Cosa Brava, Ragged Atlas (Intakt Records)
Guiitarist Fred Frith first honed his instrumental skills with the archetypically 1970s English group Henry Cow, an ensemble with strong political views, an arch sense of humour and a joyful disregard for the laws of pop music. Their records, by the way, warrant serious re-appreciation. Later on, Frith displayed similar qualities with other, equally experimental groups such as Art Bears, Skeleton Crew and Massacre, while his numerous collaborations involved artists as diverse as Bill Laswell, Derek Bailey, Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt. During the past decade, Frith split his time between solo tours, composing and teaching composition at Mills College in Oakland, California. Over the years, however, he came to miss – he says – the peculiar creative dynamics of a ‘band’, and thus Cosa Brava was formed. The other members are accordionist, cellist and keyboarder Zeena Parkins, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, drummer Matthias Bossi and a certain Norman Conquest on ‘sound manipulation’. Their debut album is a gripping affair throughout, weaving the varied backgrounds of all members into a tight mesh of devilish rhythms and intriguing vocal and instrumental melodies. One track, ‘R. D. Burman’, pays tribute to the Indian film composer of the same name; another, ‘For Tom Zé’, pays homage to the dada- and zappaesque Brazilian composer of that name. A stunningly rich and satisfying record.
Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society
Twenty-six-year-old Spalding hails from Portland, Oregon.
Obama is a fan, and so are Pat Metheny and M. Ward. As a multi-instrumentalist (mostly bass) she is incredibly dexterous; as a songwriter she flits between jazz, chanson and soul like a squirrel on speed; as a singer she recalls Minnie Ripperton. Her next album will be produced by Mark Ronson, apparently. This, then, is perhaps the last opportunity to enjoy the quiet side of her muse.
Cathal Coughlan, Rancho Tetrahedron (Kitchenware)
Late of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions, Cathal Coughlan has for a good decade now followed a singularly fascinating path as a singer-songwriter. Aided by musicians such as Audrey Riley and James Woodrow, who arrive from a new music background, including the band Icebreaker and choreographer Merce Cunningham’s ensemble, Coughlan’s songs are intricate and yet muscular, subtle yet savagely, satirically funny.
Dangermouse and Sparklehorse,
Dark Night of the Soul (EMI)
Due to a dispute with the record company, this spectral and panoramic collaboration between studio wizard DM, songwriter Mark Linkous and an intriguing line-up of guests (Iggy Pop, David Lynch, Gruff Rhys among them) had to be released in a minuscule ‘secret’ edition last year. The proper release, at last, feels all the more poignant since it arrives four months after Linkous’s suicide.
The Climbers, The Good Ship (Willkommen Records)
Post-Arcade Fire, violins, cellos and outré brass and woodwind instruments next to the usual guitars and drums are no longer a rarity on our stages. Britain, in par- ticular, has recently spawned a great many beguiling mini- orchestras for audiences with trendy haircuts. The Climbers are one such: lovely autum- nal melodies to read Rilke to, embedded in richly layered arrangements that never get too cerebral, soppy or even kitschy.