70CD - Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere - Θ4
Following on from the double CD Theta Three, Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere now release Theta Four early as a single CD, so excited to share the music the minute it is ready (Theta Five not far away)
Martin Archer – keyboards, electronics, saxophones, clarinets, flutes, recorders, melodica, voice
Steve Dinsdale – electronic drum kit, synth
frostlake (Jan Todd) – vocals, lyrics, electronics, celtic harp, luke harp, korg wave drum, keyboards,
bowed electroacoustic bass, idiopan
Yvonna Magda – violin, electronics
Walt Shaw – acoustic percussion, electronics, voice
Terry Todd – bass and electroacoustic bass guitars
Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere from Sheffield, UK with their new album, "Theta Four". The ensemble performs mostly instrumental, complex, dense, theatrically metaphorical and cinematically picturesque Structured Improvisation Music combining lots of influences from various Jazz, Rock, and Classical schools and traditions. Definitely recommended for lovers experimentalism, innovations, and beautiful weirdness in music art.. - R A I G blogspot
When it comes to Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere's Theta Four, describing it as 'epic' feels like selling it short. The large ensemble harnesses a hybrid patchwork of electro-acoustic textures that brings to mind the spacey explorations of Alice Coltrane, Terry Riley, Tangerine Dream, Can et al. Choirs, choppy strings, throbbing beats, dreamy vocals and snarling bass rise and soar into bold themes creating a diverse and thrilling listen. If you're unfamiliar with their previous three albums, then start here. - SID SMITH, PROG
Spare me for a few minutes to tell you about an amazing album that came out last month. This album is θ4 (Theta Four), by the incredible Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere. This experimental album takes you many places, from the atmospheric, almost ambient and contemplative, nebulous threnodies to the upbeat, vigorous, and eclectic parts more reminiscent of some of the more creative progressive rock of the 70s. This album is fabulous and deserves your attention for every minute of its runtime. - Dave Tremblay, HEAVYBLOGISHEAVY
An epic adventure in hybrid space music, realised by a community of kindred spirits. Anti-choir Juxtavoices prove once again to be an invaluable source of incantatory power. The six regular members achieve a coherent focus and tangible sense of creative purpose...Terry Riley and early 1970s Soft Machine remain audible touchstones; Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane surface, along with John McLoughlin's Visions Of The Emerald Beyond and Keith Tippett's Centipede. There are visitations from interstallar Pink Floyd, Planet Gong, and various avatars of krautrock, while the mythopoeic pomp of Christian Vander's Magma rumbles emphatically through the engine room of this imposing music. Despite an open invitation to chase influences, OUA rise above mere derivativeness and persuasively affirm their own identitiy. - JULIAN COWLEY, THE WIRE
One of the many symbolic meanings of ‘θ’ (theta), the eighth letter of the Greek alphabet, is to signify a special function of several complex variables, and this would seem to apply to the rarefied sonic world of spacious improvisational rock group Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, whose fourth album to be preceded with “θ”, and their fourth excursion into the sonic wastelands of ego-free music making, I am attempting to dissect here.
Led by the seemingly workaholic Martin Archer in that hive of alternative culture known to us plebs as “Sheffield”, Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere is the closest Martin gets to rock music, among his many other strange, beautiful, occasionally terrifying, and sometimes merely baffling musical outlets. All of this is curated through his long running alternative music label Discus Music. Follow this Bandcamp link for more info.
Dense, but in a good way, this music is also entwining and entangling this willing listener, and it takes me a while to find my way through. We are greeted on departure by hints of an altered state Alice Coltrane, and after an infinitely long journey on the mothership that lasts about a minute we later find ourselves lost in the thickets of a blue frond jungle on the seventh planet of an as yet undiscovered star in the belt of Orion, and it is safe to say that θ4 is best navigated through with an open mind.
Several surprises present themselves, not least the appearance of solid melodic constructions out of the cosmic melange. Particularly so the jazz ensemble blowing through the loose funk rhythms of Essential Light, a tune that would not appear out of place on a Kamasi Washington album. Terry Todd’s loping and loose bass funk is embellished with Steve Dinsdale’s and/or Walt Shaw’s chattering percussion, skittering around the solid bottom end as would several small critters around a recently replenished garden bird table.
This is a pointer that θ4 is more structured than its three predecessors, and unlike those gargantuan blasts of mighty improvisational heft, this is a single CD, so the band have a mere 78 minutes 40 seconds to get their message across. Focus (no, not the band, darn it!) is the key. With their collective eye on the prize, this trip encapsulates fine musicianship with a large sideorder of Kosmische strangeitude, just as it should be.
The track immediately after that unexpected jazz excursion, Displacement, neatly sums this up with its low-key free jazz improv piano overlaid with what sounds like someone searching in vain in the percussion drawer for that elusive set of castanets. Odd, but good! Stranger still is The Life And Death Of A Sewing Machine, where a garbled spoken word litany is declaimed atop some free jazz sax blowing.
ime-Lapsed follows that last one, and plunges us into a warm bath of mellifluous psychedelia that puts me in mind of The Amorphous Androgynous at their most wonky. One thing is for sure, you could never accuse this band of standing still, or of repeating themselves.
The near subsonic bass that suddenly rumbles out of my trusty KEF speakers towards the end of A Widening Road is a blast, but then again I am a sucker for dub treatments. Again percussion driven, this is the sound of the furry animals and the Pict leaving the cave and boogieing on into the heathen night. Marvellous! A glorious almost ska-like beat propels Nanobutterfly for a minute or two before it deconstructs back into a message received from another dimension, and then resurrects the dance. Martin Archer and his merry crew happen across a video of Sun-Ra teaching Jerry Dammers the table manners of the Saturnalian natives over a Bacchanalian feast of unearthly delights.
The mesmerising final track, Edge Of The World, is one of a few to feature the voice-as-instrument beguiling affectations of Martin’s “anti choir” Juxtavoices, and the more conventional vocals of frostlake to very good effect. Hypnotic and languorous, this chilled excursion expands into a kaleidoscopic whorl of space jazz in a manner that should leave a smile on the careworn fizzog of our beleaguered planet as we and it hurtles into oblivion.
Martin describes this album as containing a few “more commercial tracks”, but there’s nothing wrong with that in the slightest. Give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised! - Roger Trenwith, THE PROGRESSIVE ASPECT
Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere are a U.K.-based zeuhl ensemble that fuse jazz, neo-classical, and synth-based music into dark, unsettled compositions, positioned at the eclectic and electronic end of the RIO spectrum. The songs that make up the band’s fourth album, Theta Four, radiate a soundscape-y, dystopian aura—and yet, the female vocals, fluid orchestration, and insistent rhythms lend the music a limber quality, a source of motion and drift. Pieces like “The Surface Below” and “The Unquiet Playground” emerge ominously from their ambient beginnings, their shimmering electronics and incidental instrumentation condensing into almost stately dirges of strings, samples, and trippy bass. Even though their songs contain few lyrics, they feel uncomfortably relevant to the current political climate, pointing the listener to a world of uncertainty, confusion and insidious violence. - BANDCAMP DAILY
Productive Martin Archer operates within several projects. Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is
one of them, presenting their fourth recording. This ensemble is rooted in rock and excels in repetition-based improvisations. Chris Bywater makes no longer part of crew what makes their sound less electronic. They are guested by a violin-section and cello player, plus a choir. They name Terry Riley, Magma, Sun Ra, krautrock as their inspirations. So they play with the avant-garde from the 70s. Listening to the records I surely had to think of the 70s music too, although it is difficult to pinpoint evident references to music of
these times. In the first track it are the keyboards that bring back early work by Terry Riley. Every
now and then I had to think of Jade Warrior. But luckily they are not just interested in reviving and
copying music of the past. They surely have their own eclectic brew of jazz, prog and electronics.
They permit themselves very free and abstract interludes in their rock/prog structures. They create
a very spacious sound to unroll their stretched- out tapestries. The haunting vocals add to the atmospheric and ambient atmospheres. First three albums were all double CDs. This time we are dealing with a single CD. Long enough to lose any sense of time and to get lost in their spacious soundscapes. - DORF MULDER, VITAL WEEKLY
Restless imagination and wit - DANIEL SPICER, JAZZWISE
ThisTheta 4ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER atmosphere is the heavy in heavy. Just look at the names of the musicians that make up this set, Martin ARCHER, Jan and Terry TODD, so on to the prestigious names. And it should also mention the instruments, what a store organs, synthesizers, saxophones, harps, violins, percussion, impossible to list everything, and voices too, and what voices!
It is both a world music, instrumental, vocal and experimental ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE with its proposedTheta 4,a world wonder, thrilling, moving. And besides this Theta 4is only the continuation of previous episodes, I want to talk some Theta 1, 2 Thetaand Theta 3,which were particularly brilliant. The ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE digs its furrow in the air album after album. The name of this set says it all, the Orchestra of the high ATMOSPHERE. What a name! What ambition! It must have broad shoulders and well clear ideas to think keep the promise of such a name.
So, rest assured, Martin ARCHER and his fabulous cronies are totally up to the height, and the tunes they play we plunge us into some indescribable and sublime atmospheres. And say that all this is improvised while this seems so meticulously composed. It starts with layers of fiddles amounting by waves and voices that seem to be down from the heavens. And then everything goes magically. One thinks of course of COLTRANE, SUN RA, Miles DAVIS. Just to tell you the level.
But it's still different. It is unique actually. Not only because the ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE is unique just by itself, but also because any improvisation is inherently unique by itself. It's a same inspiration from for we know where that animates the whole and invigorates his music and it's the ephemeral manifestation of this unique moment, which is registered in the flight. But when musicians also made performing without a net this magic trick, then just imagine the beauty and excellence of the result!- Frédéric Gerchambeau, RHYTHMES CROISES
And so to the eagerly anticipated fourth instalment of Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere, ‘Ɵ4’ (Discus 70 CD), the coalescence of string quartet, percussion and electronics is striking in its ambition and realisation with Jan Todd’s Celtic harp providing a glimmering introduction to strident synth and strings with a full choir providing wordless vocalisations prior to a solo vocal accompanied mainly by spectral organ, the harp returning before heavy percussion and Martin Archer’s sax improvisations and synth and more ‘extra-terrestrial’ vocalisations with Steve Dinsdale’s synth solo providing a coda to some repetitive rock riffing. This is ‘Star Gathering’, the near 14 minute opener. ‘The Surface Below’ is an atmospheric piece leading to ‘Essential Light’, a jazzy number with steady bass from Terry Todd and excellent drumming with prominent electric piano and sax. The care taken with arrangement is amply demonstrated by ‘The Unquiet Playground’ which in my imagination sounded like a cross between oriental music and Stereolab with the sparse echo of piano notes counterpointing some very evocative themes. The intriguingly entitled ‘The Life and Death of a Sewing Machine’ is suitably mechanistic but also quite haunting as if the machine itself has a soul with Walt Shaw and Jan Todd providing some spoken parts in French with Archer’s frenzied sax representing the ‘death throes’ perhaps. What comes next on ‘Time-Lapsed’ is unexpectedly gorgeous, the voices, organ and drums combining in a pastoral haze embellished by violins, violas and cellos, the rasping sax cutting in half way through before more gallant washes of strings returning to the magical innocence of whence it came. Some ‘African’ percussion starts ‘A Widening Road’ and continues throughout although the musical accompaniment is fascinating, more ‘out of this world’ than world! This is the first of three numbers around the 10 minute mark, ‘Nanobutterfly’ lurching between a distinctive groove superbly underpinned by percussion and violin and more extemporised meanderings with haunting gelid voices giving that ‘otherworldly’ feel again- just as Archer launches into the ‘groove’ played on sax the elusive butterfly disappears with ‘Edge of the World’ led by drums, voices and electric piano approximating a classic ‘Canterbury sound’ as depicted by some of its more adventurous travellers. The denouement of the piece is very beautiful. The music of Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is jazz, ambient, progressive, world, none of these things and all of these things in its stubborn defiance of categorisation. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that this is remarkable music and, for the broad-minded listener, the Discus label as a whole is most deserving of further exploration. - Phil Jackson, ACID DRAGON
Und da ist auch schon Teil vier. Ein gutes Jahr nach dem Erscheinen von "Θ3" legt das Orchestra oft the Upper Atmosphere "Θ4" (Theta Four) vor. Erstmals in der Bandgeschichte handelt es sich "nur" um eine, wenn auch gut gefüllte Einzel-CD. Aber, offenbar war man im Hause Discus so begeistert von den vorhandenen Aufnahmen, dass man nicht warten wollte, bis das Material für eine zweite CD zusammen war. Aber, so kündigt man von Labelseite an, "Θ5" ist schon in Arbeit.
Im Vergleich zum Vorgängeralbum haben sich besetzungstechnisch ein paar Dinge verändert. Chris Bywater, langjähriger Wegbegleiter Martin Archers und einer der Mitbegründer des Projekts, hat die Formation nach den Aufnahmen zu "Θ3" verlassen. Damit wurde die elektronische Komponente in der Musik des Orchestra etwas reduziert, wurde doch kein Ersatz engagiert, und ist Steve Dinsdale (von radio massacre international) zudem vorwiegend am Trommeln. Dafür hat Jan Todd (alias frostlake) ihr eingesetztes elektronisches Instrumentarium etwas vergrößert. Trotzdem klingt "Θ4" etwas geradliniger, direkter und weniger sphärisch-ausladend als die Vorgänger.
Andererseits ist der Chor Juxtavoices wieder mit dabei (oder eine verkleinerte Abordnung desselben), und auch die Zahl der ein Streichinstrument bedienenden Gäste hat sich im Vergleich zum direkten Vorgänger erhöht (ein veritables Streichquartett ist zu hören). Eventuell fehlendes Elektronikwabern und -schweben wird daher durch allerlei Stimmeinlagen und symphonisch-klangvolle Einwürfe ausgeglichen. Auch Bass und Schlagzeug stehen nun prägender im Mix, so dass "Θ4" wohl das bisher rock-lastigste Werk der Formation ist.
Einen recht eigenen Stil pflegt das Orchestra aber weiterhin. Irgendwo im Grenzgebiet von Jazzrock, Retroprog, Avantprog, freierem Klangbasteln und moderner Ensemblemusik bewegt man sich, wobei Gesang, Saxtröten und die eine oder andere perlend-wogende Einlage an E-Orgel und Piano oft an Canterbury-Verwandtes denken lässt, bisweilen auch an Terry-Riley-artige Minimalmusic-Exkurse (vor allem im abschließenden "Edge of the world"). Eine Nummer wie "Essential Light" klingt z.B. ziemlich nach Retro-Canterbury, verbreitet eine sehr authentische, 70er-Jahre-lastige Brit-Jazzrock-Atmosphäre. Gleich anschließend, im kurzen "Displacement", werden dagegen ziemlich frei und schräg Töne vermengt. Zwischen diesen beiden Extremen wandert die Musik auf "Θ4" meist hin und her.
Von den vier (bisher erschienenen) Alben des Orchestra oft he Upper Atmosphere ist "Θ4" sicher das am akustischsten klingende (aus den oben erwähnten Gründen). Zudem kommt die Musik etwas erdiger und jazz-lastiger daher. Auch wenn freiformatig-schwebende Momente immer noch reichlich vorhanden sind (man höre z.B. "A widening road"), hat sich doch der Jazz-, Rock- und Prog-Anteil erhöht. Krautiges oder Postrockartiges ist dagegen kaum noch zu vernehmen. In diesem neu gesteckten klanglichen Rahmen ist die Musik von Martin Archer und Kollegen aber immer noch sehr farbig, ausgesprochen komplex verwoben, vielschichtig und abwechslungsreich ausgefallen, ähnelt hier doch kein Stück dem anderen, und sind die Musiker weiterhin sehr virtuos am musizieren. Kurzum: Eine weitere ziemlich einzigartige Sammlung von einer der interessantesten derzeit tätigen Formationen die wirklich progressive Rockmusik machen.
Wer die Musik des Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere noch nicht kennt, der sollte spätestens jetzt etwas daran ändern und mit diesem Album in die Klangwelt des Projekts einsteigen. Bei Gefallen kann man sich dann nach hinten durcharbeiten. Ich freue mich dagegen schon auf "Θ5". - Achim Breiling, Babyblaue Seiten
'The Unquiet Playground', which brings us back to the dynamism of jazz-fusion with entangled psychedelic framings that now show affinities with certain krautrock paths, and now come together with standards of the so-called acid folk. It is like a solemn and dreamlike hybridization between HERBIE HANCOCK, HARMONY, SUN RA and AKSAK MABOUL, adding some of the most ethereal aspects of JOHN ZORN's polychrome musical vision. The mission of 'The Life And Death Of A Sewing Machine' is to get carried away by the central guidelines of the previous piece and provide a more vibrant density from the legacies of the pieces # 1 and # 3 of the disc, while clothes everything under a mantle designed with free-jazz fabrics: so, we now enjoy something that is, at the same time, celebratory and tense, while wearing his stripes of extravagant exquisiteness. 'Time-Lapsed' immediately turns to record to take us to a more relaxed, even optimistic landscape, based on a striking groove of nu-jazz. The album ends in a big way with the sequence of three patently ambitious pieces such as 'A Widening Road', 'Nanobutterfly' and 'Edge Of The World'. based on a striking groove in nu-jazz key and a pompous aura like AFTER CRYING in its best times. The violin assumes the leading role while the winds guide the harmonic bases; For their part, the orchestrations wait their turn to absorb the sound nucleus at some point in the intermission, returning later for the germination of the epilogar passage. The album ends in a big way with the sequence of three patently ambitious pieces such as 'A Widening Road', 'Nanobutterfly' and 'Edge Of The World'. 'A Widening Road' revisits the more ethereal dimensions of jazz-progressive vitalism that have already been established in several of the most evocative moments of the previous repertoire; even the ensemble delves into its cosmic subtleties to allow the mix of free jazz and psychedelia that is taking place to be clothed in dreamy tunics.
'Nanobutterfly' establishes a twinning of free-jazz, electronic krautrock and space-rock within a dynamism that is putting together its own skeleton along the way. The weight of synthesizers and cybernetic effects in the elaboration of the captivating nebulous block that fills the contours of the melodic line and the swing of the intermittent central jam clearly indicates that the group wants to give a new twist to its modernist projections . The moment of brilliance of the violin is particularly bright during the second scene of the central jam, while the various interludes show a surreal look based on the synthesized backgrounds and the serious vocal effects. 'Edge Of The World' occupies the last 11 ¼ minutes of the album and does so by expressing warm autumn tones impregnated with warm Dadaism. The smooth handling of the compass in 7/8 and the interventions of candid female vocal arrangements provide serenity resources amidst the latent tension exhibited by the keyboards in their always wavering interventions, and, above all, by the solos of the winds that enter to carve halfway. - AUTOPOIETICAN
This follows on from the double CD ‘Theta Three’ set and continues the Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere’s exploration of the ways in which improvised music can be created from a live layering of a mix of styles and sounds. On this set, the sounds are not only derived from acoustic instruments but also electronic effects and the vocal improvisations of Juxtavoices. The set begins with swelling strings and heavenly voices of a massed choir, and there is much on the set that steers the music towards the astral planes that Alice Coltrane or Sun Ra had previously charted, or recalling the ghostly sounds that crop up on early 70s Miles. Indeed, the piano chords on track 4 ‘Displacement’ have a feel pianist seeking to build on half-remembered lines from ‘In a silent way’. What also brings the sense of space so strongly into the mix is the way in which the vocal improvisations move in and out of focus. Initially, I thought this was simply a matter of the ways in which the ensemble were making use of their electronics and sound manipulation, but on closer listening you can hear that it also highlights the way that the singers control the sounds that they are producing. In addition to this exploration of space, the music also brings with it an exploration of time. For me, at least, the sense of time was quite specific and took me back to the 1980s, with the trip-hop scene of Bristol, the electro-pop scene of Sheffield and the rave scene and summer of love in 1989. Much of this sense of time comes from the post-punk bass-lines that propel several of the pieces, played by Terry Todd (from the Comsat Angels), and the mixing of these grooves with lines that veer from bubbling rave to deep dub reggae. As a set, the music combines chill-out ambient house with a foot-tapping sense of rhythm, while continually dazzling with the ways in which sounds emerge, combine and soar.- CHRIS BABER, JAZZ VIEWS
Již čtvrté album Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere (Theta Four), vyhýčkané skladatelem, aranžérem, improvizátorem, klávesistou, elektronikem, saxofonistou, klarinetistou, flétnistou atakdále Martinem Archerem, rozmáchlé do deseti výpadů, má svoji stabilitu i přiobjevnost. Jeho obsazení je namnoze stáložárné, ale nikoli nepřídavné: účinkují zde Steve Dinsdale u elektronické bicí soupravy a syntezátoru, frostlake (= Jan Todd) coby vokalista, autor textů, elektronik, harfista, klávesista, basista, bubeník a idiopanista, houslistka a elektronička Yvonna Magda, perkusista, elektronik a vokalista Walt Shaw, baskytarista Terry Todd, houslisté Natalie Purton, Sam Parker (i s violou), Beth Fuller-Teed (také s violou), violoncellistka Liz Hanks, improvizátorský chór Juxtavoices a jedenáctičlenná Juxtavoices Madrigal Group. Jako na určitá východiska se Archer odvolává na inovativního Terryho Rileye nebo na fantazijní nadnesenost Alice Coltrane, ale známe ho: dokáže přetavit jakékoli vlivy a prodimenzovat vše po svém. V tomto smyslu chápu i jeho žertování, že by mohl být ohnivější než Magma, kyselejší nežli Kraut nebo divočejší než Faust. A tak vše probíhá mezi takřka bezbřehou improvizací a kompletní kompozicí i v nejrůznějších variantách mezi těmito póly.
Jakmile v úvodním Star Gathering vypučí harfa, vše vyvře a rozparádí se do šíře i divokosti, přetaví se střemhlavost se střelhbitým probíjením do vzedmutého symfonična, vybičovaného do chaotického vzmachu a obvolávavě smyčcované burlesknosti, což vokál zavíří až do jemnocitna. Seskrumážená prochaotizovanost rozševelí, ba rozcimpruje a rozhojdá The Surface Below do vykolejené zatěkávanosti, svištivě proharcovávané a úprkově ždířivé. Plnou parou pak rozburácí seskrumážené Essential Light, zvehementněné s ošemetňující vyzývavostí do rozútočené rozkochanosti, krouživě spletité a kvačivě pozpěvné. Ale je to Displacement, jež vyvře do porozbíjeného rozšmelcování a pozarputilé trousivosti. The Unquiet Playground se zátřeskně rozmontovává, srocuje i zarolovává s uminutě rozmlatnými bicími do závitné zákrutnosti, což zadeštní výtočné rozvolňování. Když se pak vytumluje a zaprekérní The Life and Death of a Sewing Machine, soustředí na sebe pozornost vedle bytelnosti bicích oznamovací i pošeptný vokál, protajemňující tento „osudový příběh“, plný emocí, do posměšně pokřičného smečování, a projektávající jej do závrtnostněného tišení. Okolkující vokálničení různě dolaďuje i rozlaďuje Time-Lapsed, je obchvatnostně proorchestrovávané, namnožovaně doličované, vzedmutě proudivé i zavířivě zarochávané, až zamordovávané, nicméně je opět prochlácholené vokálem a dookolkované do prohybněného výtržnění.