CD Reviews

Saturday 20th November

November 21, 2010

gw002 new cover3 100dpiIts inevitable really that, given my taste and Brian Olewnick’s overlap quite a bit, and given that we each tend to write about many of the same items as one another, that we will often say the same things about particular pieces of music. i wonder though, how much my thoughtsd and opinions might be coloured by something Uncle Brian might write about a CD if I read his words before writing myself? I certainly found myself wondering this as I sat down to write this evening about July Mountain (Three Versions), the second release on Michael Pisaro’s Gravity Wave imprint. Now, like Brian I wrote a review earlier this year of the original Engraved Glass 3″ release of the first of the three realisations of July Mountain to be found on this new CD. My review spilt over with praise, perhaps unsurprisingly for those that know of my love for Pisaro and his collaborator here Greg Stuart’s work. Brian, in his recent write up of the new extended release said that while he had nothing but praise for the new release might still prefer the original “jewel like, flawless” qualities of the original 3″ disc. In many ways, (and this is where I wonder how much my thoughts might be influenced by Brian’s) I have to agree.

The original version of Pisaro’s July Mountain score, realised by Stuart (overlaid percussion) and Pisaro (field recordings) kicks things off here, newly subtitled the California Version and its good to hear it again. I played this track so much earlier this year, to the point that it almost feels like a pop record to me, given that I can follow the hooks between the different sections, and when the first of the heavy piano chords kicks in at the eight minute mark I feel it coming, tensing myself for its arrival even without watching the CD player’s timer. Its great that this wonderful piece of music, (which was originally only released in a small edition that sold out quickly) is available again here. I thoroughly recommend that all hear it as soon as they can if they haven’t already.

The second track here is fascinating to hear in that it is in fact just the percussion parts of the piece separated from the field recordings that are added to complete the fully realised work. As Brian also mentioned, it is surprising on hearing this piece, exactly how much of the music is actually percussion, and just how dense and rich the music remains even after the field recordings are taken away. Listening to the piece in this stripped down form things are int here that I had assumed had been part of the field recordings- sounds that had appeared to be recordings of the city, and in particular some sounds that I had down as recordings of overflying aircraft were still present in this percussion-only version. Listening here the ecstatic feel of the piece, that strange feeling of constantly rising, uplifting energy that the work has is more evident than ever. Its great to hear this track, which Pisaro notes on the sleeve can also be used by listeners to create their own version should they choose to add field recordings of their own.

Then finally we have a further version that uses field recordings again, this time a mix prepared by Stuart using field recordings by Greg Headley, Jez riley French, Travis Weller and Stuart and Pisaro that Stuart went on to present live at a concert in Austin. Now, if I had heard this version before any other I would doubtlessly be singing its praises from every rafter, given how the blend of recordings and percussion work so well together, and how the bold introduction of the piano chords alters everything and takes you on its gradually climbing journey to an imaginary  (July? ) summit. This version is again great and very much worthy of release, but there is a slight feeling of over-egging the pudding here a little. The boldness of that original twenty-one minute piece, its feeling of singular, determined power gets a bit forgotten after hearing three versions. The piano strikes feel less charged because we’ve heard them twice already in the last hour. The music is still incredible, the choices of field recordings are great (a lot of watery hydrophones, (Jez?) barking dogs, calling cockerels, birdsong etc..) but a bit like when you hear classic rock albums rereleased with additional previously unheard material, no matter how good the added stuff might be it can’t help but detract from the overall directness and vitality of the original. When I had to submit a list of ten favourite CDs from the first ten months of 2010 last week it was the Engraved Glass edition that made the list.

Anyway, get me, complaining about hearing too much great material… I’d blame Brian if I were you, he put the idea in my head. This is a fantastic release, one of Pisaro’s very finest and I can’t recommend it highly enough.