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31 October 2011

Dando Shaft - 'An Evening With...' (Decca)

Hey, I fucked up!  I thought this was the second or third Dando Shaft release, since it isn't self-titled (and is so much better)!  But actually, we're looking at their debut, before Polly Bolton joined the band, and when Martin Jenkins is really much more of a leader.  So really, this should have come before the last post, but such inaccuracies are a true joy in the Internet anyway.  There's singing on every track except for the lovely 'Drops of Brandy', and the band relies much more on cellos and violins to make a chamber-music feel.  The songs are longer, with four per side, and the highlight, 'September Wine', creeps in slowly over some hand bells before unfolding into a murky ballad that could be mid-90s slowcore in places.  There isn't a breakdown of exact credits but the band is probably mostly the same lineup as the next one, yet way less bouncy and fast.  Taking time to stretch out really helps Dando Shaft, in my opinion, even if it puts them closer to the 'folk' side of folk-rock.  'In the Country' gets into a gentle strum that walks slowly across the vinyl, with flute filling out the hippie quotient and lyrics about appreciating nature -- could it get any better?  'Cat Song' has a slightly music hall lean, with charmingly pedestrian lyrics as well.  There's so much to like about this record - it's remarkable in it's unremarkableness; psychedelic in it's pure niceness, and there's a hint of menace to the chord progressions on 'Rain' and 'Cold Wind'.  The former is a weird death song, I think, and 'End of the Game' has a similar sense of resignation (or else it's just about the weekend).  Whomever sings on most of side 1 really has a Tim Buckley feel, but I still feel like there are so many Bert Janchisms in the guitar riffing.  Maybe I just like this record cause it's on nicer vinyl - Decca's pressing is lovely, and the very thickly arranged songs (which Jenkins is responsible for) always breathe, cause the dynamic range is just right. 

Dando Shaft (RCA/Neon)

The shaggy longhairs clustered together on the back sleeve of this record would make you think we're about to listen to some roaring psych or Krautrock; beards, vacant stares, and a blurryness to the photo all suggest many Dionysian nights.  But Dionysian Knights is more like it; Dando Shaft most resemble a frantic Pentangle clone, mostly due to the jazzy inflections in the Roger Bullen's bass playing.  There's no drum kit, but congas on most tracks, and quickly plucked strings are the essence of their sound.  It's hard to see who the leader of Dando Shaft is, as everyone is so multi-instrumental, and vocals are shared by everyone.  The most common motif is the shredding mandolin of Martin Jenkins over the two guitar attack of Dave Cooper and Kev Dempsey; parts of Dando Shaft are actually actually punishing in the speed of the licks, such as 'Railway'.  When Polly Bolton sings it enhances their place in that whole milieu, though she's no Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior or Jackie McShea.  Percussion as I mentioned before is mostly congas, and songs like 'Pass it On' get a slightly irritating "Kum-Bay-Yah" jamgrass feel that is definitely a product of its time.  But then 'Waves Upon the Ether' is masterful, with different vocal lines pulling melodies in different directions, much as the title would indicate.  There's almost a bit too much 'kitchen sink syndrome' going on here, as the group seems to lack a unified voice.  But perhaps this type of democracy is what they were going for.  Cooper's 'Prayer' ends the record, a half-minute of non-denominational solo yearning that is actually a nice cap to things.  Unfortunately this is on the horrible "dynaflex" vinyl that RCA was so fond of in the early 70s, and the sound quality is resultantly thin.  I know this has gotten the 180g reissue treatment in recent years, but I can't quite justify that expenditure cause Dando Shaft is far closer to "good" than "great".

12 October 2011

Leo Cuypers - 'Theatre Music/Jan Rap En Z'n Maat' (BV Haast)

I love Dutch jazz and one of the things I like the most about it is how melodic and beautiful it can be while being simultaneously exploratory - brash, confident, and sugary all at the same time.  Leo Cuypers I first encountered when Atavistic did that Unheard Music Series because they issued the Heavy Days are Here Again CD (which we'll get to on the other blog, soon).  His style was wonderfully melodic, but also really fast and dense.  This record is really just called Theatre Music (and it's exactly that) but side 2 is one long piece, belonging to one production called Jan Rap En Z'n Maat, and the spine has only that listed, so I'm not sure exactly what to call this.  The record is mostly a trio of Cuypers on piano, Arjen Gorter on bass, and Martin van Duynhoven on drums - but with Willem Breuker on side 2 with his various reeds.  Breuker produced the whole thing also.  The four tracks on side one must work well as theatre music as they are janty and rolling.  The trio is tight and there's times when the ivories are coursing with electricity, making me want to lie down and just feel the colours wash over me.  The flip side is almost narratively cohesiv.  The opener, 'Jan Rap at 8'30" a.m.' begins with the same trio as side one, with thick clusters of major thirds and perfect fourths, chopped out ferociously but without aggression.  When Breuker comes in, about halfway through the 7 minutes of the piece, it's triumphant.  Cuypers supports Breuker's sax with a bed of contrapuntal chords, and then when they temporarily go in diferent directions it's mesmerising.  Other highlights include 'The House (3 scenes)', which features some thick fuzzy synth underneath the piano, the first of 3 repetitions of a melody in three different arrangements - and the other long piece, 'Triste', a slow, moody exploration based around a rigid, descending theme.  This is the centerpiece of the side and indicates a dramatic shift, cause remember, this is theatre music, right?  It's revisited on synthesizer in the LP's closing minute, a fitting Vincent Price-style conclusion to this LP (and, incidentally, to my C-section [no, don't say it]).  Gorter and van Doynhoven are so crisp throughout that everything is on-point and accurate, yet somehow I wouldn't classify Theatre Music in the "Appolonian" side of the jazzsphere - there's far too much liquidity between the precision.

4 October 2011

Chris Cutler and Fred Frith - 'Live in Prague and Washington' (Ré)

The cover art to this suggests all of the ghosts of the eastern bloc - or at least, semi-Gothic Polish cinema posters, Kafka, and all that goes with it.  The 4500 Czechs are credited for 'Ambieance and opinions" alongside Chris and Fred here, as this is an unedited improv concert from 1979.  Cutler is a freak on this, clattering all about the stereo field in a manner that's unusually haphazard for him.  You can feel that he and Frith are really letting go.  There's a part in the middle when it locks into a proper 'groove', as Frith's guitar emanates a creeping, uncanny pulse.  But the flailing drumsticks are the core of everything - the guitar sounds like it's buzzing out of a cheap amp, and when Frith does the fingertip-dancing he's most known for, it feels like a manic counterpoint to the earlier groove.  Though he's credited with electronic drums in addition to regular ones, it doesn't feel motorik or tech-heavy.  Overall, it's a dark, dissonant and I daresay messy foray for these guys, who were enmeshed in their Art Bears project at the time.  I guess the pace and intensity rivals a tune like 'Rats and Monkeys' but without Dagmar's voice to anchor it, things are definitely caked in a freeform crust.  Side B is an excerpt from a concert in Washington but it continues the 45rpm squeal, albeit more slow and open.  Long arcs of feedback bend and shimmer, and there's a breath that is missing from side 1 entirely.  The ending turns into a traditional folk jig, with Frith on the violin and Cutler pitter-pattering the momentum up.  The crowd noise is there throughout both sides - in fact, I'm surprised at how lo-fi this recording is  overall, given that I associate Cutler with being somewhat uptight about fidelity.  I'm happy for it though - this rawness is something that really drives the record and shows a side not otherwise heard.