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Review

Brad Rose, Foxy Digitalis, February 11, 2022
Monday, April 11, 2022 Press

What a magnificent album from a label (Ambiances Magnétiques) that very much has my attention. Joane Hétu is a composer, saxophonist, and vocalist and her work is always inventive and sonically captivating. Tags collects four ‘orphans’ — pieces that didn’t have a home elsewhere — and shows everything that makes Hétu great. Lithe woodwinds dance across simmering floors while voices shoot upward like ancient machines hidden underground come to life. Beautiful guitar tones gloss through blank corridors, flitting between resonant drones and rippling splurges, interconnected with an underlying sigh of relief. It’s amazing that these four pieces weren’t written with each other in mind because Tags works as a wonderfully cohesive album. Recommended.

What a magnificent album from a label that very much has my attention.

Review

Brad Rose, Foxy Digitalis, March 11, 2022
Monday, April 11, 2022 Press

Inspired (loosely) by different underwater depths, Jean-François Primeau builds interconnected worlds of intricate harshness and beauty. Echoing digital swells grow and attach to the seafloor as bubbling arpeggios zip back and forth through light streams in the water. Glitching blurs fade into the black depths, sending sonar pings as disparate points of light. Drones stretch to the breaking point before circling a metallic drain, turning into humming crystals in the blink of an eye. Primeau’s digitized expanses are wondrous.

Primeau’s digitized expanses are wondrous.

Review

Stuart Broomer, The WholeNote, no. 27:5, March 4, 2022
Monday, March 21, 2022 Press

It’s free improvisation of a rare, sustained and tranquil beauty.

Review

Robert Steinberger, Vital, no. 1326, March 8, 2022
Thursday, March 17, 2022 Press

Joane Hétu has a long history in music, starting as a saxophone player involved in Canadian avant-garde bands like Wondeur Brass, but then turning to more ’serious’ work more akin to contemporary classical formats, but also getting into ballet music, performances, and video. She also has a business side, being on the board of the label Ambiences Magnetiques, the production company Productions SuperMusique, and the DAME record label. She has also combined vocal improvised and improvised ensemble work, something I have never quite got to grips with.

On Tags, we find several compositions she created over the past years, 2000 to 2019, to be more precise. Ne t’estompe pas en moi is a duo between bass clarinette and double bass. It has a jazz feel to it, but also one of improvisation and some nice bits where the two instruments cease to weave around each other but begin to play with the same little melody before going off on a tangent again. In Tags, Hétu plays the saxophone again, together with Jean Derome (their duo CD was reviewed here a while ago), backed up by Quatuor Bozzini (string quartet) and Quasar (a saxophone quartet). So there, racket guaranteed? That’s not what you get, though. The groups of instruments play intermittently, or the sounds get overlaid. It all sounds chaotic, somewhere between improvised music (which must not necessarily be jazz) and contemporary classic. I found a little bit of voice improv unnecessary (as I said, I am not a fan of), but it remains a bit isolated somewhere in the second half. The other two pieces, Les dentellières (Lace Makers) and Préoccupant, c’est préoccupant: Les états (’The conditions’ — or ’States’), are more ’orchestral’ in a sense. They build a more complex sound spectrum that could be tagged more industrial at times. The first might remind me of Glenn Branca, as it uses 20 guitars. Ensemble SuperMusique performs the second based on a graphical score by Hétu (a member of the Ensemble herself), a ’catalogue’ of sound bits/musical fragments to use. Sounds very intellectual. Whilst Les dentellières conjures up the picture of guitar strings making up the fabric of the lace (hm … ), the piece starts with single guitar notes that build into a continuous… not exactly ’drone’, but something akin, with less discreet notes to be heard. It manages to hold the tension without venturing out into any Branca-like overdrive. Préoccupant, c’est préoccupant: Les états plays between quiet, drawn bits and parts that remind more of Zeitkratzer playing Merzbow. Only towards the second half the music becomes denser and more of an ensemble piece that is more than pieced-together sounds. As always, I believe this kind of ’free’ music that relies significantly on the input of the musician’s onset is better viewed live. As a recording, it does lose some of the impact.

On Tags, we find several compositions she created over the past years…

Review

Mark Daelmans-Sikkel, Vital, no. 1327, March 15, 2022
Thursday, March 17, 2022 Press

Isaiah Ceccarelli is a percussionist and composer. Toute clarté m’est obscure (2013 with a revision in 2018) consists of three long pieces, each over fifteen minutes long, three written interludes, and two shorter pieces. Bourdons is a kind of group meditation on long sustained notes with fluttering dissonance in several instruments. Intermede 2 is scored for the lower registers in the ensemble, which creates a brooding atmosphere. The title piece is a setting of a fourteenth-century ballad.

Again long-sustained notes with ever-so-slowly shifting notes, creating chords that slowly evolve, but with added notes to create a moving sound carpet. This is not meant to be background music or muzak. The shortest piece lasts just 2 minutes, and it’s the most uplifting piece on the recording. It contains a jolting melody sung by the soprano accompanied by gentle and soothing chords. But the text counters this by stating that death surrounds us even in our lives. Seventy minutes long, it’s quite worthwhile to take the plunge and immerse yourself into Ceccarelli’s sound world.

Seventy minutes long, it’s quite worthwhile to take the plunge and immerse yourself into Ceccarelli’s sound world.

Review

Mark Daelmans-Sikkel, Vital, no. 1327, March 15, 2022
Thursday, March 17, 2022 Press

Tom Johnson is a new composer for me, apart from his Chord Catalogue, a work I still have to listen to. Born in 1939, he privately studied composition with Morton Feldman. As a music critic, he wrote for The Village Voice. You can find an anthology in his book The Voice of Music, published in 1989. He coined the term minimal music in 1972.

The music collected on this disc is his complete works for the string quartet. Sixty-six minutes spread over four pieces. The oldest piece is from 1994, and the youngest is composed in 2009. And what music it is. His approach to music is logical, mathematical, not whimsical or sterile. He later collaborated with mathematicians to find formulas to apply to music (or vice versa). The resulting music is lovely. The first few pieces comprising Combinations are in the vein of Steve Reich or Philip Glass. Highly repetitive motives. But: the sequences are always the same, just varied on the different string instruments. This might be an oversimplification of the score. But the way Johnson organizes the material is logical, using only the notes heard in the beginning and mathematically permutating them. The overall pattern becomes apparent after a few rounds. And that is just the first piece. The next one is sparse, only using the same note in different octaves, almost sounding organ-like. Piece number 4 of combinations utilize silence in a cheeky-sneaky way. Tilework for string quartet is a version of this work for string quartet. There is also a version for solo instruments, including bassoon. I might track down the sheet music. The fifteen pieces comprising Four Note-Chords in Four Voices are just that. Voicings of four chords across the four-string instruments. The kind of voicing creates some sort of melody or monody in the different permutations of the chord. I didn’t read much about his theorization on his music to have an unbiased ear.

The different pieces have enough variation to not become a tedious listening experience. That being said: the music is wonderfully performed by the Bozzini Quartet. Recorded in a church, the music played has a vibrant quality, although the quartet doesn’t use vibrato on the strings. Also, the players’ enthusiasm for this music results in some minor speeding up in the first few pieces in some solo sections, adding to the liveliness of the music. Well done! Now, where did I put that Chord Catalogue?

… the music is wonderfully performed by the Bozzini Quartet. Recorded in a church, the music played has a vibrant quality…