Brief Autumnal Writeups

LEVEL – Opale

Translucent yet foggy ambient, ideally in the centre of a Eno/Satie/Basinski triangle, entirely constructed by Barry G. Nicholas (aka Level) with piano samples given to him by Linden Hale and Keith Berry, to which “digital touches and textures” that, according to the moment, enhance or just caress the pre-existing sounds were added. The composer declares that he willingly wanted to preserve the “original spirit of the source material”, and indeed the music’s pianistic qualities remain mostly visible throughout. Nicholas does very well in maintaining a level (no pun intended) of gently overhanging sadness most everywhere, avoiding to go astray looking for transcendence, preferring instead to expand the listener’s breathing room through long reverbs, subtly wavering stasis and extremely palatable (and by no means sugary) melodic cells. A classic specimen of recording which is useful both for sheer listening purpose and as fleeting soundtrack for a moody evening, an appreciable concoction of sampled reminiscences and obliquely cuddling electronics. (Spekk)


In the press release Kiritchenko says that his wish was to use acoustic flavours to create a “jazz record (my way of course)”. To do this, he utilized guitar, glockenspiel, mouth harmonica, autoharp, Tibetan bowls and objects, also calling Jason Kahn and Martin Brandlmayr to contribute with drumming in four of the nine tracks (one of them – “Untitled Inquietudes” – is quite fascinating). The compositions are – occasionally – tenderly engaging in an amiable minimalism, with slight echoes of early Tim Story in a couple of instances. Yet, after a short while, the artistic flimsiness is revealed in its meagre nudity: some of these basic sketches could be good enough for children at play but – the obvious sincerity in the initiator’s intention notwithstanding – their staying power might even be inferior to that level. I’d keep two or three chapters, and not without difficulty. If this was meant to be a moment of introspection, it didn’t come out represented that deeply. It’s all too easy and light, despite those much appreciated choirs of cicadas and crickets appearing here and there. A little humanity is fine with me, but serious music is another thing altogether. A jazz record??? (Spekk)

STEVE LACY / JOHN HEWARD – Recessional (For Oliver Johnson)

Although they knew each other since 1975, the pair managed to play together for the first time only on June 20, 2003 in Montréal, at the “Suoni Per Il Popolo” festival. This CD constitutes the certification of that meeting, which occurred exactly one year prior to the saxophonist’s death in 2004. Lacy employs the soprano exclusively, while Heward, besides drums, is also heard on African bells and kalimba. Mentioning the respect that should be given to artists of this calibre is obviously a prerequisite; in this specific circumstance we notice a few suggestions generated by the interplay, especially when Lacy becomes slightly impenitent in extemporaneous treatments of otherwise fairly compliant melodic materials, which he deviates to the point of intermittent waywardness, always with extreme elegance. Heward is discreetly mitigated throughout, mostly leaving the spotlight to the companion yet ever ready to make his presence count through a sensitive, if rather forthright percussive colouring. It might not be a milestone for the ages, but Recessional remains nevertheless an interesting document. (Mode Avant)

JOE MCPHEE / JOHN HEWARD – Voices: 10 Improvisations

Three years later – June 2006 – after the meeting between Heward and Lacy reviewed above, the percussionist (here on drums and kalimba) is found in equally excellent company, Joe McPhee translating fantasies, energies and improvisational zeal via pocket trumpet and – again – soprano saxophone. This sounds like a slightly livelier duet to these ears, which especially appreciate McPhee’s serenely delivered trumpet lines in “Improvisation 3”, symbols of a melodic prescience of sorts that nearly causes the listener to see in advance what the players are going to disclose. The (mildly) unrulier instances are also appealing, if not exactly innovative: perhaps more absorbing for a kind of modern tribal quality than for the effective insight revealed. There’s a feel of uncontaminated honesty that permeates the record, which lets us forgive a few spots where a tad of boredom kicks in, the artists seemingly trapped for a short while in a labyrinth of inescapable, inanimate routine that – for our good luck – is absolutely transitory in comparison to the ever perceptible soul that they own in copious doses. (Mode Avant)


Combined release from Swiss entities which lets us enjoy its (few) captivating impressions but not understand what, of diverse sides, is the right one. Avant-pop? Intimately “maudit” crooning? A crossbreed of two Davids (namely Bowie and Sylvian) immersed in now bucolic, now noisy soundtracks? Difficult to say. What’s certain is that excessive recitation in a record is not easily digested in this writer’s shelter, unless there’s a serious reason behind it; even less when the speaker/singer’s personality is not particularly exceptional, which is unfortunately the case of Michael Frei, deus ex-machina of Hemlock Smith (although I don’t really know if he’s the only vocalist here). Therefore, what remains is a handful of trailers of relatively low-budget “cinema for the ears” featuring intriguingly “atmospheric” instrumental sections made with, among other sources, bowed guitars, light bulbs and sampled monks. The rest is unnecessary talking and inconsistently theatrical posing, both inexorably leading to tedium. Too bad: this looks like a missed chance by people who certainly possess a suitable technical ground for growing more mature fruits than this. (Everestrecords)

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