Friday, March 27, 2015

Benjamin Duboc, Alexandra Grimal, le retour d'Ulysse

Synchrony works in unpredictable ways. No sooner have I appreciated soprano-tenor voice Alexandra Grimal on a duet album for Ayler Records (see Gapplegate Music Review article published this month) than she is back again very prominently and nicely, in duet with avant bass-master Benjamin Duboc, on a two-cd set le retour d'Ulysse (Improvising Beings ib32).

This outing has the free jazz element out front, with plenty of space for both players in tandem and in themselves. I've been digging Benjamin Duboc for a while now--and you may note I named his solo album the bass offering of the year last December (see December 2014 listings). Alexandra I am really getting into as well now. The pairing of the two is good for them both and good for us, the listeners.

They give us a full-blown free program with the accent on spontaneous combustion. Both are hearing and playing with close focus and the results are rather magical. It's primo, no bs jazz declamation.

And for that it is exemplary for what a reedwoman and a bassist can do when let loose. Alexandra has arrived. Benjamin sets a place beside himself and they dig in with gusto!

Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Barry Guy, Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett, EP LP

Anyone who knows the scene knows that Barry Guy is one of the very foremost bass artists on the contemporary avant improv jazz horizon. He has been for years. No one can touch his sound footprint, whether bowing, pizzicato or utilizing a mix of sound production techniques.

A solo EP LP is available by Barry, called Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (No Business EP 02). It was recorded in an ambient cathedral in 2009. The five improvised movements show an extroverted Barry pulling out all his resourceful creative sound-producing abilities. Harmonics, a sort of rattling ambience, smears of multi-articulated sonics, playing below the bridge, you-name-it, he goes there in effective artistic ways. Even just Barry doing pizz gives you his signature, but he is everywhere on this one.

He pulls it all together in a 15-20 minute tribute to the great 20th-century writer.

If you have even the slightest interest in the avant contrabass you will find this one rewarding and satisfying. It is indispensable listening. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Junior Wells, Southside Blues Jam, with Buddy Guy, Otis Spann, Louis Myers

When one of the very greatest Chicago blues recordings arrives at your door, and you already know that because you had the LP, it is cause for joy.

I refer to Junior Wells and his album Southside Blues Jam (Delmark 628). Junior was an artist who had major label exposure by the time he waxed these sides in Delmark's studio in 1969-70. The big labels expected some blues "product" and chart success. Delmark was glad to record him again, because they dug him. They liked it when has was doing the blues the way he'd do it at the Southside clubs, raw, soulful, every song a story that is meant to communicate right to YOU. There is Junior on vocals and harp, the two-guitar punch of Buddy Guy and Louis Myers, the piano of Otis Spann, Earnest Johnson on bass and Fred Below on drums.

The CD has alternate takes and extra cuts, and they all add to the cumulative impact of this direct assault on your blues soul. Junior is inspired and very loose, Buddy and Otis and the rest are totally there commenting and participating musically and otherwise, and damn if this isn't music that still sounds just as great, just as true, just as real and just as blue as it ever did.

The blues will never die when there's trouble in your life. I listen now after losing one of my best friends a week ago. He loved this album and his troubles did not last always, because, hey, sometimes you just die. That's the truth of the blues, that it might get better but in the end there is an end to it. Sometimes you are gonna be "walkin' from the bottom of the floor," as Junior sings it. Sometimes you aren't wanted in the very neighborhood you call home. And what do you do? You give out with every drop of feeling in concentrated blues form. And you tell that "old man" Mayor Daily he needs to KNOW about the blues. Yeah. He did.

That is what this is. It is so honest and true that it hits you like a Mack truck. Otis and Buddy pour it on and Junior gets truly worked up into a frenzied passion. You don't imitate this because this is IT. This is the thing that cannot be made into product. Because it's so damned real.

Just get it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Paul Elwood, Nice Folks

What a world we live in today, musically. Literally anything can be combined and is. And sometimes that combination is so successful as to take you very much by surprise, even by shock. Take Paul Elwood's Nice Folks (Innova 903). It is the sort of thing you first put on and the eyebrows start going up. After a while you are mumbling, WTF?! Or at least that was my reaction.

Paul Elwood wrote and arranged most of the music. He plays the five-string banjo and does it well. Neither like Bela Fleck on one end of things or Brandon Seabrook on the avant side, Paul goes his own way, having absorbed old-style playing as well as Scruggs claw-hammer picking style. He can take it way out or go string band traditional and all in the context of a large ensemble and vocal group. The Art Ensemble's Famoudou Don Moye is the drummer here and he is perfect. He KNOWs how to go everywhere at once and so is ready for the everything that comes, and he does his usual wonderful job putting something very Famoudou into the mix.

Paul and Kelsey Shiba are the principal vocalists. The band is eight people, Paul and Don, electric guitar, trombone, reeds and so forth. The band goes everywhere from string band to rock to avant jazz to old timey jazz, sometimes all at once.

And it works! It really does. There is a humor and seriousness that makes everything pop. And even if you weren't ready for this, you give it a chance and, wow, this is a real-deal hybrid that is bizarre but seriously good!

I am in awe. But you'd have to listen a few times with open ears and you'd get what I am getting. I can't give you more words because the telling is in the sound! Whew!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Grip Weeds, How I Won the War

There are bands out there today, some very good, that somehow channel early psychedelia-song form and make it new. The Grip Weeds are one. Their album How I Won the War (Jem MVD7134A) shows you how.

They have that two-guitars, bass and drums heated proficiency, good tunes and vocals that are there. They do a good job with George's "The Inner Light," which is not easy to do w/o the Indian instruments. And their own songs have something to them that makes you glad they are around.

I won't say they sound like anybody in particular--they sound like everybody back then only they don't. And they are very well rehearsed. The Smithereens might come to mind as far as good things done well go.

If you like that kind of thing--like I do--then this one will give you definite kicks!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sour Grapes, Jeff Platz, Jim Hobbs, Luther Gray, Timo Shanko

Some albums get heard once, I listen and know they are "good," I file them in sequence for further listening and review and then subject myself to further bombardment from 100s of albums until it is time for the more detailed listens and review. It is sometimes in that final phase that I realize that "good" is really very good indeed. Such a sleeper I post on today. In the final phase of listening I came to appreciate the music much more greatly than on initial hearing. That is the album Sour Grapes (Glitch 003) a Boston session featuring Jeff Platz, Jim Hobbs, Luther Gray and Timo Shanko.

It is a rough-and-tumble quartet of real strength. Jeff Platz is on electric guitar, Jim Hobbs plays alto, Luther Gray does the drumming and Timo Shanko is on electric bass.

This is open-form freedom of a very electric avant jazz-rock sort. Everybody works together here to come up with exceptional sound mixes that are more than a sum of the parts, though the parts themselves are no joke either.

Bassist Timo makes a big contribution to the sound with both a rhythm anchorage and as a colorist-soloist in the mix. He blends very well with the outstanding guitar outness of Jeff Platz, who is all over the place with very outside hipness that has percussive crack as well as a fine way with a line and harmonic good avant sense. Jeff comes through monstrously well. Jim Hobbs on alto gets some scorching work into the four-way. And Luther Gray outdoes himself spanning the space between rocking, swinging and bash freedom--and that is perfect for what is needed.

I can't begin to describe this music--except to say it is very much a situation where all four are mutually attuned and say something strong, strongly electric, strongly outside, strongly fired up, yet at times too, very subtle.

Guitarists and bassists need to hear these two stringers work together, but it is a quartet where everybody puts in the smarts, their creativity and their free-spirit muses.

If you respond to creative electric outness you should not miss this one. Whooo!

And so the end of the week is here. I hope to return with my blogs Monday but I may be forced to exit the stage for a while. The posts are all going to stay up but my fate is unclear. Live well, fare well, and prosper. And RIP Mr. Spock.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Milford Graves & Bill Laswell, Space / Time Redemption

Any two accomplished artists with an open-form approach should be able to get together and make significant music. It gets more involved and harder as you add more and more players, maybe, but two should get something good together without necessarily doing an extensive working-through. That sometimes that doesn't work out is a product of almost infinite possibilities, the one central one perhaps is that it's just not a good day for one or both.

That certainly isn't the case with the confluence of two masters, Milford Graves & Bill Laswell, and their album Space / Time Redemption (TUM 040). It is an interesting pairing on many fronts anyway. Milford Graves is one of the avant-free innovators of our time. Ever since his pairing up with ESP new thing ensembles and his seminal duo with percussionist Sonny Morgan for that label he has stood out as one of the most inventive creative free drummers alive. Bill Laswell comes out of a more electric environment, but he too has given voice to the electric bass as distinctively in his own way as Milford has recreated for himself the orchestral drum kit. Laswell's work with Material and you-name-it has established him as a voice, an electric bassist with his own sure way.

So it turns out that Space / Time Redemption is an especially fruitful pairing. Milford always comes through with very creative, very musical, very original drumming and he sounds better than ever on this one. There is the way he phrases that comes at you in such an open yet deliberate way that anyone playing within his orbit can be sure that what they do will meet with a musical response. Bill Laswell is the kind of bass player who with his deeply evocative sound born of attack and electricity sounds completely sufficient and full as the only strictly melodic instrument on a date like this. The space he has to work within he uses in the most musical and impressively articulate ways.

Master of percussive sound Graves is not to be missed here. He opens up a rhythmic and melodic space as only he can, never fast for its own sake or bashing for its own sake, but always very controlled in sound and attack, always lyrically forceful in that special fanfarish style of his. Laswell responds with the full spectrum of single noting, octave and chordal multi-stops, harmonics and a musical logic that meshes especially well with what Milford does.

Two masters in top form. They never sound undirected or uninspired. They give us an open-ended inventiveness that has focus from start to finish. Excellent! This is a must for those who are students of new electric bass styles and drum freedom mastery. And it is a gas to listen to!