Food – Mecurial Balm (ECM/ Fuse)

mercurial balm

There’s something about improvised music, particularly electro acoustic improvised music that rings alarm bells. Unless it’s reigned in it can be a real mess, where it distinguishes itself as improvisation by the wanton egos, self-indulgence and ultimately tuneless masturbation. But what if you get not just great musicians, who expand the scope of their instrument, but players playing for the music, not just to hear themselves over the others?

This is at times a six piece, part jazz, part electronics but they play with such subtlety, such touch that you rarely believe that there could be this many participants.

It’s ostensibly the work of Norwegian drummer Thomas Stronen, and English saxophonist Iain Ballamy. In fact it’s their fifth album, however when you reign in guests like Austrian guitarist and electronics experimentalist Christian Fennesz, or even Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, some control must be relinquished, and to some extent that’s what makes this such a good album.

It stems from live performances in Norway, the UK, and Germany as well as some studio work in Oslo. The key here is that they’re never searching. It feels considered, like they’re creating new forms, actually updating jazz, a genre generally consumed by the past.

Other players include Indian slide guitarist and singer Prakash Sontakke and Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset who both combine on Magnetosphere, with Sontakke pushing it into the realm of the spiritual via his distinctive wailing vocals. It’s an eclectic mix for sure, drawing upon the sensibility of each guest, yet it’s also music about subtlety, about delicate nuances, about texture and space. It’s beautiful lush soundscape music, endlessly fascinating both sonically and structurally, yet at the same time endlessly satisfying, complex and unique, music to drift to.

Fragmented Frequencies 2nd Jan 09


There is something curiously unhinged about Melbourne musician and playwright Julian William’s latest album Liquidamber (Spill/ Synaesthesia). It’s like a brooding circus sideshow, except without the groove. It’s pop music for the experimentalists, highly original highly idiosyncratic outsider music, with bizarre sounds careering around happily over which Williams intones, multi-tracked in very loose harmony with himself. Whilst listening I kept thinking some strange animal was creaking around in my room just out of eyeshot which made me kind’ve nervous. Williams is probably best known for his equally unhinged work in one of Melbourne’s most interesting ensembles The Hi God People, a loose collective of musicians and performance artists who tend to mesmirise astound and confuse with each successive performance. Liquidamber has some conventional instruments such as guitar, organ and wind instruments, also some sped up or slowed down field recordings, the field being his house. The icing on top are his vocal harmonies, his call and lethargic response, his dense at times extremely scattered layers and pitches of vocals. It’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s his 14th solo album according to his calculations and this one seems to be getting his widest release thus far and there’s a lot to like. And even more to be confused by. It’s music that bends time, that messes with your equilibrium, and makes you wonder if you’ll ever get old enough that the flashbacks will finally end.

He’s launching this opus alongside Snawklor, his other band The Inevitable Orbit, and Justin K Fuller with some visuals from Jason Heller. It’s on Wednesday the 14th of July at Horse Bazaar, a night which coincides with experimental music night Stutter’s first birthday.

The Sydney Festival’s on again in January and this time the sloppy seconds that make their way down to Melbourne look pretty damn good. Aside from the Matthew Herbert Big Band and Argentine songstress Juana Molina, both of whom released incredible albums last year, there’s one real surprise. Tuba is way too under represented in modern music, particularly tuba played at breakneck speeds beneath a savage wail of horns and all manner of brass. Fanfare Ciorcarlia’s Balkan funk is a full bodied experience and they’re touring as an 11 piece wall of exotic freneticism. They’re Romanian in origin, a gypsy big band that began life playing weddings and festivals and now are all about the party, and speed. They’ve been clocked at somewhere between 130 and 200 bpm, so those with weak constitutions best not attend. There’s nothing like them in the world and they’re playing as part of the Mix It Up series at Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre on the 18th of January.

Finally Austrian maestro Fennesz snuck a new album in late last year, featuring a contribution from Melbourne’s Anthony Pateras on prepared piano. The album, Black Sea (Touch/ Fuse) arrived a little too late for our ‘best of’ lists, but some dedicated holiday listening reveals it to be a worthy contender. It’s not a mammoth departure from 2004’s Venice, however there is a blissed out electronic fuzz that seems to draw upon the stately grandeur of My Bloody Valentine. The closest I can come is that it’s a hypnotic ambient noise record, quite gentle and ponderous, that dips into some melodic riffs at times, yet also delves heavily into more experimental sound art realms with firery drones and steady rumbles. The epic 9.22 minute Glide in particular (with Rosy Parlane) takes on a searing orchestral grandeur, where noise taps directly into the emotions, and it’s amongst the best work he has ever done. The remainder of Black Sea reveals an artist at the top of his game. This isn’t merely a cd, it’s an achievement. Then again I say that everytime this man releases an album.