Tag Archives: Erik Satie

August 2009 – EP reviews – Matthieu Jacquot’s ‘Plucked String Instrument Recital’ (“a thoughtful, analytical performer”)

29 Aug
Matthieu Jacquot: 'Plucked String Instrument Recital'

Matthieu Jacquot: ‘Plucked String Instrument Recital’

Matthieu Jacquot – a Parisian classical guitarist and lutenist – is not yet an established name. On the basic of this EP he’s not only worth a listen, but worth some serious consideration.

‘Plucked String Instrument Recital’ may have been recorded, primarily, as a pitch for performance work. However, its unromantic (and borderline deconstructed) name and its discreet pushes at performance form reveals not just a skilled player but a thoughtful, analytical performer. Four different repertoire pieces, each by a different composer and arranged in chronological order (two Baroque, two on the cusp of Romanticism and modernism) allow Matthieu not to demonstrate his instrumental mastery of various eras, but also to investigate or imply connections between them.


 
The first of these, John Dowland’s Preludium (for Renaissance lute but performed here on archlute), is played straight. As a solo lutenist, Matthieu is graceful and expressive, but he’s also played blues, and some of that elastic stretch of time and expression seems to have made it into his classical playing style too, mingling with his sense of rubato. Tackling a second and subsequent Baroque piece (Gaspar Sanz’s Folias, one of the first iterations of one of the most lasting chord progressions of classical music), Matthieu swaps his archlute for classical guitar. Recorded a little more intimately – close enough to hear Matthieu’s breathing – it balances folky earnestness and a strong unhurried classical technique, with fine switches between fingerpicking and rasgueado strums,


 
It’s during the second half that things stay beautiful, but become a little more interesting. Take – as Matthieu has – Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie #1. Initially composed as a rebellion against Romanticism, it’s been transformed over the years (partially due to the curse of its pretty tune) into a mild-mannered and amiable carthorse. Innumerable interpretations bob across relaxation records. There are pop – or pop-tinged – covers by Sky, Blood Sweat & Tears and Gary Numan. It’s even become a concert apéritif for performances of the Romantic works it was supposed to be kicking against. Matthieu’s own version is ambivalent, but refreshing.


 
Classical guitar arrangements of the Gymnopédie are commonplace, but Matthieu has avoided standardisation by scoring it as a subtly overdubbed quartet version for himself – a bassline played on one guitar, melody on another, two more to handle the arcs of arpeggio and a second pass at the melody in deft harmonics. He also has no fear of stressing the incipient awkwardness which hovers behind the precise rhythms. In this version, you can hear the work of playing involved, without that taking anything away from his skill. In other hands, the additional swells of overdubbed gong he’s added would be a joke: a superficial New Age attempt to link Satie’s elegant economy of notes to a spurious Oriental tranquility. To be honest, Matthieu may have had a similar idea. However, he uses the gong as part of the ensemble: a piece of punctuation linked to the structuring of the music, a marker of key points. Instead of scenery, it links process and rituals: the musician’s shaping of phrases, the precise physical routines of Asian exercise and centering.

The last piece is the most ambitious. Le Gibet is the second of three demanding narrative pieces Maurice Ravel wrote as a suite for solo piano and called ‘Gaspard de la nuit’. In its original form, it’s bookended by two demanding and vigorous pieces of musical storytelling (both supernaturally themed, both cascading with notes and rhythms. By comparison, Le Gibet is a slice of static narrative, more of an illustration in music, complete with implications. The original scene, as set out by Ravel, is a desert view, a distant gallows in centre view, an equally distant city with the sound of a tolling bell rising from over the walls (the latter carried by an ominous pedal point ostinato).


 
Matthieu has arranged this as a duet between two guitars, making the most of both the music and the interplay between loss and gain due to the shift in instrumentation. Certainly, something is lost – the effects of the soft felt and pedal dynamics of the piano (so vital in adding the different colours, timbres and volume shifts of Romantic music) can’t be replicated on guitar, and some details fade. Instead, Matthieu’s approach dessicates the music into an additional desert toughness. The creaks of string noise and of shifting posture, the dry attack of the guitars and Matthieu’s plentiful use of harmonics – all of this takes away Ravel’s detailed coloration and turns his narrative into a sharp, leathery etching; a musical concentrate of the scene. It’s like someone reshooting a film along less forgiving, more minimal lines; or curing Ravel’s desert fantasy down to biltong.

Throughout, Matthieu draws implicit connections via his playing style; his sparse economy drawing a line between Satie’s proto-minimalism, Downland’s perfect miniature, the precise structure of the Folias and the concentration of his own arrangement of Ravel. Among the plucking, some enquiring tweaks.

Matthieu Jacquot: ‘Plucked String Instrument Recital’
Matthieu Jacquot (self-released)
Download-only EP
Released: 21st August 2009

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

Matthieu Jacquot online:
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September 1995 – live reviews – B. J. Cole & The Transparent Music Ensemble + Billy Currie & Blaine L. Reininger @ Upstairs at the Garage, Highbury, London, 20th September (“a classical dissection of folk, like Irish airs meeting New York minimalism… a beautiful translucent sound”)

23 Sep

A definite whiff of conservatoire rock tonight. Viola player Billy Currie used to be in Ultravox,: nowadays he looks more like an Irish pub musician, but his music has taken a more interesting turn, as has his choice of collaborators. Former Tuxedomoon violinist and occasional singer Blaine L. Reininger – with his unnerving bespectacled stare, lugubrious ironic drawl, Zappa face-fuzz and impeccable suit – looks like a college professor whom you wouldn’t allow near the children, and draws most of the attention this evening.

This unlikely pair perform a set of serious brow-furrowed John Cale-y string duets with a flavour of compressed folk, using an endearingly cheap sequencer to expand the instrumentation: clave and sweep piano program on Bittersweet, digital string orchestra on Overcast. On The Reach of Memory, sparse piano clumps, drum program and synth bass kicks into Currie and Reininger’s apparent take on Appalachian mountain music. The Thin End of the Wedge sees Reininger on trashy art-rock guitar for a Velvet Underground feel.

Their music has a strange, detachedly astringent feel; a classical dissection of folk, like Irish airs meeting New York minimalism. A sense of towering expression repressed, amplified, by Reininger’s menacing suavity: the set highlight is The Green Door, in which Reininger sings words from a documentary on schizophrenia to a strong melody over sparse drum program and organ. Seems wholly appropriate. I’m impressed, but I feel a little queasy.

In contrast, pedal steel guitarist B.J. Cole is a ridiculously normal-looking guy with a peculiar past. Back in the ’70s he was the leader of Cochise (probably the only prog/psychedelic band based around pedal steel) and subsequently explored psychedelic country music in 1973 on his ‘New Hovering Dog’ album. Over the years since then, he’s been the ubiquitous sideman and sessioneer to everyone who wants an open-minded pedal steel approach, from The Orb to Björk to Procul Harum to Scott Walker, and in particular John Cale. Since 1989 he’s also been leading this occasional band; the Transparent Music Ensemble, an ambient-flavoured chamber music quintet also featuring keyboards, cello, percussion and violin prodigy Bobby Valentino, best known for his London country music stardom.

Cole’s Transparent Music is a sedate, relaxing experience, pleasantly beautiful and unfussy, far too laid-back to be pretentious. Reflective melodic strings tie in with his steel lines, keyboards support gently, percussion shades rather than impels. Some people point out Brian Eno as the inventor of ambient music: others such as Cole know that it goes back to the days of Satie and Debussy, both of whole expressed ambient intentions long before the days of synths and tape loops, wishing to create music that merged with the tinkle of cutlery. Works by both are played tonight, along with a version of Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, a slow cloudy cover with Cole’s ringing pedal steel dreaming out the tune.

Transparent Music is unselfconsciously universal: if something fits in with that softly lustrous sound, Cole and co. play it and let someone else draw up the distinctions if they’ve got nothing better to do. The original pieces stream neatly into place alongside the classics: Indian Willow’s choppy subterranean strings, Promenade & Arabesque’s pizzicato accents. Throughout, Cole’s steel pines and slides gracefully. That is, when he hasn’t MIDI-processed it into another sound – sad film-noir saxophone on Adagio in Blue to contrast with Valentino’s passionate classical violin, or the fluting electronic sounds on Easter Cool counterpointing the piano and bass drum.

It isn’t exactly music to stir the blood. What it is is very accomplished classy atmosphere music, a beautiful translucent sound whose function is just to exist and to please. That may sound superficial, but if so it’s a refined and civilised pleasure of superficiality. Gentle classics stroked with electricity and with a sense of ambient context, reclaiming the sector where popular instrumental and classical cross, and with no hint of elevator music. Easy listening with a brain. Satie and Debussy would have approved.

B. J. Cole online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Spotify Tidal Amazon Music

Billy Currie online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Pandora Spotify Tidal Amazon Music

Blaine L. Reininger online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Amazon Music
 

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