Switched On – Various Artists: Velvet Desert Music Vol.2 (Kompakt)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The idea behind Velvet Desert Music is to present a modern alternative to those wide-open vistas created in the 1960s and 1970s by so-called ‘Acid Western’ films. Jörg Burger is the man Kompakt have tasked with this musical vision, and after a successful first instalment he broadens horizons further with this follow-up.

What’s the music like?

Just as Burger would have wanted, the music for Velvet Desert Music is wide open and easy on the ear, but it is also refreshingly off beat and unpredictable at times. He operates with a freedom that allows him to introduce grooves like Paulor’s WE two thirds of the way through, bringing a chunky ’80s beat to the bottom of the big horizons.

Occasionally the percussion does get quite congested, but not in a bad way, as Michael Mayer’s opening track Not So Far Away confirms. After that the musical camera pans out, establishing an easier, four to the floor beat with The Velvet Circle’s Vertigo, before the soothing vocal of Charlotte Jestaedt wraps around Mount Obsidian’s Ride.

Elsewhere the offbeat grooves of Fantastic TwinsBetween The Dog And The Wolf and Sascha Funke’s In Der Tat have a glint in the eye, while a second appearance from Mount Obsidian brings maximum bliss with the Cubenx edit of Casa Delfines, before some attractive Krautrock-style noodling from Lake Turner/WEM/Hand and East County Lines. Burger weighs in with his own Velvet 77 mix of Pluramon’s Dragon Slayer, showing a metallic edge to the steel guitar and flecks of piano, before The Novotones close with the starry-eyed Angel of Doomsday, and its sotto voce vocals.

Does it all work?

Pretty much. Burger keeps things ticking over nicely, and there are several moments where the inner ear loosens up very nicely. The track choices are good, and the blend of contrasting grooves keeps things interesting.

Is it recommended?

Yes, especially if you found the first volume to your taste. The second Velvet Desert Music works equally well on headphones or on surround sound, positioned ideally as a collection to offer easy going respite. And that, after all, is what we all need right now.

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On record – Orchestra della Svizzera italiana / Damian Iorio – Malipiero: Symphony no.6, Serenata mattutina etc (Naxos)

Orchestra della Svizzera italiana / Damian Iorio

Malipiero:
Symphony no.6 ‘degli archi’ (1947)
Ritrovari (1926)
Serenata mattutina (1959)
Cinque studi (1959-60)

Naxos 8.574173 [58’32”]

Producer and Engineer Michael Rast

Recorded 2-5 May 2017, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The Naxos label continues its long-term traversal of the extensive orchestral output by Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) with the present collection, which juxtaposes two of the Venetian composer’s most intriguing such pieces alongside two of his most characteristic.

What’s the music like?

Most substantial is the sixth of Malipiero’s 17 symphonies (only 11 of these are numbered sequentially). Its subtle, ‘of the strings’, is significant in this being a work written with the intrinsic sound of these instruments to the fore – notably in the modally infused harmonies that determine musical content and formal follow-through; the latter worth bearing in mind given the composer’s determination to eschew thematic development of the Austro-German tradition in favour of a motivic evolution that, as Ernest Ansermet pointed out, ‘’generate[s] other motif [that] do not carry the musical discourse – they are, rather, carried by it”. This is evident in the brusquely compressed first and third movements, but also the arching phrases of the lento (one of Malipiero’s finest inspirations) and the fantasia-like format of the finale.

The two sets of shorter pieces were written almost 35 years apart, but the stylistic difference between them is not merely one of ‘historical inevitability’. Thus, the Rediscoveries are full of formal quirks (not least the way in which the plangent central lento’s going off at a tangent is carried over into the ensuing intermezzo), along with an expressive acerbity redolent more of Milhaud than Hindemith. By the time of the Five Studies, Malipiero was in all senses the elder statesmen of Italian music and was held in high esteem – albeit as a figurehead rather than an active influence – by the post-war generation. It is not difficult to hear elements of Dallapiccola or even Maderna in these terse and gnomic utterances, though the penultimate Lento evinces a ruminative poise and emotional serenity which could only be by Malipiero.

Which leaves Morning Serenade, scored for a diverse ensemble handled with unobtrusive mastery and unfolding as a sequence of subtle variations on its opening idea that gradually draw the music deeper and more contemplatively into itself. Whether or not this piece was intended as a literal evocation, it assuredly sums up those qualities of Malipiero’s mature language which are most likely to appeal to listeners of the present and, for which reason, might be considered an ideal point of entry into an output that defies easy categorization.

Does it all work?

Almost always. Malipiero was never a composer for whom technical processes or emotional accessibility are paramount. Rather, he sought out new approaches to age-old issues that may have bemused his contemporaries but will intrigue those willing to listen without prejudice.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The performances here could hardly be bettered, with Damian Iorio securing playing of real precision and impetus from his Swiss Italian musicians. Earlier recordings of the Sixth Symphony (by Antonio de Almeida on Naxos) and Morning Serenade (by Stefano Cardi on Stradivarius) are surpassed, while sound and annotations leave little to be desired.

Hopefully Naxos might yet issue one of the numerous stage-works informing every phase of Malipero’s career; in the meantime, this disc is cordially recommended to devotees and newcomers alike.

Listen

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You can listen to clips from this disc and purchase a copy at the Naxos website here

Read

You can read Arcana’s interview with conductor Damian Iorio here, where he talks more extensively about his experience of more modern Italian classical music

Switched On – Jimi Tenor: Ny, Hel, Barca (1994-2001) (Bureau B)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

NY, Hel, Barca are the abbreviations of the three cities Finnish producer Jimi Tenor has called home at some point in his life. They also form the title of a retrospective looking at his early career, a double album bringing together music made largely before signing to Warp. That means pride of place for Take Me Baby, the track that got him signed – but which we find is not typical of his output of that period. It is therefore up to Bureau B to give a balanced overview from his first six albums in total.

What’s the music like?

In a word, eclectic – but many more words are needed to do justice to the sheer variety of the sounds here. When Tenor (real name Lassi O. T. Lehto) embarked on his solo career in the early 1990s the presence of jazz was strong in his music, but this selection shows how he has used it to infuse a variety of genres.

Tenor can be something of a master in deep house (A Daughter Of The Snow), but thinks nothing of more wild, experimental musings like Tesla, where the saxophone takes centre stage. There is chunky and cheeky house, the best of which is a genuine anthem, Age Of The Apocalypse – and uncomfortably suitable for the present day, facing its demise but having a great time while doing so! Spell casts off its cares for a few funky choruses, Rubberdressing is as elastic as its name implies, while Sugardaddy throws a few glam rock rhythms into the mix. Then there is Take Me Now – still a deadpan winner 26 years on.

Does it all work?

Most of the time. Some of Tenor’s earlier productions show their age, especially the more salacious house tracks – but overall this is a really rewarding and stimulating collection of music. It is well chosen and well programmed, but shows off his original instincts. None of this music is routine, and a lot of it is really good fun.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. An excellent collection of a producer who has been a deserved mainstay of electronica’s top table for more than two decades, and whose music can cover a wide selection of dancefloors. It should encourage listeners to delve even further into his considerable early output. I know I will!

Stream

This Spotify playlist very helpfully brings together all the tracks on Jimi Tenor’s collection:

Buy

You can buy this compilation from the Rough Trade website here

Switched On – Caribou: Suddenly (City Slang)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Suddenly may well be an ironic title, given that it marks the reappearance of Caribou as a long playing solo artist for the first time in five years. The artist – aka Dan Snaith – has bewitched us with a number of solo albums blending instrumental electronica and a warm vocal. The last two under the pseudonym of Caribou – Swim and Our Love – were also released at an interval of half a decade, suggesting Snaith has a relaxed rhythm about his music.

What’s the music like?

There is a lot going on in the twelve tracks of Suddenly. Snaith loves to write layers in to his music, so that even the vocal tracks have a collage of instrumental riffs and colours backing them up. A lot of love and care has clearly gone into them, and a good deal of soul shows through too, Snaith coming across as a warm-hearted writer generous with his riffs and hooks. There are deep personal references, too, with Snaith’s mother appearing briefly on the opening Sister.

On occasion, however, he can be too generous. Some of the tracks start to get going but get chopped up and don’t get a chance to fully flex their muscles. It is possible that Snaith has included too much from his reported 900 experimentations that led to the album, as though desperate to cram as much in as possible. There are moments of real beauty in tracks such as Sunny’s Time, with the freedom of its meandering piano, or New Jade with its dappled textures, but they prove fleeting rather than constant.

Never Come Back is a definite exception, a warm and heartening synth-driven piece of positive energy, up there with Caribou’s best tracks. Ravi is up there too, as calming as the blue cover, while there are soft, rounded vocals with a rueful edge on Like I Loved You.

Does it all work?

See above. When Caribou nails a good track it certainly stays nailed – but on occasion there is a bit too much going on. The feeling persists that some of the more driven beats –  Ravi or Never Come Back for instance are where we see some real punch to the rhythms.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Even on an album that proves a little frustrating it is impossible not to be impressed or moved with what Caribou can achieve. He is a fine producer of some very optimistic and affirming music. Fans will lap it up for sure – but newcomers might be better directed to some of the albums further back in the canon.

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You can buy Suddenly from the Bandcamp website here

Switched On – The Heliocentrics: Infinity of Now (Madlib Invazion)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Heliocentrics are musical chameleons in the best sense. The UK-based duo of Malcolm Catto and Jake Ferguson speak an international language, often flavouring their music with funk, deep jazz, psychedelia or hip hop – but never really settling for long enough to pin them down. Their refreshingly open and boundary-free approach to music has already led to highly rewarding collaborations with Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, Orlando Julius and Melvin Van Peebles, all completed since debut album Out There was released in 2007.

While there will no doubt be more working in tandem, Infinity Of Now is The Heliocentrics’ first album for three years, released on celebrated producer Madlib’s label.

What’s the music like?

In a word, brilliant. Infinity Of Now is The Heliocentrics going back to their first principles, with a richly rewarding melting pot of instrumental and vocal winners, bringing a good deal of funk into an already colourful mix. This is the sort of music the group can make instinctively but they do it so well that there could never be any accusations of musical laziness. Put simply, the pair have just the right instincts to make our heads nod, our feet move and our horizons widen a little.

To take examples, the descriptive Elephant Walk uses loping bass and braying saxophone to describe its subject, satisfying both casual listeners and those who like their funk with a bit more experimentation. There are parallels to ensemble jazz groups such as Sun Ra but also 1970s detective theme tunes, all stirred in to the stew.

The single Burning Wooden Ship is equally fine, a bright flame alight with a vivid rhythm track, while by contrast the bluesy Hanging By A Thread is led by cool organ and rasping saxophone. 99% Revolution is a great vocal track with which to start, establishing the album’s lively groove, while Light In The Dark has a lovely grainy breakbeat supporting dreamy vocals and a more exotic musical language. Its Eastern flavours could easily have rendered this as music from the 1970s yet it still sounds forward thinking.

Does it all work?

Yes. The only regret is that there are not more than eight tracks, such is the richness of Catto and Ferguson’s invention. What remains is highly concentrated and musically stimulating, and repeated listening to the album brings out more of its colour and ideas. The only regret is that the vocalists appear not to be mentioned anywhere.

Is it recommended?

Without question. The Heliocentrics have always been musical stimulators, and Infinity Of Now adds another link in that particular chain. It finds them on fine form, displaying equal parts funk, invention, experimentation and a dash of humour. More power to their funky elbows!

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