barn raise a small inn named Hotel Svala in Kumlinge (a municipality consisting of a small group of islands and a population of about 320). The idea was that, once completed, Svala would host artist residencies and workshop programs, creating a direct link between the islands and the USA.
The concept of recording music there came about as Honer & Chiu learned more and more about the islands. They were taken by the serene and strange quality of the place. The sun doesn’t set in the summer (and barely rises in the winter). The network of miniature islands is traversed by ferry which, according to Chiu, “casts a surreal horizontal movement through space and time, with islands shifting into and out of periphery, totally still and calm, yet always in motion.”
In 2019 they were awarded a grant from the Department of Culture to return and perform a concert at the Kumlinge Kyrka, a 14th century medieval church adorned with incredible frescos. The concert was recorded and became source material – along with improvisations on viola and electronics, pipe organ, pump organ, piano, synthesizers, field recordings and voice memos, all captured across both their trips at various locations on the archipelago – from which they meticulously crafted a post-script in the form of ‘Recordings from the Åland Islands’. – Bandcamp
Cécile McLorin Salvant – Until
Cécile McLorin Salvant, a 2020 MacArthur Fellow and three-time Grammy Award winner, is a singer and composer bringing historical perspective, a renewed sense of drama, and an enlightened musical understanding to both jazz standards and her own original compositions. Classically trained, steeped in jazz, blues, and folk, and drawing from musical theater and vaudeville, Salvant embraces a wide-ranging repertoire that broadens the possibilities for live performance.
Salvant makes her Nonesuch Records debut with the release of Ghost Song. The new album features a diverse mix of seven originals and five interpretations on the themes of ghosts, nostalgia, and yearning. Salvant says, “It’s unlike anything I’ve done before—it’s getting closer to reflecting my personality as an eclectic curator. I’m embracing my weirdness!” The New York Times calls it “her most revealing and rewarding album yet.” Uncut calls her “one of the most daring and resourceful vocalists in jazz—or any other genre, for that matter.” Jazzwise describes the album as “music of sensitivity and intelligence, which underlines Salvant’s growth as an artist of stature who stylistic choices are as daring as they are mature.” – via Nonesuch
Lara Downes: Scott Joplin – The Chrysanthemum
Not long before his death in 1917, Scott Joplin predicted that he would become a fixture of the American musical canon. A colleague later recalled him saying, “When I’m dead 25 years, people are going to begin to recognize me.”
So although Joplin is an established fixture, public appreciation of his accomplishments remains fuzzy, unsteady. On a recent, wintry walk through Harlem, the pianist Lara Downes said that was what inspired her latest album, Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered. One goal, she said, was to “put together a somewhat comprehensive portrait of this musician who is really hard to pin down.”
“The world that he was sending the music out into was pretty prescribed. What he knew at the beginning was that he couldn’t be me. He couldn’t be a Black classical pianist. Done. So then he starts innovating; he’s making a living. He’s just on the road. What’s the music he’s going to play? It’s ragtime. But then he makes it better. He makes it the best. He becomes the king of it! And while he’s being the king of it, he’s all the time planning this whole opera thing. I really want to liberate him from the two categories where people have tried to fit him: “king of ragtime” or “greatest classical composer you’ve never heard of.” I want to be super clear that I see him as an American innovator and cross-pollinator, and that the central truth in his music is that everything exists together and is there for the finding. – Seth Colter Walls, New York Times
Staffan Bråsjö – Butterflux
The Stratosphere is the atmospheric layer ranging from an altitude of 15 km to 50 km, encircled by the Troposphere and Mesosphere. The stratosphere is characterized by temperatures rising by altitude.
Just like its meteorological counterpart, Stratosphere is a musical boundary layer. Music laboriously composed by debuting band-leader Staffan Bråsjö, and arranged as wore it for a group of chamber musicians. Nevertheless, the music is executed by some of Sweden’s most interesting contemporary jazz musicians, who with their unmistakably personal touch bring life to the written score. From a wider perspective, the music draws inspiration from the close to sacred sentiment provoked by the encounter of the natural sciences, best expressed by the reciprocity of the stem pillars of a boreal conifer forest with those of a majestic cathedral. With a closer listen, contrapuntal dialogues from Beethoven’s seventh Symphony perceive, sharing room with voices from a archaic chorale, surrounded by improvisations drenched in the perfume of Parisian fin de siècle. Still there is room for the simplicity and rhythmical impulse that it the hallmark of contemporary Nordic jazz, resulting in a genre-disintegrating listening experience. Stratosphere is visual music from beginning to end. Personal, visual and delicately powerful. – Bandcamp
Bugge Wesseltoft – Tide
To be inspired by anxiety, whilst not the ideal creative environment to exist in, can sometimes result in great beauty. Olso native Bugge Wesseltoft’s new album Be Am is one such example. Fearful for his family and loved ones during the pandemic, Bugge expresses the need for spiritual courage, reminding us of music’s pivotal role as a mental tonic.
It’s the piano that Wesseltoft is painting pictures with throughout the release, aided by recordings of birdsong, kalimba, the electric piano, as well as the saxaphone of Hakon Kornstad. Themes of hope and the solace of nature are evident on many tracks, and although most are steeped in melancholy, Wesseltoft is posting them as an act of creative ecstasy, of the overwhelming joy he takes in survival.
Sven Helbig – Metamorphosis
Learning a skill can happen imperceptibly – or the whole thing can be a total living nightmare. Whether you feel the pain of the development or not, though, it is there, and German neo-classical composer Sven Helbig is so fascinated by the building blocks of how the human brain acquires new abilities that he has composed ten new pieces on just that subject, each representing what he believes to be one of the pivotal stages of the process.
Helbig, who is a veteran of both the concert stage and the electronic underground, evokes the internal turmoil, frustrations and eventual glory of every painstaking moment. From ‘Induction’, where we take tentative steps out of the ether of uncertainty, with brass and strings attempting
to walk as one, like the front and hind end of a newborn deer, through the unshowy and controlled ‘Dedication’, to the almost zen-like state of grace of ‘Immersion’, where the cognitive interference clears and we find our groove, the listener intuitively understands the signals Helbig lays down.
A synthesised, muffled beat introduces ‘Repetition’, forming the track’s rhythm and propulsion, clarifying in tone as we gain confidence in our skill, as if we are crafting and perfecting the music ourselves as we go. But just like that, ‘Despair’ hits and the beat and rhythm have gone. Mournful strings lament our self-doubt and a mounting frustration and disillusionment sets in.
We have hit a wall.
‘Lore’ marks a re-dedication and return to founding principles, as bobbing brass parps and darting violins stab to signal forward progress with a flurry of adrenaline and a skip in the step, hope regained. Our rhythm re-asserted, ‘Vision’ allows for wonder, confident now in our ability and able to look out to the horizon, possibilities unfolding before us, while the combustible ‘Metamorphosis’ depicts the most dramatic collision of everything that has come before to create the final, streamlined, intrepid confidence of ‘Flow’.
The process effectively complete, we finish with the contemplative and elegant ‘Transfiguration’, which asks what new ground there could now be to cover. There is no bombast or cavalier swagger to our protagonist’s sense of achievement, but rather the hope of further discovery, a beautiful end note to a remarkably insightful psycho-musicological study. – via loudandquiet.com
Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime (Live)
With Afrique Victime the prodigious Tuareg guitarist and songwriter rips a new hole in the sky – boldly reforging contemporary Saharan music and “rock music” by melding guitar pyrotechnics, full-blast noise, and field recordings with poetic meditations on love, religion, women’s rights, inequality, and Western Africa’s exploitation at the hands of colonial powers.
“While people have gotten to know Mdou Moctar as a rock band, there is a whole different set of music with this band done on acoustic guitars, which we wanted to incorporate into this album in order to go through a sonic journey,” Moctar says. Mdou pays homage to one of his heroes Abdallah Ag Oumbadagou, the legendary Niger musician and political revolutionary, on songs “Ya Habibti” and “Layla”.
“Abdallah was a contemporary of Tinariwen and helped to pioneer the sound of Tuareg guitar music blended with drum machines and electronic sounds”. Afrique Victime sounds and feels like a Tuareg hand reaching down from the sky, and we are very lucky for this chance to get lifted. – Bandcamp
The 2022 Deluxe Edition of the “Afrique Victime” album is out now.
Joanna Nicholson – Gyre
Scottish musician Joanna Nicholson delivers contemorary classical compositions for clarinet and electronics, featuring music written by Kerry Hagan, William Sweeney, Matthew Whiteside, Jonathan Nangle and Joanna herself.
“The selection and preparation of works for this album meant a time of reflection on recent years of solo performing, from 2014-18. It was illuminating to revisit repertoire following a period of creative development working on other things, and consider possible new angles and musical choices.
I sought with this programme to create an arc’d listening journey, beginning quite far away, and the listener being drawn closer with each piece, until uncomfortably close in Requiem – then slipping gradually further away again, the feeling being that you have passed by the player, or the concert, and, even as you can no longer hear it, the music continues on. The picture in my mind is a distant boat approaching and moving past the gyre of gannets I describe in my piece.” – Joanna Nicholson
Soul Media – “Breeze”
A track taken from the new compilation WaJazz: Japanese Jazz Spectacle Vol.I – Deep, Heavy and Beautiful Jazz from Japan 1968-1984 – The Nippon Columbia Masters (Universounds) from Jiro Inagaki & Soul Media. From blazing hard bop to free jazz, to introspective saxophone solos and massive big band sounds, renowned Japanese jazz expert Yusuke Ogawa presents an essential 14 track collection of “WaJazz” music taken from the Nippon Columbia vaults. Featuring Jiro Inagaki, Minoru Muraoka, Hiroshi Suzuki, Hozan Yamamoto, Count Buffalo, Takeshi Inomata and more.
Black Flower feat. Meskerem Mees – Morning In The Jungle
Black Flower are a five-piece hybrid jazz combo from Belgium piloted by saxophonist / flautist Nathan Daems, mixing Ethio jazz and oriental with afrobeat and dub. Morning In the Jungle is a collaboration that has a most auspicious and excellent timing. Meskerem Mees is an up-and-coming vocal talent, having just released her first album entitled Julius (Mayway Records) to critical acclaim. Meskerem Mees won the 2021 Montreux Jazz Talent Award and is nominated for the prestigious Music Moves Europe Awards. Her sweet and melodious voice is a perfect counterpoint to the deep and dark music that is flowing now from the source: Black Flower’s most recent release Magma to be released via Sdban Ultra on January 28th.
Jean-Michel Blais – Doux
Aubades, the new album from post-classical piano icon Jean-Michel Blais, marks the Montreal-born musician’s transition from pianist to composer, as he writes for an ensemble for the first time in his career. Written during the pandemic and following a breakup, Blais has used his distinctive musical voice to create a defiantly uplifting record with glistening instrumental textures and warm major tonalities. The album’s title refers to the “aubade”, a Middle Ages morning love song about lovers separating at daybreak, a dawn serenade.
Despite the difficult global and personal backdrop, Blais described the time writing this album as a “fruitful moment of creativity for me. We started having hares in the park, beautiful butterflies flying everywhere. It was a time of lots of blossoming, and also a moment when I blossomed from being a pianist into a composer.” Musical ideas captured in over 500 recorded piano improvisations were transformed by Blais into 11 compositions performed by a 12-person ensemble. During the composition process, Blais collaborated with Alex Weston, former music assistant to Philip Glass. The musicians were recorded with close-up microphones, creating a richly intimate atmosphere that captures the human behind each instrument, from the mechanics of the woodwind keys to the snap of a double bass string. – Bandcamp
Justina Jaruševičiūtė – Wolf Hour
Inspired to write music for string quartet after attending a concert performance by the late, great, Jóhann Jóhannsson, rising young Berlin based composer Justina Jaruševičiūtė began recording her album Silhouettes between June and November at the amazingly sounding church Christuskirche Oberschöneweide in Berlin. A soul-stirring project and an evident demonstration of Jaruševičiūtė’s remarkable compositional skills, utilisng violins, viola and violoncello to create a work of light and shade, of beauty in the darkness.
“There is a reason why the album starts with a piece named Wolf Hour and ends with Sunrise”, explains the young composer. “The hour of the wolf is that time of the night in which people wake up without any particular reason and can’t fall back asleep. Last year, this happened to me numerous times, which allowed me to think about a lot of musical ideas while I waited on the sun to rise. To me, these ten compositions are like some kind of shadows, silhouettes of these sleepless nights”.
Amazonon – “Invisible Cities” release concert
Diversity and multiplicity are keywords for this inspired project spearheaded by Brazilian musician Juliano Abramovay. That’s intimated by the album title and group name: in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, an imaginary meeting between Marco Polo and Dzhengis Kahn symbolizes the coming together of east and west; and the word Amazonon refers both to Greek mythology and the Amazon rainforest.
Invisible Cities pairs him on classical guitar, oud, and fretless guitar with bass clarinetist Massimiliano Dosoli, double and electric bassist Daniel de Boer, percussionist Jacobus Thiele, and Chrysanti Gkika on lyra and soprano lyra (also known as the kemenche, the lyra’s a string instrument mainly found in Greece and Turkey). In addition to two pieces by the leader and one by Gkika, the album features compositions by Hermeto Pascoal, John Zorn, Ralph Towner, and Rabih Abou Khalil, the diversity of those names attesting to the range encompassed by the recording. Elements of jazz, folk, and chamber classical come together in a world music fusion that draws from Greece, Turkey, Brazil, and America. – via Textura
Fiona Monbet – Comme un blues
On her new album Maelström, Fiona Monbet considers herself as “violoniste, compositrice et cheffe d’orchestre” (violinist, composer and conductor). Ambitious and atmospheric, Maelström sees Monbet moving into pieces that play alongside a larger ensemble, giving her all kinds of expressive possibilities both as composer and as the lead soloist. The album explores her Franco-Irish roots, as well as re imagining Brazilian sounds, contemporary pop compositions and even a touch of Ravel. A sumptuous release.
Michelle Areyzaga and Dana Brown – Were I With Thee
Chicago Soprano Michelle Areyzaga and pianist Dana Brown deliver a fine new recording in Were I With Thee, showcasing a crystalline voice, masterful piano, and words penned by women and set by American composers. Focusing on on women authors from a variety of English- and Spanish-speaking countries, “Were I With Thee” is a line from the Emily Dickinson poem “Wild Nights – Wild Nights,” and this album contains three settings of that poem. The album continues to celebrate Dickinson, featuring cover art by Emily’s living relative Kandice Dickinson. These twelve works and twenty-six tracks include compositions from Gwyneth Walker, Patrice Michaels, Richard Pearson Thomas, Lee Hoiby, Wayland Rogers, John Duke, Edouard Lippé, and Leonard Bernstein.
Black Harmony – Don’t Let It Go To Your Head
Soul Jazz Records celebrate their 30 Years as a label dedicated to bringing the sounds of reggae, house, hip hop, punk rock, jazz, funk, bossa nova and soul to the world. Their latest compilation, Life Between Islands (Soundsystem Culture: Black Musical Expression in the UK 1973-2006) coincides with the launch of Tate Britain’s exhibition of the same name. This landmark exhibition explores the links between Caribbean and British art and culture from the 1950s to now. The Black British musical styles to emerge out of the distinctly Caribbean world of Soundsystems are a well established cultural phenomenon. Reggae festivals such as the Notting Hill Carnival have been a firm favourite amongst UK music lovers for decades and the artists included on this 20 track collection are a good representation of the variety of sounds that make up the Soundsystem experience.
Attacca Quartet – Flow My Tears (Lachrimae)
Mixing late 20th-century minimalism back onto the music of the Renaissance, the Grammy award-winning Attacca Quartet‘s most recent album Of All Joys was made during the COVID-19 pandemic. The title comes from Dowland’s Flow my tears (“And tears and sighs and groans my weary days / of all joys have deprived”). The quartet deliver performances that range from intense and explosive, to gentle, late-night ruminations spread across an album of deep introspection, perfectly aligned with current times.
Tarta Relena live for Eurosonic
Catalan duo Tarta Relena describe their music as “progressive Greorian”. With voices united in immaculate harmony, the duo take on everything from traditional Georgian song to a composition by 12th century Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen. Married with sparse electronic accompaniment, it is the vocal coupling that is truly on display. Their debut album Fiat Lux takes the listener on an archeological adventure, where a traditional Greek song nestles up to an adaptation of traditional poetry by Pashtun women from Afghanistan, which in turn sits harmoniously alongside a traditional Sephardic song. A truly unique and emotional musical force.
Ryan Daunt Trio – Essence
A graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts with a First-Class Honours Degree in Music, majoring in Jazz Performance, Australian drummer, educator, bandleader, and composer Ryan Daunt is, it goes without saying, a major talent. Hungry yet sophisticated, innovative yet constrained, there is a freshness to Daunt’s playing that is the driving force on his latest album release Essence. Over eleven original compositions written by Daunt and accompanied by Nick Abbey on bass and Tristan Wills on piano. A beguiling musical voice on the Australian jazz landscape, Ryan Daunt is a name to follow.
Fabiano do Nascimento – Ykytu
Ykytu means “wind” in the indigenous Brazilian Guarani language, and is also the title of guitarist Fabiano do Nascimento’s fourth album for Now-Again Records. A solo guitar album consisting of his own compositions, Ykytu follows folkloric Brasilian music, Brasilian jazz, bossa-nova and samba as experienced through the mind and able fingers of an expansive musician, this time in a minimalist, meditative manner. Performed almost entirely with a Strimon Timeline pedal, with a few loops and overdubs, the album is a self reflective escape from the restrictions of the pandemic lockdown during which it was recorded.