Gnosis is a multifaceted avant-garde album featuring a extensive series of musical illustrations by Cuban pianist David Virelles. There is unconventional piano experimentation, captivating Afro-Cuban rhythmic performances, and jazz improvisation.
The highlights on Gnosis ae the piano and percussion ensemble pieces where Virelles collaborates with percussionist Román Diaz and the Nosotros Ensemble.
Musicians featured in Gnosis include David Virelles on piano, marimbula, vocals; Román Díaz on lead vocals, percussion; Allison Loggins-Hull on flute, piccolo; Rane Moore on clarinet and bass clarinet; Adam Cruz on steel pan, claves; Alex Lipowksi on percussion; Matthew Gold on marimba, glockenspiel; Mauricio Herrera on ekón, nkonos, erikundi, claves; Thomas Morgan on bass; Yunior Lopez on viola; Christine Chen and Samuel DeCaprio on cello; Melvis Santa and Mauricio Herrera on background vocals.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Jon Hassell grew up with ears alert to divergent aspects of the jazz tradition, one early influence including Maynard Ferguson’s “stratospheric” trumpeting with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. While studying at the Eastman School of Music, Hassell became increasingly interested in serial music and more experimental expressions of the new music avant-garde, in the mid-1960s traveling to Cologne to study with pioneering composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Returning to New York in 1967 he met and befriended Terry Riley. Hassell played on Riley’s landmark recording In C, and was introduced by Riley to La Monte Young with whose Dream House project he toured through the 1970s.
An encounter with the music of Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath was fundamental. Hassell studied extensively with Pran Nath, subsequently incorporating vocal techniques of raga into his trumpet playing, developing a new style for his instrument and his music as a whole.
Vernal Equinox (1977) laid down the essence of the idiosyncratic yet wide-open musical expression Hassell has continued to develop and redefine over the past decades: “My aim was to make a music that was vertically integrated in such a way that at any cross-sectional moment you were not able to pick a single element out as being from a particular country or genre of music.”
In 1986 Brian Eno, a frequent collaborator, would observe that “Jon Hassell is an inventor of new forms of music – of new ideas of what music could be and how it might be made. His work is drawn from his whole cultural experience without fear or prejudice. It is an optimistic, global vision that suggests not only possible musics but possible futures.” An enticing proposal for the most diverse musicians, Hassell’s collaborators over the years have ranged from Peter Gabriel to the Kronos Quartet, Ry Cooder and rock star Bono, and his trumpet performances have featured on recordings with Björk, Baaba Maal, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ani di Franco, David Sylvian, the Talking Heads and many others.
Additionally his playing and/or music has been heard in numerous films including The Last Temptation of Christ, Trespass, Wild Side, Greenwich Mean Time, Angel Eyes, Owning Mahowny, Million Dollar Hotel and more.
In April 2009, Jon Hassell and Brian Eno delivered their Conversation Piece at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. This “conversational remix”, an animated juxtaposing of philosophies of life, art and music, was premiered to acclaim at Norway’s Punkt Festival in 2008.
Polish chamber ensemble Lautari recreates folk music traditions using contemporary music techniques. The album title Vol.67 refers to the significant ethnographic work of Oskar Kolberg. He wrote about Polish folk traditions, including song and dance.
While other artists combine folk music with rock, jazz and electronica, Lautari look at folk music under the prism of contemporary classical music, using avant-garde arrangements and adding freeform improvisation.
The lineup on Vol. 67 Live 2014 includes Maciej Filipczuk on fiddle; Jacek Hałas on prepared piano and accordion; and Michał Żak on clarinet, flute and shawm. Guests: Marcin Pospieszalski and Marcin Lamch on double bass.
Vol. 67 Live 2014 was recorded at Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic in Lodz, Poland. It comes packaged in hard cover book with extensive notes in Polish and English, vintage photos and illustrations.
Robert Glasper Experiment – Artscience (Blue Note, 2016)
I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time.
We’re explained Artscience on the track “This Is Not Fear”: ‘my people’s music’. In other words, ‘my people’s music’ is its genre, ‘my people’s music’ is its purpose, ‘my people’s music’ is the root of its songs’ aesthetics.
When famed ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax went looking for Jazz’s roots (he documents this in the book Mister Jelly Roll) he found himself speaking to folks who all had a trade, a prestigious thing in old New Orleans, played Jazz for the art. Alphonse Picou, a legendary clarinetist, who wrote the classic “High Society,” owned several homes. Eventually, the often creole tradespeople he met were ostracized from the roles they traditionally played in New Orleans society. Some of these creoles became professional Jazz musicians to make a living. Thus began the second chapter to the history of a music meant to both be fine art and entertain seedy society: both an art and a science.
“Day To Day” sounds a bit like disco, with hints of go-go. The singing is auto-tuned which is very unexpected in a Jazz song. The organ playing reminds of a Stevie Wonder performance and the beat Micheal Jackson; it’s a medley of musical goodness. The lyrics are sung in the present tense in which a guy quite plainly tells a girl / boy that he’s “living day day to day” and to “show me the way to your heart”; nothing that would persuade a girl / boy really but easy to sing along to. It ends with the band laughing, as if the end of a Hip Hop song.
Like for “Day To Day,” the lyrics of “No One Like You” are pretty simple and don’t get under the skin. However, they are easy to sing along to. The song’s drums are out of this world, to be up front about listening to them play through this composition. The piano playing is impressionistic, controlled; beautiful.
“Find You” is sung in the past tense and the future tense, in aim to produce an ideal present. The jamming in the song is great Jazz. It’s the best written song on this album and a song for our times obsessed with becoming and with change. “Find you” could be about a man or a woman but it could also be about social peace; the ambiguity of its lyrics makes it phenomenal to sing along to.
This is an avant-garde listen: songs by those who venture out to test the waters, as the term first meant in military speak. This is spirituality, intellect, and beauty.
For music junkies looking for something off the beaten path, you might want to check out Chiaroscuro, a recording out now on the Bent Records label. It’s a collaboration between harmonic singing group Baird Hersey & Prana and the Toronto-based percussion group Nexus led by Garry Kvistad.
Mr. Kvistad and Nexus have an extensive performing, touring and recording history that includes such recordings as Paul Horn and Nexus, Changes, Origins, Toccata, Lullaby, DrumTalker, Rituals and Out of the Blue.
As luck would have it that this collaboration came out of a new instrument built by Mr. Kvistad– the vistaphone. The vistaphone is a set of chimes that are tuned to the same harmonics and scale to the second higher pitch used by harmonic singers. Add in the vibraphones, xylophones, orchestral drums, glockenspiel, Chinese gongs, Balinese gongs, marimba and the Balinese instrument the gender used in gamelan music and immerse the lot into the singers and harmonic singers of Prana and you turn out Chiaroscuro.
Borrowed from an art term and defined as the effect created out of intense contrast of light and dark, Chiaroscuro delves deep into contrasts of light and dark, the ancient and the contemporary and East and West.
From the very opening of “A Splinter of Dawn” through tracks like “The Rituals of Dusk” and “A Vast Expanse of Sky,” the listener is lulled by a charm of ethereal vocals, the tang of bells and gongs and the reedy turns of harmonic singing.
While this recording might not be to everyone’s taste, this combination explores the music wholly through percussion and the human voice. Tracks like “A Crown of Radiant Fire” and “Luminous Ocean, Rising Waves” build on that contrast between light and dark even by way of track sequencing.
Falling further down the rabbit’s hole, listeners get the full force of Prana’s singers by way of tracks like “We Are All in the Garden,” “The Wheel of Impermanence” and “The Lord of the Monkeys” in the Vox Pulsaitio section without percussion on the recording.
While some might pass off Chiaroscuro as a little too avant garde for easy listening, it’s always good to step out of one’s comfort zone. The performances on Chiaroscuro are as impeccable as they are impressive. Those into meditation are sure to enjoy the contrasts of the first seven tracks with their ethereal light, harmonic singing and gamelan influences and those listening for vibrancy the bare bones interworking of vocals are truly stunning.