Continuing our dEN roundup from Part 1, this post looks at the label’s two most recent titles. Both powerfully assured and immaculately conceived albums from an under-reported European music scene which, on this evidence, is developing its own distinctively unforced modernity. The roundup ends with a look at the latest volume in label boss Stefano Ferrian’s dE-NOIZE project.
WhyOakTreeOh is an Anglo-Hungarian trio based in Budapest and Paris. It’s bandleader, saxophonist and composer Lawrence Williams is a recent alumni of Eddie Prévost’s improvisation workshop. The trio has something of the studious formal clarity that characterises much of the music, to be found on Prevost’s Matchless label, that has resulted directly from workshop affiliations.
Williams’ partners on dEN’s Here Nor There are Hock Erno (double bass, bass guitar) and Sàrvàri Kovàcs Zsolt (drums), the trio distilling a stage-tested songbook into a deceptively easygoing studio session.
“Ceres Weeps” is 12’30” of light-footed but doom-slow drums, tolling electric bass and parched sax exhortation. “The Wild Party” is contrastingly short, punchy and aggressive; a more skeletal variant on the Thing’s garage jazz aesthetic. The immediate impression is that here’s a band that could cross over.
“Reka’s Days are all the Same” returns to the slow and heavy vibe, only this time locking into a jazz groove before loping into action behind Williams’ lead sax. Strangulated vocals tip a nod to the influence of either doom or Keith Jarrett; most likely both. The lengthy, unaccompanied acoustic bass solo definitely takes its lead from Jimmy Garrison.
The episodic “Ejjel-nappali ABC” is atypical in it’s jerky acerbity and cut-and-paste compositional structure; “From the Fields to the Opera” returns to evenly measured time with the aid of metronomic rim strikes, slowing further for episodes of thoughtful rumination.
“…Horses” evokes Tortoise at its most bucolic. After a gentle electric bass intro, wordless vocals carry the melody until they break down and a lazy sax solo plays in clear space. There’s then a more fulsome reprise of the initial mood until, unexpectedly, eight-minutes in, the track breaks into a bass-driven rock groove and motors up the gentle incline of a climax.
The album actually closes with the splendidly-titled “Meanwhile, Otters Dance…”: electric bass locks into a steady bass-drum pulse and elaborates an infectious cyclical melody patterned with skipping cymbal patter and bouncing toms, while Williams sax-sings a rousing exposition.
Nicola Lancerotti is an Italian double bassist based in Brussels. His quartet on Skin is completed by Daniele Martini (tenor/soprano sax), Jordi Grognard (tenor sax, flute, clarinets) and Nelide Bandello (drums).
Skin is a clean-sounding album, the figurative economy of the quartet’s sleek melodicism evoking early Ornette Coleman even as its compositional rigour hints at knotty, pared-down Tim Berne (witness the exemplary concision, at 0’49”, of “TRIO”).
The snappy “Faking East”, a mid-paced workout for the whole quartet, is the most conventional track here. Elsewhere there’s plenty of meditative space for solo expression and speculative duo interaction (e.g. “Duo”, for sax and taut, pointillist drums).
Perhaps because these are compositions conceived by a musician routinely tasked with both maintaining rhythm pulse and outlining harmony, this is music that’s as leisurely and assured in its temporal development as it is keenly incisive: “Why?” proceeds without haste, framing a middle movement lifted by Jordi Grognard’s flighty flute solo with others that cushion Martini’s lucid tenor sax somnambulism with discretion; the Dolphyesque “La Quiete Prima Della Tempesta” (“The Calm Before the Storm”) is cerebrally involute; “Formiche Notturne” (“Ants Night”) crisp and snappy.
A word, finally, for label boss Stefano Ferrian‘s own music. His Nutimbre quintet are featured on the album Risk, released last year, and fit the general label aesthetic: the dE-NOIZE project, however, is quite different, and gets its own differentiating packaging, unique to dEN: a nice, solid square block with the CD snugly enclosed in a die-cut recess with a fitted lid.
As heard on last year’s #2: Lophophora, dE-NOIZE is an ambitious form of powerful post-rock-informed instrumental montage; unreservedly recommended for fans of Elliott Sharp or David Torn.
Apparently inspired by “the Ghost Dance Movement and the subsequent Wounded Knee Creek Massacre”, the album is a short, cinematic suite lasting just over half an hour; a composite of Massaker-style improv, dark ambience, and prog/electronica synthesis, with only abstracted hints of the Americana the title might lead you to expect.
While not stylistically congruous with the bulk of his label’s output, dE-NOIZE does emphasise dEN’s modernity and stylistic inclusiveness.
dEN Records label roundup part 1: Ab Baars, Ken Vandermark, Paal Nilssen-Love Double Tandem – OX + Massimo Minardi – Lost Copyright + Raw Frame – Krakovia
Mats Gustafsson, John Russell, Raymond Strid – Birds + Colin Stetson and Mats Gustafsson – Stones