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Hakon Stene

Hakon Stene 2Normally I wouldn’t be telling you now about an album that’s several weeks away from its release date, but in the case of Hakon Stene’s Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal I can’t wait that long. Since I first put an advance copy on the CD player, it’s been a struggle to listen to anything else. No space — workroom, car, outdoors — seems complete at the moment without its shimmering textures.

Stene is a Norwegian percussionist of considerable experience in all kinds of music.  He was a founder of a group called asimisimasa, performing the work of modern classical composers such as Brian Ferneyhough and Alvin Lucier, and he’s currently a research fellow at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, developing new repertoire for multi-percussion. I went to see him at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last week, performing the Danish composer Simon Steen-Andersen’s Black Box Music with the London Sinfonietta, and I’m sorry to say I didn’t enjoy it at all. But the experience didn’t change my feelings about his album.

Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal — to be released next month on the Oslo-based Hubro label, also the home of Huntsville, one of my favourite bands, and the interesting experimental guitarist Stein Urheim — consists of six compositions by the British composer Laurence Crane and one apiece by Gavin Bryars, Christian Wallumrod and Stene himself. They’re played by Stene on regular and quarter-tone vibraphones, bowed marimba, electric guitar, acoustic guitar with e-bow, electric keyboards and piano, with appearances by Tanja Orning (cello), Hans Christian Kjos Sorensen (cembalom) and Heloisa Amaral and Wallumrod (pianos).

I suppose you’d call this minimalist music, in the sense that there isn’t much going on here in terms of incident and gesture. What the pieces have in common, apart from the overall texture imposed by the keyboards and tuned percussion instruments, is a desire to isolate and exalt the process of modulation. This is a strongly tonal music from which virtually everything has been removed except the simple and repetitive chord changes, which are allowed to occur regularly but free from an explicit pulse, exposing the harmonic shift as the principal trigger mechanism for the emotions, as it is in so many kinds of music.

Here is Stene talking about his decision to play instruments other than the percussion for which he is known: “I am definitely not to be regarded as a guitarist any more (and absolutely not as a pianist!), but all my experience as a contemporary percussionist, where one must constantly adjust oneself to new playing situations and instruments, somehow makes it feasible. I don’t approach these instruments, for example the piano, as an altar, but as a tool for playing these relatively simple pieces. This is the kind of attitude that percussionists often have: instruments are tools one uses in order to produce a particular sound.”

It’s hard to find a language in which to write about this music. In its meditative tone and the beauty of his textures, it reminds me strongly of my favourite pieces by Morton Feldman, “Rothko Chapel” and “For Samuel Beckett”. It’s also reminiscent of some of the Necks’ work. And some of it (like Crane’s “Blue Blue Blue” — here’s a snatch of it) reminds me of what happens when the Beach Boys’ more experimental records are stripped right down to the basic rhythm track. So it might be best just to leave you with a couple more examples. Here’s Crane’s “Prelude for HS”, the first track from the album, with Stene on vibraphone, Orning on cello and Wallumrod on piano. And here’s Stene’s gorgeously ecstatic version of Crane’s “Riis”, on which he plays everything. You’ll get the idea pretty quickly. To me, this is a wonderfully pure distillation of what music can do.

* The photograph of Stene is from his website: http://www.hakonstene.net.

2014: the best bits

Lisa Dwan The mouth belongs to the actress Lisa Dwan, the only thing visible in an otherwise completely blacked-out Duchess Theatre during her performance of Samuel Beckett’s Not I, staged in London at the beginning of the year (and later in New York). It was part of an evening of three short Beckett monologues, all delivered by Dwan. Footfall and Rockabye were marvellous but Not I was as close to music as speech can get: a rapid-fire 10 minutes carrying a phenomenal emotional charge. There were lots of good things this year, but nothing better than that.

LIVE MUSIC

1. Louis Moholo-Moholo Quartet (Cafe Oto, May)

2. Charles Lloyd’s Wild Man Suite (Barbican, November)

3. Caetano Veloso (Barbican, May)

4. Evan Parker + AMM (Cafe Oto, October)

5. City of Poets (Pizza Express, September)

6. Dylan Howe’s Subterranean (Warwick Arts Centre, October)

7. Daniel Humair Quartet (Berlin Jazz Festival, November)

8. Rowland Sutherland’s Enlightenment (Union Cafe, December)

9. Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames (Ronnie Scott’s, April)

10. The Necks (Cafe Oto, October)

11. Whahay (Vortex, November)

12. Plaistow (Pizza Express, November)

13. Kokomo (Half Moon, Putney, August)

14. René Urtreger Trio (Timothy Taylor Gallery, June)

15. Mike & Kate Westbrook: Glad Day (St Giles in the Fields, February)

16. Allen Toussaint (Ronnie Scott’s, April)

17. Christian Wallumrød Ensemble (Vortex, February)

18. Aki Takase & Alexander von Schlippenbach: Celebrating Eric Dolphy (Berlin Jazz Festival, November)

19. Jan Garbarek + Hilliard Singers (Temple Church, November)

20. Keith Tippett Octet (Cafe Oto, February)

21. Gilad Atzmon Quartet + Sigamos Quartet (Ronnie Scott’s, August)

22. The Pop Group (Islington Assembly Hall, October)

23. Jason Moran/Robert Glasper piano duo (Festival Hall, November)

24. Nick Malcolm Quartet (Vortex, June)

25. Bill Frisell’s Guitar in the Space Age (Barbican, November)

NEW RECORDINGS

1. Ambrose Akinmusire: the imagined savior is far easier to paint (Blue Note)

2. Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abîme (Pi)

3. Hakon Stene: Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal (Huber)

4. Peter Hammill: …all that might have been… (Fie)

5.  Mark Turner Quartet: Lathe of Heaven (ECM)

6. FKA twigs: LP1 (Young Turks)

7. Cécile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild (Mack Avenue)

8. Billy Childs: Map to the Treasure (Masterworks)

9. Alexander Hawkins: Song Singular (Babel)

10. Rosanne Cash: The River & the Thread (Columbia)

11. Paul Bley: Play Blue (ECM)

12. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Give the People What They Want (Dap-Tone)

13. Bobby Hutcherson: Enjoy the View (Blue Note)

14. Lucinda Williams: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (Highway 20)

15. Einstürzende Neubauten: Lament (Mute)

16. Bobby Wellins/Scottish NJO: Culloden Moor Suite (Spartacus)

17. Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Last Dance (ECM)

18. Raymond McDonald & Marilyn Crispell: Parallel Moments (Babel)

19. Lee Konitz/Dan Tepfer/Michael Janisch/Jeff Williams: First Meeting (Whirlwind)

20. Peirani & Parisien Duo Art: Belle Époque (ACT)

21. Ruben Blades: Tangos (Sunnyside)

22. Marc Ribot Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (Pi)

23: John Zorn: Transmigration of the Magus (Tzadik)

24. Dom Coyote, Emily Barker & Ruben Engzell: Vena Portae (Humble Soul)

25. Louis Moholo-Moholo Unit: For the Blue Notes (Ogun)

ARCHIVE RECORDINGS

1. Bob Dylan: The Complete Basement Tapes (Columbia)

2. John Coltrane: Offering: The Complete Temple University Concert (Impulse)

3. Jon Hassell/Brian Eno: Fourth World Vol 1: Possible Musics (Glitterbeat)

4. Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4: New York Concerts (Elemental)

5. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Oliv + Familie (Emanem)

6. Krzysztof Komeda / Andrzej Trzaskowski: Jazz in Polish Cinema (Jazz on Film)

7. Various: The Bert Berns Story Vol 3: Hang on Sloopy (Ace)

8. Mose Allison: Complete Prestige Recordings 1957-59 (Fresh Sound)

9. Duke Ellington: Contrapuntal Riposte (Squatty Roo)

10. Roy Orbison: Mystery Girl Deluxe Edition (Sony Legacy)

11. Don Cherry: Modern Art / Stockholm 1977 (Mellotronen)

12. Miles Davis: At the Fillmore (Columbia)

13. Various: Vamps et Vampire: The Songs of Serge Gainsbourg (Ace)

14. Schlippenbach Trio: First Recordings (Trost)

15. Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories (Resonance)

16. Joe Harriott: Southern Horizons / Free Form / Abstract (Fresh Sound)

17. Evelyn “Champagne” King: Action (BBR)

18. Joe Harriott/Amancio D’Silva: Hum Dono (Vocalion)

19. Various: Cracking the Cosimo Code (Ace)

20. Abelardo Barroso & Orquesta Sensacion: Cha Cha Cha (World Circuit)

FILMS: NEW

1. Winter Sleep (Kış Uykusu) (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

2. The Past (Le Passé) (dir. Asghar Farhadi)

3. Camille Claudel 1915 (dir. Bruno Dumont)

4. Ida (dir. Pawel Pawlowski)

5. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)

6. The Grandmaster (一代宗師) (dir. Wong Kar-Wai)

7. Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage) (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)

8. Leviathan ( Левиафан) (dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)

9. American Hustle (dir. David O. Russell)

10. Get On Up (dir. Tate Taylor)

FILMS: DOCUMENTARY

Night Will Fall (dir. Andre Singer)

Finding Vivian Maier (dir. John Maloof & Charlie Siskel)

Bayou Maharajah (dir. Lily Keber)

FILMS: REVIVED

Far from Vietnam (Loin du Vietnam) (dir. Chris Marker with Agnès Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Joris Ivens, Alain Resnais, 1967)

Zabriskie Point (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1968)

BOOKS: MUSIC

1. Marcus O’Dair: Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography of Robert Wyatt (Serpent’s Tail)

2. Mark Ellen: Rock Stars Stole My Life (Hodder & Stoughton)

3. Colin Harper: Bathed in Lightning: John McLaughlin, the ’60s and the Emerald Beyond (Jawbone)

4. Rick Bragg: Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story (Canongate)

5. Harvey Kubernik: Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop & Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972 (Santa Monica Press)

6. Richard Havers: Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression (Thames & Hudson)

7. Victor Maymudes & Jacob Maymudes: Another Side of Bob Dylan (St Martin’s Press)

8. David Stubbs: Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany (Faber & Faber)

9. Joel Selvin: Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues (Counterpoint)

10. Steve Lowenthal: Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist (Chicago Review Press)

BOOKS: FICTION

Patrick Modiano: The Search Warrant (Collins Harvill)

BOOKS: POETRY

David Harsent: Fire Songs (Faber)

EXHIBITIONS

Late Turner: Painting Set Free (Tate Britain, London, September)

Anselm Kiefer (Royal Academy, London, October)

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs (Tate Modern, April)

AND FINALLY…

One afternoon in October a bespectacled young man sat down at an upright piano on the concourse of St Pancras International station and played “The Girl From Ipanema” very slowly, as though he were just inventing it, very gently testing the harmonic structure, finding new angles from which to approach the melody. He followed it with a couple of choruses of gospel-blues, investigated with a similar sense of understatement and absolute freshness. Then he got up and walked away.

Lush laments in Dalston

Hakon Stene at Cafe OtoIf I had to persuade you to buy one album this year by someone of whom you’ve probably never heard, it would almost certainly be Håkon Stene’s Lush Lament for Lazy Mammal. I wrote about it here in March, and last night Stene brought his four-piece Ensemble to the Cafe Oto.

In addition to the leader on marimbas and guitars, the group comprised Tanja Orning on cello, Heloisa Amaral on piano and organ, and Sigbjørn Apeland on harmonium. They played through the compositions by Laurence Crane, Gavin Bryars and Christian Wallumrød that make up the CD, opening them up to the further possibilities inherent in the act of live performance, even when the performers are reading from a score.

Crane’s gorgeously drifting compositions, such as “Prelude for HS”, and “Blue Blue Blue”, feature dreamlike slow-motion harmonic shifts that, in these tintinnabulating interpretations, made me think of some lost blueprint for the instrumental tracks of the ballads from Pet Sounds. The same composer’s “Bobby J” — which we were told had been inspired by the Tour de France rider Bobby Julich — saw Stene apply his electric guitar to a similar format. The darker colours and hovering surges of Bryars’ “Hi Tremelo” created a mood of subdued ecstasy, while Wallumrød’s two pieces opened up the structures a little, and on one of them, called “Low Genths”, Stene made use of his second marimba, tuned a quarter-tone away from the first. In all, an hour of extremely beautiful and compelling music.

In a modest sort of way, the evening was a showcase for Hubro, the interesting young Norwegian label which released Stene’s album and has a catalogue that also includes recordings by Huntsville, the trio called 1982 (which includes the Hardanger fiddle virtuoso Nils Økland), the piano trio Moskus, Erik Honoré, and others.

An opening set was played by Sigbjørn Apeland, whose Hammond-size single-manual harmonium was placed front and centre of the performance floor so that the audience could watch his hands as he moved between gentle Nordic folk and hymnal elements, at one point tearing and folding pages from what looked like the London Overground timetable and stuffing them between the keys to create middle-register drones on which then he elaborated at the extremes of the instrument’s range. He has a new album, too. It’s called Glossolalia, and if it’s anything like last night’s recital, it will be worth investigating.