Album reviews: Camera Obscura | Tricky | James Skelly & The Intenders | Jazz | Folk

Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura
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The Scotsman’s music critics review the latest album releases, including offerings from Camera Obscura and Tricky




Camera Obscura: Desire Lines

4AD, £13.99

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IT HAS been a turbulent and frustrating four years behind the scenes since we last heard from Camera Obscura, to which the Glasgow five-piece have responded with an album of zen country soul recorded in Portland, Oregon.

Tracyanne Campbell is in exquisite, bittersweet voice throughout, whether she is interjecting a sympathetic “dear me” or crooning “I vote for you” on the romantic title track.

The rest of the band are also in fluent form, coalescing beautifully on the blithe jangle of Every Weekday, the languorous twang and sway of Fifth In Line To The Throne and the sweet, horn-dappled amble and guitar shimmer of I Missed Your Party.

If summer ever arrives, here is your swooning soundtrack to it.


Tricky: False Idols

False Idols, £13.99

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THE Knowle West Boy presents another artful scavenging job, punted with some justification as his best work since his Maxinquaye debut, on which he appropriates Patti Smith, reworks a track by The Antlers (with eerie falsetto vocals from the band’s Peter Silberman), gets major brownie points for sampling Chet Baker and Japan, and makes generous use of female vocal foils Francesca Belmonte and Nneka. The latter’s sweet voice provides about the only chink of light in the relentlessly downbeat collage of brooding beats, doomy keyboards, moaning strings, atmospheric clanking and tribal percussion which provides the backdrop for his muttered anxieties. Tricky had his zeitgeist moment nearly 20 years ago but this album deserves to be heard beyond his loyal fanbase.


James Skelly & The Intenders: Love Undercover

Skeleton Key/Cooking Vinyl, £13.99

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WITH The Coral on hiatus, their frontman and three of his cohorts regroup with reinforcements as James Skelly & The Intenders, eschewing the usual Coral creativity for something more traditional. Skelly puts that rhythm’n’blues voice to lusty use over the beefy beat, burnished blues guitar and rumbling horns of Do It Again, tries some Van Morrison-style tenderness on Here For You and doesn’t have to push too hard to convince of his elation on the carefree What A Day. The band coasts through a couple of middling, underpowered efforts but in the end these musicians can always be guaranteed to get under your skin in the simplest of ways – Set You Free is another unassuming, magnetic gem and the guitar work is seductive throughout.



Alexandra Dariescu: Chopin and Dutilleux Preludes

Camps Hill, £11.99

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IN THE first of a trilogy of planned recordings on the theme of “Preludes”, Romanian-born pianist Alexandra Dariescu couples Chopin’s Opus 28 set of 24 with three very different preludes from the pen of Henri Dutilleux. The timing could not have been more apposite – Dutilleux died last month – though it could never have been planned. The contrast in style is appealing, Dutilleux’s post-Impressionist modernism in his mercurial Trois Préludes a poetic update to Chopin’s album of musical snapshots. Dariescu’s Chopin is rigorously level-headed. The Dutilleux is exquisitely colourful and perceptive.



Keith Jarrett Trio: Somewhere

ECM Records, £14.99

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UNLESS pianist Keith Jarrett has something else up his sleeve for later in the year, it does seem a little bit token to mark the 30th anniversary of one of the canonic groups in jazz history with a live recording made four years ago in Lucerne. Jarrett fans might feel a touch short-changed, given the quantity of live material from this trio already out there, but he and his partners, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, certainly deliver in their usual refined and inventive fashion. The group is often billed as the Standards Trio, and their reworkings of the standard repertoire are dominant here, although Jarrett couples his own Deep Space and Everywhere to Miles Davis’ Solar and Leonard Bernstein’s Somewhere respectively. Nothing very different in their approach, perhaps, but the customary prowess and revelatory rethinking of the material guarantees satisfaction.



Quercus: Quercus

ECM, £14.99

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This superb live but studio-quality exercise in delicate folk-jazz fusion sees the beguilingly dark tones of June Tabor joined by her longstanding accompanist Huw Warren on piano and saxophonist Ian Ballamy. The mood is frequently melancholy, as in a treatment of George Butterworth’s setting of A E Housman’s poem The Lads in Their Hundreds, with “the lads that will never be old” frozen in time at a pre-war village fair, while saxophone provides an organum harmony as Tabor intones Shakespeare’s Come Away Death. There is tenderness, too, in Burns’s Lassie, Lie Near Me, while another fair, Brigg Fair, receives peerless a cappella treatment from Tabor. Passion, held in check for much of the album, is released in the dark narrative of David Ballantine’s A Tale From History. Ballamy’s beautifully poised sax and Warren’s shimmering piano never subdue the song – an object lesson for emerging prog-folkies in lyrical arrangement without clutter, with every word clear and every note true.



Toshio Hosokawa: Landscapes

ECM, £13.99

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SOMETIMES a CD sits on my shelf for a long time before I get round to listening to it, and most often when it’s uncategorisable. Thus it was with this recording of Toshio Hosokawa’s Landscapes with sho-player Mayumi Miyata and the Münchener Kammerorchester, but even in the first few seconds I was bewitched. Hosokawa was initially inspired by Western classical music from Schubert to Schoenberg, and went to study in Germany, but while doing so he began to investigate his own musical roots; his compositions became fusions of archaic and modern, ceremonial music and concert music, East and West, and his growing interest in Zen Buddhism – with its symbolic interpretation of nature – led him to study the sho, Japan’s ancient mouth organ with its 17 bamboo pipes, which is now most often heard in Imperial gagaku.

This is the instrument that caresses the ear in the opening piece, not so much a sound as a sonic mist, ever so delicate as its pure tones slowly multiply. When the strings of the orchestra join in, the effect is gently intensified. As Paul Griffiths points out in his liner note, even the orchestral brass can join in this evocation of drifting clouds, while the percussion adds its own twinkling brightness, thanks to the Japanese wind-bells. We’ve heard a lot about fusion over the past decade or so, and most of it has mercifully evaporated on the wind. It has been all too easy to put groups from disparate traditions together, slap the label “fusion” on the results, and await acclaim for cultural bridge-building. But musical bridge-building needs to be slow, organic, and impelled by something deeper than a catchy headline. Hosokawa, Miyata, and their German colleagues have chosen a quieter route, but their collaborations genuinely point towards a possible musical future.