Thursday, May 5, 2016

Spiderwebs, In Between the Known and the Unknown, with Sandy Ewen

OK space cadets--here is a vigorous wash of cosmic guitars, the three-member Spiderwebs group and their outward bound album In Between the Known and the Unknown (Chiastic Society >x< 04).

What is it? A three-way avant venture by guitarists Sandy Ewen, Tom Carter and Ryan Edwards. This is a tapestry of feedback, avant skronk guitar soundings and reverberant envelopes of layered ambiance.

Four substantially involved segments appear before us, the first a collaboration of Tom and Ryan, the second Sandy and Ryan, the third Sandy and Tom and the long finale all three in tandem.

It is music that is the logical emergence and evolution of guitar atmospheric trends first set by Hendrix and Sharrock and brought to where we are now via Bailey, Frith, Fripp and etc.

This one succeeds by virtue of a cavernous attention to sonic sculpting, an ensemble-oriented devotion to detailed resonant psychedelics, and the rightness of the individual creative choices made by each member of the threesome.

It has noise elements, drones and overlaying metallic explosiveness, a sensitive openness to the avant possibilities of the electric guitar on the modern fringes of expansion.

I find it beautiful, provocative, musically rich, and cosmically far beyond. Kudos!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lauren Lee and Charley Sabatino, Velocity Duo, Dichotomies

From the artistic "Downtown" energy force of present-day New York comes the talented Velocity Duo--vocalist Lauren Lee and bassist Charley Sabatino--and their album Dichotomies (self released). Lauren is a very musical, wordless vocal force with a wide vocabulary of intervallic possibilities, timbres and spontaneous line-creating acumen. Charley Sabatino is an upright bass player that matches Lauren in his spontaneous bass-sounding presence and inventiveness.

The two together decided to launch each segment with a word and its opposite, to make that the basis for their utterly free creations. So we get "Tranquility/Cacophony," "Awe/Melancholy," "Apathy/Desire" and "Disappointment and Joy," as a few examples. The idea here was to give the duo springboards to reach a variety of free destinations, and it succeeds well.

There are no moments of running in place, of searching for inspiration. Each is completely attuned to the other and rather confidently embarks on each brief free journey in ultra-musical ways.

Bassists, vocalists and music appreciation hounds will all find this album a fascinating foray into total spontaneity. These two have something to say and they do say it! Very recommended.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Janis, Little Girl Blue, DVD of the Film by Amy J. Berg

I grew up and came of age in the later '60s. Of course there was no way I did not know of the huge talent and big voice of Janis Joplin. I loved her but I also had some misgivings about how she was packaged and presented. "The next Bessie Smith?" Well that helped us get into Bessie Smith's beautiful recordings but no, she was NOT that. What bugged me about her life and death as it was packaged for me, something I could not quite put my finger on at the time, is beautifully clarified in the Amy J. Berg film, Janis, Little Girl Blue, which is now available as a nicely packed DVD with some extras (MVD Visual 8304D).

It has a real handle on, yes, the career-bio track of Janis, but it also delves deeply into the very personal side of her life, who she was, way down inside. So we get extremely relevant footage of recollections by those who knew her well (those still alive anyway), like her sister, bandmates, boyfriends/girlfriends/lovers, etc.

And we get all the dazzle of her meteoric, spectacular rise to world fame at a time when perhaps more people in the world were stoned than ever before or since, and if you were there and remember anything about it, or if you were on the fringes of it and mostly observed, being very stoned did not necessarily give you insight into others around you so much as it heightened a sense of self (-in-putative world). With so many very stoned people surrounding her, her real needs were less understood, maybe. But Amy Berg nails it in terms of what her very sympathetic documentary uncovers on the "real" Janis Joplin.

She was a very intelligent and very musical woman whose youth and early adulthood were not extraordinarily conducive to who she was. She was taunted as a sort of misfit in high school, not at all the center of the universe that she perhaps later became for a very few years. It had lasting effects on her. But when she discovered she could SING, really sing, it changed everything. Suddenly she was not only accepted, but welcomed. The freak scene was opening up in San Francisco. She eventually managed to hook up with Big Brother, a not entirely talented psychedelic band that nonetheless gave her a platform to develop into a rock singer of great power. As a woman then, she was given a role as the showcase vocalist, but in those days especially it was rare for a woman to get involved directly in the creation-composition-bandsmanship and she did not really, happy enough to be idolized for her vocalisms. And perhaps in the end there wasn't enough in the way of co-creators, especially in the end, to help her develop into what she was in potential....

At the same time the over-the-top drug scene found her greatly involved. It was a time for that. And maybe unlike some others (very debatable anyway) that did little to enhance her art. Plus, deep within she had an enormous need to be loved. The stage performances were in many ways a kind of ersatz communal love experience between herself and her audience, but after the show was over, she seemingly felt ever more alone, or so my take on the movie suggests. The very sensitive being she was could be masked in part by dope and she eventually became seriously addicted to junk. NONE of this was good for her musically and the movie points out how her post Big Brother career was in some ways a caricature of her early brilliance, a self-mimicking of her original energy. I do not know. Being a woman then she was not expected and herself demured from really becoming a musical director and in the hands of the major label etc. she was buffeted about in the search for sales and popularity but left a little stranded as the artist she was in abundance.

The movie gives you the fragile, needy, sensitive being thrown into the circus of the rock world and ultimately, becoming another one of its victims. It is tragic but it also lets you know her much better as a person--her letters, interviews, and indirectly or otherwise, her inner feelings, her experience of an enormous lack juxtaposed oddly with enormous acclaim and success.

It is very sad, in the end. It is beautifully done, surely one of the best rock biodocs I have ever seen!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ferenc Snetberger, In Concert

Who is Ferenc Snetberger and why should we care? To answer that fully is to explain why his first album for ECM, In Concert (ECM 2458), is well worth your attention. To put it simply, Ferenc is a nylon string classical guitar player who, like Ralph Towner before him, has absorbed the classical guitar tradition and applied it to a jazz-structural approach. Unlike Ralph Towner, however, he sounds like Ferenc Snetberger.

There are different elements that go into the Snetberger style. The album at hand gives us eight improvised pieces and a version of "Over the Rainbow." It is just Ferenc, his guitar, the acoustic excellence of producer Manfred Eicher, the very sympathetic aural setting of the Grand Hall of the Liszt Academy in Budapest, and a home audience (Ferenc is Hungarian) of listeners paying close attention and giving interlocking feedback energy to the performer as the best live situations can do.

He is a player of great finesse, a beautiful tone, a compositional and improvisational flair that is very sophisticated, very lyrical, and truly a milestone example of what the classical guitar-jazz guitar nexus can give us today. You first notice in the recital a pronounced flair for working in the Brazilian nylon string jazz idiom. He has great facility and just the right rhythmic approach to make the first part stand out.

But of course there is more. His lyricism may remind you of some of what you expect from ECM guitarists, yet it is also very much in his own right. There is always throughout the recording a feeling that Ferenc knows exactly where he is and where he intends to go. His household growing up gave him much of the Django tradition (he has Roma roots) as well as Jim Hall, Trane and Bird, and then in a kind of epiphany, Johann Sebastian Bach. Hearing Gismondi and Vasconcelos together gave Ferenc another sort of awakening as to possibilities.

The eight part suite that comprises the bulk of the album is dedicated to his home, Budapest. Much of the first sections are improvised, excellently so, before the main theme appears and is expounded upon. The influences and musical epiphanies of his formative period are all there as building block elements but then the end result is cut from whole cloth as the work of a mature, fully formed artist of inspired musical ideas and flawless technique.

I could go on but it is in the close listening that you will get all you need. Ferenc Snetberger is a major artist and this opening salvo of an album makes all that very clear. I suspect we will be hearing a great deal more from him in the coming years. In the meantime this is a very impressive solo album you will not want to miss.

A grand artiste is in our presence!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Julia Vorontsova, Over

Every day I get music in the mail and about half the time I have no idea who the main artist is. That is fun but also challenging, because it leaves me naked, so to speak, with the music and I must trust the winds of fate to bring me good things, though of course that can not always be the case. It surely was though when Russian singer-songwriter Julia Vorontsova and her album Over (Privet Records 01) came into my space.

Julia gives us 13 of her songs, sung in Russian with a straightforward delivery, many sounding very folkish in a Russian way, but with a pronounced folk-rock orientation. Julia plays folk-acoustic guitar that goes with the songs well and Zeke Zima plays some nice electric, or at least I presume that is the division of labor. She is backed by a full band and they sound good.

The liners give a run-down of the lyric contents and they show the feelings and thoughts of someone in an ever-changing world, looking for meaning from the experiences she has lived through. The melodies catch the ear. There is a dark quality to it, a melancholic cast that creates a definite mood.

It is something different for those who look to the world for new folk-rock emanations. Ms. Vorontsova has something going on that is good. You who seek something different will surely find it here. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

David Fiuczynski, Flam! Blam! Pan-Asian MicroJam!

The moment you put Flam! Blam! (RareNoise RNR 062 CD or LP) on you know that you are in for something different. It's David Fiuczynski on fretless and fretted electric guitars, along with a somewhat sizable and unique sonic ensemble that includes Helen Sherrah-Davies on violin (for most of the album), Yazhi Guo on suona (oboe) and Chinese percussion, Utar Artun and Jake Sherman on microtonal keys and conventionally tuned keys, Justin Schornstein on fretless electric bass, Alex "BisQuiT" Bailey on drums and percussion, and for three numbers Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto.

The album is a homage to JDilla and Olivier Messiaen. I do not know JDilla but the Messiaen influence can be heard in the use of bird song as a melodic foundation, though they do it in different and intriguing ways.

The microtonal possibilities coming from fretless guitar, bass and microtonal keys--and also from oboe and violin--give this music a special shimmer. There is also a Chinese and overall Asian (e.g., gamelan, gagaku?) cast to the music.

Put all of that together in the special way they do and you get some of the most interesting and pathbreaking music I've heard so far this year. Fiuczynski's guitar work is remarkable, especially on the fretless, but then everybody makes important contributions in realizing the compositions and in adding improvisational/free touches. This is music that on the surface has a sort of jazz-rock inflection, yet what is added to it puts it in uncharted territory.

I've never heard anything like this before!! It is a startling disk of music that is moving into wonderfully avant, uncharted avant territory.

You must not miss this if you want to keep ahead of it all! Remarkable!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Fernando Huergo, Hashtag

Fernando Huergo is a talented, well grounded five-string electric bassist, composer and bandleader who steps out with a nicely done quintet date of fused Latin-tinged jazz, Hashtag (Zoho 201604).

He is joined by a two-"horn" front line in Yulia Musayelyan on flute and Rick DiMuzio on tenor, both nicely put together with pertinent solos and a projectingly blended compositional twosome. Leo Genovese plays piano and electric piano and has an effective solo presence as well. Franco Pinna straddles the various stylistic parameters with finesse and power as needed.

About half of the pieces are Huergo originals, nicely spun out; the other half are arrangements of some classic Monk ("Evidence"), Shorter ("Infant Eyes"), Mongo ("Afro Blue") and Strayhorn ("U.M.M.G."), generally given a nicely inflected Latin-fuse treatment.

Throughout you bass aficionados get plenty of Huergo's fine bass playing, both solo and in ensemble. He is a player who rewards close attention!

Well and so you will also find this album worthy of your ears in the wider sense. Good players, good material, lots of interesting twists and turns. Thanks to Fernando!