Friday, August 30, 2013

The Durutti Column: Circuses and Bread

This fifth album by the fantastically underappreciated Vini Reilly and his cohorts Bruce Mitchell on drums, trumpeter Tim Kellet and violist John Metcalfe appeared in 1985 and this listener's first experience hearing The Durutti Column came with an EP highlighting one of the best pieces in all the group's long history, the wonderful "Tomorrow," which is the second track on this great album.

As mentioned before, the reason for buying that shorter vinyl release in summer 1986 was because, in buying tickets for a New Order show at what was then the Irvine Amphitheater, it was learned that the two opening acts were the almost-unknown The Fall and The Durutti Column.  Having the latter walk quietly on stage, with Mitchell's extraordinarily basic kit and Kellet and Metcalfe's unassuming instruments and then, finally, Reilly perched on the floor for much of the performance, the show was totally out of proportion to the environment and would have been far better suited to a small club, as, presumably, was the usual type of venue for this sublime band.  The Fall and New Order were good, but TDC was a revelation, even in the freakishly wrong setting.

In any case, this is a very strong album from start to finish with the gorgeous "Pauline" opening the proceedings beautifully, followed by the aforementioned "Tomorrow."   Even the drum machines are programmed nicely in "Dance II," which highlights Reilly's ability to play rapid, delicate lines overdubbed with another rhythm guitar line. 

"Hilary" is another wrenching ballad, its simplicity highlighted by the deeply echoed trumpet of Kellet.  "Street Fight" is an intriguing context of Reilly's searching piano theme performed along the viola and the sounds of gunfire, perhaps reflecting the violence then ravaging Northern Ireland--this being a rare instance of politics (even, if vaguely and subtly expressed) on a TDC record. 

Reilly seems to easily create memorable and delicate melodies and "Royal Infirmary" has a fine one with excellent guitar and piano playing by the leader.  For those turned off by Reilly's rather tuneless (and, yet, for this leader beguiling and artlessly compelling) vocals, "Black Horses" might be a stumbling block and it does last nearly 9 minutes, but it has more of the finely layered, carefully crafted subtle dynamics that makes this band such a strong one.

"Dance I" has synthesizers, drum programming, and a marimba-like percussion element that almost seems to prefigure the largely-electronic sound highlighted in Obey The Time, which came out about five years later.  Then comes the strong closer, "Blind Elevator Girl—Osaka," which starts with plucked viola, a repeating and light melodic line from the keyboard and Mitchell's rhythmic cymbal work before it moves into a punchier (well, for this band) section that worked well in live settings, including an abbreviated form in the Live at the Bottom Line, New York record and the Domo Arigato album recorded in Japan, and which highlights Kellet's soaring trumpet.

Circuses and Bread is a highlight in a stellar catalog by a performer and a band whose work was so far under the mainstream radar it was a bit surprising.  The Durutti Column and Vini Reilly definitely have operated their own narrowly confined worlds, but that might be part of the attraction for those fortunate few who have been devoted fans--enjoying their music seems like an experience only you and a select number of others can enjoy, though it would be nice to see Reilly get more credit and financial reward for his thirty-five years of consistently excellent music.

Why, though, this is the only TDC album to not get the deluxe remixing and extra tracks reworking in the later 1990s under the Factory Too imprint is a bit of a mystery!

The Durutti Column:  Circuses and Bread (Factory, 1985)

1.  Pauline
2.  Tomorrow
3.  Dance II
4.  Hilary
5.  Street Fight
6.  Royal Infirmary
7.  Black Horses
8.  Dance I
9.  Blind Elevator Girl—Osaka

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Terry Riley: A Rainbow in Curved Air

Released in 1969, a few years after his famous (or infamous) In C was released as an early example of so-called minimalism in classical music, Terry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air found the composer using intricate overdubbing to layer keyboards and percussion in fascinating ways.

As expressed in the explanatory note on the back cover, "the spatially separated mirror images were adapted for studio recording by Glen Kolotkin and resemble the sound Terry gets in his all-night concerts."  These live performances were another way for Riley to create an experience that was far removed from the traditional concert hall (after all, it was the hippie era), but the fact that he had a growing interest in Indian classical music and in the improvisation found in it and in jazz is reflected in the wild and wonderful sounds on this amazing recording.

Riley performed on electric organ, electric harpsichord, or what he termed the "rocksichord," as well as the dumbec, or goblet drum (used heavily in music from the Middle East), and tambourine for percussion effects for the title track, which spanned about 18 and a half minutes, while for the comically titled "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band," he played the soprano saxophone and electric organ.  ON the 21 and a half minute masterpiece, Riley spins out fantastic runs on the soprano, supposedly inspired by the great John Coltrane, and the organ that reveal his masterly instrumental prowess.  With some studio trickery involving tape loops and a patch cord, Riley and the engineer were able to give the track another interesting dimension of sound

The "flower power era" vibe is further reinforced by the inclusion of an untitled poem by the composer included on the cover and which decries war, the killing of animals, urban malaise, and so forth.  To a more cynical era, the sentiments seem hopelessly na├»ve and idealistic, but, to this listener, it is part of the historical context of the time and the music doesn't seem to be that tied to period.

Notably, this album and its electric keyboard sounds had a major effect on Pete Townshend of The Who and the legendary song "Baba O'Riley," named for Indian guru Meher Baba and Riley features keyboard sounds derived from this album. 

In any case, the originality and freshness of Riley's 1960s work is epitomized by A Rainbow in Curved Air, as well as with In C.  His career went through many changes subsequently, including years of spiritual and musical study in India, and album with former Velvet Underground member John Cale, and some excellent works with The Kronos Quartet, whose David Harrington studied with the composer at Oakland's Mills College.  For those inclined to an interest in so-called "minimalism," this album is a true standout.

Terry Riley:  A Rainbow in Curved Air (CBS, 1969)

1.  A Rainbow in Curved Air  18:39
2.  Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band  21:38

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Global Meditation: Voices of the Spirit, Songs and Chants

The Ellipsis Arts label was a sister firm to The Relaxation Company, a new age enterprise, and it would be easy to look at the graphics, titling and text of Ellipsis Arts' two box sets, Global Meditation and Global Celebration and reasonably conclude that the music was some hybrid of new age and world music, which to some people did seem to mesh during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when both were in vogue to some measure.

Actually, the Ellipsis Arts boxes were an exploration into the indigenous sources to the new age products that The Relaxation Company offered and it was obviously a very sincere effort, because the four-disc sets are tremendous compilations of the immense variety of native musics found throughout the world.  They are also organized thematically in ways that work very well. 

For this entry, the first disc of the first set, titled (awkwardly) "Voices of the Spirit, Songs and Chants" sets the tone for the remainder of the discs by drawing from "spiritual, ritual and meditative music" from a broad geographical range.  Recordings were obtained from Norway, Albania, aboriginal Australia, Bali and its amazing gamelan music, Hawaiian chanting, the pygmies of Gabon, Japan, England, Tibet, Dahomey, Algeria, and Russia.  They deal with various religious, ritualistic, and spiritual musics that blend remarkably well together--this is an excellent example of effective sequencing of disparate tracks.

The only real complaint is that the disc runs just under 50 minutes, when at least six more tracks or so could have been included.  And, yeah, that cover art and text content is dated.  On the other hand, a portion of the original sale of these discs was donated to The Rainforest Alliance, so Ellipsis Arts deserves kudos for that effort.

Eventually, the other seven discs from the two boxes will make their way onto this blog, because the music contained in the sets is really outstanding for those who enjoy so-called "world music" and you don't have to be of the so-called "new age" mindset to be greatly entertained by the excellent selections included in the sets.