Best New Music: “Drake” by Benny Lackner Trio

Speaking about the skills and talent of German-born pianist Benny Lackner, someone once said that he doesn’t have to be afraid of any comparisons to composers like Keith Jarrett or Brad Mehldau, and that “he has found his place in the upper league of Jazz Piano Trios“. Of course, this looks like an important and bold statement, which in any case reinforces an objective reality: the music composed by Lackner and played by the pianist with his bandmates is absolutely profound and engaging.

I can’t judge today whether the comparison between Lackner and the two above mentioned masters of “Jazz Trio” is correct or not. What I can say, for sure, is that the direction undertaken by Lackner to reach the top seems the right one one. Jarreth and Mehldau (who’s been one of Lackner’s mentors, by the way) have contributed to the development of this genre of Jazz with a depth and a resonance that perhaps is still unsurpassed; Lackner’s musical production, in any case, can be definitely considered within the most precious and exciting things we heard in the last few years.

Born in Berlin to an american father and a german mother, Benny Lackner, moved to California at the age of 13, where he studied Jazz with his mentor Brad Mehldau.

Drake is the new album from the Benny Lackner Trio, and since the first time I started listening to it there has been one special thing which amazed me more everything else, and this is the adoption of an extremely essential musical language, at times minimal, which is incredibly far from those mere demonstrations of technique and virtuosity that too often we hear in modern Jazz. In this sense, Lackner has found a extremely personal code for breaking the rules of standard Piano Trio music. The modernity and innovation of Lackner ‘s style, to some extent, are the characteristics that bring him closer to the giants of Jazz that were mentioned before.

“Drake” is Benny Lackner Trio’s 6th album

Drake offers to the listeners a very elegant, sober, and extremely delicate collection of Jazz music blended with contemporary electronic elements. The piano is at the centre of every composition, but we would make a great mistake by relegating the two supporting musicians (bassist Jerome Regard and drummer Matthieu Chazarenc) to the role of pure accompaniment. The two are in fact the architects of those rarefied and magical atmospheres that we find in all the tracks of the LP.

Benny Lackner Trio consists of Benny Lackner (piano and effects), Matthieu Chazarenc (drums) and Jerome Regard (bass and effects)

The rhythms in Drake are moderately slow. All the chords, and sometimes the single notes, seem to arrive after a profound phase of reflection on the harmonic and melodic effect they will produce on the song. There is little sense of spontaneousness, and we don’t feel either the immediacy of the typical Jazz improvisation process, which is however compensated by a persistent attention to maintaining a constant sonic balance throughout the pieces.

The result is a music that, at least from an objective point of view, should appear cold, almost mathematical, but that actually evokes continuous streams of emotions. That’s the magic and uniqueness of Lackner’s music, which, in the end, is absolutely enjoyable to listen to.


My overall rating for the LP is 8/10. This is one of the best Jazz albums among those I’ve listened so far in 2019. It’s not easy to indicate which are my favourite pieces because it’s the overall level of quality of the LP which makes the difference. Anyway, there are a bunch of songs which evoked the strongest emotions: Tears, It’s Gonna Happen, Yorke and the opening track I Told You so.



Drake is available on iTunes and it can be streamed also from Spotify. The album is now featured in The JAZZ MUSIC Radar, which is the playlist collecting the best Jazz songs released since the beginning of the year.


Whispering Melodies. Music for meditation, relax and concentration

There are moments in our busy days when all that one needs is to switch off any distracting equipment, lower the light, and let the thoughts roam free without any haste, no pressure, no trouble. For these special moments I have created a playlist with the best meditative and relaxing music that was published this year. You’ll find here great artists of minimalism, ambient and soundscapes like Peter Broderick, Erik Wøllo, Shastro, Balmorhea and many others. Enjoy this playlist and check it our periodically because the tracklist is updated as new songs are released.


 

September 2017, Best Electronic Album of the Month: Okovi by Zola Jesus

 

Nika Roza Danilova, better known with her stage name of Zola Jesus, represents one of those artists who, although gifted of a fantastic voice that could have guaranteed her a brilliant career in pop or rock, decided instead to devote herself to the world of experimentation and avant-garde, which is definitely more challenging from an artistic point of view view but at the end of the day gave her a fame which is definitely minor than what she would have achieved – presumably – with mainstream music. The association with the case of Bjork is almost immediate. But if the Icelanding singer has shifted with the years towards an increasingly extreme, conceptual and essentially less immediate style of music, with Zola Jesus – fortunately I would say – we’re apparently going through a different process. Her beautiful latest album, in fact, has the capacity to hit us directly to the heart for passion and immediacy, in a way that’s quite unique in her discography. Experimentation, in this case, really seems devoted for transmitting the profound message that the artist wants to convey, rather than to represent a mere stylistic tool or a way to elevate – artificially – the artistic quality of her offer.

Okovi, which is Zola Jesus’ fifth album, arrives three years after her previous LP and represents the result of an experience of isolation and retreat into her hometown in Wisconsin.

Last year, I moved back to the woods in Wisconsin where I was raised. I built a little house just steps away from where my dilapidated childhood tree fort is slowly recombining into earth.  Okovi was fed by this return to roots and several very personal traumas.

While writing Okovi, I endured people very close to me trying to die, and others trying desperately not to. Meanwhile, I was fighting through a haze so thick I wasn’t sure I’d find my way to the other side. Death, in all of its masks, has been encircling everyone I love, and with it the questions of legacy, worth, and will.

Okovi is a Slavic word for shackles. We’re all shackled to something—to life, to death, to bodies, to minds, to illness, to people, to birthright, to duty. Each of us born with a unique debt, and we have until we die to pay it back.  Without this cost, what gives us the right to live? And moreover, what gives us the right to die? Are we really even free to choose?

This album is a deeply personal snapshot of loss, reconciliation, and a sympathy for the chains that keep us all grounded to the unforgiving laws of nature. To bring it to life, I decided to enlist the help of Alex DeGroot, who has been the only constant in my live band and helped mix the Stridulum EP back in 2010. It will be released on Sacred Bones, the closest group of people I’ll ever have to blood-bound family.

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From a musical point of view, the songs of Okovi are full of spectral and dreamy atmospheres, sometimes supported by articulated beats but in some cases suspended and free to develop without any rhythmic construct. And then there is the voice, beautiful, profound and spanning through an incredible tonal range.

This is a disc which could easily represents a turning point for the American singer. The perfect balance that has been found between experimentation and accessibility resulted in one of the best things we’ve heard this year in electronic music.

It’s a release that might disengage fans of her more sub-rosa earlier material of yore, Zola Jesus has evolved into an artist where pop – born from a need to mend from trauma or otherwise – is no longer a recurrent secondary descriptor, but a primary one. Danilova has loosened the shackles that have made this remarkable metamorphosis possible. (The Quietus)


 

Good and Free: Moby’s More Fast Songs About the Apocalypse

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American DJ and record producer Moby has made available for free through his website the last album he realized with his project Moby & The Void Pacific Choir (where he plays with Mindy Jones, Julie Mintz, Jonathan Nesvadba, Joel Nesvadba, Jamie Drake and Lauren Tyler Scott). The album, named More Fast Songs About the Apocalypse, is the fourtheenth studio work by Moby and it’s the second one with the same musical project after last year’s These Systems Are Failing.

The album is a collection of hardcore and post-punk tracks, the dominating theme is a critic of the result of last United States presidential elections.

Best of Electronic Music in 2017 (so far), The Playlist

Edit: there is an updated chart with the best electronic albums of the year. Check it out from the homepage!


A few days ago we shared a chart with our current selection for the Top Five Electronic Albums of 2017. As a complement of that chart, we have now selected the best songs from these beautiful albums and mixed them into a dedicated playlist, which features Hauschka, Bonobo, Ulver, Blanck Mass and Chinese Man. Enjoy!

 

Best of Electronic Music in 2017 (so far), Top Five Albums

Edit: there is an updated chart with the best electronic albums of the year. Check it out from the homepage!


We just passed the first quarter of the year and we can draw the first preliminary ranking of the best electronic albums that were released so far. As is typical of this kind of music, we may expect a variety of sounds and of musical sub-genres. And the five albums that we have selected are no exception.

Edit: a playlist with the best tracks from these albums is now available:

 

#1) Shikantaza by Chinese Man

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Shikantanza is the last release by the French electronic collective named as Chinese Man and it was already selected in February as the Best Electronic Album of the Month. This is in fact an extremely enjoyable album offering an overwhelming combination of groove, funky, hip hop and many other fragements of musical genres and ethnic references. The are a few songs that stand out for their brilliance and creativity, but at the end it is the average level of all the tracks which leave us speechless. A must-have. Not only selected but definitely recommended. 😉

With this new album, Chinese Man creates a link between the music of his origins and his new aspirations. SHIKANTAZA is an invitation to let go, to capture the moment, a personal path to enlightenment (Beatport)

 

#2) Migration by Bonobo

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Migration, the sixth electronic album in the career of British DJ Simon Greenby (a.k.a. Bonobo), was already selected in last January as the Best Electronic Album of the Month. This is a work that stands out from the very first listens for its class andelegance, but I believe that the real value of the album emerges over time and with repeated listening. Probably today Bonobo is one of the best realities for the downtempo genre, and it’s a pleasure to get lost within the intriguing musical harmonies that permeate the work.

New music from Simon Green aka Bonobo is always an event, but when it heralds the arrival of a whole new album (his first since 2013’s “The North Borders”), it’s really something to get excited about. The masterful, magisterial “Migration” is Green’s sixth album and it’s a record which cements his place in the very highest echelons of electronic music and beyond. (Bandcamp)

 

#3) The Assassination of Julius Caesar by ULVER

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It’s not easy to categorize the music from Ulver, the Norwegian experimental musical collective founded that is now approaching 25 years of actrivity. If their early works explored the realms of black and folk metal, with the passing of time they started an incredible and ambitious exploration of other genres, including ambient, electronica, and neoclassical. This year, with their last work named The Assassination of Julius Caesar, the band is playing with a blend of futurist electro-pop and experimental music. The result, as usual, is brilliant.

Those familiar with this stubborn pack of wolves from Oslo will not be surprised that they also this time round are shifting shape. Never afraid of challenging or redefining current musical conventions, Ulver has now enacted what they are calling “their pop album”. You don’t have to worry about vexing radio humdrum or pastel ear candy though – Talk Talk and Music Machine are pop music as good as any in the universe of Ulver. A universe where “pop” is more a mark of distinction, denoting immediacy and possible body movement. (Bandcamp)

 

#4) World Eater by Blanck Mass

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Blank Mass is the electronic solo project by the English DJ and producer Benjamin John Power, who is mainly known for being one of the two founders of the experimental duo Fuck Buttons (where he plays together with Andrew Hung). World Eater is the last album from this project, the third of Blank Mass’ discography, and here in this blog on last March we already selected it as Best Electronic Album of the Month. The album contains seven interesting tracks that move between noise and experimentation, all seasoned with a good dose of sonic violence.

As humans, we are aware of our inner beast and should therefore be able to control it. We understand our hard-wired primal urges and why they exist in an evolutional sense. We understand the relationship between mind and body. Highly evolved and intelligent, we should be able to recognize these genetic hangovers and control them as a means to act positively and move forward as a compassionate species. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Recent global events have proven this. The human race is consuming itself. World Eater, the new album by Benjamin John Power’s Blanck Mass project, is a reaction to this. There is an underlying violence and anger throughout the record, even though some of these tracks are the closest Power has ever come to writing, in his words, “actual love songs.” (Bandcamp)


#5) What If by Hauschka

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We conclude this chart with an album that was really hard to classify. At the end it was within the electronic category but just for a greater assonance with the genre, because to define World Eater as a simple electronic album is really a limitation and also misleading. Volker Bertelmann, the musician behind the stage name Hauschka, is a German pianist and composer who is best known for his compositions for prepared piano, i.e. a piano that has had its sound altered by placing objects on or between the strings (in this case scraps of aluminum, ping-pong balls and other household items). On this new album, which is the eighth of his career, Hauschka plays also additional keyboards such as a Yamaha’s high-tech player piano and a 1970s-vintage Roland analog synthesizer, and such a blending of new and old Technologies is user to generate a singular but definitely enjoyable electronic record.

Likely to prove one of 2017’s most original albums, while at the same time inspiring questions about the very nature of the world we inhabit, What If redefines the very notion of piano music in a dramatic and exceptional fashion. It stands as a rebuttal to those who lazily seek to shoehorn Hauschka’s work into the so-called, uncomfortably broad ‘new classical’ category, and instead underlines his status as a unique and invaluable artist. (Bandcamp)

 

March 2017, Best Electronic Album: World Eater by Blanck Mass

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Blank Mass is the electronic solo project by the English DJ and producer Benjamin John Power, who is mainly known for being one of the two founders of the experimental duo Fuck Buttons (where he plays together with Andrew Hung). World Eater is the new album released by Blank Mass, and the third of its discography (there are actually a number of other releases as EPs and soundtracks).

For those who are familiar with the earlier work by this artist, both solo and as a duo, you know what to expect: a sonic attack with mesmeric repetitions and industrial inserts.  And this record, in fact, is no exception. The album contains seven interesting tracks that move between noise and experimentation, all seasoned with a good dose of sonic violence. And you can tell already from the cover that it’s not a pleasure trip since those gnashing teehts make a really good idea of what you can expect by pressing the play button on your music reader. Beware, though, because it is not only musical form and the tracks of this album carry a very clear and polemical message: there is a wild beast nested inside everyone of us and sometimes the circumstances and some situations can awake outside those animal instincts that the society wants us to anesthetize.

A particular aspect of this album is that BJP tried to work with a limited set of electronic tools, trying to focus the development of the songs with a small number of effects. And the result is very interesting and enjoyable to listen.

As an exercise in better understanding myself musically, I found myself using an increasingly restricted palette during the World Eater creative process. Evoking these intense emotions using minimal components really put me outside of my comfort zone and was unlike the process I am used to. Feeling exposed shone a new light on this particular snapshot. I feel enriched for doing so (Benjamin John Power)

Guerino’s overall rating: 7/10.

World Eater represents a true stylistic leap. It’s a mammoth collection of songs that carve out a unique niche between apocalyptic anxiety and brief, cathartic bursts of ecstasy–a feeling that should resonate with just about everybody these days. (The A.V. Club)

World Eater can be listened in its entirety via Bandcamp.

Early Plays: Humanz by Gorillaz

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Gorillaz are the visionary and acclaimed British virtual pop band created almost 20 years ago by singer-songwriter Damon Albarn (Blur) and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett. Their first full-lenght and self-titled album sold over seven million copies in 2001 and earned them an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Successful Virtual Band. Since this first publication they released other three albums, with varying results.

The band is about to publish a new LP, Humanz, which is scheduled for publication at the end of April. Interestingly, at the moment there are already five songs shared on YouTube as anticipation of the full disc (maybe more to come).

The tracks show that the band is somehow exploring new and different directions from the songs of the last album (that dates back to 2011, by the way), in some cases emphasizing a clear hip-hop approach to songwriting with faster beat rates than their previous songs. Not all of these songs have same enjoyability, but the average level of the tracks is still good. Check it out and stay tuned!

The album kind of came from this dark fantasy. Just imagine, the weirdest, most unpredictable thing that changes everything in the world. How would you feel on that night? Would you go and get drunk? Would you stay at home? Just watch TV? Would you talk to people? (Damon Albarn on Consequences of Sound)