Album reviews: L. Pierre | Modestep | Britten | Summers, Silvola, Kvam | Rudresh Mahanthappa | Rough Guide to Senegal | Django Unchained OST

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ALTHOUGH rightly fêted for his fruity yet poetic lyrical prowess, Aidan Moffat has popped up from time to time over the past decade in this alternative instrumental guise.

L. Pierre: The Island Come True

Melodic, £10.99

***

His fourth outing as L Pierre consists entirely of found sounds, mainly instrumental and spoken word samples, scuffed up with extra hiss and crackle for that vintage field-recording atmosphere. Far from sounding artificially retro, The Island Come True lives up to its Peter Pan-referencing title – and is also redolent of The Tempest’s “the isle is full of noises” – with an abundance of sounds and sweet airs from the romantic, melancholic strings of Sad Laugh and the sonorous, lyrical piano piece Exits through to the unsurprisingly percussive workout of Drums and the naïve refrain of Dumbum.

Modestep: Evolution Theory

Max Records, £10.99

***

It would be no bad thing if Modestep assumed the mantle of the recently defunct Swedish House Mafia as live bastions of party rocking electronica. This debut album is a tad overlong – there are only so many humungous bass drops you can roll out before they lose their quaking impact – but the north London four-piece generally succeed in rocking the dubstep formula, despite the polite vocals of Josh Friend. Evolution Theory is already stuffed with contagious singles, to which they add the torch flavour of Bite The Hand, respond to the 2011 riots on the sledgehammer Praying For Silence and provide a couple of epic, floaty ballads to cover the toilet break. Their music has all the subtlety of the giant industrial golem on the sleeve, but who wants to dance to subtlety anyway?

Britten: Suites for Solo Cello

Delphian, £13.99

****

From Benjamin Britten’s fruitful friendship with the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in the 1960s arose a golden treasure trove of music for cello. Among the most intimate are the three Cello Suites, which are the subject of this absorbing new recording by the 27-year-old Edinburgh-born cellist Philip Higham. These are extensive works – 70 minutes in all – in which Higham captures the delirious expressive range of Suite No 1, with its brooding Bordone and exultant Moto perpetuo; the reflective poignancy of Suite No 2, and the poetic intensity of Suite No 3. Britten may have set about these with the idea of matching Bach’s great unaccompanied canon, but he achieved creations that are supreme in their own right. A worthy new release for the composer’s centenary year.

KEN WALTON

Summers, Silvola, Kvam: Mala Fama

Norcd, Online Only

****

There are some glorious Nordic high jinks here from Highland fiddler Sarah-Jane Summers, now based in Oslo, as she puts the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle – as well as the home-grown model – through their paces with richly toned brilliance in the sterling company of guitarist Juhani Silvola and double bassist Morten Kvam. Several of the tunes are Summers’s own compositions, including the opening title track (Mala Fama is apparently an auld Scots kirk term for bad behaviour) which builds up nicely before leading into The Exorcist, thankfully without any projectile vomiting but with some uncannily skirling fiddle nonetheless. Rhythmic intensity and lyricism combine in tracks such as the Train Jig and Fartsgrense, the latter also letting guitarist and bassist cut loose as Summers’s fiddle shrills in the rapidly shrinking distance. From home ground come some eloquent deliberations on the old pipe march Merrily Sailing and a brisk, Highland-style strathspey and reel, while the gentle Sang 1 does indeed sing, rather nicely.

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Gamak

ACT Records, £13.99

****

The Indian-American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa unveils a new front-line partner on this disc, guitarist Dave Fiuczynski, who shares both his absorption in the music of Asia and his interest in microtonal melodic experiment (Gamak is derived from an Indian word meaning musical ornamentation). The two worked together in Jack DeJohnette’s band, and it is clear why they wanted to continue that association in the context of Mahanthappa’s own intricate, complex compositions, including a reworked version of Are There Clouds in India?, which first appeared on his debut album a decade ago. His regular rhythm section, bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss, are fully alive to the shifting contexts and influences in the music, from jazz and rock to a range of “world” influences. Mahanthappa’s crisp sonority and precise articulation fuse impressively with the guitarist’s contributions in a set high on energy, discipline and creative imagination.

Rough Guide to Senegal

Rough Guides, £8.99

****

This seems a very belated addition to the Rough Guide stable, but there have been so many Rough Guide CDs devoted to individual Senegalese musicians that it’s been easy to miss the absence of an overview. And as such things go, this is a good one, 13 generous tracks plus a bonus CD on the Fula musician Daby Balde, who draws on the usual instrumentation plus fiddle, accordion, and flute.

As the Senegalese minister of culture – as well as leader of the pack – Youssou N’Dour explains where they are coming from. The late Laye Mboup was their inspiration.

He says: “He was the first to think of music that was somewhere between traditional Wolof and Cuban music. Following Mboup there were a number of people who were willing to explore new things, but there were others who didn’t believe that our music could be competitive with music from abroad. We were less fearful of combining the elements of our own traditions into the modern music we were starting to make.”

And as the liner-note to this CD makes clear, while much of the traditional music in this country is made by griots, the music of non-griot Baaba Maal reflects a more socially-engaged facet, with lyrics on education, health care, human rights, and the position of women in society. “The musician is like a bird,” says Baaba Maal. “He can fly and see what’s happening, and bring the news to the people.”

This CD may leave one glaring gap – the Sufi chant which reflects the fact that the population is actually 95 per cent Sunni Muslim – but with Cheikh Lo, Orchestra Baobab, and Diabel Cissoko leading the pack, it makes a lovely hour.

Various: Django Unchained OST

Mercury, £13.99

****

Mixtape maestro Quentin Tarantino returns with another pleasurable dose of his usual hipster eclecticism interspersed with snatches of dialogue from his latest genre reboot. Inevitably, the Django Unchained soundtrack gleefully appropriates the spaghetti western scores of Ennio Morricone and half-inches the marvellously overwrought main theme of the original Django movie, but Tarantino has also had the anachronistic audacity to commission a trio of new hip-hop and R&B tracks by John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Rick Ross – whose contribution 100 Coffins was produced by the film’s star Jamie Foxx – plus a new composition, Ancora Qui, from Mr Morricone himself, all of which sound mighty fine without the accompanying visuals.