Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Elisabeth Lohninger, Songs of Love and Destruction

How can you tell when a singer is a "jazz singer?" There are a number of factors, in any combination. A few: 1.) He or she "messes with" the tune, adding scat, rephrasing and/or recomposing part of the melody. 2.) The accompanying players play jazz type solos and/or accompaniment. 3.) The singer's repertoire includes songs associated with the jazz tradition.

Those are some key elements. Number one is probably indispensable; number two is important; number three is often the case, but does not define the situation. Things have changed in the last few decades, so there's no telling from the repertoire.

Let's turn, then, to a singer with a new CD out: Elisabeth Lohninger and her Songs of Love and Destruction (LoFish 079). The repertoire? Sure, she does some A. Songbook standards, like "No Moon at All," "Alone Together," those sorts of songs. But then she does Joni Mitchell's beautiful "River," K. D. Laing's "Save Me," the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere." She also does a couple of her originals. In short, she is not a cabaret jazz clone in terms of what she tackles.

The musicians? They have the jazz thing happening. Pianist Bruce Barth consistently gives forth with some nice solos and accompaniment; the rhythm teams sounds loose and on top of the styles evoked. There are guest soloists, Donny McCaslin sounding limber on tenor; there's also Christian Howes on violin; Ingrid Jensen on trumpet-fluegelhorn. All that is perfectly nice. But if the vocalist doesn't cut it, what does it matter?

Elisabeth scats well, phrases dramatically according to the impact of the lyrics and in the improvisational moment, one assumes. She has a very good instrument and can vary it with the music at hand. She seems a born musical storyteller. Now maybe that has nothing to do with the jazz part, but who cares? Is she the next Abbey Lincoln? Probably not. However this is a fine set with intimacy, well-heeled arrangements, and first-rate interpretations. She's good and also good to listen to.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ratko Zjaca, Croatian Guitarist

Another guitarist you may not know by name: one Ratko Zjaca, a Croatian practitioner of the plectral arts. For his album Continental Talk (In & Out 07588) he assembles a worthy gathering of Randy Brecker on trumpet, Stanislav Mitrovic on tenor and soprano, John Patitucci on acoustic bass, and drummer stalwart Steve Gadd. They congregate around the microphones for a nice set of Zjaca originals, modern jazz of the straight-ahead sort. The songs and their changes go from simple blowing tunes to more sophisticated items, melodically and sometimes harmonically speaking.

Everyone sounds quite good. Ratko can play a ravishing, changes-based solo with mellow chordal voicings and lines of good provinence. Or he can crank out bluesy pentatonic sorts of things, especially on the rock tinged numbers. They can get into a rather advanced rhythmic and harmonic world, as in "Inner Ears." But when it comes to the soloing Ratko sticks mostly to the soulful post-Benson lines with a few odd ravishing chords here and there.

Mr. Zjaca is a fine guitarist, surely. The twelve numbers on this set give ample evidence. It is a most pleasant listen. Sometimes even more than that. Thank you Ratko.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Adam Schroeder Bops the Baritone

In the right hands the baritone sax has an assertive quality, a percussiveness, and a richly timbred lower presence that is unique. With the sound comes responsibility. You play it, you have to drag the cumbersome, lumberous case from gig to gig. When Sonny Stitt was asked why he gave up the baritone in the '50s, he replied "I got tired of lugging the thing around."

Thankfully there are those who are still willing to do that. Adam Schroeder is one of them. Judging from the evidence of his CD A Handful of Stars (Capri 74103-2) we can be happy that he does. If the spectral shades of Serge Chaloff and Pepper Adams were capable of checking out this disk, they would be too. Not that he directly clones their playing style. But there's a muscular robustness and a hard-swinging bop orientation he shares with them. Stars showcases a fine quartet: Schroeder with drummer Jeff Hamilton (who mainstreamers will no doubt know from his various efforts in the fold), bassist John Clayton, and guitarist Graham Dechter. More on the latter in a minute.

This is good blowing and hard swinging. There is a mix of standards and bopping originals. It's an album that could have been made many years ago, but that is no drawback if you love the style. Of course, the other side of the coin is that this is not music on the cutting-edge. You understand that. I need not say it. (Since I did though, I'll leave it in the paragraph anyway.)

Schroeder is in great form; Dechter plays nicely wrought chordal and single note lines that show his roots and dexterous imagination. He makes a great foil for the baritone artistry of the leader. The whole session swings nicely. It's something to get the toes tapping and the body and soul grooving. Baritone fans will be especially pleased, for Adam Schroeder can play it!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jimmy Dawkins and the Leric Story: '80s Chicago Blues Lives On

Chicago bluesman Jimmy Dawkins ran his Leric Records in the '80s, turning out a series of sides that carried on the urban blues tradition in fine fashion. Dawkins and a series of key sidemen backed up a number of lesser known but not lesser endowed blues artists on the local scene: Little Johnny Christian, Tail Dragger, Queen Sylvia, Vance Kelly, and others.

Delmark Records has wisely reissued sixteen prime cuts from the labels output on Jimmy Dawkins Presents the Leric Story (Delmark 808).

These are totally committed slabs of pure sanctified blues-soul. Dawkins guitar work sparkles, the singers are putting it out and the backup band knows just what to do. It's the real thing, 1980 style. I was living in Chicagoland in those days and I must say it feels like home to hear these. Now if I could only get some Harold's Chicken Fedexed to my door, WITH the hot sauce, of course.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Consummate Oud Artistry From Le Trio Joubran

The wheel of time does not stop turning for any of us here on planet earth. In the case of cultures with a long musical tradition, such as the Mideast, that may sometimes be cause for regret. Bad disco as done by any of the world's peoples is still bad disco, no matter if there are traditional elements incorporated or not. We all know from experience that change is neither bad nor good. It all depends.

With this in mind I contemplate Le Trio Joubran, a trio of oud players, and their CD Randana (World Village 479031). If this is change, and it is, it is good change. All three are masters of the art of oud playing and the ensemble music they create is compelling, stunning, superb. They tune in the traditional manner (meaning they use Mideastern scalular tunings that slightly flat or sharp notes according to the way it has been done for many centuries); they use traditional Mideastern tonal modalities; and some of the music sounds traditional. Their compositional palette is contemporary for the most part. But it extends the tradition. They are the advanced scouts on the road of Mideastern art music of the future. It is haunting and beautiful.

This was the first album of the Joubran Brothers as a trio. It was originally released abroad in 1995. Anyone who is interested in the oud tradition cannot afford to miss it. On the other hand even if you are not familiar with the musical lifeways of the region, you should hear Le Trio Joubran.

Music heals wounds; music brings all peoples together. Music is the best answer I can give to those who seek to divide and conquer. But not just any music. Music like this. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tea House Music of Afghanistan, 1969

If you are reading this blog, I would assume that you are not the sort of person who would advocate banning all music. Such people, duh, are by definition my enemies. Fundamentalists like the Taliban, if they had their way, would probably put all musicians on the chopping block. It’s a long story about overly literal readings of texts holy to those that believe in what is professed there. And that’s the story of most Fundamentalists of whatever stripe. The readings I mean—but banning music of certain or all types too sometimes, as can be seen in history—in the West, in America even.

So when I turn to a Folkways recording of The Tea House Music of Afghanistan, (which you can download or buy as a CD at the Smithsonian-Folkways website), I feel there’s more at stake than the pleasure of listening to a music that to most is unfamiliar. The incredibly long history of Afghan culture is rich with interactions of various nationalities and syntheses of what was learned, transformed, reinvented and subjected to re-interpretation by the pre-existing beliefs and practices of the local people. The music is no exception.

This 1969 recording features mid-sized ensembles of strings, drums, sometimes winds, and a vocalist. You can hear Indian, Persian, Arabic-Semitic and other elements, but no, it’s not some crazy-quilt pastiche of sounds and melodic strains. It is superbly itself. Is such music worth fighting for? In the name of music, how could it not be? Buy this recording and you’ll be indirectly supporting these musicians—and perhaps all musicians.

Posted originally on March 13, 2009 at www.gapplegate.com/musicalblog.htm

Bill Bruford's Winterfold Collection

Drummer Bill Bruford has been a thinking person’s rocker. His musical and thoughtfully driving work with Genesis, Yes and King Crimson has been a model for emulation. He has also had a long career as a leader in his own right. Sadly, he recently announced his retirement from active playing. But to cap it all off he’s put together two retrospective collections of the various recordings he made with his own band over the years. The Winterfold Collection (Winterfold), a first installment, covers the fertile period of 1978-1986. We’ll take a look at that volume today and cover the second set a little later on.

The first thing one is struck with is the variety and quality of the music and ensembles involved. The progressive and fusion elements are there as one expects, but there are many different ways of arriving to those musical places. The excellent tracks featuring the acerbic Annette Peacock on vocals (part of the time) and the wonderful Alan Holdsworth on guitar are perhaps the most striking. The material is unusual and the band really burns it up. The collaborations with keyboardists Dave Stewart and Patrick Moraz are adventurous excursions that bear listening to again as well. None of this music sounds dated, as some of this sort of material can these days. Bruford’s drumming is consistently refreshing and unexpected and there’s a consistency of direction there that comes from his strengths as a leader. We wish him well in his retirement and hope you will give this volume a listen in tribute. I am very glad to have had a chance to go back again and rehear these sides anew.

Originally posted on March 11, 2009 at www.gapplegate.com/musicalblog.htm

Monday, August 23, 2010

Puttin' on the Ritz Do Velvet Underground

Tribute albums, remakes, transformations of classic music. . . these have been with us for some time. When I was a kid my father got an album of the Glenn Miller Orchestra (under the direction of Ray McKinley). Now it was fine for what it was, more or less their greatest hits redone in STEREO! No, wait, it was in HI FI! Comparing the new versions with the originals (which was easy because RCA simultaneously released a companion album with the original tracks) made you realize that there was a certain something missing. Too many years had elapsed since those first recordings and the band just sounded more modern and less idiomatic than the original gathering. Now that's not how I put it to myself then, but I did notice a big difference.

The same risks are inherent in remakes of Sgt Peppers, Tommy, the music of the Smiths, Charlie Parker tribute albums, and on and on.

The group Puttin' on the Ritz, which has as its core members singer BJ Rubin and drummer Kevin Shea, have chosen to do an avant-jazz-laced remake of the Velvet Underground's second album White Light, White Heat (Hot Cup). Now there's an idea. They do not try to reproduce the proto-punk, tube frazzling ambiance of the original band, which would doom the project to a kind of limbo world of what it sounds like to try and sound like that 40 years later (like that Glenn Miller platter). Instead they give it a horns and mayhem sort of retake, which could work wonderfully. If it doesn't, it's not for the instrumental part of the music. No. Moppa Elliot, bass, Nate Wooley, trumpet, Jon Irabagon, sax, and Sam Kulik, trombone, join with drummer Shea in a raucous send-off that is exquisitely over-the-top (and a kudo to organist Matt Motel for his cheesy Farfisa-isms on the last cut). No wonder. Most of these folks have been doing excellent send-offs in the band Mostly Other people Do the Killing and other project groupings.

What they do plays in and out with the simple garage musical elements of the original, getting almost referential or parallel to the original parts at points, and then getting totally out there in ways that are as funny as they are energized.

No, sorry, but what strikes me as not quite working are the vocals of B J Rubin. He's very articulate in getting across the lyrics, for one thing. Those lyrics worked so effectively because they were half-mumbled, in Lou Reed's case, or delivered off-kilter with that hint of an accent (in the case of Nico). Reed was a master at doing the vocals badly but iconically. He made the "bad is good" aesthetic work in ways very few could. Nico was Nico, and BJ's casual reading of her one song from the album just doesn't stand comparison.

Further, the lyrics are sometimes downright stupid when articulated clearly--especially the long babble of "Sister Ray." B J Rubin has a sort of wise-ass nouveaux-punk style that no doubt is fine for many sorts of projects. It just doesn't cut it for the Velvets.

So what we have here is a glorious failure. The music is extraordinarily interesting at times. It would be great without those vocals. But I suppose then it would lose its point.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Curlew, "A Beautiful Western Saddle" plus Live DVD

Curlew was one of those genre-defying bands that epitomized the progressive downtown movement in Manhattan in the later '80s-early '90s. They were a big hit at the Knitting Factory and such.

I'll admit I missed most of their output. Had Bee. Liked it well enough. . . . Trouble was I was on a work treadmill that either left me with no time or, alternatively, all-time and no money. I'm not complaining. The go-go eighties made lots of money for a select few. The rest of us worked to death only to find ourselves periodically out on the street, looking for "another situation," as Bartleby the Scrivener might have put it. It got to the point when the talk of the "retirement package" at some of these institutions was a joke. You looked around, you were the oldest person working there and you were 35. Guess what, eventually you were finding yourself seeking more of the same. So perhaps when I hear Curlew, it reminds me of a lot of wasted time. I'm not angry. But I look back and see what the pattern was about, and it had nothing to do with me and whether I worked hard, was great, or mediocre, which I wasn't. It was a game you could not win, no matter what you did. So Curlew is the music of an era that I'd like to forget.

Pardon the digression. A Beautiful Western Saddle, their fifth album from 1993, was the only one that featured songs, with lyrics by Paul Haines (associated with Carla Bley) and vocals admirably handled by Amy Denio. Saddle has been reissued, coupled with a live DVD from 1991. Can't tell you about the DVD because it wasn't part of my promo download.

So Curlew, especially on this album, had a kind of genre niche all its own. Avant, electric, there were elements of the prog fringe, free jazzish moments, and, well, songs. Now I hate to say this but Saddle is an album, heard from this distance, that I appreciate more than I like. I don't like it. The songs have the earmarks of the era, and they are art songs certainly. The era saw this sort of thing done by Michael Mantler (especially his albums based on Gorey texts), Carla Bley of course and her various song-oriented works, Zappa in a certain mode, King Crimson, the Golden Palominos, and so forth. Though Curlew have their own take on it all, that take doesn't come through all the time to me as built up from within. More often it sounds imposed from without, a hip veneer that is put on but without a whole lot of conviction. This may be reading too much into it, but that's the vibe I get listening now.

Saddle comes out of that. The songs don't especially ring true to me, sorry to say. Maybe that's why this is the only album they did of this sort. The lyrics are interesting. Some of the songs really work. Some just don't exactly pull together. It's not the vocalist. It's not the group. It's the songs. Now I can imagine there are people out there who have loved this album over the years and welcome its re-release. I'm glad for them. I am also glad to hear it. I think it's quite well crafted. I think its very cool and interesting. But I don't like it. Sorry.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kurt Vile Square Shells EP

Kurt Vile does what he does in ways that I find convincing. His EP Square Shells (Matador 936, vinyl or download) seems like a good example. It's a kind of miscellaneous DIY collection of songs, jams and what-have-you he created in the course of making his last album or so. I accidentally came across a review I tried not to read while grabbing the cover art today. It said something about folksy songs and shoe-gaze jams. The jams have a soundscape-y quality but the shoe thing I never do get, since I usually wear sneakers. But for all that there is something about Kurt's music that tickles me. Like lyrics that admit "I wanted everything but I think that I only got most of it." His lyrics are comments on lyrics, his songs (in this case, often folksy sorts of songs) are comments on the kind of songs that people might do these days. And yet it comes across as Kurt Vile in all his Vile-ness.

The EP gives you some more of what makes him interesting. There are no pretensions, no high-density superchops, just a laid back, laconic yet completely in-the-zone artist.

Square Shells may not be the first collection of his music to get. Yet it is another convincing presentation of his wayward prescience.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bassist Jack Curtis Dubowsky and his Ensemble

The Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble plays an unusual, conceptually rigorous form of instrumental music. Their second album Jack Dubowski Ensemble II (De Stijl Music) has a unique style compounded from Dubowski’s electric bass, often playing recurring riff patterns, and his analog synthesizer manipulations; Fred Morgan’s drums, frequently setting up a back-beated groove; and Hall Goff who plays trombone as processed through an analog synthesizer with a vocal effects device.

Dubowski is a present-day composer in addition to his performances in the ensemble. The album has composed elements, presumably the product of Jack Dubowski’s musical imagination. Then there are improvised elements, partially resulting from the settings and note values assigned to the synthesizers, partially what Hall Gull is doing on the trombone, partially the overall group situation and those free-er moments that occur throughout the set. No one overplays and there is a kind of appealing spaciousness to what they do. It is not so much music that tries to go to endlessly different places as it is music that sets up shop in a certain place and creates musical meaning within the defined parameters of the pieces themselves.

It is a band that finds a niche and then presents eleven relatively short works to explore the ramifications of the conceptual idea. The sort of four-tiered sound of secular drum rhythms, bass motifs, an independent synthesizer line and Gott’s altered trombone sounds is the cornerstone of the set. After a few listens I felt that this kind of rigorous limitation of roles as assigned and musical universes explored was actually a positive element. The music goes its own way without any frenetic sense of urgency. It unwinds its various laid-back grooves and allows the electronics to generate the unpredictable.

This is not music that is easily classified. I suppose you should think of it as electro-acoustical music that draws on rock and jazz elements and resituates them into a highly singular new music matrix. This is slowly developing music that over time is quietly rewarding and without a doubt worth hearing.

Originally posted on May 24, 2010 at www.gapplegate.com/musicalblog.htm.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rare Soft Machine TV Broadcast From 1973 Released

When you are a smaller blogsite you don't always get full access to a new release. So though there is a new CD/DVD release of Soft Machine's 1973 NDR Television Broadcast (Rune 305/306), I received a download of the audio CD only, and that's fine. There's apparently a DVD in this package with additional music but I will not be reviewing that part since I did not get it.

What I can tell you about the release is that the CD runs a generous 79 minutes and contains excellent audio sound. It's the band right after Hugh Hopper had left it, with Roy Babbington taking his place. Gary Boyle plays guitar on a good number of the pieces, and he sounds McLaughlinesque. Karl Jenkins does his usual good job on reeds and then of course there's the distinctive presence of John Marshall on drums and Mike Ratledge on keys.

It's typically very good Softs, running through the repertoire of the time, doing some odd numbers here and there, getting in some free jamming.

I could take some space rehearsing why the Soft Machine was an important group of its era. OK then. They did not play standard formulaic fusion as it had pretty much been codified by 1973. Their compositions had more of a jazz-rock edge to them. They utilized minimalistic cycles and psychedelic soundscaping in ways nobody else did at that point. Their originals were quite well-crafted. They had a certain amount of the free, avant element going for them.

The presence of Gary Boyle on guitar gives this set a different cast (if you'll pardon the pun) and the quality of the sound and energy of the performances put this in the category of "worth checking out by diehard fans of the band as well as those who are not completists but have in some way fallen under the spell of the band and its legacy."

This one is not essential, but it is nice to hear.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bassist Harvie S and His "Cocolamus Bridge" Recording

Today marks posting number 401. That means that between this and my two other sites, plus Cadence, I've reviewed well over 1000 CDs in the last couple of years. Am I tired? It's Monday morning; otherwise, not tired.

Acoustic bassist Harvie S has been doing a marathon of his own. He can claim more than 350 CDs that he has been a part of, as bassist, as co-leader, as leader. Of course there's always a reason for such things. He can play! And he can play with all kinds of people, whether it be Kenny Barron, James Brown, or Jane Ira Bloom.

And when he gets a chance to play his own music, it means that that much more of his playing prowess is out front, as are his writing and leadership abilities. Cocolamus Bridge (Blue Bamboo 014), his latest, gives you all of that. The sextet assembled for this date has range and some drive. Guitarist Chris Cortez plays jazz guitar with a capital /J/. He's the sort that can give out with some nice lines seemingly whenever called upon to do so. Tenor-soprano Woody Witt is another one that plays the current mainstream style with flair. Jose Miguel Yamal gives you some impeccable Latin piano. Joel Fulgham and James Metcalfe, drums and percussion, particularly get popping on the Latin numbers as well. There's a decent assortment of Latin originals, some fine showcases for Harvie's bass soloing (most notably on the opening traditional folk song "Eili Gheal Chiuin"), and an interesting bass and soprano version of Wayne Shorter's "Night Dreamer."

This is an album acoustic bass aficionados will enjoy for the nuances of Harvie S's versatile approach. Those who dig Latin jazz of a cooking sort yet with a somewhat cool edge at times will also get with this one.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mats/Morgan's "The Music or the Money!"

Now I don't often put myself out on a limb, partly because we lost most of our trees in a violent storm here in Jersey last March. But I will say that the Mats/Morgan Band and their two-CD release The Music or the Money? (Rune 301/302) are so good it scares me. I mean, they are good, brothers and sisters.

The album was originally released by the band in 1997 as just a little something to distribute on gigs. It's now available to all and includes an additional 45 minutes of music recently recorded.

They have been positively influenced by the best of Frank Zappa's synclavier music, and there are parts that show this through madcap spacefunk meets Varesian encounters and that is a very cool listen. Then they have some parts where they jam as a trio, with the incredible drumming of Agren Morgan spurring Mats Oberg on to some dizzying improvising heights that go beyond what anybody who listens to "post-prog" has any right to expect. There are some moments that can act as an all-body dipilatory. It'll take your hair out by the roots. Then there are songs that have an irresistible quirkiness and show arranging prowess and melodic singularity.

My goodness, these folks have incredible chops but there is nothing cliche about it. The music sometimes goes by like a high-speed express bullet train, but it's not just fast, it's compositionally striking.

Anyone who follows the advanced rock world should not miss this one. Whoooo.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stornoway Makes Interesting Indie Rock

Stornoway's album Beachcomber's Windowsill (Rough Trade) just came out in the States. Now if that means little to you, not to worry. They are a UK-based outfit with some very interesting material and a lead singer like no other. He's a pretty high tenor in range and he has a very pure delivery. The music is almost folk-rocking sometimes, but in that way of the Isles (not exactly old-timey though, like Fairport can be).

They do some strong originals and I personally find their album quite refreshing. They sound like nobody else. They are not hard-edged, so the music tends not to be heavy. The lyrics are rather poetic, intelligent. There's a bit of melancholy. Think of it as the folk music of the future. Or don't think of it at all and just listen.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Romantic Guitar Music in Paris

The romantic chamber repertoire has of course many masterpieces to savor. Now if you just read this blog because you are interested in guitar you might be asking, "huh?" Trust me, OK? My problem when you get to the high romantics such as Schumann and Brahms is that the level of expression can be so intense, especially in the hands of some chamber outfits of the last century, that it can seem a bit overdone. It's perhaps more expressive than it need be, given the musical content involved. Now that is only on occasion, mind you.

You aren't going to find that phenomenon on Duo Rossiniane's Romantic Guitar Music in Paris (Ars Musici 232420). First of all the duo consists of Robert Barto and Karl-Ernst Schroeder on classical guitars. They play nicely understated expressive music in nicely understated ways. Second the duo pieces by Carulli, Sor and Coste rather sound vaguely more classical than romantic, or more Chabrier than Schumann. These are intimate works that don't have the fire and flamboyance of classic high romanticism, perhaps not the profundity either. Some days though, you don't want profundity and then this is right there for you.

So that can be a good thing if you have need of something a little more on the reflective side. The fact is, Duo Rossiniane do a fine job bringing out the charm inherent in these works. They may not be masterpieces, but in the hands of the duo they provides a rather pleasing imaginary concert. If you are looking for some quietly elegant guitar music, this one is for you.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stephen Haynes, Warren Smith, Joe Morris on New CD

Stephen Haynes plays trumpet and fluegelhorn. He's been appearing in the free improv and jazz limelight (such as that is) increasingly it seems. He is joined by double threat drummer/mallet vet Warren Smith and the distinctive guitarist Joe Morris on Parrhesia (Engine 033).

It's a reflective and occasionally boisterous outing that shows Stephen's attention to sound and line to very good advantage. He was one of the late Bill Dixon's students at Bennington and shows the influence in his use of space to surround and punctuate his improvisational poetics. You can hear a little of the later Miles. And there's a certain puckish Lester Bowie-like jabbing of the sound envelope as well. But these are just prefigurations. Warren Smith shows himself as usual to be a great team member in an outing such as this. The drumming is geared toward the sound events and his marimba work adds color and texture. Joe Morris is about as subtle on this one as you are likely to hear. But what he does creates interest and atmosphere.

It's a recording that you can get inside after a few listens. It has a hauntingly pensive quality. The language of freedom in the musical ensemble is used to create stasis and movement, contrast and color.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gene Pritsker's Sound Liberation Ensemble

We can be thankful that we do not live in a homogenized musical world right now. In many ways anything goes. If you look for it you can find innovative hybrids sporting just about any combination of stylistic traits you can imagine.

Gene Pritsker's Sound Liberation is a great example of this, in particular his new recording Varieties of Religious Experience Suite (VRE Suite) (Innova 235). It's Pritsker on electric guitar plus a second electric guitarist, cello, contrabass and drums. It's an instrumental suite from his opera William James - Varieties of Religious Experience.

Beyond these basic particularities are where the interest lies, of course. The music combines a sort of fusion-prog rock sensibility with a new sort of minimalism, modern concert vocabulary and a two-pronged concern with both the written note and improvisation. The drums pulse in a quasi-rock way, one or more of the guitars set up ostinatos with the cello and all three get space for improvisation.

That only begins to describe the music at hand though. This is a long suite with many twists and turns and in the end Gene Pritsker's music is much more than the sum of the elements involved. It's one of the more unusual works-performances I've heard in some time. It will no doubt appeal to those who look for rock that moves deeply into the "serious" music category. Those enthusiasts of contemporary classical and improvisation will find something very different here. No matter what camp you may be a part of, this recording will stretch the boundaries of what you expect. Most importantly Pritsker does it all with an assurance and lucidity that make a case for why such hybrids can provide exciting, absorbing listening. This one does.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Imogen Heap Improvises in A Special Series of Concert Downloads

Singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Imogen Heap has real artistry. She has a glorious voice, very rangy, capable of a wide spectrum of expression. She completed a North American tour recently and at each stop she devoted a portion of the concert to an improvised piece of music. She asked the audience to pick and key and tempo and proceeded to put together a piece of music on the spot. Not surprisingly her voice is a large part of the result. With the harmonization devices she can come up with a minichoir of Imogens and she accompanies and contrasts melodically on keys.

Each improvisation is dedicated to a particular local charity. They were recorded and all of them can be downloaded from her site http://charity.imogenheap.com via a contribution ($1 or more) to that charity. (I believe there are 24 (?) separate improvisations available from as many city stops.) It's a great idea and the results that I have heard are fully worthy of her growing reputation. The one I've listened to at length is from her Washington, DC concert. Very beautiful Help a charity and dig Imogen off the cuff by checking some of them out!

The Mynabirds: Indie Pop-Rock Warblers

Readers of this blog know that we cast a wide net now and again to cover releases of various sorts. Today we have chance to look at a recent releases by a group called the Mynabirds and their 30-minute CD What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood (Saddle Creek). It's a collection of songs from the pop edge of the indie rock scene. The female vocalist is very good and solidifies the identity of the band. She has a strong set of pipes which she sometimes uses in a kind of richly sotto voce manner--in other words her singing is not full-throated at all points. She can get a breathier sound at times for higher expressive variety. The songs seem good and I would think as they keep on they will get even better.

There is a slight garage tinge to the music, but at the same time a sophistication to the songs to make it an intelligent sort of pop. I like this band and look for development down the line. If you are in the mood for a down-to-earth set of pop tunes, support the indies and check it out.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"What Is IT?" LA Punk Anthology

How do you evaluate punk? Not as you would a Beethoven string quartet performance! It's supposed to be kind of the opposite. It should be crude, raw, energetic and filled with a certain hostility if it's the classic sort. And that's so with the 10" EP What is It (Wondercap 07007). You get ten tracks from ten different LA punk bands spanning the years 1977-83. These were apparently issued as 7" singles (or not in two cases) on What Records during those years.

There are bands like the Germs, Agent Orange, the Eyes and the Skulls. I don't know enough about that scene to tell you the significance of those bands. All I know is the anthology gives you a good earful of the primal charm that punk can give forth with. There are various sorts of influences, from the Ramones to Lydia Lunch to surf punk (in a version of "Out of Limits"). It's fun. It's ten wonderfully numb-fingered blasts of the music at a time when it was still new. And it's a finely produced ten-inch slab of vinyl!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Out Jazz-Rock from David Winogrond: "In the Ether"

The intersection of rock and jazz has been with us ever since Larry Coryell plugged in with the Gary Burton group back in the mid-‘60s. Since then there have been successes and failures, the latter usually a product of pressures to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but also because of creative misfires or chemistry problems among the musicians involved.

Happily, today’s CD has none of those difficulties. Drummer David Winogrond’s In the Ether (Wondercap) comes at it from the rock end. Essentially these are rockers who have embraced the jazz spectrum. David has influences from both camps—Elvin Jones and Gene Krupa but also Keith Moon and Mitch Mitchell. He finds his own path through the dense underbrush of what has gone before and emerges as a distinctive self. He is joined by reedist Jack Chandler, who ably asserts his musical vision, and guitarist Michael Campagna, who nicely shreds and psychedelisizes himself throughout much of the disk. When these three go at it, the results remind one slightly of the music Ginger Baker, Sonny Sharrock and Peter Brotzmann made a number of years ago. And yet that is only in terms of the basic stance. Winogrond, Chandler and Campagna go their own way here. There are cameo appearances by other fellow travelers as well. All make fitting contributions to the musical whole.

In the Ether shows a flair for combining freedom and electricity. In the search for viable home-grown energy sources, Winogrond and company can supply a good chunk of it right now! A tip of our cap to Wondercap Records for coming out with good sounds when we most need it.

Originally posted on March 10, 2009 at www.gapplegate.com.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Guitarist Dennis Rea Chimes In with A Fascinating Album of Chinese Music

In a short period of time Dennis Rea has established himself as a guitar-composer of great promise and diverse stylistic tendencies. His albums with Moraine and Iron Kim Style (MoonJune, both reviewed on these pages) showed a more aggressive, hard hitting style of avant fusion. Now with his Views From Chicheng Precipice (Moon June 034), he shows the more aerated, meditative, chamber music aspect of his talents.

It's based on new compositions inspired by traditional Chinese music as well as rearrangements of actual pieces. It does for this form of expression what Miles and Gil Evans did with Spanish music on Sketches of Spain, this time with Rea's guitar taking a prominent role and the musical ensemble providing an intricately enmeshed pastel sound quality filled with light and shadow. That is not to say that the music sounds like that Milesian masterpiece; the sound and the execution are worlds apart, but no less intriguing for that.

There are luminescent chamber fusion sections, music that alternates between the calmness that signifies like the play of reflections on a gently undulating garden pond and more densely powerful moments.

It is an achievement that has no real parallel in the music offerings out there lately. And it reconfirms that Dennis Rea is an important emergent figure on the music scene of today. It is a highly rewarding listen. And it's beautifully produced. Excellent!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Willie Buck, Chicago Bluesmaster

We should try and honor those Chicago bluesmen who are still around, active and dynamic. Willie Buck may not be a name you are familiar with, but he's the real deal. In 1982 his album I Wanna Be Loved came out in a small run on Bar None Records. It came and went before it had a chance to get wide distribution or acclaim. Now it's back in print as The Life I Love (Delmark 805) with five live unissued tracks from the period.

This is Chicago blues at its down home, soulful best. Buck has Muddy Waters' directness and drive and his vocals get inside the lyrics and push them out in the best blues tradition. He has a terrific band behind him, including John Primer and Louis Meyers on guitar, Dave Meyers on bass, the late Big Moose Walker on piano and they tear it up. Muddy's "She's All Right" gets the treatment, and so does "19 Years Old." There are good originals too.

The live tracks add to the confirmation that Willie Buck is keeping the flame alive. If you love the classic Chicago sound, here it is! No warts, just the slow burn of the tradition, generating the heat that heals the soul.