When Amy approached us about putting out a Greatest Hits album, we were ecstatic. Amy has produced an amazing amount of excellent music over her career. It was a hard time figuring out which pieces to use. Luckily for us, MØre Music, in Italy, had produced a limited-edition version of a Greatest Hits album and had picked almost the perfect tracks. We augmented their choices with some of our own, including newer material. The result is as much as we could have ever hoped for. A collection of material from an artist with a long and distinguished career that succeeds in showing where she has been and where she is going.
Amy Denio (nata a Boston nel 1961, ma trasferitasi a Seattle nel 1985) venne a galla nella preistoria di Seattle con il primo disco dei Tone Dogs, gruppo con il quale ebbe modo di sfogare la sua passione per il progressive rock di Canterbury.
"Birthing Chair Blues" (Knitting Factory, 1992) diede inizio alla sua carriera solista, all'insegna di uno stralunato e intellettuale folk pan-etnico. Oltre al successivo "Tongues" (Fot/Ponk, 1993), letteralmente poliglotta, Denio si e fatta apprezzare nelle sue collaborazioni con jazzisti d'avanguardia come Curlew, Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet e Hans Reichel.
Nel 1993 si aggrega ai Nudes di Chris Cutler, che registrano "Vanishing Point" (ReR, 1994) e poi diventano i Pale Nudes, titolari di due dischi con i giapponesi FoMoFlo. Ha anche composto l'opera "Non Lo So Polo" (Rec Rec, 1999), nello stile di Meredith Monk.
Tutto cio per dire che questa antologia rappresenta la maniera ideale per avvicinarsi a questa geniale artista underground. Il disco spazzola tutte le sue imprese. Ne risulta il ritratto di un'artista sui generis, un improbile ibrido di P.J. Harvey, Meredith Monk e Raincoats. - Piero Scaruffi
(4 out of 5) Idiosyncratic vocalist and multi instrumentalist Denio shows her diversity.
The "greatest hits" title is the usual joke, of course, 'cause Denio is a proudly independent fringe artist who will probably never crack the Top 40 - or even the Top 100. But she is also a very busy fringe artists, and much in demand, both as singer and musician, so this satisfying package is able to showcase her work with seven different groups, and as a solo artist. Denio's lyrics occasionally reveal a feminist orientation ("Birthing Chair Blues"), and she is capable of mordant observations about politics and the human condition, somewhat in the style of Laurie Anderson. But her specialty is an oblique kind of art song in which sound is as important as sense, and several of her vocals are in other languages.
Denio has an impressive three-octave vocal range and flaunts her technique on tunes such as "Salvatore" and "You Never Call Me Anymore," but most of her vocal work on this CD is more restrained, and sometimes almost sweet. She is a founding member of the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, and plays a mean sax, but also contributes accordion, bass, 12-string guitar and bamboo flute on several tracks. As the 19 pieces on Greatest Hits ultimately demonstrate, Denio is very difficult to categorize, but she always has something significant to say. - Bill Tilland
No, Amy Denio has never really had any hits - this collection is actually a potent overview of her varied career thus far. She's a wide-ranging musical seeker, and this set includes selections from Curlew (she sang with them on their great Beautiful Western Saddle), Tone Dogs (vocals and bass), the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet (saxophone, of course), Pale Nudes (accordion, vocals, saxes), FoMoFlo (ditto), Die Knödel (for whom she composed an opera) and her solo albums. Her musical universe is a remarkable and completely honest melding of jazz, experimental rock, folk and assorted European traditions.
Denio is adept and inventive as a singer and on each of her instruments; this is a testament to her core understanding of how to fully invest herself in the music at hand. There's a loose chronology to the placement and juxtapositions of the 19 pieces, but it's not strict - Denio wisely sequenced the album with a listener's sensibilities at the fore. After the opening tracks, "C.I.A." (which evokes Henry Cow), she moves on to the quiet beauty of "Secret Crush," the rock-ish "Brave It" and the gorgeous peculiarity of "Traffic Island Psycho." The majestic sweep of "What Is Free to a Good Home" (with lyrics by Canadian poet Paul Haines, who also collaborated with Carla Bley on Escalator Over the Hill) follows, and you're still only 20 minutes into the journey. Amy Denio's music is full of heart, character, sly smarts, wild abandon, tiny mirrors and carnival rides.- David Greenberger
jazzy modern folk with pretty female vocals
Greatest Hits? I wasn't even aware Amy Denio had any hits; in fact I had never heard of her before this CD. I soon learned that this talented composer/performer has had over fifteen releases spanning the past decade, of both group recordinds and solo collections. She performs saxophone, bass, accordion, guitar, and vocals beautifully with skill and passion. The moods of her music range from humorous to solemn, and the styles range from jazz, folk, ethereal, ethnic, and classical. At times Denio is plan eccentric. She describes her music as "future folk" that "appeals to the punk and classical lover," and more accurately uses a word she invented, "spoot," to describer her sound. Amy explains, "To spoot is to encourage empathy and active listening in all walks of life." Amy Denio is not for everybody, but for those who enjoy jazz influenced work or are interested in pushing the boundaries of their musical library, this CD may be well worth your time. - Octavia
I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Amy Denio prior to finding this CD in my mailbox. Which is my loss, evidently, since she has a unique free-spirit sensibility that often reminds me of Anna Homler, a good thing in my book. Like many musical free spirits, her musical travelogue has been a long and varied one; of the 19 tracks here, culled from the past 12 years of her career, nearly all of the albums they are culled from were recorded for a different label each time. Several of the albums she appears on are out of print, and the rest are damned obscure, so this disc is a useful document and introductory primer for dumbasses like moi who managed to somehow miss her along the way. She's certainly been busy; judging from the tracks here, she's appeared not only solo but with seven different groups, among them the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxaphone Quartet, Pale Nudes, and Tone Dogs. She also plays a wild variety of instruments -- in addition to singing, she plays guitar, bass, sax, accordion, drums, and hubcaps -- and approaches them all differently not only from instrument to instrument, but from one song to the next. Needless to say, finding a strong strand of continuity in her career is a difficult task, which may explain why she's not exactly a household name. Too bad, because if this disc is any indication, she churns out excellent, otherworldly material like nobody's business.
The disc is arranged not in chronological order, but in clusters of group/solo appearances: first come the Tone Dogs songs, then the one with Curlew, then a string of solo tracks, one with [EC] Nudes, more solo tracks, one with the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxaphone Quartet, several with Pale Nudes and FoMoFlo, and finally one with Die Knodel. Nearly all of it is impossible to easily describe, although some tracks do at least suggest lines of musical relation to other groups -- the Tone Dogs track "(When George Bush Was Head of the) C.I.A." reminds me a bit of Anna Homler (if not so much in actual sound, then definitely in spirit), while "Czechered Pajamas" brings to mind something that could have been birthed during sessions for an early Golden Palominos album. Her Curlew track "What Is Free to a Good Home," by contrast, is clearly muted free jazz (i think). The [EC] Nudes track "Salvatore" actually approaches being straightforward rock with some seriously frantic guitar playing (courtesy of Wadi Gysi), except for the fact that it's sung in Italian. (Shades of the guitarist from Henry Cow doing a live, note-perfect version of Z. Z. Top's "La Grange" with lyrics in Russian.) The Billy Tipton Memorial Saxaphone Quartet song, "Air Drone," is an example of truth in advertising: against a minimal beat, Denio (on alto sax) and the others drone like an homage to LaMonte Young. The songs with Pale Nudes are interesting because of her choice of instrument -- accordion, amazingly enough -- but are otherwise more or less straightforward songs (as opposed to avant-garde tone explorations), especially on the lovely "Axis" The Die Knodel song "Ambaraba Ci Ci Co Co" is one of the most unusual selections here, apparently a movement from an opera (and again sung in Italian, logically) in which Denio provides the voice of Angel # 2. She really gets to unleash a startling vocal range on this one. My personal favorite of the disc, however, is an unreleased solo tune, "Exiles," a beautiful and spooky track that would sound just as wonderful being covered by Edith Frost. (In fact, that kind of makes me wonder what a Frost/Denio album would sound like.)
Trying to squeeze the wide range of her talent and sounds into a brief review is not only impossible, but actually sort of ludicrous. Suffice to say that after hearing this disc, i'm scratching my head wondering how someone so original and compelling can remain so undeservedly obscure. Obviously this is a fucked-up world when Amy Denio labors in anonomity while the miserable bastards in Korn get to drive Maseratis. I'll never own a Korn album (thank God), but i'll definitely be on the lookout from now on for Amy Denio's albums....
While, or perhaps because, few outsiders were paying attention, Seattle's quietly become a major center for the Tentacle zine calls "adventuresome" or "creative" music. One might also call it post-jazz (even though not all of its practitioners improvise), or "ambient" (even though not all of its practitioners play softly).
Amy Denio simply calls it "Spoot," referring to one particular effect in her repertoire of sounds.
Of course, this music's uncategorizability has been one asset in keeping it from becoming corporatized. Another is its supposed highbrow inaccessibility.
But that's exaggerated. A lot of this avant tuneage, particularly Denio's, is very easy to get into. It's a playful noise, full of the fun of just playing around (albeit executed by someone who knows damn well just how to play around).
And play she does. Guitars, bass, drums, "found" percussion, drum machines, accordion, sax, vocals, and assorted programming shticks. As often as not, her vocals are treated as just another instrument. Some of the songs have lyrics in assorted foreign languages; many of the ones in English don't tell stories so much as they collect syllables and words that fit the melodies.
While Denio's never had any industry-official "hits," she's been recording since 1987 for assorted indie labels on two continents, under a vast assortment of band names. Among the ensembles represented on this disc alone: Tone Dogs, Curlew, (EC) Nudes, Pale Nudes, FloMoFlo, and perhaps her best-known creation, the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet (which continues to gig after she's left it).
Despite the vast array of instrumentations, dates, and personnel (some tracks are Denio multi-track solos, on one she's only a backup vocalist), the whole thing fits together beautifully. It's because Denio maintains a consistant aesthetic to all her works.
She employs alterate tunings and scales, unfamiliar (and shifting) time measures, and many of the other avant-composer tricks music students have learned from Harry Partch, Schoenberg, Varese, and the Knitting Factory clique. But her goal is never to be exclusionary, nor to merely impress us with her learning or her virtuosity.
She's an artiste, but she's an entertainer first. She engages her listeners, luring them whimsically into her alluring soundscapes, then sending them into new ways of hearing (and therefore seeing) the world around them.
Amy Denio's long been due for a career synthesis, some umbrella under which to crowd her most shining moments. But she's one of avant-music's most continent-hopping camps, able to pull off accolade-inducing gigs in Italy, Japan and all points in between, it seems, anytime she wants. Between solo operas, tours with Swiss guitarist Wadi Gysi and the Japanese post-punk band FoMoFlo, Denio's got more projects than there are continents to base them on.
And yet, there's this great new collection. It begins logically with the Tone Dogs, whose pinchy, wiry antics have been way too overlooked for way too long. As one of Denio's two best-defined outlets since she came to Seattle decades ago, it's fitting that the trio gets the lion's share of tracks (four, to be exact, a couple from their Soleilmoon CD, Early Middle Years, and a couple from Ankety Low Day on C/Z). Then there's the representative track from Denio's stunning collaboration with George Cartwright's and Tom Cora's Curlew, which begs for more from the "Beautiful Western Saddle," with its strange sway between jazz, avant-rock and uncountable other strains.
Denio began carving her own realm of music around the release Birthing Chair Blues on Knitting Factory, and as she did, the developments called on her to create complex tracks played (and sang) entirely by her. The group of solo cuts is perhaps the most trying stuff here, certainly the most unmistakable part of Denio's absorbing vision--again a mix of the jazz/avant-rock matrix cross-hatched with theatrics and story-songs. Surprisingly, there's only one Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone track amidst these 19, falling in between the beautiful "Salvatore" from the (EC) Nudes and a slew of tracks from the post-(EC) Pale Nudes--which drops drummer Chris Cutler and adds former Tone Dogs drummer Will Dowd and bassist Michael Gerber. Listening to the flow here, even with the album's occasional drops in dynamics, it's increasingly clear why Denio's in such demand. She's truly one of a kind, able to do whatever she singles out as worthy, whether it's screwball ululation or mind-bending loops of sound layered atop each other.- Andrew Bartlett
If you are unfamiliar with the music of Amy Denio, this 'Greatet Hits'is a good starting point. This release gives a representative overview of her work from the beginning of her career (1987-1998). Many of the cooperations she was involved in are included: Tone Dogs, Die Knodel, Curlew, Fomoflo, The Pale Nudes, The Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet. Also several solo works can be found on this release.
Denio operates on the more poppy and funky side of the avantgarde: most tracks are melodic and are structured as 'songs'. We hear here singing, playing sax and accordion and many other instruments. Sometimes you would wish the music would be more far out as it sometimes comes dangerously close to superficial poppy music. Denio who is from Seattle started here career there in 1987 with the Tonedogs (Fred Chalenor & Matt Cameron). Their debut was produced by Fred Frith. This gave her probably a good introduction to related musical scenes in other parts of the world. Why find her with European bands (Pale Nudes, Die Knödel), American bands (Curlew, The B.T.M.S.Quartet) and the Japanese outfit Fomoflo. Denio views her worldwide orientation as follows: "In this chaotic time, musicians weave the web which holds this world together"- Dolf Mulder
What a silly title! I doubt Amy has ever had any "hits", though she's certainly been prolific and diverse as a singer and multi-instrumentalist, and so I guess she's been a "hit" with the many bands she's worked with!
Here's her CV as portrayed here: Tone Dogs (1989-93), Curlew (1993), (EC) Nudes (1994), Pale Nudes (1996-98), FoMoFlo (1997), Die Knödel (1999); in parallel to her solo work and collaborations with the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet! If none of that means anything to you, then you're obviously not into her offbeat twisting of jazz and Brecht-isms into an offbeat type of "Rock In Opposition." Amy is a true multi-instrumental talent, as well as extraordinary vocalist.
I don't usually review "samplers" in Audion, but this one is so eclectic I'm sure many will find it of interest as a stepping stone to this American brand of music as typified by the likes of the Tone Dogs, 5uu's, Thinking Plague, and such-like.- Alan Freeman