Tag Archives: music for pedal steel guitar

June 2017 – the month’s Daylight Music gigs in London – Jherek Bischoff, Emma Gatrill & Liam Byrne (June 3rd); Epic45, The Great Albatross, and BJ Cole & Emily Burridge (June 10th); Louis Barabbas, Melissa Parmenter and Ben McManus & Clara Delfina (June 17th); Trans-Siberian March Band, Antony Elvin & His Men and Toby Hay (June 24th)

25 May

The people behind eclectic, free, family-friendly London event (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Daylight Music are swirling back into action in June with four weekly gigs to start their summer season (even if two of them aren’t nominally DM events, the Daylight imprint shows clearly). Here’s me simply boosting the existing signal…

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Daylight Music 252, 3rd June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 252 – Jherek Bischoff + Emma Gatrill + Liam Byrne
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“Only Jherek Bischoff would record an album in an empty, two-million-gallon underground water tank (with a reverb delay lasting forty-five seconds). A fabulously inventive and playful musician, Jherek is a mostly self-taught composer whose music dazzles, confounds and delights.

 
Liam Byrne divides his time between playing very old and very new music on the viol. ‘The Times’ praised his “nuanced and expressive, stylish virtuosity”. He’s worked with artists including Damon Albarn, Nils Frahm and Matthew Herbert, and the likes of Nico Muhly have written works for him.

 
Emma Gatrill is a multi-instrumentalist based in Brighton. Playing live, she augments her harp and vocal with ambient analogue synths and drums machines, layered with guitar atmospherics from Marcus Hamblett.”


 
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Daylight Music 253, 10th June 2017
Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 253 – Epic45 + The Great Albatross + BJ Cole & Emily Burridge
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 10th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“The much-loved epic45 — championed by the much-missed John Peel — have been making music for over twenty years. Their celebrated EPs and albums are inspired by the ever-changing English landscapes.


 
The Great Albatross tug gently on the heartstrings with their sweetly shimmering indie songs. Formed in Glasgow by A. Wesley Chung (formerly of Boris Smile), the group has an expansive, international list of contributors and collaborators.


 
“If you had to combine any two instruments, you might not immediately think of putting cello and steel guitar together, but BJ Cole and Emily Burridge confound expectations with their dynamic, sophisticated music. Hailed as “languorous, sensuous, moving music…amazing!” by ‘Art Nouveau’, these fine musicians weave around each other, mixing their intuitive improvisations with inspired, moving interpretations of classic pieces.”


 
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Louis Barabbas, Melissa Parmenter + Ben McManus & Clara Delfina, 17th June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Louis Barabbas + Melissa Parmenter + Ben McManus & Clara Delfina
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 17th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

Louis Barabbas is a Daylight Music favourite, thrilling the audience and tearing up the stage with his caustic love songs and energetic show. A writer, performer and label director, he’s performed all over the world and shared stages with acts including Motörhead, Supergrass and The Blockheads.


 
Melissa Parmenter is a well-respected film producer, who’s collaborated closely with director Michael Winterbottom over the last fifteen years, including producing all three series of ‘The Trip’ trilogy. She’s also an accomplished composer and pianist, having scored a number of films including ‘Genova’, ‘The Killer Inside Me’ and ‘Comes A Bright Day’.


 
“After repeatedly meeting at various festivals last year, Ben McManus & Clara Delfina decided to join forces to sing American old-time and bluegrass music, blending banjo, fiddle and guitar with their beautiful harmonies.”


 

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Trans-Siberian March Band, Antony Elvin & His Men and Toby Hay, 24th June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Trans-Siberian March Band + Antony Elvin & His Men (with Nina Miranda) + Toby Hay
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 24th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“Summer Solstice edition…

“It’s always a party when the Trans-Siberian March Band are around! A riotous jumble of cabaret, carnival and overwhelming joy, this 13-piece Balkan brass band have delighted audiences at Glastonbury, Woman and the Royal Albert Hall. The Times called them “hugely entertaining… perfect festival crowd-pleasures.” They’ll be playing their winning mix of traditional Turkish and gypsy tunes, Russian sing-alongs and swinging klezmer.


 
Antony Elvin (“a Noel Coward for the Noel Fielding generation!’, according to Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh!) is a singer/songwriter from London. His songs take the listener out on a ridiculous spree, in ‘Perfect London’ – a London of your dreams, gaslit yet modern,­ pastoral yet subliminally violent. In a strong English accent, he sings about the characters he meets and the romances of the day without the vulgar baggage of angst. Special guest for this concert is Nina Miranda of Smoke City, Shrift and Zeep – she of ‘Underwater Love’ fame.

Toby Hay makes instrumental music inspired by the landscape, people and history of Mid Wales. A guitarist and composer, ‘Folkroom‘ claim that “he’s one of the finest storytellers… and he’s never sung a word.”


 

* * * * * * * *

As ever, there are likely to be interstitial musical acts filling in the gaps between acts (via loops, atmospheres or turns on the venue’s grand piano or massive church organ), plus late in-the-day extra recruitments. These will be announced closer to the time.

Good to see Toby Hay on one of the bills – his debut EP featured in ‘Misfit City’ several years ago, and since then he’s become a mainstay of the Lamplight acoustic nights up at Regather in Sheffield…

August 2016 – upcoming gigs – three-date British tour of saz balladry by Aşıq Nargile (plus choral fizz, oddrock and pedal steel strangeness from Tut Vu Vu, Muldoon’s Picnic and Heather Leigh – 2nd-4th); Hackney Colliery Band & Bring Your Own Brass kick off Borderless in London (2nd)

30 Jul

In between appearances at the WOMAD and Supernormal festivals, Georgian saz player and singer Aşıq Nargile is embarking on a three-date British microtour in August, calling in at points in Scotland, Yorkshire and London.

Aşıq Nargile

In case you’re looking at the picture and thinking (lazily) “another girl folk singer”, it’s worth noting that “Aşıq” is an honorific, not a forename. It denotes a particular type of traditional Georgian bard, multilingual and mobile, who travels through the country’s diverse regions as vessels for music, news, concepts and culture both old and new. (A little like a Caucasian version of a West African griot, although perhaps without the satirical upsetter elements).

Originally from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Nargile Mehtiyeva has carried the cosmopolitan traditions of her home town with her, but has chosen to base herself in the southern Borcali region. For the moment, she’s the only female aşıq at work there. A trilingual singer and player of the saz lute since her mid-teens, she’s now both a teacher of the traditional forms and (via the Sayat Nova initiative) an ambassador for Georgian culture. Her concerts involve interlocking musicality and literacy – a “vocal recital of epic folk poetry (in) Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Russian… by turns ecstatic and deeply expressive… interspersed with bursts of virtuosic, highly ornamented saz.” in the shape of “moving laments or upbeat folk dances.” For those who don’t speak any of those languages, the shows are still musically sensual experiences – propulsive and silvery cascades of wiry stringwork, accompanied by a vocal like an elastic lassoo and the stately assurance of someone backed up by a couple of thousand years of heritage.


 
Tour dates are as follows:

  • The Old Hairdressers, 23 Renfield Lane, Glasgow G2 6PH, Scotland, Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 7.30pm (supported by Tut Vu Vu + Muldoon’s Picnic) – information
  • Delius Arts & Cultural Centre, 29 Great Horton Road, Bradford, BD7 1AA, England, Wednesday 3rd August 2016…. (+ support act t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England, Thursday 4th August 2016, 7.30pm (with Heather Leigh) – information

While the Bradford gig is solo, the Glasgow show sees Nargile playing as part of a splendidly adventurous and diverse triple bill alongside two very different Glaswegian groups who have next to nothing in common bar their musicality.

Despite their cosy and informal appearance, a name that comes from drunken Irish misadventure, a repertoire reaching from “the sublime to the ridiculous” and their emphasis on fun and friendship in singing, acapella group Muldoon’s Picnic unites a number of very dedicated and talented Glasgow-based singer and scholars. Its six or seven regular members (not least in-house arranger Katy L. Cooper) have already made their mark in a brace of other vocal ensembles – Trembling Bells spin-off Crying Lion, Glasgow Madrigirls, The Four Hoarse Men, Voicebeat, Voicemale, Sang Scule, and “barbershop-prog” group Honey & The Herbs – plus more church, chapel, cathedral, workplace and community choirs than you could shake a stave at. As for that repertoire, it embraces gospel, shanties, Scots ballads, English carols, Afro-American spirituals, sacred harp songs, Victorian parlour music and music hall songs and assorted pieces cast up and circulated by the world music movement. Where other choral groups dabble, this one delves. The songs are sung not just in English but in other tongues of the British Isles (Scots Gaelic, Cornish, Manx and Welsh) and further afield: Breton, southern African Sotho, Ugandan Luganda and eastern European languages (Bulgarian, Croatian and Georgian – in the latter’s polyphonic music, they touch base with Nargile.)


 

The third act on the Glasgow bill, Tut Vu Vu, play their dark-browed and looming electrophonic instrumentals in a cloud of disinformation. When someone compares them to Anaïs Nin and David Lynch and they claim that it’s all a misunderstanding; someone else mentions musique concrète and they respond with askance, amused looks. When given the chances to set things straight, they deliver misleading mission statements filled with science fiction technogabble about phased plasma and hydrogen sulphide. What’s demonstrably true is that they’re an alliance of Glasgow art-punks who’ve already been around a decade’s cycle of experimental groups – Iban Perez in The Sparkling Shadazz, Rags & Feathers and A Rhythmtic) Raydale Dower, Matthew Black and Jamie Bolland in rattling theatricalists Uncle John & Whitelock.

Expect something of an oblique and inscrutable wall between the quartet’s current work and their previous brainy trash-lungings. A band apparently in search of a new dialect (while drawing on assorted shredded utterances from Krautrock, Beefheart, ‘90s rave or ‘80s arsequake) a typical TVV track can be a bizarre collage of muffled falsetto wails and feedback drones, of layered tribal toms and analogue-synth bass-farts, of approaching-horns guitar shapes; all of which is cunningly and immediately sculpted for maximum enigmatic impact, rather than being tossed out of the speakers for someone else to sweep up.




 

In London, Nargile is playing a double header gig with Heather Leigh. One of the most unconventional pedal steel guitarists in contemporary music, Heather belies her traditional country music heritage (a West Virginia birth, a descent from coal miners) and instead reinvents both her instrument and her voice as a conduit for strange and ghostly improvisations. Aided by cruel amplifier tones and strange, skittering, instinctive hand techniques, her compositions emerge like spectral possessions of strings, pedals, larynx and language. Often touching on themes of trauma, abuse and hidden, subjective experience, Heather’s eerie and disturbing work has already led her to collaborations with Peter Brötzmann, Jandek, Thurston Moore and plenty of others since her emergence in the 1990s.




 
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August also sees the start of Borderless, a delightfully rambling live music series at Battersea Arts Centre running roughly parallel to the Olympic Games in Rio. Run in collaboration with GOAT Music (set up last year by former Roundhouse music bosses David Gaydon and Lou Birkett) it aim to showcase “the UK’s best homegrown talent and unique artists from around the globe, in the intimate and beautiful setting of the Council Chamber… Borderless will provide an alternative cross-cultural celebration. Samba to tropical beats, dance to Afrobeat legends, skank to reggae and let the new generation of jazz take you to another place. Break down the borders and shuffle your feet to global rhythms to hear the biggest tunes from all over the planet. We’ll also provide a platform for the freshest artists and exciting talent currently taking the UK by storm. Hear the artists sound tracking the underground scene, dominating the airwaves and paving the way for the alternative UK music scene.”

Glad to hear it. Bring it on. What do you have?

GOAT Music and Battersea Arts Centre present:
Borderless: Hackney Colliery Band + Bring Your Own Brass
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, London, SW11 5TN, England
Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 8.00pm
information

Hearing about Hackney Colliery Band initially caught me between hackles and chuckles. For a moment, I thought it was about taking the piss out of a great and still-living industrial British art form while cynically attempting to replace it. After all, when there are still genuine colliery bands maintaining the tradition across old mining heartlands from Tyneside to Derbyshire, Shropshire to Leicestershire and the Rhondda Valley (and dotted across the Yorkshire pitscape from Grimethorpe to Dinnington, Frickley to Queensbury) why would you want to substitute them with a slick London parody? On the other hand, my sense of the absurd soon kicked in – since Hackney’s been sprouting all kinds of cartoonish artisan features for the past decade (from craft beer to boutique muffins and shoes), why not an ersatz coal mine?

As it happens, HCB have got little to do with any of this. The name’s a little dab of post-modern British showbiz and the band (excellent, by the way) don’t stick to the grand dignity and mournfulness of colliery music, being more of an omnivorous brass beast immersed in and rejigging a variety of horn-party traditions from jazz, r&b, funk and others, including New Orleans tunes from both fun and funerals. Much the same can be said of the support act, Bring Your Own Brass – a band who, as “up-and-coming brass hip-hop ripsnorters”, have been known to parp out a Rakim cover or two. If this makes them sounds like a novelty act, they aren’t. Sound and vision reveal them to be well-scrubbed, well-studied white disciples of a wide span of styles, clambering over Afrobeat, rap, funk and marching-band ideas with head-bopping panache.

Recently, both bands seem to have cornered the market in boutique festivals and showbiz event (between them they’ve got Olympic Games and Brit/Mercury award appearances under their belts, as well as shows at Ally Pally, with slots at Wilderness, Stow and Meatopia to come later in August for BYOB and a hefty European tour for HCB). HCB’s previous set at the MOBO awards suggests that they can impress at a formal roots level as well, unless it was a case of contacts trumping authenticity. Just as long as bands like these aren’t crowding out bands like Kokoroko; although BYOB’s teamup with Bristolian rapper and slam poet Solomon O.B (see below) suggests that, as far as fellow musicians are concerned, there aren’t any practical or philosophical problems.



 

REVIEW – Peggy Green: ‘Songs Of Naka Peida’ album, 2000 (“defiantly post-RSI pedal steel guitar music”)

16 Oct

Peggy Green: 'Songs Of Naka Peida'

Peggy Green: ‘Songs Of Naka Peida’

Imagine working at something for the best part of twenty years. Perfecting it to your best ability, gaining a reputation and respect; making a decent living as well as finding a way to make it speak for you, give you another voice to communicate with. And then, all at once, having it taken away from you.

This is what happened to Peggy Green. Up until the point when repetitive strain injury gripped her working hands in 1990, she was one of the most respected pedal steel guitarists in New England; not to mention also crafting her way in private as a six-string player and songwriter. Subsequent neuromuscular complications during the ’90s robbed her, at various times, of the ability to use the blocking and rapid picking techniques which are the staple of pedal steel playing; to work the crucial left pedal of her instrument; to walk anything further than short distances without crippling swelling of the hands; or even to play for more than ten seconds. It’s the kind of situation which unites musicians – via both the heart and the pocket – in a cold sweat. The cut-off, seemingly irrevocable.

No, there isn’t a glitzy TV movie outcome. Peggy has recovered partially since then, but not completely. These days, you won’t find her duelling onstage with Buddy Emmons and Bruce Kaphan; or burning up Nashville pedal steel playoffs with a revitalised, zippier technique; or wearing Dolly Parton hats while having her hand shaken by the President. Life often doesn’t let us wallow in such easy tears and such feel-good endings. But what life can be is dignified.

Constrained by the cold facts of injury, Peggy could have retreated into honourable retirement, taking another job and accepting her loss as some kind of act of God. What she’s done instead does involve acceptance. But humble defeat? Not so. ‘Songs Of Naka Peida’ is a defiantly post-RSI album of pedal steel guitar music, played on a couple of custom built acoustic instruments built by legendary pedal steel maker Paul Franklin Sr. Dubbed “ped-a-bro”s, they merge the penetrating “jump-at’cha” sound of dobro resonator guitars with the flexible bends and glides of conventional steels.

As you can imagine, these are naked instruments – the kind which won’t hide a players errors behind a comforting wall of amplified smoothing. They’d be a challenge for a player in prime fitness, let alone one with hand problems, but Peggy’s chosen to make her way on them. Having accepted the limitations imposed by RSI, she’s dispensed with the flash and trickiness she could previously deploy for showboating country musicianship. Now she’s concentrating on a slow, considered, delicately melodic way of playing – clipped in approach; tailored to avoid the spasms, locks and numbness of the condition: a way in which she can, as she puts it “achieve that old connection between my soul and my hands.” She’s also elected to record in a way which makes every creak of the ped-a-bro mechanism and every shift of the player’s stool discreetly audible, so that you can hear her at work.

It works wonderfully. Peggy offers sparse, slowhand, bluesy playing nourished by lonesome American roots; at the same time she offers short, shallowly-picked notes with an exquisite attention to placement that’s associated more with East Asian music (with the yang ch’ins of China, the kotos of Japan and the assorted zithers of Carnatic music). These precise patterns can – at the right moment – be lifted off the map and up into the air, with just a push on a pedal. All of this is achieved with a patient grace and melodicism, the kind which wouldn’t shame Bill Frisell or Martin Taylor. Not that there isn’t some therapeutic wrestling with demons here. Titles like Achin’ Deep Down In My Bones and Fair Affliction assure us of that. But most of ‘Songs Of Naka Peida’ is – while never transcendently happy – remarkable in its serenity.

There’s also a background concept here. The album has a speculative yarn attached: a self-referential creation with strong flavours of Ursula K. LeGuin. In the stricken, disaster-oppressed Continuum society of the future, Naka Peida is the name of a character – the Continuum’s Chief Archivist. Each song on the album is linked to a story of the rediscovery of Peggy’s music, and its connection and implications to both Naka Peida and the Continuum. Evidently Peggy’s not interested solely in her own healing.

The music travels on, learning from places as it goes. There’s the graceful glissandi of Koroen; the tart, sparkling Indian cascades of Love’s Last Chance; the welcoming Japanese formality of Nakahama (named after the location where most of the album was both written and recorded) or the curving Hawaiian warmth of The Pedalist or Wrong Stop Blue. If the music doesn’t necessarily draw from a sense of place, it can draw from time instead. One of the approaches Peggy uses is to place herself in a particular moment. Goodbye To The Twentieth Century was recorded in Osaka on Millennium Eve, and comes out as the most hopeful piece on the entire album. Affected by its Japanese setting, it also revels in its vertiginous, playfully lovely slides and swoops, in the celebratory birdsong harmonics. For a moment, Peggy even lets the ped-a-bro sing with the jazzy bends of Billie Holiday.

The three-part Improvisations In The Moonlit Dawn (billed by Peggy as being “the closest you can come to sitting with me while musical ideas are being born and tried out”) comes from a February morning, closer to home in New York. It’s more sober (Five Note Blues is positively respectful) and more American (you could even expect Robert Johnson to be moaning over Evening Turns). Finally, it’s brasher when the punchy, multiple stop-and-slide slowhanding of Make Way For Dawn makes its presence felt. Assertive, muscular and far more assured than you’d have expected, it still loses none of the delicate melodicism of the rest of the album.

“My struggle against the adversity of my injury makes me the player I am today,” notes Peggy. Whatever she may have been before the axe fell, she’s a pretty remarkable player now. Without much of a big sound, without banner-waving, this album is quietly inspiring and humbling: even profoundly moving.

Peggy Green: ‘Songs Of Naka Peida’
Peggy Green (self-released),  MHG737 (no barcode)
CD/download album
Released: 27th June 2000

Buy it from:
CDBaby, CD Universe or iTunes or Amazon MP3 Store.

Peggy Green online:
Homepage

Jim Fox: ‘Last Things’ album (“like floodwater in the night”)

10 Feb

Jim Fox: 'Last Things'

Jim Fox: ‘Last Things’

Renewing his Cold Blue Music label for the millennium, Californian composer Jim Fox has set himself up as its figurehead, although not in a triumphal manner. Pomp and flamboyance wouldn’t sit well with Cold Blue’s explorations in New Music, and this first new release out of the Cold Blue bag doesn’t need to grab attention, anyway. The two Fox compositions on this album (slow-moving, implicatory, atmospheric and deliciously disturbing) surround you instead, like floodwater in the night.

With distractedly moving electronic traces making up the bulk of the music, The Copy Of The Drawing is rooted in chopped, diced and rearranged texts from letters sent to Mount Wilson Observatory between 1915 and 1955 while Los Angeles swelled from backwater to metropolis. These fragments are recited by Janyce Collins in a ice-queen whisper. Her cold lips brush your ear with a beautifully cool eroticism, its detachment only increasing its power. Often phrases are followed by glassy, ratcheting harmonic sound: as if a telescope, smoothly rotating on gimbals, is trying to take a fix on the target the words imply.

Slithering passes of moth-soft electronics slide around the words as if they’re unimportant, part of the ambient backchat in any place of science. Occasionally almost-vocal smudges of transparent noise ring up in (and fall away from) the foreground: although in some respects there is no foreground, just a slow sub-zero swirl of ambient hints, briefly smeared, like time-exposure photographs. Scrapes and subliminal swarms, jump-starting drifting thoughts in the narration; quick-drowning sounds like disturbances in ice-water or the imprints of decaying viola counterpoint and dying Gregorian chant.

Allegedly, The Copy Of The Drawing is non-dramatic. But Fox’s placement of these words, the stop/start fragments and interrupted clauses (“a jumbled mess – enough to give you an idea”) suggest otherwise. The phenomena of observed and notated science are often invoked with the reverence with which scientists replace religious awe, but sometimes as a kind of anchor (“light is always the same – water is H2O…”) against the misgivings whispered in brief passes elsewhere. “Self-deficient – diffused self – applied phenomena – name – danger lies in the abstract…” Before long we’ve heard statements of meticulous preparations (“I have put it in three different envelopes – airproof, fireproof, waterproof”) and chilly accounts of emotional hallucinations. “I still heard talking – I have heard babies crying and screaming – like in a photo – babies can hear me writing this – the pictures can talk to me – they’re not lonely – and it won’t stop…”

Jim Fox: 'The Copy Of The Drawing' (30-second excerpt)

Explicit disturbance is rare, and Collins’ voice remains uniformly glacial whatever the content of her script. Nonetheless, anxiety and revelation are blended throughout, with the prismatic narrative musing on thoughts such as “No-one may ever have the same knowledge – everything running up and in and out.” Certainly there’s disintegration here – a loss of assurance, causality dissolving into “a possibility – there was such a thing – invisibility… before that – all history – it doesn’t seem possible… / it’s closer if you draw a line – on that line – all depends.” At one point, Collins recites a list which explicitly fails to reduce events, phenomena and states of existence to anything tidy. “Stuff – factors – motion – the perpendicularity – the process – the parts of things – the female principles of nature – etcetera – quite incomprehensible due to its invisibility – something that is true – close by – far…”

Covertly, Fox seems to be attempting to reconcile the cosmological with the personal. Collins’ narration of astronomers’ notes seem to take on revealingly intimate suggestions (“thousands of small pushes a second – inertia is very great”) and equates the paths of cosmic debris with those of people (“one of the incoming pieces of matter – there may be more – they may travel together…”) Maybe it’s a reflection of the gravity of cities like Los Angeles – pulling in immigrants, the lost and wandering, accreting mass as it does so. Maybe it’s an idea about scientists allowing the unsettling parallels of poetry and metaphor to sneak into their notebooks and resound in those working lives which they’ve obediently sealed away from personal concerns. This is observatory music, for certain. But the question of exactly what is being observed here is an open question. It’s one which ultimately leaves you without an answer; although perhaps it does leave you with a cold, indifferently sensuous kiss.

With Last Things itself, the sky is lowering. An ominous drop, as Fox conjures up not so much a drone of bass synth as a faraway envelope of it (massed over our heads like apocalyptic cloud) and then rings us round with a distant thunderous fence of bass-register piano, rumbling tectonically and eerily, like the harbinger of the great Californian earthquake. Trapped between stooping sky and unquiet ground, we bear witness to a passionate, wordless pieta in which the dominant instrumental voice (Marty Walker’s brilliantly tortuous bass clarinet) sounds famished, and as oppressed as we are by the press of sound. Walker’s control is remarkable – he travels between delicate, near-inaudible quivers of notes; great wide splits of sound that crack with emotion; and magnificent mournful coyote calls, summoning up visions of friendless desert vistas.

Jim Fox: 'Last Things' (30-second excerpt)

Relief, of a sort, comes from Chas Smith’s pedal steel guitar. Almost choral in its breadth, it’s the one truly calming element in Fox’s musical painting. It’s a Pacific palliative which voices itself as distant balm to Walker’s painful questioning, or as a glimmer of light on the crack of the horizon. At around the eight-and-a-half minute mark, sounds like distant foghorns appear in the murk to add their own skein of warning and disquiet. More ethereal, less hungry, but hardly less of a disturbing portent are the rubbing glass rods on Rick Cox’s treated guitar, hanging dying trails of luminescence in the middle distance.

When Last Things fades out, the hope of things resolved has given way to a kind of acceptance. We’ve come to terms with the fearsome displacement and anxiety in Fox’s California soundscapes to such a degree that we’ve probably failed to notice that he’s finally resolved the music with a chordal and dynamic shift so subtle as to almost escape notice – like life settling itself in, a warm beast, around the jags, harshnesses and daily warnings of a threatening environment.

Jim Fox: ‘Last Things’
Cold Blue Music, CB0001 (800413000129)
CD/download album
Released: 5th February 2001

Buy it from:
Cold Blue Music (CD) – various downloads available from Amazon and similar.

Jim Fox online:
Homepage

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