Friday, August 29, 2014

Jeremy Wilms, Diamond People

After various stints with Butch Morris, Chico Hamilton and as the guitarist for the Broadway musical Fela!, Jeremy Wilms comes front and center with his first album, Diamond People (self-released). It's a wide-ranging jazz offering with Wilms the composer and the guitarist getting equal attention.

A largish band carries the music, including Tomas Fujiwara and Greg Gonzalez. There are good players here and they get a hearing. The main emphasis is on Jeremy's pieces, which range from straightforward swinging items with the spice of the modern, some outside electric rockers, some Afro-centric folkish numbers, and everything more-or-less in between.

In fact there is so much diversity in this music that one doesn't know what's next. That is not a bad thing, surely. In the end though one can start feeling overwhelmed with a kind of stylistic overload. That is only to say that it takes a number of listens before it all becomes clear, of course.

Similarly Jeremy's guitar work ranges from straight post-bop to the metallic fringes. I might have wished for a bit more of the latter because I like the way he has with it, but this is all about diversity. He is most definitely a good player well worth hearing. Diamond People covers so many bases that in the end you get how all-encompassing he is as writer and player. A promising musical voice can be heard at length. Take a listen!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tigran, Shadow Theater

I'll be honest. I am anyway. I need an assistant. Someone to log in what I get in the mail, who sent it, the date received, my reactions to it and when and then when it's reviewed if it makes it to that stage. Truth is, it's not an assistant I need. I need to keep going the way I am. But I need to thin out the number of CDs I cover just a tad. There are too many good ones coming in, far more than I can process as one person. Nonetheless I am glad for that problem. It is a good sign for the health of music making.

Like today's album, that I like very much. Tigran. Shadow Theater (self-released). It's been waiting patiently to come up in the queue. Now it has. Turns out I love it but WTF? So I go to Tigran's Facebook page. Oh, OK. Tigran Hamasyan. Born in Armenia (ah, that's what I am hearing, that beautifully melodic influence). Plays the keys and composed the songs. He's lived in LA since 2003.

Is this jazz? What do I care? It's beautiful songwriting in a sort of very lyrical progressive mode and maybe it's called jazz because it's so good? But then you get to hear Tigran solo and you get where that is coming from.

I don't care. No guitars here, much. So shoot me. I put it on this blog page because people into songs and guitars and such need to hear it.

Perhaps it does for Armenian roots what Airto did for Brazil? Maybe. But it's more transformative. It has complex parts that cross prog-fuse, minimalism and Armenain lyricism? Yes.

It's very involved and very beautiful music. Grab a copy if you like melodic hipness! I love it! I tell you no lie.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lo'Jo, Cinema el Mundo

Some music is so different that I initially have no idea what to think, or I even prematurely dismiss it. Then sometimes I think about it and come back to hear it again. That happened to me with Lo'Jo and the album Cinema el Mundo (World Village).

I'll admit the first hearing mystified me. OK they sing in French and what they were singing I didn't quite catch. It's a kind of progressive cabaret pop. And I'll be darned if Robert Wyatt doesn't make a guest appearance. It's a sort of very interestingly arranged art song collection.

I looked on the internet to find that Lo'Jo have been around for well more than the Millennial Generation and this is their tenth album. There is a North-Africa-and-beyond influence, but all reworked to a kind of really oddball music. It partakes heartily in world folk musics and has an almost neo-classical sense in the arrangements.

After hearing enough times, I am a convert. I still don't know what this is, but in the end that is meaningless. It's music that sounds well, very well. It's innovative. It cannot be pigeonholed. At times it has an almost psychedelic ambiance, but no, not precisely. I give up.

Listen a bunch of times. You will no doubt be fascinated as I am with this music.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bibi Tanga, Now

From the Central African Republic comes guitarist-singer Bibi Tanga. His album Now (World Village) gives us a nicely different spin on afrobeat-afropop today. There is a song-orientation that works very well via the memorable tunes from the Tanga song trove represented in these grooves.

And there is groove underneath it, plus a social awareness of things in his native homeland that invites comparison to seminal others that came before. Nevertheless this is Tanga doing things his way. His guitar may not often take center stage but he bears close listening in his rhythm-charged playing style. And his vocals are spot-on.

The music covers the spectrum of eclectic soul-infused possibilities, all with a strongly wry twist that makes Bibi Tanga an artist of originality and dynamic presence. This is the first on his own. Before he was a key member of Malka Family and others; he shows us on Now that he is best served up as the main entree.

Good music!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Elektra Kurtis Ensemble Elektra, AFROdite's Smile

I was very happy when Elektra Kurtis send me some of her CDs to investigate. I am equally happy to post this review of yet another, the third I've covered (one is covered here; another is on the Gapplegate Music Review Blog). Here is yet another Ensemble Elektra offering, from 2004, entitled AFROdite's Smile (Milo 107).

As the liner notes for this one spell out, Ensemble Elektra devotes itself to the interrelations of musics from Greece, Egypt and the Middle-East, along with jazz, rock and blues influences. This one succeeds as do the others. There may be a touch more of Elektra's special violin playing to be had on this one, and that is just great because she has a beautiful sound and her own way. But the ensemble remains critical. This version includes Spiros Exaras on electric guitar, Lefteris Bournias on clarniet and ney, Brad Jones on electric and acoustic basses and Reggie Nicholson on drums. Everyone not surprisingly is very capable and each has a good deal to do with the ensemble's special sound.

As is the case on all the albums Elektra's compositions have a special flare and make important use of the capabilities and artistic personalities of the individual members in the creation of the sounds and modalities of the music.

Fusion, yes, but a most particular fusion unique to Elektra and the band. This is another very good outing that has muscle and finesse, great compositional frameworks, Elektra in an outgoing mood on violin, and a band that has power and depth.

This might not be the first album to get of hers, but it is excellent nonetheless.

Hear this one!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics, Cigarros Explosivos

Is there such a thing as punkish Latin? Not that I am expressly aware of. But if there could be such a thing, Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics come close to it on their humorously titled album Cigarros Explosivos. It's a band from Switzerland playing an enigmatic but infectious blend of Cuban son, rock and a bit of Gypsy swagger.

Jaro's guitar is out front and electric in ways that suggest Santana without actually channeling the Carlos way. Jaro goes where he hears it but there is hardness and strength that the Latin rhythms underpin and make for the urge to move your feet. Plus oddly enough there is a psychedelic surf element there, too. But if it works, and it does, who is to judge what belongs together? The artists do ideally. And they do here, certainly.

Instead of bass guitar the trombonist lays down bass lines with an octave divider, as I understand it. It makes things slightly different underneath but the percussion and keys make it all seem inevitable.

The tunes are varied and cool. If you are looking for "true Latin" this is a bit beyond that. They go their own way. If you let loose your expectations, that ceases to become an issue. So relax and let the music do its quirky thing.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mamani Keïta, Kanou

The contemporary world of African music is exploding. Strong traditions unite with electricity lately on a series of albums that are nothing short of extraordinary. We've dealt with several here in the past year and there is another I must tell you about. Mamani Keïta, a fully nuanced singer in the best of African vocal arts traditions, hailing from Mali, has put together a group that combines West African traditional instruments, such as the stringed ngoni (played beautifully by Moriba Koita) and percussion, with the electricity of bass guitar and the spectacularly right-on electric guitar of Djeli Moussa Kouyaté.

All this on her latest album Kanou (World Village).

The combination of the natural bluesiness of the tradition, the call-and-response vocals and the strong groove conjoins with a rock-blues presence that is near irresistible.

Ms. Keïta sings with complete command and authority. The band takes control of the groove in ways that reminds us that musical Africa has always been and remains central to the world's music. In the updated electric versions all the power of tradition remains but the added jolt of modern wattage gives us a new map of what is possible. Highlife was one way that Africa connected with the world, Afrobeat was another. Whatever you may call this new synthesis, when it's done as excellently as it is here, it is calling to us, reminding us of our universal homeland and what has beautifully become of it in music.

Excellent album! Very recommended.