Corner Painter

in a corner

Q: What’s small, female, Australian and brilliant?

A: Tal Wilkenfeld.

No, it’s not a joke. It’s what I asked Mrs. Crotchety the other day after reading a blog post by CirdecSongs. The article was a personal appreciation of Jeff Beck and it just happened to mention Beck’s bass player on his Live At Ronnie Scott’s album. In Cedric’s words:

The tiny Australian bassist had jaws scraping the floor as she played with style and soul well beyond her years.

As a diminutive ex-bass player myself I’m well aware that small hands are a handicap you really don’t need for that instrument. Being small, young, female and still good enough to draw that sort of remark is, well, remarkable. Hell, touring with Jeff Beck would be the apex of most musicians’ careers and in 2007, aged 20, Tal was just starting out on hers. Crotchety Man instantly developed an itch he just had to scratch.

Who is this woman with a strange name? How did she come to be in Jeff Beck’s band? What else has she done? Tell me Wikipedia, please.

Tal

The cyberspace oracle does provide a few details about Tal Wilkenfeld’s life and career to date. I won’t try to summarise them here. What strikes you most is that Tal was playing bass with musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Prince, The Who (as support act), Chick Corea and, of course, Jeff Beck at a relatively tender age. Her Wikipedia page lists collaborations with another couple of dozen big name artists, too. That’s a C.V. to be mighty proud of.

And that’s not all. In 2007, when she was still virtually unknown, Ms. Wilkenfeld formed her own band, recorded some of her own compositions and released the album, Transformation. The tunes on that record fall squarely into the jazz fusion category and Tal’s bass playing sounds a lot like Jeff Berlin on some of Bill Bruford’s albums. (That’s a Crotchety Man 5-star recommendation, by the way.)

More recently, Wilkenfeld has ventured into song writing. On what Wikipedia describes as her ‘upcoming’ second album she sings her own songs as well as playing guitar and bass. But that seems to be old news. Corner Painter, the album’s title track, was released as a single over a year ago, on 3rd March 2016. Tomorrow a live version of Corner Painter is due to be released on the Tal Wilkenfeld YouTube channel. But I can find no evidence that the album will be out any time soon.

I did, however, find this YouTube video that fits the description for tomorrow’s video release perfectly. Is it the same one? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

After the exciting sounds of Wilkenfeld’s bass playing I find this latest single rather less convincing. It’s a perfectly good song, Tal’s voice is pleasant enough and there’s nothing wrong with the performance. It just doesn’t rise far enough above the bar set by myriads of singer/songwriters out there to get the pulse racing. Tal Wilkenfeld is no competition for Taylor Swift. Then again, Taylor Swift doesn’t play bass guitars like Tal Wilkenfeld.

Postscript, 17 October 2017

The video that was released yesterday is different. It’s from her set opening for The Who and it’s rather good.

SaveSave

Feathers

feathers

As promised in the previous post, here is my review of Feathers, the 2014 album by Poppy Ackroyd. It will be brief, not because the music is dull but because no dictionary in Crotchety Man’s extensive library has adequate words for the soothing, susurrating sounds that emanate from the hi-fi when it is commanded to play this album.

poppyPoppy Ackroyd is a classically trained pianist and violinist. She is also a composer and a permanent member of Hidden Orchestra. In her solo work she uses piano and violin instruments almost exclusively. But the piano might be her own Blüthner grand, a modern electronic piano or borrowed museum keyboard instruments – harmonium, clavichord, harpsichord and spinet can all be heard on Feathers. Her violin is a twenty-first century electric model whose body looks like the skeletal remains of an ancient sea-creature and whose sound would please the ear of Antonio Stradivari himself. Further sonic variety is provided by guest cellist Su-a Lee and percussive sounds obtained when Poppy tapped the frames of her instruments.

Feathers, though, is not an album of contrasting styles. It is 40 minutes of relaxing, ambient music. All eight tracks would be a perfect accompaniment to an idle browse through an incense and trinkets shop. I can just hear the assistant asking, “Scented candle, sir?”, or “Javan bead necklace, madam?”. (All the wood products are from  ‘sustainable’ sources, of course.) Poppy Ackroyd is completely at home with electronic gadgets but she uses them to add subtle tonal variations to the sound of her traditional instruments rather than to create outlandish effects. “Feathers Unplugged”, if it should ever be made, wouldn’t be very different from the album we can hear today.

piano

If piano and violin duets are not your thing you might want to skip the rest of this post. If ambient music, no matter how elegantly constructed, only sends you to sleep perhaps you should save Feathers for a restless night. But, if you like the occasional bit of Mogwai and you have a quiet evening ahead of you, put on the headphones and give this album a spin. It will while away the time most pleasantly, I assure you.

In the meantime, here’s a live performance of the title track and Rain from the Feathers album. Are you sitting comfortably? Then press Play and imagine yourself on Brighton’s stoney beach where seagull feathers huddle against the breakwaters and a light rain makes the streetlights shimmer and twinkle. The shore is deserted and the sound of the sea murmurs in a spiral shell that you hold against your ear. It is a time to savour the peace that comes from solitude.

Bolek i Lolek

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Nearly a year ago now Crotchety Man got very excited about a band/project called Hidden Orchestra. Regular readers will remember my review of the album Archipelago in which I introduced the term “orchestral beats” to describe the music of Joe Acheson and his collaborators. Since then there has been one other post in these pages tagged “orchestral beats” (Cantorum by Penguin Café) and the next Album of the Month will be on Feathers, a solo album with a similar feel by another member of Hidden Orchestra, the violinist and pianist, Poppy Ackroyd.

But, first, I want to bring your attention to the orchestral beat music from Clarinet Factory. Please don’t be put off when I tell you that Clarinet Factory is a clarinet quartet from the Czech Republic. All four players are classically trained and they draw on a wide range of influences from Bach through to jazz and other forms of modern music. They adapt and interpret other composers’ work; they also write their own pieces. And sometimes they add voice, percussion and electronics. (Now you’re taking notice, aren’t you?)

Where Hidden Orchestra‘s sound relies heavily on electronic instruments Clarinet Factory create very modern music almost entirely from traditional instruments. Just listen to what they can do with four clarinets and a few recorded natural sounds in this YouTube clip of a track from their latest album, Meadows, released in March of this year.

If you were paying attention you will have noticed a direct connection between Hidden Orchestra and Clarinet Factory – Joe Acheson is credited on the video. My guess is that Joe provided the recordings of the trains and the bees that he mentions on Facebook and he may well have had a hand in producing the record.

Judging by their concert schedule Clarinet Factory are reasonably well-known in the Czech Republic. They have also performed in a number of other European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, UK, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Israel) and even in China and Japan. As far as I know, though, they have never visited the U.S. Perhaps that’s just as well because I have a feeling they may find it hard to find an audience over there.

on stage

Clarinet Factory – WOMEX 2015

Crotchety Man’s knowledge of the Czech language is non-existent so I don’t know what Bolek i Lolek means. Google translate tells me that the equivalent English is something like “Bolek i Lolek”, which I interpret as a polite way of saying that my request indicates a level of intelligence slightly below that of a snail. So what picture, I wondered, should head up this post? Well, that troublesome track title sounds like a double act to me: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That sort of thing.

So that, if you were wondering, explains the little slide show at the top of this post.

Raise High …

roof beam

I have a hard time finding a genre for Black Peaches, a band formed in 2014 by Rob Smoughton, the drummer with Hot Chip and Scritti Politti. On the band’s Facebook page they describe their music as Southern Boogie, Country-Soul, Disco-Rock and Jazz. That’s a combination the Crotchety Mind just can’t grok. To make things worse for the overheating grey cell circuits, in Black Peaches Smoughton doesn’t take the drummer’s seat at the back, he plays the role of guitarist and frontman.

On this occasion Wikipedia has been unable to supply the Medicinal Compound of moderately reliable information that the brain craves. There are no pages for Black Peaches, Rob Smoughton or Smoughton’s disco drummer alter ego, Grosvenor. Poor old Crotchety Man floundered around in cyberspace for a mind-numbingly long time until a  voice from a galaxy far, far away whispered in his ear, “use the source, Luke”.

She wasn’t speaking to me, of course, and I probably mis-heard the words but suddenly my course was clear. If Google can’t find it it’s not out there. I should stop hunting for verbal descriptions and go back to the primary source, the music. So, without further ado, here is the last track on their 2016 album, Get Down You Dirty Rascals. It’s called Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters¹. I’ll leave you to choose a genre.

“Raise high the roof beam, carpenters” is a quote from a fragment of verse by the ancient Greek poet, Sappho, and was used as the title of a J. D. Salinger novella. Whether the song was inspired by Sappho’s poetry or Salinger’s prose is unclear. Both the poet and the novelist write about a bridegroom, in Sappho’s account one who is “taller far than a tall man”. Presumably that is why the roof beams must be raised so high. But the song tells of a woman accused of witchcraft, bringing to mind the notorious Salem witch trials in Massachusetts at the end of the 17th century. I don’t remember a tall bridegroom in The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s play about the witch trials, but the songwriter may have had another connection in mind.

The Crucible was allegorical. It was intended as a warning about rampant McCarthyism in 1950s America. Perhaps the Black Peaches song is a comment on the modern world, too. The people of Salem were rent asunder by trumped up charges of devil worship and witchcraft. Is today’s world being torn apart by false accusations and religious fundamentalism? Do we believe the media are peddling “fake news” and the U.S. has been treated unfairly by the rest of the world or are these Trumped-up charges? Is this what Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters is trying to say?

the band

Black Peaches

Endnote

  1. YouTube carries a video of Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters, but it’s blocked in the UK. Here’s the link if you want to try it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jza_ufKRJbQ&index=5&list=PL3bIl3kHP7C2EOXmBAxkfmtvMy0Nt_iag.