Switched on – Hodge: Shadows In Blue (Houndstooth)

What’s the story?

Having made a guest appearance on the Houndstooth compilation IDDK in 2018, Hodge joins full-time to release his debut LP on the label. He joins a list of luminaries such as Special Request, Throwing Snow, Aisha Devi and Marquis Hawkes.

Hodge – real name Jacob Martin – says his inspirations for the album come from pleasingly diverse sources such as gardening, science fiction, progressive rock and a penchant for raving.

What’s the music like?

Shadows In Blue feels like an outdoor record, as its inspirations would imply – yet it does occasionally disappear indoors for a heavy session clubbing. Hodge keeps his door open to a number of different styles, working with busy loops and spacious backdrops on the title track, and looking back in time to the mid-1990s for the rave he craves in Cutie.

Ghost Of Akina also feels older with its clattering beats, while Lanes keeps the energy high but takes a more machine-like approach. Meanwhile Lanacut gives a view of a more private side to the producer.

The progressive rock elements are not quite so explicit but are probably better made known in the original structures both of the tracks and the album. There is certainly a psychedelic strand that reveals itself when the busier tracks get going.

Does it all work?

Yes, it’s a very cohesive album and Hodge has a busy state of mind that keeps energy levels high. His may not yet be a wholly distinctive voice but there are a lot of good things to commend Shadows In Blue, which shows how he knows his way round a studio.

Is it recommended?

Yes – as a signpost for the future especially. Shadows In Blue is a strong debut from a producer who joins a crowded field of British techno talent. It will be interesting to see how he progresses and how his individual voice blossoms from here.

Listen and Buy

Switched on – Nathan Fake: Blizzards (Cambria Instruments)

What’s the story?

Blizzards began with Nathan Fake’s intention to soundtrack ‘the ideal rave’. Heavily based on his live shows, it was made with an eye on musical instinct, going with the moment and effectively going back to first principles.

The Norfolk producer’s fifth album, Blizzards’ title is a nod towards the chaotic politics of the UK in recent times, but its spirit is about channeling positive energy in response.

What’s the music like?

By turns, the music in Blizzards is invigorating and heartwarming. Fake has always been able to summon up kinetic energy without a moment’s notice, which explains why the album gets off to such a strong start with Cry Me A Blizzard, but it’s an approach that bears fruit elsewhere with the twists, turns and clattering breakbeats of Firmament. Vectra and Eris & Dysnomia power upwards from deep bass movements, their loops sweeping all before them, while Torch Song is all about the euphoric treble, with rushes of white sound and widescreen percussive movement. Tbilisi, meanwhile, has sonorous bell-like textures to counter the fizzing drum track

These heady, hedonistic moments of abandon are beautifully countered by warm-hearted thoughts and rich harmonies. Ezekiel evolves magically, from primitive beginnings to brightly lit vistas all centred on a majestic melodic loop, taking the listener on an immersive trip. It is a real beauty, one of Fake’s warmest musical thoughts to date. The closing Vitesse, with all energy spent, revels in the comedown of a good and thoroughly satisfying night, slowly descending in pitch as it comes in to land.

Does it all work?

Yes, handsomely. Nathan Fake has always shown a strong suitability for the album format but here, on his own label, he works brilliantly well with a combination of structure and flexibility. The instinctive approach gives Blizzards a human edge and a warmth that might not have been so apparent had the music been more studio-governed.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. In a competitive field, Blizzards is probably Nathan Fake’s finest piece of work to date, confirming him to be one of the top talents of the day in UK electronic music.

Listen and Buy

Switched on – Douglas Greed: Angst (3000° Grad)

What’s the story?

The story behind Angst is one made for these times. Douglas Greed returns to long-playing action five years after his previous outing for the BPitch Control label. The press release behind the album talks extensively about fear, a state of mind we have all experienced over the last few months – but it explores how Greed has used it in a positive sense.

He is not alone either, enlisting the services of vocalist Joy Wellboy for the resilient album bookends Roll With The Punches and Not Afraid. Meanwhile Odd Beholder takes over vocal duties for two further songs, The Few and Numbers.

What’s the music like?

Very easy on the ear. Greed writes intimate music that is ultimately comforting, especially in the unison vocal achieved with Wellboy for Roll With The Punches, which is complemented by long, serene melodies. Odd Beholder’s tracks are also cool, offering a good contrast to the instrumentals around, and on The Few there is a nice, full bass.

Of the instrumentals, The Taste Of Dust is effective with the extra atmosphere of its muted trumpet, while the harmonic shades of Wie man unsterbliche Tiere züchtet complement the spoken word sample. The Future Will Repeat Itself has quite an ominous warning but opens out nicely into broader textures, while the sharper tones of Everybody Wants To Live In A Mansion hint at busier dancefloors.

Greed saves the most uplifting and resourceful track until last, Wellboy’s contribution to Not Afraid packing a strong emotional message and depth.

Does it all work?

Yes, and Angst works well as a single unit, its structure paced just right. On occasion I wondered if Greed might flex his muscles a bit more in the percussion department, but subtlety and intimacy are his watchwords here. The vocals complement his thoughtful approach, and the slightly brooding instrumentals really complement the moods we find ourselves in currently.

Is it recommended?

It is – for those who like their electronic music on the mindful side. Greed’s music does have strength in depth, and can act both as a home listening comfort and a quiet but lasting inspiration.

Listen and Buy

On record – Gustavo Díaz-Jerez: Maghek – Seven Symphonic Poems About The Canary Islands (Signum Classics)

Cristo Barrios (clarinet), Ricardo Descalzo (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Eduardo Portal

Gustavo Díaz-Jerez
Maghek: Ymarxa, Ayssuragan, Guanapay, Chigaday, Azaenegue, Erbane & Aranfaybo

Signum ClassicsSIGCD 612 [two discs, 137’50”]

Producer Matt Dilley
Engineers Mike Hatch, Tony Lewington

Recorded 17-20 November 2019 at Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Signum Classics issues of its most ambitious releases in Seven Symphonic Poems about the Canary Islands by the Tenerifan-born Gustavo Díaz-Jerez (b1970), a substantial undertaking such as ought to secure this acclaimed composer and pianist greater international prominence.

What’s the music like?

Although Smetana blazed the trail with Ma vlast, his cycle inspired by Bohemian legend and places, few recent composers have attempted such a sequence of interrelated movements – a notable exception being Pascal Dusapin with his Seven Solos for orchestra (1992-2009). This precedent may be significant as, though its subtitle implies something of a ‘suite touristique’, Maghek is the work of one respected for his research into the spectral and physical properties of sound. Not that Díaz-Jerez’s music is rarefied or academic; running parallel to its technical ingenuity is an involvement with Canarian history and topography as evident from the titles of each piece. This does not make for something naively illustrative or pictorial, but it does ensure an evocative dimension is manifest at every stage of a long and absorbing traversal.

It is not clear from Díaz-Jerez’s detailed and insightful booklet notes that the order in which these pieces are heard is the only intended sequence, and whether other permutations may be possible or even desirable. That they were premiered (and presumably can still be performed) individually rather suggests the latter, which itself adds a further layer of fascination to music already awash with mystery and intrigue. A reminder, too, that the image of the Canaries as a choice destination for holidaymakers seeking sun, sea and sand is far from the whole picture.

As presented, the cycle begins in Tenerife with its myriad gradations of light and shade, then to La Palma which unfolds as a concertante piece for clarinet and orchestra in which the latter gradually and ominously assumes dominance. By contrast, Lanzarote is represented by a full-blown piano concerto, a sometimes equable and at other times confrontational means through which to evoke interplay of natural and human elements. The forbidding terrain of La Gomera engenders music of textural intricacy and timbral finesse, then Gran Canaria brings something of a culmination with its cumulative interplay between relative stasis and dynamism toward a visceral climax. Fuerteventura imaginatively explores cultural contrasts and conflicts wrought across time, then El Hierro makes for an understated and even teasingly inconclusive ending.

Does it all work?

Yes, whatever the order in which these pieces are heard. Díaz-Jerez is clearly an orchestrator of ingenuity and resourcefulness, who understands how to realize the potential of his sizable forces, yet this would count for little were his sense of formal evolution not so sure-footed. The playing of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra leaves nothing to be desired under the expert guidance of Eduardo Portal, while both clarinetist Cristo Barrios and pianist Ricardo Decalzo seem fully attuned to music whose technical demands are confidently surmounted.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The sound has a clarity and lustre which presents this music in the best possible light, while the composer’s annotations shed valuable light on the semantic derivations behind each piece. Do investigate this release, then try Díaz-Jerez’s piano cycle Mataludios (IBS182018).

Listen

Buy

You can listen to clips from the recording and purchase, either in physical or digital form, at the Presto website

Read

You can discover more about this release at the Signum Classics website, and at a special dedicated website for the project here

On record – Adès Conducts Adès: Piano Concerto & Totentanz (Deutsche Grammophon)

Kirill Gerstein (piano), Christianne Stotijn (mezzo), Mark Stone (baritone), Boston Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Adès

Thomas Adès
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2018)
Totentanz (2013)

Deutsche Grammophon 4837998 [55’58”]

Producer Nick Squire
Engineer Joel Watts

Live performances, recorded November 2016 (Totentanz) & March 2019 (Piano Concerto) at Symphony Hall, Boston

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Thomas Adès has latterly been enjoying a productive association with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. They appear here in two recent and pointedly contrasted pieces which, between them, make for a viable overview of a compositional ethos as absorbing as it is frustrating.

What’s the music like?

From the outset Adès evidently had in mind a ‘proper’ piano concerto, and the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra is precisely that: three movements, of virtually equal length, unfolding along archetypal designs – sonata, ternary and rondo forms – even if their angle of approach is not what it might have been. The first movement abounds in jazzy inferences, albeit with a more relaxed ‘second subject’ to provide a modicum of contrast, while the central Andante is overlaid with intriguing symmetries that offset what might otherwise seem unremarkable material. The final Allegro duly renews the animated dialogue between soloist and orchestra in what could be termed an equable meeting between Gershwin and Ligeti, with Prokofiev putting-in an unexpected appearance toward the decisive and effervescent close. This is not the radical departure from Adès’s previous concertante pieces as might be supposed, though neither is this merely a triumph of concept over content. Whether it manages to revitalize a genre which has had precious few additions during the past half-century remains to be seen.

Certainly, the Concerto makes a telling foil to Totentanz. This is a setting of an anonymous 15th-century commentary to a frieze (destroyed in wartime) where Death visits a succession of those representing the medieval social strata and their responses thereof. Despite utilising male and female voices, it is not a song-cycle so much as a dramatic scena in which loss is considered in the context of a ‘dance of death’ that motivates the greater discourse. Each of those visited is allotted a specific musical expression, though the initial call-and-response is gradually blurred as vocal parts are overlaid in an intensifying activity towards the seismic orchestral culmination.

Characterisation of the remaining protagonists risk losing focus, yet there could be no mistaking the plaintive sensuousness of the encounter with the Maiden or the disarming naïveté of that with the Child as the music wends a weary Mahlerian way to its close. Each encounter is interpretable from different and even competing perspectives which extend the range of expression, while making it ambivalent to the point of disingenuousness.

Does it all work?

Yes, given that both performances meet the challenges of each work head on. Kirill Gerstein sounds unfazed in this world premiere of the Concerto, aligning himself to the orchestra with well-nigh perfect synchronization. The composer secures a truly virtuosic response from the Boston Symphony here and in Totentanz, during which Christianne Stotijn brings a decidedly fraught pathos while Mark Stone responds with burnished intensity. Adès has been lucky in the exponents of his music throughout his career and both these occasions were no exception.

Is it recommended?

It is – not least because these works, markedly different in themselves, suggest a continued desire to bring the flippant and the earnest into unlikely though productive accord. Whether they constitute a surrender to, or a critique of, the zeitgeist remains part of their fascination.

Listen

Buy

You can listen to clips from the recording and purchase, either in physical or digital form, at the Presto website