Monday, December 3, 2007

Jeffrey Roden - Seeds of Happiness

They say that the iPod and e-music has killed the album. I think it was the cd. A vinyl album was about 20 minutes a side (30 if you pushed it like Elvis Costello on Get Happy!). But the standard was 30-50 minutes of considered music over 2 sides. Artists decided what opened and closed a side, how it flowed. Listeners consciously chose to play one side or the other or both in sequence. A double album was an extravagance, a triple bloated (usually live [I exempt Sandinista! from both charges!]). The cd introduced an expectation of 70-80 minutes, so people filled them out, and have thought less about the total flow. Let alone the physical beauty of the 12" album. Even then people bought an album for a track or two - but the whole seemed more focused. What I think it means is that people don't listen through a whole cd. You put it in - listen for 30-40 minutes and then have moved on - although with random-shuffle later numbered tracks get a chance.

What has this to do with Jeffrey Roden's new album Seeds of Happiness? (New Albion, NA133) Well, it is composed of two parts which would fall nicely on the two sides of a vinyl album, where the listener would get to decide whether to listen to Part 1 or 2 or both. But it isn't, so people will have to make sure they listen to it all (though I note on the website that Part 1 was released separately). Years ago I reviewed his earlier album The floor of the forest (and yes he is related to Steve Roden) and this one continues his use of the bass guitar as a solo instrument - in fact the tracks are recorded live in a single take with some background parts overdubbed.

The result is a sublime simplicity. Each track is only a few minutes long, in which time Roden explores minimal themes, that are melodic and warm - the quality of the closely recorded resonance of the instruments is a feature of his work. The overdubs are generally simple though in Rift there is a fast repeat motif
, that sounds like a loop, and a slower one under Forgiveness or Devotion and dance, that adds a complexity which is perhaps not seen (heard) enough in the album. You sometimes feel that more colour would be an advantage - but that isn't the artistic paradigm. This is an intense album, not specifically in relation to the mood or even the method, but rather because it is focused on such a restrained palette for both instrument and composition. However, Episode[s] of beauty, to commandeer a tracktitle, describes this music perfectly, because that is what this is, each one delicately formed.

The tone of the instrument, together with the deliberate (and I mean that in both senses) pace of pieces, create a solemn contemplative mood. Even the closing track of Part 2 - Fulfilment - maintains the atmosphere, rather than a celebratory conclusion (there is a passage of joyful complexity in the penultimate Invocation).
Which brings me back to my opening - the intensity of the music makes it difficult to listen to the whole cd in one go - while the length of each part seems about the right time to be able to focus. And the music is well worth giving it the attention.

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