Formerly based in Poland and for the last few years back in label boss Hayden Berry’s native UK, the Preserved Sound label continues to flourish. Over the years Berry has successfully been curating a roster that gives the label an identity that is essentially theirs. Artists like Endless Melancholy, Vitaly Beskrovny were part of their beginning while recent additions include two artists that are featured in this review – Cédric D. Lavoie and Neal Heppleston. Also joining them here are Tess Said So with their third album for the label and Adrian Lane with his fourth Preserved Sound release. The stand out factors for me in reviewing this quartet of releases are 1. how sonicly good they are and, 2. each release has it’s own feel and the label are not merely releasing similar sounding works.
Its easy to underestimate the simplicity of stripping back music. Removing all that in some cases can be musical clutter, and isolating an instrument (or a couple) can reveal so much more and add a layer of honesty to the proceedings. This is very much the case with Lavoie’s second album. A very much self contained unit with the artist himself playing piano, double bass, percussion and samples.
“Inspired by the hours spent on travelling on tour as a jobbing double bass player and all the isolated landscapes he encountered, Canadian composer Cédric D. Lavoie’s 88 was composed on the piano with bowed and plucked upright bass, some discrete percussion and sound effects. “Everything started on the piano,” says Lavoie. “I also explored recording techniques emphasising the sound resulting from the mechanics of the piano and my fingers on the keyboard. These sounds are rarely acoustically audible, but add an intimate and intriguing aspect to the recording.”
As a child he studied piano and violin later moving on to electric bass and then double bass. He plays in a Jazz trio Misc. while also playing with Canadian indie singer Alejandra Ribera. This album feels like a return to the music of that of his childhood instruments while through the ongoing musical education. There is a strong Modern Classical feel to the pieces, naturally given that most started with piano recordings, mixed in with curious experimentation as he explores textures throughout the album. One of the things that I gravitate to music is the raw, natural sounding recordings of piano or in this case strings. Sometimes music can be somewhat sanitized and have the rough edges polished smooth. Sometimes it works with calming ambience, but for other styles, like this and in particular the opening track “Le début de la fin”, the rawness of the recording injects a layer of earnestness into the composition.
“Ghost in the Machine” nicely weaves in looped field recording of some sort around what sounds like very loose almost improvised piano while the following track “Désescalade” brings out the noirish qualities of both the bass and the piano. Slow building, moving through movements with a deft touch, the piece has a nice introspective narrative quality about it. By the time that “Le bout de l’île” comes around Lavoie has already demonstrated his musical chops and his ability to construct such open sound works from seemingly small amounts of instrumentation. Headphone listening is recommended as Lavoie adds in very subtle textures to the tracks that don’t leap out to the listener, but reward those who listen deeply. This album has been patiently waiting in my queue for far to long and it’s at the moment that “Etude sur du masking tape” flows into my ears that I find I am kicking myself for not fully exploring this release much, much sooner.
“88” is a release that in this climate where it can become so hard to pick out gems in the Modern Classical sphere due to the saturation of releases, is one that demands, not begs attention. It speaks to me primarily because of its pace. Lavoie is in no hurry to finish the pieces, nor does he feel the need to make them overladen with excessive instrumentation or movements. Just cerebral music that is an enjoyable and relaxing listen. “88” is available on limited Cd and Digital and is easily recommended.
Adrian Lane has appeared on these pages before with his “Playing with Ghosts” album making the first best of list I did back in 2017. “I have Promises to Keep” is his fifth album from Preserved Sound and was inspired by John Cage’s take on prepared piano.
“On I Have Promises to Keep, Adrian spontaneously recorded phrases on the piano, before cutting them up and putting them together on the computer. The recording and composing were completed simultaneously. “On a compositional level, each of my albums has a strong sense of melody, while on an emotional level, there’s a sense of calm and melancholy. My work is about layers and how one layer interacts with another.”
Much like the cover art, a cut up painting of Lane’s own creation, the album features a similar compositional style. Lane works largely with piano and computer, recording pieces that will then be configured, manipulated, stretched and re-formed in post production. While recording the piano elements lane would place things like tin foil between the strings as well as using percussive devices on the piano’s body to create rhythms. This experimentation is best shown on the track “Similar Latitudes” which makes me think of Markus Popp / Oval mixed with a Gamelan group. The timbres of the piano are changed to give the piece a dulcimer sound, but with also an electronic feel despite the organic raw material.
Much like his previous album, there is a string rhythmical feel as demonstrated in “The First For Another Day” which also highlights another of the core elements of Lane’s work – melody. As the artist himself states with with the above quote, melody as well as layering and experimentation are all strong facets of is audio and visual work. Some of the tracks are more experimental than others, while some like “Rumour on the Wind” has a vast amount of stylistic influences. A piece like “Moonset” uses the prepared piano more as a field recording , as if someone is trudging through snow. There is also a balance between glassy piano and a more metallic sound.
You could easily think by stripping back instrumentation and compositional styles would result in a one dimensional album, but Lane proves that wrong with the emotive “For When I Return” with it’s highly percussive feel, mixed with presumably plucked piano, alongside insistent but delicate piano and the way it moves along with a narrative feel. Towards the end I find my words can become redundant. If I mention the rhythmical qualities of the music it may seem that the music is very much repetitive. That is not the case. You can easily see a line that runs through and ties the album together, but you can also see where Lane veers down different sound and textural paths to make sure that he is not merely repeating himself, but searching out more in these pockets of sounds that he has created.
Again Lane has created an album that, well, sounds like Adrian Lane. As usual it sounds as good as any that you would get from a larger label, but with that handcrafted touch that is missing from them. If you liked his previous works then this is a worthy addition to your collection.
“I Have Promises To Keep” is available on limited Cds and Digital.
“On his debut album “Folk Songs for Double Bass”, Neal Heppleston takes a selection of popular folk songs with strong lyrical content, stripping them back to the basic melody to create worlds in which the lyrics live through the instrumentation. With contributions from Jim Ghedi, Sharron Krauss and Nick Jonah Davis, Folk Songs for Double Bass transposes traditional folk melodies onto the double bass and created soundscapes around them, building different worlds for them to live in.”
Initially on reading about this album I was a little worried it was out of my musical remit. Now, I wouldn’t call myself knowledgeable about folk music, so I have to remove this from the equation as it would be pointless trying to pretend. So, instead I find myself focusing on the more dronal moments of the album such as the epic “Bows of London” where the double bass is used alongside drones and highlights the ways that they interact. Strings take the place of the singer with melodic and emotive sounds being drawn from them with a lyrical flow. This is probably best demonstrated in the final two minutes after the piece has gone through a movement characterized by discord.
A noticeable factor within the album is that it is stylistically different from track to track. “Push the Business On”” feels like an old campfire alt country-ish piece mixed dark drones that emanate from the double bass. The following track “Spanish Ladies” infuses experimentation in with this building buzzing squall of collected sounds over the bass and jazz like drumming that doesn’t feel like a folk song at all. Instead it acts as an intro of sorts to “Bonny Ship the Diamond” which mixes up influences from far and wide such as post rock and drone, reminding me of a project like Isotope 217. This track alone is worth the price of admission. There are beds of sounds layering on top of each other, you think that it is heading in one way, but you focus on certain elements and it can lead you in other directions.
The post rock meets folk hybrid is further explored with “Spencer the Rover”. While other pieces might have been replicating the lyrical features of folk music, this particular track instead goes for a more emotive cinematic feel that takes the listener on a journey and brings the attention to Heppleston’s playing that is nicely enhanced by a string section. The album’s finale “Just As The Tide Was Flowing” continues with the way the album has flowed. Initially the opening tracks were more stripped back, raw and naked (especially the second track “The Minstrel Boy”), but as the album has progressed, like a flower it has grown and evolved and opened up more sonic possibilities. The longer the album has gone on, the grander it has gotten. This particular track is built around piano with what sounds like musical saw howling in the distant and low bowed double bass carrying the weight of the piece. Despite its modest playing time of under five minutes, the track feels much more epic. The pace of the track is slow which encourages the musicians to draw out as much feeling with their playing as possible. Cinematic in nature it leans to the alt country meets post rock meets folk styles and leaves the listener at the end of the album automatically returning to the start of the album to investigate it all once more.
If I am being honest I initially wasn’t sure whether or not this album would be for me. taking the folk music description at only face value reduces the potency of the music and is only one factor within it’s whole. Heppleston and his collaborators have created an album that I know I will be re-investigating time and time again and absorbing more of it’s finely crafted works.
“Folk Songs For Double Bass” is currently sold out on CD with a tentative possibility of re-issue. Digital is still available.
“Tess Said So is the creative partnership of pianist Rasa Daukus and percussionist Will Larsen. With the combination of piano and percussion at the centre of their work and a good dose of electronics thrown into the mix, Rasa and Will adopt a pop sensibility to a classical format, infusing their sound with pop, jazz, ambience, minimalism, and electronica. Their latest album, Piaf’s Boyfriend, is an ode to people they met while on tour.”
One of the things that has come to my attention while doing this blog and engaging in more present listening, rather than using music in a passive situation, is how much of less is more. In the case of this Australian duo whose music is largely based upon piano and percussion, in lesser hands it could result in such a narrow scope of music and due to the inherent sounds of their chosen instruments, stark. But with their third album (and third for the label, once more emphasizing their building relationships with the artists they release), the duo explore more cinematic environments which they have honed by performing live soundtracks to films like Nosferatu.
You get the sense that Daukus and Larsen are moving more towards the cinematic side of music with the tracks contained in this release being mini movies. I had been aware of the duo, but not their music and the initial expectations that I had were nicely smashed to oblivion. A track like “Space Between” highlights their subtlety and mood creation, while also letting each musician bring something to the piece that is as equally captivating as each others contribution. From the outset with a track like “ER” that focuses on Daukus’ piano playing while Larsen’s deft touches illuminates the piece sets the scene for what is to unfold. Both players are accomplished in their own rights with Daukus being a former Director of Music for the University of Canberra as well as working in the record industry, while Larsen, a ARIA award winning percussionist has worked on films as well as working with a variety of Orchestras and Ballet companies.
This album was inspired by people they met on their travels and while they themselves would know the stories behind the pieces intimately, the listener feels like we are listening to pieces from several different movies, which I guess is much like the stories about peoples lives. The pieces verge from the more experimental ones like “One Eye Open” with it’s wide space, Morse Code like sounds, static and thumping all with a minor sense of dread, through to the innocent and childlike joy “My Sisters and I”.Just when you think you’ve got the duo pegged they throw the rumbling beat heavy “West of the Sun” and the jazz influenced “Black Light” to make sure you are paying attention and to let you know there is many more sides to the music of Tess Said So.
The strength of the creativity of both members shines through with the album. Their academic, experimental and cinematic understanding of music composition allows them to freely mix in different styles and to create engaging and intriguing pieces.
“Piaf’s Boyfriend” is available on limited CD and Digital.