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Two contrasting Covid-19 recordings from Switzerland

John Eyles By

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The chaos brought about by the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown hit the livelihoods of most musicians, causing real hardship, difficulties and anxiety for many. The Another Timbre label took action to assist them in several practical ways; it distributed over £3,000 from sales during the pandemic to many musicians whose work it released; in conjunction with other organisations, it put together special playlists and podcasts which were sold via Bandcamp, with the proceeds going to musicians. Finally, and most relevant here, Another Timbre paid four musicians to create new works while in lockdown—the "quarantine commissions." The French-based, Spanish contemporary composer-performer Clara de Asís was one of the four, and the resulting album, Repetition of the Same Dream, was the first to be released.

Coincidentally, at about the time that de Asís was recording in Basel, in March 2020, the long-standing Swiss quartet Om was recording its first album since Willisau (Intakt, 2010)—in February 2020, in Stalden, about 125 miles south of Basel, and, in April 2020, in Winterthur near Zurich. Om called one of the tracks on their album "Covid-19 Blues," a title with which many musicians and fans worldwide will surely empathize...

Clara de Asís & Mara Winter
Repetition of the Same Dream
Another Timbre
2020

As the likelihood of lockdown in France loomed, Clara de Asís travelled from Marseilles to Basel, home of the American-born-and-educated flautist Mara Winter, a mediaeval and baroque specialist. The two had met in late 2019, played together and clicked; by March 2020 they had formed their Discreet Editions label. When de Asís arrived in Basel, Winter had just acquired a new bass flute which she played on all the music here. In contrast to her previous Another Timbre album, Do Nothing (2018), de Asís did not play guitar, opting instead for bowing objects such as bells and bowls, percussion and electronics. Of the album's five tracks, two were composed jointly by de Asís and Winter, one by de Asís based on a modal improvisation by Winter, and two by de Asís alone. The music was all recorded in Kartäuserkirche in Basel, a church with interesting resonant properties ideally suited to the music, and a key ingredient of these recordings.

Right from the start, it is not difficult to hear why these two clicked; the music they produce together is neither historical nor experimental but contains traces of each. As Winter has commented, "We discovered that we had some commonalities between our two aesthetics. Soon after meeting we began to cultivate a sound together." On the opener, "Still Water," both play long notes which overlap and complement one another, the two strands being clearly distinguishable. With the resonances provided by the recording space, the music has a haunting, ethereal quality which is very appealing.

"Wind That Walks" features sounds that are reminiscent of wind, creating an atmospheric and textured soundscape. The album's shortest track, also its title track, showcases Winter alone on a mellow, atmospheric piece which all but steals the show, vying with the twenty-one-minute closing track, "A Passage Through," for that honour; again, it is Winter's bass flute which grabs attention and holds onto it, with de Asis' composition providing an ideal showcase for it, particularly when there is call-and-response between the two. A stunning album that one would not immediately guess had been recorded during lockdown. More, please.

Om
It's About Time
Intakt
2020

Although Om released their first album in 1975, It's About Time is only their seventh release, the first five having been released in six years. That means they started recording during the heyday of jazz-rock fusion, so it is no surprise that those early recordings displayed their awareness of it—and that their current music still does. Of course, in the intervening years between then and now, Om has matured, absorbed other influences and diversified. Remarkably, this has not been because of personnel changes, often a catalyst for innovation. In fact, the same four childhood friends from Lucerne who originally came together as Om are all still present here—saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, born 1952, the youngest of the four, guitarist Christy Doran, bassist Bobby Burri and drummer Fredy Studer. Such stability is vital to what Om does; fusing free improvisation with the energy and fizz of rock relies on musicians who know, trust and understand each other, which Om clearly does.

If there is a trademark Om sound, it consists of a dense carpet of bone-crunching bass laid down by Burri with Studer providing an accompanying rhythm on cymbals and bass drum, leaving Leimgruber and Doran free to improvise over the top. The tracks here are different enough to demonstrate that the group does not work to a formula, but it does have its own recognizable sound and style. It is music which has enough variety to appeal equally to devotees of improv as well as fans of heavy metal and all points in between. Anyone wishing to sample the music on offer here would be well advised to dip a toe in the water by listening to the title track, also the album's longest at almost twelve minutes. Unsurprisingly, "Covid-19 Blues" is not an actual blues by any stretch of the imagination, but a good example of the group's work. Another fine album. Let's hope we do not have to wait a decade for the next one...

Tracks and Personnel

Repetition of the Same Dream

Tracks: Still Water; Wind That Walks; Repetition of the Same Dream; Present Omission; A Passage Through.

Personnel: Mara Winter: flute; Clara de Asis: bowed objects, percussion & electronics.

It's About Time

Tracks: Like a Lake (dedicated to Marianne B); Perpetual-Motion Food; Nowhere; It's About Time; On a Bare Branch; Covid-19 Blues; Fragments; String Holder.

Personnel: Urs Leimgruber: soprano saxophone; Christy Doran: electric guitar, devices; Bobby Burri: double bass, devices; Fredy Studer: drums, percussion, bowed metal.

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