Album Reviews

Vladislav Delay Quartet – Vladislav Delay Quartet

(Honest Jons) UK release date: 16 May 2011

Finnish percussionist and experimental musician Sasu Ripatti is probably best known under his Vladislav Delay moniker, but he also performs as part of the Moritz Von Oswald Trio. In his role in that group, he has already released one of the year’s most challenging and exceptional contributions to the field of improvised music – so this album from his own new small ensemble comes as something of a bonus. The group features Ripatti on drums and percussion, with Mika Vainio on electronics and Derek Shirley and Lucio Capece handling acoustic instruments (acoustic bass, clarinet and soprano saxophone). The group shares an ambition with the Von Oswald trio in that it aims to integrate electronic and acoustic improvisation techniques into a cohesive ensemble.

This is certainly not music for the faint hearted. It has little in common with jazz or much of the freely improvised music that can be heard on the London scene. It may not be going too far to suggest that both note selection and instrumental technique do not seem to be substantial concerns. The fundamental elements of music – melody, harmony and rhythm, are often mischievously subverted and instruments are played in unconventional ways. It sounds like machine music – but it is machine music very much created by human minds and hands.

This ensemble is all about sound and texture, from the fuzz that opens Hohtokivi (a sound resembling that of one end of a live guitar lead being repeatedly touched) to the clang and clatter that underpins Des Abends. The four musicians state their intentions boldly right from the outset. The opening Minus Degrees, Bare Feet, Tickles is stark and menacing, a frightening collage of static and hum.

When Ripatti does beat out something close to a conventional rhythm, it is all the more startling for being so unexpected. One of the most uncomfortable and effective tracks here is Killing The Water Bed, on which a defiant cymbal beats out a slow crotchet pulse. It is initially radical and uncompromising in its insistent, weighty slowness, but Ripatti and his ensemble ratchet up the tension with furious clatter and cymbal work and some excoriating saxophone contributions.

Even those who appreciated the recent Moritz Von Oswald album may find this unsettling. It is certainly not peaceful or contented music. Some would no doubt question whether it can even be classed as music at all. Yet for those with open minds and keen ears, Ripatti’s constructions are bold and brilliant – austere and overwhelmingly powerful.

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Vladislav Delay Quartet – Vladislav Delay Quartet