Monday, February 22, 2010

Celer - Cursory Asperses and In Escaping Lakes

Cursory Asperses and In Escaping Lakes are two exquisite, related albums by Celer, one of the finest and most prolific ambient/drone/minimalist groups to ever grace the earth, though tragically they did for only a few short years. From their formation in 2005 to their sudden end in the summer of 2009, Celer recorded no fewer than 30 full length albums, and this is a modest lower bound. The astonishing thing is that I haven't yet heard one that isn't an honest to god masterpiece.

Last summer, s of - introduced me to Celer via their album Capri, at the time their most recent release. I was just beginning to get deeply into the Texas duo Stars of the Lid, who today remain one of the best and most widely known drone groups; s had made some lofty claims that Celer are the genre's best kept secret, with albums outclassing even SotL's best. Capri impressed me immediately, and within a few weeks I was beginning to get seriously attached to it. Then, disaster, with the passing away of Danielle Baquet-Long and the consequent dissolving of Celer.

Since then I've done some exploring of the band's discography, and one thing I've found is that Capri is something of an anomaly. It consists of 29 tracks, most of which are shorter than 3 minutes, and only one of which exceeds 5. In a sense it's almost the ambient equivalent of a hip hop beat tape, like the recently blogged about Rap Beats Vol.1 by Samiyam. While Capri is an extremely enjoyable listen, I'm of the opinion that Celer's long form drone pieces, which are much more numerous in their catalog than albums like Capri, are even more sublime, because they allow much more time for the pieces to breathe and develop. Cursory Asperses and In Escaping Lakes are two of these.

These works are easy enough to describe superficially. The hard part, which might be impossibly hard, is capturing in words what really makes them special. Very subdued, ambient drones float, in stasis, with hardly any sense of time. Except, they don't quite stay in the same place...they ebb, they pulse in long graceful arcs. Saturation levels in the drones shift in gentle grades. Here a higher frequency cuts in for a few moments and dies away; there a deep rumble of bass moves shadowy just at the threshold of perception. Listen to any 10 second long sample of the piece, and it sounds like nothing is happening, and yet after a few minutes of listening it's really hard to tell if we're basically in the same place, musically, as before. That's because we're often not - these pieces aren't loop based, but are really organically changing over the course of their long durations. Cursory Asperses is just under an hour, and In Escaping Lakes is about 40 minutes long, and so far their structures have been too subtle for me to understand in conventional terms like ABAC or ABCD and the like. The pieces do have distinct movements, but they blend into each other so finely that borders are nearly impossible to reckon. Learning to detect and make sense of the paths these pieces follow is part of the joy of listening to them.

Of course, with sounds this good, it isn't really necessary to worry about or even give a thought to form. It's all too easy to put this on and just soak in the beauty, preferably while lying down with the lights off. Cursory Asperses features field recordings from around a stream, among other instruments with so much reverb applied you can't tell what they are, and sounds light, open, and cool. The drones are sinuous, slow and searching, like calm streams branching off a central river represented by the more bass-heavy tones. In Escaping Lakes is the sequel, and it has a lot more bass; play it after Cursory Asperses and the effect is like a slow plunge into still, cold depths.
Cursory Asperses is a series of pieces based around the single concept of slow movement. Throughout the process of composing and mixing, we kept in mind, and based everything on the form of certain field recordings, made at an isolated stream in the woods, of the slow trickle of the water, and of laundry hanging on cords in the backyard, flapping softly in the wind. While combining these field recordings with recordings of instruments, we mixed them into a more whole form of slow movement, with delicate, thin layers, but which we also intend to display our ideas interpreting the soft nature of Slow Flow. (Slow Flow)
In Escaping Lakes is the sequel to Cursory Asperses, previously released on Slow Flow. Where Cursory Asperses focused on the slow movement primarily of streams, and other field recordings, In Escaping Lakes continues this pathway to expand into a deeper subject, of lakes and their surroundings. Inspired by a painting by Anthony Feyer, In Escaping Lakes was made to demonstrate enclosure, depth, and closeness in still places. (Fluid Radio)
Fans of Celer still have 20 or more unreleased albums to look forward to. They have been coming out like hot cakes, and all of them are amazing.

Download Cursory Asperses (apologies for the low bit rate, but this still sounds great).
This album seems to be out of print.

Download In Escaping Lakes
Buy In Escaping Lakes

Post script: heartfelt thanks to Will Thomas Long of Celer for featuring this review on the Celer blog!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sam Rivers - Inspiration

Here's another challenging yet accessible modern jazz album I've been enjoying lately. Sam Rivers recorded this album with his avant garde big band, the Rivbea Orchestra, in 1999. At the time, Rivers was pushing 80 (he's now 86 and still going strong!), but the music he scored for this album, and his solos throughout it, are as adventurous and energetic as those of any young vanguard on the scene today. This shouldn't really come as a surprise, since Sam Rivers is one of the most experienced players alive, having recorded numerous free jazz masterpieces since the mid 1960s with high profile artists like Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Anthony Braxton, and etc.

Inspiration features daunting big band arrangements that alternate between extremely carefully written phrases and far-out improvised solos. Often the band really swings, but in a sort of bizarre disjointed way; I'm reminded of the experimental big band works of Mingus from albums like The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady and Let My Children Hear Music, but the playing on Inspiration is typically a lot less tuneful, and much more abstract, than those. Actually, the album is often quite tuneful and even downright beautiful (hear "Beatrice" and "Solace"), but it speaks a particular jazz dialect that's a little strange to the ears at first. The forms of the pieces elude my comprehension even after multiple listens; new ways of hearing the parts fit together continue to reveal themselves, and the range of expression achieved through the variation of band textures is amazing. Some of the tracks are very dissonant and fierce, which is to be expected given Rivers' discography full of pretty out there records, but the music on Inspiration is generally as accessible as, say, Contours (Blue Note 1965), a classic free jazz staple.

Besides Sam Rivers I'm not familiar with any of the players on this album, but they're all more than up to par to work with the master. There are too many cool trombone, trumpet and sax solos to count, and the rhythm section (consisting only of drums and bass) stays deep in the pocket from start to finish. There are also appearances from a flute (played by Rivers) and an electric guitar. Very exciting, expressive, cerebral, vigorous music. Residents of Orlando, FL are fortunate to have regular opportunities to see modern jazz's most accomplished octogenarian perform with this group and others.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Vijay Iyer Trio - Historicity

This is the first album I've heard by the amazing piano improviser Vijay Iyer (b. 1971), and also his most recently released. There seems to be a global, cross-genre trend going on with musicians fervently blazing trails toward the future of music, pushing genres further and further, exploring new territory - and this new release certainly displays this action in jazz. Somewhat interesting, then, that it's called Historicity -
"Historicity in philosophy is the underlying concept of history, or the intersection of teleology (the concept and study of progress and purpose) temporality (the concept of time) and historiography (semiotics and history of history). Varying conceptualizations of historicity emphasize linear progress or the repetition or modulation of past events." (Wikipedia)
Now, I'm not sure what all of that means, or exactly what Iyer is trying to say titling his album that, but I'm guessing it has something to do with the grand and vast tradition of jazz innovators before him, and the synthesis of their influences on his own playing, and how he has became a part of that tradition by cooking up something truly new in the process...or....

Okay, enough philosophical rambling. Here we have an album of three startlingly virtuosic and intelligent improvisers going crazy. The first album that springs to mind to compare this to is Gently Disturbed by the Avishai Cohen Trio, but their similarities are on the superficial side. Both feature piano trios in which all three players take on an equally important and expressive role. Both feature insane technicality, especially with rhythm, and both display near-constant improvisational genius and sensitive group interplay. But Gently Disturbed has Israeli melodies at its core, so the songs tend to have an epic and emotionally moving (sometimes sentimental) feel, and a deep sense of tradition. (By the way, Gently Disturbed is one of my very favorite albums on this blog).

Historicity as I hear it is all about modernity, intellectual muscle and sheer surprise. Vijay Iyer brings to mind acknowledged master improvisers like Keith Jarrett, Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor, but somehow manages to sound like none of them. He is some sort of relentless idea-machine; passage by passage his lines are constantly sliding into new contours and rhythmic patterns, expanding and contracting time, exploring every inch of the space conjured by the given piece. If heard totally on its own, I'm not sure all the piano music on Historicity could make sense, but Stephan Crump (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums) are the sort of players with that seemingly telepathic gift, who can not only keep up with Iyer, but reveal his abstract stream's unmistakable structure and form.

There are four Iyer originals here, and a number of intriguing covers, including Andrew Hill's "Smoke Stack" (check out Hill's great Blue Note album of the same name), Bernstein's "Somewhere" from West Side Story, Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother", and an awesome, hard rollicking rendition of "Galang" by M.I.A. (say what?? - yes!). All the covers are executed with total originality and wit, and some of them are very funky.

From what I've read, Iyer's previous albums have been fusions of jazz and world music. I'm interested to hear him in that context, but he sounds beyond amazing in this one, and I hope he continues to explore this kind of edgy, super creative modern jazz on future releases.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hypnotic Underground Beat Mix - 2.9.10

So, I have this bi-weekly college radio program on which I play whatever happens to be in my ears at the moment. Sometimes I do genre themed playlists, and the other night I put together a beat mix I'm particularly pleased with. Thought I would share it with the's the tracklist:

Gemmy - "Rainbow Rd"
Jackhigh - "Aviation"
1000names - "Ice is the Silent Language"
Nosaj Thing - "3rd Complex"
Flying Lotus - "Tea Leaf Dancers"
Nujabes - "Sea of Cloud"
Ras G - "Yea..."
Pete Rock - "Play Dis Only At Night"
Depakote - "Quarter Milk"
Samiyam - "It's Important"
Onra - "War"
Dr. Who Dat? - "Stop Calling Me"
Teebs - "Untitled" (9th track from Teebs 09)
AFTA-1 - "The Facts"
MF Doom - "Secret Herbs and Spices Beat 5"
Mike Slott featuring Muhsinah - "Deux Three"
Tranquil - "Payroll (Paul White's Clean Dub)"
Gold Panda - "Fifth Ave"
J Dilla - "Oh Oh"
The Gaslamp Killer - "Track 1" from Akuma no Chi Ga Odoru
~ 60 minutes

Fades and arrangements were done in Live 8. No DJ speak on this, just the music. A couple of the tracks are really brief, too brief for how dope they are, so I extended them a bit for the mix. Hope you enjoy! (I just love hearing about it when you do).


Oh and happy Valentine's Day readers! As AFTA-1 sez, Love is real...

Monday, February 1, 2010


Samiyam is Sam Baker, lifelong resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan (not Detroit!) until the City of Angels claimed him in 2008 in a coup that solidified LA's status as the world's nexus for contorted future-funk mutations. We have MySpace to thank for this - it was through that site that Flying Lotus found Samiyam and took him under his proverbial wing. Now the two are close as kin, with FlyLo even referring to Sam as his little brother in a video online. Somewhere in an unseen zone of Los Angeles, they make unbelievably crazy beats as FLYamSAM and ignite a lot of resinous plant material - mostly the latter.

Unfortunately FLYamSAM's debut, the Precious Cargo EP, hasn't seen the light of day yet. Look out for it on Brainfeeder in the near future. Meanwhile, Samiyam has three great solo releases under his belt. Rap Beats Vol. 1 is his full length debut from 2008, an instrumental beat collection with 23 tracks, all under 2 minutes.

The album was self-released, and each copy has a personal message or doodle scribbled on it. If you're a fan of Madlib, J Dilla, and video games circa 1990, and if you happen to have a short attention span, you will probably love this. On the other hand, some listeners might find it too ADD. They should check out the EPs Return (2008) and Man vs. Machine (2009), released more recently and featuring more developed tunes.

Among the numerous groundbreaking beat makers on the scene in LA at the moment, Samiyam delivers a sound with distinctly more nostalgia and humor built into it, which makes him one of the most enjoyable to listen to.

Samiyam on MySpace