Posts Tagged ‘chamber music’

Gizeh Records – GZH73 – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Because this is a Gizeh release, it’s beautifully presented, housed as it is in tri-fold card sleeve with subtle, minimal artwork. While the front cover is difficult to be certain about, the interior tryptic shows a panoramic landscape of a wide glacial valley somewhere in Britain. Observing the division of the fields draws the attention to the relationship between physical and human geography, and this all feels somehow fitting in the framing of Through the Sparkle.

And because this is a Gizeh release, the music it contains is delicate, haunting, sparse yet rich and contemplative. Through the Sparkle sees French ensemble Astrïd collaborate with American pianist and composer Rachel Grimes to spin seven contemporary classical compositions which massage the senses almost with the softest of touches.

Through the Sparkle is not an ersatz pastoral suite, but does keenly conjure a certain, if indefinable, natural spirit. The piano work is exquisite in its subtlety, rippling gently beneath tapering woodwind on ‘The Theme’, while on ‘Mossgrove & Seaweed’ notes lap evenly and lightly to create an air of lightness, of rapid yet serene movement, natural and fluid. It’s a flickering, shimmering sonic tension that shifts and changes shape over its duration,

Nothing about these pieces feels forced or intrusive. They’re the sonic evocations of dappled shade through leaves on a sultry, sunny August afternoon, a light breeze and the full spectrum of verdant hues – albeit with the shades muted by the distance of fading memory. There’s nothing about Through the Sparkle which feels overtly or calculatedly centred around a sense of nostalgia, but a sad, aching beauty – intangible but distinct – will inevitably evoke a certain wistfulness. And so it is that a degree of melancholy drapes itself around the hushed, rarefied atmosphere of the compositions on Through the Sparkle.

A sombre tone overarches the slow march of ‘The Herald en Masse’, which slowly breaks into an uplifting wash of rhythmic sound. It may not have quite the intensity of Swans, but it’s in the same sphere as it rises toward an almost transcendental sway.

Hesitant notes hover at the start of ‘M5’ and the rich, resonant and loamy tones call to mind latter-day Earth. Its sparse arrangement conjures a spacious atmosphere and pulls the listener’s attention into the details of the tone, texture, reverb and a sense of the individual notes breathing in the space around them.

‘Hollis’ brings a graceful melody that’s sad because it’s beautiful, while ‘M1’, the second-half counterpart to ‘M5’ – feels very much about the space between the notes as brief notational sequences cascade from a softly picked acoustic guitar before silence follows. There’s something almost flamenco about the picking of the strings and the way the notes resonate against one another.

The mournful tones of the final track, ‘Le Petit Salon’ are haunting in their understated discord, as piano and strings drift in different directions over percussion which fade in and out. It’s all about progression and movement.

Through the Sparkle balances shimmering, softly shining upliftingless with shifting shadows. It’s an easy yet rich listening experience which brings with it a sense of the way in which music can enrich the soul.

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LM Dupli-cation – 26th September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Thor & Friends is the eponymous full length debut from the avant-chamber ensemble formed by its namesake, polymath percussionist Thor Harris. Anyone who has heard – or, more so, seen – Swans in their current incarnation will be aware of Thor Harris’ remarkable percussion skills, and likely know that he is a man worthy of his name: a burly, bearded, hirsute figure who appears to have been transported from the mists of Norse mythology and onto the stage, surrounded by chimes and gongs, he’s something of a drumming deity and a figure far more fearsome than Chris Hemsworth.

Swans fans may, then, be somewhat surprised by this album. Surprised, but not disappointed. Despite it being Thor’s project, the percussion is not a dominant factor: it’s very much about the contributions of his ‘friends’, namely Peggy Ghorbani on marimba and Sarah ‘Goat’ Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano. Harris also plays, alongside myriad percussion instruments, wind instruments including some of his own devising. The core trio are joined by Jeremy Barnes on accordion, drum, and mellotron, Heather Trost on violin, voice and marimba, John Dieterich on guitar, bass, castanets and special effects and Raven on bone flute, and electronic sounds.

The choice of instruments may provide an indication of what to expect, but to be clear, there are no thunderous crescendos to be found during the nine tracks on offer here, and Thor and Friends is a remarkably graceful, elegant and understated work. In place of volume, there is atmosphere.

Soft chimes ebb and flow and soft, supple droning tones rise and fall before soft, soothing strings layer down over them on the album’s first track, ‘White Sands’. It’s a multifaceted, mood-shifting piece which sets the album’s gentle, hypnotic tone. Airy rhythms bounce from softly struck xylophone bars, and the general leaning toward instruments fashioned from natural materials lends the pieces a soft, organic feel. Supple woodwind melodies drift and trill effortlessly through semi-ambient passages, and there’s almost a sense of playfulness about the light, skipping, rippling motifs of ’12 Ate’. Elsewhere, ‘Lullabye for Klaus’ presents a darker, more brooding outlook, but nevertheless manages to lift the listener with its cyclical motifs.

Many of the pieces would work well incorporated within film or series soundracks, and while the compositions in themselves aren’t overtly evocative of anything specific, they possess a malleability allows their context to be ascribed by the listener. If ‘pleasant’ strikes as being a wet, nondescript word, in reference to Thor and Friends it most certainly is not: we live in a world befouled by unpleasantness, we’re jaded, cynical and mean. Thor and Friends offers a rapturously pleasant listening experience, in many ways simple, natural, and honest. It’s a magnificent antidote to modern times.

 

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