Sunday, 28 February 2010

Triple Bath Pair

TZESNE – La Carne

La Carne (“The Meat”) comprises processed noises that – directly or less – were generated from the manipulation of sounds deriving from that element; indeed the last (useless) 15 minutes are occupied by echoes from a slaughterhouse, including the poor mooing animals. Massive slabs of granular, gritty, hissing materials operate aggressively on the ears, and there’s a section in the second track where a female voice – or its ghost – seems to have been looped in the remote background. The problem is that I can’t detect a true compositional sense in any of these sand-in-the-eyes stormy landscapes, whose overall sound is pretty stressing: playing the CD loud causes aural irritation, but keeping it at a lower level the “fine details” don’t get heard. Occasionally useful (say, while walking in the street in a rainy morning in order to avoid listening to people’s bullshit) yet, when everything’s over, one doesn’t feel the need of starting again - especially because of the tactical error of placing those extremely boring slaughterhouse reverberations at the end of an already wearing program.

MICHAEL CHOCHOLAK – Alveromancy

The sound strategy of Michael Chocholak has never really convinced me, despite a few interesting ideas scattered across numerous CDs (admittedly, not all of them were heard). He’s a quite anarchic musician, which is a good starting point. Still, the selection of the tracks for a single work must undergo a stricter process of evaluation, otherwise respectable compositions risk to get meshed with stuff that sounds like a kid at play with a Tascam in the living room. Accordingly, Alveromancy is exactly what was expected by the Oregonian, in that comprises a series of situations ranging from the nearly indigestible havoc of “Ariel” to the heavenly openings of the Audiomulch-generated “Deep Blue Dreaming”. Also, attractive guitar-based fumes are to be inhaled in “Aurora (Daughter Of Heaven”). The whole album is characterized by Chocholak’s typical volatility, an indicator of both his unruly bravery and total incapability of distinguishing what truly deserves publication and what instead is better left in the vault. He should put the very best things in 30-minute editions and proceed from there.

Two Aces

JOE MORRIS QUARTET – Today On Earth

“This is quartet music that emphasizes the groove”, says Joe Morris to illustrate the material contained in Today On Earth, which features anarchically brilliant alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, attuned virtuoso bassist Timo Shanko and solidly ingenious drummer Luther Gray. The guitarist’s depiction finds a confirmation since the first notes of the opening “Backbone”, a swinging naturalness informing the members’ flummoxing facility in delivering themselves from the constrictions of a pulse while remaining entirely synchronized. Immediately thereafter, the angularly pensive theme of the unperturbed “Animal” constitutes a highlight in this circumstance and one of the most terrific tunes ever by Morris, whose unprocessed tone and close-to-brusque approach to phrasing remains an admirable attribute in times of overly compressed saturation, market-approved suffering faces and hyper-technical pointlessness better suited for Guitar Player’s adolescent readers. These two tracks alone define the richness of particulars and the clearness of mind shown the whole time by the foursome, but there’s more to savour and commit to memory. “Observer”, for example, links melodic unfussiness, depth of vision and instantaneous prowess in fine acoustic handwriting, Shanko and Hobbs actors in very intense, almost transcendental solo spots before the leader’s purposeful improvisation becomes the object of attention. What mostly characterizes the effort, and ultimately renders it highly creditable, is the artists’ motivation in pursuing apparently impractical solutions and tortuous roads to arrive at conclusions that sound particularly digestible, despite the expected fearlessness and the nearly confrontational difficulty of some of the pieces (try scatting “Embarrassment Of Riches” and come home humbled). I don’t know if this stuff will manage to let the listeners “have (...) a second of reflection about our lives standing on this planet floating in the universe” (to quote the boss again). Sure enough the realization of the impossibility, for many so-called musicians, of letting their inner selves out at such level of expression is going to materialize after less than ten minutes, and returning to pedestrian renditions of standards and inadequate harmonic substitutions won’t be easy. (Aum Fidelity)

RODRIGO AMADO – Motion Trio

There’s a forward-looking intensity that permeates the interplay generated by the members of the Motion Trio (leader Rodrigo Amado on tenor sax, Miguel Mira on cello, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums). Their unfortified creative citadel welcomes all kinds of suggestion, which get retransformed and modified during lively fluxes of unfettered improvisation aiming to symbolize a vision more than defining a field of action. The Portuguese reedist’s enlightened skillfulness is manifest: he’s one of those natural-sounding, humble jazzmen whose main intent is the eradication of artistic insularity and genre-derived confinement. In “Testify!” he staggers and stutters across magnificently unaccomplished melodic ramifications, ensnaring us in an illusory sense of dislocated linearity quickly turning towards uncontaminated frankness. The pieces are punctuated by lumpy outbursts, chattering descriptions and peaceful recollections, a portrayal of gestural weightlessness that, on the contrary, emphasizes the imaginative impact. Mira and Ferrandini work eagerly within the context, remaining suspended between "unconstitutional" and "tolerable" as they provide a stable supply of pulsating energy to a music that – although clearly rooted in jazz – gradually seems to grow into a strange flying creature, ready to perplex and, ultimately, elicit admiration in those who observe its unusual, scheme-free fluttering. (European Echoes)

Monday, 22 February 2010

Marco Oppedisano, Early And Earlier

Those who are into heavily processed guitars but still appreciate the value of bizarre orchestrations bathed in methodical (and often preposterous) abstractness should take a serious look at this man’s work, available at the OKSRNA website. These CDs were released in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Both are emblematic of Oppedisano’s qualities, which extend well beyond the curtain of effects and the bags of tricks under which he loves to hide his compositional chops. Hey, one doesn’t collaborate with David Lee Myers if there are no ideas in the brain.

MARCO OPPEDISANO – Electroacoustic Compositions For Electric Guitar

The only source besides what is mentioned in the title are an electric bass and a sampled female voice (courtesy of Kimberly Fiedelman in the funnily strange “Karmicom”). Heterodox pitilessness, celestial meanderings, timbral kinships and otherworldly correspondences are all found in this disc. Oppedisano gathers metals, rumbles, synthetic discharges and steamy distortion in a wonderfully incoherent vocabulary, characterized by a systematic refusal of remaining in the same place for more than ten seconds. Fastidiously arranged and executed, these sequences surprise, annoy and galvanize, even managing to extirpate a couple of appreciative laughs from this callous writer. We discern acumen and sense of humour which, mixed with the evident inquisitiveness of the protagonist (who’s not afraid of making music that sounds similar to a videogame soundtrack one moment and a cinematic trip the next) warrants several episodes of belligerently amusing paroxysm. Although the tapes collect tracks recorded in the 1999-2005 temporal frame, this feels like a concept album - which says a lot about its engenderer’s idealistic consistency. Atypically pertinacious, sporadically cheesy (in the right way), a few times enlightening, always abnormal stuff. The world needs it.

MARCO OPPEDISANO – The Ominous Corner

Once again, the lone protagonists are Oppedisano and Fiedelman (who this time is clearly audible in the spoken segments of “Renewal”). The array of machines utilized by the boss is slightly expanded, including radio, processed waveforms and MIDI instruments besides guitar and bass. I still have to grasp the reason behind my more-than-moderate contentment for this individualistic brew, which (de)ranges from heavily saturated, Vai-meets-Torn virtuosity to absolute mayhems where incessant sequences and complicated sci-fi convergences get interrupted by tear-in-the-black-sky openings of harmonic lights, repeated hints to galactic apprehensiveness and amusingly indiscreet hymns to renascence. The Ominous Corner presents the most technical side of this Italian-named American composer, and also his tendency to grandiloquence in several occasions: the irony that was present in various junctures of Electroacoustic Compositions is practically absent here. Yet one cannot but appreciate the incredible attention to every tiny detail and the sense of adventurousness, as Oppedisano attempts to redefine all roles in his six string-based architectures. The fact that he’s a technically superior instrumentalist constitutes a spicy ingredient of the recipe, certainly not a hindrance. Somewhat bombastic, but extremely accurate and often simply stunning music that didn’t succeed in boring me, which – given a typically difficult acceptance of axe-indulging paradoxes – equals success.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Valuable Or Less, Your Choice

REHAB – Man Under Train Situation

John Hegre (guitar, electronics), Bjørnar Habbestad (flute, electronics). From the extreme electroacoustic provinces, a series of now thoroughly brutal, now more tranquil (but still menacing) explorations of the noisiest fringes of timbre with rare decipherable textures, mainly in the harsh-at-all-costs area. Many of the events sound rather circumstantial, and ever the developed sections appear a little too fragmentary to be remembered with real infatuation. The actual instruments are mostly kept unrecognizable, except for a handful of guitar emanations and a few flute-elicited pops and bubbles; radical feedback and severe distortion help to forget. Ferocious cut’n’paste, combustible liquids spilled all over the place, a general sense of lack of compromise. Yet not entirely satisfying and, at times, slightly inconclusive. Episodically interesting, nothing else. (+3DB)

THE RIGHT MOVES – The End Of The Empire

Ninni Morgia (guitar, Casio), Stuart Popejoy (bass), Kevin Shea (drums). Over forty minutes of axe-centered improvisation packing a solid punch overall, but not enough devastating - or simply creative - to let us cry miracle. Morgia’s shimmering resonances, howling snarls and sporadically cantabile lines would like to depict something between inconsolable and illuminating, partially succeeding. The walloping mass of low frequencies elicited by Popejoy meshes well with the grumbling percussive initiatives of Shea, who is calmer here than in other settings we have heard him in. A few sections are cohesive and right to the point; others are quite a bit on the noodle-doodle side of things. I also tried it as an active soundtrack while watching a boxing fight on DVD, and – believe it or not - it worked better that way. Essentially, this music is moderately appreciable as a bulk; yet if one looks for further details, there’s not too much to really exult for. (Ultramarine)

CHRISTIAN VASSEUR – Alam + Poèmes Saturniens

A French musician who specializes on guitars with a larger number of strings than the norm, and in addition is technically adept on the Renaissance lute; in fact, he exclusively utilizes a 14-string archlute in Alam. These are separate releases but work better if listened consecutively, in order to have a handle on the overall vision of an artist definitely gifted with a consistently throbbing heart besides an irrefutable digital prowess. The lute album is inevitably oriented towards a classical language, but it doesn’t sound decayed or musty for a moment. One appreciates both the structure and the kindness of the pieces, and the composer’s ability to touch the right spots in the listener’s individual mood. Poèmes Saturniens is a good record as well, in which we perceive a slight veil of peripheral influence (Ralph Towner and Egberto Gismonti in particular, if only in short spurts) and lots of nascent suggestions that often remain not completely expressed yet they’re all the more fascinating for this very reason. It is interesting to note that Vasseur works, among other social classes, with disabled adults and children; the human responsiveness necessary for this kind of job indisputably transpires from his unpretentiously emotive music, which he occasionally emphasizes through murmured vocalizations. (Humming Conch)

MIGUEL A. GARCIA – Armiarmak

Miguel A. Garcia (mixer, mics, sines). A two-year old album that, on a superficial listen, may sound like a thousand others but that instead needs repeated attempts to infiltrate a depth that goes well beyond the merely experimental surface. Interesting progress on a compositional level: sonic derivations that appear from nothingness, establish a milieu (mainly centered around a mixture of microsounds, buzzing and humming emissions, semi-silences and subtle interferences, the whole suffused in continuously shifting dynamics). Sheer data succeeding frame by frame in a cold logic of brain stimulation that might result welcome (here it was for sure) or aggravating, if the audience is not practiced in this kind of listening. On the other hand, Armiarmak could appeal – at least partially - to drone maniacs (the title track is excellent at that) and practitioners of headphone-based, blank-stare entrancement. The closing “Itapoa”, comprising looped sounds by Rafael Flores, is a particularly intriguing finale. That your partner will appreciate this CD - especially at significant volume - is not a given. I did. (RMO)

DANIEL LENTZ – Point Conception

Arlene Dunlap, Bryan Pezzone (piano). In the 80s your reviewer was literally mesmerized by Lentz’s Missa Umbrarum but as the years went by he gradually lost passion with his music, in spite of occasional beauties arising from a general harmonic easygoingness that, on the long distance, is hardly acceptable. Unfortunately Point Conception is not immune, in spite of the multi-piano modus operandi characterizing both scores. The almost 37 minutes of the title track (performed by Dunlap) are replete with superimposed overflowing arpeggios that - quite sincerely - become tedious after less than one third, and no technical dexterousness can transform an inconclusive composition in a masterpiece. Pezzone is featured in the much shorter – and definitely better – “Nightbreaker”, whose aura of mystery is unquestionably more rewarding to these ears even if the piece is still loaded with notes, not all of them really significant in its economy. Feldman zealots will do good in standing well clear off this record, while my impression of unfulfilled potentials when thinking about this composer returns with a vengeance. (Cold Blue)

MATHIEU RUHLMANN – Tsukubai + Funayūrei

Drones and water, water and drones. The first chapter in Mystery Sea’s subsidiary label comes from a man who has done good with past editions of his assemblages; that’s exactly what (barely) saves an otherwise pretty ordinary day at the office. To be precise, the fact that my promo copy came with a second CD (Funayūrei) that contains music superior to Tsukubai, the original release, helps considerably in not judging this as a completely useless outing. The latter was made with hydrophone recordings in a Vancouver garden: well placed gurgles and washes, plus the usual rustling and crackling appearances, occasionally accompanied by some kind of ethereal echo or from-the-underground stasis, Lustmord-style (minus the threatening factor). Nothing wrong but absolutely nothing innovative either, a one-in-a-thousand episode in this genre. The bonus disc comprises a 25-minute suite where the assistance of the fundamental vibration underlying the field work is more continuous, which is how things are rendered slightly interesting. It behaves nicely enough as an ambient complement, but in earlier times Ruhlmann was publishing better materials than these. The profundity of personal reminiscences doesn’t always translate into sonic impact, this being a classic case. (Unfathomless)

SEASONS (PRE-DIN) – Your Eyes The Stars And Your Hands The Sea

Under the “influences” spot on his MySpace page, Seasons (Pre-Din) declares “silence and the need for something to be there”. Given the proclivity to remain anonymous – couldn’t find a real name at a first googling, and quite sincerely didn’t waste excessive time for this – the elements for interesting stuff were all in attendance. This wonderfully titled album is indeed a satisfactory example of how it’s still possible to release music in a filled-to-capacity sector and managing to have someone who’s able to unmask a pretender in thirty seconds (that’s me) remaining interested for the total duration of the disc, in this case circa 38 minutes. Why? Because Mr. (Pre-Din) uses the same ingredients of a thousand of other dronescapers with a deeper respect for the listener’s latent inner quietness. According to Daniel Crokaert’s notes, the sources – besides the by now omnipresent field recordings and indeterminate voices from the ether – may comprise singing bowls, dulcimers, piano, guitars and orchestral loops. Not many direct resemblances to these instruments were detected, but beautiful sections humming ad infinitum yes, they are present in copious doses. And even the normal parts are less annoying than in the average productions of the equivalent class. Some intense subterranean quivering, a somewhat choral development of the droning mass and – voila – here’s a not really transcendental yet solid CD that will keep good company during your introverted reflective evenings. (Mystery Sea)

MOLJEBKA PVLSE – Aningan

The experts know what to expect from Mathias Josefson, the man behind one of the most diffused monikers in the dark ambient/isolationist area (these categories make me laugh nowadays, and I really don’t find a new way to define the genre anymore). Extensive durations, shifting scenarios, hundreds of tangled-and-processed sources, resonating metals, bottomless choirs, winds and seas. Again, factors that have already been employed thousands of times. But when personal sensitiveness kicks in – and Moljebka Pvlse is a very considerate artist among those heard in this territory – we get rewarded with beautiful music, at least aesthetically when not on deeper levels, and there’s no need to repeat once more the list of negatives (which in this occasion would be almost empty anyway). Thus enjoy this long aquatic/subterranean/ethereal adventure where radio interference, stretched guitars, hollow voices and natural emanations proceed in exquisitely intertwining settings, manipulated and chained in beguilingly morphing sequences by Josefson with his typical ability until the whole is definitively stabilized in entrancing quasi-stillness. Masses of scarcely comprehensible sounds that inch forward without doing damage, instead trying to involve the receiver’s attitude and impermanent mood. Not just a “sufficient”, but a dangerously near to “excellent” album indeed. (Mystery Sea)

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Two With Henry Kaiser + Two On Balance Point Acoustics = Three???

Yes, because one of the Balance Point Acoustics releases is the most recent solo outing by the Oakland eclectic. It didn’t go too well, to be honest.

HENRY KAISER – Where Endless Meets Disappearing

In order to wipe any misunderstanding away, let it be known that Kaiser is one of my heroes. I've listened to the large part of the man’s output and still am the happy owner of a good number of rare vinyl albums that he published decades ago, including the double LP Aloha (which, curiously, is not loved by its creator). That said, the splendidly titled When Endless Meets Disappearing - played on an array of electric and acoustic axes comprising a pair of 1890 relics – completely fails to convince me. It seems as if the protagonist had left a sizeable portion of the customary sting out of the equation, letting the machines - especially digital delays and pitch shifting devices - do the work on his behalf after he's entered a few notes, or the cocoon of a basic harmonic idea. Several episodes are constructed on the same droning bass + looped fragment + pentatonic-with-small-variations formula, with just a modicum of really "alternative" inventiveness; a couple of tracks might be exchanged for Robert Fripp outtakes, and there's a (hopefully involuntary) resemblance to Frank Zappa's "Outside Now" main vamp in “Three Can Keep A Secret, If Two Are Dead”. Apart from infrequent incidents – the polite “Maybe If Time”, the final “A Bloom Of Tiny Suns” - Kaiser looks uncertain about the directions to take, both musically and on the fingerboard. Strange - in particular from a man who once called a (great) album Hope You Like Our New Direction. This time we don't, and this is the first occasion in which that happens. What's going on here? We want our spiky HK back, dissonances, snapping strings, bent-behind-the-bridge harmonics and all. Or the bones of that Synclavier dinosaur. Marrying For Money, Devil In The Drain, the duets with Sergey Kuryokhin in Popular Science, remember? Let’s not even mention the masterpieces with Fred Frith, or precious gems such as It’s A Wonderful Life. This easier, comfortable version is not what was expected, and a handful of passionless semi-anarchic pills can’t save the day. Damn.

HENRY KAISER / BOB BRALOVE – Ultraviolet Licorice

Things go better in the collaboration with keyboardist Bob Bralove, who autonomously published this CD. Here we’re at least able to retrieve elements of the Kaiser of old, even when scattered amidst strange concoctions of crystal-clear piano, exotic/esoteric echoes and outer space synthesis that we tend to enjoy in any case, despite some obvious ingenuity. For example, those Korg presets seem to pop out everywhere, and the beginning of “Silence Is So Accurate” sounds amazingly similar to an (un-copyrighted) juvenile experiment of mine on the same brand of workstation. A couple of tracks exists where the will of experimenting something new is overwhelmed by the non-usable quality of the essential compositional ideas and, again, of the timbres. Anyway, HK manages to delight with a good number of those quirky, unpredictable adventures beyond conventional guitar-based wisdom, their preposterous character all the more welcome when juxtaposed to Stravinskian cadenzas or splashed in between meditative tunes typified by layers of static matters and Asian reminiscences (including by now trite samples of Buddhist monks and Indian tampuras). Still, he literally smokes in the instances where his trusty steel-stringed acoustic guitars are finally brought to the fore. Let's be entirely sincere: an unforgettable album this ain’t, and certain segments would work fine as a TV documentary soundtrack. Yet one can notice a tendency to an expression outside constriction that was blatantly missing in the noodle-in-slippers, Eventide-drenched easygoingness of the above reviewed solo disc. Thus, for now, we'll accept this while waiting to get our filthy hands on Plane Crash with Weasel Walter and Balance Point Acoustics’ honcho Damon Smith. That one should set the record straight.

YCLEPT - Yclept

Back to our (sometimes) beloved rasped strings, kneaded wood and – in general – overtone-eliciting activity with an album that features two artists I’m familiar with (trumpeter Birgit Ulher, also featured on “radio, mutes and speaker”, and the aforementioned Damon Smith on double bass and laptop) in conjunction with Israeli improvisers that I meet for the first time: saxophonists Ariel Shibolet and Adi Snir, guitar manipulators Roni Brenner and Michel Mayer and drummer Ofer Bymel. Yclept is an effort that exudes earnestness and thorough application by the involved parties. No risk of obsolescence in these methods - although there’s nothing here that has not been heard before on labels such as Creative Sources or Al Maslakh - because when the exchanges are active, attentive, reciprocally sensible like this, one could go on and listen for hours. This is legitimate EAI, where the proliferation of timbral byproducts is directly proportional to the keenness of the participants’ ears. The balance between empty space and slight inquietude is guaranteed by a careful dosage of the instrumental components: percussiveness, mumbled harshness, abrasion and moisture embellish an otherwise extremely sober setting. This music possesses traits of artlessness that contribute to rule out the impressions of dogmatic attitude too often present in many similar gatherings, for the musicians appear more interested in searching for attention-grabbing details than in letting a holy emptiness resonate in artistic vacuum. In that sense, this is an excellent CD that deserves repeated spins, fascinating to scrutinize attentively and useful as sonic complement when the house is quiet enough.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Moonjune Seven

More goodies from Leonardo Pavkovic’s imprint, this time comprising not one but TWO Italian bands that I liked without second thoughts. Unbelievable but true.

D.F.A. – Fourth

Here is the first, a group from Verona (the name is an acronym for Duty Free Area) that apparently is tremendously in love with National Health, Bruford circa Feels Good To Me, and so forth. They play very well and with rare passion, a genuine devotion for their original influences clearly perceivable all along, guitarist Silvio Minella literally cloning Phil Miller’s tone in certain circumstances. The main composer, though, is drummer Alberto De Grandis, an excellent instrumentalist exactly as the remaining members, keyboardist Alberto Bonomi and bassist Luca Baldassarri. Haven’t heard D.F.A.’s previous releases but this is really pleasant, authentic, honest music whose passionate candour I welcome. The enthusiasm is contagious, the few ingenuities are forgivable (those synths à la Tony Banks, Wind And Wuthering-era must go, guys!) and the last track alone is worth of the whole CD: a poignant arrangement of the traditional song from Sardinia “La Ballata De S’Isposa ‘E Mannorri”, a jewel featuring the Italian Northettes (just kidding), namely the vocal trio Andhira. In this particular segment, Elena Nulchis, Cristina Lanzi and Egidiana Carta deliver refined nuances and complex counterpoints halfway through Bulgarian and Sardinian, touching the right strings of the heart whenever this grown-up kid listens to the tune. Also quite intriguing is the long suite “Mosoq Runa”; not a surprise that both the best tracks feature brilliant performances by cellist Zoltan Szabo and violinist Maria Vicentini. Fine stuff, give it a serious try – especially if you’re a nostalgic of late-seventies British progressive rock.

MORAINE – Manifest Density

Another ensemble with handfuls of “progressive” antecedents (Univers Zero, to quote just one of at least twenty heard in a single disc), led by guitarist Dennis Rea who – judging from his curriculum vitae – has collaborated with everyone except Igor Stravinsky and god. Other members are Ruth Davidson (cello), Alicia Allen (violin), Kevin Millard (bass and baliset) and Jay Jaskot (drums). Technically above reproach, the band crosses different settings and atmospheres without flinching, to the point of not letting us really understand where their right place is. There’s a smidgen of everything in there – composition, improvisation, jazz, rock, traditional Asian music (Rea used to live in China and Taiwan for extensive periods) – the whole expressed through typically circuitous scores whose preferred parts are the ones highlighting Davidson and Allen’s fine string textures. Still, having agreed to an approval nod to the unquestionable bravura of the group, this reporter is not overly enthusiast about the CD, exactly because of what I told a few lines above. Countless influences, not a definite personality: one could describe each piece like “it reminds of (put a name here)”. This means that after a couple of listens the “ah, OK” reaction is a given before the filing of the record in the “unmemorable” archive becomes a fact.

SOFT MACHINE – Drop

The 1971 version of Soft Machine featuring meteoric drummer Phil Howard captured live during that year’s German tour. Let’s call things with the right terms: the band – or, if so preferred, the record – smokes. If someone still needs to know why this group has been so influential over the years, a spin of Drop is all it takes. Crunchy sound quality overall, but solid improvisations upon a basis of obsessions and trippy riffs, Hugh Hopper at his very fuzzy best, Mike Ratledge generating the harmonic hyperlinks to perceptive stasis with customary sapience, Elton Dean sounding like an unlicensed shaman whose impervious lines indicate the way to real transcendence. Howard was a force of nature, an overwhelming mass of cymbals, rolling toms and omnipresent snare, not always keeping the pulse steady but terrifically effective; of course, after a while he was felt as excessively consuming in the group’s economy, therefore all that remains of him on disc is this set and the first half of Fifth. This is one of those CDs who would transform even the most self-collected cynic into a foot-tapping head-banger. Keep this playing at full steam in the Discman (…iPod? What’s that?) and it’s highly probable that your neighbouring travellers are going to look at you with a modicum of worry (“is this guy nuts or is it just Parkinson?”). Say no more. A must.

SLIVOVITZ – Hubris

How does Mr. Pavkovic uncover all these excellent groups from my own native country? Hailing from Naples, Slivovitz – named after their favourite drink – arrive at the second outing since beginning in 2001, and Hubris is indeed a particularly bright one, belonging among the best Italian albums ever heard in this house, and as a rule I’m not that tender with compatriots. A seven-piece ensemble (bassist Domenico Angarano, drummer Stefano Costanzo, guitarist Marcello Giannini, vocalist Ludovica Manzo, harmonica player Derek Di Perri, saxophonist Pietro Santangelo and violinist Riccardo Villari), these people managed to surprise your scribbler with over 70 minutes of absolutely brilliant arrangements and extraordinarily tight playing, mixing lounge jazz, Klezmer in tomato sauce, Arabian and African hues, faint echoes from the Mediterranean Sea, movie soundtrack-like evocativeness - plus an awful lot of other ingredients (take a look at the group’s MySpace to understand). This kind of fusion is extremely palatable, sunny, humorous, not reeking with the fetor of those stale jazz/rock progressions that myriads of heroin-cum-Scientology fuelled zombies have been reiterating bald-facedly for five decades now and that, listened today, make me want to puke. Nothing’s out of place here instead, the instrumental mix practically unblemished. Well - there’s actually a minor track (still acceptable, though), a funky groove called “Stress” which is also the only that features dialectal vocal parts, and – in a particular line - curiously recalls the main riff to Neapolitan singer Pino Daniele’s 1978 song “Il Mare”. Everyone sounds great throughout yet I’ll give a symbolic honourable mention to Villari, who would not be a bad substitute for Jerry Goodman in the earlier incarnations of Mahavishnu Orchestra. These guys are serious players, musicians with the capital M, very competent even on difficult composed metres (check the 7/16 of “Dammi Un Besh O”). When I recall that, for example, the former members of PFM – a historic name for Italy as far as technically advanced music was once concerned – are a significant component of the national television establishment these days (you know who rules there, don’t you?) providing horribly cheesy soundtracks for government-approved news bulletins and shows for retards, then a band such as Slivovitz - who closes the recording with a spoken conversation along the lines of “if we play good enough, then we can go touching the girls’ tits” – must be seriously considered. Given the amazing dexterity shown in this CD, the reward should be a date with Vanessa Del Rio.

ELTON DEAN & THE WRONG OBJECT – The Unbelievable Truth

Although the level of musicianship of the participants is quite high, The Unbelievable Truth represents the sheer documentation of a live meeting between two reciprocally respectful artistic sides and should only be considered as such - nothing more, nothing less. Dean was well practiced on some scores previously sent to him by guitarist (and lone TWO’s composer) Michel Delville, but when the parts finally met – in Paris, October 2005 - no actual rehearsal had been possible due to technical problems to the Belgian quintet’s van, which broke down while they were travelling. Therefore, the concert went on with a hypothetical “without-a-net” feel, the players having to perform pieces written by both composers. This notwithstanding, the large part of what’s heard sounds instead pretty much confined within a somewhat secure “riff-theme-solo” scheme that doesn’t allow too many Pindaric flights, the music often recalling an elegant jam session rather than a heartfelt effort. Listening to Dean’s inimitable style is always a pleasure, though, and thinking that he died shortly thereafter makes us a little indulgent towards a release that, in another occasion, would not adequately warm our heart, and that even in this circumstance is felt as a “neither here nor there” kind of statement, if decently rendered on an instrumental point of view. That said, if you really want to remember who this reedist was, get a copy of the above reviewed Drop – or just go back and listen to National Health’s “Portrait Of A Shrinking Man” on D.S. Al Coda.

SIMAK DIALOG – Patahan

I had moderately appreciated the previous outing Demi Masa by this Indonesian ensemble led by keyboardist Riza Arshad, but this live set from 2005 in Jakarta is a little too easy on these ears on the one side, and pretty tiresome on the other – especially, sorry to report, when singer’s Emy Tata overstretched improvised vocalizations are involved. The East/West mixture of instrumental nuances (also definable as “gamelan meets soft fusion”) works only in rare occasions this time, and frequently we dangerously approach territories bordering with a Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays all-smiles comfortableness that just doesn’t do justice to the technical and spiritual quality of musicians who are surely capable of going much deeper than this. Compared with the finest among the recordings analyzed in this batch, Patahan stops its ascension at least a couple of floors below.

DELTA SAXOPHONE QUARTET – Dedicated To You… But You Weren’t Listening

The splendid versions of “Facelift” (Gilbert Artman should like it), “Everything Is You” and “The Floating World” - the latter one of my all-time Soft Machine favourites – are enough to let your reviewer declare that this CD must be played often and loud. On the other hand, “Outrageous Moon” – featuring Morgan Fisher’s incorporeal electronic-enhanced vocals – would have been better left out of an otherwise nearly immaculate program. Still, there’s no question that this earnest homage to the Machine Molle by DSQ is chock full of hard-to-forget moments: the magnificent “Epilogue”, closing the record, leaves us wanting for more following over a hour of adroit performance. And not simply well-executed renditions, also variations and additions on celebrated pieces, impeccably designed and delivered by Graeme Blevins (soprano), Chris Caldwell (baritone), Tim Holmes (tenor) and Pete Whyman (alto). In “Mousetrap” they boldly quote both Reich’s “Eight Lines” (aka “Octet”) and Zappa’s “King Kong”; in “Noisette” I even found myself catching a Duran Duran similarity – precisely with “Save A Prayer” – but I’m almost convinced that it is a coincidence (keep me posted, though: that song is not bad after all). The late Hugh Hopper directly contributes bass guitar and loops in the above mentioned “Facelift”. Mainly gorgeous stuff.