For the third year running I’m posting a fiendishly difficult music-related picture quiz for Easter (see 2009’s quiz and 2008’s effort). Identify the 20 artists in the pictures and send me your answers (using the form below) by the closing date of Easter Monday, 5 April. I might even have a few CDs to send out as prizes. Now go.
The competition is now closed, winner and answers here.
Fascinating and highly unusual evening of not-quite-free jazz from ace Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, three of his fellow countrymen and Viennese ringer dieb13 (Dieter Kovacic). The deal here is a contemporary take on Swedish jazz of the 50s and 60s, transplanting that music’s strong melodic lines and sense of lyricism into the context of improvisation and electronic soundscaping. It could have ended up as a right old mess, but in the event it was a thoroughly convincing performance, due in no small part to the exhilarating urgency of Gustafsson’s saxophone work.
In marked contrast to the long, sweeping improvs we normally see from Gustafsson, these pieces were short, tightly focused and – at least in part – notated. The saxophonist took the trouble to introduce each piece, carefully and humorously introducing the composer and his place in the history of Swedish jazz. It was clear that the group love this music and were there, more than anything else, to pay homage to it.
Judging by the intentness with which Gustafsson, tuba player Per-Åke Holmlander and vibraphone player Kjell Nordeson were studying their music stands, the notated elements were important to the overall structure of each piece. As a result, the pieces tended to begin steadily, with the warm tones of the vibraphone bringing colour and light into the room. It wasn’t ever long, though, before the group ceased to rely on their sheet music and ventured into the realm of pure improvisation, with Gustafsson’s sax playing as wild and torrential as it is in The Thing and Sonore. Taking the occasional break from this vein-bursting activity, he manipulated various bits of table-top electronics to produce clouds of unforgiving noise. Kovacic’s own interventions on turntable and electronics unfolded slowly and unnervingly, while Nordeson’s vibraphone weaved miraculous patterns around this stormy weather.
I still don’t get the point of that missing J, though.
Not a group I know very much about, this, but I was sufficiently intrigued by Ulver‘s reputation to check them out at the Arena last week, and was highly impressed by the power and intensity of their performance. Seemingly with their roots in black metal, they appear to have abandoned that particular creative cul-de-sac in favour of an uncanny and highly original synthesis of avant rock, prog, noise and electronics. As is often the way with music I’ve never heard before, I found myself groping for reference points, and was initially befuddled by clashing impressions of Pink Floyd, King Crimson and late-period Coil. Things started to make more sense when I realized how close elements of Ulver’s sound were to the more liturgical moments of Dead Can Dance, with the same atmosphere of metaphysical grace and eerie, otherworldly detachment that I loved in that fondly remembered duo.
More striking still were the similarities with Towering Inferno’s Kaddish, a mostly forgotten, hugely powerful multimedia project that I had the privilege of seeing twice in London in the early 90s. Described as “a dream history of Europe in the wake of the Holocaust”, Towering Inferno used back-projected film montages alongside pulverizing rock music, Jewish chant and serene eastern European folksong to shattering effect. I was more than once reminded of Kaddish while watching Ulver, whose use of film (Nazi rallies, death camps, pornography, bloodthirsty wild animals and so on) as a visual accompaniment to the music was frequently devastating.
None of these lazy comparisons are intended to detract from the uniqueness of Ulver as a proposition. Urgently driving these short, potent songs, the dense, riffing guitar was offset by plaintive, haunting vocals and sonorous keyboard lines. I found this music to be affecting in a strange, almost dehumanized way, insidious in its ability to channel atmospheres that many people would prefer to remain dormant.