CD Reviews

Saturday 2nd May

May 3, 2009

Another recent download release then tonight, this time from the [Array] label, Massimo Magee’s vehicle for releasing his own music and (I imagine) other music he likes as well. This one really confused me even before I got to listen to any of it… The music is organised into three parts, of four, one and two tracks in length respectively,  but it only covers just two discs, so the second part is meant to span between the two releases. This was confused further by the fact that there is also a Prelude and Postlude piece which do not belong to any of the three parts. Then, when burning the discs from the downloaded files I found that not all of the tracks supposedly meant for Disc Two fitted onto one CD, so I now have three CDrs of material. All of this after a long week. My head hurts already…

I have listened to the first of the two discs tonight. The initial thing that struck me on listening was the (poor) quality of the recordings. I’m not so sure that the original recording or mastering was particulalry bad as such, but the downloaded files are just 128kpbs Mp3 files, and when burnt to a CD they really do sound terrible, really compressed, hollow, distant and tinny. There is actually a bit of hiss on some of the tracks as well, but this I quite like. What I find really hard to take is the lack of warmth in these low-res audio files. Sorry Massimo, but was the 128 Mp3 format a deliberate choice for some reason? I suspect it might be.

Anyway the music… The Prelude piece is a four and a half minute version for sax (Magee) and drums (Noyes) of Thelonius Monk’s Around Midnight. I don’t know the original at all (yeah I know, sacrilege apparently) so I cannot comment on how good a version it may be, but it is probably not my cup of tea. Sorry to keep mentioning it, but it sounds like I’m listening to a recording made on a reused old cassette tape, and here and there where Magee’s sax hits some energetic high notes the microphone used cannot handle the pitch and distorts all over the place. I suspect maybe that these recordings could have been made on a single mic straight into a laptop as there is plenty of hiss and Magee is considerably louder than Noyes. Anyway its vaguely composed free-ish jazz music. Not really my thing. Maybe it is good but I’m not the one to be able to tell really. Sorry.

The second piece (the first in Part One, which seems to consist of solo pieces) is an acoustic guitar improvisation by Noyes alone. In places it is rhythmic, melodic even, perhaps pulling in little snippets of tune throughout the eight minute improvisation. Derek Bailey obviously springs to mind stylistically, but I am actually reminded more of Jim O’Rourkes early Fahey-inspired music. Its well, OK, but again not really my cup of chai, nicely played however. About two thirds of the way through the hissy recording there is a sudden chiming sound that appears, I think the noise made when a new email has arrived on a Mac laptop. This would reinforce my theory that this has been recorded direct to a laptop, and the fact that this interruption has been left in situ suggests that the in-the-moment rough and ready feel of this release is quite deliberate.

The third piece, named Friction is a solo sax workout by Magee that reels through different styles and techniques with considerable skill, but generally still staying within the reach of free jazz, but with a good degree of Evan Parker thrown in for good measure. It is generally quite fast and frantic, very expressive and vociferous, but again a little too near the jazz lineage to fit comfortably into my everyday listening. Good to be challenged by this however.

The fourth track, again solo, comes from Noyes and is a piece for drums and sampler lasting eleven minutes. To begin with, the music is essentially electronic, as presumably drum sounds have been sampled and then treated, pitch-shifted or fed through a few effects as what we hear sounds like early computer music combined with chopped up tape. If I was played this blind I would have definitely placed it back in the early seventies. Later in the piece a nice period of live percussion comes in though, initially sitting alongside a groaning sound from the sampler, and later drowning it out before the piece drifts away on loose fragments of snare and cymbal. Its the transition between the two parts of the track that makes this one for me.

The fifth piece, called Relativity is another sax workout from Magee that is traditionally played throughout. (in that there are no real extended techniques used here) Evan Parker again springs to mind, especially when little motifs of tune are sent into repeated spirals here and there, breaking out of them into meandering scribbles of tune and tone. Here and there the jazz influences are completely lost on this one and I like these patches more, but overall I would differ comment on this piece to someone more knowledgeable.

So, overall so far I haven’t enjoyed the first of these two discs very much, but then I suspect that many other people with different leanings in their taste would feel differently. I look forward to listening to the second disc more, mainly because the instrumentation involved suggests something of a wider palette than the pieces I have heard so far.

Off to Day One of the Freedom of the City Festival tomorrow, lots of interesting improv topped off by AMM with Christian Wolff.  Say hi if you are there!

Comments (2)

  • Massimo Magee

    May 3, 2009 at 6:33 am

    Hi Richard, thanks for listening!

    the first part (and the prelude) are in fact a deliberately very ‘lo-fi’ section recorded directly to tapes and then transferred into mp3 files.

    “sounds like I’m listening to a recording made on a reused old cassette tape”

    you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head there, actually

    we decided to do it this way because we both like the sound of old tapes, and I put the pieces together with the other material in this release because I think this first lo-fi section contrasts really well with the later live pieces (hopefully you’ll hear that in the days to come!).

    Thanks again,


    P.S. as regards the 3-CD spread – parts 1 and 2, along with the prelude at the start, are meant to be on the first disc, with part 3 and the postlude on the second disc, but I’ve since received comment from some people who say they can’t manage to fit all of the material on the second disc when burning. I think it must be to do with differences in CD burning software…

  • Richard Pinnell

    May 4, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Thanks for the info Massimo. I am now looking forward to hearing the second disc then! Hopefully that will be tomorrow, but will be off out at gigs again so it may be Tuesday before I can write more. Thanks anyway.

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