Monday, April 27, 2015

Henry Kaiser & Ray Russell, The Celestial Squid

The pairing of celebrated outside British guitar vet Ray Russell and well-known American string avantist Henry Kaiser turns out to be a terrific idea that bears considerable fruit on their recent album The Celestial Squid (Rune 403).

It is a fully fleshed-out session designed to be a logical extension of Russell's acclaimed June 11 1971, that is, an album that has compositional impact as well as a good helping of out pyrotechnics. It is Kaiser's first album where he shares the lead duties and the kinetic energy of the dual combustion reaps considerable dividends.

The band is a well-chosen one. Steve Adams, Joshua Allen, Phillip Greenlief and Aram Shelton form a four-horn saxophone section, Michael Manring is on electric bass, Damon Smith on contrabass, and Weasel Walter and William Winant supply dual drumming clout.

Steve Adams, Ray Russell, Henry Kaiser, Weasel Walter and Joshua Allen all contribute compositions that give shape to the freewheeling outsideness that catapults Kaiser and Russell into some of their very best work while also giving the entire band opportunities for their collective and individual personalities to shine.

This is neither a one-off casual meeting nor a formulaic exercise. It is a nicely turned, energetic total art offering. There is plenty of Kaiser and Russell to appreciate but there is also a real group effort here. It is pretty fantastic music and I recommend you hear it. Let's also give a tributary nod to Ray Russell who is successfully re-cooperating from surgery and I understand will soon be back in action. May Henry and Ray do another!

In the meantime, get this! It's very good!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Chris Cortez, Top Secret

Mainstream jazz electric guitarist Chris Cortez chimes in with a very nicely put-together session that showcases his guitar prowess against a backdrop of piano, rhythm and horns, the latter nicely arranged by Mark Piszczek, with one by Cortez. The album is called Top Secret (Blue Bamboo 026).

Cortez plays a finely honed bop-and-after guitar that has its roots in Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and George Benson and extends them outwards into a very creative solo style.

The quartet nucleus that functions as the fulcrum point for the music is a swinging concern that has Paul English on piano, who solos well when called upon, Anthony Sapp, Bill Murry or Glenn Ackerman alternatingly on bass, and Vernon Daniels, Robert Aguilar or Joel Fulgham on drums. They all sound right. The horns vary in numbers and personnel but have a good presence on four of the ten numbers; the rest are for the quartet, except for "Stompin at the Savoy," which is a worthy two-guitar duo of Cortez and Greg Petito.

A couple of nice Cortez originals spell the primary reliance on songbook, jazz and contemporary standards, anything from Frank Foster's memorable "Simone," which Elvin Jones's group used to play, to "The Man I Love" and Earth, Wind and Fire's "That's the Way of the World."

The accent is rightly on Cortez and his very fluid, tasteful line-weaving and chordal finesse. He is a model mainstreamer, with plenty of schooling and the talent to make the music snap.

Everything goes right on this one. The arrangements add a nice dimension, the quartet grooves and swings and Cortez shows us what he can do.

Very nice!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Killing Spree

Avant jazz metal? Yes, at least with the debut from an ultra-progressive power trio named Killing Spree, who enjoy their debut on a recent Ayler Records release (143). The lineup is Sylvain Daniel on a very powerfully electric bass guitar, the mercurial Matthieu Metzger on saxophones, often enhanced with effects, and the very busy, driving drums of Gregoire Galichet.

Metzger provides some complicated compositional structures that the band has mastered and made drivingly tight yet free-sounding. Bassist Daniel cranks the bass and often gets a heavily distorted sound that is very virtuoso-oriented and at the same time as heavy as an anvil falling from a skyscraper. He is something to hear, without doubt. But then Metzger plays some startlingly cool sax lines, sometimes heavily effect-laden but continually interesting in their compositional and improvisational brilliance. Galichet kicks the band hard with an excellent, rather devastating drumming that follows the compositional arcs very creatively or just drives ahead with all-out torque.

This is not music for grandma to while away the hours while knitting. It is brash, bold, intense, metal jazz.

And what it is, it is! It is excellently performed and complex and full musically. Any electric bassist who aspires to avant rock excellence needs to hear Daniel on this. But then as a musical whole this one is a knockout all around.

Hang on to your hat and put this one on! Your neighbors may think you mad but you will no doubt be floored by it, if you like music on the edge. I surely recommend it!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mark Wingfield, Proof of Light, with Yaron Stavi and Asaf Sirkis

Electric guitarist Mark Wingfield embarks on his sixth sojourn, Proof of Light (MoonJune 071) with a completely developed conceptual-compositional-improvisational stance and some beautifully realized music. He is aided and abetted by a very together Yaron Stavi on acoustic bass and Asaf Sirkis on drums. The music is astutely put-together fusion that avoids sounding like other such outfits, resolutely going its own way.

Perhaps all that has to do with Mark Wingfield's determination to draw upon untypical roots in his listening. At some point, as is mentioned in the detailed liner notes, he decided to stop listening to other guitarists in order not to be unduly influenced, instead drawing upon classic horn-wind playing and vocal styles as disparate as classical Indian, Qawwali Sufi music, and such artists as K.D. Lang and Betty Carter.

In the end Wingfield's style is his own, fluid, dexterous, beautifully singing and nicely smart in note choice.

The three together engage Wingfield's compositions throughout, which are notably intertwined in the improvisations rather than strictly separated out into only head-solos-head playing routines.

The band is marvelous and the music very engaging. MoonJune Records again does us a real service by making this music available. They are rapidly becoming a cornerstone institution for the fusion music style, doing for that music in a way what Blue Note did for hard-bop and postbop.

It is a great record and I do heartily suggest you get it. Wingfield is a guitarist to hear and the trio makes it all a wonderful listen! Kudos!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Norberto Lobo, Joao Lobo, Oba Loba

Anyone who reads regularly this review blog knows to expect virtually anything and everything that relates to guitar and bass playing, primarily in terms of music that may or may not be virtuoso showcases for artists, but is primarily determined by musical worth and interest.

Today's album is no exception. It is a Portuguese compositional ensemble headed by acoustic and electric guitarist (and multi-instrumentalist) Norberto Lobo and his brother (?) Joao Lobo on drums (and harp). The album is entitled Oba Loba (shhpuma 014CD).

It is music that does not fit neatly into categories. It has postmodern new music sonarity, jazz-rock, avant jazz, ambient and melodic dynamics, all mixed together in original ways. Norberto and Joao share the writing duties with one composed by Giovanni Di Domenico, who is the primary keyboard player in the ensemble. They are joined by Ananta Roosens on violin and trumpet, Jordi Grognard on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Lynn Cassiers on vocals and electronics. All join in on group vocals from time to time. There are several additional guests who appear here and there. So that takes care of the who.

The what does not go easily into a verbal description. This is original music both cutting-edge and lyrical. I won't say they sound like Oregon because they don't. But like early Oregon they create a diversely rooted music that is both tuneful and avant, sometimes alternatingly, sometimes both intermingled. Norberto plays some interesting guitar but everyone contributes and really it is especially all about a group compositional objective. That makes them unique because the group sound does not follow predictable lines though the hearing of it all can be easily appreciated once one gets used to what to expect.

This is a trip in uncharted waters and there are discoveries ahead. Set sail with some provisions and you should find the journey a pleasure and a surprise. Get your ears on this and you will come away with a feeling that you have been to a different place. What better?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Holger Scheidt Group, The Tides of Life

Bassist-composer-bandleader Holger Scheidt makes it pretty clear on the brief liner blurb to his album The Tides of life (Enja 9619 2). A primary influence on the music he writes and performs on the album is the sort of classic modern sound of mid-'60s albums like Nefertiti and Maiden Voyage, the middle-period Blue Notes and the important Miles band of the era.

And so we get six Scheidt compositions as springboards for the group improvisations that follow. The compositions and the soloing reflect a modern update of the classic sound. Holder on bass, Gordon Au on trumpet, Rich Perry on tenor, Victor Gould on piano and Anthony Pinciotti, drums, do not sound like Miles-Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams clones, mind you. But they do channel some of that in their playing and the compositions reflect the kind of harmonic-melodic sophistication of the Shorter-Hancock writing style.

For all that there is no real deja vu feeling as much as a feeling of extension into the present. These are excellent, committed artists who have something to say within the classic models. Au on trumpet straddles Miles-Hubbard in his own way, Perry goes beyond Shorter to accommodate a contemporary mainstream approach, Gould has all the harmonic sophistication, touch and intelligent note choice you'd expect, but injects himself too. And the bass-drum rhythm team of Scheidt and Pinciotti strongly anchor the music with real artistry and no slavish attempt to imitate.

The resulting set is a tribute to the bass and composition smarts of Scheidt and a very well-constructed group effort that keeps giving you things to appreciate as many times as you hear it.

Well-done! Very recommended.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Monty Alexander with Ernest Ranglin, Rass!

Anyone who lives for a while and at the same time pays attention to contemporary music styles, will eventually experience a kind of abrupt realization that a particular style has gone out of fashion. Perhaps it is all too clear to everyone, such as that moment when disco was totally uncool, but there are more subtle shifts, like with the sort of electric piano-centered funk-jazz that had a heyday that culminated in its wide-spread use across media channels (think of the theme song for the TV comedy "Taxi" as an example) and then faded. I had a moment when I recognized that it had passed.

Of course like cigars it can just as suddenly return and something of that may be happening today. At the same time you can get to the point where, in or out, the style in its best manifestations can be appreciated anew.

That's happening to me on hearing the reissue of an album I never heard back in the days when it could be found in the record stacks. I refer to the Monty Alexander MPS album from 1974, Rass! (MPS 0209737). On it we get Caribbean folk-pop standards and some remakes of r&b hits of the day. It features Monty articulately on electric piano, the convincing electric guitar of Ernest Ranglin, plus a nicely together rhythm section that included congas and percussion.

On my first listen I was slightly dismissive. But then as I listened further I began to appreciate why this music was not rote funk. The rhythm team gives the funkiness some good leverage, Monty Alexander plays with soul and taste and the guitar work of Ernest Ranglin has a real flair to it.

After you live with this album a while you find it is an especially good example of a style that may have faded but need not be dismissed in blanket fashion. Certainly this album is worth your ear-time. Nice.