Mirza, Thuja, Loren Chasse, Steven Smith...


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Mirza: Ursa Minor, 7/10 (EP)
Mirza: Anadromous, 5/10
Steven Smith: Gehenna Belvedere , 6/10
Steven Smith: Autumn Is The End , 5/10
Steven Smith: From Ashes Come , 6/10
Steven Smith: Slate Branches , 6/10
Steven Smith: Tableland , 7/10 (mini)
Thuja: The Deer Lay Down Their Bones , 6/10
Thuja: Ghost Plants , 5/10
Steven Smith: Lineaments , 6/10
Steven Smith: Kohl , 6/10
Thuja: Suns , 6.5/10
Birdtree: Orchards And Caravans (2002), 6.5/10
Thuja: All Strange Beasts Of The Past (2003), 5/10
Hala Strana: Hala Strana (2003), 6/10
Hala Strana: Fielding (2003), 6/10
Smith: Khol (2002), 6/10
Smith: Antimony (Digitalis Industries, 2004), 6/10
Hala Strana: These Villages (2004), 5/10
Birdtree: Orchards And Caravans (2002), 6/10
Ivytree: Winged Leaves (2004), 6.5/10
Thuja: Pine Cone Temples (2005), 6.5/10
Hala Strana: Heave The Gambrel Roof (2007), 4/10
Steven Smith: Crown of Marches (2005), 6/10
Steven Smith: The Anchorite (2006), 6.5/10
Skygreen Leopards: She Rode On A Pink Gazelle & Other Dreams (2001), 6/10
Skygreen Leopards: The Story of the Green Lamb & the Jerusalem Priestess of Leaves (2002), 6/10
Skygreen Leopards: One Thousand Bird Ceremony (2004), 6.5/10
Skygreen Leopards: Life & Love In Sparrow's Meadow (2005), 6.5/10
Skygreen Leopards: Disciples of California (2006), 6/10
Ulaan Khol: I (2008), 6/10
Ulaan Khol: II (2008), 5/10
Ulaan Khol: III (2010), 5/10
Thuja (2008), 4/10
Steven Smith: Owl (2008), 4/10
Skygreen Leopards: Gorgeous Johnny (2009), 5/10
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I Mirza sono un gruppo di San Francisco che negli anni '90 si mise in luce fra gli esponenti della nuova avanguardia psichedelica con una musica strumentale, strutturata in composizioni lunghe e articolata in forme libere.

Il gruppo venne formato nel 1995 da Steven Smith (prevalentemente batteria e chitarra), Glenn Donaldson (chitarra e tastiere) e Mark Williams (chitarra e basso) con altri due amici, uno dei quali era il cantante. Presto il dissenso con il cantante porto` alla sua esclusione e all'ingresso di Brian Lucas (basso e chitarra). L'abbandono del quinto membro conferi` al gruppo l'assetto definitivo.

Il primo mini-album, Ursa Minor (Autopia, 1996), contiene quattro lunghi brani interamente strumentali che si ispirano ai complessi psichedelici piu` sperimentali degli anni '60. Nostalgia si apre sullo strimpellio petulante della chitarra mentre la batteria e il basso incalzano con un ritmo sostenuto e il sintetizzatore funge da sassofono; dal crescendo cacofonico che ne segue, emerge il tema melodico del sintetizzatore; il ritmo riprende a crescere vertiginosamente, con tutti gli strumenti impegnati al massimo del parossismo; dopo un assolo jazzato della chitarra, sempre con alle spalle il sintetizzatore in funzione di sassofono, il brano raggiunge il culmine e termina. Charity comincia in sottofondo, con un rintocco quasi minimalista che cresce poco a poco e improvvisamente esplode in una jam assordante. East e` un raga a rotta di collo sostenuto da continue suspence chitarristiche e propulso da un tribalismo feroce alla Iron Butterfly. West e` il suo opposto: un brano intellettuale nella tradizione dell'avanguardia occidentale, che fa perno sui ritmi sincopati e sulle tastiere dissonanti dei Soft Machine e su timbriche aspre di chitarra alla Robert Fripp. Quattro brani che sono flussi di coscienza compatti e omogenei nonostante la quantita` di elementi che vi vengono iniettati.
L'EP e trenta minuti di musica inedita verranno raccolti sull'album Last Clouds (Ba Da Bing, 2001).

Anadromous (Darla, 1997) e` molto piu` atmosferico e molto meno psichedelico del primo. In Dream Of The Fossil Sea (14 minuti) chitarre e tastiere disegnano un nebulosa di droni incompiuti che sfoca in un torpido fluttuare di rintocchi. Ancora una magia vellutata di timbriche sostiene Aphasia: il ritmo della batteria subentra a giochi fatti, quando il maelstrom degli strumenti e` diventato un serraglio di versi indecifrabili. L'unico brano che si ricordi dei loro crescendo infernali e` These Are Our Last Days, con una dissonanza percussiva del pianoforte in primo piano. Troppo diluito, forse sedotto da tentazioni ambientali, il nuovo sound dei Mirza non riesce ad eguagliare I loro primi, tempestosi, esperimenti.

I Mirza sembrano una versione piu` austera (e puramente strumentale) dei Jefferson Airplane di After Bathing At Baxter's.

Mirza doesn't seem capable of repeating their debut's miracle. Iron Compass Flux (Darla, 1998) doubles the doses of transcendental, spiritual attitude, but lowers the action to the point where it loses its identity.

The band dissolved and Last Clouds (Ba Da Bing, 2002) collected rare, live and unreleased material.

In the meantime, Steven Smith had released several collections of surreal instrumentals: Gehenna Belvedere (Autopia, 1996), Autumn Is The End (Darla, 1998), perhaps too static (except for To This Nothing Then), From Ashes Come (3 Acre Floor, 1999), slightly more dissonant and inspired by Japanese folk music, and Slate Branches (3 Acre Floor, 2000). Ever more experimental, Smith's vignettes draw from a number of sources to produce eerie and disconcerting sounds. The EP The Death Of Last Year's Man (Emperor Jones, 2001) contains four covers.
The centerpiece of Smith's mini-album Tableland (Emperor Jones, 2000) is the trancey, 16-minute title-track, a zen-like flow of harmonica, guitar and piano tones. Glade, Blood Partridges and A Celebration are avant-psychedelic distortions a` la Roy Montgomery. Caprock and Shelf displays one of his specialties, a demented tribute to Ennio Morricone's soundtracks.

Smith's next solo, Lineaments (Emperor Jones, 2002), released after his relocation to Los Angeles, continues to explore the same techniques. Oriel mixes a stark, fragmented guitar raga and snapshots of chamber music. A quasi-mystical experience is evoked by the quivering viola and majestic guitar strum of Dust on Coils. The process of gradual composition is tested in the heavily distorted texture of The Morning Cart, in the ghostly echoes of Artesia, in the dramatic overtones of Petersson Alms, etc. The last two tracks are sort of antithetic: a busier, thicker, louder dynamic impinges on the tidal waves of On Paving Stones; whereas Crown Upon These Lines weaves languid static drones like a transcendent "om" to the universe. A sense of apocalyptic calm exudes from the alien notes of these trancey pieces.

Smith and Donaldson also play in the improvisational group Thuja, with percussionist Loren Chasse (formerly of Id Battery) and pianist Rob Reger, an outfit that has released the all-instrumental albums The Deer Lay Down Their Bones (Tumult, 2000), an ethereal symphony of guitar, piano and percussion sounds, and Ghost Plants (Emperor Jones, 2002).
The quintet on Ghost Plants pens brief vignettes of resonating chords (10), grotesque ethnic music (5, 11), obsessive grooves (3), alien noises (7), distorted chamber music (9), etc. If Brian Eno and Faust got together and did a lot of drugs, the result would sound like this.

Thuja's Museum (Jewelled Antler, 2002) are limited-edition CDROM's that include art by the members.

Smith's Kohl (Jewelled Antler, 2002 - Emperor Jones, 2005) collects free-form improvisations.

Thuja's Suns (Emperor Jones, 2002), which contains 10 untitled tracks, presents the group improvisation of Smith, Rob Reger, Loren Chasse and Glenn Donaldson at their best. Not only intense and inspired, but also meticulously enhanced with cacophonous techniques of the avantgarde. The quartet reinvents musique concrete (1), populates sonic wastelands of ghostly noises (2), surveys the squalor of abandoned ambients (5), drills into neurotic and paranoid psyches (8). The eeriest moments occur when someone plays nuclear lullabies on guitar (3) or sitar (6) in a world that is being engulfed by lethal miasmas.

Mirza's guitarist Glenn Donaldson is also Birdtree, a project that bridges psychedelic pop, field recordings, droning minimalism, as on Orchards And Caravans (Jewelled Antler, 2002), and as Ivytree, whose Winged Leaves (Catsup Plate, 2004), is a religious concept that relies heavily on field recordings and ethnic instruments (a Syd Barrett for the post-industrial age).

Donaldson is also half of Skygreen Leopards (the other half being Donovan Quinn) that released collections of lushly-arranged lazy/hazy psychedelic folk-pop songs such as She Rode On A Pink Gazelle & Other Dreams (Jewelled Antler, 2001), The Story of the Green Lamb & the Jerusalem Priestess of Leaves (2002), the charming One Thousand Bird Ceremony (Soft Abuse, 2004), the EP Child God In The Garden Of Idols (Jagjaguwar, 2005), the EP Jehovah Surrender (Jagjaguwar, 2005), Life & Love In Sparrow's Meadow (Jagjaguwar, 2005); whereas Disciples of California (Jagjaguwar, 2006) veered towards the vintage sound of West Coast's acid-rock of the Sixties.

All Strange Beasts Of The Past (Emperor Jones, 2003) is Thuja's most gentle and earthly work yet, one in which the superhuman drones and noises are replaced by acoustic touches, zen-like acoustics (1, 5), regular and folk-ish rhythm (3) and even a vestige of counterpoint (2). The quartet is even more convincing when it weds that newfound passion for music composition and the techniques of musique concrete (7). The main drawback is that these sound more like fragments or ideas than accomplished pieces.

Smith's next project, Hala Strana (Emperor Jones, 2003), is inspired by the folk music of Eastern Europe, albeit mentally and physically processed through his aesthetic filters. The results are often quite estranged from the sources. After a brief introduction of droning instruments and voices (Cinnamon Shops), Smith weaves the solemn tapestry of Stria, a series of melodic variations for transcendental guitar a` la John Fahey that slowly decays into dissonant and chaotic tones. Quarter Mesto, that relies on loud echoes of percussion and guitar tones, has a Tibetan quality, and Alate exudes a monumental gothic feeling more akin to Lycia, and Millstones summons a ghostly wind of organ drones over a lullaby-like strumming of guitars. But other tracks take on the ethnic program in a more faithful fashion: the mournful Streets of Raised Platforms, the martial crescendo of Spiring Plume, the triumphal collective dance of A Second Fall. The program includes parts for flowerpots and bottles.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Paolo Latini)

I Mirza non sembrano essere capaci di ripetere il miracolo il debutto dell'esordio. Iron Compass Flux (Darla, 1998) raddoppia le dosi di trascendentalità e spiritualità, ma ne diminuisce l'azione al punto di spogliare il tutto di una sua identità.

Il gruppo si dissolve e Last Clouds (Ba Da Bing, 2002) raccoglie materiale raro, brani live e tracce inedite.

Nel frattempo, Steven Smith pubblica diverse collezioni di musica strumentale surreale: Gehenna Belvedere (Autopia, 1996), Autumn Is The End (Darla, 1998), forse troppo statico (con l'eccezione di To This Nothing Then), From Ashes Come (3 Acre Floor, 1999), leggermente più dissonante e ispirato alla musica folk giapponese, e Slate Branches (3 Acre Floor, 2000). Ancor più sperimentali, le vignette di Smith derivano da molteplici fonti per produrre suoni irreali e sconcertanti. L'EP The Death Of Last Year's Man (Emperor Jones, 2001) contiene quattro covers.
Il perno del mini-album Tableland (Emperor Jones, 2000) è l'ipnotica title-track di sedici minuti, un flusso stile zen di armonica, chitarra e pianoforte.. Glade, Blood Partridges e A Celebration sono distorsioni avant-psichedeliche à la Roy Montgomery. Caprock and Shelf mostra una delle sue specialità, un tributo demenziale alle colonne sonore di Ennio Morricone.

Il successivo disco solista di Smith, Lineaments (Emperor Jones, 2002), realizzato dopo il trasferimento a Los Angeles, continua ad esplorare le stesse tecniche. Oriel mixa un aspro raga frammentato di chitarra e istantanee di musica da camera. Un'esperienza quasi mistica è evocata dalla viola fremente e dal maestoso strimpellio di chitarre in Dust on Coils. Il processo di composizione graduale è eplicito nella texture altamente distorta di The Morning Cart, nelle eco spettrali di Artesia, negli overtoni drammatici di Petersson Alms, etc. Le ultime due tracce sono una sorta di antitesi: una dinamica pià affannosa, più fitta e più rumorosa urta contro la marea di On Paving Stones; mentre Crown Upon These Lines tesse statici droni languidi come un "om" trascendente verso l'universo. Un senso di calma apocalittica trasuda dalle note aliene di questi pezzi ipnotici.

Smith e Donaldson suonano anche nel gruppo improvvisato Thuja, con il percussionista Loren Chasse (già Id Battery) e il pianista Rob Reger, un progetto che ha realizzato l'album strumentale The Deer Lay Down Their Bones (Tumult, 2000), un'eterea sinfonia di chitarra, piano e percussioni, e Ghost Plants (Emperor Jones, 2002).
Il quintetto su Ghost Plants tratteggia brevi vignette di accordi risonanti (10), musica etnica grottesca (5, 11), grooves ossessivi (3), rumori alieni (7), musica da camera distorta (9), etc. Se Brian Eno e i Faust si incontrassero e prendessero un po' di droga assieme, il risultato potrebbe essere questo..

Gli albums solisti di Chasse Siphon Glimmers (1997) e Exfolia Motors (Unique Ancient Tavern, 2001) documentano sculture sonore di musica concreta e musica interattiva electro-digitale.

Museum (Jewelled Antler, 2002) dei Thuja è un CDROM in edizione limitata che include arte caria prodotta dai membri del gruppo.

Smith raccoglie su Kohl (Jewelled Antler, 2002) delle improvvisazioni free-form.

Suns (Emperor Jones, 2002) dei Thuja, contiene 10 tracce prive di titolo, e presenta l'improvvisazione di gruppo di Smith, Rob Reger, Loren Chasse e Glenn Donaldson nel loro stato migliore. Non solo intenso ed ispirato, ma anche meticolosamente arricchito di tecniche cacofoniche dell'avanguardia. Il quartetto reinventa la musica concreta (1), popola terre disabitate di rumori spettrali (2), osserva lo squallore di lidi abbandonati (5), penetra nelle psicosi nevrotiche e paranoiche (8). I momenti più irreali giungono con le ninnananne nucleari suonate con la chitarra (3) o col sitar (6) in un mondo ingolfato da miasma letali.

Il chitarrista dei Mirza Glenn Donaldson è attivo anche come Birdtree, un progetto che unisce pop psichedelico, registrazioni sul campo e minimalismo. Orchards And Caravans (Jewelled Antler, 2002)

All Strange Beasts Of The Past (Emperor Jones, 2003) è ad oggi il lavoro più terreno e semplice dei Thuja, un lavoro in cui i droni sovrumani e i rumori lasciano spazio a rintocchi acustici, meditazioni zen acustiche (1, 5), ritmiche regolari e folk (3) e anche una parvenza di contrappinti (2). Il quartetto è ancor più convincente quando sposa la ritrovata passione per la composizione e le tecniche della musique concrete (7). Lo svantaggio principale è che questi pezzi sembrano più dei frammenti o idee che pezzi finiti e compiuti.

Il successivo progetto di Smith, Hala Strana (Emperor Jones, 2003), è ispirato dalla musica folk dell'est europeo, sebbene mentalmente e fisicamente processato attraverso i suoi filtri estetici. I risultati sono spesso un po' estranei alle fonti. Dopo una breve introduzione di droni strumentali e voci (Cinnamon Shops), Smith tesse la solenne Stria, una serie di variazioni melodiche per chitarra trascendentale à la John Fahey che lentamente degenera in toni dissonanri e caotici. Quarter Mesto, che poggia su echi rumorose di percussioni e toni chitarrisitici, ha un tocco tibetano, e Alate trasuda un monumentale sentimento gotico molto affine a Lycia, e Millstones usa un vento spettrale di droni di organo su una ninnananna di chitarre strimpellanti. Altre tracce riprendono il programma etnico in una foggia più fedele: la dolorosa Streets of Raised Platforms, il crescendo marziale di Spiring Plume, la danza trionfale collettiva di A Second Fall. Il programma include parti di vasi da fiori e bottiglie.

Hala Strana's double-disc Fielding (Last Visible Dog, 2003) employs a huge arsenal of instruments, both classical, ethnic and found ones. The music is basically a set of psychedelic variations on popular folk tunes of the Balkans.

Khol (Jewelled Antler, 2002 - Emperor Jones, 2005), packaged with a handmade book, woodcut insert and silkscreened covers, began a new phase in Smith's prolific production. Smith's Antimony (Digitalis Industries, 2004) contains six lengthy ambient folk instrumental dirges.

Hala Strana's These Villages (Soft Abuse, 2004) is another journey into the underbelly of Eastern European folk music, scored for harmonium, strings, accordion, ethnic instruments and field recordings.

Thuja's double-disc Pine Cone Temples (Strange Attractors, 2005), recorded between 1999 and 2004, is another collective improvisation by Loren Chasse, Steven Smith, Glenn Donaldson and Rob Reger, and another study on the psychological properties of natural sounds, exorcizing urban life and trying to recapture the essence of the human condition on Planet Earth while retaining the high-tech world that humans have built. The first CD contains two tracks. The 13-minute long I/1 grows from a soundscape of sparse percussion to a subdued dialogue of stringed instruments only to fade into a black hole of shapeless sounds. The 26-minute long I/2 spends an eternity toying with subsonic noises (like of little rodents corroding a surface) over a distant drone, until bells and a high-pitched accordion-like drone bring a bit of life to it. But most of the first 21 minutes are a quiet fresco of minimal sounds. A sudden eruption of white noise causes a bit of commotion, but it lasts only a few seconds. Then the little rodents can continue their lunch undisturbed. The second disc contains six tracks. The ten minutes II/2 is highlighted by ghostly echoes and metallic overtones. The 18-minute II/4 builds up a much denser and most threatening mass of sounds, which, after about four minutes, begins decaying into the usual shapeless organic matter against the usual droning background. Loud gong-like bangs lead to another intense concentration of sound for the last three minutes. The ten-minute II/6 focuses on pastoral strumming of the stringed instruments, on their interaction rather than on environmental sounds. As usual, their improvisation is subdued, anemic, distorted, primitive, blurred.

Ultimately, all Thuja albums (and the solo projects of its members) are duets between the human brain and the human environment, duets that are meant to reinvigorate the human heart. This music is a feedback from the brain back to the brain via the environment, except that first the rational brain interacts with the environment and then the output of the interaction is sent to the irrational brain, the primitive, reptile core of human cognition.

Hala Strana's Heave The Gambrel Roof (Three Lobed, 2007) continued Smith's exploration and reinvention of Eastern European folk music.

Glenn Donaldson also plays on Flying Canyon (2006), the brainchild of folk-rock vocalist and guitarist Cayce Linder.

Steven Smith's Crown of Marches (Catsup Plate, 2004) contains one long track that seems to hark back to his psychedelic roots. His The Anchorite (Important, 2006 - Root Strata, 2008) was recorded live with no overdubbing. Its dense and meticulous blend of fiddle, hurdy gurdy, cello, xaphoon, bombard, ney, bouzouki, glockenspiel, organ, melodica, guitar and percussions reenacted Smith's private ghosts, the primordial spleen that is the undercurrent of so many of his works. All of Smith's album boasted elegant and elaborate packaging.

Yet another Steven Smith alter-ego, Ulaan Khol, was conceived for a trilogy titled "Ceremony" of untitled albums containing untitled instrumentals, whose first installments I (Soft Abuse, 2008) and II (2008) were devoted to loud cosmic-psychedelic pieces for guitar and organ. Compared with the droning ambience for which the project had become famous, most of III (Soft Abuse, 2010) was a frenzied freak-out.

Thuja (Important, 2008) documents various live performances by the core group of Loren Chasse, Glenn Donaldson, Steven Smith and Rob Reger augmented with Greg Bianchini, Keith Evans, Bryan DeRoo and Christine Boepple.

Steven Smith's Owl (Digitalis, 2008) was his first album with vocals. The pieces are mostly duets for vocals and guitar.

The Skygreen Leopards' Gorgeous Johnny (Jagjaguwar, 2009), featuring the Papercuts' Jason Quever, was a humble collection of hummable folk-rock ditties.

Teenage Panzerkorps was the quartet of Glenn Donaldson (disguised as Edmund Xavier), German vocalist Bunker Wolf veteran bassist Jason Honea of Social Unrest (here nicknamed Boy True) and a drummer code-named "Catholic Pat Toves". Their Nations Are Insane (Pink Skulls, 2004), the EP Gleich Heilt Gleich (Skulltones, 2006), Games For Slaves (Siltbreeze, 2008), Kauf Nicht Von TPK (Holidays, 2011) and German Reggae (Holidays, 2011). harked back to the expressionist new wave of the 1980s (Einsturzende Neubauten, Art Bears).

Glenn Donaldson and German vocalist Bunker Wolf also formed Horrid Red, whose Empty Lungs (Holidays, 2010), Celestial Joy (Terrible Records, 2011) and the EPs Pink Flowers (Soft Abuse, 2011) and Silent Party (Soft Abuse, 2011) offered gloomier litanies akin to dark-punk (to use another metaphor of the 1980s).

Ulaan Khol mutated into Ulaan Markhor (Soft Abuse, 2012), a much more rocking affair than anything Smith had ever done.

Smith's solo sheletal electric guitar meditation Old Skete (Worstward Recordings, 2012) was recorded live with no overdubs.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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