Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reviews - Upstream

Title: Upstream 
Label: Moonjune 027 
Country: USA 
Format: CD                    

Featuring Geoff Leigh on flutes, soprano sax, zither, electronics and percussion and Yumi Hara on keyboards & occasional vocals. Saxist Geoff Leigh was the first member of Henry Cow to leave the group after their first album in 1973. He went on to form Radar Favourites, Black Sheep, Kontakt Mikrophoon Orchestra and Red Balune and has a trio disc on one of those Voice Print labels from a few years back. We haven't heard from him in quite a while so I was pleasantly surprised to get this promo in the mail. You might recall Ms. Yumi Hara from another duo disc she did with Hugh Hopper last year. Yumi also played a fine solo set at our store on the Bowery a few months after that CD was released.
The title track is first and it starts with spooky flute and eerie e-bow-like keyboard sounds. Geoff Leigh's flute playing is consistently superb, spirited and riveting at times. Ms. Hara changes the sound of her keyboard on every piece from the great Hammond organ sound on "The Mountain Laughs" to the sparkling grand piano of "The Strait" in which Geoff sounds as if he is playing an electric sax. Now there's a sound I haven't heard in quite a long time, yet it is done most tastefully. Yumi uses her voice to a good effect on "Stone of the Beach", somewhat operatic and exotic yet still low-key and enchanting. Although much of this sounds improvised there is a sympathetic connection between both players as they seem to flow around one another magically, always connecting on some level. I like the they explore sounds together yet never lose their way. The psychedelic many layered mountains on the cover seem most appropriate. 

Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery (use search box!)


Featured Artist: Geoff Leigh - Yumi Hara 
CD Title: Upstream 
Year: 2009 
Record Label: Moonjune Records 
Style: Free Jazz / Avante Garde 

Musicians: Geoff Leigh (flute, soprano sax, zither, percussion, nose flute, voice drone, electronics), Yumi Hara (keyboards, vocals)


For starters, the musicians’ respective careers bring quite a bit of diversity to the table. Woodwind artist, multi-instrumentalist Geoff Leigh was a member of avant-garde, prog-rock icons Henry Cow amid stints with many legendary British bands, such as Hatfield And The North and Slapp Happy. Keyboardist Yumi Hara is a psychiatrist, DJ and possesses a PHD in composition from City University in the U.K., and engages in numerous artistic related endeavors in Europe. On this duet release, the duo forges a multifaceted plane of notions and concepts, as no two pieces are distinctly alike, especially when considering various song-form and improvisational aspects. Among other attributes, the musicians are resourceful. They set down an imprint, awash with mind-altering abstractions, marked by Leigh’s ethereal flute lines, Hara’s haunting keys, and the avant component. They keenly alter the pitch in a range of interweaving movements. Then on “The Mountain Laughs,” Hara emulates a church organ via her keyboards while imparting a solemn framework for Leigh’s genial flute lines. Elsewhere, the artists invert a hodgepodge of themes into bizarre environs, where Hara’s vocal chants over the top, offer quasi-mystical propositions. On “Dolphin Chase,” Leigh’s soprano sax phrasings intimate a whirling, free-form set of paradigms, countered by Hara’s response mechanisms, shaded with droning textures and colorific EFX treatments. Here, Leigh soars to the cosmos under the auspices of attaining some sort of spiritual cleansing. Unlike similar projects of this ilk by others, the duo sustains interest throughout the entire program. It’s a study in contrasts, marked by the artists’ clear-sighted game-plan, that is sprinkled with plentiful surprises along the way. 

Reviewed by: Glenn Astarita 
Copyright© 2009®. All Rights Reserved.


MoonJune Records - Album Profile: 

It's difficult to discern whether Geoff Leigh and Yumi Hara are improvising freely, or if they've pre-composed the pieces on their Upstream collaboration. If it's the former, then their spontaneity has generated a good degree of melodic invention. If the latter possibility is so, then their works have an untethered nature, working through a succession of encounters that often sound ritualistic or meditative. Although a multi-instrumentalist, Leigh concentrates mainly on the flute, although it's frequently fed through an entanglement of electronic effects, lending a subtly harmonised burr. Hara plays keyboards, changing her palette from acoustic piano to hard-edged organ sounds. Often, she can be gently ruminative, but there are also spells where Hara rumbles with great intensity on the piano's bass notes or charges up to a Gothic organ sustain. Their music possesses some highly contrasting densities. Leigh coats his small gongs with an effects burnish, spangling into infinity. Hara also alters her voice at times, again with a subtly harmonised displacement. Leigh sometimes overblows, creating a harsh edge, suggesting the sound of a Japanese shakuhachi flute. This is made all the more gripping when surrounded by the overall atmosphere of slowly evolving calm. The pair also evoke a specific Tibetan Buddhist feel, with bells and a vocal drone, or alternatively matching their high-vaulting voice and soprano saxophone ranges to the imaginary sounds of ocean-deep whale communications. Leigh and Hara have produced a deeply sensitive soundscape, populated by a number of surprising (and exciting) forays into a more intense form of expression.  (more info, vids, & mp3's)

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