BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011 Jonathan Besser: Campursari (Rattle)

 |   |  1 min read

Jonathan Besser: Shine
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011 Jonathan Besser: Campursari (Rattle)

Since coming to New Zealand more than 30 years ago, the pianist-composer Jonathan Besser has enjoyed a highly successful and diverse career, first with violinist Chris Prosser in the Besser and Prosser duo, with electronic artist Ross Harris in Free Radicals, then his own ensemble and latterly with the small group Bravura.

His works have been performed by the NZSO, the New Zealand String Quartet, the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra and the Wellington Symphonia. By my count he has almost 20 albums released and other work has appeared on numerous soundtracks.

This current album is something of a departure in that it was prompted by a long fascination with Javanese gamelan, that Indonesian ensemble music which can be so beautifully lulling (especially if the gamelan instruments, which are struck, are made of bamboo rather than metal).

The lyrical and gently oceanic waves of gamelan -- in situ they can often seem endless and provide a discreet highlight when visiting Indonesia -- have long seduced Western composers, but here Besser adapts the gamelan sound (played by Miranda Adams) into a tasteful melange with vibraphone (perhaps the gamelan's closest but still rather distant cousin, played by John Bell), flutes (Jim Langabeer), soprano sax (Andrew Pask), accordion (Tatiana Lanchtchikova) and other sympathetic acoustic instruments. The result can often be gently ambient sounds.

Soft drums (Chris O'Connor) and bass (Peter Scott) anchor and ground the music which might otherwise take flight, especially when Nigel Gavin's electric guitar enters Fripp-like on the vaguely Chinese sounding melodies of Forever, Unrequited.

This is often weightless, stateless music of considerable, subtle charm if not always memorable. But as anyone who has been to Bali and drifted off to the calming sound of a gamelan will attest, this is music which sometimes isn't meant to stick, just take you somewhere else.

That said, there are some lovely and unforgettable pieces here.

The Mourning Tree has a beautiful, plaintive quality more akin to a jazz ballad or the theme to a romantically melancholy movie, the melodic lines of Longing for the Near Horizon weave and entwine, and Shine opens with widescreen guitars which simultaneously evoke the warm Pacific and Brian Eno's spectral lunar landscapes on his Apollo album. It may not owe much to Javanese gamelan but it is just gorgeous.

The album is also bookended by two 12 minute pieces where the low and resonant gong of the gamelan is prominent and the judiciously spare vibraphone echoes its tone. These are pieces to let wash over you, immerse yourself in and emerge relaxed and somehow even cleansed. Lovely.

Like the sound of this? Then check out this. And this.

FOR OTHER 'BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011' ALBUMS GO HERE

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Music at Elsewhere articles index

Chris Stamey: Lovesick Blues (Yep Roc)

Chris Stamey: Lovesick Blues (Yep Roc)

Given Stamey was one of the mainmen in the dB's who bridged Beatlesque power-pop and college radio indie-rock (eg REM) in the Eighties, this solo outing might come as a surprise. He mostly... > Read more

IN BRIEF: A quick overview of some recent international releases

IN BRIEF: A quick overview of some recent international releases

With so many CDs commanding and demanding attention Elsewhere will run this occasional column which scoops up releases by international artists, in much the same way as our SHORT CUTS column... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . DAVID MARKS: The boy who left the beach too soon

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . DAVID MARKS: The boy who left the beach too soon

He came out of Erie, Pennsylvania and was of Jewish-Italian heritage. At age five or thereabouts he was enthralled by the mandolin playing of his grandfather Carlo and the singing of those he... > Read more

THE BARGAIN BUY: Fargo, The Complete First Season (DVD)

THE BARGAIN BUY: Fargo, The Complete First Season (DVD)

Just as the television series Fargo -- based on the Coen brothers much acclaimed mid-Nineties film of the same name -- started screening in New Zealand, a well placed television critic went into... > Read more