Here are six very different recordings by artists who have chosen to create music that flies under the radar of popular culture, but that I think GP readers will dig for various reasons. There are 30-second audio clips in the player below to give you at least a tiny taste of what the music sounds like.
Erdem Helvacioglu & Ros Bandt
This beautifully realized album represents an entirely improvised collaboration between two of today’s most imaginative and celebrated new music composers and musicians—one Turkish and the other Australian. Here, Erdem Helvacioglu plays electric guitar through ultra-sophisticated electronic processing, while Ros Bandt performs on the Tarhu, a long-necked 4-string instrument built by Peter Biffin, which may be bowed or played pizzicato. Taking the plight of the black falcon (common to Europe and Australia) as their theme, the two create wondrously evocative soundscapes that explore both the behavior of the endangered raptors and the underlying theme of nature verses modernity—without ever becoming sententious or maudlin. This is one of those albums you need to immerse yourself in to fully appreciate—and as with Brian Eno’s more ambient works, each immersion results in fresh discoveries and greater satisfaction. Pozitif Muzik.
With Sunrise Behind Me
Guitarist Mike “YL” West acknowledges Allan Holdsworth as a principal influence, and the nine songs on this album bear that out. Accompanied by bassist David Hines and drummer Joel Taylor (both of whom have backed Holdsworth), West not only solos in a style similar to Holdsworth’s, employing similar tones, his compositions are reminiscent of AH’s ’80s output—chockablock with clever chorused and volume-swelled chords played over smoking fusion grooves of various tempos. Of course, West isn’t the only guitarist who has absorbed a lot from Holdsworth (or any other musician for that matter), and it wouldn’t be fair to characterize his work as entirely derivative, which it is not. Also, being able to play and compose well enough to elicit comparisons to Holdsworth is itself something of an accomplishment. But I look forward to West’s future work as he continues to craft his own voice and plot a more personal musical course. Self-released.
This rather curious disc by Slovakian multi-instrumentalist Zeleznak presents a series of songs and poems about a Gypsy fellow named “Ivan,” village youth, unrequited love, infidelity, death, and various other dramatic themes—accompanied by music ranging from Gypsy folk to jazzy and warped-reversed-loop solo electric guitar to dark ambient atmospherics with and without female vocals. Zeleznak’s intricate, harmonically adventurous, and often moody electric and acoustic guitar work plays a key role, buttressed by his mandolin, bouzouki, banjo, flute, and percussion playing, Michal Balla’s soprano saxophone and clarinet, and Kristian Bujak’s gajdy (pipes). A tiny book containing the lyrics in two languages, and three odd little animated videos complete this enjoyably exotic package. HV.
This album was released in 2009, but I only became aware of it recently. Forth has been associated with Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft community, and played in GC-related groups such as the Hellboys and Ten Seconds, and King Crimson drummer and percussionist Pat Mastelotto contributes to two tracks on Adamantine. Other than some Frippertronics-inspired looping here and there and a general Soundscape-esque sensibility, however, Forth avoids direct borrowing. Elements of ’80s-era Eno and Jon Hassell do peek through, especially in terms of the nuanced production, with myriad subtle sounds lurking almost subliminally in the mix—yet the music has a distinctive flavor. At the heart of the album is the 32 minute-long “Mourning Doves,” a droning, melancholy piece featuring Jeff Gauthier’s transcendent violin work. This is followed by my personal favorite, the serene “The Stream of Our Life,” again featuring Gauthier’s lovely playing. This music is several cuts above the typical ambient outing. Veneto West.
Earth Is a Cruel Master
Drummer/keyboardist/percussionist Wagnon’s compositions on this disc are simultaneously accessible and adventurous in a sort of Joe Jackson and Frank Zappa meet Weather Report fashion, with catchy hooks and phrasing tied to inventive chord changes and colorful textures. Wagnon’s vibraphone and marimba playing add semi-exotic touches, and guitarist Van Manakas contributes lots of wonderfully inventive and often quirky lines and arpeggios using mostly clean tones, continuously pushing the harmonic envelope without ever bursting it. This music is breezy enough to be a soundtrack to a summer excursion, while nonetheless keeping your brain fully engaged, and periodically interjecting bits of mysteriousness. Buckyball.
Cavaliere crafts eight oddly engaging “etudes,” mostly using processed acoustic guitars and drums (with the occasional voice and keyboard), all of which unfold in surprising ways. Inventive playing techniques and unusual rhythms combine with wacky delays, modulators, reverbs, distortion, filters, and other effects in the creation of Cavaliere’s idiosyncratic sound paintings. Self-released.