CD Reviews

Saturday 5th September

September 6, 2009

Walking home tonight I turned a corner into a dark residential street and came right across a cat that had its front paw planted right on the nose of a stunned hedgehog. The cat seemed to know what it was doing, carefully avoiding the spines so as not to hurt itself, toying with the little fellow. So I came across this little scene, and the cat froze, staring right up at me. The hedgehog was already pretty frozen. It took a second or two for me to process the whole situation, during which I froze myself, and then I made that noise at the cat that you make when you want them to clear off, a kind of phlegmy wooshing sound… the cat stayed dead still though, staring right at me, but the hedgehog, taking its chance, did a runner into some nearby bushes. Happy it was safe I went about my way, and the cat wandered off in a bit of a sulk.

mono024Anyway Close-Up, a new release on the  Polish Monotype label by Bertrand Gauguet, Franz Hautzinger and Thomas Lehn is full of phlegmy wooshing sounds. The interesting thing is that they come as much from Thomas Lehn’s analogue synth as they do from Gauguet’s sax or Hautzinger’s trumpet. Close-Up is really nice actually, active and vibrant, but not breakneck OTT silliness, and squelchy splats and hissy whispers rather than anything faintly melodic. Thomas Lehn is a great musician, and his mark is all over this CD. The second of the three unnamed pieces here is lead by him, opening with rare droning sounds from his synth which drop away into little squiggles when the two wind musicians start to build breathy, fluttering sounds around him, returning later in the track subtly changed. Moments when the sound drops away to near silence are tugged back into life by his little pops and crackles, though to be fair on this piece I do struggle to be certain which sounds are his and which come from the others, particularly as Hautzinger adds electronic devices to his trumpet sounds, the extent of which is not immediately clear.

Throughout Close-Up I get the sense that, whilst none of the musicians feel the need to pair back their sound unnecessarily they are more interested in the textural and temporal interplay between sounds rather than any adrenalin fuelled urgency to pile sounds up. The music is generally quite slow, but varied and constantly changing. Lehn seems to provide much of the colour across the album, with the others feeding in and out of this, little twists and turns keeping the music flowing, muscular in places, gentle and softly blended in others. I am reminded of muted watercolours, dramatically arranged on the page, a limited palette, but placed perfectly into the arrangement.  To be honest, as I listen now for the fourth time over a couple of days, all three musicians play really well here, the sense of timing and the use of space throughout is exceptional, keeping the music to a brooding, rumbling, crumbling stream rather than the rushing  blow-out that could easily have happened in lesser hands. The monumental, twenty-six minute long third track works its way steadily through just about every dynamic possible, a middle section made up of swelling, wave-like sounds from all three musicians really catching the ear, the electro-acoustic blend really giving the overlaid textures depth. Later in the track a few annoying rhythmic elements appear, but not for so long as to spoil things, and to be honest I just found myself trying to work out who was making them. Throughout the album I am reminded of Nmperign, but with electronics added, such is the sensitivity of the playing and the musicians ability to really listen to each other before adding any contribution of their own.

The balance of the three musicians is excellent, three sympathetic yet expressive musicians finely tuned to each other. It would appear from the sleeve notes that the tracks on the album were recorded nearly a year apart (this doesn’t show, I had no idea before reading the notes after a couple of listens) and as many different promoters and venues seem to be thanked it seems the group have played together quite often. This really shows in the music, which sounds very much like the work of three improvisers with a close understanding. Close-Up is then a fine album of improvised music, one of the best of its kind I’ve heard in a while. It will be too busy for some, too abstract for others, but none of that matters in the slightest. Nice work.

Comments (6)

  • robert

    September 6, 2009 at 1:36 am

    I got this a couple weeks ago (maybe more like 5) and I have to say I also was pretty into it. Now I disagree with you a little bit in that I think Lehn can be great but is somewhat prone to excess. I find his performances rather hit or miss depending on whether he gives that side free rein or not. Anyway this one was a (very rare these days) pickup at the record store and I took the chance on it and was glad I did. It is definitely not getting any attention, so glad you reviewed it. I’ll have to give it another listen soon.

  • Richard Pinnell

    September 6, 2009 at 1:49 am

    First of all I’m pleased to hear you enjoyed this Robert, I wouldn’t have thought it up your street. I completely disagree about Lehn though. I have maybe twenty or so releases involving him, just a fraction of his catalogue, but I really don’t think there is a weak disc in there. Excess in the right places is fine. Excess all the time is a problem. Lehn knows what to do when IMO, which is one of his real strengths.

    He is also amazing to watch live. I think only ever the Konk Pack gigs I have seen him in have been a disappointment, every other time he has been great. Really annoyed I didn’t get to see him play at this year’s i-and-e, but I saw him play with TOOT the week before and he was great there.

  • Richard Pinnell

    September 6, 2009 at 2:02 am

    On second thoughts I’m not a fan of Ton & Gerry and don’t like the early MIMEO albums much either….

    As for attention… quite a lot of what I review here doesn’t get much attention in the narrow internet circles you and I frequent… which is one of the reasons I try and focus on this kind of release. The internet does tend to be far more skewed towards some areas of improv than others, while out amongst the people I speak to in real life the selection tends to be quite different. Monotype have done some good stuff, I really liked the Lionel Marchetti / Jean-Baptiste Favory disc they put out last year. Another new one is waiting here as well.

  • jon abbey

    September 6, 2009 at 3:34 am

    it never ceases to amuse me how you feel that your “real life” circle of contacts (which presumably leaves out e-mail and is confined to face to face encounters) is so much wider than the range of ones in a discussion forum. if you look back in the archives, quite a few Monotype records have been mentioned/discussed on IHM over the years.

    anyway, I have a set of Monotype releases en route to ErstDist that I ordered a few weeks ago, including this one, curious about them.

  • Richard Pinnell

    September 6, 2009 at 4:08 am

    I didn’t say that anything was “wider” just different.

    Now if you can’t comment here without trying to either have a go at me or constantly advertise the CDs you have for sale please cease to do so.

  • jon abbey

    September 6, 2009 at 4:20 am

    the “wider” comment was in response to “narrow internet circles”, and you’ll know if I’m having a go at you, that certainly wasn’t it.

    as for “constantly advertising the CDs I have for sale”, you’ve got to be kidding. it’s not my fault you keep reviewing CDs before I’ve got them. I can pull up old reviews with my comments on those discs as I get to them, if you’d prefer that, but I’m pretty sure that would annoy you at least as much.

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