Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Gavin Bryars played bass with Tony Oxley and Derek Bailey in The Joseph Hoolbroke Trio (one of the frist groups to explore non-idiomatic Improv), was a member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia and is a major composer of meditative, beautiful pieces that have a precise, focused system at heart. This are two of his best and most notorious compositions, released on Eno's label Obscure in the 70s.
"A holy grail among contemporary music collectors, this release on Brian Eno's Obscure label, which went out of print almost immediately, features two of the finest compositions of the late 20th century, both by Gavin Bryars. The title track had since been recorded again on two occasions, arguably to better effect on Les Disques du Crepuscule in 1990 and once, more pallidly, on Point in 1994, but this initial production was an extremely special event. Bryars' idea was to construct an aural picture of the disaster, complete with songs and hymns supposedly played by the ship's orchestra even as she was sinking. He combined this with the acoustical phenomenon of the enhanced ability of sounds to travel great lengths underwater and produced an eerie and romantic sub-aqueous soundscape of remarkable subtlety and beauty. Using minimalist techniques, the repetition and overlapping of hymns like "Autumn" assume a surreal aspect, at once sad and peaceful. His score was designed to incorporate new discoveries about the shipwreck (or to dispense with elements that proved false) over time; this performance includes taped reminiscences of one survivor and the tinklings of a music box salvaged by another. This is one gorgeous, haunting piece of music. As though one masterpiece wasn't enough, the second composition on the album might be even greater. Surely one of the most beautiful "concept" works ever created, "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" begins with the faint, faded-in voice of a London tramp singing the old hymn plaintively but without pathos and more or less in tune. Bryars looped this tape so that it resolved in non-jarring fashion, then introduced -- ever so softly and gradually with each iteration of the verse -- instrumental accompaniment: first strings, then guitar and bass, and eventually the entire chamber orchestra. The lush, sensuous music, entirely sympathetic to the song, gives it increased strength and humanity as it swells to near-majestic proportions and then, just as gradually, subsides. The emotional impact of this 25-minute piece, in its honest and charitable stance toward the singer, cannot be understated. With this simple idea, limned with precision and beauty, Bryars was graciously content to achieve a lofty goal one time, to let it stand by itself and move on. A version recorded for Point in 1995, which included the gratuitous addition of Tom Waits accompanying the tape, pales in comparison to the original. Long a collector's item on vinyl, a CD issue was released in England on VirgiJAn U.K. in 1998 but it, too, quickly went out of print." - Brian Olewnick
Obscure, magnificent psychfolk classic, recently dug out of its ignominious grave.
"Gary Higgins' only album has much in common with many other vaguely hippie-ish singer/songwriter records from the early '70s on small or vanity labels. There's a laid-back feel that seems two or three years out of time (or behind the times), like an exhausted hangover from the wilder peaks of the psychedelic era. Relative to this collector-oriented genre, however, the record's very much above average. For one thing, the production is much better than it is for many such endeavors that suffered from limited distribution — subdued and no frills, perhaps, but clear, well recorded, and well played and sung. Too, few other records of this sort are so downright melancholy, though without succumbing to the unhinged despair that consigns many of them to an extremely limited audience. It's more like being trapped in a room where the candles are burning down to their wicks, with the knowledge that there will be no encores once the music's over. Higgins was in prison in the early '70s, and while it might be too much to project his personal circumstances onto judgment of the proceedings, it does rather sound like the musings of a gentle soul who somehow lost his way or got steered down the wrong path. There are dark insinuations of insomnia, doubt, a loss of hope, and in the last lyric of the closing "Looking for June," desperate wondering as to where he's gonna get some dope. "Down on the Farm" sounds almost like a folky Captain Beefheart with its guttural vocals and twisted blues progressions, but it's not typical of an album that usually goes for a far more placid and mainstream (though slightly bent) singer/songwriter sound." - R. Unterberger