Friday, March 6, 2015

George Van Eps, Once in Awhile, with Eddie Miller and Stanley Wrightsman

Every so often you catch up with a player who you never paid much attention to but it turns out is very worth hearing. Such a one turns out to be George Van Eps, a guitarist of the swing era who favored the chordal style of soloing. A reissue of the sides he made for Jump in 1946 and 1949, Once in Awhile (Jump 12-06, Delmark), turns out to be a real winner, both for Van Eps' tasteful guitar and his swinging sidemen.

With him throughout is the relatively unsung tenor saxist Eddie Miller, who sounds pretty great here, a kind of cross between Lester Young and Bud Freeman. Then there's the totally unsung pianist Stanley Wrightsman, who plays swingingly in a more-or-less Teddy Wilson bag.

Including alternate takes there are 25 selections on the reissue. A bass player joins the trio for a couple of numbers, a drummer for a couple, but mostly it's just the trio. You get a close look at the Van Eps style, which is quite involved and great to hear. And I must say Eddie Miller holds my interest too with his odd combination of vibrato and straightforward Lester-like purity. Wrightsman is nothing to sneeze at either.

The three combined give you some very classic sounding swing. This is music that delights from a guitarist you can learn much from. It makes me smile, the whole thing.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nick Millevoi and Dead Neanderthals, Dietary Restrictions

Until now I did not know Dead Neanderthals, a Dutch free jazz duo of Otto Kokkee on sax and Rene Aquarius on drums. Guitarist Nick Millevoi I most certainly do know, a free electric guitarist who does well by reveling in skronky anarchy. Type his name in the search box above for what I have reviewed of his here.

The three did a European tour in 2013. They are captured live in DIY sound in Berlin on the EP Dietary Restrictions, which was available as a cassette that is apparently sold out, but you can get a DL at Bandcamp.

This is full-out free anarchy with honks, squeals, tumbling drums, feedback and super-skronk guitar aggression. It may give some folks a headache. But if you are like me it is an out extreme you can very much appreciate if you put yourself in the mood.

There's 30 minutes of grand intensity here, just enough for the hard-core enthusiast to bang the head with.

It's not for the timid ear! But it IS very over-the-top in a nice way.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Chuck Berry, The Complete Chess Singles As & Bs, 1955-61

Anybody who knows the history of rock knows how central Chuck Berry was in the development of the music. And in the beginning, it was the singles that people heard. They remain central to an appreciation of his art and the impact it had, both in the US and in England.

So the new, specially priced 2-CD set, The Complete Chess Singles As & Bs, 1955-61 (Acrobat Music 3122), is especially important and revealing. You get the big hits "Maybelline," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music" and such, but you get B-Side gems like "Reelin' and Rockin'," "Around and Around," and "Memphis, Tennessee." There are blues and r&b numbers, guitar instrumentals, and a few minor things that remain fascinating. Back then the rock listeners were far more likely to purchase 45-rpm singles than albums. This is what they heard.

And if you know the British Invasion and what the Stones and Beatles (along with others) did to revive Chuck's stature after his prison experiences and the temper of the time began to favor white crooners and less vital pop, you get a bird's eye (or rather ear) view of the music that the next generation of rockers had imbibed. It's incredible just how many of the songs on this set were covered by rock bands in the '60s. I can count much more than half. And rather than the Pat Boone insipid lameness that white '50s covers of things like "Tutti Frutti" entailed, the British and American bands covered Berry with a mostly real understanding and fire, so that his career took off anew and his reputation grew to a new peak that never diminished.

So to hear these original tracks now is crucial to an understanding of it all and how revolutionary was his sound. Of course the guitar style he introduced became fundamental. He combined blues guitar with r&b shadings and came up with his very own way. Listen to it develop as the chronological sequence of the tracks nicely allow. His vocals were just as important. His occasional near rap rapid signifying patter hit the music world like a storm. And he had real soul that along with Little Richard set the vocal pace for what was to come. Listen to to the bands here. The original sides sound a bit sparse and open with Willie Dixon's upright bass, cats like Otis Spann playing a LOT of piano and Fred Below slapping a back beat that left no doubt where the rocking was going. By the later years of this period, there was a fuller sound that often included rhythm guitar and electric bass. Of course that sound carried over into rock afterwards, but the early sound had bluesier roots, a feel that Chess sides generally favored in the early days.

In all this is an essential document for all rock-rooted students. You can learn much from Chuck's guitar playing, the sound of the bands and of course his classic songs and vocals. The digital transfers sound good, so there's no reason to hesitate on this one. Essential.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Soft Machine, Switzerland 1974, with Allan Holdsworth

The legendary Soft Machine could hardly be said to have gone "soft" by 1973. Quite the contrary. Yet when guitarist Allan Holdsworth joined the band that year it gave the group a big boost and added a decidedly articulate new voice into the mix. They had up until then managed to carve a most distinctive sound by placing keyboard wizard Mike Ratledge into at times the role of the guitar soloist in the band and it worked very well indeed. Yet after seven albums and a great deal of wonderful music, there was a point where someone of the extraordinary caliber of Holdsworth, a one-in-a-million guitarist of genius, would give the band another sound shading and provide some new life. So they were fortunate that Allan was available and set about creating a new repertoire, much of which was included in their eighth album Bundles, another milestone recording for the Softs that was timely and of course well-received.

In the band at the time was Mike Ratledge, the only remaining original member, along with piano-saxman Karl Jenkins, bassist Roy Babbington and the potent John Marshall on drums. In tandem with Holdsworth they had a great deal of depth and versatility. Bundles showed that very much.

Now we have the treat of hearing the band live at Montreux, on the previously unreleased Switzerland 1974 (Cuneiform Rune 395/396) in a combo CD and DVD package.

The sound is pristine, the music complex and energized, and Holdsworth most definitely at his best. What's fascinating is that Allan had very much the fleet facility of his mature days, yet his sound is rather different, not as violin-like as in later years. That gives you another take on what he is playing and no the less interesting for it.

The music has it all and the band by then was in top form.

Of course you should have Bundles if you are a serious student of jazz-rock and fusion. But this live date has the spontaneous looseness and fire you get less of in the studio. The rhythm section kicks it hard, Ratledge and Babbington weave magic, and Allan Holdsworth gives notice to the world that he is a world-class player.

Very much recommended!

Copy this url into your browser to stream a nice excerpt:

Monday, March 2, 2015

Jim Hall, It's Nice To Be With You, Jim Hall in Berlin, Reissue, 1969

Jim Hall in some ways resembles Bill Evans. An uncritical ear may at first miss what is exceptional in his playing, because strictly surface-wise it all "sounds nice." In my early years of listening to much strident and heavy music and its association with my generation and outlook, I associated "nice" with my father's era and for a time missed some of the more subtle players. Not for years, but then.

Jim Hall's guitar playing is a special thing. Yes it is often quiet and harmonically pleasant. But then you start to get what's going on underneath the surface. That's true of the welcome reissue of It's Nice to Be with You, Jim Hall in Berlin (MPS 0209730) the first in what I hope are many rounds of MPS reissues. This one incredibly was only his second solo release at the time. There were far more later. Nonetheless it goes some way in reminding those now and then of the real artistry of his electric guitar style.

The premises are straightforward: Jim and his electric guitar by itself (overdubbed for harmony and lead parts) and Jim with a good trio of Jimmy Woode on bass and Daniel Humair, drums. They cover three Hall originals, some standards and the pop hit of the time "Up, Up and Away."

The subtle mastery of Hall is very much out front; beautifully singular voicings and very inventive line weaving are the order of the day. And that special soft sound.

It is a treasure of guitar sublimity. But that was Jim on most occasions. It is great to have this out again. I don't remember seeing this at record shops in the States then, so it is doubly good to have it readily available now. Jim was one of the greats. He shows us why here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

John Wetton, Richard Palmer-James, Jack-knife & Monkey Business Reissue

John Wetton came to my attention (and those who followed such things) as the replacement for departing bassist-vocalist Greg Lake during King Crimson's second phase. His vocals and songwriting, along with his bass playing, gave the band a second life much in keeping with the direction Fripp favored in those days. Later of course Wetton became a key member of UK and Asia.

Throughout the period and after has been a long association with lyricist-guitarist Richard Palmer-James, beginning from their schooldays in 1962 and continuing apace. We have some of the best fruits of that collaboration with two of their albums re-released and packaged as a special 2-CD set, namely Jack-knife (1978) and Monkey Business (1972-1997) (Primary Purpose 001).

Jack-knife is nothing to sneeze at, with its eclectic collection of blues classics done prog-style and originals. But the second album Monkey Business fascinates me a good deal more, a kind of scrapbook of demos, alternate versions and the songs King Crimson were working on when the band came to an abrupt halt, ending the second phase in 1974.

We get some excellent prog rock in various stages of completeness but all with a spark of immediacy, some music very familiar from Crimson (and UK and Asia), others not as much, but all fascinating. We get different versions of "Easy Money," "The Laughing Lake," "Starless," and much else besides.

It will bring back a period for those who originally experienced it, but it is good music anyway for those who didn't.

This may not get to those not enamored with prog in its prime period, but for others it will be most memorable and absorbing.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Toulouse Engelhardt, Mind Gardens

For contemporary acoustic guitar soloists who have established their own distinct style of playing, we can think of Gary Lucas, John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Ralph Towner. All have laid down their own original turf to create vibrant music that to varying degrees draws upon folk styles, country blues and/or classical guitar influences.

To that list we can add Toulouse Engelhardt, based on his recent solo album Mind Gardens (Lost Grove Arts 1008). "13 Novelties of Space, Time and Contemplation" is how the album cover describes the music. It fits. Other than one duet for guitar and alto flute this is an all-solo affair.

Toulouse plays six- and twelve-string guitar with the sort of flourish one expects of someone worthy of such lengthy display. I like the way he voices chords especially. He gets some beautiful, bright, resonant sounds by doing such things and it is great to hear. He can also pick out very well on chords-melodies in interesting ways that may remind a bit of Kottke but as an extension, not a copy.

It is music that washes over you in most pleasing ways, yet for the guitar conscious he is doing something that's worth attending to. Check out his nice version of the Shaker hymn "'Tis A Gift to Be Simple" if you want to hear his very creative way with something familiar.

This is good. Very, very good. Acousticians take note!