Eloquence, the brilliant ultra-budget label of reissues from Universal Music Australia, has just turned 20. It has restored vast numbers of gems to the ears of music-lovers, including such important Australian collections as those of pianist Eileen Joyce and of a century of local singers. It has released some 1200 albums and won a multitude of awards. This seven-album set by the fine French pianist Cecile Ousset is typical, with all her 1971-75 recital recordings for French Decca on CD for the first time. The first disc is a lively and compelling collection of fin-de-siecle Parisians (Satie, Debussy, Saint-Saens, Chabrier), and the second – marvellously spiky and atmospheric – offers Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. The third has Schumann’s Carnaval and Brahms’ Paganini Variations in a celebrated recording, while the last four comprise a rare collection of Beethoven’s variations, from the profound and ambitious Diabelli Variations, which show his highest genius, to small and simple groups, including God Save the Queen. This is a delightful set, and beautifully played. Ousset has wrists of steel, but also finesse and delicacy, a lovely sense of line and shape, and finely wrought articulation. Another treasure. BARNEY ZWARTZ
DRIFT SERIES 1: SAMPLER EDITION (Caroline)
What is fascinating about this album – by title, the first part of an ongoing set; by nature, a widely spread selection from a 52-week project to produce and release a new track every week – is its sense of connection and completeness. Rick Smith and Karl Hyde’s commitment to the idea of their music as an eminently mutable thing – the styles, sounds and collaborators were widely varied through this year – and their recommitment to each other, as a collective of equal but different value, has somehow made this feel a naturally aligned set of emotions-as-songs. And this is true whether we are talking about the nagging electro-prod of STAR, with its half-nonsense rhyme/half-pointed catalogue of names, and the rising joy-to-blissfulness of Listen to Their No, or how the long threads of insistent, only slightly evolving pulsing within Border Country (where a quasi-ambient overlay brings a touch of desert air) and the Moroder-ish Schiphol Test feel like tonal twins, temporarily separated by the 94 seconds of murmuring strut that is Mile Bush Pride. The next legs of the Drift Series could go anywhere, but part one is an almost tender, rising-to-meet-us minor gem. BERNARD ZUEL
SONGS FROM THE KITCHEN TABLE (genniekane.com.au)
Here is a sublime collection of 12 songs celebrating the complexity of ordinary daily life. Genni Kane, one-time lead singer with the Flying Emus, looks at her life and communicates with understated passion and integrity the deep emotional power that lies in everyday activities. There is a song about the joy of sitting at the kitchen table with her daughter, while 20,000 Days reflects on 60 years with family and friends. As If I Would Forget is about small mementos that belonged to her parents, and If I Die Before You takes an unsentimental look at death and loss. Kane has crafted these everyday events into songs of great simplicity and unswerving honesty, and set them in a country/folk context. Intimate and deeply personal, her band includes her brother (John Kane), husband (Jon Wilby) and a few close friends. The end result has the vocal beauty of Emmylou Harris and the sharp clarity of Loudon Wainwright III. Every track is memorable and moving, but none more so than The Captain and the Ship, a story of Kane’s father-in-law who, afflicted by dementia, retreated to memories of his childhood, when, as a 14-year-old, he had walked from Burma to India. BRUCE ELDER
INTUIT (New Lab)
Like a kid in a candy store, a modern improvising musician is spoilt for choice. The infinite ways of melding composition and improvisation are compounded by infinite possible inputs from the gamut of jazz, classical and the deep pools of music in cultures around the world. Australian alto saxophonist/composer Jonathon Crompton thought he might expand his horizons even further by moving to New York where, this album proves, he has found his own path through the labyrinth. Crompton’s alto is variously joined by the tenors of Ingrid Laubrock, Patrick Breiner (also bass clarinet) and Patrick Booth, and the agile rhythm section of bassist Adam Hopkins and drummer Kate Gentile. Compositionally, some of Crompton’s most intriguing devices come in combining the saxophones to create swirls, rounds and wraith-like echoes. These may accelerate into wild spirals, take divergent paths to a destination, or, on Suite in A Major, keep you spell-bound with a tense, funereal beauty. Yet Crompton’s ingenuity never exists for its own sake. The music is always reaching out, touching, moving, warming or making your skin crawl, and his alto playing is as boldly distinctive as his composing. JOHN SHAND
PYROCLASTS (Southern Lord)
This second album of 2019 from Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, the Seattle pairing behind the heroic, long-term doom/drone project that is Sunn O))), contains even less melodic and harmonic dynamism than April’s epic return to form, the grinding and sparse Life Metal. Pyroclasts, which takes its title from a term used in volcanology, has four tracks of layered, creaking, rhythm-less, guitar-based noise, augmented by little else. In taking the ideas of Life Metal one step further, Pyroclasts can be thought of a distillation of the very essence of drone, and is therefore perhaps the more satisfying album. Recorded through exploratory improvisations with producer Steve Albini during the Life Metal sessions, these dense soundscapes evoke the epochal movements of glaciers, seismic tectonic shifts or the moods of oceans. Such grandiose terms are only a slight overstatement for a band whose music is almost a vibratory physical experience as much as an aural one. For some, the relentlessness of it all might be a bit too dismal or morbid, yet something life-affirming and even blissful lurks only slightly beneath the surface. Be sure to play it loud. BARNABY SMITH
SALT WATER (Sony/Cascine)
Roland Tings, aka Rohan Newman, has described his music as “awkward dance music for awkward people”, but that suggests something far less fluid and charismatic than the soundscapes he produces. The Sydney-born, Melbourne-based producer retreated to a house in the Otways to make Salt Water, and, as is often the case with his work, the presence and influence of nature can be felt throughout. Synthetic bird calls and the flutter of wings introduce Rainforest before synths, drum machines and an unobtrusive vocal are gently deployed. The track then shifts to the dance floor, but maintains an ethereal, evocative sheen. While other pieces, such Up Close and Circulating, are more emphatically club-leaning, they’re still lush and expansive. The beats are placed up front to set the tone, but the intricate, organic production – and even the distant, chilly female vocal – conjure fern gullies and waterfalls. Water Music, unsurprisingly, is full of cool, vaporous synths and woozy pads, and, like the gorgeous closer, Sun Drops Behind the Hill, it works as soothing background music or as a soundtrack for winding down from the night before. ANNABEL ROSS
Annabel Ross is a Reporter for The Age.
John Shand has written about music and theatre since 1981 in more than 30 publications, including for Fairfax Media since 1993. He is also a playwright, author, poet, librettist, drummer and winner of the 2017 Walkley Arts Journalism Award
Since joining Fairfax in 1992, Bernard has been an editor and written on education, roads and local politics. These days, he specialises in music and is the senior music writer and reviewer.
Barney Zwartz, a senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity, was religion editor of The Age from 2002 to 2013.