Switched On: Loscil – The Sails p.1 & 2 (Bandcamp)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Sails is a two-part collection of music written by Loscil for dance projects over the last eight years. It brings together a number of specially commissioned projects, many of which were performed only once – and the Vancouver producer has arranged them into two collections of nine pieces each. These available on Bandcamp at a ‘name your price’ rate for the digital files, or as a double CD edition with special artwork.

What’s the music like?

This is a very interesting insight into Loscil’s creativity, and is a more animated complement to the serenity and vastness of his artist albums.

The two collections work well when listening back to back. There are the flickering messages of Wells, and it soon becomes apparent that there is more nervous energy in the foreground than we are used to in a Loscil set of pieces. This movement it is counteracted by slow, measured steps that are beautifully poised, sometimes acting as drones or operating with slowly shifting harmonies.

Some of the pieces are structured like an arch, with a composition like Still progressing from bare elements to richly textured loops with more movement, and then panning out again. Wolf Wind, a striking evocation, has a settled backdrop of a single held drone that changes colour thanks to the subtle movement in the middle ground.

Loscil also uses beats in a subtle but meaningful way. In Never they ricochet across the stereo picture, increasing their dominance over the slower musical processes going on behind. By contrast a work like Century has a stately beauty, like the opening of a flower.

Does it all work?

It does. The music has a different ambience to it from Loscil’s through-composed albums, but the use of more animated musical figures against a background stillness is still immensely reassuring, panning out into some richly shaded scenes.

Is it recommended?

Yes – the ideal complement if you already own a good deal of Loscil’s music. If you don’t, the ‘name your price’ option gives you no excuse not to get acquainted!

Listen & Acquire

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.

In Appreciation – Simon Preston

by Ben Hogwood

It is with some sadness that we have learned of the death of Simon Preston, a great English organist, at the age of 83.

From the warmth of the tributes paid to Preston on social media, it is clear he was well liked:

I was fortunate enough to interview Simon back in 2008 for the Classical Source website, where we spoke about the music of J.S. Bach, promoting an all-Bach concert in that years BBC Proms festival. It was a chance to thank him for some wonderful recordings made for Decca and Deutsche Grammophon, some of which we present below.

There is only one place to start – his impish recording of Charles Ives’ riotous Variations on America, which sounds like one of the most fun pieces to play! Also included are Preston’s exploits as a conductor, which are often overlooked, We have included his account of Vivaldi’s Gloria in a playlist that includes Bach (naturally) but also a few of his more Romantic offerings recorded for Decca:

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.

Stream

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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.