It’s probably fair to say that we all have our instrumental prejudices, silly as those undoubtably are. I know people who don’t like flutes or violins, baffling as those attitudes are to me. But I have to admit that it takes extra concentration on my part to get past the essential sound of a harpsichord. I do think that this is more an issue on recordings than live as just last year I attended a home concert by the very excellent local harpsichordist Andrew Appel and enjoyed it without reservation. Maybe it has something to do with childhood encounters with the keyboard in schmaltzy horror movies or as backdrop to any number of faux esthete contexts. But that jangly sound, the lack of sustain….something makes it tough for me.
The spinet is essentially a small harpsichord and Christoph Schiller, to the best of my knowledge, pretty much confines his playing to to it. Here, he’s joined by Cyril Bondi (Indian harmonium, pitch pipe, objects) and Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba, pitch pipes, harmonica) on five improvised tracks (I — V). On the first, the trio circumvents any foolish objections on my part as Bondi and Martel lay down long, smooth lines onto which Schiller sprinkles slivers of spinet, glinting amongst the hums. Those drones are beautifully constructed themselves, a lovely combination of timbres, and the spinet adds a wonderful texture. By the way, I’m guessing that Schiller applies some extended techniques now and then (perhaps bowing the spinet’s interior or otherwise directly manipulating the strings?), though I’m not at all sure. II is similar, though generally pitched higher and with somme separation between phrases. There’s a stretched feeling, a bit more astringency that’s piquant, a nice shift from the prior track. In fact, the variation is subtle on each of the five pieces. Given the drone0like nature of the harmoniums, harmonicas and pitch pipes and virtually the opposite aspect of the spinet, that’s not so surprising; only the viola da gamba might go “both ways”, though Martel seems to switch between arco and pizzicato now and then. Another predilection of mine is, with regard to anything more or less in a drone style, toward the low and grainy, so I found IV especially appealing, a really delicious, calm sequence of lines, rich and complex, with deep tones from (I think) the pitch pipe. V offers slightly more aggression from the spinet, at higher pitch levels and with somewhat sourer harmonies and, again, heard in the context of this “suite”, works perfectly well. In fact, listening to tse as a suite, and a very ably constructed one, seems to be the way to go, at least for me. Spinets be damned, it’s an engaging and discreetly demanding listen; good work.
When it comes to naming names in the all-encompassing landscape of contemporary music, Jean Derome’s eminence remains relatively unquoted amidst the sacred cows of the last decades. A first-class reedist and composer, he’s indelibly associated with René Lussier — specifically, in the duo Les Granules — beyond significant proprietary works (random memory selection: 1988’s Confitures de Gagaku, on Victo). Derome has shown time and again that his idiosyncratic creativity, compositional skill and ability to put a theory into artistically fructiferous practice are second to none. In its clever mix of conceptual consistency and stimulating interplay, Résistances clearly explains why.
Though partially scored, the composition’s motility principally depends on the nineteen performers reacting to previously learned hand signals. After acknowledging the crucial elements of orchestration in conjunction with the intrinsic influence of electricity in all forms — including the overall tuning — it takes a moment to realize that the scope of this opus reaches far higher than a simple “conducted improvisation” (note the involuntary irony of the term “conductor” in this context).
Across a plethora of intermingling styles, the ensemble — comprising several among Derome’s regular partners in crime — connects with the basic vibe through surges of energy dressed as eruptions, conversations, screams or drones, the whole informed by a cracking musicianship. Notwithstanding the considerable emancipation allowed and the absence of jazz-related stereotypes, the lingering sensation is that of a finely regulated mechanism. Still, serendipitous mutations occasionally materialize. The bulk of Piétinements, for example, resembles Igor Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring played by Pink Floyd circa A Saucerful Of Secrets, lysergic slide guitars and all. In a pair of collective blasts we couldn’t help thinking — in principle — of Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh. The absurdly jarring funk of Mélodie 2 flowing into a marvelous Danse finale may indeed prompt someone to start jumping around the house.
Please consider the above references as a mere reviewer’s divertissement. In reality, there’s so much shifting of acoustic identity and abundance of inventive playing here that coming to grips with this particular form of Derome’s imagination could trigger intellectual paralysis in the easily affected. The remedy lies in the very cause: treat the patient to a few additional hours with this remarkable album; then it’s get up, pick up your mat, and walk. Unless one’s dead for real.
Erik Satie is an iconic avant-garde composer, ahead of his time, underestimated by teachers and rebuffed by critics. Posthumous revenge (if there is such a thing) has been sweet, as his music is some of the most often performed in a variety if contexts, including the stage, film and cabaret settings. This particular recording of Satie’s music takes an appropriately creative approach to rendering the quirky, mystical and ultimately uplifting music.
In the 18 tracks on the CD the Québec sextet Cordâme (a French pun on “strings-soul”/”body-soul”) perform many of the popular themes of this enigmatic, yet accessible composer. The musical pallet includes such pieces as the Gnossiennes, the Gymnopedies, as well as some less-often played compositions such Danses de travers, Rêverie de l’enfance de Pantagruel and Réflexions sur choses vues à droite et à gauche (sans lunettes).
The flow of rhythm that characterizes this set draws more from jazz, gypsy music or pop music than from the classical template, with a steady pulse emphasized by percussion and bass, underscored by the string duo of violin and cello, and punctuated by the percussive interplay between piano and harp. The result is graceful, beat-based expression of this diaphanous and at times surreal music, with the languorous harmonies and telescoping melodies being borne by the lilting rhythms.
The compositions, while respected in their forms and lyrical content, are laced with improvisations and structured in arrangements that color the pulses, while preserving the recognizable qualities that people love about Satie. This is not abstract avant-garde, nor romantic excess. It is restrained, yet expressive, with a resulting sweet tension that is mostly light and pleasant.