REVIEW: ‘What?’ – What?

FOR AN IMPROVISATORY PROJECT, the title What? perhaps poses the ultimate open-ended question. In earlier recordings on The 52nd imprint – including The Science of Snow, The Lightning Bell and Each Edge of the Field – guitarist/pianist Charlie Beresford and cellist Sonia Hammond proved adept in summoning musical vibrations from the rural landscapes of the Welsh Marches in which they dwell, inviting us, the audience, to creatively interact.

Though again recorded in their familiar surroundings of Hammond’s old schoolhouse in Radnorshire, this time the possibilities are significantly expanded with the trumpet/flugelhorn of Gerry Gold and various instrumentation from Rod Paton – primarily piano and French horn.

There’s a perennial wonder in the way that, across genres, composers painstakingly craft classic works which stay with us all our lives. But fascinating, too, is the ability of improvising musicians to begin and develop a ‘conversation’ which, moments earlier, had not existed. Somehow, too, the freshness of discovery in listening remains, influenced by our environment or mood – interpretation is certainly a personal, sometimes involuntarily emotional experience.

Heard at Eastertide (around the time of the album’s release), What? can tangibly express both torment and hope; in the dead of night, there’s a different feel, with every nuance more sharply focused; under springtime-azure skies, animation and whimsy unfold. Whatever you find, thanks to the perception and musicality within this quartet, there’s a profound connectedness which never falters.

Just five tracks across almost an hour echo the expanses of Stow Hill’s ‘trig point’ location seen in the monochrome sleeve imagery, and the combinations of timbres can be teasingly ambiguous. De-liberation’s cagey chitchat between horns, guitar and cello evolves into a playful, if tentative discussion, while the midway piano entry paints pointillistic splashes as well as providing romantic sustenance and structure. Fragile wooden-flute murmurs and chinking percussion in Hill suggest folkloric mystery, belying the rumbustious dances to follow; and Paton’s piano again brings a more tonal stability. Over twenty minutes or so, Wolf’s winding, sprawling route is waymarked with beauty – howling French horn, jangling ‘prepared’ strings, reeling piano and cello; and here, the quartet’s intuition feels particularly strong. There’s even a charming, homey coda reminiscent of the early output of once (relatively) nearby resident Mike Oldfield – tender and pretty.

Horn yelps, angular melodica and percussive guitar and cello in Is imply inhospitable weather, accentuated by droplet piano and dramatic ostinati before gathering a rhythmic, Kurt Weillian jauntiness (amidst so many other acoustically-achieved effects). To close, Beresford’s elegant guitar improv in Ask Me Now is complemented by shadowy, elongated voice and cello phrases, culminating in ‘symphonic’ torrents as the piano’s precipitation gently ceases.

Improvisation such as this requires a listener’s total participation… which I find endlessly mind-expanding and rewarding. Music of pure imagination to ‘take us outside’, What? feels like this label’s most absorbing collaboration to date.

Released on 31 March 2020 and available as digital download or limited edition CD at Bandcamp.


Charlie Beresford
 acoustic guitar
Gerry Gold trumpet, flugelhorn
Sonia Hammond cello
Rod Paton piano, French horn, melodica, voice

the52nd.com
beresfordhammond.com

The 52nd – 52NDCD007 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Circle of Chimes’ – Marius Neset

MariusNeset_Circle

SAXOPHONIST and composer Marius Neset’s kaleidoscopic music increasingly fills mind and soul with that ‘kid in a sweet shop’ thrill, the senses bombarded with a dizzying array of timbres and rhythms to assimilate.

Following 2016’s acclaimed, orchestrally-focused Snowmelt, Neset returns to an ensemble more closely aligned with its predecessor Pinball for new album Circle of Chimes. The familiar names of pianist Ivo Neame, vibraphonist Jim Hart, double bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Anton Eger are again joined by flautist Ingrid Neset and cellist Andreas Brantelid, whilst the inclusion of guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke adds a new compositional and improvisational dimension, imbuing Neset’s Scandinavian folk characteristics with attractive African hues.

A New Year’s Day commission premiered at Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne, in 2016, Neset describes this 78-minute suite as the darkest, most melancholic music he has created – yet amongst those emotions, his innate, breathless exuberance is never far away. The tubular bell chimes of Satellite (whose fluctuating rhythmic peals the saxophonist experimented with at length, at the piano) ‘ring in the new’, its brooding cello emotion encircled by a passed-around melodic riff redolent of Tallis’ Canon. It’s the first sign of an octet working as one to express a huge, romantically cinematic landscape, segueing into Star which bounces and rebounds to a typically ecstatic folk tune, with Eger’s engine-room clamour driving its disco groove. Neset does well to engineer and contain the ferocity, bringing his electronically-charged tenor down to lyrical pools of cello, piano and soft African enunciations.

There’s a sense of progression, as if the year unfolds with fresh experiences – so funky A New Expression struts assuredly to Neset’s boppy improv (it can only be Neset) plus Loueke’s scratchy, synthesised fretwork and accompanying scat; and soprano sax in classically-inspired Prague’s Ballet dances delicately across pizzicato cello and featherweight marimba. Life Goes On tumbles – nay, somersaults – to Marius Neset’s melodica signature-tune positivity, a sign of Spring in the air as its jazz-orchestra cheerfulness (enhanced by Ingrid Neset’s lithe flute) is gatecrashed by percussion-fuelled vibraphone and pleasantly abrasive guitar chords. Perhaps its the West African influence which sparks such variety, Sirens of Cologne whirling to intoxicating samba grooves, deep vocal resonances, flutey songbirds – a full-on celebration.

Going right back to his 2011 release Golden Xplosion, as well as duo album Neck of the Woods with tubist Daniel Herskedal, Neset has always had a feel for an otherworldliness – and tenor feature Silent Room imagines lofty arches with its suspended sax lines and sensitive bass, piano and vibes support as it spirals into the heavens. At close on twelve minutes, 1994 almost needs separating from the pack to appreciate its fullness as it mesmerises with episodic vibrancy; and the saxophonist’s distinctive solo ‘hiccups’ announce ebullient Eclipse which brings the album’s opening chants and time-evocative carillons full circle.

Neset conceives such incredibly elaborate stories that they can sometimes be overwhelming to take in at one hearing – but Circle of Chimes becomes a joy as that intricate weave is gradually understood.

Released on 29 September and available from ACT Music, iTunes, Amazon, etc.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, melodica
Lionel Loueke guitar, vocals
Andreas Brantelid cello
Ingrid Neset flute, piccolo, alto flute
Ivo Neame piano
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba, percussion
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9038-2 (2017)

REVIEW: ‘Guris’ – Jovino Santos Neto & André Mehmari, with Hermeto Pascoal

ArtiosCAD Plot

SUCH INFECTIOUS JOY flows from this exhilarating duo release from Brazilian pianists Jovino Santos Neto and André Mehmari as they celebrate the uniqueness of – and invite as guest – influential composer and musician Hermeto Pascoal on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.

Recorded at André Mehmari’s capacious new studio in the hills above São Paulo, the thirteen tracks of Guris were, quite astoundingly, captured over two days without rehearsal; spontaneous interpretations of selections mostly garnered from Pascoal’s prolific output. Indeed, the apparent warmth of the experience is expressed through the opening lines of the album’s sleeve notes: ‘This music contains raindrops falling in the forest, laughter, delicious food and coffee, reverence for a true musical master, instant discovery of an ancient friendship, one hundred and seventy-six keys, two pianos joined together…”

There’s always a risk that head-to-head piano collaborations might become endlessly bombastic or over-saturated. But, across these sixty-seven minutes, Santos Neto and Mehmari become one, elegantly balancing fervour, delicacy and space so that their creativity becomes intertwined – so much so that even the players themselves are unable to separate their own voices in these resulting, amiable conversations in music! And the soundscapes are beautifully varied, enhanced by melodica, flute, harmonium, Fender Rhodes and bandolim.

A sunshiny, South American vibe is instantly recognisable – from the animated, melodic swagger of Pascoal’s Samba Do Belaqua to Santos Neto’s own Tambô d’Oshó, crammed with syncopated chordal verve, impossibly crossing triplets and rippling improvisations. But then, as dappled light through the treetops, Bailando Com Cerveja‘s Bachian openness charms, as does affecting slow piano waltz Certeza (Certainty), the emotional weight of Santos Neto’s melodica perhaps channelling Joe Zawinul (this piece written upon the realisation of Jaco Pastorius’ passing). And both pianists pictorialise so well a gradual avian migration in Andorinhas (Swallows), their abstract chatterings becoming more elongated and structured towards distant horizons.

The resonant, breathy flute of Santos Neto is a feature of André Mehmari’s romantic Baião Da Sorte – a joyous, theme-tune-like outing of memorable phrases and delightful interplay; and the composer’s crisp bandolim tones in Pro Hermeto (written and dedicated to the great man by a fourteen-year-old Mehmari) are complemented by Santos Neto’s chromatic flourishes. The pianists’ intuitive, shared response to two of Pascoal’s festal pieces, Dois Santos and Jorge E Antonio, is breathtakingly magical (stand-outs, if one could choose); and Acordando Com Os Acordes‘ brash, symphonic origins (with shades of Bartók) are superbly and angularly realised.

In wistful harmonium tune Igrejinha (Little Church) and impetuous baião Jovino Em Realengo, Hermeto Pascoal’s eccentric croonings, sputterings and gurglings through a water-filled kettle are unexpected, yet they somehow confirm the affectionate and adventurous bond between these musicians; and an unstoppable, scurrying Fender Rhodes momentum in title track Guris (Boys) captures the unquenchable spirit of Pascoal (Hermeto’s own melodica solo in Aquela Valsa is also typically effusive!).

There are so many treasures which can unfold from this absorbing session as it finds its way to your heart; and personally speaking, it currently seems to be lodged right there.

Released on 21 July 2017, and beautifully presented as a CD with background notes to each track, Guris is available from Amazon and other retailers.

 

Jovino Santos Neto piano, melodica, flute
André Mehmari piano, harmonium, Fender Rhodes, bandolim
with special guest
Hermeto Pascoal teakettle, melodica

jovisan.net

Adventure Music – AM11082 (2017)

‘Music for a While’ – L’Arpeggiata

LArpeggiata

JUST AS A LOVER of a much-treasured novel approaches a big screen adaptation with a combination of nervousness and excitement, so it was for me with this fascinating new release of Henry Purcell interpretations and improvisations. For many years, it has intrigued me how the works of a celebrated English composer active some three hundred years ago can, today, maintain their resonance and their power to move – and this is exactly the approach taken here in this new release, Music for a While, by Christina Pluhar’s L’Arpeggiata.

As a keen ‘Purcellian’, then – owning many fine recordings by such consummate performers as The King’s Consort with James Bowman, Susan Gritton et al (Hyperion), and William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants (Erato) – I was keen to discover these cross-genre re-imaginings of familiar classical pieces… and what a revelation!

Amongst Mr Purcell’s many compositional techniques was the ‘ground bass’ – a repeating bass structure over which he magically wove the most beautiful and varied melodies (often requiring detailed examination to believe that the same, recurring bass line is employed throughout). For instance (although not from this collection), the countertenor solo of Be welcome then, great Sir (from Purcell’s welcome song for Charles II, Fly, bold rebellion) is later elaborated, at length, over the same three-bar ground bass with the most ravishing orchestral ritornello. It would therefore, I suggest, be perfectly possible that this composer of great choral and theatrical masterpieces (as well as secular and even bawdy drinking songs) might be enthusiastically open to such improvisation and invention. So, with theorbo, archlute and cornet à bouquet, amongst many others, and a fine ensemble of players and choral soloists (whose styles range from period to contemporary), L’Arpeggiata set out to interpret Purcell with inflections of jazz, world and even pop, but with remarkable integrity.

A perfect example of the success of this project is Strike the viol (from the Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, Come ye sons of art away). The already melodious and dance-like brilliance of Purcell’s original, illustrating the soprano’s words ‘Strike the viol, touch the lute, wake the harp, inspire the flute’, are given the most glorious rhythmic guitar and percussion treatment, along with the excitement of trumpet, electric guitar, wailing clarinet and ’60s ‘light my fire’ organ! The transcendent Evening hymn is inventively transformed into a soft ballad with limpid piano over homely guitar and shimmering percussion – and whilst the crescendoing instrumental doesn’t quite hold the simple sacred reverence that Purcell intended, the bluesy piano and guitar here pleasingly demonstrate the improvisatory possibilities of these 17th/18th Century gems. ‘Twas within a furlong takes on a folksy, bluegrass feel, the animated words illuminated by shuffling percussion and mellow-but-lithe electric guitar; and the rhythmic vocal of Wondrous machine (from Hail! bright Cecilia) sounds positively contemporary alongside pulsating tom-toms and jazz-infused bass, guitar, trumpet and clarinet.

The sublime and perhaps more well-known character of Purcell’s output is sensitively portrayed in delicate, yet modern readings of Music for a while (a beautifully constructed jazz clarinet-led version with walking bass) and When I am laid in earth, which maintains its irrefutable and poignant beauty via weightless percussion, piano and guitar supporting a beauteous soprano voice (I recall Sir Michael Tippett being so affected with Purcell’s musical longing of “ReMEMber me”). And so the album continues, with attractive and often surprising reworkings of these great compositions.

Bonus track, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, seems a little incongruous (unless it’s because I have never connected with this much-covered song, or don’t understand its relevance here). Perhaps I anticipated a ‘reversal’, with a very tight Purcellian treatment of this familiar late 20th Century hit – however, it is executed with the same attention to detail as the other sixteen tracks, and it could never detract from the overall ingenuity of this release.

It is difficult to second-guess the audience for Christina Pluhar’s visionary project – but, as a confirmed ‘Purcell purist’, I am suitably impressed, finding myself listening over and over to its intelligent, compelling beauty. ‘Music for a while’ is released on 10 March 2014, available from Erato (Warner Classics) and all good jazz and classical specialists. A UK performance at London’s Wigmore Hall is scheduled for 10 July. Catch the preview video excitement here.


Philippe Jaroussky
countertenor
Raquel Andueza soprano
Vincenzo Capezzuto alto
Dominique Visse countertenor

L’ARPEGGIATA
Christina Pluhar theorbo
Doron Sherwin cornet à bouquet
Veronika Skuplik baroque violin
Julien Martin, Marine Sablonnière recorder
Eero Palviainen archlute, baroque guitar
Marcello Vitale baroque guitar, chitarra battente
Sarah Ridy baroque harp
David Mayoral, Sergey Saprichev, Michèle Claude percussion
Boris Schmidt double bass
Haru Kitamika harpsichord, organ
Francesco Turrisi piano, harpsichord, organ, melodica

Special guests
Gianluigi Trovesi clarinet
Wolfgang Muthspiel acoustic guitar and electric guitar

Christina Pluhar director

Erato (Warner Classics) – 08256 463375 0 7 (2014)