Chiaroscuro not only represents an accomplished and crucial album in terms of its contribution to jazz – and, it should be added, that other nebulous genre: ambient – it also demonstrates how culture can flourish as a shared, public good.
LABEL (YEAR): CITY CENTRE OFFICES (2000)
FOR FANS OF: BOARDS OF CANADA, MASSIVE ATTACK, LAMB, NIGHTMARES ON WAX
Words by Aidan Daly
You’d think that being a fan of Warp darlings Autechre, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada I’d have been exposed to Arovane, aka Uwe Zahn, much earlier. Zahn’s contribution to the vast body of work lazily but continually termed ‘IDM’ is considerable, but he hasn’t received nearly the level of attention he deserves, especially compared to those mentioned above. Though Zahn’s second album Tides departs noticeably from the glitches and breaks of his debut Atol Scrap, it retains an acute level of melodic and emotional depth.
A central component of the album is the use of the harpsichord – its harsh, bright sound not typically associated with the placidity of the broader wave of late 90s/early noughties downtempo. On opener ‘Theme’, the instrument fades in over a reverb-heavy drum loop, the motif set up with the expectation that a bass line will enter, or some other structural deviation. Instead, the harpsichord simply fades out again and the song ends. Likewise, the instrument’s prominence in ‘A Secret’ slices through the blanket of delicate background synths – a contrast that serves to give the album much of its character and consistency.
‘Eleventh!’ comes close to being a replica of better-known Boards of Canada, all melancholy chords and fucked up samples of children’s laughter. Interestingly enough, however, Zahn actually anticipates the darker turn Boards would take with the occult-influenced Geogaddi, released two years after Tides. The album ends as it starts with ‘Epilogue’, as harpsichord and drum loops are set against each other again. This time the waters are choppier, the harshness of the harpsichord more apt for the closing track’s brooding twists and turns.
Tides ebbs and flows, pushes and pulls, achieving much with such a minimal structure of repeated, chopped up drum samples and subdued overhead melodies. As a whole, the album folds in and out of itself, tracks fading into the next, recalling earlier moments as it develops. In Tides, without over-conceptualising, Zahn succeeded in creating a body of music that reflects the subtle qualities of its namesake.
ARTIST: JAN JELINEK
LABEL (YEAR): ~SCAPE (2001)
FOR FANS OF: BOARDS OF CANADA, FENNESZ, MURCOF
Words by Jasper Morvaridi
Jan Jelinek's debut full-length Loop Finding Jazz Records makes me feel fuzzy. It might be the use of static and white noise, the warmth of the sounds or even the simplicity of the loops used throughout. But the record has a certain feeling to it that, for me at least, could warm up the coldest of winter days.
Loop Finding Jazz Records is situated somewhere between minimal, ambient and techno music. Yet the subtlety and simplicity of the loops, synths and rhythms make it far harder to pigeonhole. Microscopic clicks and pops neatly decorate the dampened layers of loops (that may well have been from jazz records, though it's unlikely), to create rhythms that slowly pulse into life.
In places the record feels like a less aggressive, or perhaps less heavy, Andy Stott, though it's only really 'Rock In The Video Age' and 'Tendency' that make use of 4/4 rhythms for a sound that is somewhat dance-floor ready. Meanwhile 'They, Them' has a gentle swing to it and tracks like opener 'Moiré (Piano & Organ)' and 'Them, Their' set the scene for a record that washes and swirls through warm textures.
It'd be easy to over-intellectualise or over analyse this album's intricacies. But to me it's simple: eight tracks and 51 minutes of music that give me a hazy dream-like feeling. And I'd hope that it'd do the same for you too.
ARTIST: THE CARETAKER
ALBUM: AN EMPTY BLISS BEYOND THIS WORLD
LABEL (YEAR): HISTORY ALWAYS FAVOURS THE WINNERS (2011)
FOR FANS OF: V/VM, KIASMOS, JEFRE CANTU-LEDESMA
Words by Alastair Pearson
James Leyland Kirby's 2011 album emerged partly in response to research conducted by the Boston University School of Medicine into the effects of music on the ability of people living with Alzheimer's disease to recall information. Researchers found a higher rate of accurate recall to sung information accompanied by music than to unaccompanied spoken information. Rather than suggesting the power of music to form memories, the research indicated that for those living with Alzheimer's disease, the 'complex neural networks' engaged in the processing of musical information 'are affected at a slower rate... than those areas of the brain typically associated with memory.’ In Bliss, muffled, disorientated phrases sampled from old 78s segue spasmodically against the comforting crackle of well-worn lacquer, offering a hand to hold through the maze of memories evoked by the faded playfulness of Kirby's source material.
Bliss is about memory, time and culture. From the moment the record starts you are dragged back in time by melodies from the ballroom, yet the album's scrambled continuity places the work firmly in the present. Having never lived in a time to have formed memories of formal dances with tuxedos and ballgowns, I nevertheless feel nostalgia for a time I have never lived in, for the swells and spikes that would evoke memories of a velvet-gloved hand upon my shoulder and the padding of patent leather shoes across thick hotel carpets. These are the memories of people living with Alzheimer's today, and Kirby's poignant work raises questions as to the sounds our memories will recall in years to come. In the age of instant 'capture and recollection via the internet', what will future generations point to as culturally nostalgic? One can only hope Miley Cyrus will be top of the list.
ARTIST: GENELEC & MEMPHIS REIGNS
ALBUM: SCORPION CIRCLES
LABEL (YEAR): HHI (2002)
FOR FANS OF: CANNIBAL OX, DELTRON 3030, BINARY STAR
Words by Gummo Clare
If you’ve come across this album before, you’ll know that it’s become pretty sought-after online – I saw a Youtube commenter offering $250 just for a CD version, and vinyl copies seem to be pretty much non-existent. Neither Genelec nor Memphis Reigns have released a huge amount, and there’s not that much information about the record floating around online; this obviously adds to the album’s mystique (and, presumably value).
But otherwise, on paper, this album doesn’t necessarily offer much to explain its cult status or differentiate it from the swathes of underground hip-hop released in the early 2000s: the sci-fi-influenced lyrical themes that reappear throughout the record, and the brooding production immediately suggest heavy influences from better-known peers. Most obvious is the connection with DJ Shadow’s groundbreaking production on Endtroducing….., with clear nods to his work appearing on a number of tracks – the ‘Organ Donor’-channelling beat on ‘Organisms’, and the drums-and-piano loop on ‘Prepare (Interlude)’ in particular show unmistakable signs of Shadow’s influence.
While, alongside Shadow, parallels between this album and the sound that drives artists on El-P’s Def Jux label (especially Cannibal Ox) are obvious, there is one clear difference. Where El-P often relies on density to create a sense of darkness in his beats, on Scorpion Circles Genelec’s approach is spartan, employing a limited selection of samples to create a taut and often unsettling sonic landscape. He employs drum loops that stray from the funk breakbeat key to the boombap sound, with a select few other samples drenched in reverb, providing a sparse backdrop for his own rhymes alongside Memphis Reigns. His occasional sampling of Indian, Turkish, and Japanese traditional instruments throughout the record reminds me of the some of Madlib’s production; it also provides a consistent and strong sense of identity to the album.
Another standout feature on the record is the sparing, but vital, use of scratching. At points scratched breaks almost serve as an extra voice – the best example being the close of track ‘Sunwheel’, where the final scratched ‘verse’, over a loping sitar and double-bass-driven beat rounds off what is the standout tune on the album. Similarly, DJ Gamma Ray’s scratch feature on ‘Anarchist Cookbook’, a track that, in its subject matter, draws parallels to MF Doom’s cartoonish supervillain narratives, feels like a separate voice in itself. As MCs, the pair are more inventive lyrically than they are in terms of delivery; however, Memphis Reigns’ flow, which often cuts across bar lines and often offers couplets in unexpected places offers an interesting counterpoint to Genelec’s relatively straight rhythmic approach.
This record is an underappreciated gem, and it’s a record that I’ve found myself constantly coming back to since I came across it a couple of years ago.
ALBUM: A SUN THAT NEVER SETS
LABEL (YEAR): RELAPSE RECORDS (2001)
FOR FANS OF: SWANS, MELVINS, GODFLESH
Words by Chris Gaduzo
The sonic evolution of Neurosis is possibly one of the most exciting and remarkable of its kind, and one I simply love boring people with. In essence though, it goes like this: Hardcore band slows down, gets intense, gets darker, gets more experimental, creates the most interesting heavy music of the past 30 years. It is difficult to choose a favourite Neurosis album, but A Sun That Never Sets is the one that made me realise this band was something special.
The band had already delivered some outstanding albums; Through Silver in Blood saw the band wallowing in a dark mix of sludge, punk, psychedelia and ambient music that is still unparalleled in sonic intensity. The Steve Albini-produced Times of Grace saw the band once again deliver a fantastic album that summed up what they were all about in the 90s. However, it was simply not in Neurosis style to play it safe, and A Sun That Never Sets saw the beginning of another impressive stylistic change.
Opener ‘The Tide’ demonstrates this through its slow, acoustic sections, with Steve Von Till no longer yelling his vocals like on earlier material, but crooning similarly to Tom Waits. However, Neurosis are always a heavy band, and soon the listener is greeted with a sludgy outro where melodic synths battle Scott Kelly’s desperate howls for your attention. Elsewhere, ‘From The Hill’ sees the return of the mid-tempo march Neurosis helped create, yet the band never quite explodes into waves of riffs like they used to. Instead, these heavier moments are held back and unleashed for maximum effect on tracks like ‘Watchfire’ or the breathtaking closer ‘Stones from the Sky’.
Perhaps the most important thing about the direction Neurosis chose to take with A Sun That Never Sets is that they demonstrated how volume does not always equal heavy. Their sound at this point was totally reined in – another piece of their sonic puzzle, which on this album expanded to incorporate folk (see the key change in ‘Crawl Back In’), psychedelia (‘Falling Unknown’) and even tribal music (‘From Where its Roots Run’).
ARTIST: LINTON KEWSI JOHNSON
ALBUM: LKJ IN DUB
LABEL (YEAR): ISLAND RECORDS (1980)
FOR FANS OF: MATUMBI, BURNING SPEAR, LEE SCRATCH PERRY
Words by Ciaran Davis
My auntie and uncle have impeccable music taste and an eclectic record collection. When I was a teenager, trips to visit my cousins would involve late night sessions listening to all sorts of records. From D.A.F to Public Image Ltd., I got into a variety of artists who were trying to do something different. Of all the things I listened to, Linton Kwesi Johnson's album, LKJ In Dub, stands out. LKJ is a poet who was born in Jamaica in 1952 and settled in Brixton in 1963.
I saw him recite poetry in St. George's Church, Sheffield in 2012 as part of a literary festival. His performance was vivid; poems such as 'Sonny's Lettah' still channel a furious, yet controlled anger. In the subsequent questions and answers session, Linton eloquently described the mechanisms behind the London riots and why they will happen again. Yet LKJ in Dub is a departure from the poetry that he is famous for. On this album his famous songs are reworked and the lyrics are often removed. The concept behind the album was in keeping with other dub albums; take songs that are familiar to the listener, ramp up the bass and mix it in the studio.
The most striking thing about the album is the artwork – a stark red background interspersed with bold black font depicting the album's title; your gaze gravitates towards it. The music on the album also emits a raw hypnotic quality. 'Bass Culture' is my favourite – the pulsing bass mixes with LKJ's lyrics to create a woozy atmosphere. In 'Victorious Dub', the bass and drums lurk in the background, creating a slightly frenetic vibe. I keep on returning to this album to get that warm analogue sound; it’s a timeless piece of music, perfect for after-parties.
ARTIST: QUARTETO EM CY
ALBUM: QUERELAS DO BRASIL
LABEL (YEAR): PHILLIPS (1978)
FOR FANS OF: GAL COSTA, TIM MAIA, TOM ZÉ
Words by Jasper Morvaridi
I picked up Quarteto Em Cy’s Querelas Do Brasil in Eldica Records in Dalston. As soon as I put the needle on the record in the shop I was hooked.
Quartet Em Cy are a girl group who originally formed in 1959. Despite a short break from 1970-72, they’ve released some 38 records over the decades. This one, Querelas Do Brasil, dates from the end of the 70s. It really covers a lot of ground, from bossa nova tracks such as ‘Querelas Do Brasil’ and ‘Love, Love, Love’ to slow jams like ‘Angelica’ and ‘Sapato Velho’. My favourite on the record is without a doubt ‘Salve O Verde’ - a sort of psychedelic funk/soul jam with a heavy groove to it.
Despite my lack of understanding of the Portuguese language, in many ways the melodies and the music do the talking themselves, or rather, they tell the story. It’s this emotion the captures me the most.
In recent years Latin American music has been at the forefront of musical rediscovery, with labels such as Mr. Bongo reissuing LPs and 45s, Gilles Peterson investing in his Sonzeira project and the likes of Floating Points and Motor City Drum Ensemble putting it at the centre of their DJ sets. Where this upsurge has seen many records from the continent rocket in price on Discogs, Querelas Do Brasil is one that you can (and should) pick up for as little as a tenner. It’s well worth a go.
ARTIST: WOJTEK MAZOLEWSKI QUINTET
LABEL (YEAR): AGORA SA (2014)
FOR FANS OF: UNITED VIBRATIONS, BILL EVANS, MAMMAL HANDS, GOGO PENGUIN
Words by Lexy Morvaridi
What makes an album great is the narrative that’s constructed as you listen to it – the ups, the downs and the in-betweens that create the overall flow. What makes an album even greater is the way in which the narrative nurtures diversity yet fits together as a whole. Polka is one of these greater albums.
Throughout this tapestry of jazz numbers the varied range of influences behind Wojtek Mazolewski is clear, from opening ambient piano-led ‘Roma I’ to the afro-tinged swing of ‘Punk-T Gdansk’; the reggae backbeat of ‘Get Free’ to the house driven bounce of ‘Sunday’.
Several tracks are named after cities across the world and the chief concept behind the record is to recreate the sounds of each city through Wojtek’s sentimental lens and he most definitely has his finger on the money with each composition.
‘Berlin’ is a carefully constructed electronic influenced minimalist track that has an equally dark music video to accompany it - conceptualised and directed by Jessica Comis, Michal Andrysiak and Shira Kela.
‘Paris’, meanwhile, sees a delicate floating melody throughout, which conjures images of walking the winding streets of the French capital as the sun sets on a summer’s evening.
To top it all off, the album squeezes in jazz covers of Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana (who’d have thought they would lend themselves so nicely to jazz?) Wojtek thought and delivered.
"A journey of self-discovery, transformation and liberation. Berlin is a city that allows people to explore hidden layers of their existence. In a city where desire manifests itself in myriad ways, we are confronted with an array of possibilities as to how we choose to lead our lives."
ARTIST: SUSUMU YOKOTA
LABEL (YEAR): SKINTONE/THE LEAF LABEL (1999/2000)
FOR FANS OF: BRIAN ENO, BOARDS OF CANADA, APHEX TWIN
Words by Aidan Daly
Sakura is an strange album. I can’t tell if I only think this because I found it around the same time I was reading Murakami’s Kafka On The Shore, and the subtle absurdity of the book leaked into my listening. It could well have been the other way round.
Either way, like much of Murakami, Sakura appears completely familiar and disembodied at the same time. Swells of serene loops make up the album’s meandering fifty-one minutes, yet each track remains rooted by a pulse, be it a rhythmic one or a repeating musical motif, which provides a framework for other elements to unfold around. Much of the music is disturbingly affectionate, a sensation made even more immediate through the sustained repetition that structures the album.
Appropriately, ‘Gekkoh’ makes use of Steve Reich’s ‘Pulses’ from Music for 18 Musicians, tastefully recycling it alongside strings and impatient, metronomic percussion. ‘Saku’ opens the album as dreamy ambient smog, until the track’s layers ebb away leaving only a reiterating, twitching hook – perversely mechanical given the rest of the track. ‘Hisen’ sluggishly morphs into a contemplative chord sequence, aided by violin samples, while ‘Azukiiro No Kaori’ sees a crescendo of knotted vocals gradually come to fill the mix, both touching and distancing simultaneously.
I always come back to Sakura. It’s accessible, and pleasant, but there’s an alienating undercurrent to it. It’s precisely this duality that makes the album so enticing – a sweet spot only Yokota knew how to exploit.