Monday, February 28, 2011

Metal Mountains' "Golden Trees:" Nice Psych-Folk-Drone

Metal Mountains are a Brooklyn-based threesome and their latest album is Golden Trees (Amish). It runs 35 minutes, which makes sense because it was designed to be a vinyl LP (and you can get it as a download too). The shorter length translates to heightened focus. Every minute counts.

This is a band with a definite sound that I happen to like much. PG Six plays the 12-string guitar in a manner that recalls the Byrds and McGuinn from their middle period (just before Crosby left). Samara Lubelski's violin playing reminds a little of John Cale at certain junctures with the Velvets and Nico. Vocalist Helen Rush reminds one of various spacey soft-voiced chanteuses, doesn't really matter who. So Metal Mountains remind, but only in the sense that their musical roots go back to some of this. They do not "sound" like the Byrds, the Velvet Underground, or any manner of other groups. The mood is moody partly because the music has a slowness about it, real or implied. The songs have a kind of implied drone, a soundscaped quietude, a folk-picking-slowly and repeatedly-in-space kind of sound. OK there's something Lynchian-Baldamentian about them too.

Again, those are the roots. The tree? It's fully leaved for spring and it isn't like the surrounding trees in the orchard out there. It's one to sit under for a while and enjoy its shading canopy.

The songs have something to them, the vocals ensorcel, the instrumentality is just where it needs to be.

This is it. It's the RIGHT one, Mr. Beckett. Seek and find.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Guitarist Luis Lopes and Afterfall in an Avant Set

We recently encountered guitarist Luis Lopes as part of the Humanization 4tet (see January 13th posting). He returns today as a member of the equally adventurous Afterfall (Clean Feed 208). It's a free-avant encounter with a quintet that includes Lopes, Joe Giardullo on soprano and tenor, Sei Miguel on pocket trumpet, and a rhythm section of Benjamin Duboc on upright bass and Harvey Sorgen on the drums.

This is five-way interaction, a cooperative date all the way, with all five members sharing the composing credits. What that translates into for the listener is seven musical vignettes, each somewhat different in mood. The freetime feel is pretty constant, with time sometimes more overtly implied and sometimes in a free falling zone. Some numbers are sparser and more reflective, some more extroverted and energetic. Sei Miguel's always muted pocket trumpet forms a good contrast with Giardullo's shining soprano or gruff tenor and Lopes' sound-color oriented guitar.

A high point is Giardullo's tenor work in "American Open Road with a Frog," where he is is rippingly muscular over churning drums and bass. "American Tryptich" finds some room for Lopes' spicy, floating chord voicings and chopping staccato-line crafting, some after-Miles-and-Cherry tartly stating-the-fact trumpet inventions and grainy bowed bass. "Return of the Shut Up Goddess" brings a storm of bowing thunder and weighted brushwork underpinning more Miguel muted eloquence and then vibrato-laced sustained guitar lines of a rough beauty. There are plenty of such moments, each one with a slightly different mix of musical voices, shades and degrees of emphasis.

This is a sleeper. It is so subtle in many ways one has to listen a number of times before the logic of the improvisational language truly speaks to you. But I found that it did after a time. And what it said was most definitely worth hearing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Matt Haimovitz & Uccello, Meeting of the Spirits

An eight-cello ensemble? That's Matt Haimovitz & Uccello's lineup on Meeting of the Spirits (Oxingale 2017). For something like this to work, of course, the material, the arrangements and the execution must be very good. David Sanford does the arrangements throughout and they are well-wrought. It's jazz repertoire all the way (except for Sanford's interesting modern classical piece "Triptych"). So we get a really ravishing version of "Open Country Joy" by Mahavishnu--and John McLaughlin guests on this one. The interplay between guitar and cellos extends the Mahavishnu sonority in ways faithful to the spirit of the original, and McLaughlin gets in some solo work that shows he is still in good form.

The very formidable contemporary drummer Matt Wilson joins the group on two numbers and kicks the ensemble into orbit, especially on the Mahavishnu odd-metered title track, which also brings in Jan Jarczyk on electric piano. The cellos take on most of the soloing and the original ensemble parts in a most convincing performance.

But there are also stimulating arrangements of Ornette Coleman's "W.R.U," Strayhorn's beautifully melancholy "Blood Count," Miles' "Half Nelson," "Haitian Fight Song" by Mingus, and more besides.

There's a kind of cello big band sound they get and it is done so convincingly that you stop thinking about how novel it all is and instead let yourself be captivated by the beauty and strength of the performances.

They do for the cello ensemble what Kronos has sometimes done for the string quartet. They make a convincing case for a sort of jazz-classical nexus in ways where the nexus itself is secondary to the pure enjoyment one gets from the music itself.

It's quite an achievement and highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Information Superhighway, Definitely Not the Ending!

Information Superhighway is a Chicago-based advanced rock outfit (post-prog? prog?). They are distinguished by the very engaging vocal style of Leslie Beukelman and the musical vision of composer/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Rob Clearfield. Their second album This is Not the Ending ( has been playing in my space for about a week and I must say I am taken with it.

They draw on the longer forms that prog rock traditionally addresses, but there are contemporary strains in there, some space, odd meters and other influences that are skilfully integrated into their own personal amalgam.

Leslie sings like a songbird; Rob writes and arranges with a flair; the four-person lineup delivers a sound with musicianship and drive. The original drummer left after this album was completed. The new lineup has a free live download recording you can get at the bandcamp address listed above. I have not listened to that yet.

This is Not the Ending has much to like about it. They are a free-ranging outfit and they clearly have talent. You can grab the album at CD Baby and you should if you'd like to hear something new and exemplary in the prog to fusion to alt nexus. Seriously good.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jenny Davis, Vocalist, and "Inside You"

I get a fairly large number of jazz vocalist's CDs to review every month. I cannot cover them all, especially since vocalists are only a part of what I try to address. So some get reviewed, but not all.

The new Jenny Davis CD Inside You (CRD 09) made the cut for a couple of reason. The obvious one is that she is a singer of poise. She has a pleasant instrument and she phrases nicely. The second reason is that Inside You is basically a Great American Songbook standards set, but not totally and not typically so. You get some nice versions of "When Your Lover Has Gone," "Green Dolphin Street," and "Softly (As in A Morning Sunrise)" but you also get some lesser-known songs like "Into Your Life Some Rain Must Fall," Jobim's "No More Blues," and contemporary songwriter Rodgers Grant's "Morning Glory." Not exactly typical also is Bird's "Confirmation" with added lyrics that work well, the Beatles' "Blackbird," and a rather attractive Jenny Davis original "Inside You."

Another salient feature on this one is the guitar work of Chuck Easton, who is omnipresent throughout, sometimes as the only accompanist. He plays a very solid chordal line and makes for a very good foil for Ms. Davis' vocalisms. When not the sole instrumentalist, Chuck joins with bassist Ted Enderle. Louis Aissen assists with tenor obbligato on one cut.

It is a most enjoyable journey into the heart of ten songs. Nice work.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Saalik Ziyad, AACM's Jazz Vocalist

Billie and Lester, Andy Bey and Gary Bartz, Leon Thomas and Pharaoh Sanders, Jeanne Lee and Gunter Hampel, Doug and Jean Carn. . . . when jazz singers and jazz instrumentalists get together on an equal level the results can be very inspired.

AACM's Saalik Ziyad sings well. He also is one of those who prefers to do his singing the the company of accomplished instrumental improvisers. There is his 5 After 7 band for example, which features Fred Jackson Jr. on saxophone and Shaun Johnson on trumpet and flugelhorn. And he's been involved with various other lineups in the past, notably with a group that included Willie Pickens on piano.

Some of his very worthy music can be found at his and his sites. Last year he was offering a free download of the files to his Best of Saalik Ziyad Live recording, a 2-cdr offering of some very compelling live music captures. I picked it up and have been listening to it with interest.

He sings and phrases like a horn, a horn that can do the words along with the music (of course, but hey, I mean like a HORN). He scats well and he has a sense of time that you would expect from a very good instrumental soloist. With "Passion Dance," "Black Narcissus" and "Caravan," he does the head melodies with lyrics, some presumably his own. It works! These are gigs where the tapes were rolling and the sound is always clear in a rough and ready state. What's important is that the energy and excitement of the live club gig is there in the best sense. His singing and the playing of his bandmates have the immediacy of the club gig on a great night.

Saalik is one of those Chicago treasures that those not following the Chitown scene on the club level may miss. I don't know if this CD is still available but there is plenty of music to check out on his two sites. He is a musician's singer. He is a real JAZZ singer. He should not be missed if you dig that. Do check him out.

Friday, February 18, 2011

More Brazilian Space Rock: Invisible Opera Company of Tibet

Today we return to Brazil for another disk of retro-prog psychedelia. The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet has a nice album going with UFO Planante (Voiceprint Brazil 125CD). It's guitarist Fabio Golfetti with bassist Gabriel Costa (from the Violeta de Outono band discussed yesterday), plus drummer Fred Barley.

This is some prime retro cosmic rock with some long jams, some very nice Golfetti electric slide and pick-driven guitar work, a prog Canterbury sort of approach and some very idiomatic songs with the vocals and lyrics to match. Floyd is in there somewhere again as an influence and there is also a very nice rendition of Robert Wyatt's "Moon in June," originally done as side three of Soft Machine's Third. They do it as a guitar-centered power trio and Golfetti's realization of the song gives it enough distinction that I never felt like I was hearing a reproduction of the original.

If anything this CD is even more attractive than the one from yesterday. Put the two together and you get a pretty good idea of the Golfetti way to go about things. Those who like the space rock jams of yesterday and today will find simpatico vibes happening throughout. A very good excursion for anyone inclined.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Violeta de Outono: Vol 7, Brazilian Prog Rockers

Fabio Golfetti, guitarist, vocalist, and songster, heads Brazil's Violeta de Outono for a seventh album (Volume 7 [Voiceprint Brazil 123CD]). Since I don't follow the Brazilian rock world I come to them for the first time. That doesn't stop me from liking what I hear.

It's classic prog with a definite retro flavor. The lineup involves the organ-synth, bass, drums and guitar configuration. They can sound a bit like early-mid Pink Floyd (with a hint of the sound of Meddle or Ummagumma), especially with the space slide guitar work of Golfetti, which only means that song form can be accompanied by longer atmospherical space oddities.

They take on the sound with their own energies, an un-selfconscious commitment to their version of the style complex. There are a couple of longer space jams and some shorter, more pithy FM psychedelic-garage-prog nuggets.

If you went through the music of the late-sixties and still like it I think this one will be a most pleasant return for you. If you are younger and missed the original phase this will still give you something to center your attention on. And if you don't like prog I can't help you out with this. Not everything is for everyone.

I found this one quite worth hearing. It's worthy retro-prog that will probably stymie the most fanatical devotees in a blindfold test. You'll swear you've heard this band before, but then you'll doubtless find enough new to get into that you wont care whether you have or have not.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bassist Ken Filiano and Quantum Entaglements: Dreams From A Clown Car

Ken Filiano is one of those bassists who have established bonafide credentials in the advanced jazz network as one of the leading instrumentalists of his generation. If you know his playing you know it is dead centered on communicating all facets of the complete contrabass experience.

Listen to his Dreams From A Clown Car (Clean Feed 207) and you'll hear all of that. Bowing or pizzicato he tears forth into an expressive zone and stays right there throughout.

He knows what cats to get on his team too. The one-two punch of Michael Attias and Tony Malaby on reeds, formidable both singly and as a team, virtually guarantees that a high level of musical thought and deed will be reached early on and wont disappear through the course of the entire disk. Michael T. A. Thompson brings in the right combination of power and finesse to this thoughtfully free session. He can create hard-edged washes and rumbles of percussive density, he can lay down a swinging pulse that has variation and drive, and he can sensitively complement the quieter moments too, all in ways that testify to his big ears.

Then there's Ken Filano the crafter of good free playing frameworks, Ken the jazz composer. That's the third piece of what makes the disk at hand stand out. He writes motifs that bring out the potential and considerably realized kinetic energy of the players involved. There are the long-lined pieces like "Baiting Patience" that roll through like a long freight train, continually picking up collective momentum. There are the angular stabbing jabs of melodic distinction too, pieces that set up open-ended blowing possibilities.

In short Dreams From A Clown Car gives you highly evolved, direct yet intricate collective creativity and dynamics. It's one of the finest free dates I've heard so far this year. The right cats, the right material, the right time. A beautiful moment in the new decade and a testament to the continued vitality of the new jazz. That's what we have here. If you are serious about where we are right now this should be on your short list of music to nab. Ken Filano triumphs. Attias, Malaby and Thompson outdo their considerable musical selves. The present is made salient. Jump on this one, no kidding.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Guitarist Rez Abbasi's Acoustic Quartet, "Natural Selection"

The instrumentation of vibes, piano, bass and drums became something quite significant with the advent, singularity and longevity of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Add a guitar and you had the Gary Burton-Keith Jarrett ensemble for their influential recording around 15 years after that. Come up the years to 2010, take away the piano, and you get the Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, shown to excellent advantage on the recent CD Natural Selection (Sunnyside 1264).

The MJQ of course used their instrumentation to get a sound nobody else had come up with before. Each player had a specific role to play and the sum total was extraordinarily fresh and new. The same thing could be said about that Burton-Jarrett gathering. And, yes, the Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet has yet another something going for it.

The premises are simple. Rez sticks to an acoustic guitar; Bill Ware is on vibraphone; there's Stephan Crump on acoustic bass; and Eric McPherson mans the drums. Just because this is an acoustic band though it doesn't mean that they play some kind of fossilized pre-electric music. The all-acoustic instruments give them a sound potential that they realize in ways that are modern, in the sense of being made and conceived today, and the individual personalities of the musicians and the direction they take on the six Abbasi originals and four "covers" are most definitely their own.

There are no "standards" in the typical sense here. A number by the aforementioned Jarrett, a Joe Henderson number, Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and a piece by the famed devotional singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. What matters, though, is that they make each of the pieces their own.

And the group texture is not delicate, but aerated, so to say, by the natural ringing qualities of struck vibes and cymbals, by bright guitar chords, anchored by acoustic bass and bass drum. The music then is chiming in its way, but it is not overly polite or drained of spirit. Eric McPherson and Stephen Crump drive the group with direct but elaborate rock-swing channels of expression. Bill Ware's vibraphone pivots between the natural percussiveness of the instrument and the melodic-harmonic possibilities it has latent in its make up. Bill is equally a key ensemble member and has a very convincingly hip way of comping as well as a nicely developed solo presence.

And then there is Rez. This is an outstanding outing for him as a guitarist and as a composer-arranger of the material. Because of the style parameters (Indo-Pak, "fusion") he comes out of one automatically thinks of John McLaughlin, with or without Shakti, and has expectations from exposure to that. Rez goes his own way though. He plays ravishing lines and shows harmonically-melodically that he thinks differently than John.

The end effect is of a program of exceptional merit. The pieces have beauty, the playing is exemplary and Rez Abassi shows that he has a great deal of depth to what he does and can do. It gives notice that he has arrived, truly, as a guitar-playing force, a real artist, a fully developed plectrologist at the top of the heap.

Excellent, excellent music here. This is one that you should spring for if you have the coin. It pays you back with much musical interest!

Monday, February 14, 2011

James Kinds' "Love You From the Top:" New Blues From Chi-town

James Kinds has the blues. Up from Mississippi to Chicago in 1959, construction worker by day and bluesman by night, he is finally getting his due on the new Delmark release Love You From the Top (811).

He plays a rhythmic treble-centered soul-blues style guitar, has his own way of putting together lyrics that tell of hard times, disappointment and getting over it all. But it's his hard-edged vocal style that puts him over the top. He is in the upper range as far a blues voices go, and has a lot of blues-soul in the way Elmore James had it, only there's no mistaking James Kinds for anybody but James Kinds. He incorporates some soul elements in the way that Magic Sam did so well, only this time out it's James Kinds' way.

He's backed by a solid rocking band that includes a guest appearance from Wolf's tenor bluesman Eddie Shaw.

The blues has not expired. It lives with cats like James Kinds. The REAL blues, that is. This is in every way on the level of the best Chicago tradition. Grab a copy (see link) and go to town!

Friday, February 11, 2011

John L Homes, Guitarist, The Holmes Stretch

Washington State native John L Holmes and his seven-piece band take front stage for the CD The Holmes Stretch (I'm not sure of the label on this one).

The band runs through 12 of Mr. Holmes originals and they have some definite charm. This is mostly Latin-funk-jazz arranged well for the mid-sized ensemble, with Mr. Holmes one of the main soloists. His guitar playing is bluesy, pentatonic and generally attractive, and he gets an ensemble sound from the band that has some distinction.

The Latin grooves are mostly pretty hep. I found myself being drawn into the music at times. There are stretches though when I thought a little more fire and perhaps more up-tempo renditions of some of this material would do wonders. Sometimes there's not quite enough of a spark coming out of the speakers. Perhaps John was aiming at a radio market that prefers things smooth. This really isn't smooth jazz deep down and the entire disk would benefit from some more push in the rhythm.

But that's my take.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rubber Soulive: Soulive Do The Beatles

The Beatles. You were there. You were not there. You love them. You hate them. I remember my sister and I waiting outside the Colonial Toy Shop (my main source of records then) with a copy of Meet the Beatles tucked under my sister's arm, waiting for our parents to pick us up. An older lady passed by the shop, looked at the point-of-purchase display in the window, and remarked to us, "The Bee-ATE-ells, how cute!" For a time it became inconceivable that anyone would mispronounce their name like that. To not know how was to have lived in a cave eating nettles back then. Give it another 30 years and that might start happening once more. (I don't mean the nettles-eating, but you never know.) History can forget things like how to say a name. So be it.

But one thing that will not likely be forgotten is the music. And so we turn to the latest Soulive release, Rubber Soulive (Royal Family Records), which gives you stirring organ-trio rock-funk versions of some Beatles' evergreens (not for eating though), from "Help" through to "Something."

Soulive's been releasing albums for well over a decade, but this is the first doing the Fab Four. And it is one of those instrumental-music-for-a-purpose thangs. Rubber Soulive gives you the hammond-guitar-drums funk versions of some of the biggies. That's what it is about and it goes about it with zest.

They do spirited versions of "Revolution," "Drive My Car," I think you get the idea .... Now you are going to like this one if you dig the Beatles and want to relive the music on a different plane. These guys give it the old funkola and I personally found the whole package quite easy to put on and dig. If you are a Beatles purist (what does that mean, though?) or a purist purist, leave this one alone.

It's not largely a solos thing going on, it's a funk and arrangement thing. It sure beats the Hollyridge Strings. This has a pre-selected audience going for it. I think you already know whether you are going to like it. Go ahead. Like it if you like it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Opening: Lively Prog From The CloverSeeds

French prog rockers The CloverSeeds hit American audiences for the first time with The Opening (Laser's Edge). It is actually their second full album, the first to be released here.

What they are is a band that does directly emotional material with the clout of metal but the expansive soundstage, long sustain and layering of prog rock. Vocals are strong in a youthful sort of way and the songs have something to them.

This is an excellent band that happens to sound great on disc, thanks to state-of-the-art rock production values advocated by producer Christian Moschius. The guitars are in the driver's seat. A slightly macabre darkness and melancholy prevails.

If those traits are ones you find agreeable, you will most likely find CloverSeeds to your liking. This album does not stint on musical content or rely on formulaic twitches and ticks. They are the real thing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Matt Panayides, Electric Guitarist, and "Tapestries of Song"

How many guitarists are out there today? And how many of them can scare you with amazing technical feats of prowess? The answer is, as I once, stalling for time, replied to a college honors committee panel when asked how many years it has been since hominids first walked the earth, "very many, very many indeed." Yet how many of them have an original voice (the guitarists, not necessarily the hominids)? Not all that many.

There's a new fellow on the scene that may well quality, with a first album, Tapestries of Song (Pacific Coast Jazz 93423). His name is Matt Panayides. I wont rehearse the litany of people he has played with or the degrees he has obtained. He did and he did.

What matters is the music in the end. The first outing finds him in good company, in a quartet setting. Doing all Panayides originals. There's a strong presence from tenorman Rich Perry; the rock-steady, smart bass playing of Steve LaSpina; and one of my favorites in the "new" drummer category, Dan Weiss, who just about guarantees that a session will come together with the subtleties of good swinging polyvalent time.

This is a more or less straight-ahead date, but that doesn't mean that Matt and company play it safe.They do not. The music is changes-based for the most part; the pulse is almost always there someplace and the soloists concentrate on linear thrust, on stringing a coherent story-line together.

It is the strength of those solos that in part make this a notable outing. Matt has a pure, ringing, moderately amplified tone and he plays lines that do not remind one of anybody, and they make sense. Rich Perry plays a nicely together tenor in the contemporary mode, and he too does not rely upon the licks that can form a large part of the average date. The rhythm section compliments what's going on and adds substantially to the final result.

And Mr. Panayides writes some strong tunes that wear well and set up the soloing in a very good way. And he shows us that he may well be an important new voice on that most popular of instruments, if he keeps this up.

Strong music. Recommended. And good luck to Matt Panayides!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jason Robinson and "The Two Faces of Janus"

Jason Robinson has been keeping excellent company of late. And he has been showing at least three sides of his impressively wide-ranging musical personality. He recently made a very presuasively coherent duet album with Anthony Davis (see for a review of that), he has made a very interesting solo album with electronics (see the above-mentioned blog tomorrow) and he has made a larger ensemble, harder-driving contemporary jazz album with some electricity and rock-fire momentum.

It's the latter of the three records that is up for discussion today, The Two Faces of Janus (Cuneiform Rune 311). First off, the lineup. It is a well-chosen, very lucidly fluent ensemble indeed. There's Jason on tenor, soprano and flute; Marty Ehrlich on alto and bass clarinet; Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto; Liberty Ellman on electric guitar; Drew Gress on the contrabass; and George Schuller on drums. This is a band with a definite identity. The rhythm team of Gress and Schuller can do anything and they do it well, whether it touches on the realm of swing, elaborated rock inflected time or freetime. They provide the spark when needed, and do so in very sophisticated ways. Liberty Ellman is a guitarist that can do ruminative, reflective chord and line statements or charge heatedly into the fray with electric-edged chromatic flow-torrents. The horn lineup is perhaps the most impressive of all: three distinct masters of saxaphony, Rudresh the chromatic firebrand, Marty the deft abstractionist, and Mr. Robinson, who holds his own in such illustrious company as a very limber post-Trane exponent that manages to stay clear of some of the phrases and certain uses of multiphonics some players tend to overuse.

This is a full-length CD with ten very interesting Robinson compositional vehicles, from the ultrmodern balladic, to the open-ended motifs and the hard-edge chromatic contrapuntal lines that form a catalyst for burning ensemble improvisations. Some of the collective horn improvisations are stunning. All of it gives notice to anyone within earshot that these players have plenty to express and do so with a convincing directness and, when called for, a soaring turbulence of note-creating.

Jason Robinson is a force to be reckoned with on the contemporary jazz scene, that is clear. The Two Faces of Janus is excellent modern jazz on all fronts, compositionally, improvisationally, and in terms of group dynamics. Take note: Jason Robinson is somebody to listen to closely in the coming decade.

Start with this album. I believe you'll agree once you've given it a close listen.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tomas Michaud Plays New (Age?) Flamenco

Tomas Michaud plays in a style that is most certainly related to flamenco. But it isn't flamenco. He wields the classical acoustic guitar, he plays in minor modes much of the time, and some of the flamenco technique is there. Otherwise, well, what he does on the last CD, Beauty and Fire (Starland Music) is a kind of instrumental music. It has some "world" aspects--a tabla, a hand drum, etc. It is music designed not to rattle the brain. It is music you might hear piped through the phone when you are on hold for an hour and ready to flip.

So what is it? Dare I say that the "s" word (smooth) and the n.a. words (new age) come to mind? Jazz? Not exactly, though Tomas does a little in the obbligato department and he gets a glorious tone.

Just think of it as well arranged instrumental guitar music with a flamenco influence. His playing is quite pleasing.

It's Muzac, yes. But it is very nice Muzac.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hassan Erraji: North African Tradition and Modern Excitement

Sometimes when traditional musics become modernized, they end up sounding like disco, even not-very-good disco. Now I don't find such mass media influences very interesting. When a musician-arranger of the caliber of Hassan Erraji brings Moroccan music into the 21st century however, there is nothing compromised or diluted about the result.

His latest, Awal Mara (World Village), retains the instrumentation of serious North African forms but adds a very kinetic bass and drums that, as the saying goes, "rock out" the music in ways that I find irresistible. Hassan utilizes a wonderful ensemble that includes oud, fiddle, traditional percussion and such, and that rocking rhythm section. The vocals are very good, the songs excellent, and it all comes together in a very engaging way.

If this music were played in discos today, I might go and dance. If you know me, that is saying a great deal about how I respond to the music. (I don't generally dance.)

Hassan Erraji is a superlative force. Hook into his musical vision and you'll be transported to a fine place.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ursel Schlicht and Bruce Arnold, String Theory

A number of years ago the idea that a very acoustic piano and a very electric guitar (plus electronics) would fruitfully engage in a free-wheeling set of improvisational compositions would have been pretty rarified. A few years before that, virtually an unheard occurrence.

Today it is not that surprising. But then almost any combination of instruments is possible and sometimes even commonplace in the musical avant garde of the present.

When the results are as musically satisfying as the CD at hand, though, you have an uncommon event.

String Theory (Muse Eek 124) teams pianist Ursel Schlicht with guitarist Bruce Arnold. There are five duets on the recording, including a three-part "String Suite." All of it is quite engaging.

What strikes me about these improvisations is the highly imaginative inventiveness of both players, the varied atmospheric mood sequences and the attention to sound color. Bruce, his guitar and some sort of computer driven electronic device called the supercollider, gets blankets of sound that vary from the super quiet to the more turbulent. His individual line constructions are always interesting. Usel Schlicht plays inside and outside her instrument with a real pianism that explains why she has been gaining admiration in and around the New York area for several years. She too plays with a fresh sort of melodic-harmonic sense. Together they create a new music-free improvisation hybrid that has some of the power of the latter with the dynamic and contentual breadth of the former. These are improvisational compositions. Each segment seems thoughtfully preconceived so that there is both looseness and structure in play at all times.

There are parts that drive and more meditative moments. All of it seems inspired to me.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Brian Drye's Bizingas: The Heft of Rock; the Musical Girth of Jazz

Trombonist Brian Drye shows convincingly in his debut Bizingas ((NCM East 40130) that the power and excitement of contemporary rock can be joined with the compositional and improvisational inventiveness of the best contemporary jazz.

The quartet Brian put together and the roles that each play are critical to the success of the outing.There is of course Brian on trombone (and keys) and Kirk Knuffke on cornet. The horns function as a two-man frontline part of the time, playing written parts that suggest the entire history of jazz and the many brilliant moments such tandems have produced from NOLA to Duke and through to today. That too is the case with their improvisational interactions, which are worth the price of admission alone. Guitar and drums-percussion sometimes split off and function as a rhythm team, or take part in a four-way dialog, provide rock and avant riff power, and/or add their texture to the mix. Brian's piano and synth give the ensemble a fifth voice that can provide foundational chording or weave lines in and out of the mix, coupling improvisationally-compositionally with a myriad of possible instrument combinations.

The compositions are quite expressive and weighty. There are new wrinkles on out rock-funk, shred jazz, contrapuntal form, and thematic through-ness and/or written-improvisational vehicles where the two elements are integrated so thoroughly that there is an of-the-moment immediacy to all of it. Brian writes some really interesting lines that are not in the least bit hackneyed, but totally fresh and inventive.

Then there are the musical personalities of the players, which are distinctive. Brian the full-bodied limber trombonist with ideas to spare; Kirk Knuffke and his coronet, who manages to sound both timeless and very contemporary. Jonathan Goldberger plays some outstanding electric guitar, subtly free at one point, powerfully crank-rocked another. Ches Smith on drums has been turning in performances lately that put him among the best of the "new" players. He is versatile and knows all about the deeper sound production aspects of the drum kit. And he can be anchor-propulsive.

On just about any level you can think of--compositionally, conceptually, improvisationally, freely, propulsively--this is outstanding music. It bodes well for where the new jazz is and will be in the future. I mean that. Thank you Brian Drye. Give us some more, please. We need a second helping!