Future Strings

harp + kora

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita

Crotchety Man has been bingeing on prog rock recently so I thought it was time for something rather different. As luck would have it my Release Radar this week included an enchanting track called Listen to the Grass Grow by Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita. Now, I used a photo of Catrin Finch in an earlier post so I already knew she plays the Celtic harp. The tune on the Radar sounded like a harp duet but, after a little googling, I found that the second instrument is actually a kora.

What’s a kora? Wikipedia tells me that a kora is a 21-string lute-bridge-harp and goes on to explain that it doesn’t fit into any one category of musical instruments. Not being much wiser Crotchety Man went in search of photos. The instrument, he found, looks like a large lute with many strings. But it was still hard to see how it is played. What was needed was a video.

YouTube couldn’t oblige with a video for Listen to the Grass Grow but it does have a mesmerising clip of the Finch/Keita duo playing Future Strings live in 2013. If you want to know what a kora is, watch this video.

I’m not going to try to describe the music other than to point out that I’ve tagged it ‘classical’ and ‘world’. Just watch and listen. If you are open to that kind of music you will not be disappointed, I promise.

Further research turned up another excellent video and the news that Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita are currently touring the UK. Crotchety Man has booked to see them at the Derby Guildhall Theatre on Friday. It’s not often you get the chance to see a Senegalese musician playing a traditional African instrument here in the UK, although it probably helps that this particular artist now lives in a city quite close to Crotchety Mansions.

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita fuse Welsh and Senegalese traditional music, adding African rhythms to Celtic melodies, in what just might become a new sub-genre of ‘world’ music. Perhaps we should call it ‘future strings’.

SaveSave

A Clutch of Collectives

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


collective

adjective

  1. Done by people acting as a group.
    “a collective protest”

noun

  1. A cooperative enterprise.
    “the anarchist collective and bookshop”

What’s the collective noun for ‘collective’? Wiktionary defines a ‘catch’ of ‘collective nouns’ but is silent on ‘collective’ itself. I need to know because this week I want to bring to your attention two new releases by bands calling themselves a collective, and that happy coincidence has given me a flimsy theme for this post. I considered stealing ‘catch’ but that lacks imagination. ‘Collective’ is too obvious and too cute. So, as you can see, I’ve gone for ‘clutch’, which seems appropriate for small numbers like two.

The bands in question are Lydian Collective and Echo Collective. Neither of them has reached the Crotchety ears before so let’s see what that great collection of knowledge known as the Internet says about them.

lydian collective

Lydian Collective

From the About page on the Lydian Collective‘s website:

London’s Lydian Collective are … Aaron ‘Lazslo’ Wheeler (keys), Todd Baker (guitar), Ida Hollis (bass) and Sophie Alloway (drums).

The Lydian Collective sound is a unique combination of accessible melodies, accomplished musicianship, hypnotic rhythms and an uplifting vibe, which has already been drawing in audiences from around the world. A unique combination of jazz musicianship, melodies that catch the ear and the heart, and infectious rhythms …

I’ve tagged them as ‘cocktail jazz’ because their fine musicianship would draw me into the hotel bar, the infectious rhythms would sit me down and those easy-on-the-ear melodies would keep me there for just one more cherry on a cocktail stick. Or two. And if you care to join me I know the evening will just fly by.

echo collective

Echo Collective

Let me get you another Martini and I’ll tell you about Echo Collective. They are Neil Leiter, Margaret Hermant and a few of their musician friends. This Belgian-based collective brings together classically trained musicians who work with modern composers and bands as well as writing their own compositions. There doesn’t seem to be an accepted name for their style of music; it has been called post-classical, neo-classical and non-classical but I think of it as ‘classical crossover’. The instruments are orchestral but the form and structure is twenty first century. The short sample I’m giving you today, though, illustrates their approach better than any words I can write.

Kurt Overbergh of the Ancienne Belgique concert hall commissioned Echo Collective to reinterpret one of Radiohead‘s albums – either Kid A or Amnesiac. According to Leiter they chose the latter because it “had more layers, more complexity, was a little more esoteric, so there was more to chew on and add our sound to”. The result was released as the album, Echo Collective Plays Amnesiac, which gathers together all but one of the Radiohead album tracks and presents them in orchestral form. Does it work? I think so but I hope you’ll judge for yourselves.

Although both Collectives have some videos on YouTube neither of the tracks I’m highlighting today are there so I’ve put together a Spotify playlist. Track 2 is Lydian Collective‘s Lydia’s Dream then there is the original Radiohead version of Knives Out followed by Echo Collective‘s orchestral interpretation of that track.

In a fit of generosity (perhaps it’s your company, perhaps it’s the cocktails) I’ve added three bonus tracks, all of which were in my Release Radar this week. Groove of Satan from Owane‘s Yeah Whatever album provides a short, proggy/jazzy introduction and tacked on at the end there are two slower ballads: Copenhagen by Camille Christel continues the chamber orchestra feel and The Echo of You by Kira Skov and Bonnie “Prince” Billy sounds like a lost Leonard Cohen track, so much so that it even quotes the title of Dance Me To The End of Love in the lyrics.

Some collective nouns are peculiar, some are startlingly apt and some are wildly amusing. Although it’s not official I very much like a flamboyance of flamingos. Then there’s a yearning of yesterdays, a twinkling of todays and a promise of tomorrows. There are plenty more to savour here. Sadly, though, that page doesn’t list a clutch of collectives.

The Black Rock

antarctic ice

March came in with an icy blast here in the UK. We had 10 – 20 cm of snow, much of the country’s transport system ground to a halt and some unfortunate motorists got stuck on a Scottish motorway for eight hours. It was all due to “the beast from the east” – a weather pattern that drew extremely cold air from Siberia across mainland Europe and over the North Sea to chill the bones of the British people. The beast didn’t stay long but this weekend he wagged his tail again and some parts of the country have had freezing temperatures and more snow showers. So I thought it was time to feature a track by the Scottish group, The Cauld Blast Orchestra, in these pages.

You won’t find the Cauld Blast on streaming sites. There are a few videos on YouTube, all uploaded by a member of the band, Steve Kettley. Those videos are live recordings with less than perfect sound quality and intrusive text captions added by the video recorder. They serve as an archive of the band’s performances but they don’t do full justice to the 8-piece orchestra. So Crotchety Man has had a go at making a YouTube video from his copy of an album the band released in 1994. Here’s The Black Rock from Durga’s Feast.

I think I must have picked up the CD at the end of a concert but, frankly, I don’t remember the occasion at all now. Certainly, I was not familiar with the band before buying the shiny round disc in the standard jewel case. Steve Kettley’s website describes Cauld Blast‘s music as a “heady mix of jazz, folk, classical and rock, not to mention the odd tango or march for good measure”. That sounds like an event for the local arts centre and that’s probably where this seeker of all things weird (wonderful or not) stumbled upon them.

Between them the eight members of the band play nearly all the instruments in a modern orchestra: violin, cello, flute, clarinet, tenor horn, tuba and piano all feature on Durga’s Feast. Whistle, concertina, accordion and mandolin add folk music sounds to the mix. Then there are saxophones, bass guitar, drums and assorted percussion to spice up the tunes with a little jazz. Notable by their absence are guitars and vocals. The rock element sneaks in surreptitiously in the pulsing rhythms of the compositions.

The Black Rock, though, is a quiet instrumental; “the gentle side of the Cauld Blast” to quote Kettley again. It’s a piece for piano, violin and clarinet that ambles along in a contented 5-time, just the thing for looking out onto snow-covered fields from a comfortable armchair in a snug room. Come, sit beside me and together we will laugh at the mini-beast as it sidles off to bring shivers to some other part of the world.

cauld blast orchestra, trimmed

The Fairie Round

voyager

An article in New Scientist about the Voyager 1 space craft caught the Crotchety eye the other day. It reports that the primary thrusters that keep Voyager’s antenna pointing towards Earth are beginning to fail. Voyager does have backup thrusters but they had not been fired since 1980 so NASA’s engineers did not know if they would still work. As the craft’s radioisotope thermoelectric generators can power its instruments for another two to three years NASA decided to take the risk of testing the backup thrusters. And they worked perfectly. More than 40 years after launch Voyager 1 is alive and well, flying on through interstellar space and sending back valuable scientific data.

A day or so after reading the New Scientist article a post on the Vinyl Connection blog reminded me of the Golden Record attached to Voyagers 1 and 2. On the Record there are greetings in 55 languages (ancient and modern). There are images depicting: mathematical definitions and physical constants; the sun and its planets; chemical compounds; plants, insects, fish, reptiles and mammals; and human cultural activities. There are recordings of natural sounds (wind, rain, thunder), animal calls (birdsong, dogs barking, whale songs) and machines (handsaw, car, aeroplane, rocket). And there is a collection of musical compositions from a wide variety of places and times.

So, this week, I thought I’d choose something from the Voyager Golden Record as my Track of the Week.

the golden record

Sending out my elvish team of researchers to find the tunes, Crotchety Man waited, unsure what they would find. It wasn’t long before I received a report of a Spotify playlist titled The Sounds of Earth – Voyager Golden Record containing 30 pieces and lasting 1 hr 49 mins. It seemed we had hit the bullseye with the first dart. But then I noticed that most of the tunes in the playlist came from an album called The Voyager Interstellar Record – most, but not all.

Delving deeper into the cold darkness of cyberspace my little band of little people discovered several things: that in 2015 NASA made the Golden Record available on SoundCloud, where it lasts for 1 hr 27 mins 30 secs; that The Voyager Interstellar Record contains 19 tracks, was released by NASA in 2011 and lasts for 1 hr 4 mins; that Vinyl Connection knows of an album release from 2017; and that (according to Wikipedia) a new box set is due to be released by Light in the Attic Records and Ozma Records in February 2018. In the search for a definitive list of pieces on the Golden Record my elves seemed to be going round in circles.

fairy circle

But time, like Voyager, presses on so, calling off the search, I settled on a piece from the Sounds of the Earth playlist called The Fairie Round. It was written by Anthony Holborne, an eminent English composer at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and to my ear is typical of those Shakespearian times. Originally written for the cittern, the version on the Golden Record was arranged for a string orchestra and performed by the Early Music Consort of London in 1976. In this YouTube clip it is played on the grown up (and better known) cousin of the cittern, the lute.

The Fairie Round is, like my elves, short and sprightly. It conjures up images of fairies dancing under twinkling stars in celebration of some joyous occasion – a birth or a marriage, perhaps. Or simply another completion of the Earth’s orbit around the sun.

SaveSave

The Brief and Neverending Blur

One entry in my Release Radar this week stopped me in my woozle tracks. The ears pricked up automatically when I heard something very much like the soft call of a Hidden Orchestra. The eyes opened a little wider when I saw the contrary title, The Brief and Neverending Blur. When I saw Richard Reed Parry as the first of the two artists the memory hastened to look him up. While it was busy searching, the wonderbrain asked who the other artist, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, might be. And somewhere deep within the cerebral cortex another inner voice had spotted the album title, More Field Recordings, and was tentatively confirming the Hidden Orchestra connection. The Siren sisters, Pleasure and Curiosity, had seized the synapses again.

Turning the online oracle first to the Bang On A Can All-Stars a little knowledge was quickly absorbed. They are a group of six classically-trained musicians who use amplified traditional instruments to play compositions by some of today’s most respected composers of ‘classical’ music. They are the touring face of the Bang On A Can collective, which commissions, performs and records modern music in classical, jazz, rock, world and experimental genres. Clearly, the Sirens know the way to Crotchety Man’s heart.

Taking a diversion to the album from which The Brief … was taken the reason for two artist’s names on the Radar soon became clear. The tracks on More Field Recordings are pieces by thirteen different composers, all performed by the All-Stars; The Brief … is the one composed by Richard Reed Parry. Somewhat disappointingly, all the other tracks on the album fall into the filing bin that Crotchety Man labels “classical, experimental”. They are unusual and interesting in an intellectual way but liking them is rather a challenge, at least on first spin. Perhaps I will see them in a different light after another circuit of the spinney.

quote

Returning to find that the doddery old clerk in the memory halls had still not retrieved any information about Richard Reed Parry, Crotchety Man was forced to consult the electronic memory banks again. The silicon chips came back in a flash with this long lost fact: R. R. Parry is a core member of Arcade Fire. That’s where Old Man Crotchety had met him before. Furthermore, reported the semi-conductor lackey, he was a member of Bell Orchestre and has performed with several other artists, including The National and Sufjan Stevens. Parry has also written pieces for the Kronos Quartet and yMusic, ensembles quite similar to the Bang On A Can All-Stars.

So, the signs are auspicious, but what, you may ask, does The Brief … sound like? It’s a slow, quiet, contemplative work for clarinet, guitar, piano, cello, double bass and percussion. Once again, the Sirens have tuned in perfectly to Crotchety Man’s weaknesses. The instruments’ tones blend beautifully, the notes are both evocative and satisfyingly interesting, and the whole invites you into the arms of those lovely maidens.

The Brief and Neverending Blur is on YouTube as part of a 13 video mix but it is blocked here in the UK. Here’s a link for those elsewhere in the world but (disclaimer) it may not work for you, either.

Crotchety Man searched long in the swirling sea fog where the Sirens’ song called out to him but, when the mists cleared and the sun rose high in the sky, there was no island where a band of musicians could have been concealed. Sadly, the promise of nirvana remained unfulfilled and in the end the connection with Hidden Orchestra was, like the woozle, just an illusion.

Purinjiti

artwork

Today Crotchety Man is venturing off the beaten tracks, out into the trackless wastes of the Australian desert. He is the dark-skinned messenger carrying news of a recent performance of an atmospheric piece by the British composer David Warin Solomons. The message is both verbal and symbolic. As he walks barefoot over the sun-baked earth this antipodean Hermes recites the words he must deliver, using the carved and decorated stick in his hands like a rosary to put the words in order and commit them to memory.

In the language of his tribe the message stick is called a purinjiti; it serves as both the mailman’s badge of office and the letter he is to deliver. On this one there are marks and notches for musical instruments: flute, euphonium, didgeridoo, clap sticks and bowed string instruments. There is also a crude map indicating the place in central Europe where the work was performed and an approximate date of two moon-cycles ago. In this medium it is impossible to spell out ‘Budapest’, the city in which the music was recorded, or the name of the conductor, Zoltán Pad.

The message is simple enough. Our tribal chief was so amused by the choice of instruments and pleased by the mellifluous tones he heard that he wants to share it on all the social media platforms available to him. And in these parts the purinjiti has a far greater reach than Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp. I will, of course, transmit his message faithfully, conveying our head man’s excitement as accurately as I am able but, to be honest, I found those clap sticks rather irritating. See what you think of this world-spanning music. And, if you like it, spread the word.

Hot Footnote

I met David W. Solomons briefly when he popped his head around the door of one of our music group rehearsals about three months ago. He introduced himself, gave me his business card and was gone. You can find his website here. Note, however, that he comes from a classical and choral background and his work is not likely to appeal to Crotchety Man’s regular followers.

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.