On Record – Flock: Flock (Strut Records)

flock

written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The music for Flock was recorded all on one day, 27 August 2020, at The Fish Factory in London. It was the culmination of a project overseen by multi-instrumentalist Bex Burch, band leader of Vula Viel. She assembled a group of five musicians to respond to texts she had written as scores, as a basis for improvisation – or ‘murmuration’, as she described.

Her partners in the project were Sarathy Korwar (drums and tabla), Dan ‘Danalogue’ Leavers (fender rhodes, roland juno-60, upright piano and roland SH-09 bass synth) Al MacSween (prepared piano, piano, Moog sub37) and Tamar Osborn (bass clarinet, flute, soprano saxophone and EHX deluxe memory boy). Burch assigned herself a wide variety of instruments, credited for contributions on gyil, vibraphone, bass drum, shakers, bells, gong, snake drum and electronics.

What’s the music like?

Instinctive, to put it mildly – but fascinating, atmospheric and intense. The key here is that the improvisations are focused, especially the 13 minutes and 35 seconds of It’s Complicated, and even the slightly longer, hypnotic How many are one? The musical chemistry between the players is striking, and it says a lot that with a track such as Prepare to let go, led by Korwar on foreground percussion, there is still plenty of room for each line to make itself heard. This one in particular is led equally by him on tabla and percussion but also by the insistent, jagged groove at the lower end of proceedings, with some intriguing electronics going on up top. My resonance is another track where the ensemble gel seamlessly, the melodies colourfully distributed and developed.

The keyboards are economically used, and the dynamics are carefully managed, and the percussion detailed but providing much of the backbone. Tracks like Bold dream become rituals, with energetic and almost trancey figures in the half light. There is humour in this track, too, the performers laughing at the way it peters out – nicely caught in the recording.

The icing on the cake, however, are Tamar Osborn’s contributions on woodwind. The combination of bass clarinet and keyboards is wonderfully spooky as Sounds welcome takes shape, the atmospherics like a leftfield detective series. Gradually the track blossoms into a richer, mellow mid-range, where the mournful tones of the saxophone are complemented with percussion and keys.

The bass clarinet begins It’s complicated with an Eastern flavoured soliloquy, a fascinating solo that gradually climbs in pitch and volume as the other instruments join, rising to a tumult of percussion and a rush of noise. The storm quickly abates, the intensity sinking back to a held drone and more clarinet ruminations, before a minimal exchange of ideas takes hold.

Some of the timbres the group secure are fascinating. What purpose has a mellow flute and sedentary piano complementing each other, set against more spatial electronics,

Does it all work?

Yes. The results are electric at times as the players bounce off each other, and it is fascinating listening to a one-off experience, where things go in unexpected directions at times but where the changing colours and moods are compelling.

Is it recommended?

Enthusiastically. This is an improvised gathering of white hot intensity, and the results are consistently compelling. Even if such projects prove daunting to you musically, you are encouraged to listen to Flock, for they make extremely rewarding music.

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Switched On – Gold Panda – I’ve Felt Better (Than I Do Now)

by Ben Hogwood. Picture of Gold Panda by Laura Lewis

Here is some news to cheer up a Tuesday – the very welcome return of Gold Panda.

Its title is deceptive, and makes perfect sense when you get a sense of what the producer, aka Derwin Schlecker, has been through. “I made this when my daughter was two years old and I felt knackered and I’d turned 41”, he says. “The samples just came together and sounded like “I’ve felt better…” and at the same time I was looking at my anti-depressants feeling tired and just thought ‘ha, that’s right!’”

Describing the track, Derwin says, “I mess with chopping up samples until I get an interesting loop so I never set out to write a track; I’m led by the samples and then go from there. Funnily enough, my life now is actually way better than it was 10 years ago and I’m a bit healthier and I probably actually do feel better in general (apart from when I had that brain haemorrhage last year).”

With everything now in perspective, it proves easy to appreciate the summer haziness and hypnotic grooves applied to the track – which you can enjoy right here!


The Unfolding is out now on City Slang, and comes highly recommended! You can listen and purchase on the Bandcamp link below:

Various Artists – We Are The Children Of The Sun compiled by Paul Hillery (BBE Music)

What’s the story?

Sometimes the cover of a book can say it all! This is definitely the case with BBE’s sunshine collection, which presents an anthology of rare tracks with a distinctly Balearic tint. Compiler Paul Hillery works from a flexible brief, allowing him to cast the net wider stylistically and include examples with a folk, MOR or funk flavour.

What’s the music like?

Ideal for hot weather. Most if not all of these names will be unfamiliar, which is a great starting point for future discoveries Airborne‘s Marie is a blissful example of the compilation’s ability to bring the sunshine directly out of the speakers, a reverie that sings “Spread your wings and fly me away”.

Among the others well worth noting Alex Crispin‘s Effert is a beauty, an airy loop of bell sounds and a chant-like vocal. The effortless groove of Checkpoint‘s I Send You All My Love makes its mark, with a lovely oboe countermelody – while there are a couple of notable flute solos in the selection too, tastefully played and not overdone.

There are particularly sultry offerings from David Datunashvili and Diana Pequeno, strong West Coast feels from Guy Maxwell and Mike Baumann / Tom Huntington, whose Man Of Misery channels the work of Gibb brothers a little. There is a burst of energy from Guy Schwartz, with the expert storytelling of Ride That Train, in contrast to the woozy harmonica, scrambled piano and ticking hi-hat of Michael Welch‘s Phone Home. Meanwhile Monica Rypma‘s Let Love Flow is a highlight, bigger 80s drums and appealing vocal reminiscent of Swing Out Sister. Pixie Lauer‘s regretful Sunday Morning adds a touch of sweet melancholy, and back on the instrumental solos theme there are some enjoyable, noodly guitar efforts, none more so than that on Phillip John Lewin‘s excellent song Fear Of Flying.

Does it all work?

It certainly does the job! A blissful time in the company of Hillery, who offers a nicely balanced set that never gets too cheesy but always stays well above 20 degrees.

Is it recommended?

It is, a blissful listen.

On Record – Ghost Power: Ghost Power (Duophonic Super 45s)

ghost-power

written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Ghost Power is the meeting of two minds – Jeremy Novak (Dymaxion) and Timothy Gane (Stereolab, Cavern of Anti-Matter and Turn On). The pair have both made tracks for Duophonic Super 45s in a solo capacity, but now they unite for a ten-track instrumental album, recorded both remotely and in person in Berlin and New York.

What’s the music like?

A lot of fun. This is music made for pure enjoyment, but there are plenty of levels to it as well. Both musicians are clearly well voiced in 1970s funk and movie music, for they make descriptive pieces that use the band in a virtuosic way.

Panic In The Isles Of Splendour is a great example of this, with drum fills, keyboard bleeps and propulsive bass lines that tell of the influence of Krautrock, too. By this time Asteroid Witch has already given us a burst of break beats, the equivalent of a Ghost Power signature tune.

On the softer side sit atmospheric tracks like Inchwork, a smoky affair laden with suspense – again offering the listener the equivalent of a 70s crime series or movie. It is one of the album’s best tracks.

Grimalkin combines the two elements. In music Lalo Schifrin would be proud of, it evokes a sultry day but with all sorts of shenanigans taking place in the shadows over another dusty drum beat. Then we have the crowning glory, the Astral Melancholy Suite, a fifteen minute epic. Early drone sections sandwich a mysterious interlude, the listener seemingly underground with eerie echoes and atmospherics, before the music starts to bubble and oscillate, as a classic Krautrock track might do, gathering momentum. Then the bottom falls away and we are left with some wonderful synth sounds, and a rippling mid-range texture to finish.

Does it all work?

It does. There is no pretence on this album, just a clutch of really good instrumentals packed with great riffs. They never outstay their welcome.

Is it recommended?

It is. Fans of Stereolab should drink it up, but to be honest if you are a fan of Can and the like then there is a good deal to enjoy here.

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On record – William Wordsworth: Orchestral Music Vol.4 (Toccata Classics)

wordsworth-4

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra / John Gibbons

William Wordsworth
Jubilation Op.78 (1965)
A Spring Festival Overture Op.90 (1970)
Confluence Op.100 (1976)
Symphony No. 7, Op. 107, ‘Cosmos’ (1980)

Toccata Classics TOCC0618 [59’21”]

Producer Normands Slāva
Engineer Jānis Straume

Recorded 4-5 February and 16-18 June 2021, Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues its survey of William Wordsworth’s orchestral music with a fourth volume featuring the composer’s Seventh Symphony, alongside three other pieces that reflect his increasing concentration and refinement of thought during those latter decades of his life.

What’s the music like?

If the Fifth Symphony and Cello Concerto (recorded on TOCC0600) represent a highpoint of Wordsworth’s orchestral output, the works that follow are only relatively less ambitious and equally personal. The four heard here appeared at five-year intervals. Subtitled ‘A Festivity for Orchestra’, Jubilation is akin to a ‘concerto for orchestra’ in its intensive while unshowy pursual of those possibilities inherent in its opening fanfare-like idea; one which returns near the close of this engaging piece to provide a rounding-off of good-humoured decisiveness.

A Spring Festival Overture is even more self-contained in its demeanour, though the gradual emergence of activity out of the sombre introduction is a telling metaphor for the coming of this season and the musical discourse attracts attention purely through its dexterity of thought.

Had Confluence been Wordsworth’s ‘sixth symphony’, no-one could surely have doubted its rightness given this music’s motivic density and textural subtlety. As it is, these ‘Symphonic Variations’ are a notable staging-post in the composer’s odyssey towards ever more distilled expression – the variations proceeding as distinct yet interrelated episodes where most of the instruments have a soloistic spot. The penultimate section, with its allusion to Elgar’s Violin Concerto, finds Words worth at his most felicitous and the final build-up at his most visceral.

Scored for comparably sizable forces, the Seventh Symphony continues a process of formal elaboration across a single, unbroken span – its seven sections less a series of variations as a succession of paraphrases on ideas which are nothing if not rarefied. Appropriate, then, that its ‘Cosmos’ subtitle should embody a lifelong fascination with the universe – whether in its astronomical or spiritual dimensions. Inclusion of a prepared tape suggests something more radical than is the case – pre-recorded material limited to two slowly repeating string chords that recur at crucial formal and expressive junctures to channel underlying momentum over   a course inevitable as to its ultimate destination. Paul Conway’s booklet note implies this as being Wordsworth’s most original orchestral work and the present writer would not disagree.

Does it all work?

Yes, though this is not the place to start for anyone new to Wordsworth’s music (the previous instalment with the Fifth Symphony makes for an ideal point of entry). Playing the works in chronological order (rather than Opp. 90, 107, 78 and 100 as on this disc) reveals ever greater focus on motivic essentials allied to an understated while often questing harmonic sense that may have reflected their composer’s immersion in the Scottish East Highlands or the wisdom accrued with age, yet the experience feels never less than absorbing and sometimes profound.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The playing of the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra is comparable to that on earlier volumes, while John Gibbons directs with his customary ear for detail and care for balance. Hopefully a fifth volume, perhaps including the hitherto unheard Sixth Symphony, will not be long in coming.

Read, listen and Buy

You can read Richard’s review of the first three volumes in the Wordsworth series on Arcana, clicking here for the first volume, here for the second and here for the third

You can listen to clips and purchase this disc from the Toccata Classics website. For more information on WIlliam Wordsworth, click here. For more on the performers on this recordings, click on the names for websites devoted to John Gibbons and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra respectively.