Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Sarah Bernstein, as I wrote several days ago in my review of the first Iron Dog Field Recordings (see posting below), doesn't do what you expect. And after a while that "not doing" is a "doing." There is style in what she does.
Unearthish (Phase Frame Music 001), a set of duets with drummer-percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, shows you how. It proceeds along a kind of three-pronged axis, if you can get into that: there is the pan-world drumming percussion of Takeishi, focused pulses and feels using the drum set and all manner of percussion instruments; there's the violin of Sarah's, structurally central to everything as an improvisational pivot and compositional articulator; then there are Sarah's vocals, recitations of prose poems having to do with experiencing life on the personal and cosmic-connectedness level. She's not really like Laurie Anderson except that there is a personally performative aspect. It is a conceptual place where recitation, singing-chanting, vocal improvisation and abstracted personal narrative join with key violin parts and percussion synchronizations.
The Iron Dogs recording (thus far volume one) is heavier electrically; Unearthish is acoustic and more like a trans-world sort of music, music by a key ensemble of the griots of New York, so to say.
It's a kind of conceptual-performance art. It comes out of the anguish of the experiential present and the transcendence possible, a way out. And it has the stamp of originality on it . . . Sarah's . . . Satoshi's.
It seems to me that what Sarah Bernsetin is doing right now is important to the place we are in. And if that's so, it is important that she be listened to and appreciated as a part of the Zeitgeist of our present. In other words, this is something you should listen to a bunch of times.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey have continually gone their own way. I must say I have not liked absolutely everything they've done, and at 21 albums (!) and counting I've missed a few. I do think they've entered a very productive stage in the last few albums. And their Race Riot Suite (Royal Potato Family), just out today I believe, puts them in vital territory.
It's the regular band [Brian Haas, piano; Chris Combs, steel guitar; Jeff Harshbarger, contrabass; and Josh Raymer, drums] plus five horns: Steven Bernstein on trumpet plus tenor-bari, two more tenors and trombone. It's a full-length suite that depicts musically a racial pogram that took place in Tulsa in 1921. It was brought on by a racist and manipulative white oil elite in tandem with the local government and the news media that did their bidding. That's a dark subject matter indeed and Chris Combs has created a work that expresses simultaneously a sense of outrage and a matter-of-factly dark sensibility in very creative terms.
The writing is excellent, with the core band and especially Combs's steel interacting with the horns for a brashly raucous music that has the freedom and fire of Carla Bley's Genuine Tong Funeral and Liberation Music, only a great deal more darkness. It is a marvelous pairing of the sharply defined individuality of the players with a score that is ultra-expressive.
Every bit of this suite counts; there is no dead weight whatsoever. In the end you get a sense of a musical reckoning, a retribution in tone, a emotionally wrought expression of disgust and sorrow. It does to my mind establish Chris Combs as an important jazz composer of our era, someone I hope we can look to for more music such as this.
It's music that disturbs, haunts and ultimately, honors the victims with a kind of musical memorial. Excellent music; highly recommended.
Monday, August 29, 2011
It's the Monday after the passage of Hurricane Irene from my area and I am glad to get back to work. A shout-out of sympathy for any who did not fare as well as we did.
Today, Demolished Thoughts (Matador), the latest album from Sonic Youth leader, singer, guitarist and songwriter Thurston Moore.
Anyone who follows his career knows that the solo albums are not exactly the same full-band onslaughts as the Sonic's works. And that is true of Demolished Thoughts as well. It centers on Thurston's trademark guitar tuning and interesting chordal sequences, here on 6- or 12-string acoustic. There are good songs, somewhat in a cosmic contemplativeness mode. His voice is front and center communicating the essence of the lyrics and melody.
And there are some nicely put together cello/string parts and some nice touches with a harp now and then. I suppose you could say it's psychedelic light. But seriously in IS that in Thurston's very inimitable way.
If you like what he does in the Sonic's bag, once you get used to this, you'll like this one also.
It is music with a lot of depth, nice little touches, subtlety. So it's a winner then.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
We covered Andy in his comedic singer-songwriter role several weeks ago (see posting below). Today we have at A Place to Play (Other Street Ag-11) which is an all-instrumental improvisational duet with bassist Ulf Akerhielm, initially released in 2000 and available again as CD or download.
This is a very nice set of standards, originals, and jams on classic changes (including the blues). Andy does some masterful, very lightly amplified solo work on his semi-hollow, a 1950 Epiphone Broadway (which by the way sounds great).
It's a lively date with overtones of the old swing style modernized and transformed. The music, to quote Andy, reflects his "fascination with the Bach-Tristano concept of a long melodic line packed with multiple meaning." And for sure you can hear some of the Tristano-style rhythmic displacements and some very well crafted, multi-valent lines that Bach might have been tempted to join in with on organ with a version of Milt Buckner-meets-Larry Young (now that would be something)!
Ulf Akerhielm walks up a veritable storm and takes some very beautiful arco solos.
Here we have infectiously joyful music on all fronts. Those who are inclined to tap their toes will no doubt find themselves doing so. Most importantly it shows Andy Fite in a very fluid light as an inspired improviser. I suppose you can tell from this that I like it but I'll go ahead and say "recommended" anyway! By the way you can grab this music at CD Baby, i tunes, Amazon, etc.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Sometimes I get so many CDs to audition that the first listen is a matter of waiting to see if the artist eliminates him or herself by showing poor execution, hitting on a banal and coarse sort of commercialism, or otherwise just not quite making the grade. Mike Rood's album was subjected to this initial scrutiny and came through with music that surpassed my expectations completely. That is, on his debut album The Desert and the City (self-released, no #).
Mike studied from a rather early age with John Patitucci and later Vic Juris, among others, and graduated from the New School, Jazz Studies Division. He plays with five-finger picks, which of course is not at all a norm for jazz guitarists (he's the only one I've heard of doing this). His sound is a combination of that and a treble reduced, mellow, slightly reverberent jazz sound that folks like John Abercrombie have made current.
The album features his group, a quartet of sympathetic musicians that include tenor saxist Mike Bjella, Alex Spradling on acoustic bass, and Goh Izawa on drums. They keep with him and do a fine job, but this is Mike Rood's moment to shine and he does. His soloing combines an admirable harmonic and melodic sense that goes far from the standard cliches and stays there. His compositions are sophisticated and well thought out. The album has a vaguely ECM-ish ambience to it.
This is a most promising new guitarist and he shows a polish and subtlety that is quite rare in a newcomer just entering onto the scene.
Excellent job. With any luck Mr. Rood will be on the scene for many years to come. He could be quite important!
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Norway's progressive rock outfit Wobbler reaches back to the heyday of bands like Yes on their CD Rites at Dawn (Termo 008). In fact they sound so much like Yes (and a touch of ELP) that it is almost as if they emerged out of a time machine from 1972.
They have the high ranged lead vocalist, the close harmonies, the roto-sound stringed bass lines, the key sounds, the guitar pick and play, and elaborate arrangements and baroquely intricate songs. The mellotron gives them another retro dimension that adds to their charm and occasionally gives them an early King Crimson aura.
Most importantly the musical element is strong. They have the ability to run with a style and make something new out of it. And that is what they do. There is the large orchestrated sound that is in no sense a simple matter to achieve. They do it well.
If you are a progressive fan, this will be music to savor. If not this probably will not change your mind.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Sara Bernstein embodies surprise. For example she teams up with bassist Stuart Popejoy and (for half the cuts) drummer Tommaso Cappellato in the series of live recordings from 2005-2006 we're taking a look at today. What's surprising about Iron Dog Field Recordings 1 (Iron Dog Music 001) is the kind of experimental metal approach. Sarah gets a big, electrified and sometimes distorted sound most of the time, as does Stuart.
It's not your everyday metal though. The notes, the wider melodic range, the improv approach (with or without the drums), all of this tends to put this in a league of its own. And it's also not always full-out, full-throttle electricity.
Whatever it is, you end up with the impression of being in the middle of some very original music. It has a drone aspect. It doesn't have a lot of harmonic movement, which is in keeping with the metal aspect.
This is a very interesting disk. It gives you yet another side of Sarah Bernstein the artist. And it will defy your expectations while providing some thought-provoking voltage readings.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Wordless vocalise is the order of the day with Beata Pater, somewhere between Tania Marie and Flora Purim for the Brazilio-Latin zone. Her album Blue (B&B 04-09) is the second colaboration on a color theme with pianist Mark Little. It includes several rearranged classics ("Afro Blue," "Blue in Green") a few Komeda compositions and then the rest by Pater, Little or both.
This is jazzed Latin with a varied instrumentation. Beata is out front as the principal "horn," singing a great deal but staying pretty close to the head melody much of the time. There is almost too much of her. Her vocalisms are relentless. And the band gets a pretty standard groove going all too often.
It has some very nice moments and will surely be getting airplay on stations that prefer somewhat commercial sorts of jazzology. It is quite pleasant. The more I listened, the less I personally responded, alas. I like the IDEA of this music. I just don't much like listening to it. For the Komeda I am glad, for the rest I grant that it will be liked by those that will like it. I wish her success.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Toward the end of this month Huw Lloyd-Langton's LLG will be releasing Hard Graft (LLG CD 009). It is dedicated to keyboardist Tim Rice, who passed away from cancer just two weeks after the recording was finished.
Huw Lloyd-Langton, for those who don't know, has had a long time association with prog-psych dynamo Hawkwind. Now that to me does not totally prepare you for this album. This is hard-edged wall of sound contemporary rock with Huw's extraordinary guitar presence, his vocals and good rock songs the central focus. Imagine late Hendrix filtered through later period Frank Marino/Mahogany Rush, then filtered through Hawkwind and you begin to get the feel for the guitar sound and the sound of this recording.
It's a beautiful record and it is well worth your ear-time!! I'd say more but it is what it is! One of the rock albums of the year for me.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Eventually the question has to arise. Do jambands have the musical chops to compete one-on-one with a jazz-rock fusion outfit? It's a question of pitting category against category, which ultimately is a kind of abstraction from the day-to-day gigs and recordings of probably hundreds, even thousands of bands. Which ones do you pick as most representative? And at what point can you be satisfied that you have done justice to each genre? I don't think it's entirely profitable to pose the question in this way, certainly not in any glib, blithe, superficial manner. Have historic bands like the Dead, have scenes like those in San Francisco in the late-'60s had an impact on the jazz musicians working then and in years to come? Clearly. And have the jazz folks in turn exercised an influence in return? Yes, of course. In some ways it's like any number of musical genres that have socio-spatial proximity. Everything gets influenced by everything else, to a greater or lesser degree. That answer doesn't satisfy me completely, but it will have to do for now.
So today a jamband, one I believe is no longer touring, but an interesting one nonetheless. It's KVHW, a collaborative quartet of Steve Kimock, lead guitar, Bobby Vega, bass, Alan Hertz, drums, and ex-Mother Ray White on rhythm guitar and vocals. The Wikipedia article on them is sketchy and a bit of a mess, but apparently Ike Willis was replaced by Terry Haggerty during part of 1999, but the information apears to contradict itself about when that occurred--unless they are saying that there were two periods where he was not a part of the band. The article gives the band's active life as January 1998 through December of 1999. So those are the basic facts.
The recording I have playing as I write this is a free and legal download from archive.org (http://www.archive.org/details/kvhw1999-05-17). It's a full 3-CD set of the band holding forth at Cafe Tomo in Arcata, CA on the night of May 17, 1999. Judging from the lack of tell-tale Ike Willis vocals this must be a part of the Terry Haggerty stint.
KVHW had a Dead derived jamband feel, with Kimock playing his own variant lead style in lineage with Garcia. The rhythm section has a Dead-like looseness. And they jam at length on a number of originals and covers.
One thing that is a constant, that is the loose but insistent rock-funk underpinning to much of that goes on, at least at the start of each number. With a jamband on a good night, just as in "jazz," the best things are taking place after the stating of the song formalities. It is then that Kimock stretches out and the rhythm section expands their groove, going a hypnotic route or creating a more spacy cloud of pulsating sound. Sometimes the interplay between lead and rhythm guitar intensifies for periods of interlocking counterpoint. And it's the rhythm-lead (and bass) interactions and the function of the rhythm guitar in general that I feel are some of the more innovative aspects of jamband style. Some of it comes out of James Brown's funk, but there is further elaboration going on that is specifically jamband-centered, I think.
Ultimately with KVHW you feel like whatever comes, they have planted their feet in the ROCK jam context. And that usually means a pretty persistent sticking to the single-key center vamp.
For all that there are bright moments to be heard on this long gig-night. It's free, so you can listen and like what you like, and not what you don't. Go to it if you care to...
Monday, August 15, 2011
Guitarist-jazz composer. Often it seems to go "pianist-jazz composer." There are various reasons for that, none of which need detain us right now. Richard Nelson belongs to the former category. He teaches up in Maine and has given us this summer a CD of his music for big band, Pursuit (Heliotrope 1011). The album title is also the name of the five-part suite that forms the bulk of the music here. The big band is comprised I assume of local associates of Mr. Nelson. They generally do a good job realizing the nuances of the score. It's music with a modern sound to it. You hear vestiges of Evans, Russell, Schneider and such, but there is a Nelsonian thrust to the entire suite that shows he has his ideas together and has realized them without recourse to any sort of copycatting imitation.
This is music that allows for space, setting off the large ensemble's full sound in effectively contrasting ways. There are some soloists as you can expect and they do fine in their respective spotlights. Richard Nelson's guitar is in there too, though he does not in any way dominate the music played here. What solos he does play show some advanced melodizing.
It's a live recording of a pretty complex score so when one hears a few passages that might bear tightening up, one can be understanding and there is nothing terribly egregious. I imagine an extra few thousand in recording budget (for more rehearsal) might have taken care of it. These aren't times when one can expect a great deal in that zone, of course. It's good to get a chance to hear this music. That's what counts.
The disk is completed by a couple of numbers by the Richard Nelson Quintet. They give you a more intimate look at the compositional Nelson and some rather nice guitar work too. The flow from large to small is quite smooth because the sound of the compositions have similarities that make the segue easy and logical, and he writes for the quintet as if each instrument were a "section" in a larger ensemble. That gives continuity and a richly musical experience as well.
Richard Nelson has not gotten to the point where one can trumpet that "there is a major new voice in the big-band compositional world." Nonetheless this is music worthy of your discerning ears. It swings. It expands your harmonic sense. It uses the instruments in combinations both expected and unexpected. It avoids cliches.
Substantial. Worth hearing. May Richard Nelson's music continue to thrive.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Ursa Minor is the brain child of singer-songwriter Michelle Casillas. Their second venture into the world of sound, Showface: Watch Me Watch Me Watch Me (self released), finds Tony Scherr heading the production and playing guitar along with Rob Jost on bass and Robert DiPietro at the drums.
Michelle wrote the bulk of the songs and sings lead vocals in her convincing way. Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders are somewhere lurking in the background as huge influences on the music, and so if you are into those folks, this will give you an extension of their punchy and wry rock with a central focus on songs in ways that are not entirely dissimilar. Ursa Minor may not have as many killer songs at the album two juncture, but they are getting close.
It's a good outlet for Michelle Casillas's magnetic vocal qualities and her tightly spun rock instrumentalist cohorts. These people are sounding good. There's plenty to like. Give them a spin and see. . .
Thursday, August 11, 2011
This past March I covered the avant power trio Many Arms and their high energy assault speed metal. The guitarist on that was Nick Millevoi. Nick has been busy since then, among other things putting together a solo CD of 12-string electric guitar pieces, Black Figure of a Bird (Sundmagi na001). It just came out and will no doubt be turning a few heads around.
Essentially Nick has created some structured outness for six episodic segments that have an overal aura about them but also pacing and variational depth. He uses the full sonarity of the 12-string. He'll deviate from standard tunings (it sounds like) to fashion open resonant chords of an unusual sort, make interesting use of chiming harmonics, then come in with dynamically alive industrial trance figures (sometimes sounding a hair like late Crimson or the League of Crafty Guitarists only much more insistent), and so on.
There is a good deal of really interesting guitar work happening on Black Figure. The sounds he gets set him apart; the note choices, chord voicings and rapid strummings put him in a league of his own.
This is sometimes startling, ever-engaging, bright-dark and brittle music. And what seems most encouraging to me is that it is music first and foremost. It is rather remarkable as guitar music as well but you go away from the disk knowing you have heard good music.
Welcome to the Millevoi Zone....you can get there from here. I recommend that you make the trip.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Andy Fite is no ordinary musical fellow. And what is ordinary? Never mind that for now. He plays the acoustic (flat top?) guitar in the solid-four swing of Django's Hot Club or Al Casey of Fats Waller's must illustrious small group. He writes songs that somehow reflect David Frishberg, Fats and something just Andy.
His 20 From '10 (Other Street Music) gives you the 20 songs he penned last year. They are in a sort of tongue-in-cheek cabaret style and they address in a funny-sad way the little as well the big events in a relationship, his own Woody Allenesque insecurities, and life-political-cultural frustrations. It's unique and it's lots of fun. Is it for everybody? What is? You have to be comfortable with the ironic cabaret style, I would think.
He is one in a million, a songwriter of originality, a vocalist who performs his songs. . . like he wrote them (because, duh, he DID), and a guitarist who functions mostly in an accompanying role here, but does so with a good handle on what he wants to do.
Monday, August 8, 2011
Mr. Ho, that purveyor of space-age music of the ('50's) future, occupied our attention some time ago on these pages with his Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel, a fully realized retake on the lush mood orchestra/chorus sort of spectacular that some of our parents (fathers, mostly) graced their hifi with in the day.
He returns with a smaller group, taking an equally serious-fun look at the exotica of the era, Third River Rangoon (Tiki 002). This time it's Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and the smaller ensemble Les Baxter that come up under Mr. Ho's transformative gaze. The group centers around vibes and bass flute or c-flute, along with contrabass and percussion (plus oud on a couple of cuts).
To me the funny thing about this one is that it is almost TOO good. It is sophisticated, well composed/arranged with the flute-vibe sonority of long tones nicely contrasting with bass-percussion movement. There is less of the cheese factor that often came along with typical exotica of the era. It's almost as if Mr. Ho's love for the form, his respect for the genre, gives him the urge to make something respectable out of it all. Well, not entirely! There is a slightly tongue-in-cheek quality still.
Fact is, though, this is music that would have appealed to those of the era, yet manages to sound equally interesting today. I must say I find myself responding to the arrangements as if I were experiencing the music of some unknown backwater in exoticaland. That was the point of the original form of this genre. That Mr. Ho can convince us of the "authenticity" of this ersatz music and do it in such a way that our ears are stimulated, that seems doubly ironic.
Well it's not something I would expect myself to react to in such a way, but I approve! There's life left in all sorts of abandoned period genres mouldering in the junk shops of today. A creative musical personality like Mr. Ho has just the sort of brazen determination and playful sense of humor to make the music speak to US in this moment we live in. It is a pleasure to hear this one.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Marc Ducret: His Guitar, Composition and Distinctive Quintet Interpret Nabokov's "Ada" on the Projected Multi-Volume "Tower"
It would be enough that Marc Ducret is a consistently interesting electric guitarist in the avant fusion zone. His composition-arrangements are also a huge factor in his music. Tower, Volume One (Ayler 118) finds him embarking on an ambitious multi-volume series of works interpreting and reacting to Vladimir Nabokov's post-modern masterpiece novel Ada. Like the labyrinthian multiple realities of that work, Tower in its first installment carves out densely textured, multi-voiced music. All that from a well-chosen quintet of Ducret on guitar, Matthias Mahler, trombone, Peter Bruun, drums, Kasper Tranberg, trumpet, and, instead of bass, the bass saxophone of Fred Gaspard. That latter factor alone (and Mr. Gaspard's zealous attack) contributes much to the unusual ensemble sound.
In essence the quintet sounds like a mini-big-band-orchestra. The parts are voiced to get a largeness and complexity of sound way over and above what you expect to hear in a group of this size.
The parts conjoin with improvisational interactions in ways that are pure Ducret. He is not Frank Zappa. He IS a logical choice for one of the handful of really stimulating jazz-rock-classic innovators following in Zappa's wake.
This is music to startle, music to sink into with absorption (and how else would someone sink in? But never mind that). It's one of Ayler Records' most illustrious releases. Marc Ducret is no "fusion as usual" or "freedom as usual" sort of musician-composer. And the band digs into the material like they wrote it.
An achievement, this is. It is. I certainly look forward to the volumes to come. Marc Ducret is not someone to watch. He is already here! He is someone essential to the avant electricity of the present. Tower, Volume One has all the earmarkings of an album of vital importance to what's happening this year, even this decade. If the volumes that follow are this good. . . well, we will have to wait for them and see.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Garage a Trois have been around a few years. The current lineup is Marco Benevento on keys, Skerik on (what sounds like tenor) sax, Mike Dillon, vibes, and Stanton Moore behind the drums. The new one Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil (Royal Potato Family) continues them on the journey to map out their own compositional-arranged blend of instrumental jazz-rock. They are fairly adventurous in the sounds they get, and parts can get pretty electric. Other times they have a bit of a collage texture. It's all pretty firmly routed in the idea of instrumental song crafting. The vibes-keys-tenor melodic-harmonic approach gives them a readily identifiable sound.
Beyond that I must say there's a different sort of thing happening than what Marco B. gets with his trio. No one stands out from the blend in a solo-virtuoso way. It's all mix. But if you accept those parameters, the music is attractive enough. I may personally prefer Marco's trio on a certain night, but I do see the merit in this music. It's the modern day equivalent to Bill Black's Combo, the Tornados or the Ventures--and pretty spacey at times to boot. Take it if that sounds good, leave it if that doesn't rings bells with you.
It's around on vinyl or CD, or download.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
This is no rote funk thing. Rhythms are loosely jazzesque, sometimes even free, and the Wadada compositions go way beyond a few ostinatos and running lines.
This is electric music that dares to be art music. It's miles beyond a Miles tribute band. It's a Wadada's music band. Free electric post-funk? That's one label to put on it. The point is that there is an evolved group sound that brings fascination. Wadada has gotten a bead on where to take the music and he is taking it there.
Probably the most important electric band working in the music today and this is one of their very finest (double) albums. You have to check it out!
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Bruce Arnold is a guitarist of many-sides, a kind of prism of many refracted sounds. When he performed in Belgium a while ago he had a chance to further widen the spectrum of his aural coverage. There he met up with lutenist-guitarist Gilbert Isbin to record a series of subtle duets released on CD as Invocation (Muse Eek 153).
A beautiful sound and wide-ranging compositional-improvisational end-games resulted. There are some mood enhancing pieces by both parties. And there are more open-ended improvisations. Arnold's acoustic guitar and Isbin's lute create a ravishing, meditative sonance, each listening carefully to create a balance between the more delicate lute presence and the acoustic.
The music has the kind of spatial quality of some of the early-middle period duet-solo ECM recordings with folks like Towner, Abercrombie, et al. Nonetheless Arnold and Isbin create their own tapestry of sound that does what it does with intelligence and originality.
It is a very stimulating listening experience that allows you to drift into your brown study or follow with interest the dialog that unveils itself in the course of the album. Either way this is a good bet. Try it and you may well like it.
Monday, August 1, 2011
It is music with all the drive of the classic dance forms, but it uses the duet situation to suggest the essence of classic Cuban sounds while heightening the jazz inflections and improvisatory nuances of the players with their natural stylistic personalities. Think of the Chic Corea-Gary Burton duets for their spirit--now imagine that same sort of spirit, only very different players doing very different music.
It is Latin jazz in a kind of chamber setting. And what a setting. Superb performances of wonderful music!!