Two With Henry Kaiser + Two On Balance Point Acoustics = Three???

Yes, because one of the Balance Point Acoustics releases is the most recent solo outing by the Oakland eclectic. It didn’t go too well, to be honest.

HENRY KAISER – Where Endless Meets Disappearing

In order to wipe any misunderstanding away, let it be known that Kaiser is one of my heroes. I’ve listened to the large part of the man’s output and still am the happy owner of a good number of rare vinyl albums that he published decades ago, including the double LP Aloha (which, curiously, is not loved by its creator). That said, the splendidly titled When Endless Meets Disappearing – played on an array of electric and acoustic axes comprising a pair of 1890 relics – completely fails to convince me. It seems as if the protagonist had left a sizeable portion of the customary sting out of the equation, letting the machines – especially digital delays and pitch shifting devices – do the work on his behalf after he’s entered a few notes, or the cocoon of a basic harmonic idea. Several episodes are constructed on the same droning bass + looped fragment + pentatonic-with-small-variations formula, with just a modicum of really “alternative” inventiveness; a couple of tracks might be exchanged for Robert Fripp outtakes, and there’s a (hopefully involuntary) resemblance to Frank Zappa’s “Outside Now” main vamp in “Three Can Keep A Secret, If Two Are Dead”. Apart from infrequent incidents – the polite “Maybe If Time”, the final “A Bloom Of Tiny Suns” – Kaiser looks uncertain about the directions to take, both musically and on the fingerboard. Strange – in particular from a man who once called a (great) album Hope You Like Our New Direction. This time we don’t, and this is the first occasion in which that happens. What’s going on here? We want our spiky HK back, dissonances, snapping strings, bent-behind-the-bridge harmonics and all. Or the bones of that Synclavier dinosaur. Marrying For Money, Devil In The Drain, the duets with Sergey Kuryokhin in Popular Science, remember? Let’s not even mention the masterpieces with Fred Frith, or precious gems such as It’s A Wonderful Life. This easier, comfortable version is not what was expected, and a handful of passionless semi-anarchic pills can’t save the day. Damn.

HENRY KAISER / BOB BRALOVE – Ultraviolet Licorice

Things go better in the collaboration with keyboardist Bob Bralove, who autonomously published this CD. Here we’re at least able to retrieve elements of the Kaiser of old, even when scattered amidst strange concoctions of crystal-clear piano, exotic/esoteric echoes and outer space synthesis that we tend to enjoy in any case, despite some obvious ingenuity. For example, those Korg presets seem to pop out everywhere, and the beginning of “Silence Is So Accurate” sounds amazingly similar to an (un-copyrighted) juvenile experiment of mine on the same brand of workstation. A couple of tracks exists where the will of experimenting something new is overwhelmed by the non-usable quality of the essential compositional ideas and, again, of the timbres. Anyway, HK manages to delight with a good number of those quirky, unpredictable adventures beyond conventional guitar-based wisdom, their preposterous character all the more welcome when juxtaposed to Stravinskian cadenzas or splashed in between meditative tunes typified by layers of static matters and Asian reminiscences (including by now trite samples of Buddhist monks and Indian tampuras). Still, he literally smokes in the instances where his trusty steel-stringed acoustic guitars are finally brought to the fore. Let’s be entirely sincere: an unforgettable album this ain’t, and certain segments would work fine as a TV documentary soundtrack. Yet one can notice a tendency to an expression outside constriction that was blatantly missing in the noodle-in-slippers, Eventide-drenched easygoingness of the above reviewed solo disc. Thus, for now, we’ll accept this while waiting to get our filthy hands on Plane Crash with Weasel Walter and Balance Point Acoustics’ honcho Damon Smith. That one should set the record straight.

YCLEPT – Yclept

Back to our (sometimes) beloved rasped strings, kneaded wood and – in general – overtone-eliciting activity with an album that features two artists I’m familiar with (trumpeter Birgit Ulher, also featured on “radio, mutes and speaker”, and the aforementioned Damon Smith on double bass and laptop) in conjunction with Israeli improvisers that I meet for the first time: saxophonists Ariel Shibolet and Adi Snir, guitar manipulators Roni Brenner and Michel Mayer and drummer Ofer Bymel. Yclept is an effort that exudes earnestness and thorough application by the involved parties. No risk of obsolescence in these methods – although there’s nothing here that has not been heard before on labels such as Creative Sources or Al Maslakh – because when the exchanges are active, attentive, reciprocally sensible like this, one could go on and listen for hours. This is legitimate EAI, where the proliferation of timbral byproducts is directly proportional to the keenness of the participants’ ears. The balance between empty space and slight inquietude is guaranteed by a careful dosage of the instrumental components: percussiveness, mumbled harshness, abrasion and moisture embellish an otherwise extremely sober setting. This music possesses traits of artlessness that contribute to rule out the impressions of dogmatic attitude too often present in many similar gatherings, for the musicians appear more interested in searching for attention-grabbing details than in letting a holy emptiness resonate in artistic vacuum. In that sense, this is an excellent CD that deserves repeated spins, fascinating to scrutinize attentively and useful as sonic complement when the house is quiet enough.

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