Anna Meredith’s daring retooling of The Four Seasons effortlessly traverses genre boundaries
Anna Meredith: Anno (Moshi Moshi) ****
Candi Staton: Unstoppable (Beracah/Thirty Tigers) ****
Miles Kane: Coup De Grace (Virgin EMI) ***
Fans of Anna Meredith’s Scottish Album of the Year Award-winning debut Varmints will have to wait a bit longer for a follow-up as the Edinburgh-bred, London-based composer is just a bit busy with a summer of commissions and commitments. These include various dates at the Edinburgh Festivals where she has performed a specially-expanded version of Varmints with the Southbank Sinfonia as part of the International Festival and is also, as part of the Fringe, revisiting Anno, her Scottish Ensemble-commissioned retooling of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, now recorded and released on indie label Moshi Moshi.
Meredith’s music traverses genre boundaries without so much as a downwards glance and her decision to splice four of the most celebrated concerti in the classical canon with a series of electronic originals is audacious but appropriate: The Four Seasons were originally published with additional works as The Contest Between Harmony and Invention - a thumbnail review of Anno if ever there was one.
Meredith drops her complementary compositions between selected Vivaldi movements like an 18th century quadrille of elegant criss-crossing and partner exchanges. The overfamiliar but nevertheless brilliant baroque flourishes of the allegro from Spring, retitled Dawn here, flows straight into the seamless synergy of scraping strings and twittering birdsong on Birds.
The hectic eddy of arpeggiated strings on Stoop is underscored with drums and flinty synths. Then comes the contrasting calm of Summer’s Adagio (which Meredith titles Heat in reference to Vivaldi’s description of its “languor caused by the heat”), fuzzed up with static interference before exploding into urgent, exuberant life, and then dovetailing into the drone and swell of Haze.
The dramatic Thunder, a superfast rendering of the famous presto third movement of Summer, drops away to the cool cleansing Bloom, where pizzicato strings and synth arpeggios plop like spots of rain.
As the nights draw in, the baroque influence is strong on her own Low Light which builds, glides and intersects like a club remix with little fidgety bits of electronic glitch flitting around like insects at dusk, while the Scottish Ensemble strings sound like they are skating gingerly over the start of Winter’s first movement, suitably titled Ice.
Speaking of club remixes, the distinctive husky ache of southern soul diva Candi Staton is often to be heard on yearning dancefloor classics, though she is in unapologetic mode to start with on her 30th album. Confidence is her tough funk tribute to owning it, and the bluesy strut of I Fooled You Didn’t I is what happens when you cross her.
Taking a leaf out of Mavis Staples’ socially conscious book, she funks up Patti Smith’s People Have the Power, sentiments echoed in mellow terms on Revolution of Change and with a disco twirl on Stand Up and Be Counted. Elsewhere, she mines Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding for all its beseeching worth and advises in straight-talking funk soul terms that The Prize Is Not Worth the Pain.
Charismatic chancer Miles Kane is an nth generation British mod rocker who offers a cheeky tour of the classic Britpop genres on his third solo album. Coup de Grace kicks off at a rate of knots with Too Little Too Late, then proceeds to the brazen Bolan pastiche of Cry On My Guitar, which comes complete with coquettish vocals and glam rock references to “ballroom blitz”.
Loaded taps into the same solo John Lennon vibe as his mate Alex Turner’s latest Arctic Monkeys odyssey before Kane ticks off snub-nosed new wave, elastic punk funk grooves and rhythm’n’blues testifying on subsequent tracks.
It’s all staggeringly derivative but in the end you have to salute Kane’s chutzpah as well as his good taste.
Julian Argüelles: Tonadas (Edition Records) ****
Julian Argüelles, a leading figure in UK and European jazz and founder member of the legendary Loose Tubes, is joined by familiar collaborators – pianist Ivo Neame, drummer James Maddren and double-bassist Sam Lasserson – in a lyrical tenor and soprano saxophone excursion into his Spanish lineage. Tonadas simply means “tunes” and those here sing and metamorphose, right from the opening Alalá, with tenor sax shifting in tone and attack over the swirl of Neame’s piano and Maddren’s reflexive drumming, while Alfama sees soprano sax steer a pensive melody through increasingly urgent arpeggios. There’s no mistaking the torrid purpose of the flamenco-inspired Bulerías, as its stalking bass line and stealthy drum taps lead to high-energy forays by Argüelles, Neame and company. In contrast, the beautiful Tonadilla opens amid graceful stillness on bass and piano before Argüelles introduces its wistful melody.
Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 1, Symphony No 3, Chout & Rêves (LPO) ****
For those who recall Alexander Lazarev’s bristling performances of Russian repertoire with the RSNO, the punchiness of this all-Prokofiev double disc with the London Philharmonic Orchestra will come as little surprise. He’s joined by the brilliant Serbian violinist Vadim Repin in the Violin Concerto No 1, in a performance that oozes Russian soul. There is virtuosity and wit, pungency and airy sentimentality, all rolled into one alluring confection.
The Third Symphony opens with a vicious blast, before embarking on a wholesome journey that is quasi-operatic in the stark contrasts built within its logical symphonic evolution. Most interesting is a performance of the complete 1921 ballet suite Chout in which Simon Callow narrates the strange tale of warring buffoons. The music sparkles with bejewelled absurdities. Callow’s reading is characteristically sardonic.