Compact Disc

Det Andre Rommet

25 Nov 2016
Erlend Apneseth Trio

If you think Arvo Pärt’s Fratres sounds beautiful then this gem from the consistently  fascinating Norwegian label Hubro should be on your must hear list. It’s stark music lead by Hardanger fiddle player Apneseth but it is also radiant with Nordic light, timbrally rich and unquestionably essential. Stephan Meidell provides accompaniment on guitar and electronica in an unobtrusive fashion and there’s not a great deal in the way of Øyvind Hegg-Lund’s drums and percussion, but what there is counts. The three have been playing together since Apneseth’s debut Blikkspor in 2013, and clearly the time has been well spent in honing the 10 pieces on this album into extraordinary atmospheres, alien atmospheres to many ears I suspect, but strangely appealing ones nonetheless.

Blikkspor was largely based on folk tunes and Apneseth has high standing in that field but Det Andre Rommet (The Second Room) rises above traditional music while remaining informed by it. That is why it is at once familiar yet new, powerful but not aggressive, and rich in tone and texture. The latter is what it shares with Fratres, in other regards it’s very different, it’s not serene and although you wouldn’t call it jarring although it does skirt close to dissonance on a few occasions. Its appeal will rest on whether the sound of the Hardanger fiddle, a variation on the violin with resonator strings under those played, a bit like a 12 string guitar, appeals. It certainly does to me and at 39 minutes this album ends far too soon, but that’s usually the case with the best ones.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
vinyl, DL


3 Oct 2016
Stein Urheim

If there’s a stringed instrument that Stenin Urheim can’t play and play well I’d like to know what it is. However that’s not a reason to listen to his third release on the excellent Hubro label, unless of course you enjoy hearing different stringed instruments that are very well played and recorded. The best reason is that Strandebarm is full of uplifting tunes and compositions that just happen to be played on guitars, banjo, flute, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, mandolin, pocket cornet, Turkish tanbur and modular synth among other instruments. There are even some vocals evident on a few of the seven tunes but they are not a major factor, that said the lyrics on ‘Oh So Nice’ are by Kurt Vonnegut so they are worth listening to, which isn’t always the case

Urheim’s style owes a little bit to Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack inasmuch as slide playing often does and I’m sure Ry got his inspiration from other musicians. Urheim credits a wide range of influences including Lightning Hopkins, Jon Hassel, Ornette Coleman, Chinese guqin, Lou Harrison and the “motion picture paintings of Andrie Tarkovsky” among many others. Such a melange of sources could create chaos but Strandebarm is melodic, multi-layered and inspiring. It creates a fabulous ambiance but also warrants your attention, there is plenty to listen to but none of it is shouting for attention. Strandebarm was recorded in the church of the Norwegian town of the same name, a space chosen because of its acoustics, which are undoubtedly part of this album’s appeal, that and the fine recording work done by Audun Strype. It’s rare to hear natural reverb on recordings of contemporary music, that is what Urheim makes of course yet it is very much his own creation. You can hear where some ideas may have come from but the whole collage is unique. Occasionally it lapses into conventional forms, the last tune ‘Berlin’ Blues being the only occasion really and even then the acoustic guitar blues is slowly interwoven with other instruments and slides into ragtime.

Jason Kennedy



Formats also available: 

The Attic Tapes

7 Sep 2016
John Renbourn

In the early sixties when British ‘folkies’ like John Renbourn were honing their licks, few were truly aware of the origins of the blues tunes they were playing. YouTube wasn’t even a notion and genuine blues musicians were very scarce in the UK ,so they learnt songs from friends and records. This excellent collection of Renbourn’s early tapes finds him playing many of the classics of that era, folk tunes with a strong blues flavour. It kicks off with Davy Graham’s ‘Anji’, a piece covered by pretty much every acoustic guitarist at the time but this version as with most of the twenty songs gathered here was not included in Renbourn’s early releases. It was recorded prior to commercial release it so based on hearing it live at the legendary Les Cousins folk club where Graham was the king of the scene. It’s followed by a fine version of Jackson C Frank’s underrated classic ‘Blues Run the Game’ and another 18 tracks recorded both live and in the ‘studio’, although the term studio suggests something more professional than was often the case.

Sound quality is suprisingly good for the vintage and presumed equipment quality, proving that analogue tape is a forgiving medium especially if the material doesn’t need wide bandwith or dynamic range. Standards vary of course, ‘Picking Up The Sunshine’ featuring Beverley Kutner (soon to become Renbourn) sounds a little crude but you can appreciate the quality of performance from both singer and guitarist. There’s a lovely version of ‘I Know My Babe’ recorded live at Les Cousins and some great picking on ‘Buffalo’. ‘Beth’s Blues (Live)’ is one of several tracks that appeared on Renbourn’s eponymous debut in 1966, giving fans a bit of insight into its origins. Davy Graham himself pops up on an atypical version of ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out (Live)’ which sounds like a later recording but is in fact from the era prior to Renbourn’s first album. With liner notes written by the artist shortly before he passed away last year The Attic Tapes provides an insight into a scene that spawned many great artists and reveals that Renbourn should be as familiar a name as any of them.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Take Me to the Alley

1 Jul 2016
Gregory Porter
Blue Note

It’s unusual for ascendant artists to stick with the backing bands that got them started, which makes Gregory Porter a bit different, after all it’s his name that sells and he’d probably do just as well with session musicians. But Porter is a singer with integrity, that much is clear when you listen to this his second release on Blue Note. Take Me To The Alley is a more soulful album than 2014’s breakout Liquid Spirit which mixed soul, blues and jazz in just about equal amounts, there are a few energetic tracks on here but either Porter is mellowing or he’s realised that that style has broader appeal.
However, the title track is powerful despite its mellow vibe, the singing is excellent from Porter and restrained backing by Alicia Olatuja works really well. It’s the first time I’ve heard him perform with another singer and the contrasting styles/tones work very effectively. Of the 12 tracks on Take Me to the Alley the opener is one of the strongest but there is plenty more to enjoy. ‘Consequence of Love’ has a piano riff that’s strongly reminiscent of a seventies classic but is part of the smoothest groove on the album, Porter’s honeyed baritone staying just the right side of smooth. A soulful song with the great line: “The game for me is you, the game for me is love”, one of many penned by the singer.
‘In Fashion’ deals with the travails of the working musician, not so different from the life of a long distance trucker, if ultimately a little more glamorous. It includes the lines: “Last year’s runway passion no longer in fashion” and “I find myself obsessed with how you dress and whom you see when you’re without me”, which sounds like they could be true to life and that is undoubtedly part of this artists appeal. It also includes a bit of scat over a familiar rhythm line, something that Porter should do more of. ‘Fan the Flames’ is one of the more go ahead jazz numbers with some nice work by horns and piano, with Porter revealing that he can do dynamics as well as the rest of them.
Take Me to the Alley sees Porter seeking to expand his audience by toning down the jazz aspect of his work, which seems like a bit of a pity. As you can hear on his earlier releases the man has a truly fabulous voice and he can write a good tune so it seems a pity to tone it down but you can understand the desire for success and we do have those earlier albums.

Jason Kennedy


Formats also available: 
vinyl, 24/96 DL


10 Jun 2016
Klaus Gesing, Bjorn Meyer, Samuel Rohrer

Amiira has an atmospheric essence that flows all the way through, it haunts and charms in equal measure. It builds layers of tones and mixes them with chords and then splashes rhythms that slowly build from a Tibetan monk’s bell and percussion to prog-rock played with treated saxophone. It is a very intimate album in many ways but it is never stark or lacking pace.

Amiira is the brainchild of bass clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Klaus Gesing, bassist Björn Meyer and drummer Samuel Rohrer.  In addition to their instruments they employ loops and electronic noises to fill the spacious soundscape with a constant atmospheric background. They create incredibly emotional and yet unpredictable sound that meanders stylistically over 10 tracks. The start of track 2  ‘Minne’ is reminiscent of a Nino Rota tune for a movie that Fellini never made, track 3 ‘Fulminate’ will be cherished by fans of Porcupine Tree, and for their part, fans of King Crimson will devour track 9 ‘Sirènes Sacrés’, which to my ears is the jewel in this musical crown. For the most part Amiira is an incredibly listenable affair that oozes energy and originality.

The recording is lush, accurate and very, very good indeed. The electronic and acoustic instruments all sound very real through the speakers. The bass is as fast as it is rich and prominent. It will make your system sound better whether it be a pair of earphones or a big stereo system. I am intrigued to hear whether the 24/44.1 WAV download that Arjuna is offering sound any better.

Standout track: ‘Sirènes Sacrés

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
vinyl, WAV DL


25 May 2016
Michel Benita
Zig Zag Territoires

Michael Benita's 2010 album Ethics has a rich and in places cinematic feel and sound, but is best described as a creative fusion of prog rock, blues, jazz and world music. One that provides a joyous and rewarding musical journey in the company of some highly able and original musicians, playing graceful avant garde. This unusual group is led by French bass player Michel Benita, a musician who started his musical career in the eighties and who has collaborated with Erik Truffaz, Archie Shepp, Bobo Stenson and Rita Marcotulli to name but a few. On Ethics he pulls off the trick of making the avant garde melodious, in places (‘Ishidatami’) he even manages to conjure music that could have been written by Bach.

Ethics also offers the most amazing jazz performance played on a koto harp. Mieko Miyazaki does for this Japanese instrument what Ravi Shankar has done for the sitar. The strings of this instrument make a beautiful sound that is reminiscent of both south American music and jazz guitar. Miyazaki plays alongside Matthieu Michel who has in the past collaborated with Richard Galliano, his flugelhorn sounds like classical music. Drums are played by Phillipe Garcia and special effects and guitar are provided by Eivind Aarset, none of these musicians are world famous but all are able to delight and impress in equal measure.

In addition to the music, this album is one of the best recordings I have heard for a long while. The quality is incredible, sumptuous with bass that gently moves and shakes the room in which it is being played. Ethics is a must have album that’s filled with grace and musical wonderment, highly recommended.

Standout track: ‘Blue Jay Way’

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 

What was said

12 Apr 2016
Tord Gustavsen

Tord Gustavsen and his small ensemble of musicians have created something truly amazing with this album. But listeners are required to ‘work’ for the many aural pleasures it offers, this is not an obvious album even if its sound quality alone will be enough for many. To my ears Gustavsen has found a musical balance with What was said that suits his prodigious talent better than most of his recent work. It's a cinematic album dominated by female voice and, a first for Gustavsen, uses digital atmospherics and harmonies in the the background. It is also understated much like Gustavsen's earlier albums and has the atmospherics and ‘colours’ of his small ensemble work.

Consisting of very mellow and in places dark tracks, What was said is illuminated by the unique voice of Simin Tander, a German Afghan, who sings poems in her father tongue Pashto, along with English translations of Persian poetry. Her voice combines with Gustavsen's piano and Jerle Vespestad’s drums as if it were also an instrument, she is more of a vocalist than conventional singer. She is singing words but it’s the manner in which she sings them and not the lyrics that you notice.

Gustavsen’s playing is very economical, it conveys a lot with very few notes. His ability to mingle flamenco and classical tones alongside jazz and Nordic folk melodies is totally unique. I am surprised that it has not appeared on any of the Nordic noire TV programs (not that you’ve watched them! – Ed).

With What was said Gustavsen, Tander and Vespestad have created a musical landscape that is charged with emotion. The album is beautifully played and sung, it is also outrageously beautifully recorded. It has a haunting effect that’s not easily forgotten and is now on my shortlist for the album of the year. It is also in my very humble view one of Gustavsen's best albums, and certainly his most special release of late.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
MP3 download


4 Apr 2016
Matthias Loibner

What we have here is an uber unusual recording created by one of the most unique musical personalities I have ever encountered. Matthias Loibner is a rare creature with a vast musical interest and a virtuoso mastery of the hurdy gurdy. He is also inventive and keeps discovering new ways of using the instrument, rather like Jordi Savall with the viola de gamba. This approach means total dedication and kind of self imposed exile from the mainstream. A bit like tuba player Michel Godard for example. But it also means a never ending challenge and that is worth more than anything else to the intelligent musician. Artistically it merges an entire musical tradition, from medieval to contemporary and breaks boundaries between the genders. Pieces like the opening ‘Eyesofsea’ or ‘Haut’ use Celtic and Gallic folk, but there are also Appalachian notes in it. There is always a strong historical context.

‘Glutsbruder’ is a lovely oriental and Mediterranean inspired tune. It mixes scales and origins and reflects the way that the world is such a multicultural melting pot. Despite all these competing influences Lichtungen is simply exquisite, full of melancholy and touching composition, with a mood that’s not unlike Peter Gabriel's Passion (Music for The Last Temptation of Christ). ‘Folhas Citiliantes’ is like a dialogue between renaissance sarabande and baroque fugue; beautiful and focused. ‘L'Eau Dans La Mer’ puts together the beauty of the medieval laud with antiphonal accompaniment. All of this comes from a conversation with himself, despite what you believe you are hearing these are solo performances. ‘Kitchen Rain’ draws me back to musical impressionism with its simplicity and slightly faded sound, like a shy pizzicato dancing on a bass riff. ‘Sons De Carrlhoes’ is as unconcerned with feeling as the Folies Bergère melodies of the belle époque and is full of Parisian joie de vivre, with all its raptures and come downs.

Each piece has not only depth only but an abyss to explore. The more you listen the more you will find to enjoy. One could go on finding connections endlessly, but it always the case with great music. But I will leave that to the listener to discover. I have been listening to this music for four months now and whether I want to or not I cannot separate it from the flood of news coming from the near east. Watching the biggest movement of people since WWII, an exodus of different nations, blending cultural backgrounds and the upsurge of hatred and the challenge to trust and our humanitarian qualities it brings with it. I can't stop thinking that this recording makes a perfect soundtrack to these reports. It merges our entire historic and artistic heritage, brings to life what pre-defined us and made us what we are today, what we will be next depends on what our choices will be like. I am speechless.

Greg Drygala

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Lunar Love

18 Mar 2016
Mop Mop

It is possible to sum up this album in two words: simply mesmerizing. But reviews need to be a bit longer than that so I will continue. Lunar Love consists of tunes that transform hypnotic reggae into something akin to the work of Ethiopian musical giant Mulatu Astatke. With reggae notes underpinning an African sound from both sides of the Atlantic. It’s made of rhythms and sounds that not only intergrate but also re-imagine reggae. Most of the album consists of a solid field of sound that includes South American, Caribbean and various African influenced rhythms, harmonies and native instruments, it’s an extraordinarily large musical canvas.

Some tracks have Massive Attack quality bass and atmospherics that create the impression of intimacy inside a cavernous space. Mop Mop make excellent use of Anthony Joseph’s amazing voice, this is formidable and highly evocative, fusing poetry, drama and a slow rap. The sound is enthralling throughout and more of a musical "happening" than an album in the usual sense. The Mop Mop tribe is lead by Italian percussionist Andrea Benini and consists of a very large group of musicians that conjure up a vast musical vista. This is a tonally rich album with addictive bass notes and percussive rhythms made by many instruments in harmony. The recording is superb, the sound stage extends wide and deep. Lovers of bass that shakes homes and rattle foundations will find it addictive.
It is hard to fully convey how energetic and rhythmically creative Lunar Love is, suffice to say it’s a bucket-list-must-have-get-it-now album. 
Most special track: Spaceship:Earth

Andrea Benini - drums, drum machines, percussions, vocals. 
Alex Trebo - piano, electric piano, synthesizers, wersi bass.
Pasquale Mirra - vibraphone, marimba, balafon, glockenspiel. Salvatore Lauriola - electric bass, double bass. 
Danilo Mineo - surdo, congas, tumbadora, udu drums, talking drum, krakebs, shakers, rattles. 
Additional musicians : 
Anthony Joseph – vocals. 
Wayne Snow – vocals. 
Annabel – vocals. 
Christoph Matenaers – hang. 
Davide Angelica – guitars. Nicola Peruch - Moog modular system. 
Max Castlunger - steel drum, kalimba 
telonio, ARP synthesizer.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
180g vinyl, DL


3 Mar 2016
Matthew Bourne
The Leaf Label

Matthew Bourne looks like a rugged character, an image that doesn’t quite sync with the nuanced ambient ramblings of Moogmemory. Bourne is into the people and lore of the Memorymoog synthesiser, he has a strong affinity with what sounds like a particularly challenging instrument to get on song. I wasn’t aware that such things required tuning let alone are inclined to go out of tune, but then if you read what Robert Fripp has to say about getting Mellotrons to behave this is probably a common issue with early analogue synths. The synth that Bourne uses is a Lintronics Advanced Memorymoog, modified by Rudi Linhard to be more reliable with greater tuning stability. It has an appealing tone, an often soft and distinctly undigital sound that is at odds with the image of synthesizers. Bourne proves that this example has plenty of range with a selection of pieces for which the term ambient is inexact, however the absence of voice and rhythm elements combined with the quiet nature of some pieces encourages that generalisation.

Track ‘Nils’ is the first to break the ambient mould with some staccato attack over a soft burble, the following track has something of the deep space about it, it’s dark and brooding, melding into distorted highs that could be the cries of dying star. It’s not always comfortable stuff but it is powerful and brings to mind Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. By the sixth track ‘Andrew’ things have moved onto a church organ style that avoids the usual classical influences. The follow up ‘Horn & Vellum’ gets heavier and wakes one from reverie with the closest thing to a driving rhythm that this album delivers, combining disparate sounds in an invigorating fashion before burbling to a slow denouement. The final piece, ‘I Loved Her, Madly’ is a lament with another, lower pitched, organ sound that suits the tone of this synth beautifully. Moogmemory is a diverse and colourful reflection of the capabilities of an instrument that’s rarely heard alone and the compositional intuitions of Bourne, thanks to him the Memorymoog is no longer just a cult eighties synth but the conduit for some truly original material.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
vinyl, WAV download


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