Dominic Valvona’s New Music Reviews Roundup





A bumper roundup this month from me of eclectic tastes from across the sphere, including albums, singles, cassettes and EPs from Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Andrew Heath, Picturebox, Bokanté And Metropole Orkest, Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., Perhaps and Stringmodulator.

In brief, ‘lower-case’ minimalist composer Andrew Heath delivers another almost recondite album of in-situ recordings for the Disco Gecko label, with his fifth album Evenfall. In the same orbit, albeit far more mysterious, haunted and experimental, the Kammerflimmer Kollektief conjure up seven cerebral mood environment themed extemporized performances on, what could be, the longest entitled LP of 2018, There Are Actions Which We Have Neglected And Which Never Cease To Call Us. Crossing over with the titans of proto-Krautrock, the freak-out that is the Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., Jim Haney’s own Kosmische Afrobeat and jazz explorers Perhaps feature two of its members on their upcoming improvisation Hexagon. Haney also, through the boutique Kamikaze cassette tape platform, re-releases/re-introduces two of the legendary astral-travellers iconic albums to the world, In C and La Novia. Plus we have the latest recruit to join the Submarine Broadcasting Company hub, the German ten-string duo Stringmodulator; delivering their debut manifesto of noise for the label, all sounds emanating through just a bass and electric guitar.

Away from the electronic traverses and peregrinations there’s the new album of maverick Canterbury psych and new wave pop eccentricity from Picturebox; the Gare du Nord label supergroup long for ‘escape’ on their second album. And the cinematic transglobal partnership Bokanté And Metropole Orkest release a dramatic sweeping suite, What Heat.


Bokanté And Metropole Orkest – Conducted By Jules Buckley ‘What Heat’ (Real World Records) 28th September 2018

 

Unsurprisingly, considering the renowned cast of musical talent that has joined forces to create this sweeping cinemascope suite, the supergroup-within-a-supergroup behind this global union of outstanding collectives has risen to the challenge of producing a polygenesis epic. The providence is as rich as it is long, with the ‘Texan-bred’ New York instrumental jazz hybrid Snarky Puppy founder Michael League the instigator behind the continent-straddling intergenerational Bokanté, and the acclaimed English conductor, composer and musician Jules Buckley leading the multiple Grammy-winning cross-discipline and genre Metropole Orkest ensemble.

Within those two groups number a multitude of talented individuals and guests too numerous to name, though one of the most integral performers, a co-founder of Bokanté, is the Montreal-based Guadeloupean vocalist Malika Tirolien, who’s robust if diaphanous pitch and scale fluctuating coos and song can be found navigating and articulating the themes and distresses on every composition. An awe-inspiring voice of transglobal tones, expressions and dynamism, Tirolien’s meandering vocals are informed and graced by the Creole language – a most flowing of French-based languages that can sound especially percussive and funky, the dialect of her home being quite a specific form of it, though not too dissimilar to the Creole of Martinique and other former colonial French territories. It also lends its etymology to the ensemble that League and Tirolien started; Bokanté translates as ‘exchange’.

Musically transcending borders, the catalyst for this ambitious project – theoretically an acoustic one – is to not only share and celebrate cultures but draw attention to the increasingly hostile political tensions that threaten to cut off communities around the world. A reminder then of the benefits of our multicultural legacy, What Heat returns to the source, combing the Arabian and North African lands for inspiration.

A highly atmospheric and dramatic soundtrack with a stirring, accentuate company of strings adding a certain gravitas this sprawling panorama is cinematic in scope and mood. Broodily romantic, traversing a West African diorama, with guest Weedie Braimah on the djembe, the opening ‘All The Way Home’ fuses the true soul of that continent with flashes of jazz and urban modern R&B, tracing a connection all the way from New York to Ghana and Mali: Rustic sounding banjo and pedal steel guitar giving the impression that the group are merging the desert plains of Africa with American bluegrass and the Morricone imagined Wild West on the tribal soulful ‘Fanm (The Woman)’ and more enigmatic sounding ‘Chambre à Échos (Echo Chamber)’.

Elsewhere the evocation of Hispaniola, Brazil, Tunisia merges and crosses amorphously to an often lush but also tumultuous Buckley conducted Orchestra and quivered springy flute-y and skittering percussion. Plaintive, mournful and equally in anger at topics such as the migrant crisis, the album can’t help but sound like a rousing filmic adventure throughout: a most beautifully performed and sung one at that. Remarkably considering how densely packed the arrangements’ cast is, there is plenty of space to be found, even when a maelstrom turbulence is stirred up.

Swooning over vistas like a contemporary Gershwin who’s been listening to Beck, Trip-Hop, Afro-Futurist jazz, country and Malian blues, this, as it turns out, most congruous partnership successfully conjures up a wondrous hybrid drama that pushes each of the respective ensembles to the limits.






Perhaps ‘Hexagon’ (Riot Season Records) 12th October 2018

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. ‘In C’ & ‘La Novia’ (Kamikaze Tapes) Out Now

 

In what is a crossover of mutual appreciation and ‘head music’ hedonism, Jim Haney of the Kamikaze Tapes felicitator and astral-navigator of the Boston, Massachusetts cosmic-jazz-psych-Krautrock band Perhaps has been sucked-in to the acid-cosmology of the legendary Japanese ‘freak-out’, the Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O.. The Acid Mothers’ only real constant presence, and its founder, Kawabata Makoto, alongside just one of the group’s many band members over the decades, Mitsuru Tabata, both feature on Perhaps’ latest traverse, Hexagon. Meanwhile the Acid Mothers have re-released two of their most fabled albums, In C and La Novia, through Haney’s ‘boutique’ tape platform: I believe for the first time on cassette.

Both sharing similar musical tastes and penchant for experimental improvisation, it seems an obvious choice for Haney to absorb their experience and free-form escapism on Perhaps’ sixth long player; an album that features one long extended flight of woozy fantastical psychedelic-Afrobeat-jazz-Kosmische jamming, cut into a moiety over two sides of vinyl. ‘The Number Of The Priest’, parts one and two, pit Tony Allen’s repetitive Afrobeat drum beat an Idris Ackamoor breaks bread with Xhol Caravan style peregrination against a constant tide and enveloping of zapping, rippling, squelched, high velocity takeoffs and oscillations. All of which threaten to fold or tear the melodic celestial fabric.

On the shore of an Afro-Futurist style Topographic Ocean, journeying across alpha waves and signing squiggles across the Milky Way, part one of this cosmic soundtrack opens with a more earthy rustic country blues harmonization. Members of the extensive guest list ape a despondent Crosby, Stills & Nash or Mike Nesmith style chorus: “Oh the water runs high on the river at midnight/I sit on the shore to grieve and to cry/The woman I love she left me this morning, with no one to kiss me goodnight.” They soon leave these weeping shores, beckoning in the acid Afrobeat and deconstructive forces that try to dismantle it.

The second part continues the same vibe but with more strangled, scratchy and tangled guitar, synth polygons and six-sided mayhem! Despite the stellar meteorite shower of debris and harsher effects that threaten to destroy it, there’s a great Afro-jazz melody and beat at the heart of this trip. A trip that at its most hallucinatory-chaotic and noisiest bears all the hallmarks of the Acid Mothers.







Speaking of which. Two of the loose freak-out ensemble’s prolific back catalogue titles are gathered together on tape, re-released or re-introduced to the universe twenty years on from their original release dates. For those unaware of this Japanese institution that sprouted out of the kool-aid soup in the early 1990s, the Acid Mothers haven’t just taken a liberal sip from the Krautrock chalice but bathed in it as the natural disciples to that epochs cosmic explorers and innovators. They do such a good job of it that you could easily mistake them for golden era Amon Düül I and II, Ash Ra Tempel, Can, Popol Vuh or Birth Control. In the mode of a transient, transcendental Les Rallizes Dénudes they absorb and produce a psychedelic phantasm of both meditative mysticism and freeform thrashing acid rock. Constantly evaluating and evolving, even forming alliances with their influences, just one example being Acid Gurus Temple (later changed to Acid Mothers Guru Guru) with madcap drumming progenitor and bandleader of Guru Guru Mani Neumeier, only the founding arch druid of this enterprise, Kawabata Makoto remains at the helm after twenty-five years of spewing out proto-Krautrock explorations.

Originally released in 1998 as a transmogrification riff on Terry Riley’s masterpiece of minimalism, ‘In C’, the Acid Mothers push the perimeters of that exalted composer’s loose concept towards the dreamy and haunted. Consisting of fragments and modules in C (though even this basic premise isn’t written in stone, with other notes and scales allowed if the situation and environment call for it), the actual rudimental arrangement can be shortened, extended, played within various structures and at a variety of tempos. An open-ended performance the Acid Mothers use a similar chiming, ringing vibraphonic introduction but transformed so it takes on the ascendant visage of an astral spiritual pilgrimage. That is until they throw in the overlapping rotating drum barrage. Sort of split, though thin quieter dissipation passages link each section together, into three parts (the third I think is a separate track entirely), the dizzy Wurlitzer motion calms into a mystical Tibetan meets Afghan occult of ghostly visitations (the ghost train to Lhasa!) section before communing with the reverberating spirits of early Can and Yeti and Wolf City period Amon Düül II.

From the dawn of the new millennium La Novia builds another one of those haunted mystical freak-outs, on this occasion channeling the atavistic folk music of the southern European Occitanian tradition. Historically spanning a third of southern France, parts of Catalonia, Monaco and Italy, this region, once know under the Roman Empire’s yolk as Aquitania, is still imbued with its legacy and cultural connections. Here, the Acid Mothers troupe take one of the Occitanian’s lamentable folk ditties and transform it into mantra like liturgy, half Axlerod, half Tibetan. Monk like hums and strange annunciations overlap with female apparitions to set up a spooky atmosphere. Guitars and drums eventually seep into the tapestry of amplified Popol Vuh, Phallus Dei Amon Düül II and the Ash Ra Tempel, but then fade into a medieval spell. A second track strikes up when the first melts away; this last peregrination drifting in a dreamy state on an Eastern pillow before fleshing out another fuzzy psychedelic, otherworldly jam.

Both albums prove invaluable to the evolution of psych and Krautrock, the Acid Mothers possibly one of the most experimental and best groups to emerge in the aftermath of the original scene. They’ve arguably become one of the most highly influential groups of their own era. Many, if not all, inroads into this freakzone over the last three or more decades lead back to those crazy Japanese. Long may they continue to oscillate towards the stars in their Technicolor U.F.O. If you want to own any of their extensive, haphazard and often impossibly hard to track back catalogue, this double-bill cassette would be a great start.






Kammerflimmer Kollektief  ‘There Are Actions Which We Have Neglected And Which Never Cease To Call Us’ (Bureau B) 23rd September 2018

Fathoming serialism soundtracks from, as the group put it, ‘who the fuck knows’ for over twenty years, across ten albums, the Kammerflimmer Kollektief once more peer into the ether to extract another avant-garde-ambient-industrial-kosmische-jazz vision on what could be the year’s longest entitled album.

Going through a manner of changes during that time, the Kollektief’s constant presence and founder Thomas Webber is bookended on the new album by the deft, probing, double-bass player Johannes Frisch and atmospherically eerie harmonium vessel Heike Aumüller – though Webber, on whining and waning guitar sculpting duties, and his companions use a host of instruments throughout their conceptual-minded performances.

Countering various moods with a number of real locations, each extemporized track is framed as a ‘Action’; each example of which counterbalances the ‘immersive’ with the ‘haunted’, the ‘lucid’ with the ‘impassioned’ and the recondite with the concrete. A reification of ideas and psycho-geography that informs each destination, all seven action titles offer vague clues and prompts to the group’s inspirations; many of which hold a literary reference – the radio signal melee, ‘Action 2: Discharged, Quauhnáhuac’ referencing the double volcanic snuggled small Mexican town made famous by the acclaimed writer Malcolm Lowry in his critically venerated Under The Volcano novel as the diorama for a day (of the dead) in the life of its fateful alcoholic British consul protagonist, Geoffrey Firmin.

Elsewhere in the purview of feelings and environments, the trio articulate a lucid state in the San Diego coastal Imperial Beach; a location of Surf lore that has appeared in a myriad of fictional titles, but equally notable for its strong US Navy presence. Though eventually clicking into a twisted esoteric Western ritual, this opening action is anything but a moody soundtrack to this surfing paradise, travelling as it does through an inverted test tube into a menacing landscape of controlled wailed guitar, harmonium drones and sawing, scraping strings; breaking out into a final jazzy, skipping outro. Keeping Stateside and in the Californian outlier, ‘Action 5’ features the small Marin County town of Bolinas: the mood ‘resplendent’. Though the improvised soundscape drifts between the ominous and weird, the harmonium is the only instrument that is easy to identify amongst the wooden creaks and stretches (a set of oars perhaps?), rotors and hums.

Back on European shores we have invocations of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau inspired French park and commune, Ermenonville (planned in 1752 by Rousseau patron and friend, René Louis de Girardin; the philosopher’s tomb famously sits on an artificial island in the middle of a lake in the gardens); the foot-of-the-Carpathian town of Ivano-Frankivsk, part of Western Ukraine (changing hands between various empires, including the Holy Roman and Soviet, over the ages); and the Saxony-Anhalt town, resting on the east side of the Elbe River, of Jerichow (not incidentally translated etymology style from the Biblical Jericho). Closer still to home, the album’s most serene moment is a Roedelius/Möbius/Eno/Rother Harmonia style drift into the port of Hamburg. ‘Action 3’ is anything but as ‘thoughtless’ as the mood prefix suggests; instead it sounds like a gentle but deep sailing meditation into the veils of some mysterious salvation.

Impossible to escape the German lineage of Krautrock, post-industrial and Kosmische, the Kollektief often evoke the folkloric mysticism atmospheres of Dance Of The Lemmings and older Amon Düül II albums, Faust, Einstürzende Neubauten. But they also stir up the most experimental of European jazz, esoteric Americanna, avant-garde and Godspeed You! Black Emperor influences too. Yet they conjure ghostly apparitional manifestations both imaginatively disturbing and dreamy, and entirely their own. TAAWWHNAWNCTCU is a topography of not only real historical, literary places but also feelings, emotions; a deep suffusion of enigmatic intelligence.




Andrew Heath ‘Evenfall’ (Disco Gecko) 21st September 2018

 

Once more resonating with the piano explorations of open-ended collaborative partner on a series of projects over the years, Hans-Joachim Roedelius – most famously on the Meeting The Magus album, and more recently with the live improvised recording Triptych In Blue, which also features fellow avant-garde composer/artist Christopher Chaplin – Andrew Heath’s latest album for Disco Gecko (his fifth) continues to emanate the most deft and ambient of musical articulations from a chosen environment. As with his last album Soundings, the self-styled composer of ‘lower-case’ minimalism evokes enigmatic, mysterious and occasionally mournful passages of evolving, passing time through the use of found and created sound manipulation and in-situ (a concatenate theme that connects to Heath’s site specific video art) field recordings.

The ‘in-situ’ of this soft imbued tribute to the Evenfall hour of light that beckons the start of the evening is a remote woodland glade in the English Cotswolds. It’s a place where nocturnal nature meets the machinations of human activity, the friction buzz and fizzled zap of a manmade electric fence and distant humming drones of an unidentified engine offer a constant synthesized undulation for light rain and stirrings in the undergrowth.

Articulating the seclusion, though never far away from the presence of the outside world, and passing of time in his chosen Avalon, Heath’s signature phrased piano note caresses, couplets and subtly-placed chords are this time accompanied and expanded upon to not only feature his own underwater bendy guitar and Morse-code tapping tape manipulations but also the searing soprano saxophone of the award-winning (Young Musician Of The Year 2018) Lydia Kenny and poignantly stark narrated poetry of the prize-winning Romanian poet, writer and journalist Maria Stadnicka. You could say it was a Gloucestershire effort, if not certainly informed by the county, as all the cast on this recording are based there or have an affinity with it, and of course it is home to the location from which the field recordings are taken from.

Kenny for her part, offers a suffused longing with occasionally piercing notes traverse to Heath’s piano and burnished, rubbing metallic drones on ‘The Still Of Evenfall’, and Stadnicka reads, in an almost automated, somehow not quite human mimicry of A.I. fashion, her intimate elegiac and startling erudite poem Breathing on the floating, misty ambient ‘The Garden Reveals Itself’: A poetic revelation metaphor that chimes with Heath’s unhurried compositions, the final line of Stadnicka’s poem lending itself to the title, describing artfully through the action of ‘breathing’ the memories, sense and sensations that come to those awaiting the inevitable; ruminating on the hours left:

‘He believes in time,

and in mistakes –

the heroic stare of heavy hours,

equally empty for all.’

With what sounds like all the time in the world, unpressured and untethered Heath creates the minimalist musical equivalent of slow food – though every effort is made at a serialism non-musical exploration, rhythms and patterns emerge to put this album in the neo-classical and melodious ambient camps. Adding at a slow pace a number of instruments and techniques Heath expands his nuanced experiments on Evenfall to shift, however minor, the focus and atmosphere on each new album. Heath stakes his claim as a natural scion of the ambient progenitors, especially his sometime foil, Roedelius: A compliment that don’t come any better.






Picturebox ‘Escapes’ (Gare du Nord) 21st September 2018

 

As if the cottage-industry polyglot Ian Button hadn’t led or collaborated enough already, more or less appearing as he does as the omnipresent instigator of the lion’s share of releases on his own diy-fashioned Kent-Paris international connected label Gare du Nord, he’s back once more stoking the fires of another unassuming supergroup: Picturebox. Two years on from the Canterbury soft bulletin psych and curious pop-imbued band’s last album, Button has somehow not only found the time and the patience to recall songwriter Robert Halcrow, Ben Lockwood and Alex Williams but also corralled fellow label stalwart Jack Hayter (a multi-tasker in his own right, he’s let loose on the violin on the Slim Chance-esque rustic canal path ‘The Vicar’s Dog’) and one-man band Matthew Dutra (not letting anyone else get a look in, Dutra not only co-wrote the concertinaed train journey inspired ‘GNER’ but also plays the guitar, piano and harmonica on it). In many ways a crossover project, Picturebox shares members with Buton’s other label love-in, and growing super-supergroup, Papernut Cambridge.

Quintessentially English, channeling many of the Kentish and bordering counties cannon of lo-fi mavericks and psychedelic eccentrics, from Kevin Ayers to Syd Barrett, though equally comfortable evoking new wave, Britpop and indie, the Picturebox set out to produce ‘pop music with an edge.’ And so just when you think the grinding fuzz and warping that introduces the album’s opening track, ‘Stumble’, indicates we might be in for an abrasive psych trudge they break out into a jangly pop mash-up of The Lemonheads, Stiff Fingers and Robyn Hitchcock. Elsewhere they evoke a melancholic Boo Radleys on the wistful daydream ‘Secret Escapes’, Denim on the Casio bossa-shimmer pre-set kooky ‘Nice Boys’ Mobile Disco’ and The Kinks on the downer minor bass chord pinged and submerged ‘Sirens’.

Those familiar to the label and its signature themes will recognize the idiosyncratic whimsy, sometimes surreal resignation, that often disarms or brings a comical veil to the sadder tropes of loneliness, unrequited love, and political climate, or as this album’s title makes apparent, the idea of and need to escape. Frustrations and the feelings of powerlessness, whether it’s in a job or relationship transcribe into quirks and metaphors: For example, the trapped in uninspiring low paid work after leaving school, encapsulated in the conformity of a ‘Uniform’.

Escaping by train, cab and airplane, Picturebox seem to have failed in getting away if the album’s final vignette swansong is anything to go by. That finale, ‘Troyte’, is a fleeting elegiac woozy Church organ service; a pastoral English past encapsulated and recalled in a short venerable passage; a reminder of the past, nostalgia and parochialism, which might be a comment on Brexit. The mood and outcome of which the group really hopes to break free and escape from. Pop music with an edge indeed, Escapes is another brilliant curious songbook of melodic eccentricity from the Gare du Nord stable.






Stringmodulator ‘Manifesto – Noises Made By Guitar And Bass’ (Submarine Broadcasting Company) 10th September 2018

 

Pretty much summing up the methodology of the German duo, the Stringmodulator moniker and title of their latest album is self-explanatory: Basically take your guitar and bass strings and…well, modulate them. Modulate them that is, through an effects-pedal switchboard of phaser, fuzz, reverb, cosmic flange and delay; ten strings looping, overlapping and pulsing to create a sound greater than the sum parts of Jan Quednau’s bass and Fabian Chmielewski’s electric guitar.

Entirely channeling through these two instruments, composed spontaneously and recorded on a two-track device without overdubs, the duo’s manifesto-driven debut for the Submarine Broadcasting Company platform transduces elements of Krautrock, post-rock, electronica and jazz fusion into a warped soundtrack of curious, wild and motoring instrumentals.

After the swirling ambient mists and distant low airplane engine like hums have dissipated on the ‘Prologue’, repetitive notation nodes, loops, patterns and resonance form to produce a Techno rhythm and bounce on the rock music version of ‘Pocket Calculator’ meets Yellow Magic Orchestra ‘Thump & Shriek’. Ruminating over pining, often meditative, landscape, Chmielewski’s guitar phrases arch and arc like the communing astral postures of Manuel Göttsching; especially on the ballad-esque scenic cave with water pool feature curtain call ‘A Quiet Place’.

Providing a varied and echo-y bed for his musical partner, Quednau offers a driving, prowling rhythm with his bass, but can also create a vaporous presence. On the Mike Oldfield lurking in the crypt with John Carpenter spooky suspense ‘Horror Vacui’, that bass guitar lays down an ominous and looming Goblin-esque atmosphere, and manages to turn the Kosmische chugger ‘Growl’ into a twisted Native Indian tribal beat.

Careering between a possessed, strangulated Land Observations on the ghost-in-the-machine ‘Guitar Sabotage’ and a caustic reverberating The Normal on the sharp squiggly sculpted ‘White Noise’ the duo sure know how to fill enough space and make enough noise for just two instruments. Yet they can articulate and describe subtly and skillfully the emotions and themes of their attuned performances, especially on the aching distressed rebounded ‘Echo Chamber’.

Not unique by any stretch Stringmodulator are however quite different in their approach; many of their contemporaries choosing similar two-instrument collaborations, though it’s usually twinned with a drum kit, work in the rock and indie genres. More like an amped-up Eno & Fripp or loopcentric lapping Math Rock version of Ash Ra Temple colliding with Einstürzende Neubauten this ten-string project is influenced by a wide range of conceptual and experimental artists: even soundtrack composers. Arty, technical yet ballsy, they span many moods; energetic being one of their strongest. I’m recommending it though because it is so different and difficult to define. It confounds me to be honest. And I find that interesting.





Words: Dominic Valvona

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New music reviews/Words: Dominic Valvona





Welcome to Dominic Valvona’s regular reviews roundup. This latest edition of Tickling Our Fancy includes albums, EPs and singles by the Dur-Dur Band, Spike & Debbie, Angels Die Hard, Cassini Division, Vigüela and Kiddus.

As always an eclectic mix of music from around the globe, the latest edition of my reviews jamboree and recommendations includes two albums released through the Benelux-heavy Jezus Factory label; the first, a prog, alt-rock, math rock and Krautrock environmental charged tropical Island soundtrack from Angels Die Hard, the second, an analogue synth driven oceanography purview of the Bermuda Triangle phenomena (released on cassette tape) by Miguel Sosa, under the guises of his Cassini Division moniker. Analog Africa keep up the good work in digging up and reissuing the most essential music from Africa and beyond with their latest and most dangerously sourced album collection yet: the very rare first two albums from the Somalia new wave-funk-reggae-soul-traditional fusion sensations, the Dur-Dur Band.

ARC Music bring us another meticulously researched and performed traditional songbook of music from Spain; the Vigüela troupe, ‘Ronda’ style, once more breathing life into sones, laments, carols and fandangos from the country’s interior; and Tiny Global Productions bring us a compilation of past musical projects from the Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie partnership Spike & Debbie; and finally we have the brand new EP from the hallucinogenic languid soulful new Bristolian talent Kiddus, Snake Girls.


Dur-Dur Band ‘Dur Dur Of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 And Previously Unreleased Tracks’ (Analog Africa) 14th September 2018

Bravely (or foolishly) indifferent o the climate of the Somalia flashpoint of Mogadishu, Analog Africa’s head honcho Samy Ben Redjeb travelled to the former trading hub jewel of the African NorthEast coast in 2016 to both dig and soak up the atmosphere and history of the very streets and sounds that once provided the infectious deep funk fusions of the legendary Dur-Dur Band.

A failed state in fluxes since the 1990s, Somali and by extension the faction-fighting battleground of its capital is, to put it mildly, bloody dangerous! Accustomed to risky and contentious political no-go zones Redjeb has form in visiting some of Africa’s most volatile hotspots in his pursuit of tracing the artists and original recordings down. This trip, which had been on the cards for years and had become a personal preoccupation, was I imagine hinging on security issues. But with an armed escort (an ad hoc volunteer at that) in tow at all times, Redjeb eventually arrived to source that elusive band’s impressive discography.

Going further than most to prove it was all worthwhile Redjeb digs up one of the funkiest and cool finds from the African continent yet. Embodying a period in the 1980s when Mogadishu could boast of its cosmopolitan reputation – notably the European chic Via Roma stretch in the Hamar-Weyne district, a colonnade for café culture, cinema and of course music – the hybrid Dur-Dur Band moped up the polygenesis fever of their native city with effortless aplomb. Particular places of interest in this story and geography are the iconic moiety of record shops the Shankarphone and Iftinphone, both run by members of the Dur-Dur Band’s nearest rivals, the Iftin Band, and the Jubba Hotel, where the Dur-Dur enjoyed a fractious residency: Balancing this coveted spot at one-point with a, by popular demand, extended run as the backing band for the play ‘Jascyl Laba Ruux Mid Ha Too Rido (May One Of Us Fall In Love)’ play, at the Mogadishu national theatre.

Making an impact, creating a “wow” from the outset, they enjoyed a short reign as the country’s number one band; releasing a quick-succession of albums, the first two volumes of which alongside two previously unreleased tracks make up this, the first in a series of Dur-Dur Band, re-releases. Though certainly a sensational and popular act the civil unrest that followed in the 90s would all but stifle their potential. They would only come to a greater audience outside Somalia via cassette-copying, Youtube and by happenstance; most notably the Milwaukee-based musicologist John Beadle, who in 2007 uploaded a tape he’d been handed twenty years previously by a Somalia student to his Likembe blog. Featured under the now famous ‘Mystery Somali Funk’ heading, Beadle’s post originally miscredited this convulsing funk gem to their Dur-Dur Band’s chief rivals of the time, the already mentioned Iftin Band – a mistake rectified by the Iftin’s band leader, who suggested it was in fact the fabled Dur-Dur.





So what makes this band and their rare recordings so special? Saved from ‘tape-hiss’ and ‘wobbles’, remastered to sound the best they’ve ever sounded, these curious but above all loose-limbed nuggets successfully merged a myriad of Somalia traditions with a liberal smattering of disco, reggae (via the northern part of the country’s ‘Daantho’ rhythm style; an uncanny surrogate for Jamaica’s number one export), soul and funk. Mirroring a similar fusion thousands of miles away in New York, the Dur-Dur languidly produced an electrified no wave new wave melting pot.

They were fortunate with their insightful founder and keyboard star Isse Dahir who molded a formidable forward-thinking group from a number of other Somali bands, including the rhythm providers, Ujeeri on bass (plucked from the Somali Jazz) and Handel on drums (the Bakaka Band). He also drafted in his siblings, with Abukaron taking on lead guitar and Ahmed enrolled as the band’s permanent sound engineer; a role that partially explains why they became known as one of the country’s ‘best sounding’ groups. The vocals meanwhile, which sway between the spiritually devotional and pop, were split three ways between another former Bakaka Band member, and Daantho style acolyte, Shimaal, the young female singer, whose voice assails the homeland to sound at times almost Indian, Sahra Dawo, and the spaghetti body shaped, nicknamed, Baastow – brought in for his ‘deep knowledge’ of traditional Somali music, in particular the atavistic spirit summoning ‘Saar’, a style perceived as far too dangerous by the manager of the infamous Jubba Hotel for his European guests: “I am not going to risk having Italian tourists possessed by Somali spirits! Stick to disco and reggae.”

Split up across a triple LP and double CD formats the Dur-Dur Band’s first two albums proper, Volumes 1 and 2, and a couple of unreleased tunes feature on this, the first in a promised series of re-issues. Released originally in 1986, the first of these and the band’s debut album, Volume 1, has a rawer unpolished but snazzy sound that saunters, skips and grooves along with aloof coolness to sweltering laidback funk. Opening with wah-wah chops and a fuzzy organ, ‘Ohiyee’ lays down a sophisticated but explosive spiritual dancefloor thriller. This is repeated on the bands first official hit ‘Yabaal’, which turns a traditional song into something approaching the no wave of ESG, mixed with tooting Afrobeat sax and disco swerves. The bendy warbled guitar soloing, snozzled sax fluttering ‘Doon Baa Maraysoo’ sounds like The J.B’s cantering down the Via Roma, or a lost Stax Vaults recording.

Volume 2 by contrast seems a little brighter and tropical; beginning as it does with the dub echoed, Trenchtown pirate radio broadcast ‘Introduction’. Sweeter dreamy saunters meet Muslim belt funk on songs such as ‘Jaceyi Mirahiis’, and on the singles ‘Dab’ and ‘Diinleeya’ you can hear evocations of quasi-reggae: Mogadishu meets Kingston on a spiritual plain!

A highlight in a catalogue of outstanding reissues, the Dur-Dur Band collection is quite unique. And a shining example of African fusions seldom heard outside the borders of its origins. Redjeb’s perseverance has paid off, introducing us to the formidable and exciting Somali polygenesis funk scene of the 80s. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that can compare or compete with this band’s solid sound.




Spike & Debbie  ‘Always Sunshine, Always Rain’  (Tiny Global Productions)  21st September 2018





A convoluted rock family tree, the meandering interwoven historiography behind one of Cardiff’s ultimate underground indie sensations, The Young Marble Giants, draws in the congruous lilted partnership behind this most brilliant new collection from the Tiny Global Productions label.

As a catalyst facilitator for the YMG’s leap from disbandment on the cusp of the 1980s to success and cult status after signing to a burgeoning Rough Trade, Mark ‘Spike’ Williams is perhaps forever immortalized as the ‘guitar pal’ who talked the feted band into recording the two tracks that would turn-around their fortunes: Already a well known figure on the diy Cardiff scene, instigating various projects (Reptile Ranch being just one) and co-founding Z Block Records, he encouraged a dejected YMG into providing a couple of songs for the Is The War Over? compilation; the rest is history as they say.

Forming all manner of collaborations with various YMG band members, Spike has and continues to work with the band’s Alison Statton (originally as the Weekend and currently going under the Bimini moniker), but also formed Bomb And Dagger with more or less the entire Giants lineup in 1983 (an offshoot of another Cardiff obscurity, Splott). From outside the YMG sphere, Bomb And Dagger would feature Debbie ‘Debris’ Pritchard, an artist and disarming vocalist who’d appear alongside Spike under an umbrella of guises including Table Table and The Pepper Trees. From this union a collection is born, Always Sunshine, Always Rain, pretty much a fey summary of the partnerships sighing demeanor and sound collects all manner of recordings from across the full spectrum of their endeavors.

Beautifully sung to a mostly lo fi Afro-Caribbean meets C86 indie backing of scuffling skiffle brushed drums, tropical lilted melodies and post-punk guitar, the sunny disposition of the music is a counterpoint to the political messages that lie at the heart of Debbie’s peaceable protestations and multicultural celebrations. From what is a collection of mostly rare recordings, ‘Strike’ builds a musical union between the under-the-cosh miners of Wales and their kin in South Africa. A post-punk Paul Simon twinning Cardiff indie with Soweto solidarity, ‘Strike’ (a track originally recorded for a miners benefit compilation) is a perfect example of Spike & Debbie’s pleasant shuffling and soulful magic.

Finding a tropical balance between Family Fodder, The Marine Girls and The Raincoats, the duo delivered messages of anxiety, oppression, patriarchal domineering, both physically and mentally (a recurring theme of being suffocated, drained and controlled by a partner in a relationship, permeate) to a most sauntering backing. At times limbering towards Camera Obscura and even the Cocteau Twins, they evoke a fantastical vision of Pauline Black fronting Ludas, though the most odd conjuncture is the elasticated ‘Houses’, which sounds like The Raincoats’ Ana da Silva fronting an Unlimited Edition Can.

For fan and completest alike this collection features the original lo fi quality skitty soul meets ruminating pop ‘Seaport Town’, later revisited by Spike and the Alison Statton, and the ‘Ilkeston’ version of a scratching dawdled guitar and echo-y ‘Assured Energy’, which appeared in a completely different form on the Stuart Moxham (another YMG, but going under The Gist title here) album Holding Pattern.

In chronological order, it is fair to say that most of the compilation has until now remained difficult to acquire or source. Differing in recording quality with slight musical differences between groups of songs, as each project adds or draws in a myriad of inspirations and musicians, this twenty strong collection is full of sunny gentle post-punk gems. The story of Spike & Debbie, their projection across a decade and more, proves an essential and pleasurable missing chapter in the story of the Welsh indie scene.






Angels Die Hard  ‘Sundowner’ (Jezus Factory)  1st September 2018





Keeping to the instrumental group’s psychedelic imaginations the latest concept album from Angels Die Hard is set in the dreamy, if in peril, Monsterism Island meets Les Baxter ethnographic phantasm of a remote Southeast Asian archipelago.

On a sabbatical, retreating to the wilds and ideals of life on the tropical island of Andaman, where, so the faux-legend spill goes, they hoped to find and record the mating call of the Drongo bird, the original trio passed the time playing all the local dives, opium dens and beach clubs. Chancing upon fellow sonic explorer and drummer/percussionist Alain Ryant, who was on a break from playing with Maxon Blewitt & Eriksson-Delcroix, the Angels expanded the ranks to become a quartet after some sort of tribal rites-of-passage style ceremony.

As backpacker anecdotes go this colourful semi-fictional backstory is one of liberal exotica consumption. It does however have a serious note: the ecological impact of a plastics-Moloch consuming society on the brink of a cataclysmic point-of-no-return, as the detritus of a throwaway globalized marketplace leaves no idyllic, isolated paradise untouched. Seeing the plastics efflux wash-up on the coastline of their present haven – a story about the final straw breaking the metaphorical camel’s back was seeing a local ‘sea gipsy’ smoking a bong made out of a Starbucks cup – the Angels were feted to dedicate, at least partially, their third and newest album, Sundowner, to this environmental tragedy. Of course a sizable chunk is also dedicated to those old tropes of emotional complexity (more specifically and blushingly, the ‘complex sensations’ before and after the act of lovemaking); articulated somehow in the group’s instrumental sagas and workouts.

Imbued with a legacy of progressive, alt-rock, psych, exotica and post-punk influences plus Julian Cope’s Krautrock compendium, the Angels transduce and channel a cornucopia of styles once more. Though this album doesn’t truly come alive until it reaches the VHS esoteric Western soundtrack title-track. It’s the first time we hear the arpeggiator neon space dream sequences, mixed with a panoramic Adam’s Castle view of psychedelic math rock: and highly dramatic and highly atmospheric it sounds too. Slower waveforms and smoke-machine effects appear on the lost Sky Records Kosmische meets Moroder cult theme tune meets Air ‘Dancing Algae’. But this album really gets going on the lengthy epic ‘Gutter Glory’, a two-part fantasy that progresses from a holy union of late 70s Eno, Jah Wobble and Andean soaring noodling to a full-on Brainticket sonic assault. Almost its twin in scale, ‘Acid Beach’ reimagines mid-70s Amon Duul II and Battles beachside at Cape Canaveral: the guitars mimicking a space shuttles thrusters and boosters.

Earlier tracks sound like space cowboy peregrinations accompanied by a cosmic reimagined vision of early U2 and Simple Minds, Holy Fuck and a motorik version of dEUS: A lot of ideas bouncing around inside the group’s shared mind-meld. They end on the album’s most serene if plaintive meditation, ‘Dirty Sunset’; a Floydian kind of jazzy blues serenading, with guitar notes falling like tears, the last image saved, the sun going down on a besmirched paradise: a downer bro.

You got to hand it to the Angels for expanding their horizons (literally), though far too many tracks end up going nowhere particularly new or rewarding. Yet when they do get it right they produce some fantastic opuses of amorphous abandon. Beachcombing a radioactive luminous landscape of musical opportunity they produce one of their best albums yet.






Cassini Division ‘Bermudas’ (Jezus Factory)  August 31st 2018





The enigma that is the Bermuda Triangle, a confounding phenomena, a twilight zone of improbability, a loosely demarcated area in the North Atlantic Ocean that has been written about and inspired countless generations. Unexplained disappearance central, a chasm for the ships and aircraft that have either lost momentarily or forever within its dimensions, the Bermuda Triangle (also called the Devil’s Triangle) lies across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. For though hundreds of incidents have been recorded over the centuries, they form an almost insignificant percentage of the overall traffic that made it through this mysterious void unscathed. Many of these disappearances have been exaggerated and misreported, so accounts are spurious. Yet this hasn’t stopped the endless flow of conspiracy theories: extraterrestrial interference being top of the list alongside inter-dimensional fantasies, the paranormal and governmental maleficence.

Jezus Factory stalwart Miguel Sosa, better known for his part in the bands Strumpet, iH8 Camera, Monguito and Parallels, composes a conceptual purview of not only the Triangle but the surrounding geography on his analogue cosmic cassette tape special, Bermudas. Under the solo Cassini Division mantle, beaming an experimental score from his Buenos Aires studio, Sosa seems to be having fun with his 70s/80s rack of switchboard patches and analogue equipment, retuning and configuring the pioneering quirkiness of fellow Argentine Waldo Belloso, the more Kosmische soaring otherworldliness of Tangerine Dream, and on the album’s scarier foreboding and wilder moments (‘Tropical Cyclone’ for one), a union of John Carpenter’s score for The Fog and W. Michael Lewis & Mark Lindsay’s soundtrack for Shogun Assassin.

A barely veiled tribute to the burgeoning age of the Moog and ARP Odyssey this kooky experiment is filled with all the signature burbles, wobbles, modulations/oscillations you’d expect to hear; from the primordial soup miasma to the bubbling apparatus of a mad scientist and 8-bit loading sounds of a Commodore 64 game. Every now and then you hear something really odd, especially when the drum machine is added; tight-delayed paddled snares and toms are rapidly sped-up or strung out and staggered. There’s even, what sounds like, a marimba on the Tangerine Dream transmogrify The Beach Boys ‘Seaweed Theme’.

For the most part articulating looming otherworldly leviathans and ominous confusion, Bermudas extends UFO period Guru Guru with a supernatural oceanography of submarine sonar rebounds and tidal motion sine waves. Arthur C. Clarke’s Cradle meets Chariots Of The Gods; Sosa’s analogue visions channel every facet of the Triangle’s legacy – the alien, supernatural, human and environmental -, his track titles plotting interesting and relevant historical and topographical references to events such as the point (or plateau) from which the Transatlantic cable started to the natural phenomenon of this region’s hazardous weather conditions.

As a break from the catalogue of bands he often plays with and leads, the Cassini Division instrumental psychogeography proves a worthy oddity of analogue synth curiosity.






Vigüela ‘A Tiempo Real – A New Take On Spanish Tradition’ (ARC Music) 24th August 2018


 

As the title of the latest album by the much-acclaimed Spanish troupe Vigüela makes clear, this atavistic imbued group of adroit multi-instrumentalists and singers offer a revitalization, a twist on the traditional paeans, chants, carols and yearning songs of their native homeland: especially their own El Carpiode Tajo village. Traditionally the music that permeates throughout Vigüela’s signature sound was never meant for the stage, but is played informally, almost unrehearsed, throughout the hamlets and villages of Spain’s interior.

Meandering through a timeless landscape finding and learning all manner of old customs, always ready to be taught or re-educated, an introductory anecdote from the group’s Juan Antonio Torres Delgado goes some way encapsulating both Vigüela’s methodology and inspirations. Torres believing he was quite well informed when it came to the courtship dance and folk song style of the Spanish ‘Jota’, was soon humbled by one of its leading lights, the singer Tia Chata, who he’d made a special pilgrimage to see in her home village of Menasalbas (located within the Toledo province, where the lion’s share of the music on this ambitious collection derives). Bringing out his guitar and (bearing in mind Torres is a pretty deft accomplished player) striking up a Jota rhythm, he was abruptly stopped in his flow by his muse: “Dear boy, you don’t know how to play the Jota. Wait until my husband comes home from work, he will show you.” The lady was right, once her husband returned home after work he really did show Torres how to play it. Though to be fair the Jota differs from region to region, each part of the country adopting its own unique version. As a testament to both their commitment and intergenerational interactions, learning and keeping local traditions alive, it proves a good one.

Returning to the source, adopting various customs on the way, they take a particular fancy to the ‘walking and singing in the street’ custom of ‘Ronda’. They reinterpret this unplugged carousing and minstrel like performance style alongside of others, including Christmas carols, ‘Seguidillas’, ‘Sones’ and the ‘Fandango’.

Spread over two discs with a generous running time of a hundred minutes, A Tiempo Real showcases not only the soul and aching heart of Spain but of course also shows off the masterful musicianship and voices of the groups meticulous lineup, which often expands to accommodate even more players: increasing in this case, from a quartet. Pretty much tapping, rubbing, peddling, plucking and strumming every sort of Spanish instrument they could lay their hands on, as well as a hardware store of miscellaneous object that include bottles and kitchen utensils, Vigüela go to work on their songbook collection.

With a more stripped and pared down accompaniment the first CD of this double album features an accompaniment of bottle-washer rattling percussion, huffing blows from an instrument (think a ceramic trombone crossed with a heifer) I can’t identify and the strange ‘Zambomba’ drum (traditionally used for music at Christmas to accompany chants and carols; played by hand with sticks or metal brushes). The impressive duets, call and response and chorus ensemble vocals are prominent above this backing. From rustic bewailing to robust a capella, these voices are all stoic, pained and even critical: Songs such as the theatrical, wry but joyful ‘Eldemonio El Calderero (The Demon Coppersmith)’ are characterized as a ‘Romance story’, yet you will find a satirical criticism within the lyrics, aimed at the Catholic Church. Raw but beautiful, endurance reigns above all else; the dreams and love trysts of a rural population exquisitely bound up in effortless serenades and Cantina porch sways, Vigüela bring us reverberations of Española, the Arabic Spain, and its overseas colonies in Northwestern and Southern America.

Metaphorical lovers depicted as birds (‘El Pájaroya Voló and ‘Arrímate, Pichón, A Mi’), laments brought back from the frontlines of war in 19th century Cuba (‘Allá En La Habana’) and tribunes to love interests (‘Moreno Mío, Cuán To Te Quiero’ and ‘La Niña De Sevilla’) are given a new lease of life by Vigüela. Straddling eras, blowing off the dust, they inject a bit of energy and dynamism back into the songs of their ancestors.

Taking a slightly different route on the second CD, the guitars are finally unleashed; courtship dances and songs of defiance now feature a fuller, sometimes cantering rhythm and flourish. Those signature trills, crescendos and unfurled castanets now accent or punctuate this songbook, giving it a great deal more volume, yet still subtle enough to accommodate and not override the beautiful chorus of voices.

It’s not integral – though this is every bit as academic a recording as it is an entertaining performance – but the linear notes, which are extensive, provide a providence and go some way to explaining exactly what you’re listening to and how Vigüela personalized it: Take ‘Que Si Quieres, Moreno’, a typical melodic variant from Campo de Montiel en La Mancha de Ciudad Real, it differs from some styles and ways of playing the Fandango by featuring the signature accent on the first beat. It helps to know all this of course to fully appreciate the group’s skill and attention to detail.

Already attracting plaudits in Spanish music circles, Vigüela could always do with finding a wider audience for their sincere interpretations and twists on the traditional music of the regions they research and relive. Hopefully this latest album will help; it will certainly enhance their reputation if nothing else. With a foot in both eras, they bridge the divides and generations to encapsulate the provincially isolated spirit of Spain; reaffirming a joy but also preserving songs previously neglected and forgotten.



Kiddus ‘Crazy You (Video/Single)’ & ‘Snake Girls (EP)’  TBA/Sometime in October

If Drake or The Young Fathers had made a record with the Anticon or UNO label it wouldn’t have sounded too dissimilar to the upcoming EP from the teenage Bristolian enigma, Kiddus. Shifting between hallucinogenic states of listless discord, Kiddus’ cathartic visages melt with languid beauty throughout. Dripping R&B amorphously merges with hip-hop and reverberations of The Gazelle Twin, Chino Amobi and the sort of neo-experimental electronic soul that sits well over at Erased Tapes on every track of this impressive release.

Just like The Gazelle Twin before him, Kiddus transmogrifies his own version of a Prince classic, ‘Crazy You’. The lead single from Snake Girls, this transformation of an early Prince classic replaces the original’s tingling percussion, falsetto and oozing sexuality with something far more sauntering, beat-y and loose. It sounds great: an over-layering acid trip of veiled soulful sadness and sophistication.

That quality of lingering sadness and nuanced encrypted inspirations is spread throughout the rest of the EP’s assuage meanderings. ‘Dreaming In 30 Fps’ and ‘Vapid Me’ (as the title suggests) are as vaporously float-y as they are disorientating. Multiple samples linger and echo in and out of focus, mirroring and articulating the various conflictions and anxieties of the young artist; building into a chaotic crescendo on the Radiohead-esque cyclonic drum fitting ‘ARGH’. Indolently beautiful in a dreamy psychosis, the finale ‘theplumeetwhenuronurown’ features fragmented warnings and a quant sample that disarms a message, perhaps, of terminally drifting off into a never-ending sleep.

Snake Girls is essentially a soul record: a deeply soulful one at that. A recontextualized vision of troubadour soul crooning, lost in a confused hyper-digitized virtual reality, Kiddus’ senses blinker, light up and then dissipate to a 21st century soundtrack of pliable experimentation.



COMPILATION REVIEW: DOMINIC VALVONA



Hugh Masekela   ‘’66-‘76’   Wrasse Records,  20th April 2018

Masekela as the exile. Masekela as the trumpet maestro. Masekela as the bandleader. Masekela as the activist. Masekela as the colonial revisionist. Masekela as the angry young man. These are just some of the many faces of the South African titan of jazz and African musical fusions Hugh Masekela that can be found inside the latest essential collection of the late great polymaths’ back durable catalogue, ’66-’76. Put together especially by Masekela and his good friend, producer and collaborator on a number of projects together, Stewart Levine, just before he passed away in January of 2018, this three disc spanning collection features key tracks from many of his most iconic and experimental albums (two of which are included in their entirety). What makes this especially appealing to collectors and fans alike, is that many of these albums were never officially released in the UK and Europe before. Progressing in the chronological order they were recorded, we follow Masekela’s journey not just musically but politically across his most formative decade and his collaborative partnership with Levine.

Originally crossing paths in New York in 1961, a year after Masekela first arrived in the States after narrowly avoiding arrest in his native South Africa for breaking the apartheid system draconian ‘pass laws’, Levine, a Bronx native, met the aspiring horn player as he searched for a decent break on the American east coast jazz scene. They both enrolled that same year into the Manhattan School of Music, sharing a room together. In the years to come this hotbed, an incubator for some of the greatest jazz musicians of the last five decades, would turn out countless additions to Masekela’s changing lineup of recording sessions and live backing groups. But during those initial years, Levine and Masekela would, after graduating, split and go their separate ways, pursuing different pathways: Masekela, emulating the jazz doyens that inspired him to move across the Atlantic, and Levine, choosing production.

Years later, in ’66, and sharing not only a bond of friendship but love of Africana and American music, the pair reunited to setup a production company, the intention being to make records that combined jazz, the dancing Township sounds of South Africa and the grooves and sounds of Rhythm and Blues. This partnership, fortunately funded by seed money from some generous benefactor, quickly moved its operation to the West Coast and L.A. in the fall of that same year. Christened Chisa Records, the inaugural album, The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela (which starts off this whole collection) featured the hybrid signature sound that the company and Masekela himself would be celebrated for. And as the title makes clear, would not shy away from black consciousness issues and struggles: not only in his native homeland, but also in his exiled home of America.





Dressed up as a smiling Abraham Lincoln on the cover, this quite withheld and effortlessly played album features the ‘working group’ of Manhattan School luminaries of musicians that backed him at club spots in the infamous Watts and on Sunset Strip: Harry Bellefonte’s (who will crop up again in this story, and have much to do with Masekela through the civil rights movement) travelling bass player at the time, John Cartwright, joins congas legend Big Black, drummer Chuck Carter and pianist Charlie Smalls, whose unique and open style of playing brought gospel and a lilt of Brazil to the set up; especially on the opening sumptuous Felicade. Over seven tracks, this live recording soaks up sauntering big band Highlife (Why Are You Blowing My Mind?), calypso via Soweto, trumpet heralding lullaby (Do Me So La So So) and yearned Sun Ra breaks bread with the Last Poets hippie jazz (Child Of The Earth).

Moving on with a rotating cast of players, only Carter on drums remaining an anchor on the next trio of albums, another New Yorker, saxophonist Al Abreu, would come into the fold – a member up until his untimely tragic death in car accident just a couple years later in ’69 – joined by Cape Town pianist Cecil Barnard and L.A. local jazz bassist Henry Franklin on the dynamite live ‘67 Alive And Well At The Whiskey. As the title suggests, lighting up the Sunset Stripe institution, the Whiskey A Go Go, Masekela’s altered troupe –changed after appearing at that year’s Monterey Pop Festival – fused a lively but controlled suite of Savoy jazz meets Motown poetic lamentable peace and love; the two featured tracks here, Son Of Ice Bag and Coincidence posing the chance of a better future.

That same group, and similar theme, appears on the next album, the phenomenally successful The Promise Of A Future. Recorded in less than an hour, the defining lulled cowbell-ringing track on that album, and as it would turn out most popular selling record of his career (more than three million copies; hitting the number one spot on the American pop charts), Grazing In The Grass helped Masekela reach a bigger audience commercially but also ended up hindering him long term; the expectation to follow up its success sending the cold footed doyen of fusion towards the insular and more experimental, refusing outright to repeat the same formula. Sampled excessively by the Hip-Hop fraternity, and so once again made popular for a new generation, the recognizable candour and busyness of this track, featuring the soft yielding licks of Bruce Langhorne, would be avoided on the darker, more direct and politically motivated barbed soul Masekela LP that followed it.





Already unique, incorporating the soul of South African music with jazz, rhythm and blues and South American grooves, The Promise Of A Better Future featured some fine iterations including the tribal Pharoah Sanders spiritual longing of These Are Seeds To Sow, and Caribbean swayed Vuca.

Whilst Grazing In The Grass was enjoying its popularity in the summer of ’68, America’s civil rights movement was hit, literally, with a double tragedy. In April Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, mortally wounded on a motel balcony in Memphis, and just two months later, Bobby Kennedy joined the fate of his brother, and was shot dead at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Riots lit up across the country and to all intents and purposes it looked like a concentrated effort was being made to off the civil rights leaders and friends, and to top it all the Vietnam War. In this incubator of inflamed passions, Masekela produced an album suffused with the stench of teargas and mace. Certainly angry, yet his statement of protest and succinctly named Masekela album was far from a blistering howl of rage. Closer to his peers own cathartic jazz albums of the same era, a sense of trying to work out just what the hell was going on, it resembles a gospel lament, a bluesy funk and most cooing experiment in despair.

Covering the escalating Vietnam protests (Mace And Grenades), the gold greedy excavating harsh realities and sorrows of the a South Africa miner, and the black majority’s uneasy struggle with the Boer colonists (Gold, Boermusiek), and famous controversial figures from the Black Panther movement (Blues For Huey), Masekela was a commercial failure on its release; spooking an audience familiar with the hit record, which evidently despite its lightness and catchy feel has origins in the townships of Masekela’s native homeland. It led to an amicable but nevertheless a split with the distributors, but allowed the Masekela and Levine partnership the freedom to continue pursuing the agenda they envisioned. It’s a good place to end the first CD on, as the next chapter opens on a move towards spiritual rejuvenation in Africa.





CD number two begins with Masekela and Levine’s 1970 ‘autonomous’ distribution deal with Motown. As part of this deal they’d also record albums with the South African singer Letta Mbulu and the Texas troupe The Jazz Crusaders (also known as The Crusaders). This would prove handy; as both went on to appear on Masekela’s own records.

The inaugural Motown album, Reconstruction, features a varied songbook of Pharoah Sanders spiritual rolling jazz (Salele Mane), languid veldt swooned and sweetly laced balladry (Woza) and the most delicious sounding of earthy soul covers from the Motown cannon (You Keep Me Hangin’ On). Featuring a heavy rotation again of players and backing singers, the album showcases Masekela’s subtleties and eclecticism; merging as he does the music and soul of two continents into a most peaceable fusion.

Keeping the political language conspicuous, if anything Reconstruction concentrates on setting the vibe, the messages echoed in the diverse nature and continuous exploration of his roots.

The next album in this collection brought Masekela together with two of his fellow compatriots, Jonas Gwangwa of the Johannesburg formed Jazz Epistles and the composer and singer Caiphus Semenya. The title says it all: Hugh Masekela And The Union Of South Africa. And the music is, as you’d expect, heavy on these influences. Yet the album features those unshakable R&B licks and southern gospel organ dabs, ala Billy Preston. This is in part down to the inclusion of the Texan soul group The Crusaders, manning the rhythm section.

It’s a beautiful communion between melting funk and elliptic rhythms of South Africa; another successful crossover; rasping yearns accompanied by the snozzled affectionate and caressing trumpet of Masekela, unmistakably South African but enriched with southern funk and soul.





Returning to his jazz roots, and once again emulating two of the artists that first inspired him, Masekela’s next record would take a pause and lean heavily towards the romantic Savoy and early Blue Note jazz of Horace Silver and Art Blakey. The Home Is Where The Music Is LP is only represented by one track. But what a track it is! With Larry Willis, another Manhattan School of Music luminary, invited to add virtuoso piano; South African jazz great Dudu Phunkwana brought in on alto saxophone (Masekela especially moved operations for this record to London, home of this South African exile at the time) and future Bill Evans band member Eddie Gomez on bass, this consummate set-up created fertile ground for a diaphanous and deep suite of romantic and thoughtful jazz meditations.

Lifted from that album, Minawa showcases the cascading flow and gestured pianist skills of Willis (a member of Masekela’s first group in ’65; featured on the live album, The Americanization Of Ooga Booga), who carries the deft track for some time before Makaya Ntshoko’s tumbling and staggered drums appear and Masekela’s lilting accentuate trumpet fluctuates over the top. Gradually it builds with motion and increases in tempo and volume until striking home; the busyness calmly retreating and pace, intensity dissipated.

His next album would be very different however. Another change in direction (of a Sort), the jazz fading for a more African feel. Bound for a ‘spiritual journey back to Africa’ after spending thirteen years in America, Masekela travelled from Guinea to Liberia and Zaire searching for inspiration and the musicians that would back him on his next musical adventure. Preempted by fate, an invitation from Nigeria’s Afrobeat progenitor and lifetime ruler of the self-invented Kalakula Republic, Fela Kuti, brought Masekela to Lagos in the spring of ’73. Though enjoying his time at Kuti’s compound kingdom, he accomplished little creatively. A tip from Kuti about a must-see act, a perfect fit for Masekela’s brand of African fusions, the Ghanaian-based Hedzoleh Soundz, did however pay off.

Joining his Nigerian guide, who brought a cortège of his wives with him, Kuti took Masekela to Accra to see for himself this adulated young outfit. Catching a midnight killer set at The Napoleon Club, he was instantly hooked. And so began a congruous collaboration between the two that would last in varied formats across the next three albums.

Introducing marked that initial dynamism; Masekela channeling what would be a month-long partnership, the South African virtuoso playing with the Soundz every single night. Kuti arranged a recording session for them both at the E.M.I. studios back in Lagos in the summer of that same year. The results of which, featured in their entirety on the second CD of this collection, combine the lilting soul of South Africa with the busy tribal percussion of West Africa: The atavistic talking drums, floating flute and relaxed but tight percussion traversing Afro funk and roots music brilliantly.

Wowing those back in the States, the group would be brought over for a special tour, beginning with a performance in Washington D.C. in January of ’74, finishing with a sold-out fortnight at the famous Troubadour club in L.A.





The final section of this triple CD set opens with Masekela’s ’74 album I Am Not Afraid. Recorded immediately after the successful stateside tour with the Soundz, the cross-pollination was once more mixed up with the inclusion of Crusaders Joe Sample and Stix Hooper: Invited in to mix their infectious Texan R&B and jazz lilt with the Soundz soulful funky tribal percussions to make, what would become, a great pop record.

Included in its entirety (the second of only two such privileges), I Am Not Afraid is considered by Levine to be one of the highlights of his time producing Masekela’s most formative albums. And he’d be right. Encapsulating all the various strands thus far, the album is both a fearless but beautifully accessible work of art. The highly popular grassland hymn, come sweeping grand minor jazzy-soul opus, Stimela, is just one highlight from what is a bright African odyssey. Setting moods perfectly, following on from a theme and location that has been used time and again by all the titans of jazz, Masekela transports the listener to mysterious nights in Tunisia, the bustling kaleidoscopic ‘market place’, and tempts us through a the meandrous jungle. The swansong, Been Such A Long Time Gone, is almost a reprise of all the previous songs; a connecting final lyrical geographical journey in the sweltering heat through history, one that takes in the sight and sounds of North and West Africa; ending up drifting down the Nile towards the Fertile Crescent.





In the same year, 1974, Masekela and Levine set up the famous musical jamboree to celebrate Ali’s titanic grudge-match with Foreman in Zaire. Part of a campaign and African revolution in directing their own affairs, with now more or less every former colony of the European powers independent, the pair were, with good intentions, drawn into a feverish Zaire renaissance. The abhorrent truths of some of these regimes, notably Zaire’s own Mobutu, would years later put paid to the general optimism, but at the time in striking a coup with hosting one of the most anticipated clashes of the century the country’s capital of Kinshasa became the hottest ticket on the global stage. The same label behind this compilation also released the fruits of Masekela and Levine’s musical stage show, the Zaire ’74 soundtrack, a while back: a collection with the emphasis on the all too forgotten African acts who performed at the three day extravaganza, previously overshadowed by the stars of America, such as James Brown, and all but erased or featured sporadically in subsequent documentaries.

Returning to the states in the fall of ’74, temporarily settling in the capital, Masekela hit the ground running, assembling his new African band; first recruiting two Hedzoleh Soundz members, percussionist Asante and bassist Stanley Todd, his drummer brother Frankie and fellow Ghanaian, shekere player Odinga ‘Guy’ Warren. Recent arrivals from Nigeria, O.J. Ekemode, Yaw Opoku and Adelja Gboyega and another Ghanaian, conga maestro (famous for his turn on The Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil) Rocky Dzidzornu boosted the already dynamic and highly talented ranks. Taking this new troupe out onto the road in ’75, wowing audiences wherever they went, Masekela was soon lined-up for another recording session. Old pal and boss of the then new label Casablanca signed them up after witnessing one of these infamous performances; making them the label’s inaugural signing. The Boy’s Doin’ It is the result. Serious but funky, given a Casablanca label sheen, yet still rustically bustling and earthy, there is some very bright serenading going on: especially on the lilting homage to Mama. Masekela, as an aside, would open for the funk progenitor George Clinton on his ‘insane’ tour: the sounds of the motherland going down well with those fans of the Funkadelic and Parliament icon.

Dressed as the captain, mocking the European explorers that stamped their name and ideals on the ‘so-called’ new world, on the cover of the last album in this three-disc spanning collection, Masekela intelligently and ironically channels the Colonial Man of the title. Musically crisscrossing the slave routes from Africa to the Americas, he takes his intrepid troupe (now assembled under the OJAH moniker) on a tropical sauntered voyage.

Hardly a raging post-colonial diatribe or resented seething tide of angry protest, the album was still seen as high risk, though Casablanca gave it their blessing. Commercially it bombed. Yet it is a fantastic album. Certainly, and quite rightly, the themes of colonization, enslavement and stripping a country’s wealth had until recent times been missing the victims and poor unfortunates experiences. A vocal activist on both sides of the Atlantic (though he believed that unlike South Africa, the black population in America would always struggle for parity whilst the population was majority white European; he had more optimism for overcoming apartheid in his native homeland, returning there in the 80s), Masekela eases through the themes on this most sophisticated, longing album.

From the salty sea foam lullaby sauntering of making it ashore on the Brazilian coast (A Song For Brazil) to liltingly cutting a passage through the interior of Africa, following in Dr. Livingstone’s footprints, weaving in the ivory trade and Conrad’s Congo (Witch Doctor), this fusion of continents is a clever, poetic purview of colonization. It is the perfect end to a great collection.





Probably by now much of the material has become available in some format or another, yet for fans and casual interested parties alike it proves a wonderful, enlightening compilation; and in the wake of Hugh Masekela’s death earlier this year, a brilliant tribute to one of the greats. Not to do a disservice to his dear friend, label co-owner, producer and partner on many projects together, this is also a welcome reminder and celebration of Stewart Levine; the guiding force behind so many of Masekela’s richest albums. 66-76 will prove to be both an essential collection of a most creative period, and a great introduction to those who are not so aware of this great legacy.

 

Dominic Valvona

Our Imaginary Radio Show Playlist
Selected By Dominic Valvona 





In danger of repeating myself, but for newcomers to the site here’s the premise of my playlist selections. Previously only ever shared via our Facebook profile and on Spotify our regular Monolith Cocktail Social playlists will also be posted here on the blog itself.

With no themes or demarcated reasoning we pick songs from across a wide spectrum of genres, and from all eras. Reaching a sort of milestone edition, selection #30, chosen as always by me, Dominic Valvona, features one of our favourite troubadours, Michael Chapman, all manner of explosive, spiritual and traversing jazz and soul from Arthur Lee, The Rwenzori’s, Abdou El Omari, Bobby Callender and Wayne McGhie, plus golden era Hip-Hop treats from The Jungle Brothers, KMD and D-Nice, and a tribute to the late great Holger Czukay who sadly passed away recently. Intermittent amongst that lot are tracks from The Hunches, R. Stevie Moore, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, East Of Eden, Jade Warrior and many more.


Tracklist:

Norma Tanega  ‘Treat Me Right’
Michael Chapman  ‘Landships’
Vanusa  ‘Mundo Colorido’
Paulo Diniz  ‘Piri Piri’
East Of Eden  ‘Ain’t Gonna Do You No Harm’
Arthur Lee  ‘Love Jumped Through My Window’
Arrogance  ‘Peace Of Mind’
Jade Warrior  ‘Telephone Girl’
Byard Lancaster  ‘Dogtown’
The Rwenzori’s  ‘Handsome Boy (E Wara) Parts 1 & 2’
Rene Costy  ‘Scrabble’
Idrissa Soumaoro et L’Éclipse de L’lja  ‘Nissodia – Joie de l’optimisme’
Abdou El Omari  ‘Raksatoun Fillall’
Jungle Brothers  ‘Tribe Vibes’
Intelligent Hoodlum  ‘Back To Reality’
D-Nice  ‘Crumbs On The Table’
KMD  ‘Who Me? (With An Answer From Dr. Bert)’
Metropolitan Jazz Affair  ‘Find A Way’
Lion  ‘You’ve Got A Woman’
Denis Mpunga & Paul K  ‘Funyaka’
El Turronero  ‘Las Penas – Las Canas’
Holger Czukay  ‘Cool In The Pool’
T. Rex, The Reflex  ‘Light Of Love (The Reflex Revision)’
Charles Earland with Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson  ‘Warp Factor 8’
Koen De Bruyne  ‘And Here Comes The Crazy Man’
The Knights  ‘Precision’
The Hunches  ‘Swim Hole’
R. Stevie Moore  ‘The Bodycount’
The Brian Jonestown Massacre  ‘Open Minds Now Closed’
Bobby Callender  ‘Shanta Grace’
Wayne McGhie  ‘Take A Letter Maria’
Little Ed & The Soundmasters  ‘It’s A Dream’


PLAYLIST
Selection: Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms





An encapsulation of the Monolith Cocktail’s tastes and a showcase to reflect our very raison d’être, the ‘quarterly revue playlists’ feature an eclectic selection of tracks from artists and bands we’ve enjoyed, rated highly or believe have something worthwhile to offer. Chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms this latest collection includes both recordings featured on the site, and a few we’ve either missed or not had the room to include.

Though we try to offer the best listening experiences, ordering tracks in a certain way for highs and lows, intensity and relief, we don’t have any particular concept or theme in mind when putting these playlists together. Yet by accident we have selected quite a few moody, meditative and often contemplative tunes this time around; from the most brilliant (corners) exposition and vivid experimental jazz suite and beat poetic descriptions of John Sinclair and Youth‘s recent Beatnik Youth Ambient team-up, to the Slovenian peregrinations of Širom. We also include however more upbeat, if in protest, Afrobeat flexing from the Chicago Afrobeat Project (featuring the original rhythm provider legend Tony Allen, who as it happens appears twice on this playlist, on both the Chicago collectives What Goes Up collaboration and on his own solo album debut (proper) for the illustrious Blue Note label, The Source); and at opposite ends of the spectrum, the cool kids aloof post punk of Melbourne’s mini supergroup Terry. We also include tracks from the sauntering laxed smouldering grooves of Africa Analog’s Bro. Valentino reappraisal Stay up Zimbabwe, Hive Mind Record’s debut re-release of Maalem Mahmoud Gania‘s Colours Of The Night, and a host of ‘choice’ hip-hop from The Green Seed, Skipp Whitman, The Doppelgangaz and Tanya Morgan.

Circumnavigating the globe and beyond, the third playlist of 2017 is as eclectic as ever and also features music from India, South America, West Africa and Sweden. See below for the full tracklist and links.


TRACKLIST –

Chicago Afrobeat Project & Tony Allen  ‘Race Hustle’  Review
Golden Teacher  ‘Sauchiehall Withdrawal (Edit)’
Msafiri Zawose  ‘Chibitenyi’
Tony Allen  ‘Moody Boy’
Bro. Valentino  ‘Stay Up Zimbabwe’
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble  ‘One Hunit’
Chino Amobi  ‘BLACKOUT’
Nosaj Thing (ft. Kazu Makino)  ‘How We Do’  Review
Beans (ft. Elucid, That Kid Prolific)  ‘Waterboarding’  Review
The Green Seed  ‘Revolution Ok’
Tanya Morgan  ‘Truck Shit’  Review
Skipp Whitman  ‘Downtown’
Room Of Wires  ‘Game Over’  Review
Sad Man  ‘Birman’  Review
Tyler The Creator (ft. A$AP Rocky)  ‘Who Dat Boy’  Review
Open Mike Eagle  ‘My Auntie’s Building’  Review
The Church  ‘Another Century’
Co-Pilgrim  ‘Turn It Around’
Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand  ‘Waiting’  Review
Vukovar  ‘The Clockwork Dance’  Review
Liars  ‘Cred Woes’
Candice Gordon ‘Nobody’  Review
Hajk  ‘Magazine’  Review
Gary Wilson  ‘You’re The Girl From The Magazine’
Terry  ‘Take Me To The City’  Review
Pale Honey  ‘Get These Things Out Of My Head’
Trudy And The Romance  ‘Is There A Place I Can Go’
CHUCK  ‘Caroline’  Review
Modern Cosmology (ft. Laetitia Sadier)  ‘C’est Le Vent’
Diagnos  ‘Reflections’  Review
Sebastian Reynolds (with Anne Muller, Mike Bannard, Jonathan Quin and Andrew Warne)  ‘Holy Island’
Teonesse Majambree  ‘Umuyange’
Maalem Mahmoud Gania  ‘Sadati Houma El Bouhala’  Review
Nicole Mitchell  ‘Timewrap’
Clutchy Hopkins & Fat Albert  ‘Mojave Dervish’
Širom  ‘Just About Awake’  Review
Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Raga Bageshri In Teentaal’  Review
Yazz Ahmed  ‘Bloom’
Hermeto Pascoal  ‘Casinha Pequenina’
John Sinclair  ‘Sitarrtha’  Review
A Lover & Cairo Liberation Front  ‘Level 1’
The Doppelgangaz  ‘Beak Wet’  Review
Ill Move Sporadic & Big Toast  ‘Do Wat Sunshine?’  Review
The Menagerie (Professor Elemental & Dr Syntax)  ‘Only A Game’  Review


NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





This latest roundup of the imaginative, exploratory, venerable and refined musical discoveries includes a second collection of film and field recordings from the late legend ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya; the third peregrination from Glitterbeat Records’ new imprint tak:tile, Širom’s Slovenian soundscape odyssey I Can Be A Clay Snapper; a rebooted soul-in-the-machine electronica collection from Nosaj Thing; and the latest ambient soundtrack from Odd Nosdam.

But first of all we have a reenergized Afrobeat collaboration between the genre’s doyen rhythm guru, Tony Allen, and the eclectic, protest driven, Chicago Afrobeat Project, called What Goes Up.

Read on…

Chicago Afrobeat Project Feat. Tony Allen   ‘What Goes Up’
September 15th,  2017


Starting life as a shifting collective of musicians jamming in a artist’s loft, channeling the fervor of Afrobeat’s progenitor Fela Kuti, the Chicago Afrobeat Project initially covered the Nigerian icon’s back catalogue before developing their own variant style. Transducing the sound of downtown Lagos and the Afro-Spot nightclub via the rich musical heritage of their own native metropolis, the group, now settling with a regular lineup, open the studio doors to embrace the city’s famous blues, soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, house and hip-hop culture.

Expanding on and playing with the Afrobeat foundations but staying true to the roots of the African fusion that first merged the popular Ghanaian Highlife hybrid with funk and soul, the project members invite a number of vocalists and rappers from the area to enthuse, lead and prompt the music towards the political; reinforcing the main message and activism behind much of Kuti’s own, often dangerous, protestations and rebellious denouncements.

As if it wasn’t already enough, the Afrobeat ante is upped with the appearance of Kuti’s wingman and rhythm guru, Tony Allen. Showing those youngsters a thing or two, Allen brings certain levity, a craft and connection to the source, to this ten-track album. Flown in especially from his home in Paris, Allen, who’s also recently recorded a tribute album to Art Blakey (which he says fits in well with the Chicago Afrobeat Projects What Goes Up), doesn’t just turn up to add a roll and drum flair here and there, he plays on all the tracks, laying down the foundations, leading the way and rattles off his trademark polyrhythm shuffles, jazz timed syncopations and, most important of all, infectious grooves: the fight against injustice has never rarely so funky.

The elder statesman of Afrobeat, sounding almost effortless with his limbering and relaxed drumming, brings a sagacious quality to What Goes Up, though his comrades bring the bright and heralding horns, laser zappy synths, church organ and sunny Hammond sustained rays to the get-down.

Guests, of which there are many, on this sweltering and sauntering conscious album include a new jack swinging, bordering on gospel house style hook, protesting JC Brooks (Race Hustle and Sunday Song); an Igbo lullaby and Afro-futurist meets atavistic soul of Western Africa Oranmiyan (Cut The Infection, Must Come Down and Afro Party); the soulfully sassy, tumbling R&B songstress Kiara Lanier (No Bad News); and a metaphorical conversationalist style Rico Sisney and Maggie Vagle (as sparring partner) of Sidewalk Chalk (Marker 48).

As Rico Sisney puts it on the skit for environmental justice, Marker 48: “Something’s gotta change!” And over the course of the album the collective tackle every kind of current injustice filling up the newsfeed: from the alarming murder rate in the inner cities, including Chicago’s own widely publicized tragic rates and by extension the Black Lives Matter campaign; racial profiling and harassment; tensions between communities; and of course, Trump.

Speaking Kuti fluently, channeling the Afrobeat totems and the most hustling, hot footing rhythms, the Chicago collective offer a unique take on the genre under the watchful eye of Tony Allen. Bridging two generations, adding some fresh licks and eclectic sounds from their own backyard, they do more than most in reenergizing the Afrobeat blueprint.




Nosaj Thing   ‘Parallels’
Innovative Leisure,  8th September

 

An urgent rewire; a forced reboot; the fourth album from the Los Angeles-based electronic producer/composer/performer Jason Chung, under his Nosaj Thing alter ego, focused the mind like no other project before. As a warning to us all that backing up your hard drive is not only vital and reassuring but also a security precaution, Chung lost three years worth of demos, sketches and compositions, many of which were destined for this LP, in a robbery whilst out on tour with Warp Record’s signing Clark.

Losing all his equipment and a number of precise hard drives, all of which were never backed-up or saved anywhere else, meant that Chung would have to start from scratch, and as it has proven, reexamine not only his methods of storage and quality control but also his process of creativity.

Parallels is in fact billed as some kind of “epiphany” for Chung; a journey into “uncharted territories” for an artist renowned for his collaborative fusions with Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Chance The Rapper. Changing direction and playing to it to his advantage, Chung uses this as an opportunity to explore deeper expanses. Far from wild and edgy however, Parallels is a quite vaporous but controlled soulful listening experience. Counterpointing various succinct philosophical questions (‘Dystopia or Paradise’, “Love or Regret?’) and themes (‘Emotions vs. Technology’, ‘Soul vs. Machines’) Chung’s electronic suffusions linger in a woozy sometimes haunting fashion between his many juxtapositions, yet always remains connected with a touch of humanity: from the resonating visages of a taped conversation with a security guard watching over the Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time exhibition, to the trio of varying degrees of ethereal and soulful vocal contributions from guests Kazu Makino, Steven Spacek and Zuri Marley.

Emerging from the ether, Chung opens the album with a veiled drone rumble, piano arpeggiator and ring of articulate beats before hooking up with London producer/singer Spacek on the haunted broody lament, set to a Polygon Windows meets minimalist R&B pop, All Point Back To You. A precursor, a taster, of what you can expect to hear on the future Makino/Chung collaborative EP (released we’re told at some point later on in 2017), the breathlessly whispered cooed and chilled suffrage How We Do, adds a ticking drum beat and Japan style ice-y synth to the gauzy shoegazing Blonde Redhead signature. Nocturnal dreamy downtempo house, ambient meditations and finely-tuned kinetic soul-in-the-machine meanders follow, before reaching Marley’s rich soaring to lilting contour hovering past love affair ruminations on Way We Were.

Finely chilled, articulated electronica, amorphously floating between escapism and dystopia, Parallels never quite settles on either. And despite a number of equations that pitch technology and the machine against humans, Chung’s music has a real soul and yearning.






Odd Nosdam  ‘LIF’
Sound In Silence

 

Few have changed the direction of hip-hop and modern ambient soundscapes like David P. Madson, the co-founder of both one of rap music’s most experimental outfits, cLOUDDEAD, and the seminal Anticon label. Forging a post millennium course with a number of collaborators, including Dose One, Yoni Wolf and Jel, Madson deconstructed, eviscerated and then rebuilt a more avant-garde, strung-out and expansive vision for hip-hop.

Under the Odd Nosdam title, inspired by the minimalist composers, and on this latest soundscape immersion, the degrading in quality traces and language of sound/video artist and composer William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops IV, he delves ever deeper into the ambient sphere.

Informed by a prolonged spell of “nonstop rain” in his native Bay Area home, the LIF album transduces the West Coast of America’s winds and rains weather patterns into an analogue controlled, filtered and manipulated field of ebbing and flowing pulsing electricity. The capital three lettered titles (codes? Abbreviations?) fade in and out; like passing through a cloudy overcast or static resonating wave, which eventually dies out. Subtly alluded to, drizzling downpours are simulated, falling on glass, on the slight Japanese sounding RAI, and detuned TV set feedback accentuated moiety KEI I and KEI II. Whilst far gentler droplets fall like notes on the enervated rasping vignette AIN.

Prompts and themes of loneliness – and when listening to the varied ambient passages, you’ll find plenty of space to ruminate in isolation -, love and fear are key to unlocking, or at least perhaps deciphering, these ten mood compositions: articulated at times through subtle plucked out notation, bellowed harmonium, dreamy ascents above the clouds and floating lingers of melody. Refining emotion from a pylon hum, showers of rain or generators, Madson’s minimalist soundscapes traverse the Kosmische and ambient genres with a contemporary feel and movement.






Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Musical Explorers: Krishna In Spring’
ARC Music,  25th August 2017

 

In praise of the field recordists, leading world music label ARC continues to champion the music and film recordings of the late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya in its latest series venture, Musical Explorers.

The project was launched back in June with Bhattacharya’s 1950s and late 1960s spanning Colours Of Raga, which included an introduction and illuminating set of notes from Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the “rough guides” to world music, Simon Broughton, who once again offers context and insight on this, the second volume in the series.

A self-taught producer, recording not only the sounds of his native India but also the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Bhattacharya travelled extensively cataloguing rare performances, bringing his exotic wonders to a his adopted British home and audience via various BBC commissioned documentaries and radio programs.

As the title suggests, Krishna In Spring is a paean of instrumentals, dances and venerable verses dedicated to, perhaps, the most venerated and famous deities in Hindu mythology. Demon vanquisher, protector of the common people, the mischievous incandescent blue portrayed god represents the “spirit for life” and for his tumultuous love affair with Radha. Said to have the common touch; never happier than when cavorting and leaping and springing about with milkmaids in his role as humble cow herder, Krishna is often depicted flute in hand, amongst the earnest folk. Almost every love song in the Hindu songbook is in his honour or at least references him. The diaphanous articulated Indian bamboo flute, the Bansuri, is even used as a colloquial signature and evocation of his presence.

Taking the full extended performances, seen and heard briefly on the soundtrack, from the title’s twenty-five minute documentary come public information film (first aired in 1969), Bhattacharya captures a panoply vision of the famous Holi Festival: the “festival of colours” that ushers in the Spring, dedicated to the deeds and spirit of Krishna, or as Bhattacharya himself puts it, “…to surrender oneself to the spirit of life. That is the message of Krishna in Spring.”

Humongous sized drums; bicycle-pump tie-dye abandonment; women browbeating their menfolk with broom handles, enacting Radha’s stormy love affair with Krishna; silky clothed flag carriers and joyful communion, the Holi Festival footage, even in its scratchy washed-out by time and quaintly narrated form, encapsulates a vivid, chaotic worship. It is a festival steeped in tradition and seems out of time with modernity, but as we are told in the album’s accompanying notes, continues to be practiced in the exact same way today.

Glimpses, as I said, of the evocative drones, syllabic ‘bols’ speak and poet exultations are played-out in their entirety on this collection’s eight sweet and beautiful audio recordings. Half of which feature the backing of R.K. Bharati laying down elegant melodies and drones on the short-necked Indian fiddle, the ‘sarangi’, Hidayat Khan taping out various coda and frenzied sophisticated patterns on the tabla, and Chiranjilal planting atmospheric brassy drones foundations.

Touched with the afflatus, there are fine examples of dusky hour pentatonic scale flightiness and serenaded flute pulchritude to Krishna throughout, including Suraj Narayan Purohit and Indermall Mathur’s Raga Bhupali, the adulating voiced incantation to the many names and trials of the beloved deity Devotional Song Of The Ballabh Sect In Praise Of Krishna performed by Amarlal, and the lengthy lyrical prose turn conversational drama, based on the late 14th century poet Chandidas’ original and the subsequent additional litany of poet contributions throughout the ages, Mathur, performed by singers from the Mitra-Thakur family.

Every bit as revelatory, especially to those unfamiliar with India’s multifaceted belief systems and extraordinary musical heritage, as the first of Bhattacharya’s collections in the Musical Explorers series, Krishna In Spring does however offer an even deeper and varied window on classical Indian music: A celebration of sounds that traverse Rajasthan, West Bengal but above all the holy.



Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’
tak:til,  8th September 2017

 

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances (launched earlier this year with 75 Dollar Bill’s Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock and Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society’s Simultonality albums) and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Though part of a litany of Empires, including the Habsburgs, Italian and either through their own forced amorphous cultural, ancestral ties with neighboring regions and peoples, became part of the Croat-Slovenian and Yugoslavian annexations at one time, Slovenia has despite its size and battle for independence, maintained a distinct identity. In less glowing terms but pretty accurate, the writer Simon Winder in his Habsburg travel saga Danubia, described what we know as the modern Slovenia as being, “[…] stuck together from the rubble of the [Habsburg] Empire’s end, with its core made up from the Duchy of Carniola with bits of Styria, Gorizia, Istria and a small piece of the old Hungarian county of Vas.”

One of the central themes of I Can Be A Clay Snapper, and amongst the country’s most richly abundant resources, is water; the leitmotif of which appears throughout the album’s five odysseys, evoking mountain streams, lazy lowland meandering rivers and the mysterious vanishing water of Karst through a sonic transcription.

Revisiting a number of locations held dear, including some that proved very difficult to reach, Samo Kutin, Iztok Koren and Ana Kravanja travelled to locations as diverse as the bright yellow turnip rape fields of Prekmurje to the snowy mountain top of Kal above the village of Čadry to channel their inspirations and compose from improvisations this, often, meditative peaceable experience. As if the music didn’t quite signal the intentions and psychogeography well enough already, the trio have also made a film, Memoryscapes, to document this landscape surveying experiment: each, the album and the film, influencing and informing the other.





Though all three of Širom have different varied experiences to share, with both Kutin and Kravanja citing punk rock as a starting point, both playing apart in various bands in the Slovenian capital before eventually crossing paths at an improvisational music workshop and forming the kalimba-based Najoua duo, and Koren meanwhile, feeling a peculiar shame at listening to music during his childhood, but making it up for it ever since, serving in a succession of metal and post-rock bands, they manage to accommodate each other’s particular strengths, personalities and depth. Which can’t be easy especially when you glance at the scope of instrumentation used; each band member a deft practitioner of instruments as cosmopolitan and eclectic as the balafon, banjo, mizmar, lyre, ribab and as humdrum – but when put to good use and made into a impromptu device for making a rhythm or unusual sound – as common everyday objects such as a pair of drawers and household junk.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, Adriatic and the middle East, and individual influences, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

Changing tact so to speak, following the first two and ahead of a fourth re-issue (a second volume of Jon Hassell’s pioneering Fourth World ambient evocations is to be released just a few weeks after Širom’s LP), I Can Be A Clay Snapper is the first tak:til imprint to meander into south central Europe. And what an impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail it is too; different from the previous two releases, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit; whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes.



ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona


 

Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘White African Power’
Six Degrees Records, 2nd June 2017

If anyone is perturbed, fear not as the man behind this slightly ironically entitled White African Power album, guiding hand and producer extraordinaire Ian Brennan, puts us straight:

“As one of the most persecuted groups on the planet, when a member of the Albinism community in Tanzania – especially one who has been relocated by the government for his own physical protection – asserts his “power”, it should not be denied. And if anyone has earned the right for the use of irony, it is those that have suffered such atrocities and ostracism from birth, yet still manage to endure.”

In so many respects a “spiritual follow-up” to Brennan’s Grammy Award-nominated Zomba Prison Project and follow-on from the equally evocative and raw Hanoi Masters sessions, White African Power attentively and respectfully draws out the repressed voices of the Albino community in Tanzania. Brennan’s productions often serve as a kind of hands-off form of creative counseling and healing; helping people to overcome trauma, such as the survivors of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. He’s renowned for being the most inconspicuous of in the field and on location producers, letting the atmosphere and elements, the moment if you like, and even serendipity bleed into the performances he captures for posterity. And the production methodology used for this latest project, recording the songs of the standing Voice Community of Ukerewe, is no different.

As superstitions still prevail in many parts of east Africa, none more so than in Tanzania, the albino community are ghoulishly hunted down or ostracized. If they’re lucky, they make it to sanctuaries such as the Ukerewe Island retreat: dumped for their own safety by families and the government but also abandoned. If they’re unlucky than they will find a much more horrendous fate is in store for them, pursued, murdered and dismembered for their limbs by those who believe that an albino’s body parts have magical properties. However you look at it, albinos in Tanzania are shunned and persecuted: one of the most common insults being that they, “belong to the whites”, or worse, that they are demonic.

A safe haven, Ukerewe, where Ian travelled to in 2016 to document their plight, is the largest inland island in Africa, only reachable by a four-hour ferry ride. Its community is, hardly surprising, haunted by their experiences. Self-conscious, avoiding eye contact, it proved a difficult task for the producer to encourage his subjects to open up. But open up they did, and the results are often surprisingly melodious, poetic, and diaphanous if raw and emotional. Far from a harrowing catalogue of despair and pity, the 23 recordings on this collection prove illuminating.





Though sung in the “discouraged and censored” (following unification in 1964) dialects of Kikirewe and Jeeta, the English translated song titles will leave you in no doubt as to each one’s message and lament: from disbelief at their treatment, on the Casio keyboard preset backed alternative 80s, sweet but troubled, The World Has Gone Mad, and the double-bass trembled Stop The Murders, to the hope and calls for normality on the mysterious sounding electric-guitar blues I Will Build A Home, Someday, and the harp-plucked music box serenaded Happiness.

Another indictment if needed on those perpetrators and a population that have harassed and murdered them, other titles sadly reflect tragic insights into their lives: Stigma Everywhere, They Gossiped When I Was Born, Standing Voices (Once, I Was Abandoned). And as though any right-thinking decent human being needed it, there’s a jolting reminder that Disability Is Not A Curse.

 

Fitting no obvious style, these amorphous performances do however resonate both with the delta blues of Louisiana and the stark, stripped down and earthy blues of South East Asia. Touches of raw African dusty tradition do appear, ascending and descending alongside gospel and soulful voices, naturally echoed, sighed and open-heartedly sung with a pure vulnerability. They’re accompanied either by stark lo fi electric guitar performances, that range from scratchy, straggly proto-punk to slower scrabbly emotive twangs, or an acoustic backing of rubber-band and bottle shaking percussion. Standing out production wise though is the classical – imagine Brahms on harpsichord transferred to East Africa in the 80s – reverberating cradling deep soulful ballad, Never Forget The Killings.

 

Ian Brennan coaxes another startling, eye opening, set of recordings from the victims of trauma; one that proves every bit as impressive as it does plaintive and sad. The collective will astonish, if not surprise listeners, those suppressed voices, thankfully released and given an international platform, sound emotionally honest and revelatory.

Released just ahead of the U.N.’s International Albinism Awareness Day on June 13th, the voices of White African Power can also be seen at this year’s WOMAD festival this summer (July 27-30th).


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