On the edge – Less is the new more | 24 January 2003

The Guardian | John L Walters | record review | 24 January 2003 | English Less is the new more Minimalism is bigger than ever – thanks to the gracious, spacious sound of Gavin Bryars Tibor Szemzo’s South of No North (Leo, L10.99) is based on the composer’s soundtrack to the film Children – Kosovo 2000. Where to place it? Should a megastore rack it between Frederic Rzewski and La Monte Young, or between Zbigniew Preisner and Yann Tiersen? It is not a jazz or classical album; nor is it not a calling card for Hollywood hack-work. Each of the 10 tracks maintains a single mood, the “soundtrack album” medium giving shape to beautiful, sketchy fragments, and you can imagine the mood and tempo of the movie. It’s like j seeing a theatre poster or a I children’s picture book in a foreign place: the overall form provides something to latch on to, even when you don’t read the language. Many tracks have a spacious, meditative air, foregrounding bass or bass guitar against slow-moving strings in a Gavin Bryars kind of way. Other tracks use a cycling sequence of chords as a structure for small amounts of improvisation, or written parts played in a loose, improvised manner. This is a useful device for a theatre or film composer: the audience usually “gets” the structure immediately, yet the piece can extend as long as the scene demands. The main soloist is bassist Mihaly Huszar. Szemzo’s ensemble, the Gordian Knot Company, includes strings, woodwinds, percussion, wordless vocals and keyboards: Ernst Hirschberg’s spooky prepared

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piano parts are particularly effective. South of no North follows hot on the heels of Danube Exodus (Leo, L10.99), based on another soundtrack, in which Szemzo puts bassist Tamas Toth to the fore against a brassier version of the band. He also integrates the sounds of a wartime Danube steamboat into his slow-moving ostinato figures, which have some of the grace and space of Bryars’s best work. Gavin Bryars, who turned 60 just over a week ago, can be heard on a new Canadian album, I Have Heard it Said That a Spirit Enters… (CBC), featuring jazz singer Holly Cole. Perhaps known best for early “conceptual” pieces such as The Sinking of the Titanic, Bryars has produced a body of work that marries orchestral jazz timbres to a command of long time-spans derived from experimental music. He is not

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afraid to make conceptual work sound beautiful. Pieces such as his violin concerto and By the Vaar stretch languorously over their 20-minute spans. This is not background music, or even imaginary soundtrack music: you need to listen. Whether Szemzo are familiar with Bryars’s work or not, his albums demonstrate the way a fresh orchestral aesthetic has entered the mainstream over the past quarter-century. To buy any CD call the Guardian music service on 0870 066 7812.