When Melanie De Biasio released No Deal in 2014, it was embraced by jazz critics, DJs, and club audiences simultaneously. Gilles Peterson was so taken with its monochromatic ambient textures, stark arrangements, and clever improvisational intimations that he commissioned an album of remixes. Blackened Cities is not a conventional follow-up, but an adventurous endeavor rife with risk. The release consists of a single 24-minute track that unfolds like a suite. The conservatory-trained Belgian vocalist and flutist and her longtime musical associates – Pascal Mohy on piano, Pascal Paulus on analog synths and clavinet, and Dré Pallemaerts on drums (with guest double bassist/cellist Sam Gerstmans) – deliver a full-scale sonic drama that crosses a wide musical expanse and evokes an encyclopedia of stylistic references, yet comes across as a totally original whole. Its title comes from impressions of postindustrial cities De Biasio visited on her international tour: Detroit, Manchester, her native Charleroi; each has a storied past and a devastated façade, yet reflects its own unique beauty and tenacity.
Essential: A masterpiece of progressive rock music
Back in 1970, whilst browsing in my favorite used record store, i came across this album. Despite the ghastly sleeve art (not the cover pictured above), i turned it over and noticed “Sympathy” included in the track listings, a song i had heard many times on the radio in the office but had never really taken much notice of, despite it being a huge hit single. The photo of the band clinched it – in those days any strange album i found depicting “four hippies in a field / park / wood” was worth investigating as part of my “scene”.