Friday, June 28, 2013

Alex Lubet, Spectral Blues, New Music for Acoustic Guitar

Alex Lubet on acoustic guitar is the focus of Spectral Blues (Ravello 7865). He gives us two major suites in multi-parts, "Reliquary Dances" and "Eight Ouds." These are "classical" compositions for steel-string acoustic.

Lubet combines a fine presentational technique with extended guitar sounds that include jazz-like voicings, and Eastern and Mid-Eastern string playing methods that come out of traditions of practice on the oud, koto, pipa and other non-Western, non-guitar stringed instruments. Assumed also in his music is the classical guitar tradition and modern classical sensibilities.

Put all that together and you have highly interesting work that induces contemplation and a heightened sound awareness. It is a very subtle tour de force that will appeal to all who love the pure sound of an acoustic played well, with the emphasis on music rather than spectacle.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Colla Parte, A Cast of Shadows

If you never experienced the spectrum of "serious" music out there today, you've missed quite a bit, I should think. I started like everyone else as a kid. I didn't know much of anything except what was on the radio and what my father played, his records. I followed my nose most of my life, one thing suggesting another, until I am ear-wise where I am.

I suggest this because today's CD is miles away from some of the indie rock I cover here, and yet it's something you should hear if you want to give yourself a stretch and grow.

I speak of the avant improv trio Colla Parte and their new CD A Cast of Shadows (self-released). The group consists of Daniel Barbiero on double bass, Perry Conticchio on reeds and flutes, and Rich O'Meara on vibes and percussion.

The album and its avant improvised music has as thematic the contrasts between shadow and light, as expressed musically. Of course music cannot directly express light--but the poetic thought is what motivates these three adventuresome artists. An interesting aspect of the instrumentation is Rich O'Meara's ability to get into the vibes and percussion or act as the drummer. With that option the group can grab into a chamber new music sound or a free music jazz feel or anything in between. And they do that.

Daniel puts much into play either arco or pizzicato, Perry has melodic improv ideas to spare and Rich engages in dialog and commentary in ways that extend his role and function.

If you are a young reader of this blog, you might find it consoling to know that most of the guys in this trio still have their hair, or maybe all do and one shaves his head. I don't know. But the point is that there are younger people coming up into avant music. It isn't something just for the cane and sweater set!

Colla Parte is a quite interesting example of music you can make because you have learned to hear something else than the ramrod military-march-equivalents-avec-boobs like you see and hear on the videos today! There IS much alternative music of all kinds and this is part of that. A good part.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Jason Mears Electric Quintet, Book of Changes, Part 1

Readers of this blog know that often this is where "electric music" can be found, whether the album is led by a guitarist or not. Today's disk is a great example. It is the Jason Mears Electric Quintet, a population of heavies, a loosely potent totality. The album is Book of Changes, Part 1 (Prefecture 008).

This is electric avant jazz-rock following in the footsteps of Miles Davis in his psyche-electric stage and then what Wadada Leo Smith did with that. It does not mimic. It does not imitate. It is a step all its own. Jason Mears has worked out a system of notation, without bar lines, charting out long and short notes in a specific sequence, which the players then both play and improvise with at the same time. It's a technique he's worked out with the Empty Cage Quartet (I cover some of the disks on the Gapplegate Music Review blog, see link to site on left). The album at hand goes more into the electric zone.

The group is one of an all-star sort, in terms of ability, anyway. Jason plays alto sax and clarinet, Jonathan Goldsberger is on electric guitar, Angelica Sanchez plays electric piano, Kevin Farrell is on electric bass, and Harris Eisenstadt plays drums.

In order for such notation to work, or course, the players must be highly creative, highly skilled in the improvisatory arts. These folks very much are. Mears is a mother, Goldberger can let loose and does, Angelica Sanchez is a new star on keys, as shown in her work with Wadada as well as her own groups, Farrell hits it just right and Eisenstadt is the embodiment of free-rock invention.

There is never a lag point. It just keeps going strong. The realization of the notation is at the highest level of invention. The result is a seamlessness between composition and improvisation.

If you want to know where free rock improv is going, it's here on this disk! Essential.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Specimen 13, Echosystem

Oh, yes, when something is good, you can know it the moment you hear it, sometimes.

Then the affirmation deepens the more you listen.

The prog-outness of project-band Specimen 13 and their album Echosystem (Unsung Productions) is that. Denis Rodier is drumming, giving us some vocalizing and Martin Vaniar is on guitars (and some bass and soundscaping). That's the core. Then Adrian Benavides and Markus Reuter had a hand in arranging, mixing it down. And Markus produced the recording. He plays some of his patented touch guitar too and had a hand in the sound design, which is perhaps a fancy way of saying he helped shaped the final ambiance you hear, which is rather wonderful. Adrian plays some guitar and etc., too. Then there is a cast of other musical helpmates including Trey Gunn, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, and some vocalists, and some other-others, other folks. All-in-all a hot combination!

Well now if that sounds promising, believe me it is as good as you can imagine it. It's 30-something minutes of highly evolved out prog-rock, post-Crimsonian heaviness atmos-edge. It's dem fine. You can shell down a few peanuts and get it at You should.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Al Miller Chicago Blues Band, In Between Time

I don't suppose I'll tire of saying this, because it matters to me, but here I go again: the blues tradition in the best sense is alive and well in Chicago, mostly represented on a new series of Delmark albums. Here is another goodie--the Al Miller Chicago Blues Band and their In Between Time (Delmark 826). Al has a strong pedigree as associate of the great Michael Bloomfield and member of blues group the Words. In Between Time marked his return to the Chicago fold with several new recordings. This one came out originally in 2000. I missed it the first time around but I am surely glad I haven't the second.

This is the rocking urban blues tradition that goes way back and spans Buddy Guy, Paul Butterfield and the many glorious predecessors that encompass the path to soul. Miller's harp, guitar and vocals shine forth here and the band is an excellent one.

The songs are a good mix of a few classics and worthy originals. Al is vocally solid but it's the entire band ambiance that most moves you to shout and tap your feet. It's all there!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Indians, Somewhere Else

Music is a lifeboat. When the world seems cold, perhaps just a tad evil, predatory, exploitative, nightmarish...there is music. And this music at hand today, Somewhere Else (4AD), comes to my ears when thoughts of the world predominate, for various good reasons.

It is the debut album for an outfit from Copenhagen. It helps me forget the world for a minute. Søren Løkke Juul is the fellow that's behind the music, writing, singing, playing guitar I am supposing, and there are the keys, bass, and drums too.

What hits you about Indians first are the songs--they are tuneful. And the sound envelope, which is wall-of-sound, well-ventilated, open, wistful, structured song accompaniment, spacy, mostly. The vocals are youthful and bell-like. The arrangements are nicely crafted.

So those are the elements. The total effect is indie rock art with finesse, poetry and brains. Something to forget the world with, to keep you company whether your days are happy or not-so-happy. Good music can do that. This is good music.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nicolas Masson, Roberto Pianca, Emanuele Maniscalco, Third Reel

We can never really know the future, what the next CD that comes in the mail will sound like, though nothing comes out of nothing so it is like watching a building in the progress of construction without knowing the architectural plan that will come alive only towards the end.

Certainly I did not expect to hear the music I have been listening to with rapt interest on the CD Third Reel (ECM B0018266-02) by a trio of Nicolas Masson (tenor saxophone and clarinet), Roberto Pianca (electric guitar) and Emanuele Maniscalco (drums). Part of that has to do with unfamiliarity. I do not know these players. Part of that has to do with the ECM experience. There is always some sort of adventure in store. The rest is about the music. It is very good.

This is a Swiss-Italian rooted band of three bandleader-composer-instrumentalists of distinction. The CD comprises 16 very short to middlingly short pieces, two of them collaborative works by all three members, the rest individually written by each of the band members in turn and improvised around by the group. As Masson puts it on the press sheet I received with the advance promo copy, Pianca often centers his compositions around chordal colors, Maniscalco strives for melodic beauty and Masson tends towards the contrapuntal.

What all that translates into is the more cosmic side of the ECM sound today. This is music of substance, often with the edge of electricity from Pianca's wired, pretty cranked guitar work, which adds much to the group's ambiance. Other times Pianca gives you arpeggiated, slightly bending space chords in cloudy envelopes of less distorted sound. Masson too is key--quite nicely expansive, a post-Garbarek to Pianca's post-Rypdal. Maniscalco's drumming is creative, atmospheric and propulsive as needed. It's not all torched electricity--there is much too in the way of moody, flowing spaciness and compositional breadth. But each piece of the puzzle, 16 in all, gives you a slightly different vantage point, like that unknown building going up before your eyes. In the end you have it and it was worth the wait.

This is a new generation of ECM jazzers. They are good. I hope they continue to evolve and build on this, their impressive first offering. The music is strong!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jimmy Eat World, Damage

Jimmy Eat World has been with us all for a while, alt rockers with songs a-plenty and enough of a rock edge to keep things going. Now we have their eighth studio effort in hand, Damage (RCA), and with it there is confirmation. They still have that something that makes you want to listen.

This one is a concept album, their "adult breakup" song set. Jangling power-pop-rock guitars, tight arrangements and heartfelt vocals are what you get. And most importantly the songs are strong.

Like REM, Jimmy Eat World show you that popularity need not be synonymous with puerility. The music reaches out from its balanced center and does so without pretense. It's what rock-for-the-everyman can be. It's not fringe and not supposed to be (for those who read this blog for the fringe music I cover). It's real, though. Real songwriting, strongly performed. That's it. That's good.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut, Global Time, 2007

This blog site, for those who don't know, covers a wide spectrum of things, some not typically of concern to a chops-axe-gearhead thing. All kinds of music is covered and some of it doesn't even especially center on guitar or bass, but instead might give you something that a musical mind would find interested and something to grow on in general. So be prepared for music of all sorts, rock, jazz, avant, songmeisters, even new age if it's something I can stand!

With that in mind I present to you today an Artist Promotional CD-R in the JaZt Tapes series, one of a number by musician-bandleader-avant-jazz-artist Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut, a live date from a pretty obscure club in New York, vintage 2007. It's a trio of Daniel Carter on trumpet, flute and tenor sax, Brian Osbourne on drums, and Jeffrey on electric guitar. This is free music, a totally improvised set of music where there is no set pulse, no set melodies, nothing harmonically prescribed, and no set routines that I can detect--and that's not unusual with Jeffrey but rather 99% the case.

Daniel Carter gets lots of space to get a solo stream of notes flowing (especially on tenor, which he is most known for) and he does that well, as one can rely upon him to do. Osbourne gets a counter flow of open-time drumming that forms an effective carpeting to Carter. Shurdut, who is more usually heard (literally so) on piano and sometimes reeds, provides sound color on the guitar in sparing ways. At times you may not hear him much if at all. It's the opposite of what a guitarist who wants to establish him or herself as an important player would do. It is utterly selfless. He is nearly invisible. But then Shurdut is a person who brings good players together and gets them to do great work, as I've noted today on a review of another of his CD-Rs on Gapplegate Music Review (see link to that site in top left-hand column).

And that's what's happening here. As a massive thunderstorm approaches as I write, I know I'd better get this posted now. It's good music but it's not something where the guitar stands out!

For more info on this and other JaZt Tapes go to

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dan Phillips BKK Trio, Bangkok Edge

Any CD that starts out with a nicely rhythmically displaced version of Sam Rivers' beautiful "Beatrice" will get my attention. And the Dan Phillips BKK Trio's Bangkok Edge (Music+) does that. Phillips plays electric guitar and apparently teaches at a University in Bangkok, Thailand. His trio of Chanutr Techatana-nan, drums, and Pornchart Viriyapark, bass, is solid and they are joined by tenorist Jakob Dinesen to make it a quartet for half the set.

Dinesen is certainly good but Phillips is the main draw here. He has a sophisticated chordal sense, hammers-on or straight-picks his way through some nice soloing. He's mainstream-hip without necessarily sounding like one particular player--so in that way he's got his own voice. And he bursts over with improvisational ideas so it is a most interesting set.

Along with "Beatrice" there are two originals and some choice jazz and songbook standards--"Wine and Roses," but also "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" from Strayhorn (in a very interesting arrangement), a couple from Trane and Monk, etc. Changes are implied and stated mostly and the solos go well with them, to give you an idea of what's going on.

It's a feather in Dan Phillips's cap for sure. He's come through and it sounds good!

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Summarily Dismissed, To Each!

Some music belongs in more than one category. It gets beyond just one thing. The Summarily Dismissed is that. At least on their album To Each! (Self-Released CD). This is the music of singer-songwriter Ari Shagal. It's a group that has soul, r&b, songwriting, jazziness in equal proportions. The press sheet mentions Todd Rungren, Laura Nyro, Stevie Wonder, Donald Fagen--and that is some heavy company! But yes, there is something of their kind of songs going on. Ari arranged the songs for this fairly large combined band with horns and such, and did a great job there. There are several vocalists that take turns singing lead vocals and there are nice harmonies some of the time. Ferima Faye is excellent in the soprano register, Matthew Lomeo does a baritone thing and he's good, then Ari sings a bit too. Kenny Washington sings as guest as well.

Basically there is a core trio of guitar-bass-drums. Joe Davi plays some very nice guitar and produces.

The songs when very good are what kicks this thing out. And there are some excellent ones! Not every one is a total gem, but there are gems! And nothing is fill here.

Wow! Songs!!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sean Moran Small Elephant Band, Tusk

The Sean Moran Small Elephant Band is probably not something you would be likely to read much about in the magazine Guitar Player. I could be wrong. Why that may be is that this is a band that puts music ahead of individual virtuosity per se. Their album Tusk (NCM East 40136) tells the tale. This is chamber jazz but not in some rote way. The music has composed elements that work to frame the improvisations in the best sense--in that everything melds together in a modern art kind of way so that each number has intricately planned elements and spontaneous extrusions that work together beautifully like a single abstract expressionist canvas by one of the greats of the visual art world of mid-last century. Who is it that composed these numbers? I cannot say because the CD does not. I will assume that Sean Moran is the composer? What matters for now is that these composition-arrangements are exceptional.

And the band? A judicious choice of sensitive improvisers that work hard to get a group sound, an ensemble vividness. There's Sean Moran, of course, on nylon stringed guitar. He's studied flamenco I read, but quite clearly classical and jazz guitar as well. He has a subtle way and if you listen closely to him throughout you get much to appreciate. Michael McGinnis adds a great deal on clarinet and bass clarinet. He has great sound, plays his part in the ensemble with flair, and can give you some very modern soloing. Chris Dingman on vibes is central to the sound. He does his ensemble thing with care and artistry and when called upon plays himself to perfection. Reuben Radding on contrabass sounds great and of course we've been covering his playing for some time here if you look back. He excels in the structured composed world of this music and takes fine advantage of the open spaces he gets to do things with. Harris Eisenstadt is a brainy sort of drummer with beautiful feel (and a composer of great worth too). What he does here is an object lesson on how you can swing and rock with full feeling and force yet get a chamber feel that balances everything well.

So this is an album of wholes--a very whole sound, players that contribute each to the whole in wondrously special ways--and that isn't something I would say about many similarly constructed groups. The compositions draw upon new music, modernity, freedom, avant music without going in predictable directions.

It's a guitar player's album, yes. But there is a selflessness in everybody's playing here, an attention to the total outcome that leads to exceptional music. Stunning!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Giant Dwarf, Rabbitwood

You listen to enough music, day-after-day, sooner or later a number of CDs kick themselves out from the bottom of the pile and say to you, "this is different. I have some music for you that goes a ways away from everything else you've been hearing." And if you cast with a wide net and not limit too much what you'll consider, just goodness as a rule of thumb, it happens more often than perhaps you'd expect.

It happened to me with the group Giant Dwarf and their CD Rabbitwood (Engine 2013). It's 16 pretty short numbers by the duo of Martin Philadelphy on electric guitar and Jeremy Carlstadt on drums. This is avant psychedelic-skronk-shred-surf-jeazzzzz of a pretty special sort. Mr. Philadelphy has a nice post-Rypdalian tork to his metallic soaring and he goes both in and out with a musicality not geared for adenoidal sludgeheads, whoever they might be. Jeremy Carlstedt plays some busy and hot drums, free and open and driving and responsive.

So leave it to Engine Records to come up with stuff like this. They often slip out this sort of release in their unassuming fashion, and you put it on--BANG! Nothing knee-jerk about this music.

You like weirdsville avant metal?? Man, you will love these guys. I think.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Uwe Gronau, Visions

I normally steer clear of new age music, here and elsewhere. It's gotten a bad name for mostly good reasons as the MOR of today, easy listening with not always much musical content.

But when something strikes me as worthwhile, I don't care what it is called. Uwe Gronau does good music. His new one, Visions (self-released), is a fine example. Uwe writes the music, plays all the keys and except for a nice guitar appearance by Pete Sayer and some soprano sax by Matthias Keidel, does it all.

And it's good. Before new age there was of course prog rock--and this music is like a kind of prog minus the vocal songs in many ways. Approach it without expectations and you may find you have a place for it in your eartime. It is NOT vapid! It does what it does and does it rather well. And it is expansive in its aural palette. OK?