Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbaur – Re:ECM (ECM)


German label ECM specialises in understatement and subtlety to the point of fetishism, the music a celebration of acoustics, resonantly recorded and beautifully presented, sleeves adorned with stark monochrome images, san-serif titles, in slick cardboard clad jewel cases. Their glorifcation of the recording process, and the focus on closely miked instruments with oodles of reverb, marries well to their chosen repertoire: stripped back post-Bill Evans jazz bordering on chamber music, and minimalist European chamber music from the baroque to the avant-garde. It’s no surprise that this clarity should appeal to minimal house producer Ricardo Villalobos, his music a refined study in minimalist precision, and his interest in close listening evidenced by images of his listening room, complete with bafflingly high tech conical speakers and racks of shiny chrome equipment. He’s also been dropping ECM productions, by Arvo Part no less, into his DJ sets. Max Loderbauer it would seem approaches the project from a somewhat different angle, a member of the motorik dub-jazz group the Moritz von Oswald Trio, clearly the opportunity to weave elements form the ECM catalogue into exploratory electronic collages offered appealed to his improvisatory instincts.

The pervading understatement and subtlety on display in Re:ECM might initially disappoint fans of Villalobos and Loderbauer expecting more drastic makeovers and heavy rhythmic workouts, but that would be to ignore the depths and layers of musical events taking place. Rythms do show up, but they are generally overshadowed by a willingness to create strange soundworlds tied to no specific function. The pair have created a sophisticated recording that fits well within the ECM agenda, but their approach to the source material is hardly reverential. An explanation of their approach is provided in the liner notes, something about source layers feeding through various channels, which are then tinkered with in real time and laid over with other samples, synths, percussion, bass, creating the final works. There’s also a great photo of Loderbauer and Villalobos at work, surrounded by keyboards, computers, wires and boxes, an exciting environment for such a collaborative project, and this is conveyed on the recording.

The degree to which the sources are exposed varies. Tracks like ‘Replob’ and ‘Redetach’ could be compared to works such as Murcof’s Martes, without the clinical austerity, the latter dousing choral passages in extra reverb and decorating with minor tics and twinkles. The gurgling piano of ‘Rebird’ and ‘Reblop’ sounds like that of Akira Rabelais, while ‘Reemergence’ pairs piano with processed snare rolls, dynamics dipping and soaring like a rollercoaster. ‘Rethikhiy’ works vocal mutterings into a gradual 4/4, crackle and bass looming like Burial, while the extended dark echoes of ‘Resole’ are particularly unnerving. Indeed much of Re:ECM works within a vaguely post-dubstep aesthetic, a dense low end felt more than heard, chattering rhythmic elements reminiscent of Shackleton, but combined with darker retro electronic elements – Badalementi synths and analogue globules, all left to age and grow dank with mould. This is a rich and multi-hued album that also manages to be strongly cohesive, in the manner of the finest ECM releases.

Joshua Meggitt


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