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29

May

2012

Concert Review: Soundset 2012

By Craig McManus. Posted in Concert Review, Hip Hop, Indie, Rap | 2 Comments »

Founded in 1995 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rhymesayers Entertainment has risen to the top of the heap of independent hip hop labels.  Over the years it has grown from releasing albums solely by its founders, to becoming the home base for most of the surprisingly fertile Minnesota hip hop scene, and finally to being the label home for albums by indie hip hop greats regardless of hometown.  In fact, since its founding, Atmosphere, MF Doom, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, and P.O.S have all called Rhymesayers home.

Despite this success, Rhymesayers continues to expand as it follows its mission to put its “dreams, passions, and destinies in their own hands.”  One of those dreams is to continue growing hip hop in the Twin Cities area, so in 2008 Rhymesayers founded the Soundset hip hop festival.  Held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Soundset started in the Metrodome parking lot, but has since moved to Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota.

More important then the location switch, however, the last five years have seen Soundset grow beyond showcasing solely artists on the Rhymesayers label to bringing both titans and the next generation of hip hop to the upper Midwest.  2012 was no exception as Ghostface Killah & Raekwon and Lupe Fiasco joined Atmosphere as scheduled headliners while Action Bronson, Kendrick Lamar, and Danny Brown played earlier in the day with Rhymesayers’ own I Self Devine and Evidence.

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The releases highlighted below are just some of the best-reviewed albums in the latest issues of International Record Review (May), Gramophone (June), and BBC Music Magazine (June).

Four string quartets by “Danish maverick” Rued Langgaard (Dacapo 6.220575) are a Choice of both Gramophone and BBC Music. In the latter, Stephen Johnson praises the Nightingale Quartet for understanding “the provocative vitality, the fragile romantic sensitivity and the striking intellectual independence behind it all”, while in Gramophone David Fanning notes that the quartet “throws itself into the music with a vehemence and sense of purpose”. Both of these magazines also praise pianist Yuja Wang’s “Fantasia” (DG 479 0052GH), a collection of her favourite encores; BBC Music’s Michael Church says that “Given that these bonnes bouches were never designed to be consumed in bulk, this young virtuoso has pulled off a remarkable feat”, and Bryce Morrison in Gramophone says “Wang is clearly one of the major talents of our time and her playing throughout is of an astonishing verve, style and dexterity”. Morrison also finds plenty of praise for the latest from Olli Mustonen, a disc of Scriabin (Ondine ODE1184-2): “This is Scriabin as you have never heard him before, played by one of music’s most formidable and compusive free spirits… The music is made to leap flame-like and uncontained from the page”. Guitarist David Russell, too, is a Gramophone Choice with a disc of transcriptions entitled “The Grandeur of the Baroque” (Telarc TEL33223-02) in performances that William Yeoman calls “revelatory”; for instance, Russell’s performance of four three-part Sinfonias by Bach “is the epitome of clarity, grace, humour and melancholy”.

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The Blue Nature of Everyday

I confess that I had no plans to review this album. I only bought it in the first place because of a robbery. I learned from the ever useful Ambientblog that the head of a couple of netlabels had been the victim of theft and had lost, among other things, his laptop. Seeing that the person concerned was Leonardo Rosado, and that he was selling his newest album on bandcamp for a modest price to raise funds to replace his equipment, my attention was snagged.

Rosado curates the Feedbackloop netlabel, several of whose releases I have downloaded and enjoyed free of charge, including Rosado’s own 2011 release Opaque Glitter. He also runs Heart and Soul, which recently put out the wonderful poetry/jazz/ambient release Allegories by the Dwindlers, also on my shelf and much enjoyed. The fact that someone running two music labels in Portugal from which I had enjoyed several releases is working on a scale where the theft of a laptop is debilitating, that I would hear about it before too long in Michigan, and that I could immediately in a modest way help put it right by buying a fresh release on bandcamp highlights the potential of the netlabel world for human-scale connections around music. I was on board, and figured the music would be pleasant anyway. $7 later, The Blue Nature of Everyday was on my hard drive. (More below the player.)

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7

May

2012

The 13th-century motet

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in A History of Classical Music, Classical | No Comments »

A History of Classical Music through Recordings: Part 5

“Motetus”. Clemencic Consort/René Clemencic. Stradivarius (link)

Over the course of the 13th century, the main polyphonic forms, organum and conductus, declined in popularity to be replaced by a new form, the motet (this name being a diminutive form of mot, the French for ‘word’). To understand how the motet came about we must look back at a particular aspect of the polyphony developed by Leonin and the Notre Dame school: the clausula. This was a segment of organum in which a short piece of text, usually just a word or two, was sung melismatically using many notes while the tenor voice slowly sang the text once. Musicians began to replace the melismas with new texts that had some relevance to the words of the organum and that were sung syllabically. Clausulas were regarded as separate modules that could be inserted into an organum as needed, but this independence meant that over time they began to be sung on their own as a composition called a motet (which, you may remember, is what happened with the sequence in Gregorian chant). The new text and its music was referred to as the duplum or motetus, and there could also be another, separate but topically related, text on top of that, called the triplum, and there could even be a quadruplum. As the Clemencic Consort demonstrates on its album, new motet texts weren’t necessarily in Latin: while the tenor text remained a Latin phrase, the duplum (and triplum, if there was one) could be in French. And once the language switched to the vernacular, it shouldn’t be surprising that the topics should change to more secular concerns, and the lyrics resemble the poetry of the trouvères.

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Various Artists - Hidden Landscapes 2

There are so many compilations of electronically or classically tinged ambient music appearing these days, many of them for free, that it would be reasonable to wonder: why should I pay particular attention to this one? Let me answer that in two ways.

If you are already familiar with the recent outpouring of music that melds electronic, found sound, and classical elements into gentle, emotionally evocative instrumental vignettes, then there is a fairly simple answer to the question. You should get this one because you already know about the rewards to be found in giving yourself to the music of Marsen Jules, Talvihorros, Danny Norbury, Lawrence English, Konntinent, Pjusk, offthesky, Field Rotation, Ian Hawgood, and the like. Each of these, together with a few perhaps less familiar names, offers a strong contribution here; it’s an album full of very enjoyable pieces from folk who know what they are doing. You also already know that Hibernate and Audio Gourmet, the labels collaborating on this release, have a strong pedigree in this area and aren’t going to waste your time. In sum, if you like this genre, this is one of the good ones.

If the above names mean little to you, and you are a newcomer to the genre, this album would serve very well as an entry point. It showcases a representative range of approaches, and they are sequenced wisely, beginning with material that most will find tuneful and gradually moving to slightly more challenging sounds. If you’re open to exploring a little, here’s what I suggest you should do.

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2

May

2012

John Fullbright – A Troubadour on the Rise

By Kezzie Baker. Posted in Blues, Folk | No Comments »

John Fullbright, Woodyfest 2011, Okemah, OK

“I have no doubt that in a very short time John Fullbright will be a household name in American music.” – Jimmy Webb

“[At SXSW], this young Oklahoman’s name was on everybody’s lips.” – American Songwriter

 

In a graveyard on the north side of the small rural town of Okemah, Oklahoma, where 23-year-old John Fullbright was raised (and still resides) are two tombstones marking the graves of two very different men.  One is on the east side of the cemetery; the other on the west. In between the two is where Fullbright says he’d like his own tombstone to be placed. Why? Because the two tombstones bear the names of the two most influential people in his life – his grandpa  and Woody Guthrie.  It is the subject of a song Fullbright wrote called “Tombstone,” one of the standout tracks on a live recording of a concert he performed three years ago at the Blue Door in Oklahoma City bearing the simple title of Live at the Blue Door.  It was not promoted nationally, but it was an attention-getter for those who heard it (it set sales records at the 2009 Woodyfest, the annual folk festival honoring Woody Guthrie), and Fullbright has continued to promote the album through a heavy touring schedule with his shows steadily gaining him a growing fan base one gig at a time.

The recording project was simple – a one-man show with just a voice, a guitar, and a harmonica, but lest you are thinking (like I was) that this by definition spells ‘boring’,  think again.   I was surprised at the depth and fullness that is generated by this one-man band and captured in the live recording.  Thirteen of its 17 tracks are Fullbright’s own compositions, and he writes surprisingly insightful and mature lyrics that belie his youth (he was a mere 21  years old then, but had already become a favorite at outdoor music festivals before he was out of high school).  He is able to create quite a sound all by himself, slapping the guitar strings with such fervor that the lack of a drumset is not even noticed, and gives a unique vocal delivery that makes the listener stand up and take notice.

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30

Apr

2012

Colin Vallon – “Rruga”

By Dave Sumner. Posted in Jazz | No Comments »

The ECM catalog is filled with piano trio albums of austerity and minimalism. For a piano trio to approach an album with a Doing More With Less minimalism is a daring venture, because the high risk is a drowsy album that ends up sounding flimsy and thin or, worse perhaps, lounge music for the late night dinner set. It’s not an easy thing to do, the peaceful piano trio recording.

The choice of notes has to be impeccable, since there ain’t gonna be as many to offer the listener. Honor has to be paid to the silence, and used as effectively as the sound made from the black and whites. Bass and drums have to be more than just tools of accompaniment, but in the framework of the quiet piano trio, they need to be sure to only use their Inside Voices. And then there’s the compositions themselves… it makes for great drama to witness the pianist furrow the brow and grimace and fire the inner core in the search for the perfect notes, but on a studio recording, none of that is gonna translate to the listener through the speakers if the tunes don’t have some spark of life, and all that dramatic minimalism will get drowned out by snores.

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“It’s breathtaking…The achievement here is enough to make the stars weep.” – Sarah Liss, cbc.ca

Heavenly – that’s a concise but accurate description of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s newest release, The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres – a fusion of the arts, science and culture in the 17th and 18th centuries captured in an imaginative DVD and CD soundtrack commemorating Galileo’s first public demonstration of the telescope. It’s not only heavenly in its subject matter, but it’s pure heaven both visually and in an aural sense.   With the recent January launch of their very own recording label, Tafelmusik Media, the Toronto-based ensemble (touted by Gramophone as one of the world’s top baroque orchestras) place themselves at the very cutting edge of what they describe as the “classical online recording revolution” of the 21st century.   The new label’s first releases hit shelves on March 27, 2012, and include the debut of The Galileo Project.  It is Tafelmusik’s ace card and playing it now assures their new label gets off to an impressive running start.

The Galileo Project was conceived in 2007 and brought  to fruition in 2009 with its premiere performance at The Banff Centre in Alberta.  Since that time, Tafelmusik has been touring the world with performances before awe-struck audiences.  Now, for the first time ever, listening audiences everywhere can experience this one-of-a-kind production through DVD and an accompanying studio-produced CD of the gorgeous baroque music featured in the concert.  The DVD/CD set was co-produced by Tafelmusik and The Banff Centre and is being distributed by Naxos USA through the Americas and by Naxos Global Logistics in the rest of the world, as well as through most digital retail outlets.

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En - Already Gone

I was struck the other day by how often I had seen the word “intense” used to praise music while browsing recent reviews. Perhaps it was just the particular reviews I happened to sample. Perhaps it was an appropriate celebration of the passion invested in those recordings. Or perhaps it was a reflection of the ongoing quest for the next, even-more-vivid experience in a media-weary culture. Whichever it was, there certainly seems to be no shortage of music designed to fill the horizon and the frequency range without remnant, built to hook the ear within seconds and keep it wriggling helplessly until exhaustion sets in.

Tiring of the fray, I find myself at the moment more inclined to celebrate releases that make me smile with quiet surprises. I rejoice when gently touched by music that is not going for the arresting, big-screen effect, but is instead chasing small moments of beauty wrested from the noise. Already Gone, the sophomore release by Google-proof band En, is such an album. Released on Students of Decay, it is the latest of a series of small wonders distributed by Experimedia.

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1000 Pound Machine

When I wrote a recent review on Kate Campbell’s last album, Two Nights in Texas, I predicted that we would be treated to a new one from her any time.  Well, the time is here – the new CD, 1000 Pound Machine, was released April 3, 2012, on Kate’s independent Large River Music label, and it’s a beauty filled with all the Southern folk charm that fans have come to expect in a Kate Campbell album.  Her unique stamp is imprinted all over the tracklist, including songs about the American South of Kate’s youth, people of the South (famous and not-so-famous), gospel tinged spirituals, a love song, a Mississippi delta blues piece, and a couple of instrumentals.  This time around, though, the arrangements are sparser and the music more subdued.  It is a beautifully cohesive album held together by an overall “lay-your-burdens-down” kind of theme offering rest for the weary and peace for the troubled soul.  This is comfort food at its most palatable, served up in classy southern soul fashion.

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