Two Al's
And The Cowgirls Kept On Dancing

(Brokken Records)

A very fine album where the only "wrong" thing is the cover, whose images - which are bound to remind one of the Toy Story cartoon franchise - don't adequately portray the richness and complexity of the featured music. (YMMV, of course.)

"What kind of music?", I hear you say. Well, in a nutshell, I'd call it "improvised music" - and I definitely won't be in the wrong, given the fact that the album cover says the music - recorded in two days - was "created on the spot". My description would be far from complete, however, were I not to refer to the deliberate poly-stylistic approach chosen here, the "tactile" dimension of this music, the use of overdubbing (not a lot, but it's definitely there), and those ex post treatments such as echoes and reverbs (also editing, I suppose) by sound engineer Chris Weeda at Studio Rapenburg, where he mixed and mastered the material.

This is a very "entertaining" album, which highlights the vivaciousness of the instrumental timbres, and sports a very musical-sounding dynamic range (a quality that's practically impossible to take for granted nowadays, even when it comes to this "type" of music). Listeners are invited to turn the volume knob to the right, adding just a pinch of high freqs.

The musicians? Alan Purves on percussion, "squeaky toys", "brim bram" (?), and "little instruments", and Albert van Veenendaal, on prepared piano.

I first listened to both of them - I mean, on the same album - on a fine work for quartet titled Midday Moon, which - come to think of it - was also the last time for me (but nowadays critics are asked to explore the universe on a bicycle). Later, I caught Purves in fine mode on the album The Midge, by Andy Bruce And The Rigidly Righteous. Chance has given me the possibility to listen to van Veenendaal's piano quite a few times, with the relatively recent Minimal Damage (Miniatures For Prepared Piano) as the best specimen I know of when it comes to his personal aesthetic.

Purves is an excellent colourist, while van Veenendaal's use of prepared piano makes one aware of his deep knowledge of the "language" of this instrument, when it comes to both the "contemporary classical" tradition and the tonal and timbral richness of the music from the "non-western" world.

The album is quite varied, (relatively) accessible, and quite enjoyable on its own. I have to confess I'd really like to catch these musicians on stage, in order to have a look at the close relationship between gesture and sound.

Let's have a quick look at those tracks now.

Nice To See You is a fine album opener, quite friendly as per its title, a Calypso with flutes, the piano here impersonating steel drums.

Before The Jump Is Over offers a tight rhythm sequence from percussion. There's a "jazzy" piano theme, piano strings going "zing!", the "jazzy" piano again (which reminded me of Milt Jackson's vibes!). Quite a surprise, out come shouting "vocals", quite Gospel!

An Unspun Web highlights percussion, the lower portion of the piano keyboard here acting as a kind of "wood sequencer", the high notes with echoes of Gamelan (and Morton Subotnick?). Mutable percussion, with an ear-catching "phasing" effect.

New Shoes Blues sounds a bit like a bizarre "salterello" from Southern Italy. Lotsa percussion. The piece gets progressively more lively. There's a strong thematic core. Fine timbral surprise, wooden sticks. A slow ending.

Clean Up Your Own Closet is a bizarre "noisy" episode, which for a moment reminded me of Hans Reichel's daxophone. Toys, percussion, piano. In closing, little bells with reverb.

Come In is one of the two long pieces of the album. Something which sounds like an accordion - or maybe a bagpipe? Purves is Scottish - piano bass, resonant, with a neo-classical atmosphere. Fine use of pedal, for a "Chopin"-like melody. Pedal by Purves, and a cool, "folk-y", melody.

Camel Thurst features "lazy" percussion with reverb, piano, and an "Eastern"-sounding melody. A mouth harp? A few overdubs.

Tiny Klompen has a rarefied mood. An alto marimba (?), glockenspiel, resonant percussion ( la Zappa), woods and metals, the piano here impersonating a harp.

It's Now Forever is the longest track. A curve progression, it starts slow with isolated sounds, metallic strings, the individual sounds placed on a dark, "breathy", canvas. At about 4' there's a strong pulse, then a sketchy thematic melody. Another very "ethnic-sounding" episode. An environment with echo, and definitely a few overdubs.

Tok The Tok = "Clock"? Metallic-sounding, very rhythmic. Echoes and reverbs. Surprisingly thematic.

And The Cowgirls Kept On Dancing, with sticks and basso continuo, sounds halfway between a tarantella and ragtime (!). A brief divertissement.

To Bet On Bells. Metals with echo. Strict tempo. Echo! Ambient!

Dutch Delights is (I suppose) a humorous piece, with "annoying-sounding" toys, a real toys orchestra! Piano acting as a pedal. Piano here sounding quite "minimal".

Love Story pairs something which to me sounds like a "Debussy moment la Muhal Richard Abrams" with a noisy, elephant-like, lament. An ironic title?

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2014 | Feb. 27, 2014