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Monday, July 21, 2014

Short Takes 2

ECM’s Re:Solutions is a reissue series available in card sleeved CDs, 180gm vinyl or hi-res downloads that spotlights some key recordings appearing on Manfred Eicher’s legendary genre-blurring label, now celebrating its 45th year. Of the seven albums in the series there are four whose proggy overtones should appeal.




Vibes player Gary Burton’s Seven Songs For Quartet And Chamber Orchestra (1974) features music composed by Mike Gibbs, whose skills as a orchestrator was in demand from artists across a surrealistically diverse scale, from The Goodies to Joni Mitchell. Burton’s plangent chimes resonates with a spongy halo that’s not unlike a Fender Rhodes piano. Wreathed inside a sumptuous score of yearning strings, spiraling flute and tender oboe, an electric guitar, bass and drums execute a series of exquisite tunes that at times have a Floydian canter about them.




 Keith Jarett's glacial piano suite was released in 1975 and saw the artist accompanied by a complete string orchestra. Almost 40 years on, the music retains a crisp, startling freshness. The 15-minute piece Runes is by turns achingly contemplative and gloriously ecstatic; mirage-like translucent strings distantly hover while Jarrett and Jan Garbarek’s sax proffer an icy but always melodic commentary, nimbly underscored by the smouldering ruminations of Charlie Haden’s bass. Though The Köln Concert is one of Jarrett’s most acclaimed recordings, this release is no less important or essential.







The eponymous 1980 release from the Miroslav Vitous Group has the ex-Weather Report bassist run through a series of  thoughtful compositions and improvisations. Vitous and drummer Jon Christensen kindle a high-octane propellent that fuels ex-Sting pianist Kenny Kirkland’s rhapsodic flourishes and John Surman’s scorching sax leaving fiery trails in the air. There’s a hair-raising alchemy at work throughout especially when soprano sax crosses the contrails of Vitous’s high-register bowed work. 




When guitarists Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie sat down to record Five Years Later in 1981 they avoided the traditional trading-licks cliche by spinning an intricate web of luminous threads glistening with soaring melodies and absorbing harmonies. The sparkling interplay is effortless and magical, while relaxed fretboard explorations sometimes evoke the sleepy languor of a late summer’s afternoon.




A way from the reissues, a brand new addition to the ECM catalogue is Vijay Iyer’s Mutations. The New York-based pianist is joined by a string quartet and some serpentine electronics, forming 10 movements that flow through radiant pastoralism, minimalist cartwheels infused with a mysterious, vaporous ambience. Iyer’s assertive piano draws potentially diaphanous and elusive concepts into sharp focus, combining collective improvisation and prescribed notation to powerful effect. It’s all a million miles from ‘jazz’ but when music’s this good who really cares about such labels?




This column first appeared in issue 46 of Prog magazine. 




Whitley Bay Daily Photo 203


Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Man Who Waved At Trains

Following yesterday's clear-out of the basement my box of trains resurfaced.


I played with these trains as a small child...


I was unexpectedly reunited with them when we were clearing my mother's house out after she'd died in 2006. I was amazed to discover, unknown to me, she'd kept them all those years...


Since 2006 they've sat in a box in our basement where they've laid forgotten about once again until today...



The yards and yards of track were fixed down on a large plywood board...


My father never really spent any time with me as a kid. However, he was enthusiastic about the train set and I remember him painting the plywood board green so the trains could roll through verdant countryside...


The memory of them is a wonderful thing and I was delighted to re-discover them once again...


In truth though, I don't think I played with the full board too much as a child. It took a lot of setting up - the small living room in our flat would have to be substantially re-arranged in order to accommodate the six-foot plus board. Consequently there really weren't any spontaneous sessions with the board, the trains, the carriages, trucks, little platforms and the transformer which powered the engines around the track... 


The blue engine was always my favourite. I loved how heavy it was in my hand as a child. It's heavy still...

Instead of waving hello to these trains once again, I should, of course, wave them goodbye.  

But I can't.

Not yet.





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