Weekly Digest #5

January is traditionally one of two months in the year that are filled to the brim with school work. The German school year at most high schools is divided into two terms/semesters and the first one reaches its exam climax shortly before Christmas of every year and its administrative one in the weeks directly following the Christmas holidays.

So, as a teacher, you spend four to five weeks correcting several hundred tests and when the holidays are over, you get to  come up with some suitable half-term grades for every single student. At our school, that entails a week of filling out and double-checking grade lists, attending conferences, talking to some students and parents, consulting with colleagues and, all in all, getting all the paperwork of the first half year out of the way, meaning off your desk, filed away into another four folders to be added to the one hundred you already have stashed away somewhere.

In between, if there is any time left, you try to squeeze in a few hours of real life, in my case also exactly zero hours into your virtual one. So, next to adding some things to my music collection and trying to avoid any news item that had anything to do with Donald Trump, I did nothing online whatsoever. Summary: Once again, music was the only exciting thing that happened, besides a few other things in real life that aren’t meant for this website.

Therefore …

Some Recent Additions to My Music Collection

Just because I said that my music collecting has slowed down, that, of course, doesn’t mean that it has stopped. In January alone, lots of music was added, both as physical products and in the form of digital downloads. From here on, unless it plays and important role, I won’t distinguish between the two anymore, especially because in my relatively tiny corner of the universe, there is no difference. I rip everything I buy to .flac and put it onto my PC and external drives. Whenever I feel like it (=when I’m in the living room with my better Marantz gear), I throw on a CD, an SACD … or plug in my audio notebook with the best and new HiRes downloads.

It’s a seamless affair and the more seamless it gets, the more I doubt that I want to hold on to the mass of physical products I have neatly shelved away around here.

Jóhann Jóhannsson

As is often the case, I had heard quite a bit of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music previously but, to be quite honest, I had neither really investigated what I was listening to nor committed his name to memory. Big mistake. It was when I watched “Arrival” quite a while ago that I thought “Damn, you know that name from somewhere!” A week or two later, I had in my possession what I wanted to have. Some of it wasn’t easy to get hold of (I opted for second-hand copies and digital downloads), but a bit of searching quickly unearthed affordable copies of most of his solo works …

  1. Englabörn (2002)
  2. Virðulegu Forsetar (2004)
  3. IBM 1401, A User’s Manual (2006)
  4. Fordlândia (2008)
  5. And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees (2009)
  6. The Miners’ Hymns (2011)
  7. End of Summer (2015, collaboration)
  8. Orphée (2016)

…and soundtracks/film scores …

  1. Dís (2004)
  2. Copenhagen Dreams (2012)
  3. Prisoners (2013)
  4. McCanick (2014)
  5. The Theory of Everything (2014)
  6. Sicario (2015)
  7. Arrival (2016)

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music is a constant melange of ambient/electronic/classical elements, mostly with a deft impressionistic touch (Copenhagen Dreams is a perfect example of the latter). It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly is mine. What distinguishes Jóhannsson from other artists dabbling in the same kind of music is his inventiveness and mood-oriented approach. I think this approach might best be described as someone who layers textures of sound, with both feet firmly planted in melodic development, creating a hybrid musical style that is difficult to nail with words.

What attracted me personally is the classical and melodic touch that always shines through. This kind of music all too often drifts off into droning banality, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s never falls into that trap. His often also fragmentary approach to composing not withstanding, many of his releases are embedded in an emotional and compositional arc, for wont of a different expression (listen to the four-part Virðulegu Forsetar, for example, to hear what I mean), and they have quickly become the music I write and work to.

It is only fitting then that with his latest solo release, Orphée, he signed with Deutsche Grammophon, a label predominantly known for its massive classical music catalog.

If you have any interest in this kind of music at all, get yourself into the right mood, a decent pair of headphones, and give Jóhann Jóhannsson a chance.

Basie to the Rescue: “Count Basie Live at the Sands (before Frank)

As regular readers of deus62.com know, I have these phases in which I ignore parts of my collection completely to focus on others. These past months, anything jazz-related had to pretty much take a backseat to everything else in my collection, but when I stumbled over a reduced copy of “Count Basie Live at the Sands (before Frank)” (1993/2013, Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity), an SACD hybrid disc, I jumped on it and have blasted it across my local universe many times since.

This is not a stellar set (the Count Basie Orchestra wasn’t in its heyday around that time), but these recordings of nevertheless excellent big band instrumental sets preceding the main event, Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Sands, recorded from January 26-29 and on February 1, 1966, are sonically superb and, most of all, remind me of what I saw live in Copenhagen Denmark in the later 70s.

We are not talking about the same big bands (the personnel had changed), but when I saw the Count Basie Big Band live in Denmark – twice, each time with front-row center seats – it simply blew me away with the sheer power and swing oozing from every inch of the concert stage. Count Basie had gotten old and, especially for the second concert, seemed to be around for decorative purposes only, but he still manged to whip his band into a frenzy with a shrug of his shoulder, also pushed on by very enthusiastic Danish audiences.

Count Basie Live at the Sands (before Frank)” shows one of the best big bands on the planet doing its thing and, because the best recordings of the Count Basie band are usually much older, the sonics are what count here. It is a spectacular live recording and well worth the investment (it’s quite a bit more pricey than your average CD unless you find a reduced copy like I did).

Aerosmith: Rocks!

Already in 2015 I wrote a few lines about my favorite Aerosmith album by far, “Rocks” (Columbia, 1976). The CD copy I had just didn’t sound right and for years I have been looking around for another copy that manages to sound like the LP I once had (and which was borrowed by a “friend” … and never returned ).

Along came an older Japanese edition that I had noted down years ago as the one to get, JP 25DP 5091. When a friend recently “liquidated his CD assets”, I just sent him a list of CDs I was looking for and he happened to have a copy of said Japanese edition of Rocks. And, because I helped him unload a lot of his more coveted music with a substantial profit, he just gave it to me as a present.

If you like this album as much as I do, try to find the above Japanese copy because it makes “Rocks” … rock. It really does.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer (24/96)

If you have a few weeks to spare, you can always try to find discussions on the Internet revolving around the best digital versions of just about any Emerson, Lake & Palmer recording & reissue. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t really want to open that particular can of worms. If you do, you’ll be busy 24/7 until next Christmas.

Because I liked the recent Deluxe edition of “Trilogy” a lot and the buzz surrounding the other recent releases was also often somewhat favorable, I bought into the 24/96 digital releases of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s seminal albums, simply because I had a voucher left that brought the prices down to just about 10 cents per download. I just didn’t feel like ripping all the different versions I have (which I can listen to in the living room) and wanted quick access to acceptable digital releases to just stream around the place for fun. So, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970), Pictures at an Exhibition (1971), Tarkus (1971), Trilogy (1972)Brain Salad Surgery (1973), as well as Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends (1974), which I already had, have been in constant rotation around here as well.

Many people today probably wrinkle their foreheads when they hear these bombastic extravaganzas, but they were a major part of my childhood that I still definitely enjoy today. It’s probably the sheer energy those three (two now deceased) guys threw at the music they were releasing and performing and although not everything passes muster anymore today, I still love cranking these albums until my ears hurt.


Off to give Brain Salad Surgery another spin.


Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

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