Ether column, May 2007

Loads of great gigs this month, so straight down to business. First up is Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who will no doubt transform the magnificent Großer Saal of the Konzerthaus with his vivid, airy playing. Garbarek is a man who sits comfortably between the worlds of jazz, ambient, classical and world musics. After a stint in Keith Jarrett’s band in the 70s, he made his name with a string of albums that came to exemplify the limpid, crystalline sound of the ECM label. Forswearing the improvisational theatrics of Ayler and Coltrane, Garbarek’s style draws on Scandinavian mythology and exudes a tender, sunny playfulness. At the time of writing this concert was almost sold out, so check before travelling.

Japanese psych-rock heads Ghost land in Vienna as part of an extensive European tour. Active since 1988, this free-form collective has a shifting line-up centred around singer and guitarist Masaki Batoh. Their music spans a range of influences including the transcendent pastoralism of Pink Floyd, the pyramidal drones of the Velvet Underground and the nagging rhythms of krautrock bands such as Can and Amon Düül II. New album In Stormy Nights is the first Ghost record to have been recorded using the same line-up as its predecessor, yet this new-found stability does not imply any kind of creative stagnation. On the contrary, with this record Batoh and his comrades have reached new heights of invention and inspiration.

More down-to-earth pleasures are provided by Richmond Fontaine, an American alt-country band with a wistful, literate approach to songcraft. Singer and songwriter Willy Vlautin has been much acclaimed for his lyrics, which present echoes of the great American short story writer Raymond Carver in their downbeat realism and unflinching attention to the warp and weft of everyday lives. Vlautin has recently published a novel, The Motel Life, extending his sympathetic observational writing to the printed page. Musically Richmond Fontaine are a deceptively humble proposition, with Vlautin’s understated vocals and Paul Brainard’s washes of pedal steel guitar illuminating these quietly resonant songs of love, hope and loss.

Finally, this month sees a rare home town concert by Viennese electronica legend Fennesz, appearing in an unlikely duo show with American singer Mike Patton. Along with artists like Peter Rehberg and Farmers Manual, Fennesz was in the late 90s and early 00s one of the key figures of the influential Mego label, a Vienna-based imprint that was dedicated to innovative electronic music. Less defiantly atonal than some of his former labelmates, Fennesz’s fusion of guitar and synthesiser is suffused with a bright and warm elegance. His 2001 album Endless Summer was a loving homage to the Beach Boys’ ecstatic summery textures, flawlessly reimagined for the modern age. What he’s doing collaborating with a journeyman like Patton is anyone’s guess, but the results should be interesting in any event. And that’s your lot – something for everyone this month, I hope.

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