Paul Serralheiro, The Squid’s Ear, 19 novembre 2019Sitting down to listen to an album of improvised music is like sitting down to a dinner prepared by guest chefs given artistic license.
Paul Serralheiro, The Squid’s Ear, 30 mai 2018This is not abstract avant-garde, nor romantic excess. It is restrained, yet expressive, with a resulting sweet tension that is mostly light and pleasant.
Paul Serralheiro, The Squid’s Ear, 11 juillet 2016A beautiful album.
Paul Serralheiro, The Squid’s Ear, 19 juin 2015A more magical cauldron of composition and improvisation could hardly be concocted than this creative collection of pieces for voice and string quartet.
Sitting down to listen to an album of improvised music is like sitting down to a dinner prepared by guest chefs given artistic license. You never know exactly what you’ll get and the surprise element is a significant pleasure factor in the experience.
Putting together three musicians like guitarist Arthur Bull, trombonist Scott Thomson and drummer Roger Turner can yield unpredictable results. Bull and Turner have played together on occasion since 2002, but Thomson is a recent addition to the mix and the end product is a series of fresh and unexpected tracks of creative improvisation of the textural and conceptual kind that evolve organically into coherent and delightful compositions.
Bookshelves, which opens the set of six tunes on the Musique Actuelle Montréal label Ambiances Magnétiques, sets the tone for the experience, with its gentle progressing sound drips and bubblings, with a percussive emphasis, threaded by the cooing of Thomson’s trombone as he makes judicious use of mutes and provides some varied articulations that are as expressive as they are imaginative.
In contrast to the silk tones of the trombone, Bull’s guitar weaves some slinky lines of surprising variety, as in The Meadows where he works a nice tremolo effect, along with smooth sliding and thin pizzicato sounds from various manipulations of strings and articulations of the outside-the-box variety.
The set ends with Murray Street Skins, a piece that alludes to the Montréal Griffintown neighborhood street that was home to local legendary free jazz drummer John Heward who passed away in 2018. Standing, perhaps, as a tribute to his artistry, which is reflected here in the focus on percussive sounds, from guitar and drums, while Thomson improvises a sort of uplifting dirge with smears and gutturals with fetching lyrical elasticity.
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.
Philippe Battikha is a trumpeter who travels the Montréal-NYC axis and is a sometime resident of either city. In Montréal he has been a vital part of the improvised music scene, helping to set up a couple of spaces devoted to presenting this music. In this introspective yet, ironically, outward-looking solo album of original works featuring mainly Battikha’s lovely, open horn sound — grainy at times, at others a pure rounded shape, or an airy fancy — the lingering effect of the music is of peace. This is a soothing set of compositions/improvisations: even when they use archival street sounds of NYC, or noise loops, these serve as broad counterpoint to the lyrical gesture, with an effect similar to hearing surf on a nearby shore. Along with trumpet, Battikha also takes up the keyboard for some simple yet effective backdrops/accompaniments to his trumpet lines, and on two tracks he is joined by bassist Jonah Fortune.
The titles of the pieces strike me as humorous and seem at times a kind of Dadaistic compliment or contrast to the actual music. The first track, for instance, which sets a beautiful lyrical, meditative mood, is called Plantain. A quiet low-fi noise piece called Super 8 seems to allude to the rolling sound of film in a projector. A stirring piece by the name of Time for New Hands stands out due to its featuring a segment from a speech by Nelson Mandela, saying “It is time for new hands to lift the burdens.” A piece of wisdom amid a treasure of gems such as these glowing, warm and deep offerings from Battikha and his trumpet to the muse, inspired by the muse.
A beautiful album.
A more magical cauldron of composition and improvisation could hardly be concocted than this creative collection of pieces for voice and string quartet. I had the opportunity of attending the premier performance of this project in Montreal before it got “waxed," and the recording is every bit as magical as the live rendition of the pieces.
Composer and singer Equiluz has imagined a finely inflected set of nine movements. Not always articulating an explicit text, the voice is used as a fifth instrument in a kind of multilingual scat style. The strong geo-historical connotations of the string quartet (i.e. Europe’s noble courts c. 1700s and on) are here subverted in idiomatic writing combining indigenous sounds of the Americas along with free improvisation and tightly rendered ensemble writing that evokes many local colors, from the lush valleys of Mexico, to the Brazilian Rainforest, to the shouting of the Thunder Beings on the North American plains, and more.
Born in Mexico, the cosmopolitan Equiluz has lived in Columbia, Paris and Lisbon, before coming to Montreal by way of Quebec City. She has performed internationally and is a frequent collaborator with musicians in the thriving Musique Actuelle scene in the province of Quebec. In this ambitious project, a polyglot sensibility comes through loud and clear in the multi-stylistic qualities of the compositions, with titles in a number of languages, like the opener “Aluxes" which announces the music to come via allusions to a playful Maya spirit being, and other titles, like “Tiempo Herido," that reflect a more mournful mood, or the rhythmically possessed piece called “Tonnere."
In Rubedo’ro, Equiluz is joined by four Montreal string players: violinist Marilys Trudel, viola player Julie Babaz, cellist Sheila Hannigan and bassist Stéphane Diamantakiou. The ensemble is honed to render in very precise playing the music Equiluz has penned, but as mentioned before, there is also plenty of improvisation, and individual expression worked in, which makes this release so interesting: it sings with a clear authorial voice, but is emboldened by the multiplicity of personalities, making this a very living, vibrant set of music. The stylistic twists and turns make for an exotic ride along the fine edge that composed material meets improvisation can provide, but the writing here is also a solid and taut high wire along which dance the many colors of Equiluz’s richly textured, warm and expressive voice.