If your soul is not stirring, even slightly, by the middle of the opening track of Imi Fal’s The Lightest Touch and then continues to do at various intervals throughout the release, there is a very good chance you don’t have one. This graceful, thought-provoking blend of ambient chamber music and lightly applied field recordings engages the listener at a visceral level from the start and doesn’t let go. It feels close and intimate and constructed of small, fragile and perfectly crafted parts. Ingemar Holmlid’s work is packed with detail. It’s never intrusive, but piques your attention here and there as you’re being carried softly along, lost in your thoughts. Even the heavy chords that jump up in “Sonder” feel integral; sharp and sudden, but vital to what the piece is trying to say. The focal point throughout the release is Holmild’s piano playing, which is, simply put, elegant. I listen to the waltz of “Under a Darkening Sky” and I feel like I am peering into some crystalline thing, each music-box note charming and small. This track is an excellent example of the detail work. I hear the sounds of wind, of something mechanical winding, a light tapping, and none of it disturbs the 1-2-3 beauty of the core song. “Fingertips” pairs the piano with muffled sounds of conversation and electronic burbles. It feels like Holmild has found a separate room at a gathering and sat down at the piano to play quietly, to work out his thoughts unattended by the people engaged in their chatter. The Lightest Touch eases past in just 41 minutes, and every minute is spent firmly in its tender grasp. The level of emotion packed into this short space is impressive, and the composer conveys it without ever feeling heavy handed. In fact, it feels almost confessional on his part. So please listen closely as Imi Fal bares his musical soul to you, and listen to how your responds in kind.
Available from Imi Fal’s Bandcamp site.
Here is a place where smooth jazz, romantic songs, Latin flair, and enormous doses of musical sugar meet. If we consider Infinito strictly from the quality of the playing on it, it’s really quite good. The composer’s piano playing is elegant and sweeping; Leonardo Padovani brings classic violin lines to several songs; Gracieli Valverde’s operatic soprano stirs the soul on “Dandelion.” But wow, does this album make Yanni sound like he’s playing death metal. It does have its moments, but they’re just that: moments. I confess that I do bop along a bit to the distinctly 80s synth-bounce that powers “Dandelion” and “Spiral” (conjuring memories of Jean-Luc Ponty). I like the toe-tapping, star-twinkling adagio of “Lacrimae” with Padovani on Chinese strings, and I groove on the nicely chilled bossa nova lines of “Mono No Aware”—those things being said, I typically couldn’t get all the way through the songs here because they’re all just too cloyingly sweet for me. They make me want to give someone a longing, come-hither look across a restaurant table, knowing that love is in the air. (Ah, here comes Padovani again, like the violinist making his way from table to table, laying down an invitation to tango on “San Telmo.”) If you like your music super-light and overloaded with by-the-book romance, you might enjoy Infinito. Too sugary for me.
Available from Corciolli’s web site.
Things run dark and quiet on Kloob’s Deep Emotional Phases. It’s impressionistic ambient, loaded with atmosphere and tension, and it slips pretty easily beneath your skin to do its work. For the most part, Dani Kloob keeps things on the downplayed, droning side, letting the impact come from tone and dimension rather than forceful presentation. It can be as simple as the thematically appropriate rush of wind running through “Haunted” or the vocal samples that rise in “Echoes of Ignorance,” slight elements that carry his tone and intent forward. But there is also texture in abundance, and rich interplay between layers. Kloob nails his shadowy feel particularly well, truly hitting stride on tracks such as “Mediocre Environment.” This piece moves sluggishly forward, shouldering its way through murky air. You can practically see the sounds reluctantly folding back and away. There are touches of brightness as well, but they’re of the sunlight-through-thick-clouds variety. “Solsiticio” introduces a subtle touch of beat via sequencer, and we are ushered into the piece with high vocal pads. “Thin Thread” is a classic-feeling melodic ambient piece that wavers in your ears as it spins its tune on long pads and a touch of electronic twinkle. Two moments overall don’t work for me on this release. “Desahogo” seems to do little more than work its way upward into a blinding wall of sound and then stop; and there’s one big, jarring clatter in the middle of “Distant Alternative” that I wish wasn’t there. It works, technically speaking, this loud crashing note that resonates down into a drone, but given how pacific the rest of the majority release is, it feels a touch out of place.
Overall, this first ambient outing for Kloob makes for a nice, immersive listen. It’s got enough depth to keep you peering into it during your headphone listens, but it also succeeds as a passive, low-volume session. Definitely an album you need to check into.
Available from Relaxed Machinery.
According to his website, what flugelhorn player Jeff Oster offers up on his latest album, Next, is “New Age Ambient Funk.” In fact, he says he’s created it. I think that’s a pretty fair claim, but let’s also give a nod to the killer lineup he’s pulled into the studio to make it happen. We’re talking folks such add Nile Rodgers, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Michael Manring, Ricky Kej, Tony Levin, Todd Boston, and Philip Aaberg, among others—and also got Will Ackerman to man the production helm. With that checklist of style squarely in place, Oster proceeds to get his smooth on and just seduce his listeners with gorgeous jazz stylings for the next hour. Next is about as far along the jazz spectrum as I willingly cover here at Hypnagogue, and perhaps has a toe or two over my usual line, but as a jazz/smooth jazz lover I am quite content to keep listening to it. Right off the bat we are massaged with Oster’s flugelhorn. A light touch of resonance gives depth to its consistently soft-at-the-edges sound. Purdie and Rainey expertly (of course) fill in the rhythm section on most tracks, handling everything from smooth funk to reggae tints with masterful ease. There’s just so much delicious ear candy happening here, courtesy of the guest players—when you’re not busy focusing on the way Oster’s horn sings. Like what, you ask? Well, Melissa Kaplan drops Eastern-flavored vocals into the incense smoke movement of “Night Train to Sofia.” Shambhu’s acoustic guitar quietly pairs with the horn on the stunningly beautiful “On Mother’s Day,” a piece that gains tons of emotional potency from its simple, clean setup. Notes from Tom Eaton’s Fender Rhodes twinkle, warble and shift on the groove-laden “Turn Left at San Pancho” (you’ll be whistling this all day). Todd Boston spins out sweet guitar licks in the middle of “Avenue D,” which is hands down my favorite track here. It’s a straight dose of feel-good with a 70s fusion jazz skin. On the other side of the coin, when you’re ready to have your heart broken, feel free to spin Oster’s cover of the Bonnie Raitt song “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” If ever there was a song waiting to be flugelhorned, this is it. The notes shuffle out, head down and heartfelt. Philip Aaberg’s piano packs some country-music flair at the edges, its trilling fills just upping the sense of last-call sadness. The closing track finds Oster and Ackerman in another white-backdrop scene, just two guys and their instruments
Next is a pleasure to drop into. It knows it’s cool and doesn’t overplay its hand. It’s happy to just lay out its vibe because it knows you’ll dig it and you’ll let it spin again when it’s done. Solid, pleasant, infectious, and quite deserving of its New Age Ambient Funk tag. If you’ve got even the slightest interest in jazz, nab this. Seriously tasty stuff.
Available from Jeff Oster’s web site.
Before I say anything else about September Traveler from Sound Awakener, let me get one massive peeve out of the way. While composer Nhung Nguyen notes on her Bandcamp page that this is a collection of earlier works, she has apparently chosen to present portions of these works, ending them in a sudden and seemingly arbitrary ways. The first time it happened, at the end of the title track, I thought it was one of those moments where, my music being on my phone, a text message had come in and the phone dipped the mp3 sound briefly. But no, it was the out-of-nowhere end of the track. This happens throughout the disc, and it sounds a bit sloppy. That peeve out of the way, what about the music? Well, it’s varied in approach, ranging from dense washes of sound to repurposing “daily objects” and field recordings, and for me it’s hit or miss. The title track is interesting. Nguyen uses a rich density of sound, just at the edge of being over modulated so that it creates a shifting, somewhat misty wall. It’s hypnotic in its constant shifting tone—and then it drops off the face of the planet. “Pale Morning” stems, I believe, from her experiments with music boxes (seen here). The halting, tinny sound has a certain intriguing charm as it staggers forward—and then it just stops cold. Nguyen gives 16 minutes over to “The Shade You’ve Become” and spends that time showing her dark, hard side. This is a gritty, snarling thing based in piano, carved out of fisted chords and resonance. There’s a nice raw emotion to it; to my ears, it leaks out anger and pain. This is also the only place where Nguyen’s penchant for inexplicable fade-outs doesn’t mar the moment. Then again, it’s had 16 minutes to have its say.
Sound Awakener’s work is experimental in nature, focused on “creating an endless sonic world, where the connection between music, awareness, nature and technology appears.” I like the compositional ideas that are happening here, though I recognize that some listeners may not find an easy point of entry. Once they’re in, however, it would be nice if the rug wasn’t yanked out from under them at the end of every track. A smoother editing hand would be welcome on future endeavors.
Available from the Sound Awakener Bandcamp site.
Calm and beautiful electro-acoustic music is standing by to massage your temples and soothe your soul on COAST from Jack Hertz and rizorkestra. The setup is pretty simple: guitar, vibes, voice, and electronics. Well, that and a heaping dose of laid-back California attitude. Through three mid-length tracks and one deep, 33-minute cut, Hertz and rizorkestra (may I call you Riz?) give off the feel of two guys just quietly finding their way along, riding with and building off each other, letting the sound guide the sound from one shape to the next. Riz’s guitar playing threads through everything, showing up as speedy little runs, classical-flair burst, and the crisp ping of well-placed harmonics. All the while sounding like he’s just playfully noodling, the notes just floating out of him onto the strings like a reflex. On “Low Tone,” his vibraphone work is packed with jazz influences as he glissando’s his way up and down the scale. Chanting vocals, wordless yet emotional, add an earthy tone that comes up just short of prayer. And let us not overlook Hertz’s side of the equation; his ambient backdrops run soft and deep, the passive answer to Riz’s comparatively dynamic role. In moments when the guitar or vibes pause to take a breath, the beauty of Hertz’s synth work bobs briefly to the surface. This is a true sharing of musical space, a vital and perfect chemistry that goes to work on the listener from the first note. The long track, “Fog Raiser,” is worth the download alone. The main flow is fully immersive, and Riz’s jazzy runs come like sudden bursts of excitement and discovery. The fact that you can hear the muted tap of fingers on fretboard makes it very personal. Around the 20-minute mark things gets quite vivacious, a very cool departure from the rest of the album’s more settled-in tone. Sequencer-like notes launch off into an orbit around your head and the guitar takes on a mandolin-like quality, that hummingbird’s wing strumming—and then it just as suddenly quiets back down. I can’t get enough of Riz’s playing here. If there’s a part of the guitar he’s not using, I’m not hearing it. His control over the dynamics of playing is impeccable. It’s a very pleasant sensation to have Hertz’s keys keeping my breathing low and slow as Riz’s guitar buzzes ticklishly in my ears and head and pings my inner jazz lover over and over.
Here’s the best way for me to encapsulate this: As I’m writing the end of this review, the album is coming to a close. I’ve heard what I need to hear to say what I need to say, but each time I try to move the mouse up the “Stop” button and set COAST aside, I stop myself. I just want to hear it a little more. Maybe I’ll let it loop just one more time…
A stunning album that you must have.
Available from Aural Films.
My policy at Hypnagogue has always been to review everything that is sent to me. Albums like Beginner’s Luck from Sergey Kostyrko and Rutger Zuydervelt make me want to reconsider that policy. It’s a two-track release, originally on cassette, and what you get here is 22 minutes of small electronic sounds pulled out of modular synths, effects pedals, radio and “other electronics.” If you like experimental, minimalist noise work, this will land in your wheelhouse. It buzzes, it throbs, it hits you with punches of interference…and it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The first few minutes of the second track made me pay some attention, but the rest of this live improv puts me firmly in the middle of feeling like I don’t get it. I’ll take a pass on this one.
Available from Spina!rec on Bandcamp.