Album reviews: Sigur Ross | Black Sabbath | Bach

Jon Por Birgisson of the band Sigur Ros. Picture: Getty
Jon Por Birgisson of the band Sigur Ros. Picture: Getty
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Our roundup of the latets releases





The recent departure of keyboard player and string arranger Kjartan Sveinsson from the Sigur Rós line-up appears to have served as something of a musical wake-up call to the Icelandic band. Rather than look for a replacement, the remaining trio have chosen to anchor their increasingly airy-fairy ambient soundscapes with a greater emphasis on rhythm. Though not quite the tribal exorcism of the album trailers, Kveiker’s comparative muscularity is best demonstrated on the beefy title track, with its primitive rhythms and distorted guitars. But this is still slick soundtrack stuff. Singer Jonsi, right, uses his ethereal falsetto more sparingly but now sounds like many a radio-friendly indie frontman with aspiratios to soar over a pretty, palatable product.



Black Sabbath: 13

Mercury, £14.99


THE first new Sabs album in 18 years is also the first to feature Ozzy Osbourne in twice that time. Producer Rick Rubin is on board for the occasion; drummer Bill Ward is not (for contractual reasons). There’s little fire nor hunger in this reunion offering – Tony Iommi hits a couple of ominous chords repeatedly and Ozzy immediately falls back into his odd prophet of doom role, intoning rote lyrics about grim mortality with his strangely proper diction. The results are heavy and sludgy as is their signature, but also relentlessly ponderous, even on the lighter, pastoral sound of Zeitgeist and the noodly heavy blues of Damaged Soul. Still, there’s always the band’s guest appearance on CSI to look forward to.



Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II

Delphian DCD34126 £14.99


THIS is utterly exquisite. Following on from his 2012 recording of Book I of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, pianist Peter Hill has struck gold again with Book II – to many of us the more familiar set. What Hill does is to capture the inner workings of Bach’s richly woven textures with clear-cut intellectual rigour, distributing the weight of piano tone to articulate every critical seam, yet somehow coupling that with a musicality so subtle and so teasingly flexible, there is never once a sense of academic dryness in the interpretations. A clear and powerful example is the glorious 5-part C sharp minor Fugue, which Hill evolves with masterful and inevitable perception.



Ray Russell: Now, More Than Ever

Abstract Logix, £14.99


Guitarist Ray Russell began his career on the London session scene of the 1960s alongside fellow tyros John McLaughlin and Jimmy Page, and was a key contributor to the emerging jazz-rock genre at the end of that decade. He has continued to juggle session and film work (as composer and producer as well as guitarist) with the occasional album release – the previous one, a Gil Evans tribute, was seven years ago. He now shares a record label with the resurgent McLaughlin, and this latest outing confirms that he remains a major creative force within that much-maligned genre. The opening tour de force, The Island, powered by Gary Husband’s propulsive drumming, is a clear statement of intent, and he goes on to deliver a set of original compositions. A strong contender for his best recording yet.


Melt Yourself Down: Melt Yourself Down

The Leaf Label, £12.99


This invigorating confluence of funk, punk, jazz and Afrobeat is the work of various talented and imaginative fusion players from Zun Zun Egui, Hello Skinny, Mulatu Astatke’s band and the mighty Acoustic Ladyland (RIP). The sonic party kicks off with squawking sax, clattering grooves and exclamatory yelps, to which they add electronic effects from Leafcutter John’s box of tricks, cheeky twin sax lines from Pete Wareham and Shabaka Hutchings and cathartic vocals from Kushal Gaya, creating a restless, spiky brew reminiscent of post-punk collective Rip Rig + Panic. They drop the jabbering pace briefly to atmospheric effect on the sultry, devotional Free Walk, and then it’s a headlong bass run from Ruth Goller to the finish.






He is well known through Session A9, the Treacherous Orchestra and Croft No. Five, among others, but this is fiddler Adam Sutherland’s first venture under his own name. In the tight company of producer Marc Clement on guitar, drummer Iain Copeland and John Paul Speirs on bass, he shows himself to have matured into a player of considerable finesse with a fine, singing tone.

Sutherland’s buoyant and indeed flamboyant playing of his own compositions ranges from the swing jazz-accented opener, Thorb the Robot, through the vaguely eastern-European exuberance of Europarty, the circular, Breton-sounding title track and the gentle cascade of fiddle celebrating a Highland burn in Tallysow. The closing Mad Mike’s Return to Mull sees him gallop exuberantly into the sunset, followed by the studio audience’s enthusiastic response.

My only criticism is that the semi-legible handwritten sleeve notes suggest the album should really have been called “Scrawl”.



The Rough Guide to Arabic Revolution

RGNET, £9.99


While last year’s events in Tahrir Square are mirrored in yet another Middle Eastern city, the musical reverberations of that original revolution are lovingly committed to disc. Music has been the soundtrack to revolution for centuries, from the French and American ones to those of ex-colonial Africa, but now its role has changed. As Dan Rosenberg, the compiler of this CD, observes, a PC or even a smartphone can now double as a recording studio, and they can then transmit to millions. The new stars take enormous risks. Rosenberg tells the tragic story of the Syrian poet Ibrahim Qashoush who wrote a song entitled Get Out Bashar: the song helped foment the early stages of revolt, but Qashoush was found murdered with his throat slashed and his vocal cords ripped out. Licensing restrictions prevented his song’s inclusion on this CD, says Rosenberg, but it can be listened to on YouTube.

The young Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor – whose stage name is El General – was one of the luckier ones, though he too took risks. His revolutionary songs became instant hits online, but he soon found himself behind bars as a result, only being released on condition that he stopped performing political songs. When the tyrant Ben Ali fell, El General was back in business, and here he is with his celebrated song State of the Nation.

The most venerable group on this CD is the Port Said ensemble El Tanbura, whose resistance songs grew out of the war in 1956: these were retailored to suit the Tahrir Square situation where they were sung every day at the height of the strife. And if El Tanbura has a Palestinian counterpart, it’s the Dal’Ouna ensemble, whose repertoire has also been brushed up to answer contemporary requirements. An exhilarating hour.