Late October Quartet

Synthetic write-ups and brief considerations about a poker of CDs listened recently. The first three from Moonjune:

THE WRONG OBJECT – Stories From The Shed

Belgian quintet whose music crosses – very clearly – Zappa, Univers Zero and a number of jazz-rock influences, fusing them in a highly pleasurable concoction. Not a lot of innovation therefore, yet it doesn’t matter: these guys can definitely play, able as they are of extricating themselves from the most complex entanglements of odd-metered rhythms, intertwined riffs, slanted counterpoints (the dialogues between saxophonist Fred Delplancq and trumpeter Jean-Paul Estiévenart are particularly stimulating) and, in general, a punkish vibe which does no damage. Guitarist Michel Delville alternates furious overdrive and semi-sparkling clean tones, underlining with beautiful chords the calmer circumstances; the rhythm section, consisting of bassist Damien Polard and drummer Laurent Delchambre, is creatively solid yet not mechanically strict, guaranteeing flexibility and steady pulse throughout. Great CD, reminiscent of the best progressive from the 70s with a contemporary edge that comes extremely welcome. Instead of paying attention to people who pretend to be at the forefront of novelty but can’t touch an instrument, it is much better giving room to entities such as The Wrong Object, who fearlessly try and maintain certain kind of musical values still palatable even after a (presumed) expiration date. Modern-day retro, anyone?

GEOFF LEIGH / YUMI HARA – Upstream

I was glad to find Geoff Leigh in a new recording since, after the great work in one of my all-time overall favourite albums (namely Henry Cow’s Legend) and an album in duo with Frank Wuyts, I had lost trace of his activities. Well, if this is what he is doing now better living with the memories. The incontestable technical brilliance of this multi-instrumentalist virtuoso (here active on flute, soprano sax, zither, percussion, nose flute, voice drone and electronics) is definitely plagued by two factors. The first is the absolute shortage of attention-grabbing aspects in the improvisations, which for the large part sound rather stale, without a real direction, excessively immersed in electronic treatments. The second, sorry for being unsophisticated, is Hara: apart from a couple of more contemplative instances in which she limits herself in textural accompaniments (both with voice and keyboards), her pseudo-ritualistic chanting – especially in the central bulk of the CD – is not just boring, but plain annoying. Perhaps the only really nice moments are the initial title track and the final “The Siren Returns”, which keep things in a context of relative soberness; most of what’s left is experimentation that didn’t work at best, and an utterly exasperating listen at worst.

HUGH HOPPER – Numero D’Vol

The late, great Hugh Hopper in company of another stalwart – Charles Hayward on drums – and the previously unknown to me Simon Picard (sax) and Steve Franklin (keyboards). Eleven chapters halfway through a pretty stereotyped jazz-rock and a very slight measure of improvisational experimentation, effects and processing often utilized in those contexts (at times excessively, one would say). Unfortunately there are several low points to discuss. First of all, a huge difference in personality and instrumental consistency between the two couples: throughout the CD I felt as if Hopper and Hayward were dragging the whole thing, while Picard is – sincerely – a honest employee of the saxophone who didn’t manage to produce emotions for a minute and Franklin appears as a rather ordinary keyboardist. Then, the music itself: apart from a few occasions in which the vibe is a little more animated (so to speak) the majority of the tracks sound like pretexts for noodling without excessive enthusiasm, the latter sensation easily transmitted to a somewhat perplexed listener. Scarcely momentous riffs, irresolute solos, you get the picture. Not too much to exult for in this dull album.

The fourth on Audiobulb:

ULTRE – The Nest And The Skull

Ultre is a nom d’art for Finn McNicholas, who works with acoustic instruments such as piano and guitar, electronics and “homemade beats” (hand claps, finger snaps, hitting objects from his apartment, etc). Seaming together tiny snippets and loops of easy melodies and arpeggios with excited zeal, he generates a peculiar brand of contaminated instrumental techno-pop which sound quite sugary at times yet doesn’t lack in intriguing occurrences. The good news is the (relative) originality of the proposal which – especially at the beginning – sounds fresh enough, even enjoyable, giving us a chance to tap our feet and nod for a while. The bad is that, after fifteen minutes or so, the compositional techniques appear a little too similar from a track to another, thus attributing a thin patina of repetitiveness to an otherwise rather agreeable recording. Still, there are enough lovely incidences to keep things alive, and the tolerable extent of the program helps in not getting bored. For a couple of listens this can stay but, at the end of the day, it’s unmemorable stuff.

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