Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lumen Drones, Nils Økland, Per Steinar Lie, Ørjan Haaland

The only thing constant is constancy. Modern music-makers, if they are sincere about their art, find a personal aural space to dwell in and make something of. The creators may change their style over time, but each slice of time-music has a something that expresses the time we live in as it expresses something of the music-makers themselves as artists.

That was brought home to me once again with a release I recently received in the mail, Lumen Drones (ECM B0022099-02). It is a threesome playing music they dub "psychedelic drone." Well, that it is, just not anything generic in that mode.

The threesome consists of Nils Økland on the Hardanger fiddle, Per Steinar Lie on guitars, and Ørjan Haaland on drums. The latter two have been part of a post-rock outfit, The Lower Frequency in Stereo. Nils is known for his fiddle mastery. He appeared as guest on Lower Frequency's album Futuro in 2008. One thing led to another and in 2010 the three played together as a unit as part of a concert to benefit Haitian earthquake victims in 2010.

The result was that the three began getting together on a regular basis, jamming. The results were singular, with a drone psychedelic ambiance that mixed with the folk qualities of earlier folk drone music.

Lumen Drones, the self-titled album that is their first together, is the initial offering. It is what it is advertised to be, but with such an ambience and rootedness that it ends up becoming a genre of one at this point. All three contribute importantly as individual musicians, yet the totality is very much a combinatorial mix.

And that mix is a delight. I would hardly call it psychedelic light, unless by that is meant luminosity, for there is light in this music, filtered by the haze of being, dappled by the play of leaves in the wind, shifting yet constant. Yet it is not precisely "heavy," so "light" exists here also in the sense of capable of being airborne, floating above the density of our humdrum everyday existence.

Drones and the wash of ambient play is taken to heart by the three and embodied in their personal statement of what they do right now. And it is good. Very good.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Cellar & Point, Ambit

The Cellar & Point is a "garage chamber" DIY group headed by Joe Branciforte on drums and Chris Botta on guitar. They show some very fascinating progressive ways on their recent album Ambit (Cuneiform). They make notable use of the studio to create a sound that sometimes reminds a little of Zappa's later synclavier works in the combination of new music, rock and jazz elements, but not so much an imitation as a lineage affiliation. They bring in some very capable group members in guitarist Terrance McManus, violinist Christopher Otto and cellist Jack McFarland (both members of the JACK quartet), vibraphonist Joe Bergen (founding member of the Mantra Percussion ensemble) and studio bassist Rufus Philpot.

They do some hefty avant rock covers of Ligeti and Webern as well as compositions of their own, both very advanced and driving. They get a sound that is of their own make, distinctive yet in the edgy new prog avant zone. There are some very hip guitar solos, some combustible drumming and much ensemble uncanniness that keeps your ears on full alert at all times.

Some of the music has an ever-shifting accent-meter funkrocking with layered ensemble patterns and variations. But everything they do has not only credibility but real brilliance.

Anyone who digs the new music-avant rock nexus will find this a beautiful example. I once again am impressed with Cuneiform's continued commitment to that netherland of music between borders that shows us the health and forward moving nature of new electricity.

Kudos to Cellar & Point!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Led Bib, The People in Your Neighborhood

For their 10th anniversary Led Bib has come out with two simultaneous releases, one the limited edition LP The Good Egg, which was covered here several weeks ago (see the post listings to click on that), and another full-fledged CD we turn to today, The People in Your Neighborhood (Cuneiform).

This latter one is a blockbuster, with intricate compositional substantiality conjoined with full-throttle performatives. They kick it good, in short.

It hit me listening to this one that really what we have is music in the jazz-rock hardness tradition of mid-period Soft Machine, only extended with originality. The keys and bass give the electricity to it all, the drums launch the music into orbit, and the horns both have compositional importance and kick-out-the-jams solo presence.

This band is serious! The LP got my attention; the CD got my allegiance. I am forsworn now as a Led Bib fan. That's how contentful and exciting this music seems to me. All prog jazz-rock listeners and players need to check this one out. Enough, except a happy tenth anniversary to these folks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jalilah's Raks Sharki, Stage Cuts, Modern Egyptian Dance Music

If you know the music of the mid-east well enough, you do not need to be told that Egypt has a fine tradition of mid-eastern large band music (Oum Kaltsoum's band comes to mind) that when done well is irresistible. The bands of this sort have a vibrant percussion section, an oud or two and other plucked stringed instruments, perhaps a piano and string bass, reeds and a flute perhaps, and a violin section. Then of course there is usually a lead vocalist or two and backup singers.

If it is the real thing there is the traditional tuning of the orchestra which differs slightly from standard Western tuning. And the arrangements are highly developed.

A modern updating of this sound that keeps to the essentials of the style in exciting ways can be heard on the recent album by Jalilah's Raks Sharki. The album is called Stage Cuts.

It has all the elements described above and a pronounced rhythmic underpinning that makes it very much music for dance (but no, it sounds nothing like disco or the modern equivalent).

This is excellent music that brings out all that makes the style a joy to hear. It grooves like nothing else quite does.

Get with this one!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Focus, Golden Oldies

If you were there, then you probably still are. I refer to 1971-2 when the Dutch group Focus hit the FM airwaves with their prog-metal classic "Hocus Pocus." It was a song pretty ubiquitous (everywhere) then. I must say I liked it well. Time went by and I all but forgot the impact that the song had on us, many of us.

The band went on to do more excellent prog-metal things but I was preoccupied more with jazz and new music so I missed much of it. The band went its separate ways in 1978, but reformed in the new millennium. Guitarist Jan Akkerman was gone but original member organist-flautist Thijs van Leer was on hand with a quartet that included Menno Gootjes on guitar, who turns out to be quite good.

This year the newly constituted band re-recorded their biggest hits from the original days, Golden Oldies (Island Out of Focus Records), and I've been listening. Of course "Hocus Pocus" is there along with eight other gems.

I must say that the band sounds great, the songs still come across as vital and this all makes for a corkingly good album.

The sound is vivid and the band cranks it out like yesterday was today, which in some ways it still is. I recommend this one if you were there or even if you were not. It's excellent music.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Steve Tallis, The First Degree

Australian blues-rock-alt institution Steve Tallis returns with a very strong effort on The First Degree (Zombi Music 7). Steve made a few acoustic oriented albums in the past few years (type his name in the search box above for the review posts on those) but he returns to an electric hardness on The First Degree, which comes across with a blues-rock heft that works extraordinarily well.

Steve has a heavily underscored voice that comes in part out of Chicago lineages and Captain Beefheart. But it is only an affinity and a rooted thing--because the music is very much Steve's, as is the ultimate sound. He has his regular trio on hand, Steve doing the vocals and the electric guitars, Skip McDonald on electric bass, organ and backup vocals, and Evan Jenkins on the drums.

There is a lyrical directness that is poetic but hard edged. Steve Tallis sings of love won and lost, longing and tough times, all which gives the music a soulful quality that the music amplifies. There are some hard rocking riff tunes, some urban blues influenced kickers and some metal-meets-classic Chess records mixes.

It is all very much on the mark. Songs, vocals and electric instrumentalisms all come together to produce what one might call a Steve Tallis masterpiece. It belongs up there with important rock releases of the year, no question. If you don't know Steve Tallis, and you probably should, this is the place to start. If you like the transient zone between metal and classic electric blues, this album covers it to a "tee"! In its very own way.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Led Bib, The Good Egg

I am playing catch-up again today, getting some space to cover an LP-only release by the avant rocking UK-based jazz improv outfit Led Bib. The Good Egg (Cuneiform) starts and finishes in high gear. They are a band with a manic energy that only lets up for a few quiet moments and you don't want it any different once you get on their wavelength.

The band consists of bandleader Mark Holub, drums; Pete Grogan, saxophone; Chris Williams, saxophone; Liran Donin, double bass and Toby McLaren keyboards/piano. Donin's very strong double bass and the highly electrical jolt of the music gives everything a rather heavy patina in common with avant prog-rock yet there is the freedom and solo jolt of avant jazz.

The music was recorded at two different live venues and gives you the kinetic charge a good live session should have. Chris Williams wrote one of the numbers; Mark Holub the rest of them. They are intricate and driving springboards for a good deal of together reed work and some prominent keys. The bass-drums rhythm team has clout and creative thrust.

If an electric charge in open avant jazz-rock is something you dig this album gives you all of that and some distinctive ways of going about it all that sound great after a few listens.

Recommended!