Tickling Our Fancy 076: Abdullah Ibrahim, Föhn, Nicolas Gaunin, Julia Meijer, The Untied Knot, Qujaku…

July 12, 2019

REVIEWS
Words: Dominic Valvona




The 76th edition of Dominic Valvona’s ever-eclectic spread of recommendations and reviews includes new albums from the improvisation-heavy Krautrock-Kosmische-Post Punk duo The Untied Knot; the newly formed Gare du Nord label trio of haunted surf, rock ‘n’ roll and avant-garde Föhn, a group made up of the iconic Italian underground artist and poet Napo Camassa, label boss polymath Ian Button and Liverpool psychedelic stalwart Joss Cope; the first ever vinyl format release of Nicolas Gaunin’s exotic amorphous Noa Noa Noa LP; a new epic two-track EP of theatre of ritualistic doom psychedelia from the Japanese band Qujaku; a masterful lesson in compositional balance and experiment from the South African jazz icon Abdullah Ibrahim; and the debut album from the emerging Swedish songwriting talent Julia Meijer.

There’s also the recent EP from the balladry classical meets Trip-Hop and winding troubadour Munich-based artist Elizabeth Everts; another limited edition cassette of experimental abrasive soundscapes from the Crow Versus Crow label, in the form of a cathartic album of dissonance from Chlorine; and news and review of the upcoming flight of jazz fantasy single from the newly formed We Jazz label ensemble, Koma Saxo.


The Untied Knot  ‘Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder’
(Sonic Imperfections)  Out Now


Imbued with a sense of scientific methodology and monocular dissection, the experimental United Knot duo of Nigel Bryant and Matt Donovan attempt once more to sonically convey the wonders and enormity and chaos of the universe on Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder.

Possibly, in this form anyway, the duo’s last album the follow-up to the previous science paper laid out Descriptions Of A Flame (highly recommended at the time by us, an album of the year in 2015) continues to sear, wrangle and grind through an imprint of Krautrock, Kosmische, Shoegaze, Post-Punk (imagine a Lyndon free PiL) and Rock, and drone-like ambience.

With both band members serving a variation of roles in the improvisational and electronic music fields, Bryant and Donovan have all the experience and skills needed to create something that is refreshingly dynamic as it is ponderous. Playing hard and loose with a myriad of influences, Donovan’s constantly progressive drum rolls, tribal patters, cymbal burnishes and more skipping jazzy fills recall Faust’s Weiner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier and Guru Guru’s Mani Neumeier, whilst surprisingly, on the late 60s West Coast rock experiment ‘Rhythm From Three Intervals’ a touch of Mick Fleetwood. Meanwhile, Bryant, on both bass and atonal guitar duties (both also share the synth), channels Ax Genrich, Jah Wobble and Youth.

Though gleaming the geological, anthropological and chemical, they can’t help but be affected by the most concentrated themes of climate change and, especially in the duo’s hometown of London, knife crime. The echoes of an early Popol Vuh permeate the chthonian Anthropocene reference to a proposed dating title of a modern epoch: one that would mark an era that had seen the most significant human impact on the climate. ‘Span Of A Knife Fight’ is an untethered slasher; a sonic nervous breakdown of fretboard rock and the avant-garde, riled in fact. Though I’m not sure what the ‘Tattooed Brain’ is all about, it does have an air of 80s baggy, mixed with The Telescopes drone-wrangling: imagine The Pixies and Stone Roses sharing a spliff.

Far from weary and burnt-out, the Untied Knot go out on a high; stretching their influences with improvised skill and depth, a buzz saw, scrawling caustic but investigative soundtrack for the times.





Nicolas Gaunin ‘Noa Noa Noa’
(Hive Mind Records) 10th July 2019



Vinyl (and the odd cassette tape) specialists with a considered taste for something different, the Hive Mind’s burgeoning roster of international discoveries once more gives a platform to the unusual and difficult to define.

Already, through a quartet of re-releases, bringing to a wider audience a range of established and emerging global practitioners, such as the late Gnawa maestro Maalem Mahmoud Gani and rising South American jazzy-traversing star Rodrigo Tavares, the Brighton-based imprint is now inviting us to immerse ourselves in the strange exotic minimalism of Italian electronic artists Nicola Sanguin, who’s original ambiguous mash-up of world music influences and surreal sound experiments Noa Noa was released by Artetetra Records in 2018. Now with an additional extra “noa” to the title this odd curiosity of atavistic African percussive rhythms and stripped radiophonics is getting another pass with its first ever vinyl release.

Using the barely interchangeable anagrammed Nicolas Gaunin name for his solo projects, Sanguin builds a both recognizable but exotically amorphous soundscape that at times recalls the Krautrock legends Embryo’s more percussive experiments in Africa, the dreamy mysterious invocations of Le Mystere Jazz de Tumbautau, Radio Tarifa, Ethno-jazz at its most untethered and Analogue Bubblebath era Richard James. And yet still, it doesn’t really sound like any of these, or, anything else for that matter.

Definitely in the sunnier light-hearted, more diaphanous and optimistic camp of electronic music – a scene that all things considered is duly reflecting the anxiety and uncertainty of the times, moving towards the dystopian – there’s still less than a bubbly, even euphoric radiance to these tropical heat intensive recordings: Many of which, we’re told, were recorded in one take. Abstract to say the least, vague sounds of thumb-piano, Serengeti and jungle wildlife, bamboo glockenspiel, clacking wooden and bass-heavy hand drums ride over, merge with or undulate under a minimalistic Techno workshop accompaniment. Noa Noa Noa is indeed a thing of curious evocation; a searing balmy transduced soundtrack worth investigating.





Abdullah Ibrahim ‘The Balance’
(Gearbox Records) 28th June 2019



Rightly occupying the same lauded heights of veneration as his late South African compatriot and good friend Hugh Masekela, the sagacious adroit Abdullah Ibrahim enthuses nothing but respect and praise for his activism and music; with even Nelson Mandela no less, anointing him as “South Africa’s Mozart”.

Embodying the many travails of that country, giving voice to the townships with, what many consider the unofficial national anthem of the anti-apartheid movement, ‘Manneberg’, Ibrahim (who converted to Islam in the late 60s, changing his artistic name from Dollar Brand in the process) spent decades fighting the system through his music: mostly jazz. In a former epoch, when merely performing that form in South Africa was seen as an act of resistance, the pianist-composer was mixing it up with his legendary jazz counterparts across the Atlantic, playing with a staggeringly impressive cast of doyens including Duke Ellington, Max Roach, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

Now in his 84th year and four years since his last album, Ibrahim has returned to the studio, recording a counterpoint album of both full band arrangements and solo piano improvisations. The Balance, as the title suggests, does just that; balancing purposeful ruminating evocations with gentle pushes (outside the comfort zone) into more experimental skittish, sometimes, lively performances.

Recorded over the course of one day in the RAK studios in London last November, with his Ekaya troupe in full swing, this accentuate attuned album of sophisticated jazzery and the classical is rich with the musical language of those lauded greats he once played with: a early touch of 50s New York skyline Coltrane via Gershwin and Bernard Herrmann on the gracious balancing act between subtle gliding blues and more thriller heightened discordant notation ‘Dreamtime’, and Ellington on the flighty ascendant with chorus of saxophone and trumpet ‘Nisa’. There’s even a certain air of bouncing-on-the-balls-of-your-feet Broadway jazz on the lively ‘Skippy’.

Elsewhere the inspiration is more homegrown; the almost cartoonish scurrying score ‘Tuana Guru’ alludes to a mystical East but features an African soundscape of the wild and trumpeting. The fast skimming drum and busy bandy double-bass partnership opening ‘Jabula’ even features a joyful embrace of Highlife on a what is a celebratory-like composition of timeless quality.

Nuanced and masterfully performed, both on the bounce and when more agitated, and whether it’s in brushed burnished contemplation, or solo devotional élan, Ibrahim and his accomplished band of players do indeed find a nuanced balance between the classical and contemporary: a balance between those timeless qualities and the need for reinvention. A most dreamy, thoughtful way to pass away an hour or two with.





Koma Saxo ‘Port Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’
(We Jazz) 2nd August 2019



Fast becoming one of my favourite labels, the Helsinki-based We Jazz (as the moniker makes pretty clear) imprint ‘does jazz’: an innovative, progressive and thoroughly modern kind of jazz at that. Only last month I included a track from the blowout peregrination baritone sax and wired-up Jonah Parzen-Johnson, and last year, We Jazz label mate, Otis Sandsjö made my albums of the year features with his reconstructive, remix-in-motion, Y-OTIS – think Madlib deconstructing 3TM. Sandsjö, as it happens, is just one of a frontline triumvirate of saxophonists to appear in the exciting newly formed Koma Saxo quintet.

Assembled by the Berlin-based Swedish bassist/producer Petter Eldh, the horn heavy ensemble includes a veritable feast of European players, with Jonas Kullhammar and Mikko Innanen flanking Sandsjö, and Christian Lillinger on the drums. Though they made a performance debut at the label’s own festival last year, this double A side single, the exotic flight of fantasy entitled ‘Part Koma/Fanfare For Komarum’, is the troupe’s inaugural recorded release.

Cut from the same cloth but atmospherically and rhythmically different, ‘Port Koma’ is an ennui psychosis of breakbeats, prowling, jostling conscious jazz with Scandinavian thriller noir aspirations (Bernard Herrmann lifted and dropped in the cold ominous landscape of a Stig Larsson novel), whilst ‘Fanfare For Komarum’ is a spiritual carnival tooting parade of Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Lloyd Miller, Leon Thomas and Spiritual Unity era Albert Ayler; a bustled procession through the Valley Of The Kings, a veneration to Ra.

Kept in check somehow, the forces at play on both tracks threaten to veer and spin off into separate directions, with the heightened Port sounding like three individual signatures simultaneously riding and sliding in and out of focus.

This is an exciting, traversing jazz odyssey; and so an essential purchase. We Jazz keep on delivering.






Föhn ‘Ballpark Music’
(Gare du Nord) 4th July 2019



Ever expanding the remit of his Kentish Estuary satellite label, Gare du Nord, Ian Button’s latest project provides a melodious if experimental base for the avant-garde sonic work and poetry of Italian artist Napo Camassa III. A stalwart of the late 1960s and 1970s Italian underground scene, a smattering of tapes from that period were due a mini-revival through Button’s highly prolific label. As fate would dictate, those tape recordings proved far too brittle to transfer, falling apart in the process. Taking this as an opportunity to instead create something new but in keeping with the spirit of Camassa’s experimental soliloquy and ad-libbed one line poetics, and quivered ghostly channeling seedy rock ’n’ roll vocals, the outsider music framed Ballpark Music merges the lingering, almost supernatural, presence of its influences with deconstructive homages and vague elements of jazz, surf and art-rock to produce something recognizable yet chaotic and skewered.

Balancing on the edge of this chaos the Button/Camassa dynamic, widened to bring in label mate and stalwart of the psychedelic/art-rock and Liverpool scenes Joss Cope (sibling to arch druid Julian, and just as active an instigator of countless bands in his own right over the decades), uses the well-chosen descriptive weather name of Föhn to articulate the relationship between the random, improvised and more structured, Föhn being a warm summer wind that blows in from the Alpine uplands; strong enough at times to blow tiles off a roof, at others, an enervated breeze, barely felt. Musically representing this windy phenomenon, the trio at their most blowy and heavy reaches for an abstraction of post-punk, no-wave, garage, shambling blues and Krautrock; at their most subtle and drift the surf noir dreaminess and mystery of The Beach Boys and evangelical spiritualism, gospel ye-ye and rock ‘n’ roll of Charlie Megira, Alan Vega and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy.

Tributes of a strange kind are paid to the latter in the form of a reference heavy trio of Beach Boys mirages. ‘Shiny Seeburg’, ‘The Scenenaut’ and ‘Wilson Mitt’ namecheck Pet Sounds and SMiLE as they weave nostalgia for a more giddy carefree, surface age – when the “deck chair” patterned shirt attired legends were chronicling the “fun, fun, fun” and teenage romance of the Boomers – with a certain lamentable weariness at what mental anguishes would soon befall the group’s genius, Brian Wilson: The first of these three tracks actually sounds like a deconstructed ‘Do It Again’.

The surf synonymous twang of that same era is celebrated on the Trashman-meets Sigue Sigue Sputnik meets Adam And The Ants ‘Surfin’ Dan Electro’, a quivery, rattle ‘n’ roll bandy homage to the iconic guitar.

Elsewhere there are hints of Alexandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain soundtrack, Spiritualized and a vision of Wah! Heat as fronted by Malcolm Mooney.

Though the central tenant of nearly everything that Ian Button does musically is nostalgia (Button and his unofficial label house band, Papernut Cambridge, have also released more or less at the same time another volume of Nutflakes inspired cover versions), Föhn is one of the more interesting and progressive projects he’s been involved with of late; heeding the past certainly, but pushing the original concept for this enterprise to produce something anew, the wilder poetic assemblages of Camassa tethered, in part, to an amorphous melodious soundtrack.

Hopefully this is one area that Button will continue to pursue with his foils Camassa and Cope.





Julia Meijer ‘Always Awake’
(PinDrop Records) 12th July 2019



Making good on a trio of singles that promised a tactile skewed and angulated vision of Scandinavian pop; Julia Meijer’s debut album expands the musical horizons even further.

Subtle throughout, Always Awake showcases the Swedish-born (now Oxford-based) singer-songwriter’s naturalistic ability to switch between tightened new wave and the hymnal, and mix the glacial enormity of the Icelandic tundra, as so beautifully conveyed in prose by the frozen Island’s own late national hero poet Steinn Steinarr, with the vaporous veils of an English Avalon: Inspiration for the album (the first on the new label venture from the music management firm PinDrop) opener ‘Ocean’ flows from that first half of the 20th century poet’s very own ‘Hav’ peregrination, fashioned into a dreamy mirage that evokes Lykke Li drifting out of Mondrian’s abstracted Pier And Ocean series. Originally accompanying that stripped diaphanous plaint, the more eerie Gothic folksy ‘England’ errs towards Florence And The Machine, whilst the love-longed, synth-glistened ‘I’m Not The One’ has a hint of a fey Debbie Harry.

Featured recently on the Monolith Cocktail, the page turning metaphorical single ‘Train Ticket’, with its two-speed verse and chorus change, even imagines the New Young Pony Club channeling the Tom Tom Club.

Backed in this enterprise by a couple of Guillemots and their offspring (band members Greig Stewart on drums and Fyfe Dangerfield on Hammond duties, whilst Grieg’s daughter, Effie, adds a spell of saxophone) plus guitarist Andrew Warne and label honcho and all-round prolific polymath Sebastian Reynolds offering various synthesized parts, the sound palette is widened: as is for that matter Meijer’s vocals, which once more are deceptively subtle in filling the space, fluctuating gently between lulls, lyrical trill and partly Kate Nash narrated ‘whatevs’.

An electric debut of nuanced indie brilliance and melodious songwriting, far outgrowing the Scandi-pop tag, Always Awake is a fantastic eclectic record, and the ideal launch for a new label.



Elizabeth Everts ‘Contraband EP’
25th May 2019



An EP of contrasts, pianist-troubadour Elizabeth Everts fluctuates vocally between balladry pop and crystalline aria, and musically between the cheaper ticking metronome of a Casio preset and the more lofty rich swells of classical instrumentation. Her latest release, a beautifully off-kilter articulated EP called Contraband is a case in point: a mini-requiem of both lo fi and expensive.

Everts, ever the true confessional, lays herself open to various degrees of success over the EP’s controlled tumult of romantic brooding and lament. With Californian roots but living for the past decade or more in Munich, the melodious voiced Evert has a fairly unique sound that ebbs and flows continuously, weaving echoes of Tori Amos, Raf Mantelli and Fiona Apple with touches of lounge-jazz, trip-hop, the classical, and on the closing, almost played straight, attuned weepy ‘Black Is The Colour’ the elegiac folk of Christy Moore.

From the diaphanous rolling aria sowing of the opening ‘Harvest Time’ to the ethereal vibraphone flitting prowl of ‘I Just’ the Contraband EP is an experiment both in vulnerability and musicality: a subtle one at that. Everts is pushed gently to expand her horizons, which can only be a good thing.



Qujaku ‘In Neutral’
(So I Buried Records) 26th July 2019



Invoking an almost operatic daemonic theatre of an album last year (making our choice albums of 2018 features in the process) the Hamamatsu, Japan doom-weavers Qujaku return with a sprawling but intense new two-track EP, ahead of a mini European tour. Reflecting two sides of the psychedelic band’s ritualistic sound, title-track (dare I suggest) shows a more delicate, subtle visage (at least at the start anyway), whilst ‘Gloria’ pursues more of a gnashing and bestial course.

Building slowly towards its goal, ‘In Neutral’ turns a wafting wash of guitar noodling and wooing saxophone into a menacing Gothic-jazz incantation. ‘Gloria’ has more heft, bigger ritual drumming, slaying guitar and dark arts psychedelics – imagine the Acid Mothers on a bad trip.

Communing with ghosts, inhabiting an underworld, Qujaku once again conjure up an ambitious dissonance of doom, stoner, operatic, dark and witchery rock.

Be sure but be quick to pick up one of these EPs, as stocks are limited to only 200 copies.



Chlorine ‘Gallooner’
(Crow Versus Crow) 12th July 2019



Somehow managing to convey a cathartic tumult of anxieties and distress from a (mostly) high-voltage abstract soundscape, Gateshead-based multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Graeme Hopper creates a sort of autobiographical profile on his new LP for Crow Versus Crow.

Under the oxidizing halogen Chlorine moniker, Hopper’s latest set of recordings (limited in physical form to a run of 50 copies on cassette tape, but available as a digital download) traverse a caustic buzz of abrasive music-concrete and sentinel pylon metallic at its most ominous, yet offers a glimmer of light, even the barest of serial notation and tuning-up, at its most serene.

A reification of feelings you could say, the dissonance-frazzled, static and electrical steel-dragon whiplash licks of the daemonic goes scrap metal fairground gallop ‘Song For Silhouette’ could be read as an unsettling concentration of the mind. Craning leviathans and industrial machinery-in-motion meet obfuscated strings to fashion a strange rhapsody of esoteric frayed emotion on ‘My Trying Hands’, Lost And Tired’, whilst a more naturalistic ambience of distant dog barks and bird song offer a short release on ‘Confessions Of A Broken Temperament’.

Post-this and post-that, Gallooner subverts a myriad of genres from the experimental fields of exploration, be it industrial, Techno, ambient or noise, yet remains somehow removed from any of them. There’s even a sporadic breakout of veiled spontaneous free form drumming amongst the polygon-ambient electronics of the album’s track, ‘Perfect Lust’, and hints of either a ghostly fiddle or string instrument on a few others.

A conductor-charged pulse to the membrane; sculpting something that bears a resonance of both depression and alienation from the caustic wall of noise, Hopper has produced a most unlikely empirical soundscape.


4 Responses to “Tickling Our Fancy 076: Abdullah Ibrahim, Föhn, Nicolas Gaunin, Julia Meijer, The Untied Knot, Qujaku…”

  1. […] ‘Falling Off The Evolutionary Ladder’ recently in the form of reviews from Monolith Cocktail & PennyBlackMusic and radio play on Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone BBC6 Music & Gated […]

  2. […] in on this blog with her diaphanous malady EP of controlled tumult of romantic brooding and lament, Contraband, the Californian born but Munich-based confessional balladeer Elizabeth Evert further accentuates […]

  3. […] Noa Noa Noa is indeed a thing of curious evocation; a searing balmy transduced soundtrack worth investigating. Full review… […]

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