Grand Pianoramax : SOUNDWAVE LP on Mental Groove Records

Update 02.2016: “Soundwave”, the fifth album of US/Swiss trio Grand Pianoramax will be released internationally on 29 January by the German Word and Sound label. Grand Pianormax will also be playing at Cully Jazz Festival on the 08.04.2016. Take this opportunity to read our review again!

photoaccueilsite2Reading over my notes taken while listening to the latest Grand Pianoramax LP just released on Mental Groove Records, the word ‘bouncy’ makes a frequent appearance. This may seem a trite concept to use when describing a band that over the years has become known as the Swiss heavyweight supergroup of post jazz, art rock and hip hop. But it does go to show that the aim of being “lighter, brighter, more fun” – to quote bandleader Leo Tardin – has been accomplished.

A fresh and spontaneous approach

Produced and mixed by ‘pugnacious’ drummer, Dom Burkhalter, the LP was recorded in his studio in an almost live situation with a fresh and spontaneous approach. “We wanted to keep it direct and imperfect somehow: upright piano with creaky pedals, old Fender Rhodes, analogue synths – a chilled attitude, nothing too perfect” explains Tardin. Following on from the Big Easy EP released last May, SOUNDSCAPE continues the “more accessible, less dark” theme that the band had already prepared us for. And why not? Nothing wrong with a bit of sunny Steely Dan-inspired melodies to help the foot-tapping along even when you’re an experimental bunch of musical giants.

There’s as much rule-breaking here as there is on the earlier ‘darker’ albums

But to define the LP simply in terms of fluffy adjectives is far from half the story. Yes, it’s the perfect soundtrack for a sun-roof-down drive along the south of France, but there are challenging twists and turns around every corner. Tempos come and go, unsuspecting chopped up beats hit you in the face, lyrics are sharp and cutting – in brief, there’s as much rule-breaking here as there is on the earlier ‘darker’ albums. Tardin is keen to emphasize:   “It’s actually easier to be dark and dramatic than it is to be simple but solid. This is not straight music, there’s experimentation happening on every track. ‘No Doubt’, for example, is essentially a disco track set to a very unusual 7/4 beat”.

Fans of his pretty, lyrical touch will not be disappointed

There’s a good ratio of vocal and instrumental tracks here, the latter giving space to more journeying on behalf of the keyboards. The old Fender Rhodes gets quite a bashing on ‘Tight Rope’ recalling a funky mid 70s Herbie Hancock/George Duke style that suits Tardin rather well and could do with further exploration in the future. Fans of his pretty, lyrical touch will not be disappointed, there are some gorgeous sweeping moments where being carried away on the wave of Tardin’s dexterous style is nothing other than a pleasure.

Charismatic experimentation and radio-friendly sparkle

But essentially, Grand Pianoramax are known for their foray into beats and hip hop which Black Cracker‘s edgy, poetic vocal style encapsulates so well. Totally enveloping and slightly less razor sharp than usual, his timbre is just perfectly suited to the jazzy, understated, choppy groove. Nothing in his lyrical content is ever over-done or insincere. The trio are famous for being a powerhouse live act, all bark AND bite, but on this album the slightly more laid back, crossover attitude is in no way a detracting dumbing down. On the contrary, warm and colorful like the cover, it’s an album full of charismatic experimentation and radio-friendly possibility.

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Band line up:

Leo Tardin – piano & keyboards
Black Cracker – vocals
Dom Burkhalter – drums

Forthcoming live gigs:

28th Nov, 2015: Moods, Zürich, CH
27th Dec, 2015: Bee Flat, Bern, CH

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Record of the month (October): Evelinn Trouble “Arrowhead”

Unknown-1Comparisons are inevitable between Linnéa Racine (alias Evelinn Trouble) and her sister compatriots, Sophie Hunger and Anna Aaron. Swiss German warrior queens unconventionally reinventing their own style and vocabulary of the feminine musical idiom. Admittedly, Trouble is the most daring and dangerous of the lot. Starting out aged 16, her 4th LP ‘Arrowhead’ marks ten years of Trouble’s eclectic, defiant stance on the alternative Swiss music scene.

This is clearly NOT easy listening

Conceptually speaking, ’Arrowhead’ flies straight at you like a the sharp, piercing foreign body it suggests to be. An epically dark, dramatic work that lends itself perfectly to the term ‘rock poetry’. Based on the idea of a travelling performer hit in the middle of the forehead by a flying arrow at the airport en route to a gig, no time to have it removed, the show must go on. The nine tracks recount the torment, anguish and rebellion of the dreamlike state that Arrowhead is thrown into. « Like a chickenless head, living among the dead, run around with my arrow in my head, cannot get my head around where to be or where to go ». It’s an opus best appreciated with some context otherwise the oppressive, trippy, melancholic vibe might be at times too relentless for the listener. This is clearly NOT easy listening. Having the lyrics to hand, studying the Ziggy Stardust-inspired visuals and accepting the rock opera tendencies all help to glean the mesmerising scope of this project.

“An orchestrated trip”

Recorded in four days at the Invada Studios in Bristol, there are flashes of Massive Attack spaciousness and Portishead introspective mournfulness. Joined by musicians Florian Götte (bass) and Domi Chansorn (drums and percussion), Evelinn Trouble wails, plays guitar and adds sound layers. There’s an angry intention behind most tracks, the production is haunting and echoey with clashing, crashing sounds symbolic of an urban anxiety dream. A trapped soul is desperate to get out, yet revolted by what it has to go back to. Mumbling, fumbling, pleading, screaming. As the press release states, « it’s an orchestrated trip ». Trouble’s restless spirit and powerful blues voice conveys this alarmingly well.

It makes sense to see the whole body of work as a journey

In conversation, she mentions her desire to make a ‘concept album’ rather like those heavy rock pieces of the 70s. « There are melodic motifs that reappear throughout ‘Arrowhead’, repeated symbolism in various tracks, so it makes sense to see the whole body of work as a journey. Everything came to me quite magically. I actually had the dream of the arrow getting stuck in my head. It came at a time when I was travelling around a lot like many musicians. I was in a constant state of confusion, no home base, no safety, the urban traveller lost in a sometimes dangerous environment. I guess this is the sentiment I’m trying to convey the most. Life is not nice and easy all the time. The arrow will eventually come out, or you just forget it’s there and you learn to live with it ».

Apart from touring the album this winter, Trouble will be performing in the Thom Luz production of ‘Unusual Weather Phenomena Project’ in Zurich. Seeing as the theatre is clearly a place she’s comfortable with, I look forward to seeing the stage production of ‘Arrowhead – The Rock Opera’ at some point in the future.

New LP
Evelinn Trouble, “Arrowhead”, Bakara Music

Forthcoming gigs:
16.10. Le Singe, Biel (CH)
17.10. Le Bateau Ivre, Mons (BE)
20.10. The Finsbury, London (UK)
21.10. Powerlunches, Dalston (UK)
22.10. Mother’s Ruin, Bristol (UK)
23.10. Shacklewell Arms, London (UK)
24.10. Mau Mau Bar, London (UK)
25.10. The Union Bar, Hastings (UK)
30.10. Moods, Zürich (CH)
31.10. Mokka, Thun (CH)

 

Elina Duni: Songs of Love and Exile

© Nicolas Masson

Elina Duni Quartet © Nicolas Masson

Elina Duni moved to Switzerland when she was ten, five years after she’d first stepped on a stage to sing in her homeland, Albania. Later, studying music in Bern led to a crucial meeting – with pianist and composer, Colin Vallon. It’s Vallon, along with drummer Norbert Pfammatter and now Patrice Moret on bass, who held a mirror up to Elina so she could see who she is and be free to draw on the rich cultural soil of the Balkans.

Elina’s second album for the major label ECM is Dallëndyshe (The Swallow) and listening to it immersed me in a bubble of ancient and distant lives where women call their loves ‘Ylber’ (rainbow) as they watch them leave green hills for work or, war. With titles such as ‘Nënë moj’ (O, Mother) and ‘Kur të pashë’ (When I Saw You), Elina describes them as ‘songs of love and exile’ but somehow the purity of the melodies and simplicity of delivery make them timeless.

What were you driven to express and explore in this album?

Elina Duni I think the word ‘timeless’ is very important in this case…You can feel the songs’ strength because they’ve crossed centuries and the melodies are archaic and deep. It’s this mixture of the contemporary perception each one of us has being a musician living in today’s world and the fact [the songs] are related to something that concerns all of us – we are all migrants, it’s the fate of all human beings: leaving behind something you love, going abroad, going from countryside to city, themes that are universal.

Where and how are did you find these traditional songs?

Elina Duni You may be surprised or maybe not, I found them on YouTube! Albanian friends are always suggesting songs and a friend of mine living in Greece put ‘Fëllënza’ on my wall on Facebook.

‘Fëllënza’ has a melody that has my dopamine triggers firing like Dirty Harry and Elina’s voice is so intimate you feel she’s singing with her head next to yours on a single pillow. Colin Vallon’s tangential arrangement steers it clear of saccharine-slush whilst on ‘Unë në kodër, ti në kodër’ (Me on a Hill, You on a Hill) he hypnotises, plucking piano strings like a cimbalom.

Elina Duni This is one of the songs where Colin wrote the arrangement with the bassline and the ‘mantra’, I had the melody and rhythm but he takes the song to another level…The three of them are wonderful musicians, they never play ‘1st degree music’. For me, art is the distance we take from things, it’s playing or looking at them in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree…Balkan music can be so pathetic [evoking pity] and it’s really a trap, somehow this distance from the pathos is the art.

When I started singing these songs Colin told me to imagine how Miles Davis would sing these themes – as simple as possible. When I do an ornament then it’s really thought out, I try not to do too much so when I do something it stands out. It’s the manner for the whole quartet.

You said that we live in a time where there is a need for poetry, say more about this.

Elina Duni Poetry has its own music, you can listen to a poem that you don’t understand and still cry with it… [the language] Albanian has something very interesting, it has a lot of sounds in it and it is a very, very old European language. It has Latin and Turkish words and, they say, also from the Celts, and it has something very deep and at the same time, strange.

Tell me about your childhood in Albania and how you feel about your homeland now.

Elina Duni There is a phrase, ‘there are two tragedies in life: to have a wonderful childhood and to have an awful childhood’. So, I had a wonderful childhood. In Albania it was another time that doesn’t exist anymore, there were no cars, no consumerism, no Coca Cola, no aluminium…we used to be happy when we could eat a chewing gum because it was very rare, or chocolate. We were raised in the neighbourhoods, everybody was going to everybody’s houses…and we were free. We grew up jumping, climbing the trees and running and fighting and being outside all the time…the imagination played a very important role. Everyone was writing poetry and reading…I think this was a golden time.

© Blerta Kambo

© Blerta Kambo

For me Albania is always inspiring, I go very often, it’s like all the countries that are transforming themselves, they have something alive there. Unfortunately Albanian society is still macho and patriarchal, it’s changing slowly, but there is a lack of models for women…The best thing is to educate women…and to show that being free is not being a sexual object which is hard because the media promotes this – and the singers too. There are so many in Albania, every good-looking girl puts on a mini skirt, makes a video clip and she’s a ‘singer’. I try to do my best to promote another model of woman.

What other projects are you doing?

Elina Duni I’ve been doing a solo project where I sing Albanian songs with guitar but I also did an album a year ago as a singer/songwriter where I wrote songs in Albanian so I’m going on writing, in French and English too…I love the quartet but I am trying to diversify so I’m writing as much as possible to find my way into music – which is not as simple when so many things have been done and you want to find your own original way at looking at things.

I still don’t know where all this is going to lead, the thing is I love acoustic music so maybe this can be a duo with voice and piano, it depends on who your partners are on the adventure, who you find. I would like to go more electric because it is a sound that really attracts me. These days there are no boundaries and you can explore without losing your identity. I love to sing my songs, that’s my biggest dream.

Elina Duni website

Elina Duni Solo
12.04.15 Cully Jazz Festival – Cully, CH
Elina Duni Quartet 
21.04.2015
 Jazzkaar Festival – Tallinn, Estonia
22.04.2015 
Viljandi Folk Music Center, Estonia
24.04.2015 
Salle des Fêtes de Carouge – Genève, CH
26.04.2015 
Dampfschiff – Brugg CH
29.04.2015
 Centralstation – Darmstadt, Germany
09.05.2015 
Treibhaus – Innsbruck, Austria
10.05.2015
 Bee-Flat im Progr – Bern, CH
27.05.2015
 Moods – Zürich, CH
29.05.2015 
Paradox – Tilburg, Netherlands
31.05.2015
 Rote Salon – Berlin, Germany
13.06.2015 
Schloss – Thun, CH
21.06.2015 
Bibliothéque Universitaire et cantonale – Lausanne, CH

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