Benjamin Raudnitz - Homelife (2001)

Home Recordings -

The sleeve of "Homelife" is about as minimal as they come, perhaps an endeavour to side-step preconceptions about the music within. We are told only that everything is written, recorded & performed by Benjamin Raudnitz with the exception of drums on one track.

It seems that Raudnitz has been listening to blues, Nick Drake, The Beatles, John Martyn, acoustic Led Zeppelin, Roy Harper & possibly the Grateful Dead & prog. rockers, fusing these into his own distinctive voice.

The result, 13 studies in unadorned, well crafted songwriting & 3 instrumental interludes all centred around tumbling, often Drake-like, or rhythmic acoustic guitar & breathy, at times fragile, vocals.

No song is longer than necessary & the whole album is only 46 minutes long. The minimalist approach to the first half is so effective that it's a shock when bass & drums finally enter from track 10. A less confident performer might have been tempted to intersperse the more heavily arranged tracks throughout the collection or 'fix' the odd wavering vocal, stripping out the honest feel to proceedings.

Lyrics are simple & direct, serving the songs rather than standing out, with recurring themes of being trapped in a mundane or unwanted life, escape & change.

Stylistically Raudnitz juxtaposes disparate styles while retaining a core singer-songwriter feel. On 'Monday Morning' a Cuban rhythm is countered by slightly sinister dissonant backing vocals. 'Rusted Armour' matches bluesy slide guitar with eastern inflections & the instrumental 'Sasprilla' combines a John McLaughlin style octave melody & jazzy riffing with just a hint of prog. rock.

The melodically strong 'This is Who I Am' & 'Let me Go' & the post Kinks/Squeeze vignettes of men at the cross roads 'Dereck Beard' & 'CJ Hole' stand out immediately. Other songs sneak up on you after several listenings; you might suddenly find yourself humming the melodies while making coffee.

An impressive package behind an innocuous cover!

Available from Benjamin Raudnitz gigs & "Home Recordings", Flat 3, 63, The Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 2AH. Cost UK £10.00 inc. postage, elsewhere email for details.

James Hibbins

September 2001

Django Bates - Quiet Nights (1998)

screwgun 70007

Django Bates & crew have travelled to the outer reaches of free jazz & avant-garde noise & returned with the scars & T-shirts to show for it.

On this 1998 outing they pull off two neat tricks to make these extremes accessible by employing a straight man (or in this case woman) & relying on audience recognition. Bates (keyboards), Iain Bellamy (sax & wind), Michael Mindesir (electric bass) & Martin France (percussion) hang their more extreme textures around the sultry & beguiling but absolutely conventional jazz vocals of Josephine Crønholm. In addition all but two of the songs are well known, if not standards.

This subterfuge in place, the scars & T-shirt contingent are free to veer between the relatively straight, Bill Evans inflected, piano intro to "Is There Anyone Up There" & the Zappa-like epilepsy of "Like Someone In Love". Along the way they dip toes in a melting pot of other styles resulting in the mutated soul groove of "Speak Low", the ambient washes in "And the Mermaid Laughed" or the circus flavour of "Hi lili hi lo".

This is the sound of a band grooving, extemporising; being fresh, vibrant, irreverent & demonstrably humorous but, most of all, functioning as a collective. Grandstanding solos are avoided in favour of a homogenous band sound. The sounds are inventive, often warped like the altered, percussive lounge jazz piano of Solitude, but organic. When Bellamy's Sax solo kicks in at the end of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" it's not an incongruous ego-trip but a natural evolution of moods from languorous melodicism to emotive expression.

Wrap this all up in an amusing 4AD style sleeve & you have a remarkable package for which the label 'Jazz' somehow seems a little too restrictive.

James Hibbins

November 2001

David Olney - Omar's Blues (2000)

Dead Reckoning Records, 2000

In order to paint iconoclastic masterpieces like Guernica, Picasso progressed from a firm grounding in the fundamentals of art, perspective, form, technique; understood the rules then subverted them, evolved them.

David Olney understands the conventions of western songwriting & uses this knowledge to stand slightly to one side of them.

As you might expect from a Nashville based songwriter, many of the songs start in familiar Country-rock or Country-blues territory. Beneath the surface however, you feel that Olney is playing with the form, treating it ironically. In a number of instances he lulls the listener into the false security of thinking they understand his references, Buddy Holly (Omar's Blues#1), Hank Williams (Delta Blue), French chanson (The Paris Incident) before taking a mischievous & endearing sideways turn into another street.

Convention would dictate that one doesn't inject Honky Tonk songs like 'Delta Blue' with a sleazy New Orleans Jazz breakdown, or set a slow Country-rock piece like 'If it Wasn't for the Wind' against Bruce Sweetman's Penguin Café Orchestra like string arrangement.

Apparently convention & genre pigeonholing are not things which bother a man who can create a father's lament like Absalom somehow managing to amalgamate Jewish, English Folk & Country feels.

Olney's voice itself shouldn't fit but somehow does. A lived-in, smoke & whiskey burr reminiscent of Townes van Zandt, yet with a sweet edge. The rough tone & imperfect pitching providing an endearing, human, appeal whatever the setting.

His lyrics are simple, not simplistic; pared back to allow the stories to breathe without obstruction. Story songs they are, peopled by shrewdly observed, dark characters who would be comfortable in the best of Richard Thompson's work. The philosopher pool shark (Fast Eddie), the French police inspector & the murderer he pursues (The Paris Incident), King David (3 songs including the lustful, witty & raucous Bathsheba's Blues) & others live on in the mind after the songs have finished. There is optimistic, sideways looking Omar himself, with a name borrowed from 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam' along with the idea to structure the album in 3 themed song cycles.

In Lazlo, Olney ponders the life of these characters. His protagonist says "I'm not really sure that I'm real...I come from the mind of the man singing" and a fascinating mind it is.

James Hibbins

June 2001