Album: REDHOOKER – Vespers (Soft Landing 2010)

Redhooker is a Brooklyn based chamber quartet / quintet led by Slow Six’s guitarist Stephen Griesgraber. Also on board are current and former Slow Six violinists Ben Lively and Maxim Moston, plus third violinist Andie Springer and bass clarinetist Peter Hess. Since their last mini LP, 2007’s The Future According to Yesterday, the ensemble’s sound has changed with the loss of Rob Collins’ electric piano. This leaves the guitar and bass clarinet to provide much of the rhythmic structure while the violins provide most of the melodic colour.

The six tracks that make up Vespers include four composed pieces and two lengthy improvisations. The former are generally reflective chamber pieces, although “Friction” has a sprightly air about it and “Trip and Fall” builds from something melancholy into something full-blooded and joyful..

The improvised tracks have a completely different character, with drone and space as their foundation. “Presence and Reflection” is like a dust cloud of sound that gradually coalesces and gains form and structure with a simple guitar progression emerging more than half way through that has a melody the others eventually follow and work around. It’s a beautifully constructed and paced piece. “Black Light Poster Child” creaks and sighs like the hull of a galleon, before drifting into a narcotic drone-piece over which micro-melodies rise and fall. And then it gradually dissolves away into the void.

The composed pieces are delightful and full of charm, especially the closing track, but for me it’s the two longform works that make Vespers essential listening.

Tracks
1 . Standing Still 5:48
2 . Bedside 5:35
3 . Presence and Reflection 12:53
4 . Friction 4:32
5 . Black Light Poster Child 14:26
6 . Trip and Fall 6:24

Websites
www.myspace.com/redhooker

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Album: SLOW SIX – Tomorrow Becomes You (Western Vinyl 2010)

Since Rachel’s went on hiatus, there has been a huge number of acts treading the line between rock and neo-classical music, often with a side order of electronica. Whilst many are outstanding, what most are best at is that wispy melancholia that strings bring readily. The ‘rock’ part of the equation generally takes a back seat – and for good reason, because strings and drums often clash leaving a sound that’s urgent but tinny, without any real depth to it.

Slow Six’s 2007 album Private Times In Public Places had a fullness of sound to it unlike most of their peers, even if the prevalent mood was downbeat. The tracks’ duration was also of an almost Mahlerian scale, even if the band are essentially a chamber outfit. Tomorrow Becomes You is a shorter work, tighter and more concise. It also boasts a gloriously full sound that mixes any number of influences to create a varied but coherent whole. There are traces of influences as varied as the emotional scrapings of Dirty Three to the intellectual bombast of King Crimson, but nothing is allowed to meander meaninglessly, and neither are there any dreary displays of look-at-me virtuosity for the sake of it.

Essentially, the album consists of five pieces programmed as seven tracks. It’s topped and tailed by two upbeat epics where the strings share the melodic burden equally with the guitars. Full and multi-faceted, both are rich with melody and warmth. There is a symmetry to the record, and “Because Together We Resonate” provides the calm centre. It’s a beatless piece that sounds quite loose as if much of it is improvised. A bed of piano and subtle electronics provide the platform for the dominant violin.

Either side of the centre, there are a couple of two part pieces that fit together in different ways. The violin on the first part of “Cloud Cover” plays short, stacatto phrases that repeat, but change, giving the track a mechanical, serialist feel. Its twin is also its opposite, sweeping and lush like an organic take on ambient electronica. While “Cloud Cover”‘s parts are contrasting, the halves of “Sympathetic Response System” are more complementary. Starting with deep electro-bass pulses, part one is a showcase for some terrifically inventive drumming, that builds from simple rimshots into far more complex rhythms. The guitar provides the primary accompaniment, with the strings appearing as an afterthought towards the end. Part two uses the same melodic themes, but begins like an extended, downtempo coda, before it builds into a more rhythmically simple variation of the main theme.

Tomorrow Becomes You is a superb set that eschews the minimalist fashion followed by most neo-classical groups for something much richer and complex, but never gets bogged down by its own cleverness. It’s an emotional record that is equally at home with a happy face as it is a sad one.

Tracks
1. The Night You Left New York 9:10
2. Cloud Cover (part 1) 5:51
3. Cloud Cover (part 2) 6:21
4. Because Together We Resonate 6:09
5. Sympathetic Response System (part 1) 7:24
6. Sympathetic Response System (part 2) 7:10
7. These Rivers Between Us 9:26

Websites
westernvinyl.com/artists/slowsix.html
www.slowsix.com/

Album: CHRISTOPHER TIGNOR – Core Memory Unwound (Western Vinyl WV61 2009)

tignor

Taking time out from his band Slow Six, Christopher Tignor has recorded a first solo album that consists of four new pieces, each accompanied with a radically reshaped version. This is much more than an EP with remixes, though. The re-imaginings shadow their source material, twisting and morphing it into something totally new.

Each of the odd numbered tracks on the album are chamber pieces played by violinist Colin Jacobsen and pianist Margaret Kampfmeier. “Last Thought at Night” is delicate and wistful, whilst the two “Meeting In a Colored Shadow” pieces are both steeped in a gentle melancholia. “Cathedral pt 1” is much harsher and modernist – short arrhythmic stabs of piano are accompanied by quick bursts of clustered notes on the violin, with intermittent slow fragments. Each works well as a standalone piece. They may be the raw ingredients for their twins, but they are much more than musical clay to be worked.

Having said that, the reworkings are where the magic happens. “Last Night on Eagle Street” leaves the piano unchanged, but now it functions as a calm centre amongst layers of stormy violin loops, each swelling and rolling like a rough seascape. The title track is much more low key. The electronics are subtle, but the source elements are rendered unrecognisable – synthetic but warm. “Left in Fragments” squeezes the piano into Reich-like rhythmic loops, with the violin stretched out so it sounds like something between a viola and a cello. Finally, the sharp angles of the first part of “Cathedral” are polished into a smooth, almost drone-like finale. The melodic patterns are recognisably the same. But like wrapping a jagged object in layers and layers of paper, the shape becomes an amorphous blob. The mood changes from caffeine-high jumpiness to somnolent melancholy.

Core Memory Unwound is a fascinating experiment in composition. More importantly, though, it works as an album or suite. You need know nothing about its concept to appreciate it as music. There’s a deep well of warmth and feeling to the record, and that’s the secret to its success. A triumph.

Tracks
1 Last Thought at Night 7:01
2 Last Night on Eagle Street 7:32
3 Meeting In a Colored Shadow 6:08
4 Core Memory Unwound 5:49
5 Meeting In a Colored Shadow 2 8:49
6 Left in Fragments 8:14
7 Cathedral pt 1 5:02
8 Cathedral pt 2 5:23

Websites
westernvinyl.com
www.wiresundertension.com

Album: SLOW SIX – Private Times In Public Places (Western Vinyl WEST047 2007)

slowsix.jpg

So there I was scrabbling through the box of CDs to stick on Ebay when I came across this one. Three tracks? Must be an EP. I thought I’d check it out on Amazon, just to see what info (if any) I could glean. What I found was a gushing review by someone who seemed to have been struck by some holy vision. My curiosity aroused, I gave it a spin. My reaction? In a word – fuck! In four – fuck, this is good!

Private Times In Public Places is far from an EP. In old money it would be considered a double album. The shortest track isn’t much shy of twenty minutes, and the longest lasts more than half an hour. This isn’t self-indulgent noodling, but simply some of the saddest music I’ve ever heard. Taking elements of minimalism, English pastoralism, post rock and electronica, the Slow Six spin out long, mesmeric, atmospheric and simply heart-breaking tunes. The three pieces are composed by Christopher Tignor who also produced and arranged the music, tweaking it with his laptop. The actual instrumentation consists of violin, viola, cello, two electric guitars and Fender Rhodes electric piano. The album was originally self-released in 2004 and only now is getting a proper issue. The pieces themselves date from as far back as 2000.

“This Is Your Last Chance” starts with taped voices. Nothing much happens for the next two minutes, before the slow, mournful piano fades in with a motif that sounds like a desperately depressed music box. The violin kicks in halfway into the piece with that exquisite sadness that only a violin can really capture. This is the music of summer dawns in English meadows. “Evening Without Atonement” is a computer abetted violin/electric piano duet. The keyboard provides the chassis to the track with a repeated, but subtly changing pattern underpinning the violin which is, at first, slow and mournful, then is locked into a series of arpeggiations on a basic chord pattern, and finally flows free and unfettered.

“The Lines We Walked When We Walked Once Together” (even the titles have that sense of true contentment achieved and then irretrievably lost) brings the whole group together for a piece that lasts a full half hour. It combines elements of drone and a kind of post-rock pastoralism into a suite which ebbs and flows, but always remains interesting and emotionally involving. Private Times In Public Places is one of those rare albums that seem to come from nowhere. There is a tradition of post-rock neo-classicism exemplified by Rachel’s and Clogs which Slow Six fits into, but no band has really attempted to create pieces on this scale before. It’s a stunning album that deserves a wide audience. Those with a short attention span may want to avoid it though.

Tracks
1 This Is Your Last Chance (Before I Sleep) (23:52)
2 Evening Without Atonement (18:45)
3 The Lines We Walked When We Walked Once Together (30:32)

Website
http://westernvinyl.com/west047.htm