Thursday, October 08, 2009

Review - Upstream

Otra novedad de Moonjune, que también he escuchado este mediodia en casa, es un album de Geoff Leigh ( sí, el de Henry Cow) y Yumi Hara, titulado "Upstream".
El disco que Yumi Hara publicó el año pasado con Hugh Hopper, "Dune", me gustó bastante poco, así que no tenía demasiadas esperanzas con este. Quizás por eso me ha gustado. Aunque Leigh es multiinstrumentista, aquí se centra mucho en la flauta, aunque también hace algún solo de saxo soprano y se encarga de los efectos electrónicos y las percusiones. Yumi se encarga del piano y del órgano y de las voces (no me gusta nada cantando). Algunas de las piezas instrumentales me han sorprendido. Yumi toca el piano con mucha "tensión" y Leigh es muy bueno con la flauta. Sé perfectamente que no es un disco que me vaya a volver loco, pero tengo ganas de volver a escucharlo.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Review - Upstream

Not sure why the link isn't working here - usually fine - try copy/paste with this :

Geoff Leigh (ex-Henry Cow) teams up with Japanese singer and keyboardist Yumi Hara for this album of experimental ambient-jazz fusion.

Leigh has always been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of music since his days playing with Henry Cow's brand of freely-improvised jazz and complex modern composition. Hara moved to the UK in 1993 and has since played with ex-Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper and with ex-King Crimson violinist David Cross. By night, in her alter-persona of Anakonda she spins as a drum 'n' bass DJ! Put the two together and you can immediately tell that you are not going to get an hour of easy, comfortable listening! You'd be right!

Indeed, the promotional notes accompanying the CD say that "it's difficult to discern whether Geoff Leigh and Yumi Hara are improvising freely or if they've pre-composed pieces on their 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". Hmmm...Upstream was recorded in two days, so I'd suggest it is improvised – it sounds improvised, though I'd agree with the statement that there is plenty of "melodic invention". But let me just share this other gem from the promo notes with you, because it did make me laugh out loud: "Leigh coats his small gongs with an effects burnish, spangling into infinity"! I wish I had written that!

Anyhow, back to the music, which I'm calling ambient-jazz fusion. If you take a look at the album cover and the song titles then you could easily imagine that this is a concept album. Not that there are any real lyrics to guide you - although "Stone of the Beach" and "At the Temple Gate" do feature words by Japanese poets – but the album is coherent musically and its amenability to ambience also makes it amenable to creating images associated with the title concepts, should you wish to do so.

Leigh plays flute, soprano sax, zither, percussion, nose flute, voice drone and "electronics" and Hara tackles keyboards (mainly piano, but some keys and synths to good effect) and vocals/vocalisations. The instruments are often pushed to, and through, the limits of what is "normal", so that one can say that there is a certain amount of experimentation going on here. Similarly, Hara pushes her voice in the same way, treating it just like on of the other instruments of the ensemble. This leads, at times – thankfully few – where the vocal becomes unpleasantly screechy and, in my opinion, detracting from the music. Let me put it this way – should you be listening to, for instance, "Something About the Sky" on your iPod whilst travelling on public transport, and you decide to "sing" along, then you can be sure the men in white coats will be waiting for you at the next stop! The ambience created on these occasions by these "sung" sections comes close to that of the bells being tolled at the gates of Hades! Such is the nature of exploratory, adventurous, progressive music!

Notwithstanding this slight criticism, the majority of the album is extremely pleasant: the sonorities created are interesting and work well together, and there is much melody as well as discernable, enjoyable rhythm that creates comfortable ambiences.

If you're looking for an easy entry into exploratory ambient/jazz crossover, then this album could well be it!

Track Listing:- 
1) Upstream (7:12) 
2) The Mountain Laughs (5:28) 
3) The Strait (7:41) 
4) Stone of the Beach (5:41) 
5) A Short Night (5:08) 
6) At the Temple Gate (7:43) 
7) Something About the Sky (3:45) 
8) Dolphin Chase (10:52) 
9) The Siren Returns (5:39)

September 20th 2009

Reviewer: Alex Torres

Review - Upstream

GEOFF LEIGH & YUMI HARA / Upstream (Moonjune)

Le second disque de Yumi Hara chez Moonjune. Le premier était en duo avec Hugh Hopper. Cette fois, un duo avec le flûtiste et saxophoniste Geoff Leigh (Henry Cow, nombreux projets liés au jazz-rock de type Canterbury). Une collaboration solide, toute en nuances. Des pièces douces, introspectives, frôlant parfois le drone. Plus de chant de la part de Hara, dont la voix hante plus qu’elle n’envoûte (ce qui n’est pas un mauvais point). Leigh est plein de ressources, multipliant les approches et les instruments. Un beau disque à réécouter à tête reposée. Une belle découverte, plutôt accessible, pas tout à fait “impro libre” mais certainement pas jazz-rock non plus. [Ci-dessous: La page de l’album sur le site de Moonjune, avec plusieurs extraits audio et deux vidéos en concert.]

Yumi Hara’s second CD for Moonjune. The first one was a duo session with Hugh Hopper. This time, she is playing with flutist/saxophonist Geoff Leigh (of Henry Cow and several jazz-rock projects loosely tied to the Canterbury sphere). A strong collaboration, very nuanced. Quiet, introspective pieces occasionally verging on drones. More singing from Hara, whose voice is haunting more than rapturing (which is not a bad thing). Leigh is very resourceful, approaching the music in many different ways and with several instruments. A fine record I will happily listen to again once I’m well rested. A nice discovery, rather accessible, not quite “free improv” but definitely not a jazz-rock record either. [Below: This album’s page on Moonjune’s website, with several audio samples and two live videos.]

Review - Upstream (in German)

Geoff Leigh & Yumi Hara "Upstream" (Moonjune Records 2009)

Geoff Leigh, Gründungsmitglied in Henry Cow, und die japanische Keyboarderin Yumi Hara, die mit Hugh Hopper und David Cross in Duos zusammenarbeitete, aus der japanischen Kitschtruppe Frank Chickens stammt, Neue Musik in Gruppen wie Piano Circus und Ensemble Bash spielte und als Drum'n'Bass DJ einen Namen hat, gingen an zwei aufeinander folgenden Tagen im September 2008 an die Arbeit, Songs einzuspielen, von denen 9 auf "Upstream" zu hören sind. Die Kompositionen sind improvisativ aufgebaut, spontan, aus der kreativen Inspiration des Augenblicks entstanden. Beide Musiker, Leigh spielt diverse Blasinstrumente, Electronics und Perkussion sowie Zither, Yumi Hara akustisches Piano oder elektrisches Keyboard und singt an einigen wenigen Stellen, sind begabte, gewachsene Handwerker, die nicht das erste Mal expressionistisch-avantgardistische Klänge schaffen, sich auf den Augenblick, die Stimmung verlassen und auf die gegenseitige Inspiration.
Das Resultat ist sehr sperrig, etwas unnahbar, emotional kühl, von großer Verspieltheit, leider aber auch von erschreckender Strukturlosigkeit und wirrem Ablauf. Beide Musiker nehmen sich nicht zurück und lassen Töne zu, die nicht unbedingt angenehm sind, plärren und kratzen und rauschen; und sie verfremden Sounds elektronisch und lassen die Songs so lang werden, dass Hörer dem Duo sehr freundlich und aufgeschlossen gegenüber sein müssen, sich das Album am Stück anzutun.
Es gibt viel Freiheit im Spiel, aber das Duo wirkt nicht befreit. Zwar entwickeln sich im Laufe des Albums einige harmonische Ströme und melodisch nachvollziehbare Motive, die aber im Kanon der atonal unschönen Klänge keine Durchsetzung finden.
Extremhörer dieser Spielart werden das gewiss anders sehen, was das Duo erfreuen wird.

Review - Upstream

Geoff Leigh and Yumi Hara


Review by Gary Hill

Fans of RIO (Rock In Opposition) should like this album. It’s very freeform and a lot of it is dissonant. I’d even consider some of it jarring. Personally, a lot of it isn’t my thing – I’m not a huge fan of RIO, but for those who are into the genre, it’s going to be well received.

Track by Track Review

The flute on this certainly calls up comparisons to Jethro Tull, but this is far mellower and more classical in nature and yet there’s also some definite King Crimson in the midst here.

Mountain Laughs
Keyboard sounds bring this in dark and rather like horror movie music. The flute again makes me think of Tull. This is perhaps closer to “rock” music.

The first half of this is basically a noisy, riotous piano solo that at times calls to mind Keith Emerson. As other instruments, join, though, it becomes a screaming, wailing jazz journey that’s quite freeform and dissonant.

Stone of the Beach
This one is really weird. The music is sparse and spacey and it has vocals. They are plaintive and a little abrasive, but also pretty. This is very much a piece of performance art.

Short Night
Piano based, this is very dissonant and strange. 

At the Temple Gate
Just flute and voice, this is exceptionally strange and unsettling. It’s not pretty by any means and feels like it has transported you to some alternate horror movie dimension. This is another that’s definitely performance art. 

Something About the Sky
In a lot of ways this is similar to the last piece, but instead of flute we have something that feels a lot like throat singing.

Dolphin Chase
Spacey and jazz, this one is quite cool – at least early on. It moves into more weirdness – not that different from the last couple tracks as it continues, though. In fact, the last section is amongst the strangest music on show with weird sounds like 60 cycle hum ruling the day.

Siren Returns
This is more melodic and less free form than the last several pieces. I like this a lot more.