WILLIAM S. FISCHER – Akelarre (2005)

Reviewed by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Assigned by: Schuyler L.

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This here is an oddity; American arranger and film score composer William S. Fischer had travelled to the Basque Country in Spain, and decided to record funky versions of their traditional songs. The name of the record couldn’t be other than “Akelarre”, which might be the only Basque loanword in the English language. The word itself comes from the words “aker”, “he-goat”, and “larre”, “meadow”, but is more accurately translated as “Witches’ Sabbath”, the place where they were supposed to perform their dark rituals, guided by Satan in the guise of a black he-goat.

Despite having such an occult title, Akelarre itself is quite lightweight. All the tracks are completely instrumental, and they have the base melodies taken from the Basque musicality, and those are usually done with the flute. The other most prominent instrument is the electric guitar, which is often very screechy, to the point where I don’t know whether it’s playing distorted folk lines, or adding new ones. Not that it matters, it is the strongest point of the record! Completing the line-up, there is a jazzy/funky rhythm section of bass and drums, nothing out of the ordinary, and some electric effects.

Now, the flaw of this approach is that, most of the time, it is too mellow to have the strength funk demands. The flutes are played in a very… “softspoken” way, that lacks the acuteness that I so love in this instrument. This problem is particularly notable in the stretch from the third to the fifth track, in which the album slogs in flimsy jazzy wallpaper. The sixth track, “Eguntto Batez”, my favourite, comes to the rescue then, and it’s almost shocking how fierce it is, specially by the halfway mark where the guitars start raging in a solo clearly inspired by Eddie Hazel! The rest of the album sits in between these two extremes, and to be fair, not even at the lowest point this is as annoying as some jazz I’ve found. The ninth track, Xarmangarria, is also a highlight.

The basic Basque melodies themselves are also beautiful, and the more I listen, the more I notice the traditional backbone that holds this album. I’d say this particular factor makes Akelarre a “grower”, and not as much an obvious jazz-fusion as it would have seemed. However, and this might be more of my flaw as a listener, I can’t help but feel the lack of vocals really hampers this album, and make it much less interesting than it could have been. A coarse voice singing or even chanting something in Basque would do wonders to make even the most uneventful parts more interesting! It might even bring some of the promised witchcraft to this otherwise nice album.

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HENRYK GORECKI – Dawn Upshaw, London Sinfonietta, David Zinman ‎– Symphony No. 3 (1992)

Review by: Schuyler L
Assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

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Note: Well, this isn’t something I’ve done… er, ever. Upon receiving the assignment, I considered the idea of reviewing a symphony proper which:
A. Was published in 1977
B. Has three movements, with the longest at nearly twenty-seven minutes
C. Is titled “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” in reference to its subject matter, the victims of the holocaust.

… And naturally, I realized that it just wouldn’t do to say some words about this piece whilst trying to insert the usual levity I like to employ for comedic effect (when I run out of more substantive comments).

And, naturally, I sort of put this one off altogether for a while just because of that…. unfairly, I must say, because levity does not a good review make, and I might just as well put off reviewing something whimsical for lack of serious things to say.

Anyhow, this piece turned out to be one of wonderful depth and character, so I’m glad I was assigned it after all. The first movement in particular is really graced by the fine conducting of David Zinman, whose studied decisions in phrasing and texture are doubly strengthened by the warm (and wonderfully recorded) strings of London Sinfonietta. In fact, the first movement flows along so purposefully and unhampered in its first thirteen minutes that we nearly forget the presence on this recording of star soprano Dawn Upshaw, whose entrance is nothing short of angelic. Her appearance is only a brief repose, however, from the trudging, descending minor basso ostinato that is its central motif. The overall impression is one of something vibrant and unique soon to be eradicated by some impending doom.

The lamentful B-flat minor of the slow, tranquillisimo second movement is where things get quite serious. The vocal, which unceremoniously enters at the start like a quiet prayer, floats and lilts at the very center of the melody for the first time, while swells of strings add to a timeless, cosmic feeling of compassion for all suffering in this pathos-filled movement.

Finally, a somber, slightly faster D minor theme brings us back down to Earth. We feel as though something is irretrievably lost; the strings at times evoke the texture of a church organ, and soon we realize that what we are hearing is not merely a requiem for the dead, but for the world as people once knew it; the promises of the 20th century, any sense of a shared history and culture across civilisation – all of it is gone, forever, and all that remains is what we have always had – memories. But all is not lost – when the D minor melody enters a second time, its appearance seems hopeful; a testament to the immutability of a culture divided and broken, but steadfast in its determination to remember its past while forging ahead into modern culture. The piece finally resolves to a lingering, heroic A major, before vanishing into the ether once more.

An essential piece for anyone interested in modern music. As George would say, one thumb, way up there.

ANGRA – Aqua (2010)

Reviewed by: Schuyler L.

Assigned by: Victor Guimarães

It’s November the 9th, 11:48 AM, and I’m listening to sounds of “Aqua” by the band Angra. It’s raining, I have a lurking feeling of nausea that won’t go, and this sincerely feels like the worst day possible to be living in the free country of U.S.A.

According to Wikipedia, Angra plays a mix of power and progressive metal and are from Brazil, so hats off (to Roy Harper), ‘cause they must have really cornered the market in that area. This is ostensibly a concept album, but fucked if I know what’s going on here.

The music is loud, with barely any correlation between various sections whatsoever, and not the kind of thing I would listen to on any given day. Basically, we have this formula: brief sound collage-ism -> loud ‘n’ fast -> piano ballad motif -> more loud ‘n’ fast -> some namby-pamby constipated on the toilet -> acoustic guitar -> even more loud ‘n’ fast -> choral motifs -> WAIT, A FUCKING SITAR FOR A SECOND????

So it’s pretty much self-evident that, despite a few nice parts (the instrumental bits where they don’t focus so much on loud ‘n’ fast), this is not a good work in my view – and this has nothing to do with my foul mood at the present moment in time, I assure you!

Yes, despite some indubitably excellent drumming, bass-playing, and guitar noodles, I am very sorry to say that this recording sounds like dog shit. The cymbals are always floating away into the ether, the toms and snares sound incredibly brickwalled, the singer’s voice is placed obnoxiously at the forefront of the mix…

In fact, there’s such an alarming lack of studio ambiance I’m tempted to believe it was recorded in the singer’s asshole.

Still, there is an inspiring quote to be found in “Rage of the Waters”, the fifth track, which sort of stuck out a bit more than any of the other lyrics did, to my highly distracted and suggestible mind:

“So long, it took me to learn

Surging waves can take all your hope
But when the torment ends, comes the calm
There’s no reason to despair, no!”

Well, that really just popped my cherry. And now we’ve got a president who does that without people’s permission, ha-ha! I’m actually looking forward to it, four or more years of people screaming their heads off and getting all naked and free and united and kissing and loving and enjoying each other and LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS AND ASS AND LIPS

SIR HARRY LAUDER – Roaming in the Gloaming (2013)

Review by: Schuyler L.
Album assigned by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Sir Harry Lauder is a really happy sorta guy. He’s good at drinking whiskey and loves to wax nostalgic about Scotch lassies and purple heather (“more like ‘PUURRPLLEe HAAAAZZZZzzzee,’ am I right now, dads?”) and has a really exquisite talent for rolling his “r’s”… I do wonder, how did he earn his knightship? ? ? (insert more suggestive question marks here).

Regardless of this totally needless query posited to occupy typespace, I must say that to his credit, Lauder only tends to be at the very forefront of the record’s sound about 80% of the time, with another 10% consisting of somewhat forced, explosive laughter… which is all right, really, because that reminds me a bit of the musical accompaniment… somewhat forced!

I am not going to review this one track-by-track, nor even mention a single track at all. And there’s really no point to it, with something as self-apparent as this record, which is one of a slowly growing pool of centenarians. 

You see, the problem is that Sir Harry Lauder is to subtle abstraction as marble is to concrete. 

And by that, I do also mean that he’s really white.

This is the kind of music you play after your luck has taken a bad turn. Perhaps you’ve lost your job, or your wife has left you because of your fantasy sports addiction, or maybe you lost one of your brand new running sneakers in the escalator at work, because you just happened put your foot on the side of it, though you damn well know you shouldn’t do that, fucking asshole.


Because no matter what happens, you can still listen to Roaming in the Gloaming and say “Wow, how awesome it is that possibly on this very day, a hundred-and-something years ago, Sir Harry Lauder was totally getting off in Scotland!”