Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Whitetree – Cloudland

Hans ‘n Franz electrokraut cachet notwithstanding (the two brother menbers of the new-music trio Whitetree are in German ambient electronic group To Rococo Rot), this is the kind of album you can give your parents for background music. After, of course, burning the tracks to your ipod. Don’t let the awkward, sudden fades in and out that comprise its first fifteen seconds give you the impression that the cd is defective, or that it will sound like that the rest of the way through. Ambient and atmospheric, more warmly melodic than icily minimalist, this collaboration between contemporary composer/pianist Ludovico Einaudi and the aforementioned Lippok brothers is a suite of ten pleasantly accessible soundscapes. While inspired by and named after a characteristically bizarre place of repose in Amos Tutuola’s legendary magic-realist novel The Palm-Wine Drinkard, there’s nothing remotely African about it. Most of the cuts here are spaciously cinematic piano instrumentals, segueing from one into another, motifs recurring, rising and falling, occasionally augmented by drums and electronics which are for the most part consigned to the background. The Radiohead influence is everywhere. 

The cd’s opening track Slow Ocean builds with sparse piano chords over an echoey background, backward-masked tapes kicking in eventually. The tableau becomes more complex with reverberating synthesizer echoes, drum machine and a repetitive piano hook that morphs into a dancefloor instrumental, shades of New Order. Other Nature is poignantly Satie-esque; the next track, Koepenik, takes a rock ballad piano hook and runs it over and over again as the volume comes up. With its pretty piano arpeggios over a drum machine and echoey loops, Mercury Sands takes the ambience down with a graceful fade. The following cut, Light on Light fades up darkly, Einaudi’s phrasing artfully echoing itself as the suspense builds, again with an Erik Satie feel. The biggest production here is titled Tangerine, opening with a sustained synth organ patch cleverly manipulated to resemble an electric guitar. Then the piano and drums take over, climbing to a majestic crescendo with cymbals crashing, then back down the slope. Derek’s Garden reverts to a plaintive, after-the-rain minimalism, piano backed by distant echoes – rocks falling? Gunshots?

The irony here is that while the association with the dubious world of electronic music will probably be the album’s strongest selling point, this effort would have been far stronger without any electronics at all. Einaudi’s piano and Ronald Lippok’s drums, freed from the shackles of the drum machine, could take a chance on a swing and a nuance that this recording only hints at. You might even be able to call it jazz. Whitetree are at le Poisson Rouge on June 2.

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May 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment