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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Here's something from Finland today. Koutus (SIBA Records SRCD-1015). Harri Kuusijärvi Koutus, to be exact. It's a unique sort of trio featuring Harri and his very accomplished accordion, his unusual compositional sense, plus some excellent realization of guitar parts by Veikki Virkajärvi and precise yet heated drumming from Tatu Rönkkö.

Now I won't even try to tell you what this music sounds like, other than to say it doesn't. The accordion and Harri's composing have the slightest folkish feeling, northern folkishness. There is a melodic bent that makes it sound sometimes like it all would be good in one of those Bergson films or other classic Euro-arty auteur reels. But that is not to say it's background music in any way. It isn't.

It's moody, at times metallic, at other times self-reflexive. The accordion playing alone is worth the price of the ticket. But doing compositional metal too makes it a double-deal, a Dubble-Bubble without the need to break the gum rectangle in two. OK, I've localized and dated myself here. Nonetheless this music stays with you after a while. It's in its own way beautiful. And it lasts longer than a hunk of bubble gum. Much longer.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Dálava, Julia Ulehla, Aram Bajakian

Dálava (Sanasar)? It's a group effort, a most eclectic and unusual combination of Moravian folk songs and New York recombinatory logic. Julia Ulehla prevails on some convincing vocals. Her grandfather collected a good deal of folksongs in the rural Slovácko region of Moravia years ago. The self-titled album is a selection of these songs, arranged for an unusual ensemble of Julia with Tom Swafford and Skye Steele on violins, Shanir Blumenkranz on acoustic bass and Julia's husband Aram Bajakian on electric guitar.

You may think you can imagine what that might sound like, but you could be wrong. It's music that has some avant rock heaviness at times, a new music edge at times and of course the folksiness inherent in the songs. But even then, this isn't something foreordained so much as creatively open and engaging. Some beautiful guitar playing (both metallic and otherwise) and fiddling is to be heard, for example, that you might not expect. And the arrangements are so "downtown" that they will surprise you, even if you think you know "downtown" inside-out.

Julia has singing clout, Aram and the band have a daring approach and when the two combine you get some really rather daring music.

Bajakian has been making some very interesting albums lately (type his name in the search box above) but on this one he, the band, and Julia outdo anything expectable. Startling!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Axel Weiss, Cheryl Pyle, Silent Noise on Saturn

Maybe it's because we are in the thick of the present but it seems to me that there are ever more possibilities in the combination of styles and genres than there were years ago. Noticeably to me, rock has to some extent disengaged itself from the pop parade and taken its place alongside jazz and classical as music more outside the mainstream than previously. You look at the top 20 in pop at any given point now. How many are rock? Much less than 30 years ago. (You might say the same of soul, as compared to hip-hop, but that's another discussion.) So perhaps as a result, there is a continued intermingling of styles happening in all kinds of permutations. I find it interesting.

Turning to today's album we see an example of the confluence of styles. Axel Weiss and Cheryl Pyle join together for Silent Noise on Saturn (Intrinsic Records). Cheryl plays flutes here in her own special way; Axel comes at us with a battery of electric and acoustic guitars plus keys and such.

What's especially interesting to me is the spectrum of styles--from free to jamband to bossa and so forth. Each cut sets up its own world, with Cheryl's beautiful tone and cellular improv phrasings. Axel shows great versatility, driving the music from a rock jamband sound to classical, jazz and folkish modes.

It's mood music for your life. But it has tensile strength and gentleness with content that is substantive. It may not be the masterpiece of the century (how many times is that happening, anyway?) but it floats its way into your ears in a very welcoming way.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dylan Ryan Sand, Circa

The renaissance of power trio progressivity must be with us. There are some killer examples out there these days. One of them surely is drummer Dylan Ryan and his Sand (Dylan Ryan Sand) as can be heard on their latest, Circa (Cuneiform). This is fuse-prog with some lively compositional ideas from Dylan and excellent playing from all three members.

Tim Young lets loose on electric guitar, Devin Hoff is something to hear on bass, and of course Dylan is on drums, playing busily in the heat of things but always remaining focused.

The spectrum of moods is wide, from spacey and gentle to hammering jazz metal. It's a group confluence but you get lots of tasteful and hard-edged playing from everybody. Dylan sees the band's signature strengths as "harmonic openness or simplicity, the dramatic or dynamic shifts, the ensemble passages and especially group unison parts."

And I would add that it is how those factors play out with originality that makes this band an outstanding one. Tim's guitar has a through-looseness that is nearly belied by the significance of the lines and chordal patterns he unleashes. Hoff and Ryan are both engaged in original ways too.

Listen to their version of Keith Jarrett's old groover "Mortgage On My Soul" and you'll get what the band is doing straight-off. But then the originals take you further into the heart of what they are about.

It's an excellent go, an essential power trio album of the year for those who want involved, substantial music that still has an edge. Hear it.