Minimalism has long lurked in its own corner within the popular music universe. Far too esoteric to ever give the upper reaches of the pop charts too much bother, rock music that embraces the ethic of making maximum use of minimal materials has nonetheless had cataclysmic effects on the music’s development over time. From the work of German minimalist pioneers like Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk, to David Bowie’s epochal “Low,” and through efforts from Bryan Ferry, Tortoise, Wilco and Godspeed You Black Emperor, the notion of developing melodic and rhythmic motifs that appear at first to be simple into slow-burning, grandiose statements has done rock music a lot of good and helped it move in often unexpected, fresh directions.
Scottish outfit Mogwai – more often than not referred to as a “post-rock” band, which is meant to denote a certain adherence to rules above and beyond the conventional popular music set – has been crafting instrumental pieces steeped in minimalism and redolent of electronic, alternative and ambient movements, since 1995. The band already has a few classics under its belt, but though it remains popular and continues to create music on an elevated artistic plane, it is generally held to be a fact that Mogwai’s most groundbreaking work is behind it. This may or may not be true, but if it is – what a relief! Unburdened of such temporal notions, the Glasgow boys appear to be free to do whatever the heck they feel like doing.
Which may explain why “Rave Tapes” is such a moving collection of, yes, minimalist instrumental mood pieces. Don’t be misled, though – this is not music meant to be thrown on at a soft volume to help your plants grow while you’re away from the house, nor is it designed as aural wallpaper for your dinner party. There is muscle here, as gentle lilting melodies evolve into sinister themes played on heavily distorted electric guitars and commando-style synths. The music moves and breathes at a consistently down-tempo pace, but what is roiling and bubbling beneath the surface is music that might serve as a suitable soundtrack for a particular potent fever-dream. It’s trippy, is what I’m trying to say.
The spoken-word accompaniment provided for “Repelish” offers a bit of comic relief right at the album’s midpoint, as an ironic exposition on the supposed satanic backmasking included on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” floats deadpan above a moodily beautiful, synth-heavy slab of space rock. But its the album-concluding pairing of “No Medicine for Regret” and “The Lord Is Out Of Control” that most ably encapsulates the moody, menacing beauty of Mogwai’s potent minimalism.
– Jeff Miers
Ambition is not only alive and well and flourishing in the world of jazz recording, it is making compositional inroads where it hadn’t before. Pianist Danilo Perez’s large-scale orchestral portrait of Panama interweaves strings, rhythm sections, chants and all manner of jazz improvisation in a way that, according to Perez, is something like a score for an imaginary film about his native country’s past and present. It’s a bit reminiscent, in that regard, of a hidden masterpiece from the ’60s, Lalo Schifrin’s “The New Continent” featuring Dizzy Gillespie.
There’s no question that all of the playing on the disc isn’t on the level of Perez’s pianism or the accompaniment by his partners in Wayne Shorter’s band, bassist John Pattitucci and drummer Brian Blade. But even on a different instrumental level, his writing for strings is fascinating. His mates in his regular piano trio – bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz – are deployed with formidable intelligence.
Not all of it works, but it’s an extremely heartening bit of jazz orchestral ambition in an era that is making it increasingly common. Explaining a piece called “Gratitude,” Perez tells us “I started thinking about everyone from my father and my mother to my teachers, Dizzy Gillespie to Steve Lacy to Jack DeJohnette and Roy Haynes, all the way to Wayne Shorter, my wife, kids. I felt so much gratitude making this record.” You’ll have little trouble understanding why.
– Jeff Simon
Oboe and Harp at the Opera
Celine Moinet, oboe and English horn, and Sarah Christ, harp
The sweet sound of the oboe doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Think of that scene in “Enchanted April” when you heard the instrument solo, surrounded by beauty. If you liked that scene you will like this album, a light-listening collection of 19th century melodies. Some are opera arias, but two pieces, by Donizetti and Jacques Ibert, were written just for this configuration.
There is an aria from Schubert’s rarely performed opera “Die Zauberharfe” (“The Magic Harp”), and French music by Arthur Honegger, Benjamin Godard and Henri Brod. And there are two selections by Richard Wagner. One is the Italianate “O du mein holder Abendstern” from “Tannhauser,” with the oboe taking the introduction solo and the harp joining in on the famous melody. The other is the bittersweet three-minute long English horn solo – probably the greatest English horn solo of all time – that introduces the harrowing Act III of “Tristan and Isolde.”
Moinet has a rich, smooth tone and Sarah Christ accompanies her in easy camaraderie. The calm, lovely disc ends with a courtly fantasy by Antonio Pasculli on themes by Donizetti.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
[Plus Loin Music]
You can always triangulate newer jazz talent by looking at a young musician’s friends.
Big-toned Israeli tenor saxophonist Eli Degibri has toured with Herbie Hancock and recorded with Al Foster and Brad Mehldau, both of whom are eager to praise him to the skies. (Foster: “Most saxophonists from the young generation have great technique, better than saxophonists from my generation, but they can’t tell a story. Eli knows how to tell a story, there’s a lot of feeling in his playing, a lot of thought and he’s a wonderful melodist.” Mehldau: “Everything he is playing sounds like he just had to play that and nothing else – even though he’s really improvising.”)
All of which is another way of saying that his sound is similar to the post-Mike Brecker tenor sound so common among tenor players under 40 (he is 35), but that both his compositions and his solos are gripping in a way that the fine saxophonists are and not the well-schooled tyros.
“Joining me on this recording,” he says, “are two very young and astonishingly talented musicians: pianist Gadi Lehavi (16 years old) and drummer Ofri Nehemya (18 years old)” as well as bassist Barak Mori, whom Degibri calls his best friend.
This is a band that sounds as if it has played together 10 years and Degibri is a musician who, it certainly seems, is worth listening carefully to under all circumstances.
On the final selection “The Cave,” there’s a chorus, and on another singer Shlomo Ydov. And on “Autumn in New York” Degibri said “the song helped me imagine NYC before I even set foot on its streets and this is my heartfelt version after living there for 15 amazing years of my life.”
The urban love and gratitude are palpable.