A typical Sunday afternoon of an inclement January. It’s cold, last night it snowed; now it has melted, the sunrays struggling to filter through the clouds. Ever since this reviewer was a young kid, these end-of-the-weekend afternoons – especially when associated to certain albums - never fail to introduce a feel of inescapable, indefinable sadness, a cross between missing something gone forever and the anguish deriving from the prospect of a school test – or similar adolescent “threats” – on Monday morning. What does this have to do with this CD? I couldn’t really say, but the acoustic echoes and the influential moods evoked by this multi-faceted gathering by Torsten Papenheim are permeated by the same kind of mild dejection. It’s music that doesn’t affirm; it rather whispers and suggests. Images, ideas, sensations, fragments from other people’s lives or from our past, the latter’s memories becoming painful to recall as we get older. All clearly visible, sometimes a little disconnected, elsewhere immediately recognizable by the mechanisms of recollection.
The work’s fragmentariness depends on its conceptual nature. Besides the composer, the involved performers are Dave Bennett, Christian Biegai, Christian Marien, Derek Shirley, Michael Thieke, Gerhard Uebele, Merle Bennett, Axel Haller, Matthias Müller, Roland Spieth, Clayton Thomas and Ute Völker. The orchestration features almost every type of instrumental voice - brass and reeds, keyboards, percussion, guitar, bass, plus an accordion and a banjo. The participants were asked to chip in separately, without actually knowing what was occurring on a compositional level. To this accrual of contributions by single musicians or small groups, Papenheim and Dave Bennett added their subsequent manipulations in the studio, defining the outcome with a mixture of semi-coherence and concrete interference (radio and field recordings, peculiarly deviating buzzes and hums) that perfectly frames the volatility of what’s unclassifiable.
Sloped reed melodies and gently discordant arpeggios are masked as a romantic soundtrack to a lovely promenade along the shores of sonic contamination. Still, the music does not take any definite side. There’s a bit of everything: skewed jazz, minimal repetition, improvisation, pianistic melancholy, RIO hues (in particular, I was recalled of Aqsak Maboul in various instants), even a whiff of Biota. The final “All The Songs You Sing” resembles a lo-fi transformation of a morsel of classic into a Charlemagne Palestine-like drone, barely rippled by a soft drumming activity. You may not exclaim “Papenheim” on a first listen, but right after the second one the record’s unique temperament is identifiable. Successive spins just add to this weird sense of gratification imbued with dolefulness.
The advice is leaving the door of consciousness ajar for a series of vague remembrances: among the misty vistas of this tiny world, components that fit your emotional response are probably going to be found somewhere. Hesitant smiles, deep sighs and intelligent restraint. That’s what this release is all about.