= August 2022 =  
Empty House
London Odense Ensemble
Michael Tanner



EMPTY HOUSE – BLUE BAMBOO (Cassette on Cruel Nature Recordings)

Fred Laird has been as ever keeping busy with Taras Bulba and a range of other solo and collaborative activities embracing a range of musical and philosophical influences. Empty House is a solo project showcasing Fred’s multi instrumental prowess to create meditative experiments in sound or more precisely sound painting which better describes the musical canvas created. ‘Blue Bamboo’ is the second Empty House release following on from last year’s ‘Mushin’ and superficially it takes a similar path where elements of Kosmische, haunting folk melodies, ceremonial and ritual music across cultural boundaries are skilfully navigated and harvested to create a captivating ambient soundscape and immersive listening experience rich in imagery and atmosphere. It consists of four improvised pieces played on an array of electronic and acoustic instruments which form a kind of loose ambient suite. It comes with a cassette only bonus track, well, just because Fred likes all of you.

We begin with Night Fires’ where warm, gently pulsating Raga-like drones, delicate and shimmering percussion, wisps of minimal desert blues guitar and snatches of what could be ancient Arabic melodies create a dreamy heat haze, cooled by touches of Harold Budd-esque piano colours. It’s an intoxicating opener and conjures up evocative cinematic desert sunsets or perhaps a fine accompaniment to leafing through the travel writings of Paul Bowles amongst other things. ‘Good News People’ follows and is much more Kosmische oriented with Popol Vuh coming immediately to mind and again that Eno or Budd-like stately and minimal use of simple piano melody with vocal samples. Celestial choral swells and washes underpinned with field recordings add a touch of 2001 and Ligeti informed atmospherics which occasionally stray into darker more dissonant places. The title track takes the celestial cosmic choral mystery a little bit further adding a sparse spacey surf guitar twang with a deconstructed Dick Dale twist and more prominent percussive punctuations with a touch of almost free form Celtic melody jostling with darker humming drones and rumbling undertones.  ‘Serenity’ amplifies the field recordings to create a contemplative, looping, pastoral Kosmiche where echoes of Jon Hassell’s fourth world fusion or Robert Fripp’s music for quiet moments and Celtic and far eastern melodic sensibilities come together to create a piece akin to a tranquil yet vibrant walk in a woodland or meadow at dawn or dusk and it concludes a gorgeous run of music.

The bonus track ‘Extinction Mantra’ is different in character and lengthy at more than 16 minutes. It builds from a folk inspired melody with electronic undertones into a gently upbeat foot tapper. Kraftwerk like electronic melodies are given a mellow makeover and a Chemical Brothers style rhythm gently but firmly propels the melody into a gradually more complex layering of pulses, drones and electronica. Manuel Gottsching does this very well and so does Fred Laird.

This is another excellent release from Fred Laird as Empty House, embracing the sound world of ‘Mushin’ and taking it subtly but satisfyingly forward to another level. It’s an improvised soundscape that could pleasantly accompany an hour of being busy doing nothing but I urge you to create some headspace, immerse yourself and listen closely as there’s a lot of small detail in this music that deserves your attention and will reward your time very well. There aren’t many copies of this cassette so don’t delay if you want one.

(Francis Comyn)


(LP/CD/Digital on Mexican Summer Records)


Sessa, aka Sergio Sayeg, the young star from Sao Paulo, Brazil, brings us his not-difficult second album Estrela Acesa, and it’s a corker.  If his 2019 debut Grandeza was a hodgepodge with minimalist tendencies, here he expands his palette with lush arrangements and production.  He keeps an eye on the brilliant practitioners of samba, bossa nova and tropicalia’s heyday, with the other eye on the here and now.  His music is floating and gauzy, sensual and dreamy.


Everything on Estrela Acesa (which translates from Portuguese to Burning Star) sounds romantic, even when some of the lyrics are actually about breakups and frustration.  At the core of all the tracks are Sessa’s nylon guitar, Marcelo Cabral’s bass, and producer Biel Basile’s drums and percussion.  He has a talented team to conjure impressionistic paintings in filling in the soundscapes.  Soft strings, flutes, more percussion, and female background vocals are applied with the utmost in taste, sophistication and restraint for just the right balance.


A fine example of his art is on “Sereia Sentimental” (Sentimental Mermaid).  Sessa’s featherlight vocals and light strumming are accompanied by lovely strings in a very 60s-70s style arrangement, and the soft, sensitive background vocals by Ciça Góes, Ina, Paloma Mecozzi, and Lau Ra.  Those singers are all over the album, and lend a great deal of warmth to Sessa’s images of lazy, sparkling seas and sand.


The jaw-droppingly gorgeous semi-instrumental Helena starts out perhaps evoking composer Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, but drifts off gently with the swells of those dreamy strings (really must give a shout-out here to the album’s arrangers, Simon Hanes and Alex Chumak – Chumak arranged Helena).  I say semi-instrumental because the background singers purr along tenderly.  The track is like swaying slowly in a hammock in the hot sun on a tropical beach.


“Dor Fodida,” likewise, is so relaxing, even an alluring psychedelic, opium-laced haze in its mellowness, that you’d never guess it translates to “fucking pain.”  Breakup song “Que Lado Você Dorme?” (On What Side Do You Sleep?) is enhanced by two enchanting interludes switching to waltz time, with the background singers meandering away, and sounding like they’re as far off in the distance as they can be but still be audible.  The song finishes in a beautiful instrumental touch with Sessa’s guitar and the strings.  On the closer and title track, Sessa sounds somewhat playful, not taking himself or the world too seriously.


Sessa makes it all look easy with this album.  Whether imagined as a late-night superchill among murky lights or a sun dappled daydream in the haze, both descriptions work.  The music is rhythmic and timeless.  The production and top performances by his contributors are superb.  If this is what he’s capable of on his second album, the lad’s going far.


(Mark Feingold)


(LP/CD/Digital on El Paraiso Records)


With certain brilliant artists, whether they be film directors, authors or musicians many of us reach a point that when that artist releases their latest work, you just don’t ask questions and you check it out.  Usually, you’ll be handsomely rewarded by the experience, as in this record.  It comes from the collaboration between Denmark’s El Paraiso Records stalwarts Jonas Munk (guitar and studio wizardry) and Jakob Skøtt (drums, art design) of Causa Sui; Martin Rude (bass with Sun River and sometimes Causa Sui); with London jazz scene standouts Tamar Osborn (baritone sax, flute); and Al MacSween (keyboards and synths).


The Odense folks love to do collaborations, their past work sometimes including the London players – see Rude Skøtt Osborn Trio, Ellis/Munk Ensemble, and Chicago Odense Ensemble.  The world is a better place for them, but this one raises the bar higher, and is another career peak – for all of them.


It’s a delicious gumbo of spiritual jazz à la Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, psychedelic rock, with dashes of prog and Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea/Mahavishnu Orchestra jazz fusion.  Why wait? – the album kicks off with the immense highlight, the combined seventeen-minute-plus “Jaiyede Suite, Parts 1 and 2.”  This massive piece swings and sways in a head-spinning trip, with all five musicians going for broke.  Munk’s guitar wah-wahs away, while Osborn lays down some swampy bottom with the baritone sax on Part 1, swapping it for flute in Part 2.  MacSween’s electric piano work has some Lalo Schifrin qualities, and he, too alternates with groovy synths.  All the while, Rude and Skøtt anchor the proceedings on a rhythmic groove and somehow keep everything from skipping off the atmosphere out of the solar system.  It’s an unforgettable piece.


“Sojourner” is ushered in by MacSween’s swirling synths and Osborn’s flutes, while Munk adds guitar colors and Skøtt plays almost exclusively on the toms and cymbals.  It’s more affirming and positive than the startling voodoo of its predecessor.  It’s still a psychedelic headphone trip, albeit one played out in the sunshine, rather than the Jaiyede Suite’s stark moonlight.


Side Two is the more experimental side, dominated by the fifteen-minute “Enter Momentum.”  Osborn and MacSween initially trade stabs on flute and keyboards, respectively.  Osborn later switches to the baritone sax (and later back to flute again).  The Odense guys get their turn next, and the two international factions alternate between soloing and supporting.  Again, Skøtt’s drumming is exemplary throughout the extended free-floating jamming.  Closer “Celestial Navigation” features a mass of squiggly analogue synths heading off in different directions into the cosmos, while the other players do their bits, notably Jonas Munk guiding the way at one point on guitar.


We can only hope there’s a Jaiyede Sessions Volume 2 coming.  Volume 1 launches you clean into the heart of a flowing, vibrating, pulsing spiritual Space Is The Place land played by peerless masters.  It’s another gem from El Paraiso, one of their finest yet.

(Mark Feingold)


(cassette from Objects Forever )


I rather fear this little gem is sold out at source, but there's a download available (which I've provided a link to, above) so those of you who, unlike yours truly, don't have your heads stubbornly stuck in the analogue sand and are quite happy wallowing around in the digital sea can at least hear it, even if you are missing the beautiful printed card sleeve or indeed anything that you can feel, touch, hold, smell or see. The good news is however that Michael Tanner is a perfectly adept spirit guide, channeling those very feelings and emotions through his music.

It's only fair to say at the outset that the Terrascope has a very long-standing affinity with Mr Tanner; his various projects and side-lines (Plinth, Thalassing, Cloisters) have graced many of our pages and stages, and his performances with friends and artists as revered as United Bible Studies, Sharron Kraus and Alison Cotton are the stuff of legend. So you're hardly going to expect an unbiased review here. Trust me though, this one really is rather special.

Vespers / The Blackening are the latest, and allegedly final, two mini-albums by Michael Tanner performing as Michael Tanner. 'Vespers' was recorded in 2020 but has only just surfaced, while 'The Blackening' has previously only been available digitally (and therefore, I would argue, is previously unreleased. I'd probably lose the argument against the sheer weight of the evidence, but like I said above, I'm a stubborn old bugger) Objects Forever is to be applauded for releasing the two on cassette.

“I made these recordings for Vespers due to the sheer inanity of lockdown - they arrived fully formed and unexpected, like all good improvisational pieces should be I guess. It’s a worn cliche, but they genuinely weren’t meant to be heard by the outside world. In fact, I sat on it a year so as to not get swept up in the deluge of lockdown albums that were already popping up left right and centre. As with any album I put out, if I still want to listen to it after a year then the chances are other people will too.

“Bar the church organ opening, the album was recorded entirely on a slab atop a family vault in the graveyard at the end of my street. Always at dusk, when the birds in the trees overhead were at their most animated. I’m not a big one for ‘studio trickery’ but this was my first experience with ping-pong delay - borne from the fact that I just really missed playing music with other people, and the call and response nature of it had a somewhat similar sensation; making a sound into the void and it having it bounce back at you, making you then react, think on your feet.

“You can hear twigs snapping below as I had to shift, mid-recording, as ants bit my ankles. It’s a snapshot of a few days in Spring: no agony, very little tweaking and probably the most honest thing I’ve recorded".

I have to say, it's the birdsong and ambience that really elevates these recordings into the realms of the extraordinary for me, rendering the music somehow spiritually entwined with nature itself. There's a deftness to Michael's playing that seems lifted by the animation of the birds, as if they are willing the hurdy gurdy, zither, autoharp and other acoustic instruments to join in with their conversation. Alison Cotton's viola on 'Vespers Part 2' (overdubbed, I think) also adds a glorious tonal texture.

Turning the cassette over, Michael observes: “The Blackening is a piece of music recorded between 2014 and 2016 in the UK and Italy, mostly as a duo with Alison Cotton. Overdubs were added by my friend and constant inspiration Lino Capra Vaccina in 2016.” It's extraordinarily gentle music, lapping the shore like the sea, receding and advancing and - and no doubt, eventually covering my head as it lies there, buried in the sand.

I do hope this is a pause rather than a farewell for Michael Tanner, who describes them as "my final albums for the foreseeable future" (leaving me wondering, in my usual pedantic way, if we can't at least hope for a second Thalassing album even if there's to be no more Tanners) but, whatever the case, it's a gorgeous collection.