On Record – MF Robots: Break The Wall (BBE)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

MF Robots is the continuation of a prestigious family tree in British soul and funk music. The new project is spearheaded by Jan Kincaid and Dawn Joseph, who were once part of the Brand New Heavies. Jan, a founding member and part of the group since 1985, found that when he and Joseph started working together they were instantly musically compatible. Drawn to the new project, they wasted no time in building a substantial group together.

There has never been an explicit desire to deviate greatly from their roots, the group’s Bandcamp page professing a continued love of 1970s and 1980s American rhythm sections while recognising the importance of their part in Acid Jazz with the Heavies in the early 1990s. MF Robots, though, is a move towards a more improvised and instinctive way of working, collaborating with a number of illustrious guests.

The group is completed by keyboard player Alex Montaque, bass player Naz Adamson, guitarist Mark Beaney, Jack Birchwood on trumpet and Ben Treacher on saxophone. The guests include bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, who has session work with David Bowie and Lenny Kravitz under her belt, and guitarist Cory Wong, a solo artist and member of the Vulfpeck collective.

What’s the music like?

MF Robots are like an Indian summer. Their approach is incredibly fresh, their grooves and rhythms straight off the page and with a whole set of brilliant songs to offer. The chemistry between players is evident, but the song is always the winner. In the best tracks we get a good song and an excellent instrumental section, with extended grooves like Crazy Life hitting the spot consistently.

That track is a faster number and is immediately complemented by the slower funk of Gold, beautifully sung by Kincaid with an easy, natural groove and punctuation from the brass of Birchwood and Treacher.

The band’s early songs, over a year old now, sound brilliant in the context of the album. Mother Funkin’ Robots is a celebration of their funk heritage, with some seriously taught grooves, while the extended version of Happy Song leans provocatively towards the sounds of Masters At Work. Good People has a radio friendly chorus that the likes of Trevor Nelson have been quick to exploit, while the breezy Make Me Happy has immediate sunshine appeal. Brand New Day is another singalong number, while Foster adds a really nice touch to songs like The Love It Takes and You, ‘walkin’ the walk with your head in the clouds’ rather beautifully.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. The band do pay an obvious homage to the music of their immediate past, but their own musical instincts and personalities shine through in a set of fresh, upbeat and celebratory songs. If you want to sing and dance with considerably less cares in the world than you currently have, then this is the place to come!

Is it recommended?

It certainly is. Break The Wall hangs together effortlessly, a stream of rhythmic consciousness and good feelings that manifest themselves into some excellent songs. MF Robots are an outfit to keep tabs on, for sure.

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On record – Nino Rota: Chamber Music (Éric Le Sage, Emmanuel Pahud & friends) (Alpha)

rota-alpha

Nino Rota
Trio for flute, violin and piano (1958)
Valzer Sul Nome Bach (1975)
Piccola Offerta Musicale (1943)
Nonetto (1959-1974)
Trio for cello, clarinet and piano (1973)
Prelude XIII; Prelude II (from 15 Preludes) (1964)

Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Eric Le Sage (piano), Daishin Kashimoto (violin), Paul Meyer (clarinet), François Meyer (oboe), Gilbert Audin (bassoon), Benoît de Barsony (horn), Joaquín Riquelme García (viola), Claudio Bohórquez (cello), Aurélien Pascal (cello), Olivier Thiery (double bass), 

Alpha ALPHA746 [62’25”]

Producer and Engineer Jean-Marc Laisné

Recorded 6-7 August 2020 at La Courroie, Entraigues-sur-la-Sorgue, France

Written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Nino Rota might be best known for his film scores, but a cursory exploration of his output reveals a whole lot more to his make-up. Most collections of his music tend to explore the orchestral works, which makes this release from Alpha of the chamber music even more gratifying. Their chosen selection ranges from works for one player (some of Rota’s small output for piano) to the substantial Nonet, a work which occupied the composer for more than two decades. The recordings were made by a group of illustrious soloists, headed by flautist Emmanuel Pahud and pianist Eric Le Sage.

What’s the music like?

The programme chosen here offers a very satisfying portrait of Rota the composer, and in particular the breadth of his work.

The Nonet is the principal piece, a substantial work at nearly half an hour in length. It is written for the same combination of nine instruments used by Martinů in his Nonet – flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

Complementing this are two trios of roughly similar size. The Trio for flute, violin and piano of 1958 has a lively and unexpectedly driven first movement, initially surprising in its density but revealing a tender underside. The second movement takes more time for thought but soon the energy is back for a quick third movement, like the first two with some attractive tune-making.

The Trio for clarinet, cello and piano dates from 15 years earlier. I am surprised this combination of instruments hasn’t proved more popular since Beethoven, and this piece enjoys the interweaving of colours. The second theme in the march-like first movement is particularly attractive, with Russian flavouring to these ears. It is followed by an eloquent slow movement and a playful finale which trips along mischievously.

The short pieces here are rather lovely, none more so than the Piccola Offerta Musicale, written to mark the 60th birthday of Alfredo Casella in 1943. An attractive piece with a fountain of ideas, it is beautifully coloured and moves from slow, relatively sombre thoughts to bubbly exchanges.

Finally Eric Le Sage adds some excerpts from Rota’s small body of work for piano – two perky Valzer Sul Nome Bach, playing with Bach’s name in musical form (B – A – C – H (B flat) and two of the Fifteen Preludes from 1964. A graceful Prelude XIII and contemplative Prelude II provide a thoughtful postscript to the collection.

Does it all work?

Yes. The programming is ideal, and Rota’s colour combinations are consistently appealing, as is his ability to write a number of good tunes. His engaging development of them shows his ability as a composer of music in a more serious format, though it has to be said there is nothing staid at all about these works, happily!

Is it recommended?

It is, enthusiastically. Rota’s music is full of positive energy and lyricism, but it has depth too. The performances are all excellent, and contribute to the appeal of a disc which stands up really well to repeated listening. A fine achievement filling a gap in the repertoire that has been there all too long.

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You can discover more about this release at the Outhere website, where you can also purchase the recording.

Switched On – Various Artists: Total 21 (Kompakt)

total-kompakt-21

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Kompakt’s annual compilation series rolls on, but on hitting the coming of age number the Cologne label have decided to put it on a diet. Slimmed down to a single disc / four sides of vinyl, it is a leaner beast but still packs in 13 tracks that cast the net across the label’s output.

Seasoned Kompakt regulars such as John Tejada, Jürgen Paape, Voigt & Voigt, Gui Boratto and label founder Michael Mayer rub shoulders with new talent to these pages – Kollmorgen, The Bionaut and Nicky Elisabeth.

What’s the music like?

Kompakt’s approach to techno is always pleasingly varied, and this set of tracks spreads itself nicely across the tempo and emotional spectrum. It doesn’t take long for us to be transported to warmer climes in the company of Jürgen Paape, whose La Guitarra Romantica is dreamy and exotic. The same words could apply to Roman Flügel’s remix of Nicky Elisabeth’s Celeste, though in truth this is a magical piece of work, beautifully floated above the deep beats.

“I Am A Dancer!”, proclaims the track from Marc Romboy & C.A.R. of the same name, an assertive piece of work shaking its booty from the off, while Jonathan Kaspar’s Von Draussen also hits the tougher spot with its rolling drum track. John Tejada contributes some typically thoughtful and nicely woven techno on Spectral Progressions, while Voigt & Voigt do similar with darker shades on Nicht Mein Job.

Michael Mayer’s contribution Happy plays around with spatial effects rather well, as does Sascha Funke’s Fasson, working in a nice broken beat and airy synths for good measure.

Does it all work?

It does. The decision to slim down to a CD’s worth of tracks pays off – not that the previous Total series instalments were overlong – but it works well because it brings the focus in to some really good compositions. The Kompakt catalogue is still in good shape, it would seem!

Is it recommended?

It is indeed. One for the seasoned Kompakt fans, but also an effective introduction to the label if you’re late to their recent output.

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Switched On – Park Hye Jin: Before I Die (Ninja Tune)

park-hye-jin

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Park Hye Jin releases her first album on Ninja Tune, the culmination of a whirlwind couple of years for the South Korean. Now based in Los Angeles, she has built up a strong reputation for original electronic music through collaborations with Blood Orange, Nosaj Thing and Clams Casino & Take A Daytrip – their track Y Don’t U being especially successful.

Perhaps her biggest calling card yet however is the track Like this, caught by BBC Radio 1 and 6 Music and chosen for the soundtrack of FIFA 2021. It is one of the many reasons Before I Die is so highly anticipated.

What’s the music like?

Extremely varied. Pigeon holes don’t exist with Park Hye Jin around, for she can effortlessly turn her hand to so many styles, reflecting the human condition through a wide range of moods. While that might sound like a lazy observation, few artists can rise to this challenge with such infectious confidence.

She moves from the deadpan rap of Never Give Up to the direct come-on of Can I Get Your Number, from down tempo R&B numbers like the slightly warped Sunday ASAP to big dancefloor gunners such as Hey, Hey, Hey. Sometimes the lyrics involve straight-to-camera honesty, like I Need You, which is dressed with an old-style piano and briefly drenched in nostalgia.

This direct approach runs through the album, which is highly entertaining, often funny, sometimes tender – but almost always hitting the mark with its sharp riffing and clever beatmaking.

Does it all work?

It does. Before I Die is over in a flash, with many of the tracks well under three minutes – showing Hye Jin’s ‘all killer and no filler’ approach, which works really well. In the course of the 15 episodes you really feel like you get to know her as a person, what makes her tick and what pisses her off, and to end with the level-headed i jus wanna be happy is right on the money.

Is it recommended?

It is. Park Hye Jin’s original approach takes dance music back to its first principles, working through an often thrilling range of beats and emotions. She is without question an artist to watch.

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On Record – Oliver Patrice Weder: The Pool Project (SA Recordings)

oliver-patrice-weder

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

It is helpful to know where The Pool Project was recorded. Oliver Patrice Weder, a Swiss composer residing in Spain, recorded the album with friends in a pool house, surrounded by an evergreen oak tree forest, just outside of Madrid.

Weder has an intriguing musical history, channeling his love for The Doors‘ keyboard-based work into more classical and jazz-orientated work. Keeping this open musical policy, he sketched the music for The Pool Project in this restful area, before bringing friends in to contribute. The instrumentation speaks more of jazz, including voices, alto flute, bass clarinet and percussion, with Weder himself providing keyboards and electronics.

Weder’s own company Spitfire Audio are simultaneously releasing a sound library, giving composers and producers the opportunity to manipulate the sounds from the album for their own purposes. The toolkit offers an extension of these sounds, capturing the acoustics of the pool house, and is offered as an easy-to-use plug-in.

What’s the music like?

As restful as can be. The lapping of the water and the soft, Satie-like piano loop used in Rainbow Fish are indications of the pace at which Weder is going to operate. Satie is a good point of reference, for this piece operates along the line and rhythmic cadence of his Gymnopédies, developing its ideas subtly.

Weder uses imaginative orchestration to allow his ideas to bloom. The winsome bass clarinet in Lala, or the mellow alto flute on Rainbow Fish are really nice touches, as is the older, slightly untempered quality he gives to the piano, with its soft undercurrents of melody. This gives the chromatic line on Encina a displaced quality, also adding a mellow tone to the soft oscillations of Peter.

Forest Glade bubbles with life, introducing a steady but unobtrusive beat to go with its softly reverberating phrases, secured from a delayed Wurlitzer electric piano.

Does it all work?

It does. Everything about this meditation is unforced, Weder’s ideas allowed to pursue a naturally evolving path until they come to rest. Sometimes the listener is invited to sit back and enjoy the lightly applied jazz flavourings to the melodies, but then on occasion Weder complements the slow, quiet music with pockets of reviving energy.

The guest instrumentalists pitch their contributions just right, and deserve to be credited – Clara Gallardo on fulsome but mellow alto flute, while Joaquín Sánchez Gil moves from light meanderings on Peter to more outright, jazz-influenced work on Lala. Guitarist David del Cerro Turner frames the closing Distant Island beautifully, while percussionist Juan Espiga brings the necessary movement to Forest Glade.

Is it recommended?

It is. The Pool Project is a beautifully executed piece of communal meditation, its simple phrases blossoming into restful tableaus of music.

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