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Torngat, "La Petite Nicole"

cover image Montreal's trio of talented multi-instrumentalists hit pay dirt on this album. Revolving around a core of keyboards, drums and French horn, the group has carved out a pleasant niche for themselves inside the well traveled corridors of cinematic psychedelia, employing numerous other devices and useful effects along the way.

 

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Torngat - La petite Nicole

Most albums don’t begin with an “interlude” but this one does, doing the same job as an intro, but better, like I am already keyed in to the action of the plot. It could have been written after the title track, which follows the opener, where the melodic themes hinted at in the “interlude” are stretched out and more fully developed. Everything here is arranged in well fit layers, like an actor in a period costume, whom Torngat might well be providing the soundtrack for. A kaleidoscope of timbres illuminates the hierarchies of the harmonic spectrum, all glowing, washed in the thick espresso sludge of reverb and carefully attenuated distortion that coats all the remaining songs.

Whereas the edges come off rough hewn from the fuzzy swamp gas effects, shimmering melodies float gracefully rising like angels above the crinkling sheen of soft white noise. The group show themselves as being well listened in the prog rock and kraut arenas. Feedback, heavy riffing, and fluid drums (sometimes sounding like they are being played underwater), are all evident on songs like “L’Ecole Penitencier” and “Turtle Eyes & Fierce Rabbit.” “6:23 PM” shows a more subtle, ambient side: the slow but throbbing key playing on this track reminded me on every listen of the dreaminess of the classic Eno song “Spider and I.” This is in no way a disparagement of the piece, but added a weight of familiarity as well as mysteriousness. Gentle piano trickles, alongside a windy electric blur, keep it full bodied and well rounded.

The real light of the group shines through on pieces like “Afternoon Moon Pie” and “Going Whats What,” streaming, coaxed out of the curved brass that is the French horn. Whereas many bands will have garish tracks full of bombast and unnecessary pomp when they bring in a horn section, a single French horn imparts a more pure kind of regality altogether. For Torngat it has the benefit of setting them apart from the crowd.

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Review of the Day

AMM, "At the Roundhouse"
Anomalous
This 1972 recording catches the iconoclastic British improv ensemble around the time of To Hear and Back Again, where the group was temporarily reduced to the duo of saxophonist Lou Gare and drummer Eddie Prévost. This is the interim period coming after AMM's first recordings, those groundbreaking mini-epics of sax and string-strewn factory ambience, and before the group's later, arguably more "mature" phase, marked by the introduction of John Tilbury's piano and a calmer, more subtle playing style. In '72, the temporary absence of Keith Rowe's tabletop guitar and electronics meant the disappearance of nearly all of the colorful industrial abstractions that made the group's early work such an unclassifiable joy, and in response, the duo of Gare and Prévost dips heavily into free jazz for this performance at London's Roundhouse, anticipating their work on Hear and Back two years later. The players are clearly competent and practiced communicators, making the disc's 47 minutes ample time for a few dozen beautiful moments to emerge, but it's easy to feel disappointed with Roundhouse as it's really only a sidestep in the path of a group whose best work lies both ahead and behind. Gare demonstrates a keen appreciation for the free-fractured melodic style of late-period Coltrane, merging with the wayward stabs of Arkestran contemporary John Gilmore; however these abilities had been previously established on the first two AMM records where they found brighter placement within the rich textures of the expanded ensemble, alongside Cornelius Cardew's disembodied cello. The saxophonist is more impressive during Roundhouse's quieter passages where, removed from distraction or compliment, the soft arcs, low warbles, and the other more textural elements of his playing can be fully appreciated (and picked out of other recordings). Prévost's playing is, for the most part, a disappointment. Given the completely alien repertoire of sound I know the drummer to be capable of, his relatively straight-laced performance here becomes my biggest criticism of the disc. Prévost might have been forgiven had he hung back to allow for more subdued interaction with Gare's tenor, but instead he insists on punctuating most everything with tight, exhaustive snare rolls that prove tedious before the halfway point. In contrast to other AMM discs where one unbroken piece receives (seemingly) arbitrary track divisions, Roundhouse's single track includes numerous pauses, which, oddly enough, become the music's biggest asset. Continually easing their instruments into and out of silence, Gare and Prévost are forced to repeatedly regenerate the piece from scratch, molding listener anticipation and crafting an increasingly complex work. Also, the recording leaves a considerable amount of audience noise and room ambience audible, allowing these sounds to blend with those from the two musicians and recalling the famous AMM credo: "Every noise has a note." During particular lulls in the playing, as distant coughs and shuffles enter the mix, I can almost hear the static edge of the absent Rowe's shortwave radio, as if this room and these people were just something he was lucky enough to find on the dial as the sax and drums started to die down. Moments like these are enough to make Roundhouse worthwhile and to remind me that even mediocre AMM discs make for irresistible listening.

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