Review of Aix [12k1051]

Tokafi (.COM)

Disproves all predictions: Jazzy Shuffles composed of zippers, spray cans and footsteps.

It is a peculiar paradox that fans of so-called experimental music are among the most unforgiving if it comes to sudden stylistic swings of their idols. Adjustments, their line of reasoning suggests, are all fine and well, as long as their artist of choice still caters to a clearly circumscribed set of expectations. That, alas, is not what Giuseppe Ielasi did when he heralded a drastic about-face with the release of his Stunt EP on the fledgling Schoolmap imprint last year. Where, pre-Stunt, rich fields of harmony and harmonics would wash around the entire perceptive system of listeners, now gaped fragmented textures held together by a plethora of loose melodic lines and quasi-percussive patterns. Samples, clearly marked as such by their deliberate imprecisions and impurities, had replaced the typical pure ambiances and pristine abstractions. And the serene, cinematic feel of albums like August had been supplanted by a playful approach which opened up in all kinds of directions.

The exciting question after this tour de force, which still rather came across as a drastic statement of intent than a coherent and fully-fledged vision, was where it would lead to on a full-length album and when applied to a broader context. With a mere nine short tracks clocking in at just over half an hour – barely ten minutes more than its predecessor – Aix, named after the French town where it was recorded, can hardly be expected to provide a definitive answer. Undoubtedly, Iealasi spans a wider, more eclectic and sustained tension arch on this occasion and creates the palpable sensation of unity through the subtle use of consistent stylistic elements and techniques as well as recognisable instrumentation. And yet, these pieces are certainly more sketch-like by nature than their epic counterparts on August, operating on a smaller palette of timbres and minimally adjusting relations between its constituents rather than establishing an imaginative and unpredictable flow whose destination vector could never be computed from the outset.

The most striking feature of Ielasi’s second coming is his prominent use of rhythm not just as an underlying physical pulse but as the actual music itself. The sounds of zippers, spray cans, rigging, clockworks, water, tiny twinkling bells, footsteps, elastic springs, broken piano keys and various objects being rubbed against each other are combined with deep, resonant bass lines and snippeted extracts from a regular drum set to combine into inviting groove-structures. In the opening trio of tracks, this is most apparent, with the music surging forward with upbeat electricity, happily turning on its own axis and hypnotising its audience with melodies made of jaw harps and offbeat dub echoes. None of these elements would make much sense on its own and there is never an official lead voice placed on top of the others. Instead, all ingredients interact with one another, creating seemingly interrelated combinations and establishing a notion of coherency and fluency.

If Stunt suggested that future follow-ups could either tend towards HipHop or Jazz, Aix now disproves both predictions. The inclusion of Upright Bass licks, Minor Seven Piano chords, cymbals played with an egg-whisk and curiously complex measures still offer allusions to smoke-filled clubs at the end of the night, with the band playing a slow shuffle while the Saxophonist gazes into the distance, his eyes dreaming on whiskey and cigarettes. But Ielasi not even once looses himself in the consequences of this fata morgana. The prospect of potential discovery through improvisation is shed in favor of carefully organised structures, which magically maintain an organic breath despite their utmost discipline. The end, one could say, is never open here: After a track has run through a string of permutations and variations, it dies down quickly to be replaced by its successor.

The real concern by long-term fans of Iealisi’s music will therefore not lie in whether or not he has replaced a particular aesthetic and philosophy with another, but whether or not his pieces are still driven by the same romantic spirit which permeated earlier works. The riposte to that is that Aix will gladly reveal its more sensitive side if you’re is ready to look behind outward appearance. Almost all pieces include warm drones and sustained organ points, after all, and tracks like the melancholic closer, built on longing microtonally detuned Guitar tones, are striking emotional snapshots. And the album is still intricately layered and rich in both microscopic details as well as subtle nuances.

Astoundingly, too, there is a lot to be learned by returning to Ielasi’s back catalogue and by actively listening to tracks like the opening composition from August again. If you pay attention, everything is already there: The jazzy bass, the percussive drive culled from myriads of microparticles, the splintered sonic image coalescing into a harmonious entity. On closer inspection, Giuseppe Iealisi’s stylistic swing turns out to be much less drastic and much more harmonious than one might initially have thought. – By Tobias Fischer

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