Tuesday, December 24, 2002


WARM SEASONS GREETINGS

to all NFE readers. COMING SOON (between now and 31 Jan 2003): the full latest index; Michael Tippett on the web; profiles of Joanna MacGregor and Patrick Moraz; new music dates for 2003; more web sources; post-Christmas blues sounds; reviews: Takemitsu, Torke, Tviett, Rouse, Akira Inoue, Henze, Nuorvala, Bjork. I hope I can get the archives working in the new year (with a little help from Blogger). Then I’ll be able to reduce the extent of posting on this main page and do a little pruning. Apologies for the download time, meanwhile. Best wishes and thanks for your support, SB.

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THE SOLID MENTAL GRACE OF 2002

Another extraordinary year for serious, joyous, energetically creative music in many different genres. Here I’ve chosen recordings that have made a big impression on me. I hesitate to talk of ‘best’, because that elevates one person’s judgement ludicrously. The great thing about music is that it can hit you in so many ways from so many different angles. And just as I put the last keystroke into this exciting collection of aural possibilities I remembered three that, in other circumstances, I couldn’t do without: the fourth volume of the Naxos complete orchestral works of Rodrigo series, Weather Report's 'Live and Unrealeased', and the new 3 CD set marking twenty years of avant-music magazine, The Wire. More about all those soon. Meanwhile, here are some weighty discs to check out, in no particular order:

Joanna McGregor, Neural Circuits (Sound Circus)
One of the most adventurous pianists on the ‘contemporary classical’ scene dances her fingers around Sawnhey, Part, Schnittke, Messiaen and African melody with the Britten Sinfonia and Ensemble Bash. www.soundcircus.com

Mark Anthony Turnage, Fractured Lines / Silent Cities (Chandos)
Four orchestral set-pieces for the BBC Symphony / Slatkin, with Evelyn Glennie and Pete Erskine excelling as soloists on ‘Fractured Lines’. [Turnage at Schott]

Threnody Ensemble, Timbre Hollow (All Tomorrow's Parties)
Remarkable apr├Ęs-Tortoise art music from the genre-defying new music kids on the block. They listen to the universe and play it back in miniature. www.threnodyensemble.com

Messiaen, Complete Organ Works (DG)
Olivier Latry sheds new light on the textural, eerie, multi-chordal aural universe that comprises Messiaen’s organ music.

The Necks, Hanging Gardens (Recommended)
The Australian piano, bass and keys trio traverse fresh territory in unexpected alt-jazz chamber music. www.thenecks.com

John Coltrane, A Love Supreme (Impulse)
The definitive studio and live edition of Coltrane’s burning, spiritual classic. The original masters are lost, but this still seers the soul. www.imulse.com

Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Yanqui U.X.O. (Constellation)
Godspeed! drone, deform, derange and crescendo their way towards a new world order in instrumental, post-rock soundscaping. www.brainwashed.com/godspeed/

Porcupine Tree, Metanoia (Delerium)
Never mind ‘In Absentia’ (though it’s not at all bad): these, vivid, twisted instrumental explorations are the real reason to get excited about the Tree. www.porcupinetree.com/

Bill Frisell, Rarum (ECM)
A superb 2-disc viewpoint on Frisell’s guitaristic alterity and FX spaciousness in a range of ECM settings. The definitive survey. [Bill Frisell on Songtone]

Harrison Birtwistle, Pulse Shadows (Tedec)
Evocative, dense and revealing settings of texts from Romanian-Jewish poet Paul Celan in nine songs and nine string quartet movements. [Birtwistle at Braunarts]

Messiaen, Vignt Regards Sur L'Enfant Jesus (Hyperion)
Virtuosity, poise, control, sweetness, mystery and ferocity characterise Steven Osbourne’s compelling take on this timelessly classic piano cycle.

Deirdre Cartwright, Precious Things (Blow the Fuse)
An extraordinary guitar talent with an unselfish, uncluttered, liquid technique and strong compositional and arranging skills. Deirdre Cartwright is the very spirit of jazz. www.blowthefuse.com

Sigur Ros, ( ) (Fat Cat)
Melting, pulsating instrumentation and shadowy, electronic scatting soothe us across the far-northern lights of an ambient planet. http://sigur-ros.com/

G.F. Handel, Arcadian Duets (Veritas)
Extraordinary singing and delicate chamber instrumentation lend these overlooked songs a vignette quality which can be lost when they are merged into an oratorio setting. http://gfhandel.org/

Michael Torke, Rapture / An American Abroad / Jasper (Naxos)
Post-minimalist percussive fireworks aided by Colin Currie in the Concerto and luscious, unapologetic Torkean tonality in ‘Jasper’ and ‘An American Abroad’. Part of the superb Naxos American Classics series. [Torke at Classical Net]

Bill Bruford's Earthworks, Footloose and Fancy Free (Discipline).
Acoustic surprises from the contemporary, drum-led jazz quartet who fizz and finesse in constantly unexpected directions, while moving ever closer to those post-bop roots. www.disciplineglobalmobile.com

John Scofield, Uberjam (Verve)
Scofield’s filigree guitar lines cross into new jazz, hip-hop, funk and pysch territory. This is the one he reckons Miles Davis would have really liked. Who can disagree? [Scofield Home Page]

Monteverdi, Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (Harmonia Mundi)
Stylish and crisp performances of Monteverdi’s 1638 collection of passionate, secular songs. Poets set include Petrarch, Rinnuccini and Tasso. The music is sonorous and revolutionary. [The Monteverdi Pages]

Martin Taylor, Solo (P3)
Along with ‘Artistry’, the fine jazz guitarist’s best lone workout. Musical sensitivity and unassuming (but jaw-dropping) technique make him among the most respected players of his era. www.martintaylor.com

Tommy Hamilton, Into the Silence (Spartacus)
Exquisitely atmospeheric, rubato sax quartet blend of standards, early chants, folk song and classics like John Coltane’s ‘Naima’.

Brian Ferneyhough, Works for Flute (Bridge)
Kolbeinn Bjarnason plays piccolo, flute and bass flute gloriously on this rich collection of deceptively (and relatively!) simple reflections from the doyen of twenty-first century maximalism. [Ferneyhough at editions-peters]

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BRUFORD BELIES THE BEAT

Album: ‘FOOTLOOSE AND FANCY FREE’
Artists: Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
CD: 15 April, 2002
Number of Discs: 2
Label: Discipline DGM0201


Deploying a set mostly culled from the band's two recent albums, 'The Sound Of Surprise' and 'A Part and Yet Apart', this live workout from Bill Bruford's Earthworks catches them in fine fettle at London's Pizza Express in summer 2001. (There is a matching DVD from a New York concert on the same tour with a substantially similar selection of material, plus a Bruford interview and discogragaphy.)

Additional pieces here include 'If Summer Had Its Ghosts', the title track from the album of the same name with Eddie Gomez and Ralph Towner, and 'Original Sin' from the Bruford-Levin Upper Extremities project. The ever-popular 'Bridge of Inhibition' (from the first Earthworks outing way back in 1987) is also included as an encore.

I was fortunate enough to attend the concerts from which this was recorded. It doesn't quite capture the energy of the front row, of course. But 'Footloose And Fancy Free' is, as you would expect, a high quality recording and a fitting rendition of the band that could almost give 'fusion' a good name. On this recording we are exempted the between-music patter, which means that we do not have to endure the leader's constant (unnecessary) apologies for past incursions in Yes and King Crimson. His jazz credentials are testified eloquently by the music, and his audience is broader than his past (in Britain at least), so why he needs to dig up that old turf is a mystery. It's as if he doesn't quite believe how far he's come himself.

If you haven't heard them for a few years, Earthworks as a unit have also moved well away from their earlier experimentations around Bruford's Simmons electronic chordal drum set, opting instead for a more orthodox acoustic quartet. Or perhaps that should be heterodox, for the quirky spirit of Django Bates and Iain Ballamy lives on even in their absence. This second line-up is angular, joyfully melodic in a non-obvious way, playfully polyrhythmic and deliberately transgressive of received musical categories.

Steve Hamilton on piano and Mark Hodgson on bass (brought in after an earlier dalliance with Geoff Gascoyne) pass muster as much by their ability to listen to and re-absorb musical ideas as by their prodigious playing talents. Patrick Clahar on sax, who features on this album, has now been replaced by Tim Garland, courtesy of Chick Corea and a thundering reputation on the burgeoning London jazz scene. He is bringing added compositional depth and material to an already powerful line-up. Clahar, as you will hear on ‘Footloose and Fancy Free’, is an extraordinary technician. But arguably he lacks an original sax voice. That could never be said of Garland.

One musician who doesn’t feature here, but who has played with Earthworks on past US and European tours, is guitarist Larry Coryell. It was never intended to be other than a passing gigging acquaintanceship, but it produced valuable, fresh angles on established compositions. Let's hope that Bruford and Coryell will release some highlights of this live collaboration in 2003.

Meanwhile, as ‘Footloose and Fancy Free’ demonstrates, Bill Bruford's own ever-maturing writing credits make him infinitely more than a drummer and percussionist. He is eager for us to realise this. And as he adds in the liner notes, "Being a performing artist doesn't mean being able to do it once perfectly in perfect conditions, rather it means being able to do it imperfectly in imperfect conditions night after night. That's when you polish the diamond." There is evidence of both the inspiration and the perspiration this implies on these CDs. And, yes, in spite of my comment on his apparent over-concern about those rock roots, he is right in his protestations. Forget 'prog': buy this.

EARTHWORKS UPDATE


Those who want to hear Earthworks first-hand will have an opportunity to do so early in 2003. Their website details further US and European dates, including a residency at Ronnie Scott's in London from 31 March. My own analysis of the embryonic second line up (captured late in their day on ‘Footloose and Fancy Free’, q.v. above) is linked to Bruford’s own reviews page and is hosted by Henry Potts.

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