Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lili Boniche, Trésors de la Musique Judéo-Arabe

As a novice to Lili Boniche (1921-2008) and his art, I listened to the World Village reissue (with extra cuts) of his classic album Trésors de la Musique Judéo-Arabe (World Village 479094) without knowing exactly what I was hearing. But I got onto its wavelength quickly enough.

Lili was a popular vocalist who combined the Judeo-Arab-Andalusion roots of his Algerian homeland with modern Western elements. The result is a very attractive mix of Latin dance forms (rumba, tango), the introduction of Western instruments (piano, clarinet) and modern elements with traditional Algerian song for a music of the cabaret. It's the music you were somewhat likely to hear in Casablanca at the cabaret clubs in the mid-century, Rick's American Cafe notwithstanding.

There are songs with more of a traditional element and those more modernized, but throughout this is music that stimulates and entertains as it also fascinates in its early east-west fusion.

I recommend it strongly. Listen for some beautiful vocalizing, some nice oud in the orchestra, some hot east-west clarinet, other excellent instrumentalizing, and the arrangements!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tetuzi Akiyama & Anla Courtis, Naranja Songs

Today something a little different, namely some acoustic guitar duets between Tetuzi Akiyama and Anla Courtis in an album entitled Naranja Songs (Public Eyesore 127).

Forget about what your expectations might be for two acoustics. Akiyama and Courtis give us some very abstract, spatially open, almost Asian meditative new music that I presume involves total improvisation yet has structure born out of a unified vision.

There are four segments, each expressing in distinct ways the myriad sound possibilities available. The first piece, "Mind Mochileros," unwinds like a slow-speed abstract music box, a two-person counterpoint of open exploration that has harmonically expansive consistency. The music haunts quietly yet insistently.

"Springs and Strings" sets up sonic universes opened up by string bowing and "prepared" string pizzicato. Complex texture and timbres are achieved with a harmonic-overtone richness that belies the simple origins in the acoustic guitars involved.

"The Citrico Vibe" works with recurring note patterns that gradually lengthen as a careful attention as always to creating distinctive guitar soundings comes into play. This is restful yet very exploratory, with an acoustic drone ultimately contrasting against multi-note chordal repetitions and open strings recurring in interesting circularities.

"Los Frets Nomades" closes out the album with delicately sounded chordal motives that open out into a panorama of variations on variations while bowed sounds contrast and make complex the overall ambiance. The bowed sounds increase in density and timbral complexity in the end for a soundscaping that offers a fascinating poetic undercurrent of open yet tensile qualities.

I perhaps resort to some somewhat obscure descriptions to try and capture the world this music invokes. It is a sonically pleasing adventure that comes forward into your sound consciousness in ways that have no simple verbal equivalent.

It is experimental guitar music on a very high level. Akiyama and Courtis succeed in reconstructing the two-guitar improvisational setting where others have tried and perhaps not done as well. This is a gently pleasing yet very avant rethinking of guitar acoustics.

Ravishing. A breakthrough!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pete Seeger, Sing Out America! The Best of Pete Seeger

Say what you like about the late Pete Seeger. He did more than anybody to make American folk music what it has been for us in our lifetimes. He was both a popularizer and an authenticist. He could get folk music into the hearts of Americans while at the same time acting in part as America's conscience, as a musical spokesperson for the poor and downtrodden, the victimized, the working man and his plight. And he made the folk song something more than what children sing in elementary school. He was at the forefront of a movement that transformed America, at least for a time but also permanently in the widest sense, made it aware of its musical and folklorish past.

All this is documented and presented in a two-CD set Sing Out America! The Best of Pete Seeger (Dynamic Nostalgia 4931). It amasses live recordings and some studio sessions covering the full spectrum of his career. We get Pete Seeger in his real folk mode--a singer with guitar or banjo. We get some sides with the Weavers, who had considerable success through pop versions of classics that now sound dated but nonetheless were historically important. Sides with the Almanac Singers have a bit more substance and authenticity. Then the best known and no doubt the best here involve Pete as solo artist, covering traditional folk tunes as well known as "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" and those more obscure essentials we came to know in part because of his presence, such as "Johnny has Gone for a Soldier." Then of course there were songs that came to our ears especially via Seeger and might not be known today if it were not for him--Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" for one. He helped paved the way for a country-wide appreciation of Afro-American "folk" music as well.

Hearing today his anti-war, pro-working man, civil-rights oriented anti-racist songs reminds us that he stood for things that in no way put him in the graces of some authorities, yet he prevailed and helped create a movement that followed out of the music. He created a social awareness and changed the musical turf. We perhaps now take it all for granted because it all got assimilated, hit a peak in the later '60s, then somehow got incorporated into the mainstream. Later, more conservative times followed, but the legacy remains and perhaps is more present in our contemporary culture than it has been for decades. I'll leave that to others or myself in a more expansive mode, but we may be on the verge of a folk renaissance.

This is a nice set that gives you a wide view of what he did musically over time. Through it all was Pete Seeger, spirited singer, good banjo and guitar player, and charismatic showman that made you want to sing along! RIP Pete Seeger.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mitch Haupers, Invisible Cities, Original Jazz & Chamber Music

Guitarist-composer Mitch Haupers gives us a nice program of his music on Invisible Cities (Liquid Harmony Music). A good portion of the album is devoted to small group introspective jazz, with Mitch on guitar joined by Bob Mintzer on winds, Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. The other half of the record concentrates on classical chamber works, with added guests that altogether make up a small orchestral chamber ensemble. Both portions of the album work together to give you a full picture of Haupers the artist.

This is Boston-based music. Mitch teaches at Berklee. The jazz sessions are quietly cool with nicely built compositional frameworks and good soloing from all. Haupers has a pristine tone on electric guitar and plays some subtle solos. Mintzer, Pascual and Oles get space to solo, too. The level is high.

For the chamber works Ayn Inserto has arranged the compositions and conducts. Some straddle the jazz-chamber division, being a bit of both. Others are more solidly placed in a classical camp. All are tonal and sophisticated.

Some of it definitely might have been categorized as "third stream" years ago. That term no longer seems as important, because there are so many degrees of intermingling in jazz and classical out there these days that there may be no set norm that could define third stream from its lack. No matter.

The main point here is that Mitch Haupers excels as a very tasteful guitarist and a talented composer in the tonal middle-ground today. The album delights.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Steve Khan, Subtext

Steve Khan is a guitarist who's been everywhere, done just about everything and remains a vital musician. His latest album puts him in the driver's seat of a very hip vehicle. He knows where to take it. We are talking about Subtext (Tone Center 4075 2).

The band has strong roots in Latin jazz and this album reflects it well. There is Ruben Rodriguez on bass, Dennis Chambers on drums, Marc Quinones on timbales, bongos, etc., and Bobby Allende on congas and bongos. Put that together with some choice guests like Randy Brecker who appear nicely here and there, put together soulful Latin arrangements and playing routines, and pick some hip tunes. Then add Steve Khan as the primary solo voice.

That's what is happening here. Steve Khan gives the program good originals. Our recipe is almost complete. Finally, add some gems by Monk, Hubbard, Coleman, Shorter, a standard or two, and let loose.

Khan's guitar styling is the focus and he gives us performances that are very worthwhile. Khan is a great chordalist and he plays bop-blues-rock lines in fine fashion here, as master plectrologist.

This one gives you lots of good music! Recommended!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Johnny Butler, Raise it Up

Saxman Johnny Butler returns with an EP Raise it Up. This is music that works because there is edgy conviction. It's real and comes from the soul. It combines avant jazz, an electricity, rap and hip-hop elements. There's a bit of soul-rap vocalizing. There's a remake of the Bee Gees "Jive Talking" which incredibly does not sound dated. And there is Johnny Butler playing some vigorous sax.

The players are Johnny Butler, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet, production; Kassa Overall, drums; Aidan Carroll, bass on most of the album; and JJ Byars, alto saxophone for one cut.

I dig this one for the high-tension-line thrust, the jolt of big-sound electricity. That's why it's on the guitar blog, because it has push that guitarists who like push will dig. The arrangements strike me as well worth your ear attention.

It's cool. You can get it at Bandcamp.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring

I've followed the piano-bass-drums trio The Bad Plus more or less from their beginning. They have pioneered what a trio such as theirs can do as an ensemble, aside from the obvious of improvising keenly and sensitively, which they also do. They have done some daring things in their existence, but I suppose the very most daring thing is what they have done recently. That is, to recreate Stravinsky's iconic "Rite of Spring" for a trio (Sony Music Masterworks). Bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King set out to do this and succeeded nicely. The challenge was to be true to the essence of the score yet transform it to the trio setting.

That they do. It is a triumph, no doubt a very difficult thing to work out between the three of them and then proceed to execute, which they do with the drive the music demands.

Honestly, as nicely done and as difficult as the piano part was and is, I found myself listening more to the bass and drum parts especially closely. The two-piano versions of the "Rites" as I believe transcribed by Stravinsky himself gives you the jolt of a piano-only rendition and it has been available in recorded form for some time. So this Bad Plus version does not (for me anyway) really pack the wallop-shock of the piano sound. However, there is nothing as obvious about what the bass and drum parts might be. The point of course is how the trio works together. The rhythm section rises to the occasion by coming up with some very excellent parts. Reid Anderson's bass part alone is a treat to follow.

So that's why I put this disk on the "Guitar and Bass Review" blog.

Should a "jazz" group be permitted to take such liberties? I don't imagine such a question makes any sense anymore. Of course! Is it jazz? Who cares what it is! It may not be jazz. It does not matter because the hearing is the confirmation that this is valid, and in fact exciting. They do full justice to the Stravinsky work, though it is a very different experience of course as a jazz trio piece. Improvisation is not the thing here. Stravinsky's music is. I can't see any reason not to go and grab a copy, if you are so inclined.

The Bad Plus do the very difficult and make it seem like the very natural thing to do! That is an achievement. They are musical heavyweights. Bravo.