Exclaim!'s Best Albums of 2012:

Improv and Avant-Garde Page 2

Exclaim!'s Best Albums of 2012:Improv and Avant-Garde
Erdem Helvacıoğlu
Timeless Waves
(Sub Rosa)

Istanbul-based Erdem Helvacıoğlu released a number of quality discs throughout 2012, all with distinct characters and approaches. Timeless Waves, however, was a clear standout. In fact, it arguably sets him among the likes of Fennesz, Stian Westerhuis, and Keith Fullerton Whitman in terms of his innovative use of guitar and electronics. The album covers a vast expanse of stylistic material — unsurprising given its subject matter. Each piece correlates, perhaps overly literally, with an emotion. Yet there's still plenty of special mystery and intrigue within each track. The fricative "Fear" opens the record, tracing an intense and strange climax with mostly just layered guitar percussion and the Togaman guitarviol, a bowed, curved-bridge electric guitar. "Love" plunges directly into lyricism, setting gorgeous slide guitar melodies within a landscape of clicks, resonances, bowed tones and tremolos. "Anger" does employ heaps of distortion, but paints a more complex picture than you'd expect. Skirting cathartic release, it channels the impotent restlessness of rage. "Sadness" pairs with "Love" also using forlorn slide melodies, yet here dark metallic scrapes cast their shadows across the soundscape. "Surprise" peels an array of itchy, queasy sounds off the fret board, yet does so with utter musicality. "Joy"'s repeated pulsating cells suggest a folkier take on Reich's Electric Counterpoint, yet disrupts this impression with repeated zoom-ins which reveal glistening frozen plates of drone. For those who've grown wary/weary of processed guitar, Timeless Waves might just renew your faith in the medium. Helvacıoğlu's palette is wildly varied, challenging, yet always beautiful.
Nick Storring

Francois Houle 5 + 1

Clarinettist Houle has been a creative force on the West coast for some time, charting his own course between the worlds of chamber music and improvisation. With Genera, he's made his jazziest record, full of swing but also fearless in its willingness to pursue all sorts of ideas. It definitely helps to have several outstanding lead voices along for the ride to help with the heavy lifting. Between Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpet, Benoit Delbecq on piano (the "+1" special guest in the group's name) and Houle, memorable theme statements turn into multi-coloured explorations of sound. Case in point is "Mu-Turn Revisited," where Houle's gently keening clarinet sounds as though he's going to push the proceedings into icy Scandinavian-style jazz, but as Harris Eisenstadt moves the slowly undulating drum pattern forward, hints of blues poke through. Bynum's high lonesome trumpet is a good match here (and throughout) for Houle as they slowly waltz around the stuttering yet soulful rhythm. Delbecq is, in sports parlance, a two-way player, able to sit back and comp inventively or spin web-like melodies that blanket the entire ensemble. What is most remarkable about this disc, which has been in my rotation ever since its release during the summer, is how well it represents Houle's ability to integrate his truly jarring and unique musical language into a context that feels welcoming yet always stimulating.
David Dacks

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