Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review - Upstream

Upstream - Geoff Leigh & Yumi Hara - Moonjune Records - MJR027

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange by Mark S. Tucker

The 70s saw a profusion of wildly cross-collateralized musics emanating from groups with solid musical educations, a ton of woodshedding, and artfully abnormal ideas about what could and could not go into the processes of art. Among the more stunning, and thus least heralded, were ensembles like The Art Bears, Dzyan, Art Zoyd, and groups composing pieces and LPs still ahead of their time. And then there was Henry Cow (a group, not a guy's name!). This much-cherished identity saw the exceptional—indeed stratospheric—virtuosities of Lindsay Cooper, Fred Frith, John Greaves, Chris Cutler, Tim Hodgkinson…and Geoff Leigh, the gent here playing winds, zither, percussion, voice drone, and electronics alongside singer-keyboardist-colorationist Yumi Hara. The two, however, have credentials extending well beyond the just-noted. Leigh sat in with Slapp Happy, Hatfield and the North, Univers Zero, Faust, and others. He also duo-ed with Porcupine Tree's brilliant bassist Colin Edward in the Ex-Wise Heads band. Hara duetted with Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine) and then David Cross (King Crimson) while some of her songs have been covered by Piano Circus and Ensemble Bash.

Even the promo lit isn't sure if the pieces are spontaneous, composed, or a blend of both, but it hardly matters, as there's a hell of a lot of what made all the just-cited groups great. Leigh and Hara masterfully leash the familiar and the chaotic to come up with a disc leaning heavily into the latter with all the grace and coherence of the former. Thus, Upstream is neo-free-fuso-prog-jazz-noise music heavily invested with orientalist airs (Upstream, Stone of the Beach, etc.) and abstract imagery laid atop the familiar, the exotic, and the suggestive.

Almost all the cuts are lengthy (see the times noted below), taking the space necessary to create their atmospheres and then perambulate with gestural abandon within themselves. Such chartable discourse within opuses like these, of course, is what accounts for whether the result will be oblique or filled with marvels. Here, the latter is most decidedly the case, making a release that's going to attract both abstractionists and neoclassical traditionalists, not to mention all the niches between. It goes, then, without saying that Upstream is definitely not music for everyone, but, looking to those with advanced aesthetics and well-tuned ears, a CD that will repay many many re-listenings, trenchant with nuance and imbued with a formlessness that constantly re-creates itself.

Track List:

Upstream (7:12)
The Mountain Laughs (5:28)
The Strait (7:41)
Stone of the Beach (5:41)
A Short Night (5:08)
At the Temple Gate (7:43)
Something About the Sky (3:45)
Dolphin Chase (10:52)
The Siren Returns (5:39)
All tracks written by Geoff Leigh & Yumi Hara except 
the words to Stone of the Beach (Ujo Noguchi) and the words to At the Temple (traditional).
Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Review - Upstream (In French)

Geoff Leigh & Yumi Hara

Upstream (2009)

(Moonjune Records) Enregistré par Yumi Hara 

01 – Upstream
02 – The Mountain Laughs
03 – The Strait
04 – Stone of the Beach
05 – A Short Night
06 – At the Temple Gate
07 – Something About the Sky
08 – Dolphin Chase
09 – The Siren Returns

Impossible de ne pas penser au précédent disque de Yumi Hara enregistré avec Hugh Hopper (Humi sorti en 2008 chez Moonjune Records également) en découvrant ce nouvel album de la pianiste et improvisatrice japonaise, enregistré en compagnie de Geoff Leigh, saxophoniste et flûtiste de Henry Cow, groupe mythique et ambitieux de la scène Canterbury de la fin des années soixante-dix. Les deux musiciens construisent leur propos sur des bases communes mais ténues, faisant de cette collaboration plus un duel qu’un duo, entre provocation, défi et musique sans concession. 

Geoff Leigh a ainsi pris la suite du patriarche Hopper disparu il y a peu ; et avec ses qualités, sa curiosité et son écoute, il propose à Yumi Hara d’autres horizons. Alors que rétrospectivement, Dune semblait empli de la colère sourde et désespérée du bassiste disparu, Geoff Leigh insuffle une certaine sérénité à ces compositions, et ce malgré les nombreuses aspérités dont elles regorgent. A la flûte, sans doute inspiré par son acolyte, Leigh verse dans une profondeur toute asiatique, évoquant l’ancestral et fascinant shakuhachi au point qu’une prestation dépourvue de tout accompagnement est à envisager sans inconvénient. Jouant de sa voix modulable à l’envie, Yumi Hara use aussi du legato et des grands aller-retours sur la gamme pour se lier au discours de son compère. 

A ce duo fascinant viennent s’agréger bruitages, éclats de piano et improvisations diverses, un didgeridoo parfois, ou un saxophone dans les mains de Geoff Leigh, autant d'instruments bienvenus qui ne contraignent jamais la direction prise par le binôme. Contemplatif sans être exagérément agressif ou abstrait, Upstream est fait pour être écouté en pleine nature dans le vent ou le ressac, il vibre doucement au rythme d’un monde qui nous dépasse.

Mathieu Carré

Note : 7/10