Boomkat Product Review:
Ellen Arkbro uses a rare renaissance organ to emulate a sort of slow, gauzy blues music in the gently compelling organ and brass of her debut album. Arguably one of the most striking, drone-related records of recent years, ‘For Organ and Brass’ should be unmissable to anyone following Ellen or her peers and collaborators, Caterina Barbieri and Kali Malone, or indeed the exalted tones of her Just Intonation tutor, La Monte Young .
Unfolding in two meditative, durational parts written for 17th century organ, horn, trombone and microtonal tuba, Ellen’s debut side puts her studies at the Royal College of Music in Sweden to enchanting use in the titular piece’s 20 minutes of glacial movement, and to beautifully smudged, gauzy and intimate appeal recalling Arthur Russell’s ‘Tower Of Meaning’ in the shorter span of ‘Three’.
They were both recorded in St Stephanskirche in Tangermünde, Germany, which was specially sought out by Ellen for its Sherer-Orgel, a rare 1624 model with a specific kind of historical tuning known as meantone temperament, as she explains; “Hidden within the harmonic framework of the Renaissance organ are intervals and chords that bare a close resemblance to those found in the modalities of traditional blues music…The work can be thought of as a very slow and reduced blues music.”
While the religious links between 17th C Germany church music and early blues are historically implied, it’s maybe trickier to imagine their aesthetic links until you’ve heard ‘For Organ and Brass’. And while they may not be immediate, there’s something of a lingering, spectral link between the two, as though she’s transmuted the blues into slowly intoxicating airs, firstly with the funereal pace and cadence of her title part, and then in a way that perhaps draws links from blues thru country, to Arthur Russell’s earliest chamber-like arrangements found on ‘Tower of Meaning’ and ‘Instrumentals, 1974 - Vol. 2’.
Meditative, brilliant work.