Friday, March 07, 2014
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Stevens is blessed with an innate melodicism which finds its way to the surface no matter how convoluted or occluded the settings and arrangements may be. It’s a talent that lends his music an accessibility others would give their right hand for. That he does so without compromising any of his adventurous inclinations is no mean feat.
With the exception of The Bridge, an eleven-minute multi-layered suite, things are usually brief and to the point. Packing more into three minutes that some manage across an entire album, this brevity serves him well and adding both variety and piquancy to the fare. Unafraid to bulldoze and assail the listener, as much about texture as it is smart, pithy compositions, he revels in distorted roars amidst pitted, overdriven surroundings.
Throughout Lucid he explores what appears to be an obsessive relationship with the instrument. Sometimes fraught, complicated, open-ended, thorny, and frequently ecstatic, his solos seem to occur only after an arduous scrabble to the very top of a difficult terrain. Once there, he closes his eyes and takes the leap. Bolstered by an array of guests including Pat Mastelotto and striking violin from Chrissie Caulfield, Stevens’ risk-taking pays off.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Best known for his work with 70s fusion-era Gong and later, some lengthy stints with Mike Oldfield, in more recent times bassist Hansford Rowe has been putting his deft technique to the service of a more compact and reflective sound.
As with Moment, his Latin-infused 2011 collaboration with guitarist Jordi Torrens, a subdued mood smoulders throughout this collection of understated tunes. Barcelona initially conjures with a simple Jobim-like melody but soon extends into a series of delicate yet intricate themes. Subtly driven by Max Lazich quietly insistent cymbal and kit work tracks have a habit of starting out in a particular groove but morph gracefully into other moods.
The knotty Hopscotch wouldn't sound out of place in a Karl Jenkin's-period Soft Machine, while the wryly funksome undertow to Scooby Goes To School gives way to a bluesy prowl from guitarist Julien Sandiford with Lazich's accents providing an active and agile commentary throughout.
Overall HR3 is tuneful and smooth. In jazz terms that kind of association can be curse as well as a blessing. However, superb dynamic control by Rowe, Sandiford’s incisive soloing, and the trio’s focussed interplay avoids any unwelcome snooziness in the late-night ambience pervading the album.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Monday, March 03, 2014
Ushered in on a surge of low-end rumbling, the second album by this Swiss quartet wastes little time in setting out its stall of intricately constructed pieces. Derived from composer Stephan Thelen, Bernard Wagner (guitars), Christian Kuntner (bass) and Manuel Pasquinelli (drums), tracks such as Continuum and Shadowplay have a deceptive intensity, evincing a zero tolerance policy when it comes to anything approaching flabby soloing.
Consisting mostly of twinkling tritone harmonics deployed in palindromic clusters and formations that sparkle and beguile, each player is required to maintain an exacting precision on their parts, while enjoying the freedom to improvise and move within this framework. Not a single note is out of place during these nine tunes.
Unbelievably taut, and unyieldingly direct, (as with Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, another Swiss-based outfit), the excitement resides in rhythmic displacement and resulting tension. It's far from being a cerebral exercise: Thelen has seeded the assembled pieces with wry quotes from the likes of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson and ELP, scattering them like so many Easter Egg bonus features across the palindromic surfaces of these tracks. Had MC Escher made music instead of drawing impossible and perplexing perspectives, it might well sound like Sonar.