Switched On – Detroit Love 3 mixed by Wajeed (Detroit Love / !K7)

What’s the story?

Carl Craig is building up some healthy momentum with his Detroit Love mix series. With Stacey Pullen and Craig himself having delivered techno-rich instalments, attention turns to Slum Village co-founder and Dirt Tech Reck label head Wajeed.

His is a very personal take on the city’s music, having grown up with its soul and hip hop, not to mention the rich house and techno tradition to which he has more recently moved. He describes his contribution as a selection of tracks ‘from a small group of my favourite contemporaries from Detroit and abroad’.

What’s the music like?

Pretty bouncy – at least from the start. Wajeed fires the starting gun with a couple of mid-tempo tracks with a spring in their step, 14KT’s We Out Chea and BlackloopsHigher.

Wajeed’s references to hip hop and jazz are subtle but lasting, making themselves known in Tall Black Guy’s Coffee Room before the mix heads for deeper territory with Patrice Scott and the cool vibes of The Detroit Upright.

With the mix settling into its groove quickly this is an ideal way into the evening, whether staying in or going out. If it’s the latter you will definitely benefit from Rocco Rodamaal’s Someday, a gospel-tinged number reworked by Brian Tappert rework, and from the rolling drums of Ninetoes’ Stand Up.

The sound perspective widens for D-Love Music’s Celestrial, a warm-hearted addition with its big brush strokes of spacey synths, which leads into Damon Bell’s Mermaid Blues, with persuasive vocal contribution from Camille Syfia. Roddy Rod’s Overbite has a strong bit of piano work and Matthew Law’s Minimariddim a good instinctive feel, stripping the textures back.

The bounce is back for Joss Moog’s persuasive 196, before the drums roll more for Teflon DonsGonna Tell Me. LADYMONIX gets some really good warehouse-style percussion for WhoRU, leading to the chopped up vocal of Harry Romero’s Revolution.
DJ Rimarkable’s I’m In Trouble has an excellent vocal, one of the stand-outs of the mix, and this paves the way for a closing duo of Lux’s groove The Set Up and Preslav & C. Scott with warm grooves to finish on Achey Breaky.

Does it all work?

Yes. Although Detroit Love is likely to be labelled as a techno series Wajeed proves there is going to be much more to it than that, with a commendable willingness to bring in the city’s other important forms of music commendable and definitely suited for the long term.

Is it recommended?

Yes. It will be interesting to see where Detroit Love goes next, for although we’ve had three volumes there are so many more musical back streets to navigate. Even if it heads for techno again there is a huge pool of more than able DJs from which to choose!

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Wigmore Mondays – Joanna MacGregor: Birds, Grounds, Chaconnes

Joanna MacGregor (above)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 11 November 2019 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here (opens in a new window)

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

Joanna MacGregor is a remarkably versatile pianist – and from this evidence at the Wigmore Hall, she is an artist who enjoys her music making as much as ever.

It would seem she was given free rein for this hour of music – and was certainly free as a bird in the opening selection of wing-themed pieces. Returning to earth for ‘Grounds’ – pieces of music with set, short structures in the bass – she was equally effusive, as well as ‘Chaconnes’, which are similar to ‘Grounds’ but based more on chord sequences than explicit basslines.

The 400 years or so of music started with a flourish. Rameau had a great ability to portray nature in music, and his Le rappel des oiseaux (The call of the birds) was a delight in its interaction between the hands. His contemporary, François Couperin, was represented by a strongly characterised Les fauvétes plaintives (The plaintive warblers), where MacGregor enjoyed the ornamentation of the right hand. That led to an arrangement of fellow countryman Messiaen’s Le merle noir (The black robin), originally for flute and piano but responding well here to its reduction, with quick fire block chords. Rameau’s portrait of La poule (The Hen) was brilliant, the clucking and strutting of the bird all too enjoyably evident.

Janáček’s piano music has an otherworldly quality of stark intimacy, and it does not get anywhere near the amount of recognition it deserves in the concert hall these days. Joanna MacGregor started her next segment of bird-themed pieces with the evocative piece The barn owl has not flown away. Taken from the first book of the Czech composer’s collection On an Overgrown Path, its haunting motifs fixed the listener in a gaze rather like the owl itself.

Birtwistle’s brief Oockooing Bird was next, a slightly mysterious creature in this performance, before a piano arrangement of Hossein Alizadeh’s Call of the Birds, normally heard in its original version for the duduk (an Armenian woodwind instrument) and the shurangiz (an Iranian member of the lute family). MacGregor is so good at inhabiting the authentic language of these pieces, and she did so here in concentrated fasion.

For the ‘Grounds’ section, who better to start with than Purcell? He was a natural with supposedly constricted forms like this, and the Ground in C minor teemed with activity in MacGregor’s hands, the right hand figures dancing attractively, The piece prepared the way nicely for Philip Glass’s repetitive but meditative Prophecies, arranged from his music to Koyaanisqatsi. This film soundtrack contains some of the composer’s finest music, and MacGregor showed how well it transcribes for piano, building to a bold and emphatic finish.

For the final section we moved onto ‘Chaconnes’, and looked back to the 16th century for the earliest piece in the program. Yet Byrd’s First Pavane still sounds modern in piano guise – Glenn Gould certainly thought so – and Joanna MacGregor gave an extremely spirited and buoyant account. Glass appeared once more – this time the interlude Knee Play no.4 from his opera Einstein on the Beach – before the substantial Chaconne in F minor from Pachelbel, heard here on the piano instead of its ‘home’ instrument, the organ.

How refreshing not to hear the composer’s Canon, much-loved as it is – for Pachelbel is much more than merely a composer of that particular piece. MacGregor found the profound emotional centre, darkly coloured in the minor key – and with that came an impressive inner resolve.

For an encore we were introduced to the eleventh composer of the day through a spirited account of the Passacaglia from Handel’s Harpsichord Suite no.7 in G minor. It contained all the enthusiasm and melodic definition that made this hour in the company of Joanna MacGregor such a joy.

Repertoire

This concert contained the following music (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Rameau Le rappel des osieaux (pub. 1724) (2:21)
François Couperin Les fauvétes plaintives (pub. 1722) (5:27)
Messiaen Le merle noir (1951/1985) (9:05)
Rameau La poule (pub. 1729) (11:02)
Janáček The barn owl has not flown away (from On an Overgrown Path, Book 1) (1900-11) (15:36)
Birtwistle Oockooing Bird (2000) (19:39)
Hossein Alizadeh Call of the Birds (2003) (22:08)
Purcell (1659-1695) Ground in C minor Z221 (unknown) (27:31)
Glass Prophecies (from Koyaanisqatsi) (1982) (30:34)
Byrd First Pavane (from My Ladye Nevells Booke) (pub. 1591) (36:25)
Glass arr. Paul Barnes Knee Play No 4 (from Einstein on the Beach, from Trilogy Sonata) (1976) (40:44)
Pachelbel (1653-1706) Chaconne in F minor (unknown) (44:19)
Encore
Handel Passacaglia from Harpsichord Suite no.7 in G minor (52:33)

Further listening

Joanna MacGregor has yet to record most of the music in this concert, but the following playlist contains most of the music listed above:

Portrayals of birds in classical music are far reaching, but few managed them better than Haydn in the 18th century. His Symphony no.83 in G minor, La Poule (The Hen) begins this playlist containing 100 minutes of bird-themed music. It includes Respighi’s exotic suite The Birds, Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and – perhaps inevitably – Vaughan Williams’ timeless The Lark Ascending:

For the most recommendable version of Janáček’s complete piano music, here is Rudolf Firkušný in both books of the evocative pieces On An Overgrown Path, ideal listening for this time of year:

For a good onward example of Joanna MacGregor’s art on the solo piano, her 2003 album Play is highly recommended, taking an open approach similar to this concert:

Live review – Soloists, CBSO and Chorus / Kazuki Yamada – Mendelssohn’s Elijah

Keri Fuge (soprano), Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano), Robert Murray (tenor), Matthew Brook (baritone), CBSO Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Kazuki Yamada (above)

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 7 November 2019

Mendelssohn
Elijah Op.70 (1846)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Although 173 years have passed since it first echoed around the Town Hall, Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah remains synonymous with Birmingham’s cultural tradition. Performances may be fewer than in its 19th-century heyday but there have been memorable ones – not least that in 1989 with Raphael Frühbeck de Burgos, for whom this piece was a speciality – and tonight saw a memorable account by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra‘s principal guest conductor Kazuki Yamada, who duly banished any notions of this being a mid-Victorian period piece.

Whatever his failings on a broader aesthetic level, Mendelssohn was nothing if not creatively pragmatic when it came to a big occasion, and Elijah accordingly fulfilled its remit. Whereas the composer’s earlier oratorio St Paul had given notice of his abiding interest in the Passions of Bach, here he drew on the exemplar of those biblical epics through which Handel shaped English musical taste over the ensuing 150 years; enhanced by the rhythmic poise of Mozart and the harmonic subtleties of Beethoven to result in music wholly representative of its era.

Structured in two parts of almost equal duration, Elijah charts the trials of its eponymous hero as he draws the Israelites away from the pagan enticements of Baal and back to the true faith before himself ascending on a fiery chariot to Heaven. Julius Schubring‘s text (as sung in the idiomatic translation by William Bartholomew) fashions out of Kings and associated biblical sources a framework whose emotional rhetoric is balanced by a keen underlying momentum and unfailing sense of when to open-out the narrative to allow for more intimate expression.

The score implies eight soloists, but the four on hand (the brief role of ‘The Boy’ affectingly taken by chorus soprano Ella McNamee) proved more than able. As Elijah, Matthew Brook conveyed the anguish and the ecstasy of his part with unwavering assurance, while Robert Murray overcame initial strain to give commanding portrayals of his advocate Obadiah and detractor Ahab. Keri Fuge brought due pathos to the Widow, with Karen Cargill eloquent as the Angel – having stolen the show as the Queen who vents her wrath in unequivocal terms.

As with most of its forerunners, of course, Elijah is defined by a choral contribution in which the CBSO Chorus was not found wanting. Having recently sung the work with Yamada (and these soloists) in Monte Carlo, it conveyed the anger and supplication of the forsaken People with audible conviction, while being no less assured in those intricate choral items by which Mendelssohn frames and punctuates the drama. If choral numbers were appreciably less than the composer might have expected, then this was undoubtedly a case of less equalling more.

Neither should there have been any surprise as to the degree of Yamada’s identity with this music. Japan has produced notable exponents of Mendelssohn’s oratorios, with the present conductor evidently following in their wake. If those choruses ending each half summoned not quite the intensity evinced by Frühbeck all those years ago, the clarity and incisiveness he drew from both chorus and orchestra was hardly to be gainsaid – so setting the seal on a memorable reading of a work sure to wear its Birmingham credentials well into the future.

Listen

(Ben Hogwood writes…) Among the many available versions of Mendelssohn’s great oratorio, sadly none of these appear to yet include the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – though one wonders if an extension to their Mendelssohn in Birmingham series will be forthcoming under Edward Gardner.

Spotify does however have a recent recording of Elijah from the Gabrieli Consort & Players under the direction of Paul McCreesh, with Robert Murray once again in the roles of Obadiah and Ahab. The organ itself was recorded in Birmingham Town Hall:

Switched On – R Plus: The Last Summer (Loaded Records)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

When R Plus released singles Summer Dress and Those Were The Days in an undercover style earlier in the year there was a lot of chat as to who could be behind the music. Now R Plus has been revealed as a close relative of Faithless.

Key to the project is Rollo Armstrong but his sister Dido also plays a key role, having worked on the project alongside her recent album.

What’s the music like?

Some of the productions are Rollo on his own and are essentially down-tempo Faithless, sitting by the pool rather than heading towards the dancefloor, as they undoubtedly would have done with the edge of Maxi Jazz‘s vocal.

Dido’s vocal contributions work really well here, complementing the synths on the likes of the woozy Summer Dress and Cards. Landing and Together make a classy pair at the start, while Those Were The Days is top notch Rollo, a Balearic winner that is the equal of any of his solo projects over the last 25 years.

The dividing track will probably be Ozzie Girl, its tale of a holiday ‘romance’ vividly evocative of a summer holiday but not to everyone’s tastes.

Does it all work?

At times there could be more of an edge to the music, which does occasionally enjoy its comfort zone a little too much. Generally however The Last Summer is a success, Rollo’s honed production skills and instincts delivering a strong sunshine album.

Is it recommended?

A qualified recommendation. Faithless fans will enjoy its curiosity value and the effectiveness of the songs, not to mention the heat-soaked instrumentals. This is certainly music Rollo can make with ease, and it would be good in the future to see him really pushing his undoubted talents further once again.

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Switched On – Steve Hauschildt: Nonlin (Ghostly International)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Chicago-based Steve Hauschildt is in a rich vein of musical form at the moment, and follows up last year’s Dissolvi album with Nonlin, his second for the Ghostly label. The ex-Emeralds member has been recording while on tour, drawing from varied climates and cultural hubs such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Tbilisi and Brussels.

Hauschildt’s Bandcamp page describes his integration of ‘modular and granular synthesis’, and a technique of recording that plots grid-like backdrops, with subtle melodic loops, and treble lines that are relatively free to improvise.

What’s the music like?

This combination of a relatively rigid order for the background and free melodic presence in the foreground is effective throughout Nonlin, which manages to be both relaxing and stimulating at the same time.

Hauschildt eases us in with the soft and slightly moody outlook of Cloudloss and Subtractive Skies, which pulse with shimmering loops while evoking the bigger spaces their titles imply.

As the album progresses so we hear more the beats and the sharper edges of the producer’s analogue gear. Attractor B has depth to its beats while Nonlin itself is machine like, with busy patterns and noises. Reverse Culture Music has a nice poise, Hauschildt using twinkling motifs up top and broad notes and sounds to create the space below. The last two tracks, The Spring in Chartreuse and American Spiral, are more obviously techno-based, the latter starting serenely but gradually twisting its lines.

Does it all work?

Yes. Hauschildt is a reliable source of quality, easy to listen to but never standing still either.

Is it recommended?

Yes, for the point above. Hauschildt’s body of work has no duds – and Nonlin is another extremely solid addition to the canon.

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