Sunday, 16 August 2009

Vespero - Surpassing All Kings

It’s interesting how scenes develop, seemingly sometimes because of the sheer will and presence of just one or two people and, perhaps, to outsiders, how these scenes develop in the most unlikely of places. Now, it might well be that the scene in question has been fermenting away in the background, unnoticed by the wider community, and that might be the case with the current outpouring of material from Russian space-rock enthusiasts. Its none-the-less very welcome to see the depth of quality that’s revolving around the RAIG label, and also the strength of musicianship there that’s being nurtured by Space Mirrors/Psi Corps musician and producer Alisa Coral.

Vespero are one of the bands that Alisa has a hand in producing, mixing and mastering; they come from a town in Russia called Astrakhan and have apparently released numerous live CDRs, but also have two ‘official’ albums issued on RAIG, Rito and Surpassing All Kings. Now, the latter is the only album I’ve heard by them so I don’t know how indicative of their work it is, but this is one of those predominately instrumental albums, not quite space-rock but leaning towards it, that I like to pop into the computer and have on as background music whilst I work. That’s not a criticism... what I’m talking about is an unobtrusive sound that blends with the task at hand and that’s nice to fill the background ambience with whilst writing or thinking.

What Vespero produce is music that manages to be both dark and ethereal at the same time, which sounds like a contradiction in itself, but in the sense that they have both prog-rock and avant-garde elements to their sound should start to make more sense. Now, I’ll be honest and say that the prog-rock influences happening here are a bit outside of my own interests, but I certainly found more than enough other things going on in Vespero’s work to make listening to this CD a most enjoyable experience. That’s because there’s some really haunting atmosphere at work (built upon by the occasional vocal contributions of Natalya Tujrina), and because I hear them at times, as on ‘Salma Sumiere (Cross and Crown)’, playing with some really good jazz undertones. A few reviewers have cross-referenced what they hear in Vespero’s music to that of Gong, and, though I’m not especially getting that on the album I’ve heard, I’d readily accept that there is some informing of the Vespero sound by Gong, particularly by Steve Hillage, in the background.

But it’s their willingness to experiment that I found particularly appealing, the way that they move from some weighed-down and dense tones to something like ‘Glide (Like A Swan)’ which builds from a gossamer-light touch that’s rather lovely into something busier without losing its underlying sense of fragility. Or the way that the slow-moving, lingering, ‘Sever (Surpassing All Kings)’ moves gracefully through the final seven minutes of the album to play things out with its beautifully reserved tones.

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