Reviews by Massimo Ricci

The A23H chronicle


ALFRED HARTH - eShip sum (1000 CD)

Mother of pearl is very much loved by Alfred Harth, for several reasons. The inlays of the 23 keys in his saxophone, first of all; also, the traditional Corean artworks, attentively studied by our man. The first CD in his "mother of pearl" series, whose cover represents longevity, sun and moon through symbols made of the same material, "eShip sum" (2003) is also one of his most accomplished and beautiful records, being veiled with deep consciousness and permeated by a lingering sadness that no irony can overcome. Limited to 1000 signed copies (of which Mr.23 has still a few left - act now), it was composed in Harth's own Laubhuette Studio in Seoul and represents his homage to Corea and "its virtues and beauties". Besides the boss, who played about ten instruments and fine-tuned all the parts into cohesion, Choi Sun Bae's cornet is featured in four tracks while Yi Soonjoo lends her voice and Joe Foster his cornet, one track each. The first pieces are so intensely profound that alone are worth of owning the record. "Sejongno Boulevard" is, as Harth describes it, the "Champs Elysees of Seoul"; its melancholy is elicited by recurring piano chords that, remaining undercurrent throughout the piece, define a sort of "jazz minimalism" upon which the reeds describe a crepuscular atmosphere with very sensual slow lines, multitracked in hypnotic fashion; a splendid opening. "Neoview Mine" is a thoughtful reflection for bass clarinet that after a few measures flows into a pastiche of sampladelia and circular repetition, yet maintaining the mood on the sombre side, while in "Der Feinheit Wesentliches" more sax superimpositions intertwine with a McCoy Tyner-like pianistic progression that halfway through the piece becomes a hiccuping loop upon which muted trumpet lines and vocal moans go hand in hand. Things move faster in "Celadon", which is the name of the ancient Corean art of porcelain (whose fruits, according to the author's view, were mostly stolen during the Japanese occupation from 1906 to 1945) and above all in "De gloria Oliviae", a peculiar cross-pollination of sequenced techno-dissonance and snippets of orchestral music, reminiscent of black-and-white movie soundtracks, that morphs into a gorgeous layering of strings, reeds and car horns blemished by studio-conceived interferences. "Godswing" sounds like a Coltrane cut-up in a muffled mix, swarmed by an army of voices and reversed tapes that ends in pure mayhem, while another milestone of the album is "Buy the way", a slow "ballad" where a voice that I perceive as familiar (Chet Baker?) mumbles a few words before Harth tears our heart out with a sorrowful, if oblique recollection of unknown memories. "Shambhala" could inculcate a few notions of mentally disturbed ambient muzak to many dilettantes, being a fabulous voyage through the oneirism of our unconfessed radiophonic fantasies: from warm psychedelic illusions to fractured post-jazz rock in two minutes. "Leganza Daewoo Call Taxi" would make Glenn Miller proud at first, angry at last (picture a sci-fi variation on "Moonlight Serenade" bothered by alien videogames), and the conclusive "Nitya-mukta" is Alfred's response to lounge music, in his hands becoming an obsessive nightmare, a never ending two-chord samba danced by a couple of drunkards at 4 in the morning. But the bar has already closed and the orchestra didn't realize it. Fabulous stuff - give me this over Arto Lindsay anytime. How do you spell "delightful" in Corean?

In Touching Extremes