Friday, December 30, 2011
Guitarist Andy Fite has been working on getting most if not all of his self-produced recordings available again, principally as downloads. We've covered a few on this blog (do a search in the window at the top of this page for the reviews) and they have been quite stimulating and stylistically multifold.
Today we note a short but excellent piece of music, the seven-minute "Farewell Forever." It's a multiple-track universe of acoustic and mildly electrified guitars playing some very interesting harmo-melodic sequences that are part pre-arranged, part improvised. It's a very engaging string soup of multiple Andys, almost a "Descent into the Maelstrom" (Tristano) for today and for guitar. But it is also something different than that. Or at least it SOUNDS very different.
If you want to get a kick then grab this cut and dig. Mr. Fite should be heard. He has a wicked left hook!
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Based in Lisbon, Portugal, hammond organist David Maranha and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini have something to say, judging from the live vinyl LP release A Fonte de Aretusa (Mazagran MZ002).
It's 40-some-odd continuous minutes of the duo droning, psychedelisizing and freely traversing a quietly dense soundscape that resembles an expanded explosion of what Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt might have done in an early Soft Machine performance. It has that sort of rhythmically open, interestingly distorted organ tone and flippy pulseless drumming that was known to come about for a minute or two in the course of a long jam by the Softs.
Of course there's a bit more to it than that. There is staying power generated betweeen the two. It goes in various directions, creates variations on the variations of the deceptively static overall sound, and never gets boring.
I find myself drawn to this one for reasons that do not have a cognitive logic. It's well mapped spontaneity on a trip without a literal map, a sonic journey that thrives from its simple premises.
Not everyone will be drawn to this one. But I think if you have read the description you will know if it is going to be you. . . or not. Play on players, dream on dreamers.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I can't spend my whole listening life in the rarified clouds. Every so often I have to come down to earth with something rootsy and soulful. That something is amply supplied by guitarist Ron Jackson today with his down-home organ trio and their CD Flubby Dubby (Roni Music 0700).
This is caught live and swinging. It's Ron on electric guitar, in a sort of post-Benson mode, Kyle Koeler doing the funkified organ thing (reminding me a little of Don Patterson), Otis Brown III heating it up on drums, and a guest sax section on a couple of cuts.
Ron plays quite well in the gutbucket boppin' and burnin' mode. He's is well on the way to mastering the tradition and I suspect the next step will be to add a personal touch bit-by-bit. As it is this is very nice, hard hitting and bluesy trio doings. There are some standards, including a nice version of the Beatles "Winding Road", and some solid-groove originals.
That's what it is. That's where it is. You like that tradition, you will dig this. They kick it.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Today a look at the last of the series of CDs by guitarist Bruce Arnold that we have been covering (see previous posts), namely, Bruce Arnold and John Stowell's Sonic Infestation (Muse Eek 149). The album is subtitled "Electroacoustic Guitar Improvisations," and that is what we have here. These are a series of multilayered, acoustically manipulated duets for acoustic and/or electric guitars.
Sonic Infestations finds common ground in the musical space between players like John McLaughlin and Ralph Towner without actually straying on the usual turf of either artist. There are 11 fairly short sequences that total in an EP-lengthed playing time of 33-odd minutes. The electroacoustic manipulation often provides a third voice-texture via its interesting transformation of guitar sounds.
In the end this is an always-captivating venture into improvisational and transformational brightness. Arnold and Stowell play interesting dual improvisations and the electroacoustics complement the stringed immediacy with a dimensional depth that I find quite appealing. It is a good listen.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Benjamin Duboc, "Primare Cantus," an Achievement for Avant Contrabass and Supporting Instrumentalists
Benjamin Duboc has an ambitious program of sound, noise and tone production that he realizes on the three-CD set Primare Cantus (Ayler 98-99-100). It all centers around Duboc's contrabass and the various sounds and tones he coaxes from it, covering a pretty wide range of conventional and unconventional sound producing techniques and interacting with a series of sympathetic musicians: Jean-Luc Petit on baritone and tenor sax, Didier Lasserre on snare drum and cymbals, Sylvain Guerineau on tenor, Pascal Battus on microtonal guitar, Sophie Agnel on piano, and Christian Pruvost, trumpet. It has an avant noise element going for it much of the time; other times there is more conventional note production that sounds more in line with the sort of "standard" free improv happening today. It's challenging music that will be appreciated by avant music aficionados, less so by others I suppose.
The long first disc bass solo provides perhaps the most difficult listening experience. Low bowed noisy sustains are punctuated by percussive clicks and taps for an entire CD. It is exhilarating once you get used to it, puzzling before that.
Disk two expands the music by bringing in Guerineau, Lasserre and Petit for varying portions of the program. It starts with aeriated long tones on reeds and string punctuations that make full use of the colors and sounds of the contrabass. It has an improv and ambient feel. For part two bowed harmonics and reed harmonics provide long continuously droning and gradually shifting legato sonics. Part three has more movement with bass and sax sounding some fundamental tones and harmonics. Part four brings in light brushed drums and some more conventionally expressed bass improvisatory sounding excursions. Part five appears to make use of bowed cymbals and bowed bass harmonics (?) for a long wash of sound color. Part six is a more "conventional" free duet between bass and brushed drums. There is a kind of ritually reverberating attention to fundamental bass tones there--double stops and ruminative phrasings. Part seven gets into a still more active duet between tenor and bass, freely articulated. Seven continues the bass-tenor interaction, getting closer to something Rivers and Holland did back in the day, but going at it in their own fashion. It continues and builts in density on eight, then returns to a slightly more quiescent conclusion on the final track of disk two.
Disk three brings in three new players to interact with Duboc (Agnel, Battus and Pruvost). The first longish section has an ambient noise element, produced with rumbling machine-like bass continuity and continuously sounding higher pitched soundscapes (on microtonal guitar?). A short middle section has to do with white noise hiss, quiet and at times nearly silent. The final 20 minutes indulge in bowed three-way harmonics and unconventional trumpet and piano soundings that would not sound out of place as produced by the Acting Trio of BYG days, or MEV, AMM or il gruppo. It changes and transforms...
This is a sometimes stark, always rather provocative presentation on the edge of avant music today. Duboc impresses with his controlled unconventional contrabass; the supporting musicians turn in sounds and tones that interact with Duboc in ways that are completely idiomatic and appropriate. It's purist avant of a thoroughgoing sort. It may not generate a huge following but it is worthy of the time and effort required to understand and appreciate the matrix of sounds the musicians put forward so imaginatively.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Carnival Skin (Nemu 003) has it. It has the free exuberance that sometimes comes about when some excellent improvisers get together and let it all out. The compositions, one by each group member and one collective collaboration--provide a good springboard for the solos and group improvisations that follow.
This is a choice pairing of five burners and they show some beautiful chemistry here. Bruce Eisenbeil goes at the electric guitar in an outside way with great control and judicious note/cluster choices. (Check the article listings on the right for several more reviews of his recordings on Gapplegate Guitar.) He sometimes executes rapid, rolling dissonant clusters, something that Sonny Sharrock did so well. However Eisenbeil's voicings are different than Sharrock's. Bruce gets into various ways of out-articulating; his phrasing is accomplished and poetic. Perry Robinson, THE towering exponent of improv clarinet, gets some tremendous energy and torque throughout. Young trumpet firebrand Peter Evans is in great form as well. Together the three front-liners kick up a good deal of dust. With the addition of Klaus Kugel on drums and Hilliard Greene on bass, both potent players who know what to do in this sort of context, the picture is complete.
Together the group generates some wildly exciting free music. This is one kick-tokas session!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Sara Sherpa treats her voice as a horn. Mostly wordless vocals, theme and scat, set up the sound of the band and help define her originality. The rest is what she composes and what the band goes with in the process of realizing them. Mobile (Inner Circle 022) is the name of the release. It's Serpa on vocals, Andre Matos on guitars, Kris Davis on piano and Rhodes, Ben Street on the upright, and Ted Poor, drums.
In essence these are freely progressive, loose but structured improv compositions. There are strong melodic lines, nicely harmonized, and kind of post-Dead Can Dance sensibility that combines some world elements, a bit of a rock beat here and there, and a kind of ECM meets bossa Brazil blend that transcends all the elements to get at where Sara and the band want to be.
Very encouragingly original, new harmonic music!! That's what you have on this one.
Monday, December 19, 2011
It's all very simple. C.J. Chenier takes the zydeco tradition exemplified by his famous father Clifton and puts it in a contemporary rock-blues-R&B orbit. You can hear it in his new album Can't Sit Down (World Village 468109).
C.J. has a great, soulful blues-rock voice, he plays the accordion in his own uplifting, bluesy zydeco way (and that's of course essential to what he does) and he has a good rocking band that gets things moving.
He does classics his own way, like the title cut or "Baby Please Don't Go" and he turns them around as he sees fit. He hits on classic zydeco with a C. J inflection. And he musters together some rootsy originals. Tom Wait's "Clap Hands" never sounded so good (outside of Tom doing it of course).
This is hot stuff!! Just don't miss it because you'll miss a great time and genuine artistry. C. J. has it all locked in!
Friday, December 16, 2011
OK, what have we here? It's something rather odd, I must say. Dan Melchior und das Menace have put together on Catbirds and Cardinals (Northern-Spy 011) a rather bizarre album of off-kilter would-be pop-rock. They have hooks, most of the time. They have a retro sort of faux psychedelics-for-the-radio sound. The lyrics are off the wall as much as anything. "Drama Queens on Prozac," for example, as you can gather from the title.
It's very well done but also very low-fi. It sounds like it's playing through an old transistor radio, partially because it was either tracked, mixed or mastered at such a hot level that distortion is a factor.
Other than that, it is very cool stuff.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Trey Gunn, Henry Kaiser, Morgan Agren, "Invisible Rays" Scorches and Enflames the Edges of Fused Rock
An avant burn of incandescence envelopes me each time I listen to Invisible Rays (Trey Gunn self release). With the line up here one might just say, "no wonder" and leave it there. But that would be assuming a bit too much and would find most readers a bit adrift, so I continue.
This is a quite fortuitous (or fortune-blessed) meeting of three remarkable musical electricians. Morgan Agren plays the sort of drums that puts him at the top of the heap of fusion trappists. If you've heard his remarkable work with the Matts-Morgan outfit you know what I mean. And he excels here as well. Henry Kaiser should be familiar to most readers, a new avant guitarist's guitarist and a force of nature. Trey Gunn has been a longtime member of King Crimson and, as regular readers of this blog know, a bass-stick-multi-instrumentalist-composer-master of the studio rocketship ever on the go to uncharted planetary configurations.
Invisible Rays not only does not disappoint, it exceeds the limits of where any one of them has been for a three-way edge 'em out that will enthrall if you have ears at all. Not to wax too hyperbolic. That's how it hits me.
It begins with the 21-minute outjam on the title piece and does not let up. Both Gunn and Kaiser get some sounds that I don't think I've ever heard for sheer electric thrust and Agren madly rocks away. It goes on from there with a trio performance of high impact. It's beyond Crimson, beyond Matts-Morgen, beyond Kaiser's ordinary solo work, and it's what Trey Gunn has been progressing toward for some time. Throughout a healthy dose of outjamming makes for brilliant spontaneity.
I hesitate to overhype but this one does strike me as some landmark stuff. Sh*tcan the holiday music and put THIS on! At least for part of your festivities...
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Fred Fried is a very accomplished guitarist, plays an eight-string nylon stringed acoustic, and gives us one of his very best outings to date on Encore (Ballet Tree). It's the second release by his trio Core, which includes Michael Lavoie on contrabass and Miki Matsuki, drums, both playing a subtle and important accompanying role.
The disk presents 67 well-balanced minutes of the Fried guitar universe, which includes eleven nicely put-together Fried-penned items and a whole lot of guitar. He has an original contemporary feel for harmonic underpinnings, some very sophisticated voicings and melodic straightforwardness in his writing-execution. As an improvising guitarist he excels in the chordal and arpeggiated style that comes in part from his quite apparent classical training (NOTE: I am NOT correct in this assumption. See Fred's illuminating comment below); but he also shows an increasingly subtle finesse on single-line runs, especially at slower tempos. There are some similarities with Ralph Towner's neo-classical guitar style and brightness of form, but only as a touching point for what Fried is up to here.
This album goes very far in giving you the Fried artistry as it stands today. And that is something to treasure. Recommended.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
There are torrid advanced out-rockers, some droning psychedelics, riff-based funkers with long floating melodies that owe something to Soft Machine and Weather Report, and some off-in-space segments where they take it out.
All-in-all it's another good spin on the genre of electric jazz-rock as evolved out of classic Soft Machine, Mothers and other innovators of the initial flowering of the music. It is first and foremost a group sound and a conceptual-compositional vehicle situation. Though compositions work to establish the mood of each number, yet it is what's put on top of it that often holds the most interest. Individual solos are there as needed and both Delville and Grognard come through singly as warranted, but it can be a matter of a three-way collective improvisation as well. A high point is Delville's long, planet-spanning guitar solo on "Falling Up."
It is a nicely turned set. It's a nicely wrought contribution to the music.
Monday, December 12, 2011
The band X was one of the bright lights of the punk-new wave movement. Exene's vocals and songwriting, John Doe's co-writing and co-vocals and the solid musicianship of the band upped the bar for the artband thing. Angel City Productions did a full length documentary on the band some 20 years ago entitled "The Unheard Music" which has now been issued in a Silver Edition with additional material previously unreleased (MVD Visual 5262D).
It is a great example of a fully thought out music documentary. It includes plenty of music live and in the studio, an overview of those rather heady times when punk-wave was a social as well as musical force, a look at Hollywod in the late '70s-early '80s, at X in relation to the music business as it then was, biographical info on the participants and their own version of the history and trajectory of their careers, and an art-auteur sort of thing, with nice effects, use of retro-stock film clips and an intelligent narrative thread.
The new material includes a bit more music and extensive interviews with Exene and John Doe as well as the filmmakers. It's a must for X fans as well as those with an interest in the era and the music scene. Well done!
I've reviewed a number of vocalist Katie Pearlman's previous albums. Alas they were posted on the www.gapplegate.com site which I had to take down several months ago and was not able to salvage the reviews that had not been transferred over to here. That site will be resurrected shortly for my own music, but in the meantime Katie is back with a new one, Girls Like Us (Self-released KP-004). It's a good follow-up on the previous efforts, one of her very strongest. By the way, think of the title as "Girls Like US," not "Girls LIKE Us," OK? Different meaning there.
She's been a drummer-vocalist coming out of a jamband background and this I believe is the first album where she has switched over to rhythm acoustic guitar and given the drumming assignment to someone else for now. It's clear that she's concentrated on her songwriting, but there is a residual country-Dead feel to some of the music, though this album does not center on jams. Katie's vocals are very much her own. There's a hint of Edie Brickell, some of the blue-eyed soul qualities of Tracy Nelson, and otherwise it's Katie. The songs are very much to the point as well. These are some of her very strongest. Lyrics tend to be personal-autobiographical a la Joni Mitchell, and that's a dimension that brings her as a fully human-musical being before our ears.
This is really attractive music by a vocalist-songwriter that deserves your support. These are real songs sung really well. Welcome back Katie!
Friday, December 9, 2011
Can't say as I've heard nylon-stringed guitarist Benji Kaplan before I heard the release at hand today. Now that I have I shall not forget the name. Meditacoes no Violao (Circo Mistico Productions) is a full CD of his solo guitar work. He is a NYC native who became enamored with the music of the middle east, Africa and Brazil, began playing the nylon stringed classical guitar at an early age, spent time in Brazil studying the music with local masters, and then returned to the US, getting his BFA in jazz and contemporary music from the New School. Since then he has performed and sung with his own band and, as on this record, as a solo guitarist.
Meditacoes shows you how far he has come. It's a rather brilliant set of improvisations and compositions that he put together showing how he has taken on Brazilian classical and jazz-bossa-samba guitar and made it his own. He has impressive touch and feel on the guitar and his music is pretty darned ravishing. It's a guitar album guitarists will totally grok. And guitar fans will get equal pleasure.
This guy is GOOD. Hear this one!
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Haunted House makes good use of frame drums, distorted skronk guitar blares and poetic beatnik type song-chant vocals to create a heavy drop cloth of sound--on Blue Ghost Blues (Northern Spy 012).
It's an album that could have been made during the heyday of the psychedelic underground, maybe 1967. Only it's not. It has rawness, power and a sizable chunk of outer space in its pocket.
It's something that either works or fails miserably. Haunted House works. This is good crazy-arsed music. Grab it and you'll grab a piece of the underground, 2012. A worthy piece.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Dexter Romweber came to notice as the Silvertone guitar-wielding, attitude-laced vocalist for the rockabilly-thrash outfit The Flat Duo Jets, a sometimes duo, sometimes trio gathering of guitar, drums and bass. Tony Gayton directed Two-Headed Cow, a fine documentary of the ups and downs of Dexter Romweber's life and music. It's now out on DVD (MVD Visual 5259D) and I took a look this past weekend.
It's a quilt of interviews, live footage, band banter, and interviews that tell poignantly the story of an underground rocker who hit the edge of fame and fortune and didn't quite get there, then psychically melted down for a time, only to re-emerge to try and resurrect his life. Dexter is a very intelligent cat and his narrative account of the situation he found himself in is moving.
What's not exactly standard with music DVDs is the fact that Two Headed Cow works exceptionally well as a documentary. It's a story filmed over 18 years, bringing home the personal difficulties of talent facing a brutal world. In the end you come away with a feeling that you have experienced first-hand Dexter's 18 years of struggle and triumph, struggle and failure, struggle and re-emergence from total burn-out. It's a heroic story in its own way, and a very absorbing film. Recommended.
You may note that fusion seems to be re-emerging after some years where for various reasons it was anathema in certain circles. It turns out that circles can influence the music, but they cannot stop a style dead in its tracks. And so they could not and did not.
Planet Z (Blue Chair) gives you a 30-minute look at the violin of Susan Aquila along with the compositions and guitar of Rob Tomaro and some good key, bass, drums support. Her violin lifts things up and so does Rob's guitar. The compositions are well-pieced-together chunks of classic fusion, rechanneling for today the legacy of Cobham, Corea, Ponty and Mclaughlin.
It's well done and a good start. They have not broken through to a totally original sphere at this point, but that may come in time. Ms. Acquila and Mr. Tomaro play enough solo-wise to get the juices flowing. So flow with it. If you are a die-hard fusionist you will hear the sort of thing you expect and no doubt that will please you. I look to future albums to continue to develop the music in a more original direction. As it is there are some very nice moments and a classic orientation.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Mike Baggetta returns with Source Material (Fresh Sound). He brings in a very copacetic quartet of himself on electric guitar, Jason Rigby, tenor sax, Eivind Opsvik on the upright, and George Schuller on drums. It's a working band, and they show it with the kind of interlocking understanding such a situation makes possible.
Here we have an all-originals date. Baggetta assembles a very interesting set of his compositions that go well with the artists at hand. It's an often pretty lyrical, post-ECM sort of music, with space for some excellent rapport, the harmonic and single note thoughts of Mike, the very together tenor sound and solo pointedness of Jason, plus Eivind and George doing very sensitive work fleshing it out and getting things in motion.
Mike is developing his style from a contemporary, harmonically rich and notefully striking base. The facility, imagination and taste is there and he draws on the Jim Hall-and-beyond guitar innovators as he builds his own personal foundation. He can get very contemporary-chromatic, which he does especially well on "Momentum" as George and Eivind kick up a swingtime storm. Jason gets somewhere from where we are too, with a solidly built contemporary edifice of his own.
It's a total package at this point--pieces, improvisations and group distinctiveness. Mike is a guy to watch in the coming years, and even now!
Monday, December 5, 2011
Some of us are particular about the holiday/Christmas music we play over the season. Sick of the Bings, Nats, Mannheimers, or whatever is standard fare? If so you might find the Elisabeth Lohninger Band's Christmas in July (Jazz Sick 11708) to your taste. Elisabeth has a good voice and it has a jazz inflection to it, really rather good. She is joined by guitar-piano-bass-drums and they can do solos, swing and accompany with style and grace.
What's especially interesting is the song choice. These are Christmas songs from all around the world, most of which you probably never heard before, except for a USA selection, "A Christmas Song," which of course you do know, don't you? Then "Silent Night" is the one from Austria. Otherwise there are songs from Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Italy, France, Denmark, etc., probably unfamiliar to you.
So you get 12 songs and not the same-old, mostly. They are done well. Something different!
Friday, December 2, 2011
To brighten up your holiday festivities, what about some Christmas music a la Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France? Doug Munro and La Pompe Attack do that nicely on A Very Gypsy Christmas (GotMusicRecords GMR 002). It's Doug on lead acoustic with violin, chunk-chunk rhythm guitar and bass, violin a la Grappelli, and Ken Peplowski doing what he does so well on clarinet. Oh, and there are some serviceable, pleasant enough appearances here and there by a female vocalist.
It is a well-arranged Djangofest on seasonal favorites: "Sleigh Ride," "We Three Kings," "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," and 12 others. It is what you expect. This is the bouncing, infectious Hot Club thing to get you feeling good. And Munro has facility.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Anyone who has listened closely to even one volume of the Ethiopiques anthology of local popular music of the '50s and '60s knows how distinctive the style is that is involved. Electric guitarist Girum Mezmur had the good idea of resurrecting some of these song gems for an mostly acoustic group of strings, percussion, drums, bass, accordian, and clarinet. Addis Acoustic Project's Tewesta (Remembrance) (World Village 468091) is the first fruits of this effort and it is in its own way an important coda, addendum and refreshing of the Ethiopiques legacy.
We are treated to 15 songs, some as instrumentals, some with added vocals, all worthy material for the sheer pleasure of experiencing the characteristic melodic flourishes and interesting timbre combinations.
If you appreciated Ethiopiques you will undoubtedly get equal enjoyment from this updated take on the tradition. The album can be enjoyed, however, whether you know Ethiopiques well or not at all. Recommended.