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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Great Moments In Music I: If There Is Something by Roxy Music

If There Is Something
Roxy Music
Roxy Music, 1972

We’ve had the kaleidoscopic rock n’ roll apocalypse of Remake/Remodel and the sci-fi featurama of Ladytron. Now, third tune in, If There Is Something shows yet another side to Roxy’s multi-facetted personality.

It starts off straight enough like a shit-kicker country lilt but when Andy Mackay’s processed sax solo takes centre stage, we know we’re not in Kansas anymore.

We’ve dissolved into a gloomy, subterranean ballroom, speckled only with light from the revolving glitterball, with Mackay’s purring notes as the guide through the alternating, haunted states of “dreamworld & realworld” as Simon Puxley’s sleevenotes has it.

The solo isn’t the thing - Mackay’s playing was never about demi-gods or virtuoso displays.

It’s the sound.

Mackay, transmuted by Eno’s alchemy, plays emptiness, sings about the last bus home; memories of steamy clinches; smooth leather and synthetic vinyl - the melding point where upholstery becomes irrevocably stitched into expectation; smouldering passions barely kept in check. Then from 56 - 1.17 all that pent-up yearning ecstatically subsides into passion all spent.

Producer Peter Sinfield sometimes get stick for the rawness of the album but in the rough and ready room at Command Studios, he’s creating a portal through which we slip in beside them, up close to savour the heat that comes off Roxy; burning and brilliant, dazzled by their own incandescence.

From 1.17 Paul Thompson's jackhammer bass drum and cracking snare clatters and snaps against far-away walls; Ferry's mechanistic piano chords desperately hold onto a pattern whilst Graham Simpson’s bass nervously strides and stalks.

Twenty seconds go by.

Tick-tock. Just the drums. Just the bass. Just the piano.

Twenty seconds. Giving the faithful time to get in line, building up an entrance, working the crowd. It’s a slice of meta-time that’s both pure and pure showbiz.

Wait for it.

When Ferry’s vocals burst in at 1.37 it’s a scalding baptism, freakish and unsettling, but utterly magnificent. In the instant after Ferry’s voice slices and dices the dreamy ambience, with “Shake your hair, girl with your ponytail/takes me right back”, we’re catapulted from cavernous ballrooms into the close-mic bittersweet interior reverie of “When you were young”.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Turning Point Creatures of the Night / Silent Promise

What sweet music they make!
Creatures of the Night / Silent Promise
Turning Point

Jaco Pastorius’ arrival on the international stage had a profound impact on the UK jazz rock scene. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough for bassists to dutifully lay down the foundations of a piece. They had to be in the spotlight, peppering runs with spicy harmonics or beefing up their instrument to sound like a trombone sliding through molasses.

Having spent years on the bandstand backing others since the late ‘50s, Jeff Clyne, picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Jaco’s ascendency, not by running his fingers up the fretboard as fast as he could but by forming a group to promote his own writing.

Capitalising on the brief but welcome wave of interest in jazz-rock created in the wake of Weather Report’s Heavy Weather, Turning Point signed to Pye’s Gull label, delivering two albums: Creatures of the Night(1977) and Silent Promise (1978).

The music they produced was engaging and inventive with compositions that were as elegant as they were muscular with Clyne’s bass well to the fore, as was de rigueur for the times, underpinned by Paul Robinson’s firm, unfussy drumming.

Whilst these albums showcase the playing and writing talents of both Clyne and his ex-Isotope colleague, Brian Miller (whose surging, rhapsodic acoustic piano runs on The Journey remind us what a passionate player he could be), the biggest surprise comes from sax player, Dave Tidball. His playing is clean and strong throughout, creating fiery sparks across both records. He wasn’t a bad composer either, as Vanishing Dream from Creatures... proves.

After the frenetic synthi-mayhem and screwy Zappa-like orchestrations of the intro, Tidball’s tenor sax really shines during its slow-building postscript; contemplative, moving carefully into soaring unison parts with Pepi Lemer’s keening vocals.

Unlike Pacific Eardrum, where vocalist Joy Yates scatted and sang in equal measure, Lemer’s role in Turning Point was essentially timbral. There are no Flora Purim-style solo spots and whilst her place in the mix is subtle, there’s also a sense she’s under-used in certain parts.

Although the debt to Weather Report is undeniable and occasionally gets in the way,(Better Days from Creatures... is essentially a re-run of Zawinul’s Black Market tune, Gibraltar), both records bubble with a sparring talent.

Whilst Clyne (who died in 2009) will always be best remembered for his solid work within Nucleus, Isotope or the deftness of his acoustic playing on Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood, the warmth and gutsy spirit in Turning Point’s music shouldn’t be neglected either.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Podcasts From The Yellow Room XVI

Warning: this week's podcast contains mild confusion and sublime mellotron. You have been warned.

Kuiskaus by the Vilma Timonen Quartet from Forward
It's Getting Late in the Evening by Talk Talk from Introducing Talk Talk
Lost and Lethal by Heligoland from Heligoland
Forest Echo by Lisa o Piu from When This Was The Future
Modul 33 by Nik Bartsch's Ronin from Stoa

Thursday, February 25, 2010


String driven things Rutti

Apparently Ruuti means gunpowder in Finnish which seems entirely appropriate given the, ahem, explosive nature of the playing on this their debut disc.

Ruuti’s top flight playing ensures the quality throughout is impeccable but the success also springs from the choice of music and its presentation. Given that Kukka Lehto’s spellbinding violin carries the majority of the tunes, it would have been all to easy and entirely understandable to focus all the attention upon her work.

Yet there’s an equitable division of heavy lifting when it comes to music’s construction. Though Lehto dazzles with her effortless, agile playing, in addition to providing acoustic bass, Ilkka Heinonen composed the majority of the music on the album.

He propels and supports with both a nimble certainty and lyrical sensibility across the record but especially on the beautifully ruminative Routajärvi. At a little over eight minutes, this is the longest track on the album and moves at a significantly slower pace than nearly everything else but it radiates an intense and unforgettable warmth.

Topi Korhonen’s guitar is capable of driven, rippling chord-work, constantly stoking the group’s engines whilst always maintain a tight control in his use of dynamics. His jittery, skittish guitar slides on Marsukka work into brittle but furious jazzy outbursts whilst on Puro his spidery melodies delicately lace themselves between Heinonen’s lilting bass with the utmost precision.

Lehto handles the vocals, adding to the checklist of pluses which seem to grow with each and every play of the album.

Ruuti’s music evokes images that combine both reflective bucolic idyls on the one hand and rousing gatherings on the other. The social, communal experience of exchanging ideas as well as smiles and admiration for each other’s work is beautifully expressed on almost every track of this joyous, uplifting record.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Vilma Timonen Quartet Forward

Finland's Finest!
Vilma Timonen

Vilma Timonen is a graduate of Finland’s Sibelius Academy and tackles traditional folk tunes with the kind of verve and imagination that renders generic descriptions redundant. The point here isn’t so much the origin of the material as its execution.

A virtuoso of the Finnish kantele - a multi-stringed cousin of the dulcimer or auto harp - Timonen also adds crystal clear vocals that soar through the complex textures and interlocking structures created by a tight-knit quartet that knows what it wants to do and how it’s going to get there.

Melodies tumble and turn in space as they are plucked and pulled from the kantele in rhapsodic flurries underpinned by a precision team. Though it’s ostensibly a lead instrument, she creates room for fellow musicians to move and groove. Jazzy flourishes come from guitarist Topo Korhonnen’s occasional sorties on the trumpet but these are always carefully drawn rather than free-form sketches.

The cyclical melody of Ripatska hovers on the wind; kantele notes drift and billow until they are swept aside in the rush and rumble of Mikko Hanssinen’s brushed drum solo.

Make A Wish explores territories that alternate between the melodic sweetness you might on a Pat Metheny record and the folksy poignancy which Bill Frissell has made his own. Ape Anttila’s acoustic bass work here brings the album to a gorgeous close. Great melodies played with real spark and vitality. Easily an early contender for album of the year!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lost Not Lost

You were out of reach
only just gone from here
yet still persisting

Like light from
distant stars

how do you touch a memory?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reading And Rendezvous

Debra has been away for a couple of days visiting N&H in Birmingham. She returned today and so we arranged to meet up in a swinging hot spot that I know...
Ah, the balm for the soul that is the Lit & Phil...

Waiting to rendezvous with Debra I took a look at a couple of titles...

Once Debbie arrived, we debrief over a cup of tea and then she wanted to have a look around the place
She found a title that appealed to her...

and proceeded to delve into its considered view as to who might be best suited to the world of pedagogy...

Debra is clearly not impressed...

Off to do shopping in Grainger Market and then homeward bound for some blissful catch-up time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Podcast From The Yellow Room XV

Not one but two fistful of fabbo music awaits each of your ears in this latest podcast. Alongside the "ums" and "ers" and poorly pronounced Finish names this week, are the following stars...

Veteli by Ruuti from Ruuti
Film Blues by Keith & Julie Tippetts from Nostalgia 77 Sessions
Prelude No.5 in D by Shostakovich from 24 Preludes and Fugues
Death By Drowning by Zzebra from Panic
Seven Is A Jolly Good Time by Egg from The Polite Force
Provlepsi by Dirk'Mont' Campbell from Music From A Walled Garden
Rag by Mark Lockheart & The NDR Big Band from Days Like These

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lunch With Tim V

Yesterday, Tim and I went up to Silverlink to visit what used to be Borders and is now the newly opened branch of Waterstones/HMV/Orange/Starbucks.

Shopping in a shop that comes with instructions on how to shop...

Tim pretends to be impressed and explains what Orange is and why people want so much of it...
Afterwards I went back to Tim's where he provided me with a glimpse at his brickwork. Debbie and I are about to have to start the dreaded task of contacting builders. Tim has recently had some work done on his house and I wanted the low-down on whether the people he had round were any good. After looking at the brickwork around his kitchen window and chatting it over, we decided that they were that rarest of things - a builder you can trust!

On my way home with The Beatles Mono Box set in my fevered grasp (on loan from Tim rather than half-inched when he wasn't looking), I stopped to take a look out over the Bay. There was a ton of rain heading my way...

I was joined by chum, BT who was on his way to the gym. He brought me up to speed with the latest developments in the world at large, and specifically his world at the moment. As we talked the rainy sleet came down but we were not deterred in the least.

A discussion about the local political situation with regards to prospective parliamentary candidates for a neighbouring constituency made me glad I was out of the game (insofar as I was ever in it) and the depressing realisation that mediocrity, like water in a leaking roof or rising damp always finds its level and a way to inflict itself on the world.


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