Sunday, July 17, 2016

Noir City Festival: Film Noir from A to B at SIFF Cinema: July 22 - 28 | UCLA Film Archive & Festival of Preservation: Jan 16 - Jul 19

Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation return to Seattle after a two year hiatus following their International Edition in 2014 with bold new 35mm prints courtesy of their collaborative efforts with The UCLA Film & Television Archive. The Preservation Society and it's annual touring festival, offering one of the country's most, "Fascinating Windows into Our Cinematic Past". The work of the restorationists at the archive feature prominently in the LA Weekly's discussion of the expansive shift to digital distribution and projection nationwide, "Movie Studios are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling". Their work will again be on display after the selections from the UCLA Festival of Preservation featured at Northwest Film Forum this past May. Next week's Noir City 2016: Film Noir from A to B screens exclusively on 35mm, comprising nine double bills that present a chronological excursion through the classic Noir era, with themed pairs of "A"-list and "B" titles playing together. Highlights from this year's program include a new restoration of Norman Foster's once thought lost, "Woman on the Run", a breakneck thriller about a search for a husband in hiding, set in mid-20th Century blue collar San Francisco. We also see the characteristic atmospheric nature of the genre highlighted in the haunting chiaroscuro of cinematographer Nick Musuraca. Accentuating another notable Val Lewton production for RKO, his camerawork highlights the Greenwich Village missing person (and secret society) mystery of Mark Robson's "The 7th Victim". Hitchcock protege, screenwriter and producer Joan Harrison's stamp is all over Robert Siodmak's tense thriller, "Phantom Lady". The film pivoting around Ella Raines' enchanting lead role as savvy urbanite and amateur investigator, as she gets in deep in an attempt to exonerate an innocent man of the murder of his wife.

In addition to Siodmak, other great German expat directors of the era also put in entries, like Fritz Lang in the classic Edward G. Robinson vehicle, "Scarlet Street" in which Robinson gets rolled by Joan Bennett's streetwise lady of the night. And Max Ophüls adaptation of Elizabeth Saxnay Holding’s novel "The Blank Wall" about the lengths one woman will go to protect her daughter from a scheming blackmailer. Star power also features with Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott in John Cromwell's post-War twisted tale of fake identities and murder set in Florida, "Dead Reckoning". And a second serving of Lizabeth Scott's smokey charm, staring again in Lewis Allen's Technicolor love triangle melodrama, "Desert Fury" set against lowlife gamblers, duplicitous deputies, and rebellious kin. The weeklong program also features Frank Tuttle's seminal revenge film, "This Gun for Hire" based on the Graham Greene novel of the same name, and Bruce Humberstone's unjustly overlooked harbinger of the film noir movement, "I Wake Up Screaming" starring a young Betty Grable in one of her first dramatic roles. Cornell Woolrich might be Noir's most prolific screenwriter, and when you can consistently deliver works like the unreliable narrator featured in John Reinhardt's "The Guilty" practically by rote, there's little wonder why. The festival also hosts rare pulp entries like Henry Levin's clandestine release of one of the most sexually suggestive and psychologically lurid B-movies of the 1940s onto the American screen with "Night Editor". Intended as the first in a trilogy of thrillers about about graveyard-shift police beat reporters, and the crimes in which they become entangled, the film stands as the single entry due to the Motion Picture Production Code crackdown of the Breen era.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

King Hu's restored "Dragon Inn" & "Touch of Zen" at SIFF Cinema: July 22 - 24

This month SIFF Cinema brings some of the finest in genre cinema to the big screen with restorations of legendary Chinese director King Hu's expressively mystical, atmospheric, physical martial arts masterpieces. More referenced and revered than seen, these seminal works have influence countless Wuxia films in the ensuing decades since their release, most notably Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers". In the west there are of course the works of Quentin Tarantino, who has copped from them (and Toshiya Fujita's "Lady Snowblood" also playing this month at Grand Illusion Cinema) generously, lifting sequences and setting wholesale. The arthouse isn't immune to his spell, with a new generation of filmmakers from Hong Kong and mainland China offering reflections on Hu's legacy, as literally seen in Taiwanese Second Wave director Tsai Ming-Liang's elegiac ode to moviegoing and the city of Taipei, "Goodbye, Dragon Inn". Befitting a body of work of this influence and stature, and in a rare move for genre works Senses of Cinema have dedicated a Great Directors feature on Hu's warping and reformatting of the three tenets of 20th Century Wuxia cinema: the political world of the Jianghu, bewildering martial arts action, and thirdly, and most artfully in Hu's case, abstraction in representing Buddhist concepts. Janus Films and Criterion have produced new 4k restorations in a domestic theatrical run that will be the first opportunity to see these films in the west for most filmgoers, particularly in the case of "A Touch of Zen". Celebrated upon it's release as the first non-mainland Chinese film to receive the Technical Grand Prize and nomination for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Hu's epic emerged as an exemplary representation of the genre-form much in the same way that Sergio Leone’s stylized reimagining of pioneer America once brought critical attention to the Italian Western. While we can now see his work against a very necessary and relevant context, via the wider distribution and availability of mid-Century Wuxia film, there can be no denial of Hu’s preeminence as a "Martial-arts Pioneer Who Brought Dynamic Grace to the Genre", and "A Touch of Zen"'s broader achievement and status as a masterpiece of world cinema.

As well as containing references to the totality of Hu Jinquan's past and future films, Tony Williams details for Senses of Cinema, how it is that this work operates as a singular compilation of Eastern and Western stylistic features familiar to contemporary audiences. In Hu's more sparing use of the obligatory Shaw Brothers Studio gestures, reigning in choker close-ups and zoom lenses, he instead accentuated slow motion shots of nature and landscape. These were often set against tightly framed indoor scenes of persona drama, tension and comedy from Hu's own repertory company of familiar faces such as his onscreen avatar Shih Chun, the captivating Hsu Feng, Bai Ying, Han Hsieh, and Tsao Chien. The action playing out in whirlwind set pieces on isolated mountaintop roads and bamboo forest swordfights, delivered with visually beautiful compositions reminiscent of the director's passion for the theatre arts. The Beijing Opera-style musical introductions to Eastern Group representatives in "Dragon Inn" that punctuate each appearance of Bai Ying’s villainous albino eunuch are an obvious point of reference in this technical bridging of the stage and the screen. The more overtly poetic elements in Hu's films are glimpsed in the intermingling of slow-motion depiction of high-flying martial arts choreography, which cut to shots of nature; the movement of reeds, water and trees suggestive of the combat moving into the realm of the supernatural. These gestures would come to characterize the director's later work, becoming more and more explicit as Hu began to emerge as a "Martial-arts Filmmaking Master, Bending Light and Arrows to His Will". As is the case made in Grady Hendrix's Kaiju Shakedown column for Film Comment focusing on the late, lost film "The Battle of Ono", the shift to the supernatural plane is what most defines the closing passages of "A Touch of Zen's Masterful Concoction of Cinematic Flavors". In it's climax, where any fixed interpretation proves elusive, we see the mythic destination of the Buddhist monastery vanish, and it's luminescent, golden background remain. Hu seeming to suggest that in continuing one's quest to find refuge, whether from the intrigues and deceptions of the Ming Dynasty, or the turbulent political climate of the China of his time, one is on the path of a life-spanning journey, punctuated by fleeting glimpses of the distant horizons of transcendence.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Motor presents Ancient Methods & Diagonal Records Showcase with Russell Haswell, Powell and Not Waving at Kremwerk: Jul 14 & Aug 11

In lieu of the more expansive festival forums like those previously offered by Decibel and Substrata, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature and MOTOR, have produced a string of memorable one-off events over the course of the past year. Foremost among them, Elevator's expansion this past winter into exhibition curation with their first annual Corridor Festival. Hailed as a unmitigated success, it's day-long meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance may be the city's best new hope in filling the festival void. The apogee of the collective endeavors of these monthlies resulted in the anti-euclidean rhythmic exercises of PAN recording artist M.E.S.H., the dissonant drone and synth onslaught of Room40 label founder Lawrence English, and the elusive minimalist techno of Giegling who Resident Advisor rated label of the month in their detailing of the collective's slippery characteristics. We were also witness to the Spectrum Spools label showcase featuring Container and Sebastian Gainsborough under his Vessel moniker, representing for the Tri-Angle label. Their night at Kremwerk showcasing another of the label's roster of colliding melodicism, smeared noise and folded rhythm structures, a sound inspired as much by hip-hop as by the distorted abstractions of shoegaze. For Resident Advisor's Label of the Month feature on MOTOR, Samuel Melancon details the imprint's focus on hardware produced music that is as much "semi-danceable, while remaining deep-listening, with a focus on psychedelic tones and textures". Timm Mason who releases on the label under the Mood Organ moniker, could be considered the quintessential representative of this sound. His own volume for the label's Mix Series makes for an ideal primer to the MOTOR's aesthetic vein. In it minimalist techno rubs shoulders with vintage noise and industrial, and the progressive rock of Sand and Goblin shares company with the likes of Tod Dockstader's magnetic tape constructions and Pan Sonic's brutalist experiments in rhythm.

This same scope is representative of the programming offered by Melancon and Debacle Records Nathaniel Young at the done-right underground venue that is Kremwerk's monthly MOTOR night. Both this season's July and August installments bring the global vanguard of experimental sound design and warped dancefloor exercises in broken techno. Arriving in the mid-2000s as the duo of Michael Wollenhaupt and Conrad Protzmann, out of the gate their "Method" trilogy resonated in a post-Chain Reaction dub-space of thunderous, yet subtly layered full-frontal electronic music. The dou's influences worn clearly on their sleeve for all to hear in their multiple installments for the MNML SSGS mix series. Now solo, Wollenhaupt's live PA hardware set for MOTOR will be one of only four Ancient Methods dates on his first ever US tour. Of a shared ethos with the bleeding edge in dancefloor experimentation heard in the recent forays by Pete Swanson, the unhinged mathematics of SND's Mark Fell, and Kouhei Matsunaga's fragmented techno exercises as NHK, over the course of some scant 25 releases, Diagonal Records' pedigree is incontestable. Their stated objective a repurposing of the most challenging voices in contemporary abstract electronic music to the codified gestures of dance music. One need only hear the buoyant sea of dissonant miasma obscuring the depths of disorienting rhythmic melee in Russell Haswell's "37 Minute Workout" and "As Sure As Night Follows Day", the new wave meets rueful machine abstractions of Not Waving's "Animals" and the warped "Club Music" of label founder Oscar Powell to judge Diagonal's success. What else would one anticipate from a label who christened their first release, "The Ongoing Significance of Steel & Flesh"? Photo credit: Scott Simpson

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The films of Paul Clipson with live score by Grouper's Liz Harris at Northwest Film Forum & Washington Hall: July 29 - 30

Later this month the Northwest Film Forum and Elevator host two nights, in different arrangements, of experimental filmwork by Paul Clipson with sonic accompaniment from Portland's Liz Harris. Her most recent sequence of albums spanning the last decade as Grouper embrace early folk traditions as much as contemporary electronic and sound sculpting sequences involving controlled feedback, reverb and delay. One can see a line of progression and intermingling of themes and process through, "The Man Who Died in His Boat" a mirroring companion album to 2008's "Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill" and 2015's more explicitly folkish "Ruins", the latter assembled over a more protracted span of time during a residency in Portugal. The album's extended recording process, an attempt to escape the hectic rush of contemporary life and enter a slower slipstream, was realized during a stay at Lisbon’s Galeria Zé dos Bois. Which Harris details for FACT Mag, “Liz Harris: I Felt Incapable of Finding Love”; "Starting to process a relationship that had ended a couple years prior. Being alone and near the water started drawing some of it out. Emotions built up over years emerged. I felt incapable of being in a relationship, of finding love. Bad at taking care of people, no one taking care of me. Governments not taking care of their own people, world economy taking a nose-dive cause of shortcuts and greed.” In a more personal look, The Quietus enlisted Harris as our guide through her musical life, "Listening & Playing Alone: The Strange World Of Grouper", from the (literal) ghosts of her early years, being a party vagrant in Los Angeles, to years of relative isolation in the rural coastal expanses of the Pacific Northwest, finding music via the echoing of former industrial spaces, to risk-taking and sleep deprivation.

Their "Through The Looking Glass: An Interview With Grouper" also explores the concurrent underground pop project, Helen released on Harris' longtime home, Kranky Records who themselves recently relocated to Portland in the year following their 20th Anniversary festival in Chicago. Redirecting the energy of garage rock's distorted vein, Helen's "The Original Faces" with percussionist Jed Bindeman and Scott Simmons on bass and guitar, channels a decidedly more upbeat groove reminiscent of the classic New Zealand weirdo pop sound from the late 1980's/90's centered around Flying Run Records and the early more raw, fuzz-infused emanations from the Creation label roster. For her evening at Northwest Film Forum, Harris will be supplying accompaniment to the Super 8 and 16mm projection assemblies of film-art, experimental filmmaker, Paul Clipson. Clipson's previous performance in Seattle as counterpoint to Dan Abrams enveloping synthesis was one of the highlights of Substrata Festival's final Northwest installment. Clipson's real-time improvisational dialog with Abram's sound saw densely layered, in-camera edited studies of figurative and abstract environments woven into a richly entrancing chiaroscuro of image, pattern, color and light. Not the first of Clipson and Harris' collaborative works, the two previously produced a "Mesmerizing feature-length Work Exploring Themes of the American Landscape", by the title of Hypnosis Display, which they discuss for NPR. Along with the music of Grouper, the evening's program also features prerecorded soundtracks by an extended global cavalcade of abstract electronic music and sonic experimentation from Gregg Kowalsky, Tarantel's Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Tashi Wada, Room40 label maven Lawrence English, and Kevin Martin's King Midas Sound collaboration with Christian Fennesz.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Jia Zhang-ke's new film "Mountains May Depart" at SIFF Cinema: July 1 - 7

In dedicating one of their Great Directors features to mainland China’s most prominent arthouse director, "A Guy From Fenyang" by the name of Jia Zhang-ke, Senses of Cinema predicated the recognition that would later come for the quietly controversial, deeply humanistic vision alive in his body of work. Zhang-ke's earliest acclaim originating from his string of first features, "The Pickpocket", "Platform" and "Unknown Pleasures" spanning the years 1998-2002. It was his examination of Globalization and China's absorption of western market and consumer values in 2004's "The World" that he gained attention outside the European cinema festivals. Becoming in a short succession of years a internationally recognized filmmaking voice that strode a very precarious balance with China's censorship and state-run cinema funding. So that much more startling then, that when his next film set within the otherworldly landscape of the Three Gorges Damn Project. A film of lives changed, homes lost and cultural legacy literally washed away, 2006's masterwork "Still Life" not only winning him top prize at the Berlin and Venice Film Festivals, but paradoxically earning praise from China's then vice-President, Xi Jinping. With Jia's own perspective on the current state of his country offered in the pages of The Guardian, "China Must End Silence on Injustice, Warns Film Director Jia Zhang-ke" on the growing wealth inequality, worker exploitation and eroding social cohesion. That year saw him blending of his usual documentary aptitude with a newfound flare for bloodletting. His "A Touch of Sin" can be seen as the director's response to the growing backlash of mass protest, worker suicides, public violence, labor riots, upheaval against for-profit land seizures and the growing extremity of corruption of state and local officials. Jia's depiction of the rising occurrence of mainland China's explosive public response to social injustice explored in Tony Rayns' "A Touch of Sin: New China’s Loss of Social Cohesion Leads to Violence" and the New York Times, "Filmmaker Giving Voice to Acts of Rage in Today’s China".

Detailed in Kent Jones' "Wonders to Behold" coverage of it's premier at Cannes in 2015, Zhang-ke returned last year with a statement on the "Status of Love in the Age of Consumerism". What is incontestably his most purely emotional work, "Mountains May Depart" shares a explicitly political bent in it's "Showing the Human Stakes in a Changing China". Delivered as a trilogy of eras in the lives of the film's protagonists, the film exists on two temporal planes; that of the interlocking lives of the characters and that of the world, the first of which always moves more slowly than the latter. The film begins as the millennial cusp dawns and China enters into a embrace with capitalism. While simultaneously retaining the monolithic state structures of the past, it's more wealthy entrepreneurial citizens exhibit their newfound worship of consumer goods and brash materialism as status symbol. In this passage it most resembles a classic studio melodrama, with the love interests established that would later define the following decades of estrangement and heartbreak. Tao, a young woman involved with a childhood friend and coal-miner by the name of Liang, is being courted by the wealthy and conceited Jingsheng. After the purchase of the coalmine as yet another of his cache of investments, Jingsheng manipulates Liang out of the picture, ensnaring Tao. They later marry and have a child, which Jingsheng grotesquely names “Dollar”, so great is his belief in the child symbolizing China's influence in a new era of prosperous global capitalism. The film's second chapter centers around Tao, who assumes a tragic dimension in light of her marital disaster and the death of her beloved father. We witness her transformation into a troubled melancholy figure, further wounded by her son's encouragement to abandon his past, family and country of origin. As Peter Bradshaw cites in his review from Cannes, it is in this accumulating of the weight of time and remorse over the span of decades that Jia's film "Scales New Heights as a Futurist Drama". In it's final chapter "Mountains May Depart" transforms into a science fiction essay on China's global diaspora and it's potential imminent destiny of profound class stratification, the fallout from which seen as the ensuing generation's emotional and cultural alienation. Audacity of vision alone doesn't answer for the uneven nature of the film's maligned third-part foray into the English language. But to quote Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review for Film Comment; "This is by nature a film of broad strokes; a melodrama in the grand manner, about the passing of time, the waning of love, the enduring tensions of a triangle, all against a global socio-economic backdrop."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bi Gan's debut film "Kaili Blues" at Northwest Film Forum: Jun 23 - 26

As a forum for the vanguard in contemporary narrative cinema, the Locarno Film Festival has emerged as one of the most important Western festivals to support Asian cinema, particularly works without commercial distribution prospects. For mainland Chinese filmmakers, the affirmation and support from the global independent film industry has become more crucial in recent years. Particularly as the government under President Xi Jinping continues to carry out the broadest crackdown on free expression in the "25 Years of Amnesia" since the events that culminated in the Tiannanmen Square protests of 1989. By way of example, China’s most prominent arthouse director, "A Guy From Fenyang" by the name of Jia Zhang-ke, would not have had the global reach of a "Filmmaker Giving Voice to Acts of Rage in Today’s China", without the support of the international festival circuit. Those filmmakers are also aware that as recently as 2010, Locarno awarded the Golden Leopard, it's top prize, to an unknown Chinese director for Li Hongqi's “Winter Vacation”. Further bolstering it's role in supporting independent film from mainland China and broader Asian subcontinent, Locarno established “Bridging the Dragon", a traveling workshop aiming to foment co-production partnerships for both European and Chinese films. So it is that "Chinese Independent Filmmakers Look to Locarno Festival" in growing numbers and diversity. Ranked among Film Comment's Best Undistributed Films of 2015, Bi Gan's "remarkable arthouse debut" swept up Locarno's Best New Director prize, it's screening in the festival hailed as one of the most assured directorial debuts of the decade by both Film Comment and Cinema-Scope.

Ostensibly the story of a middle aged doctor and ex-con searching for his young nephew, "Kaili Blues" offers up an increasingly dreamlike elegy for bygone Miao traditions and sweeping changes seen in the landscape of China itself. Most striking is the emphatically experimental detour in it's middle passage, as the narrative proceeds into an extended exercise in cinematic time and space. The film's opening material is elliptically edited, the thinnest gossamer of connections implied as characters come and go, with the action flowing between points and persons of interest in Chen Sheng's life. Methodically these brief encounters and dialog amass a weight and accumulate hinting details of Chen's circumstance across various scenes and settings. From an obliquely referenced prison stint, to his connection with another ex-gang member Monk (himself with a violent past and fixation on timepieces), and finally allusions to his Chen's early abandonment as a child. In doing so it takes on an increasingly oneiric quality, one in which relationships and emotions correspondence are suggested, rather than established, often via narrated readings of Chen’s poetry. Delivered through extended shots and images that are achingly melancholy, and teasingly cluttered, "Kaili Blues: A Dream without Limits" describes the subtropical province of Guizhou, a mountainous, lush region of sporadic human habitations. Intriguing associations of the narrative's emotional landscape can be found in the depicted real-world recurrences of transition and disrepair. Construction is rampant on roads and buildings, almost every vehicle or appliance is shown to be in a state of erratic acting out, breakdown or overhaul. Considering the "Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million into China’s Cities" expected to unfold over the course of the next decade, one doesn't need to extend these ideas and analogies far to conceive them applying to a country in flux, and to a people in dislocation. More than just the material livelihood of those involved is at stake, matters of the heart, home and spirit are no doubt tied up in the "Pitfalls that Abound in China’s Push From Farm to City". Journeying through this landscape, "Kaili Blues" sensibility for the subject and setting of this abstract chronicle in persons lost and a past revealed, is to quote Mark Chan's Short Take for Film Comment; "one of the rare moments in recent cinema where ostentatious screen-craft proves equal to the task of channeling a multitude of these inexpressible sorrows".

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Earshot Jazz presents Mats Gustafsson's The Thing & Mats Eilertsen Trio with Harmen Fraanje and Thomas Strønen at Poncho Hall and The Royal Room: June 22 & 28

Again like in 2014, Seattle's Earshot Jazz organization has insightfully culled from Vancouver International Jazz Festival's expansive global program of all things Jazz, including a set of trios from the cutting edge of the Scandinavian scene. It's a rare west coast opportunity to hear the purveyors of this sound, informed as much by the fifty years of European Free Jazz, as the equally kinetic influences of post-Punk, Noise Music culture and by degrees the more tempered, "Explorations of Krautrock and it's Kosmische Fringe". Johannes Rød's recent, "Free Jazz and Improvisation on Vinyl 1965-1985", published by Norwegian vanguard imprint Rune Grammofon, traces independent Free Jazz and Improv labels between 1965 and 1985, from the beginning of ESP-Disk through to the ascendant digital formats. With some 60 labels are covered in the volume, and forewords by Mats Gustafsson and label founder, Rune Kristoffersen, there are few better single introductions to this particular brand of what The Guardian's Richard Williams calls, "Norwegian Blues". The significance of the ECM label to the extended Scandinavian scene and it's embracing of Classical, Jazz, Improvisation and Experimentation, can't be overstated. Dana Jennings "ECM: Albums Know that Ears Have Eyes" for the New York Times mines the ensuing four decades following those detailed in Rød's chronicle. Another significant marker of in "The Sound of Young Norway" came in the form of ECM sister label's 150th release, The Quietus hailing the farseeing benchmark of graphic and sonic synergia that was, "Rune Grammofon: Sailing To Byzantium". At the epicenter of it's players, Nordic Council Music Prize recipient Mats Gustafsson has carved out a space central to connecting the Scandinavian scene with the larger global Improv and Out Rock cultures. Playing and collaborating in and out of the studio he's done more than hold his own in duo and large ensemble lineups with luminaries like guitar legend Derek Bailey, saxophone colossus Peter Brötzmann and extended technique and electro-acoustic pioneer, Evan Parker. Gustafsson has also found contemporaries at the bleeding edge of their respective genre zones outside of the Jazz world. Japanese polymath Otomo Yoshihide, songwriter and musique concrete composer Jim O'Rourke, and the foremost American underground rockers of the 1990s, Sonic Youth, are among their number.

Marking his 50th birthday with sets by The Thing, Rune Grammofon compatriots, Fire! and comrades in arms from the global Free Jazz scene including Ken Vandermark, Paul Lovens and Christof Kurzmann, this month Trost release a document of the incendiary celebrations as the "Peace & Fire" four disc box set. Gustafsson known for his dramatic wielding of the bass and contrabass saxophones, his command of the oversize lumbering horn, and it's lower register delivering the sort of weighty, dense notes that evoke the thunderous resonance of foghorn diaphones at sea. Scattershot with short truncated upper register phrases and showers of overtones that cut through the tide of low frequency swells. This same kind of invigorating, fiery, at times beguiling playing was heard on the occasion of his bandmate and centerpiece of the contemporary Scandinavian scene, drummer Paal Nilsen-Love. Memorable performances in both Seattle and the Vancouver International Jazz Festival in various settings over the past half-decade, including last year's hours-long explosive exhibition of Nilsen's Large Unit hosted by Earshot. Later this month Earshot brings Gustafsson with his central duo of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love to the Wayne Horvitz founded, The Royal Room in a lineup with Thomas Johansson's Cortex. The following week at Cornish Poncho Hall, another central trio of the Scandinavian scene playing in a more understated meditative vein, bassist Mats Eilertsen's eloquence and sensitivity is matched by pianist Harmen Fraanje and the soaring moodscapes of Food's percussion and electronics wing, Thomas Strønen. Their sound is a more timorous, searching affair than the sonic incursion of Gustafsson and company. Central to it's fabric are piano and bass studies in rhythm and texture that circumnavigate the orthodoxies of piano trio playing, with Strønen's drumming acting in eloquent counterpoint. The trio's recordings for the breakthrough indie Hubro label assemble what Jazzwise called "contemporary European jazz of the highest quality, in it's weave a minor galaxy of young stars”, including associates from ECM's highly regarded Tord Gustavsen Trio.
Photo credit: John Kelman

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lau Nau new album "Hem. Någonstans" & West Coast Tour: May 26 - June 4

Documenting the emerging new Finnish underground as a focal point and locus of the scene, the vast majority of the Fonal Records releases have been recorded, mixed and mastered at the label's own in-house SS-Palace Studio. Independent institution in every sense, founder Sami Sänpäkkilä has run label from his home in Ulvila since it's inception in the mid-1990s with an extended family involved in every aspect of the label's process, from assembling books to packaging records. Releasing a roster of largely psychedelia influenced folk music and abstract fusions with ambient and tonal enterprises, the Fonal sound came to assemble around the vanguard of Jan Anderzén's "chemical friends" project, Kemialliset Ystävät. Ensconced in it's tapestry of Northern European folk and 1970s improvisational rock traditions can be heard influences ranging as wide as interstellar mythology of Karlheinz Stockhausen and large ensemble Afro-Futurist explorations of Sun Ra. Gathering momentum and a growing body of like-minded artists from the surrounding Nordic cultural landscape by the early 2000s, Matthew Wuethrich delivered the first extensive mapping of Finland's new folk underground for The Wire's December 2004 issue. In pieces for various publications over the course of the decade, Wuethrich and Jordan N. Mamone becoming cultural emissaries of sorts for Finland's new strange vein of folk, the "Fonal Records: A Logo, A Sound, A Goal – but No Ads" and overview of "Finland Calling" for Dusted offering some of the first interviews outside of Finland with the scene's founding players. Their work at the time almost the singular english language resource covering the extended collective enterprises under the label's banner outfits of Kemialliset Ystävät, Avarus, Paavoharju, Tomutonttu and Sänpäkkilä's own ES.

Foremost among the scene's solo voices, the obtuse wanderings of Islaja's solemn lyrical explorations are a strong counterpoint to the more distended psychedelia of her label compatriots. A intimately inward-looking music mapping the physical and psychic landscape of rural Finland; mountains, clouds sun and sea make up Merja Kokkonen's thematic and lyrical geography. Another of the label's idiosyncratic, finely honed soundworlds can be heard in the music of Laura Naukkarinen. Her breathy open songforms built of fragile, spectral states center around ambient improvisation and extended drone exercise. Arriving with significant fanfare, the finesse of the debut "Kuutarha" garnered inclusion in the 50 Albums of the Year in The Wire's 2005 Rewind. Employing strings, dulcimer and an array of acoustic instruments Lau Nau's ear for protracted tonal explorations was further realized in the following "Nukuu" of 2008. Embracing psychedelia and northern folk traditions as much as the avant-garde of mid-Century minimalism, the course of Naukkarinen's creative arc has most recent arrived at producing scores for Benjamin Christensen's "Haxan", Jean Epstein's "The Fall of the House of Usher", Robert Wien's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and the seminal horror of Victor Sjöström's haunting, "The Phantom Carriage". This affinity for the contained world's of early silent and Expressionist cinema has informed her most recent, ”Hem. Någonstans”. An instrumental album spinning variations around Naukkarinen's soundtrack to Lotta Petronella's similarly named documentary film, ”Home. Somewhere”, it's focus the quietude and small events that comprise the lives of those living in a remote Finnish archipelago. Later this month and next, Lau Nau will be bringing her musical mirroring of the subtly experimental documentary film on a west coast tour, with a series of dates in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and a span of events in the San Francisco Bay Area, fittingly hosted in smaller, intimate environments and community cultural centers.