2016 marks Madeleine Peyrouxs twentieth anniversary as a recording artist with the release of Secular Hymns, a spirited and soulful masterwork of loping, skipping, sassy, feisty and sexy tunes delivered in a captivating melange of funk, blues and jazz.
Like drum 'n' bass, ambient is a genre which relies on making a little go a very long way; the resultant glut of weedy minimalist pastiches barely bears a cursory listen for the most part, but this collaboration between Harold Budd and Hector Zazou demonstrates better than any recent offering how the spaces between the sounds can be made pregnant with possibility. On "Pandas in Tandem", the ghost of Erik Satie treads lightly over a shuffle breakbeat; the result is fragile and crystalline, as tentatively pristine as snowflakes. Elsewhere, heavy rhythmic breathing carries "Around the Corner from Everywhere"; slivers of what sounds like hammered dulcimer undulate through "Johnny Cake", and clarinets collude conspiratorially on "As Fast as I Could Look Away She was Still There".
Harold Budd's discs tend to end up in the new age section of the record store, because his music is generally pleasant, quiet, and soothing. But where most new age composers go for the obvious (and sometimes saccharine) melody, Budd veers off into ambiguity; he also lacks the mystical bent that often goes along with the new age style. Instead, his compositional voice is more like that of a detached observer – one who creates beauty without getting too involved with it. By the Dawn's Early Light finds Budd writing for various combinations of viola, guitar, harp, and keyboards. All of the music is lovely, but not all of the compositions sound complete. In several cases, they sound like raw ideas rushed into the studio before their time. Guitarist Bill Nelson provides much of the interest throughout the album, and the sighing, slithery viola of Mabel Wong lends an occasional turn-of-the-century salon feel to the proceedings. The only really embarrassing moments occur when Budd – whose voice sounds like an unfortunate cross between Garrison Keillor and Kermit the Frog – reads his own poetry. Skip those tracks and you'll be fine.
The phrase 'Lovely Thunder' suggests a beautiful sound with an undertone of menace. One need go no farther than "Gypsy Violin," the last song and centerpiece of the album Lovely Thunder, to hear how Harold Budd takes the phrase and forges a musical equivalent. Underneath the plaintive melody of the synthesized violin and an occasional foghorn-reminiscent bass note lies a bed of synth chords that are present throughout, sometimes adding notes, sometimes dropping them, sometimes moving a chord up or down a key and into dissonance with the rest. The overall result is an undulating base that never quite lets the listener settle onto firm ground, giving the song a distinct edge. Drones do figure prominently as a musical base for many of the album's other songs, yet the music is generally more akin to the reverberated keyboard treatments Budd utilized to stunning effect on his two collaborations with Brian Eno. Those looking to explore beyond The Plateux of Mirror and The Pearl would do well to give this album a listen, as they will most likely be both challenged and satisfied.
H.M.S. Avenger is headed into battle against the French fleet during the Napoleonic Wars, and the dark shadow of two recent mutinies in the English fleet concern Captain Vere. He relies on his cruel and often sadistic Master-at-Arms John Claggert to maintain what he believes to be tenuous order and discipline aboard the ship. When a new seaman, Billy Budd, is pressed into service from a passing merchantman, his innocent, happy-go-lucky attitude quickly endears him to both his messmates as well as the ship's officers.
"Madeleine Peyroux's fourth album isn't the normal mix of standards (contemporary or traditional) with a few songs of her own composing; each of the 11 tracks is a new song written by Peyroux, usually in tandem with producer Larry Klein or a guest. (…) Bare Bones is a remarkable work from one of the best artists in vocal jazz."
The second in Brian Eno's ambient series, The Plateaux of Mirrors fuses the fragile piano melodies of Harold Budd and the atmospheric electronics of Eno to create a lovely, evocative work. In sharp contrast to the exaggerated pieces found on his debut, The Pavilion of Dreams, this record finds Budd delivering sharp shards of piano notes pregnant with meaning and minimal in the best sense of the word. Eno's unobtrusive electronics add a resonance and atmosphere that draw from the ambient textures found on Discreet Music, Music for Films, and Evening Star.