John Greaves, Peter Blegvad and Lisa Herman—KEW.RHONE (1977)

220px-greaves26blegvad_albumcover_kewrhone

Assigned by Andreas Georgi

Reviewed by Roland Bruynesteyn

After half a minute I thought “This reminds me of Escalator Over The Hill!” And lo, and behold, Carla Bley is involved (with some singing in the first 30 second song no less). So expect big band arrangements with some electric guitar and creative singing. And that’s what you get, although Carla seems more present for the vibe and the street cred, as this is really the John Greaves (ex-Henry Cow) and Peter Blegvad (ex-Slap Happy) project, starring Lisa Herman. And as I never heard anything by either Henry Cow or Slap Happy, this is pretty new to me, and I’ll try to listen with open ears.

The opening track is just 30 seconds, but then it starts: imagine half the choir from Atom Heart Mother with half the choir from Magma singing Jesus Christ Superstar outtakes as arranged for a jazz orchestra and you get the idea. It is a challenging listen, especially the horn section goes all out.

The third song, Seven Scenes From The Painting “Exhuming The First American Mastodon” By C.W. Peale, is mostly sung by Lisa Harman over a jazzy piano. Although I am not so much a fan of songs where the voice exactly follows the instrumental melody (seems a bit lazy), this is still a nice song. Sounds a little like a Renaissance ballad, with the singer singing an octave lower than Anne.

The title song is again a rather quiet song, if no ballad. A walking bass, some strings and some male backing vocals are added, but as a title song it does not really stand out. Pipeline has somewhat huskier vocals and again sounds quite jazzy in places. On the other hand, take out the horn section and add a flute and Peter Gabriel could have sung it on Lamb Lies Down as it has some symphonic stylings as well.

Catalogue Of Fifteen Objects And Their Titles, the next song, is a bit more up tempo and quite a bit more avant-garde with piano, sax, strings and a compelling vocal delivery all trying to catch your attention, leaving you somewhat confused and exasperated.

One Footnote (To Kew. Rhone.) starts like a big band playing a march. Some chanting follows; I think it really should be heard as the original beginning to side 2. Three Tenses Onanism (what’s up with these titles) sounds modern classical with great solo piano, bordering on minimal music. When the cymbals start, it becomes more jazzy, but still in an introverted way. The singing (by a man this time) more or less interrupts the flow, but functions as the intro to the wilder, chanting second part.

After a little bass solo an organ pays a little motif in the background, very Genesis-like circa Foxtrot. Nine Mineral Emblems is ambitious and ‘difficult’, with for the first time electric guitar featured quite prominently. Although Lisa sings a quite difficult melody, it’s really the horn section that convinces most in this tune (where I use the term ‘tune’ in a broad sense. Although it sounds totally different, it is a bit comparable to The Trial off The Wall in a way: a difficult song for a musical, needed to get some necessary info across.

Apricot is sung by a man and is again quite busy: great drumming and piano playing, some guitar picking and possibly a trombone taking the lead. The singing, and the song in general, remind me of Caravan or Gentle Giant in an extremely jazzy mode. There are definitely some Canterbury overtones here.

The last song, Gegenstand, starts with some nice bass playing. Lisa starts to sing, but not much other instrumentation is added. A nice epilogue to the album.

What to make of it? This is an amazing album! It is not always nice on the ears, it is not easy, comforting background music. You can hardly sing along and the sound is somewhat messy in places. Still, for me it opened up a whole universe of artists I will have to investigate. Do not just buy it on my advice, but I strongly urge you to listen to these artists and the bands they came from, if you haven’t already.

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LOS DELINQÜENTES – Recuerdos garrapateros de la flama y el carril (2006)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

Recuerdos-Garrapateros-De-La-Flama-Y-El-Carril-cover

This was a fun album to listen to, although I didn’t have as much time to digest it as I might have liked. This album is a compilation of material from the band’s previous material, put together after the death of one of their key members.  The music was recorded in the late 90’s early 2000’s. Their style is very eclectic, based on flamenco or rumba, and incorporating a mix of international popular music styles, including rock, reggae, and even a bit of rap. These kinds of fusion often turn into a mess, but these guys merge the styles into a cohesive, unique style. There appear  to be two singers, one who has a raspy voice more in line with (my relatively ignorant preconception of) flamenco singers, and another singer who sings in a higher register who reminds me of Manu Chao a bit.

The album title and many of the lyrics make reference to “garrapatas”, or ticks. The reference seems to refer to humble and/or rural origins (I don’t know their biographies). Many of the songs refer to the street, and to life on the margins of society. The tick metaphor seems to be used as a symbol of freedom from the trappings and expectations of society. I do speak Spanish, but a lot of Spanish/Andalusian slang & cultural references went over my head.

Overall quite an enjoyable album. If you don’t understand the lyrics, you’ll miss out on the humor, but you’ll still enjoy the music. Fans of the afore-mentioned Manu Chao would probably like this album. Thumbs up.

YELLO – Solid Pleasure (1980)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Assigned by: Andreas Georgi 

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In a way, it’s a bit weird that I’m frequently at a loss for words when reviewing electronic music, since it was the first genre that caught my attention back in my youth, but it’s true. Anyway, Yello are an electronic music group, initially a trio, and this is their first album. Their music can be described as artsy synthpop with a strong emphasis in rhythm (including some non-trivial ones, like the Latin-derived beats in “Downtown Samba”, which are quite a feat for a band whose music is mainly programmed – apart from the singer, the other members are a tape manipulator and a samplist), but that does not exclude them from going for some darkish (with tongue firmly in cheek) ambient parts, like the “Massage”/”Assistant’s Cry” sequence. The record sounds also quite varied because Yello take the route of recording many short songs, which is unexpected (you’d usually think a straight dance number like “Bostich” would be a 7 minute rave, but here it lasts only two). In short this is the kind of album that I don’t think I could “love”, but would not mind returning to it some day.

JANDEK – Ready for House (1978)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Album assigned by: Andreas Georgi (who’s going to pay for this)


I quickly sampled the album and my first impression is that just thinking that I have to listen to 43 minutes of this makes me wanna curl up in a corner and weep.

It’s off key vocals without power nor color, backed by some amateurish banging at some zither like instrument. Ah no, it’s apparently a guitar. When you can’t identify an instrument that plays solo it means that whoever is playing it is SO UNSKILLED that cannot even make it sound like itself.

Okay, I cannot stand this. I don’t like it. Nobody does. Everybody who says they like it are lying and being pretentious. This is an offense on humanity. MAKE IT STOP. MAKE. IT. STOP.

Oh, wait a moment.
I realised I’m not forced to do this.
I can make it stop myself.
Done.
FUCK.
YOU.

THE FART GUYS – The Fart Guys (1998)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

This review was a breeze! No one had to pull my finger to do it. At first I was like the constipated composer – he was stuck on his last movement. Or the constipated accountant – he couldn’t budget! Listening to this album was like a breath of fresh air. Rip roaring fun. It’s a real gas! This album is like farting in an elevator – it’s wrong on so many levels. Then again, a crowded elevator always smells different to a midget.. I’m not one to wear my fart on my sleeve, but as they say, laugh and the world laughs with you; fart and they’ll stop laughing. Confucius say, “Man who fart in church sit in own pew.” Therefore, so as not to be selfish, I would like to share some spirited poetry:

A Belch is but a gust of wind
That cometh from the Heart,
But should it take a downward trend,
Turneth into a Fart

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot

MUSIC IN BOOKS: ALEX ROSS – The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

ISBN-13: 978-0374249397 (hardcover)
Review by Andreas Georgi

In the 8 years since I wrote this review on Amazon I’ve become a lot more familiar with modern composed (or “classical” or “concert”, or WTF) music, but I still concur with most of the content.  This book was very helpful in directing my attention to a wide range of music.

I really enjoyed it and found it a very educational resource for my musical exploration. I know the term “classical” is incorrect – call it concert music, music in the European tradition of composed music, art music, WHATEVER! For better or for worse using the term “classical” allows most people to know what you’re talking about. For that reason I will use that term in the rest of the review.

In a TV interview and in the preface to the book the author commented that he listened exclusively to classical music until college. In college he would play some things to his fellow students, who would comment that it sounded like Sonic Youth or Cecil Taylor, etc. Although I have been starting to immerse myself in the music for some time now, I am still very much a novice and this book’s release is perfectly timed for me. I am not totally ignorant of older forms of classical music, but I approached 20th Century art music not via Bach and Beethoven, but via Frank Zappa and Ornette Coleman. Frank Zappa, who became my musical idol in my teens (and remains so in my 40’s), was particularly influential in exposing me to a new world of possibilities. He made direct reference to Stravinsky, Varese and Holst, among others, in his music. Likewise in modern jazz there has been a lot of cross-pollination with this music. A jazz fan would find the harmonies in Erik Satie’s piano works not at all unfamiliar.

I suspect that many music fans are also approaching this music in a similar way, and this book will be very helpful. This is not an academic book and it is not aimed at an ivory tower readership. It does not assume an encyclopedic knowledge of all music that’s gone before, although it does use musical terminology, so if you’re not very familiar with such terms (like I am not, really), you’ll want to consult a dictionary or encyclopedia occasionally. A bit of a challenge is hardly a bad thing, I think.

Mr. Ross uses very evocative language to describe the key works of music in his book. This is never an easy task. Music hits you in places that words will never go! Still, he does a very good job. When I was reading this I had never heard most of the music being described, but reading about it I certainly wanted to!

Music does not exist in a vacuum, but is both a product of and an influence on its times. Mr. Ross writes a very compelling narrative which puts the music in the context of the places, times, politics, and the lives of the people involved. This is a fascinating history book as well as a book on music. It’s also full of colorful and entertaining character studies of these composers’ often “unusual” personalities. Their interactions with each other are not necessarily always all that high-minded!

This music has survived in relative obscurity since the early part of the 20 Century. Mr. Ross proposes a number of explanations for this, which the reader may or may not agree with, but one recurring theme is that the various movements in 20th Century music eventually seem to paint themselves in corners through an almost fanatical insistence on taking things to the most abstract and extreme (if the audience likes it, it’s a failure!). Not everyone comes out in favorable light. Pierre Boulez, in particular, comes across a bit absurd in his extreme positions. Whether this is an accurate portrayal I don’t know. Clearly the author’s personal tastes come through here, but he does a good job of describing their mindset.

The first section of the book deals with the events of the early 20th Century – the decline of the decadent old empires, the rapidly-growing role of industry and technology, and others, which led people to search for something new. One recurring theme is the struggle between the aspirations for “pure” art versus a desire to be relevant to society at large. The chapter dealing with Russian composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich’s struggles and compromises during the height of Stalin’s reign of terror is a highlight. It covers, from a different angle, the some of the subjects dealt in “the Gulag Archipelago” by Solzhenitsyn.

Sandwiched between the chapters on Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany is the chapter on music in the USA in that period. He does not insinuate that they are equivalent, by any means. He does detail how even in the US composers had to navigate through dealings with government bureaucracy and corporate sponsors, for both of whom artistry was perhaps not the top priority.

I could nitpick whether Sibelius and Britten deserve entire chapters while others get little more than name-dropping mention (The chapter on Sibelius is very good). Consequently his coverage of the second half of the century is more condensed. I wish that he might have spent more time on it.

At the end of the book is a recommended discography of 10 recordings, then another 20 more. I have ordered a number of these and look forward to going back and looking at Mr. Ross’s descriptions after actually listening to them. I will leave it to better-informed people to argue whether or not these really are the “best” versions of the pieces, but they seem as good a place as any to start. Certainly it would seem reasonable to me to start your collection of Stravinsky with a performance conducted by the man himself. Coming from a background in performer-oriented rock and jazz, it can be daunting to figure out which performance of a composer’s work is best, so this discography helps such readers get at least a start.

MUSIC IN BOOKS: MARCUS O’DAIR – Different Every Time: The Authorized Biography of Robert Wyatt (2014, Profile Books Ltd.)

ISBN: 978-1593766160 (paperback)
Review by: Andreas Georgi

I’ve been listening to Robert Wyatt’s work for several years now, and have become a big fan, so the release of his authorized biography is very timely for me. After just having finished it, I can strongly recommend it to anyone with an appreciation for this truly unique artist. For anyone interested in learning more about his work, this book also includes a highly comprehensive listing of all the recordings, videos, and print releases in his 50-plus year career.

From a biographical standpoint, he certainly has not had a boring life, from his bohemian upbringing, to pioneering work in psychedelic & progressive rock, touring the US with Hendrix, to the various collaborations, and of course his life-changing fall in 1973 that left him paraplegic and the challenges he overcame as a result, turning difficulties into opportunities.

The book does a good job in illuminating Wyatt as a highly complex, and often troubled, but ultimately highly likeable personality. Repeatedly he comes across as an extremely intelligent, socially conscious, empathetic and generous spirit. The book does a very good job at detailing how this empathy and generosity influenced his work. It’s a cliché, but in his case it is really true that he beats his own path forward. The book does not shy away from dealing with some of his darker moments of depression and abusive drinking, and how it affected his wife Alfie. Key to his story is the equally strong and creative character of Alfreda “Alfie” Benge, his wife, supporter and collaborator for over 40 years.

Last year, at age 70, Robert Wyatt announced his retirement from music. Fans like me hope of course that he changes his mind, but in any event he has left an amazing body of work. There is an accompanying double CD compilation of the same name. The first CD is a compilation of his releases with Soft Machine, Matching Mole, and his solo albums. The second CD is a collection of collaborative efforts, some quite rare. This collection would seem like a good place to jump into his work. I don’t have the CD, but it looks great. Two thumbs up for the book, however!