Posts Tagged ‘Chamber Music’

Ólafur Arnalds’ Winter Chill

March 28, 2013


Hear Ólafur Arnalds talk about For Now I Am Winter on Tuesday May 13 on Echoes

Hear this review in the Echoes Podcast 

Ólafur Arnalds’ For Now I Am Winter

Ólafur Arnalds’ For Now I Am Winter

Icelandic artists are subjected to many clichés: most commonly that their music reflects the frozen north, land of glaciers, fjords, and endless nights.  As a critic, you try to avoid that  trap.  But Ólafur Arnalds’ has released two albums in a row that truly seem to emerge from the heart of Icelandic winter darkness.  If his 2010 album, And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness, was the sound of Iceland’s sunless winter days, his latest release, For Now I Am Winter, turns the Nordic freeze into heroic rapture.  The opening track, “Sudden Throw,” is a sunrise panorama, like a slow-motion flight through a blizzard of siren strings and echoes hanging in the air like frozen sculptures.  I wish this piece had gone on much longer before dropping into “Brim,” which goes austere, a nervous string quartet joined by syncopated electronic rhythms. But even this Philip Glass-inspired  piece eventually moves into a heart-breaking meditation of pensive piano, violin and viola, on the verge of breaking into tears.
“Only the Winds”

And that’s how For Now I Am Winter moves.  The sound is reflected in the cover art of this elegantly packaged CD.  A profile portrait of Arnalds’ face is broken up by a pale, superimposed coastal seascape.  The lyrics and liner notes of the booklet are hand written, and look like words crossing over from a spirit realm, bleeding through the paper rather than printed on it. Just like that image, Arnalds’ music seems to push through in shifting layers and moving clouds, an electronic pattern covered by yearning strings; a mood of dire isolation shading one of euphoria.

Arvo Pärt is an obvious reference for Arnalds, but Craig Armstrong is a forgotten pioneer in merging acoustic strings with electronics, as heard on his album, The Space Between Us. Ólafur Arnalds has codified a similar approach with a more downtempo, glitched edge, as clanking electronic percussion often pulls these tracks along in a chain-gang rhythm.  Across these grooves, the string orchestrations on pieces like on “Only the Winds,” scored by American composer Nico Mulhy, move in a tremulous, angelic surge.

Arnalds introduces the vocals of Arnór Dan Arnarson on several pieces. He sings in a faint, fragile voice with falsetto cries that go into the terrain of Jonsi, the singer from Sigur Rós. It’s the kind of intimate sound that Arnalds explored instrumentally on his recent project called Living Room Songs, recorded in his home.  Even with a full string section assembled next to his sofa, these are gentle, delicate works that speak to the quaintness and intimacy that underlie Arnalds’ compositions. You can hear that aesthetic at work here on the piano track, “Words of Amber” where every creak and squeak of his piano becomes part of the composition.

Both sophisticated and edgy, Ólafur Arnalds inhabits his own sonic universe, balancing emotions and mood on a laser’s edge.  I thought I wanted winter to be over until I heard For Now I Am Winter. Now I want to be embraced by the chill a little while longer.

~John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Hear this review in the Echoes Podcast 

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Icelandic Chamber Music Heads Echoes Top 25

March 31, 2011

Skuli Sverrisson’s Lush Ambiences Lead Echoes Top 25 for March.

Skuli Sverrisson’s Seria II was our Echoes CD of the Month in March and it leads the Echoes Top 25 for March, bringing in a lot of other ambient chamber music on its coattails including Meg Bowles’ A Quiet Light, Dustin O’Halloran’s Lumiere and Olafur Arnalds .…And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness.

There’s also a bit of an eastern tinge to this month’s selections.  Michel Banabila’s Migrations has Middle Eastern players on it, Wonderland‘s Kundalini is a trancey electro-eastern journey  and Vicki Richards’ She Vanishes is charged with Indian tabla grooves.  Look for that last album as our Echoes CD of the Month for April.

You can see the complete Echoes Top 25 for March.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Join the Echoes CD of the Month Club and you won’t miss out on great CDs like  She Vanishes by Vicki Richards, Skuli Sverrison’s Seria II and David Arkenstone’s Ambient World.

Ludovico Einaudi-New Age Fodder or Classical Elegance

November 20, 2008

Ludovico Einaudi is in the midst of a short US tour. Echoes and WFUV will be presenting him in concert in New York City on Tuesday November 25th.  (Concert Info)

Divenire He just played Los Angeles in Largo at the Coronet Theater and two reviews from that show point up the dichotomies in Einaudi’s music. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Josef Woodard, a fine jazz journalist, had trouble wrapping himself around Einaudi’s heroic cadences, minor key ruminations and haunting melodic trances. He went so far as to cast out the dreaded “New Age” tag, critical code for “lite-weight shit.”  He added a final insult:

Classical music fans might wonder whether Einaudi’s popularity could lead new listeners in the direction of the real thing

You’d think that Woodard, a veteran of the fusion wars, would recall that critics used that same invective: maybe fans of fusion would be led to “real” jazz.

Phil Gallo,  writing about the same concert for Variety,  had a different perspective, dialing directly into the charm of Einaudi’s sound. He asserts that:

His points of reference are not all that different than those of Radiohead or Sigur Ros. This is ultimately pop music he is performing and at times his chord changes and timbral decisions echo the work of Christopher O’Riley, the classical pianist who has tackled the work of Radiohead, Elliott Smith and Nick Drake from a solo piano perspective.

Ludovico Einaudi in Echoes Living Room Concert

Gallo pointed out the minimalist connections and Einaudi’s ability to “tell a story”  while also extolling Einaudi’s cinematic expanse, something which Woodard uses it as a criticism. I think ultimately, Woodard is looking for something in the music that isn’t there.  I do hear where Woodard is coming from, but that’s like asking Charles Lloyd or Keith Jarrett to rock out.   He wants flights of improvisation and technical expertise, but Einaudi is more concerned with form, mood, and melodic invention.

When I sat with Einaudi for an listen-icons-16x16Echoes Living Room Concert,  I barely missed the strings and electronics that make recordings like Divenire so captivating. Even on his own, he unfolds a magical world as stories are revealed and scenery shifts. I hear in his playing echoes of Michael Nyman’s The Piano score and George Winston at his best.  If you haven’t checked out this musician, here’s an Echo Location featuring his music.

Ludovico Einaudi has a few more U.S. concerts.  He’s be playing two dates in Boston November 22 and 23 and one presented by Echoes and WFUV in New York at The Concert Hall on November 25. (Concert Info)

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Ambient Chamber Music Reigns on Echoes Top 25 for June

July 5, 2008

Ambient Chamber music dominates top airplay at Echoes in June.
We’ve been tracking ambient chamber music since the beginning of Echoes when it was mostly Tim Story, David Darling and Kevin Keller, but the subgenre has exploded, in an ambient chamber music way, that is, gently and without many people noticing, partly because it falls in between genres from the ambient chamber world music of Biomusique and Jami Sieber to the Euro-minimalist classical of Ludovico Einaudi and Ronn McFarlane to the folk chamber music of William Ackerman and Gerry O’Beirne. Nine of the Top 10 albums fall into the category and 14 of the Top 25.  When I hear 20-somthing bands like Balmorhea citing 50-something composers like Ludovico Einaudi or the venerable Arvo Part, that tells me that something is happening.  This is another ebb and flow in the evolution of Echoes which has seen influxes of Celtic, space music, electronica and world fusion over the years.  There’s still plenty of electronica, world fusion and unclassifiable music that makes up the Echoes soundscape. Here’s the Top 25 with a few links to reviews.


The 10,000 Steps 1 – Biomusique – The 10000 Steps  <Listen>
Unspoken 2 – Jami Sieber – Unspoken  <Listen>
3 – William Ackerman – Meditations
Indigo Road 4 – Ronn McFarlane – Indigo Road
5 – Fernwood – Almeria
Echoes 6 – California Guitar Trio – Echoes
Divenire 7 – Ludovico Einaudi – Divenire
Nine Heavens 8 – Niyaz – Nine Heavens
9 – Eldad Lidor – Closer
10 – Gerry O’Beirne – The Bog Bodies and Other Stories <Listen>
Translucida 11 – Qntal – Translucida
Lullaby for My Favorite Insomniac 12 – Ahn Trio – Lullaby For My Favorite Insomniac <Listen>
Peyote Dreaming 13 – Don Peyote – Peyote Dreaming
Short Waves (soundtrack to the DVD) 14 – Richard Bone – Short Waves
Sleepwalking 15 – Christopher Young – Sleepwalking
Future Memories 16 – v/a – Future Memories (v/a)
17 – Lisa Lynne & Aryeh Frankfurter – Two Worlds One
React 18 – Robert Rich & Ian Boddy – React
The Dream 19 – The Orb – The Dream  <Listen>
 Traces (Music for films & documentaries)20 – Michel Banabila – Traces
History, Mystery 21 – Bill Frisell – History Mystery
22 – Deobrat Mishra & David Michael – Himilayan Crossroad
Glow In The Dark 23 – Kevin Bartlett – Glow in the Dark
Echoes of Light and Shadow 24 – David Arkenstone – Echoes of Light and Shadow
The Language of Spirits 25 – Rudy Perrone – The Language of Spirits

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