CD Reviews

Saturday 28th April

April 29, 2012

Whilst I am continually surprised every time I hear somebody tell me that something I have written has had an impact on how they consider a particular piece of music, positively or negatively, I am very much aware that what I write here could influence the purchasing decisions of a couple of dozen people slightly, and even more aware that that influence, however tiny, could result in someone losing some revenue in a tiny end of the musical world that sees little of it. Tonight, after a very difficult and long week, I drove home in heavy rain and listened for the last time to an album that has motivated me to write what is probably the most spitefully vicious review I have ever written (for The Wire, we shall see if it makes it into print yet…) I finished that review this evening, a write-up of music that made me angry in a way that music rarely manages. The problem was, I then wanted to spend time with a different disc so as to be able to write a review for the blog tonight, yet I was still exhausted, and frustrated at what I had found myself writing. How then to cleanse the palette, put the other CD to bed and start again without letting my mood and mental state affect my writing on a CD I quite like, and affect those that put time, effort and energy into creating it? I went and made, and then ate dinner, but before returning and pressing play, I ground some coffee beans, brewed a strong mug and went and sat at the window for a while, smelling the aroma of the coffee, watching the many raindrops rushing across the glass, driven by a strong wind that I could hear buffeting the house, refracting the orange glow of the street lamps seen behind them. Sitting quietly like this, recharging the senses, thinking of nothing bar the simple impact of nature for about half an hour is all I needed. I could then go and listen.

So the disc I played is release on the Ilse label by the trio that includes Bruno Duplant, who works here with double bass, (with a honeytone, which I believe is a tiny portable amp) gramophone, fixed sounds, (whatever they may be) and a small radio. Alongside the prolific Frenchman is the New Zealander Lee Noyes, who on this occasion plays inside and outside piano and the Portugese sax and clarinet player Paulo Chagas. The disc, which is entitled The Bias of the Things is, I believe, another release recorded virtually, in other words with the three separate parts recorded individually and combined after. What I am guessing happens then is that one musician provides a bed for the music, (and I imagine that the musicians take turns at this here as no one set of sounds seems to stay at the rear throughout the album) and then the next will overlay his response in one take, before the last does the same, reacting to the combined sounds of the first two. When recently writing about a different disc by Duplant that was recorded in a similarly unclear way, I pondered over how it might have been made, but asking the musicians directly resulted in merely being pointed to the final result as something to consider rather than the processes that went into its construction. I am happy to do this again, but as more music seems to be appearing in this vein all the time I do think there is a valuable discussion to be had about how improvised music’s processes is altered by these distance-beating approaches to making music.

Anyway, the five tracks on The Bias of the Things fall neatly into a bracket of improvisation that I am very glad has really come to prominence over the last couple of years, a bracket that cannot be easily pigeonholed off to one end of the improv spectrum or the other, but contains elements of both the traditional, expressively busy end of things and the quieter, more texturally focussed and spacious opposite polarity. The more talkative side to the music seems to arise particularly via Chagas’ reeds which squirt all over the other two in places, and in particular the opening Sappho’s Remembrance, on which, if I am correct about the various members of the trio taking turns around the order in which the three parts were recorded, Chagas perhaps played last, as his contributions feel the most immediately present and foregrounded. There is plenty in here besides skilled instrumentalism and talkative playing however. Duplant and Noyes’ contributions often blur into one another, the bass regularly filtered through the lo-fi amplification, the piano rarely left to simple keystrokes, each offering up colours and textures in to the music that sound little like the traditional sound of their chosen instruments. The radio is used well, adding familiarity without ever being clear, and at one point near the centre of the album a series of little electronic bleeps appears, the kind that a basic stopwatch might make when its alarm sounds, providing a real spike of contrast to the music despite not being of particularly high volume.

The final track, entitled rather beautifully Tango for small things of every day life is easily my favourite here however. It bursts into life with the crackle of a needle coming down on dusty, scratchy old vinyl and some kind of oddly warped tango appears, remaining present at varying volumes and intensities for most of the track. I will guess then that this base layer was put down by Duplant into which the other two carved notches, with Noyes working mostly by agitating his piano’s strings before really attacking them with a loud crash or three later on in the piece and Chagas restricting himself mostly to more low key groans and flutters, though the temptation to join in with the wonky tune that makes it through the hiss and crackle is succumbed to here and there. Lasting some fifteen minutes Tango has a density and feel of strata to it that I like a lot, with each subsequent layer responding to what’s below it but by adding incrementally to what was already there rather than trying to send the music off somewhere new each time. Duplant’s decision to let records play continually rather than to insert them selectively is a nice one, providing his musical partners with a dilemma as well as an opportunity when they consider how to respond.

All in all, some nice music indeed then, the closing piece well worth the entry alone. It also sound better if you listen after sitting and watching the rain for thirty minutes or so. Available from Ilse.

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