Black Ox Orkestar: Nisht Azoy

Feu Thérèse: Feu Thérèse

Glissandro 70: Glissandro 70

Following a brief fall hiatus, Montreal's Constellation greets the new year with a trilogy of radically dissimilar releases: an uncharacteristically playful quintet of pieces from Glissandro 70, a mesmerizing rewrite of the Jewish songbook by Black Ox Orkestar, and fuzz-drenched noise-rock collages from avant-quartet Feu Thérèse.

The product of intermittent collaborations between Toronto 's Sandro Perri (Polmo Polpo, Continuous Dick) and Craig Dunsmuir (Guitarkestra), Glissandro 70's debut navigates a sunlit path through danceable tribal structures filled with intricate guitar work and exotic chants. Talking Heads' Remain in Light comes to mind as a distant antecedent (in fact, “End West” incorporates a chant from the Heads' “Pulled Up”) but Glissandro 70's sound is lighter and more relaxed—less preoccupied with advancing music than with reaping pleasure from exuberant music-making. “Something” opens the self-titled album with bright weaves of guitar lattices that evoke Africa more than Montreal while “Analogue Shantytown” follows it with a steamy chant one conceivably could hear wafting through the outback's humid atmospheres. As one might expect, things heat up considerably during the thirteen-minute closer “End West” with whistles, moans, and a veritable percussion army coalescing into a feverish, at times psychedelic dance. Describing the thirty-six minute mini-album as a departure from Constellation's customary sound misleadingly implies the label can be reduced to a singular conception; one can reasonably say, however, that the disc's sunny vibe is generally uncharacteristic.

The term 'avant-rock' too simply describes Feu Thérèse's style but it's a start. On the group's self-titled debut, Jonathan Parant (Fly Pan Am), Alexandre St-Onge (Klaxon Gueule, Shalabi Effect, Et Sans), Stephen De Oliveira, and Luc Paradis brew five shape-shifting noise-rock collages using a battery of instrumentation (synthesizers, guitar, organ, drums, pump organ, electronics, bass, organ, harpsichord). Structurally the album may be similar to Glissandro 70's—five tracks capped by a lengthy closer—but their respective material couldn't be any more different. Suggestive of exploding dental drills, “Ferrari en feu” begins the album auspiciously with wild synth fireworks before abruptly segueing into a more conventional post-rock episode while the oft-nightmarish “Mademoiselle gentleman” alternates agonized choking noises and atonal guitar roar over a careening drum attack. “Tu n'avais qu'une oreille” may appear calmer but the murmuring vocal only barely camouflages the blistering tumult raging beneath. A bright synth melody drives the opening half of “L'homme avec couer avec elle” before guitars scrape and writhe all over Philippe Lauzier's saxophone in the bluesier second. Strangest of all and definitely true to its title, “Ce n'est pas les jardins du Luxembourg ” closes the album with an extended amalgam of weird noises, whistling organ tones, and entranced pulsations.

Don't be intimidated by the Black Ox Orkestar's 'new Jewish music' style as the group's second release is wholly accessible. Drawing upon Balkan, Central Asian, Arabic, and Slavic musics, the group (members of Silver Mt. Zion and Sackville) breathes remarkable new life into old Jewish songs. The quartet strikes a delicate balance between honouring the material's roots and updating it, not with novel instrumentation (the group's sound is wholly acoustic) but with the fervor of its delivery. A mix of vocal and instrumental tunes, the eight-song set alternates between moods of plaintive supplication (the dramatic lament “Tsvey Tabelakh”) and joyous abandon (the celebratory Balkan rhythms of “Ratsekr Grec”)—sometimes in a single song (in its first half, “Violin Duet” is a solemn drone and, in its second, an infectious Transylvanian dance tune). That the mood is diametrically unlike the Glissandro 70 release is apparent the moment the incantatory dirge “Bukharian” begins Nisht Azoy (Not Like This). Elsewhere, an impassioned group vocal and ferocious mandolin attack drives the hypnotic chant “Az Vey Dem Tatn” (Sad is the Father) while the quartet ever-so-carefully calibrates the tempo in “Ikh Ken Tsvey Zayn.” Initiated restrainedly by a sparse guitar accompaniment and quivering vocal, the song eventually morphs into a heavy dirge, briefly bringing the group's sound closer to a free-form style. Tellingly, the mournful closer “Golem” sounds as rooted in tradition as the other material yet is a Black Ox original, indicative of how fully the group has absorbed the music's traditions. The Yiddish songbook never sounded so good.

April 2006