ALTHOUGH the much-loved Big Country have cautiously reactivated on a couple of occasions, this is their first album since the death of frontman Stuart Adamson over 11 years ago.
Big Country: The Journey
Cherry Red, £13.99
Rating: * * *
Those big shoes are respectfully filled by Alarm frontman Mike Peters, his peer in grizzly Celtic passion, and the best tribute they can make is to deliver more of that signature rousing Celtrock replete with manly, windswept imagery. Nevertheless, Bruce Watson makes you wait for those bagpipe guitars, through the tribal stomp of After The Flood and rootsy ballad Hurt, on which Peters sounds like a cross between Bono and Elvis Costello. Although the group are no longer In A Big Country but In A Broken Promise Land, there are axe skirls aplenty on the powering Strong (All Through This Land) and fist-pumping Another Country.
Karl Hyde: Edgeland
Rating: * * *
THE vocal half of Underworld moves from the mighty undertaking of soundtracking the Olympics opening ceremony to the smaller, more personal matter of this solo album. Edgeland is Hyde’s psychogeographic celebration of the outer limits of the city, where “the air smells chemical” – from which one should not infer that Hyde is larging it as usual. If anything, there is a peaceful, pastoral quality to these ambient tracks, produced in collaboration with Eno session man Leo Abrahams, which saunter seamlessly with plenty of space for contemplation, inviting the listener to slow down and admire the soothing sonic scenery.
Willy Moon: Here’s Willy Moon
Rating: * * *
HERE he is indeed. It’s hard to ignore rangy New Zealander Willy Moon who will just not stop moving on this debut album, so keen is he to grab the attention with his 21st-century remix on the blues, all souped up with layers of beats and samples. Maximalist, lapel-grabbing single Yeah Yeah – the one from the iPod ad – is simultaneously invigorating and gimmicky. He sounds less desperate and contrived when he calms down the clamour, as on lowslung instrumental Murder Ballad (I guess you can just imagine what might have happened). For all the bells and whistles, this is a thin debut, fleshed out with manicured covers of ye olde rock’n’roll standards.
MacMillan series Volume 2: Magnificat
Challenge Classics, £14.99
Rating: * * * * *
FOLLOWERS of James MacMillan’s choral music may recognise O as an adaptation of his earlier O Oriens, one of the Strathclyde Motets. In this fine new album – volume two of a multi-disc series in which the composer directs his own music with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic and Choir – we hear the original vocal motet, modified for three treble voices, trumpet and strings. The result is exquisite, MacMillan shrouding the fundamentally tonal language in a halo of strings and floating solo trumpet. That same shimmering instrumental writing sets a magical opening atmosphere to his 1999 Magnificat, coupled here with the equally devotional, somewhat exotic Nunc Dimittis. The inclusion of one purely symphonic work, the emotionally-loaded Tryst, gives balance to a very listenable, very moving disc.
Bruno Heinen Sextet: Tierkreis
Babel, £ 13.99
Rating: * * * *
THE music of Karlheinz Stockhausen is not often the preserve of jazz musicians, but there is a bit of family history behind this project from London-based pianist Bruno Heinen. Both of his parents performed with Stockhausen in the 1970s, and Bruno grew up with his music. Tierkreis (meaning signs of the Zodiac) is a tone-row suite in 12 parts originally devised for music boxes but open to any instrumentation, and the pianist opens and closes his jazz interpretation of the music with snippets of one of the original boxes, now in his possession. In between, he reinvents Stockhausen’s music in vivid and absorbing fashion with his fine sextet, which includes trumpeter Fulvio Sigurtà and saxophonists Tom Challenger and James Allsopp. Their warm, melodic and always intriguing explorations reconfigure the original in striking ways, and with a genuine jazz sensibility.
Battlefield Band: Room Enough For All
Temple Records, Online Only
Rating: * * * *
THESE stalwarts of the Scottish traditional music scene pull off their umpteenth album with panache, opening with a suitably exuberant setting of Louis MacNeice’s anarchic poem Bagpipe Music and ending with Tynes in Overtime, which celebrates Lawrence Tynes, Scots-born place-kicker for the New York Giants, with an old-fashioned quickstep march that advances with suitable wallop.
In between, songs include another poetic adaptation, Sean O’Donnell’s pointed delivery of a striking, accusatory lyric by the American poet and activist Aaron Kramer, while Ewan Henderson adds sprightly puirt à beul vocals to an instrumental set. The most recent band member, Henderson also adds additional pipe and fiddle power to the established front line pairing of Alasdair White and Mike Katz, and it is in their instrumental prowess that this enduring outfit continues to sound fresh, in sets such as the unprepossessingly titled but splendid sounding Hairy Angler Fish.
Turkey: The Ceremony of the Bektashi Djem
Rating: * * * *
SOME kinds of music need to be felt, rather than consciously listened to, and one of these is the Bektashi Djem ceremony recorded here in the remote Anatolian village which is one of the centres of the Alevi cult to which this ceremony belongs. Its opening words by the “watchman” stress the social harmony without which it cannot take place: “If anyone has any grudge or resentment, let us first make peace by talking about it.” Alevism has its roots in the Sufi religion of Iran and the shamanistic practices of the steppes; its first manifestation was in 12th-century central Asia, with leaders being at once religious ascetics and warriors. Hadji Bektash arrived in Anatolia in the 13th century, reputedly in the form of a dove that took on human shape, and he quickly attracted his own tribe of Dervish followers. These people obeyed the cult’s triple injunction: “Be the master of your hand, your tongue, and your loins.” The cult grew and prospered until the abolition in 1826 of the Janissary corps to which the Alevis were affiliated; when Ataturk forbade the Sufi brotherhoods to practise exactly 100 years later, the community went underground where it remained until the proscription was lifted in the 1980s. Since then villages like Hadji Bektash have become its rallying points. Each village preserves its own particular style, pervaded by unison singing or solo songs with accompaniment by the saz lute, of which there are some lovely examples on this CD. We get no translations of song lyrics, but we can imagine the general content; the recordings (made in 2004 and 2011) have a wonderfully atmospheric feel.