Monday, December 29, 2014

Vezhlivy Otkaz, Geranium

Today we return to the inimitable sounds of the progressive jazz-rock ensemble from Russia, namely Vezhlivy Otkaz. A few weeks ago I covered their latest album, Geese and Swans Today another, in its Edition 2013, called Geranium (Altrock CD & DVD). On it we have the CD from 1999-2000 with bonus tracks, and a live DVD of the band in various venues and on a TV broadcast in 1998, 1999 and 2006.

As with the later album the driving force behind the sounds is Roman Suslov who wrote the music, plays acoustic guitar and sings the lead vocals. Again as before the band is a tight-knit outfit of horns, keys, bass and drums working though genuinely original routines that are both elaborate and driving, combining elements of modern jazz and adventurist song-spinning that give the non-Russian music enthusiast a very complete earful of what makes the band exceptional.

It is not quite accurate to say that Suslov is a kind of Russian Captain Beefheart. The music is not like Beefheart's really. Yet there is an art-song sublimity and instrumental thoroughgoingness that is as ambitious and as oddly successful as Beefheart in his prime.

The CD gives you 13 tracks to immerse oneself in. The DVD is a significant slab of the band doing several sets live.

Altogether Geranium confirms what Geese and Swans suggested: a band wholly original, unique and musically strong. The lyrics are in Russian so unless you know the language that part will remain enigmatic. But the music comes through regardless. It is significant. It is an excellent thing! Try and find this if you seek something different.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ananda Gari, T-Duality with Rez Abbasi, Tim Berne, Michael Formanek

Ananda Gari, Tim Berne, Rez Abbasi, Michael Formanek...on drums and compositions, alto, electric guitar and contrabass, respectively. Turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that this is one potent gathering, as heard on Gari's recent album T-Duality (Auand).

This is open-ended, compositionally framed jazz of a high order, with excellent blowing from all concerned. The compositions are hip, ultra-modern sorts of things that point the players outward.

Gari's drumming is right there in free and straight-eight mode, Tim Berne gives us that acerbic heat for which he is so well known, Michael Formanek does on bass some very superior anchoring and free-wheeled tightrope balancing. And Rez Abbasi gives us some of his best playing on electric. He is on a roll lately and that means you are hearing some marvelous lining that is both fleet and smart. He matches Tim, who is also at his best, in the fired-up out-bop sense.

This is blowing and composition, group interplay and solo presence that will all put you on a cloud nine of appreciation.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Alan Silva, Lucien Johnson, Makato Sato, Stinging Nettles

As much as time ever travels onward there are artists and musics that will not be forgotten, no matter what comes after. One of those artists on the new jazz scene of course is Alan Silva, a monster jazz composer and bandleader, a creative force on orchestral synth, and a giant of a bassist, one of the few absolutely key ones in the flowering of "free jazz."

So when just now a new recording of a date from 2006 comes our way, with a lively trio of Alan on bass, Lucien Johnson on tenor, and Makato Sato on drums, I perk up. The album is Stinging Nettles (Improvising Beings 29), and it is a real winner on all counts.

You get Alan in full-strength form on bass, a very lucid Lucien Johnson on tenor, and master drummer Makato Sato.

It's an excellent free set that brings the best playing of the three to the fore. New Zealander Johnson not only keeps up with these two iconic freewheelers, he excels in his role. This fellow surprises you with a real sense of free-form virtuosity that fits right in with the cohesive vibrance of Alan and Makato.

There are eight numbers in all here. And every one has that special something of free inspiration and enough variety that the ears and soul get plenty of spiritual-aural substance to appreciate and get rocketed out with.

You could just listen to Alan alone and get a kind of tutorial of free bass acumen in action. But then all three are saying something throughout. So if I might, I'd like to recommend this one to you heartily.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, Intents and Purposes

It may be a truism to say that some artists, when they are on a roll, can play almost anything and make it sound great. And of course it isn't entirely true. But for all that guitarist Rez Abbasi seems to be in that moment. He got the idea to do an album with his Acoustic Quartet (with Bill Ware on vibes, Stephan Crump on acoustic bass and Eric McPherson on drums) of old fusion/jazz-rock worthies in an acoustic setting. Now that isn't necessarily a bad idea, but it could also not be good if it doesn't come off. No worries, though. Intents and Purposes (Enja 9621-2), the album in question, comes off superbly.

There aren't so many guitarists who can play electric or acoustic guitar with equal impact. Gary Lucas is certainly one. John McLaughlin of course. Django. But add to that Rez Abbasi. He sounds like no one else on acoustic, with a number of different tones, all of which perhaps have something to do with his South Asian heritage and its incredible string legacy. But no, that is no guarantee that somebody who hails from there can just pick up an acoustic and, voila! There is an artistry Rez has that has enabled him to get a beautiful singing tone out of the unamplified instrument, and then make some extraordinarily original music via his own sense of note choice and velocity.

That is what is going on consistently on Intents and Purposes. The choice of music works because of the artistry of Rez and the band. But the songs are good choices, too. We get some vintage electric Zawinul, Hancock, Corea, Williams, Coryell done with love and attention. The album brings out the melodic-harmonic sophistication of these tunes without the amplification. And so you hear them anew.

RAAQ is a group that has grown into an interactive singularity. All four are mutually attuned, so that the doing makes a very poignant something of it all.

Intents and Purposes works on just about any level you could think of. It is some seminal music. And most of all it reminds us how Rez Abbasi has arrived as one of the supreme guitar artists of our time. Needless to say you have to hear this.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gary Lucas Plays Bohemian Classics

When it comes to guitarists alive and very well today Gary Lucas is one of those very rare beings whose sound is recognizable, or rather sounds are recognizable with a single note. He has captured his identity fully on acoustic, resonator and electric. You can hear his way very strongly on an album that came out a while ago on an obscure 12" vinyl release but which is now very much available in all formats on Rare Lumiere Records.

I speak of Gary Lucas Plays Bohemian Classics, which I have been listening to happily over the last few weeks. "Bohemia" for those thinking only of hipster lifestyle refers to that Czech land bordered by Poland, Moravia, Germany and Austria. So we have musical classics from that area of Middle Europe, done by Gary on solo Gibson acoustic and also his resonator guitar.

What forms the centerpiece of it all is a complete adaptation of Dvorak's "New World Symphony" (Sym. No. 9), including of course the "Going Home" movement. But then we get Janacek's interlude from his "Cunning Little Vixen" opera and Smetana's principal theme from the "Moldau." Rounding out the disk we also get some wonderful electric psychedelia atmospherics by Gary with the Plastic People of the Universe and with Urfaust.

The music speaks for itself as a very Lucasian occasion. Gary manages through picking, strumming and sliding with various tunings to capture the essence of these beautiful classics in a way only he can do. It is a triumph of creative thinking and his brilliance as a guitarist to convey to us the complex orchestral scores with shall we say a minimum of means. At the same time the very idiomatic Lucas guitar sound and style come through. His resonator work sometimes sounds almost banjo-like, his Gibson both wiry and full. Then the two electric cuts bring out the other side of Gary, the wizard of electric sound.

If you don't know the classical pieces (but surely you will know some at least of the Dvorak) not to worry, because the music is strong and Gary Lucas brings you all you need to hear of them to appreciate them. If you do, like me, know the music then you will dig how he has captured it all the more.

This may be an unexpected offering but it is no less captivating and brilliant for it. It is Gary Lucas at his very best.

Do not miss it, you guitarists out there. And everyone else, too! I mean that. It is a beautiful listen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog Records of the Year, 2014

It's that time of the year again. Time to look back, to sum up, to ready ourselves for the new year ahead. And so it is also time for my Record of the Year picks. There have been some fantastic sounds to hear and I am happy to be in a position to hear them. Once again I pick three out of everything I reviewed on this blog. See the other blogsites for the rest of my choices. Here are the three choices for the Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog.

Best Album, Guitar: Richard Pinhas, Oren Ambarchi, Tikkun (Cuneiform) See review, October 31, 2014.

Best Album, Bass: Benjamin Duboc, St. James Infirmary, Solo Double-Bass (Improvising Beings) See review, June 20, 2014.

Best Album, Wild Card: Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord, Liverevil (Hot Cup) See review, February 4, 2014.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Saturn's Rival

Who, or what is Saturn's Rival (pfMentum 079)? It is a collective improvisational quintet who in their recent self-titled album give us a distinctive slant on free, open-form music. The group makes much of the color contrasts naturally inherent in the instrumentation. Maxwell Gualtieri is on acoustic and sometimes very electric guitar, Susan Allen on harp, Richard Valitutto on piano, Ryan Parrish on winds and Anjilla Piazza on percussion.

The sound color of the mix foregrounds in this series of four improvisations. The "string trio" of piano (including prepared and inside-the-piano approaches), harp and guitar (played in both conventional and unconventional ways) contrasts with sax and flute. The percussion plays in part a kind of mediating role between the two sections.

It is music that straddles "free jazz" and new music improvisation, with an open sound and a creative knack of making significant statements in various combinations and groupings.

The quintet realizes music of dynamic ebb and flow. There is an episodic structure to it all, a kind of free narrative that holds together with an inner logic of expression born of close listening and unhesitant resolution.

More than that? They make music that works on many levels. It is avant atmospherics of the sort that makes for an absorbing listen. Hear this if you can!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eric Hofbauer Quintet, Prehistoric Jazz, Volume 2, Quintet for the End of Time

We are back today for volume two of Eric Hofbauer and his Quintet and their "Prehistoric Jazz." Volume 1 (Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring") I covered here a few days ago. In the second volume Eric arranges the beautiful Messiaen WWII opus "Quartet for the End of Time," setting it in jazz terms for the quintet and so titling it Quintet for the End of Time (Creative Nation Music CNM 026).

As before the music gets fully treated by Eric's talented group: Eric on guitar, Jerry Sabatini on trumpet, Todd Brunel on clarinet and bass clarinet, Junko Fujiwara on cello, and Curt Newton on drums.

As with volume one Eric does not give you an end-to-end transcription of the original work, but instead selects key motives and sections, giving the themes to various instrumental combinations and slanting the phrases at times for a more jazzed reading. And then as before there is a good amount of room for improvisation, which comes off excellently with both avant and early jazz elements.

The Messiaen really lends itself to this treatment, maybe even more so than the Stravinsky, and Eric makes much out of the music so that it convinces fully as jazz for today. There are certain passages of the work that sound so boppish you'd think Messiaen meant them that way. But kudos to Hofbauer for hearing the potential and realizing it so well. Eric, Jerry and Todd get some really interesting solos going too, at times simultaneously.

It is no easy feat to pull this off, but Hofbauer and company do so with style, swinging heat and smarts. This one brings it on home! Many stars, if I rated things that way. Highly recommended!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Mason Razavi, Quartet Plus

Guitarist, composer, arranger Mason Razavi has it all going. He is a player of the guitar of great finesse and taste, not to mention solid technique. He plays a semi-hollow with minimal amplification at times, getting an almost classical tone but not precisely; other times he ups the volume a tad for that equally classic mainstream jazz sound. Either way he plays rather wonderfully well.

Then he writes some fine tunes and arranges them with excellent sensibilities.

You get all this on his album Quartet Plus (First Orbit Sounds 222). The title puts it to you: you get half the album with his lively quartet; the other half adds five horns for a bigger sound. The quartet includes some very nice playing from Bennett Roth-Newell on piano and keys, Dan Robbins on upright and electric bass, and Cody Rhodes on drums. These are very capable associates who negotiate the compositional nuances of the Razavi originals, swing and funk along as one would hope for, and solo when called upon with style and skill. Listen to Dan Robbins for example on "From Thoughts to Words" and you'll hear some excellent bass work.

Then the larger band pieces come through with great part writing and a flourish.

Most of all there is the showcase of Razavi as guitar enchanter, a player who picks his notes wisely and comes through with the classicism of Benson, Burrell, maybe Hall, a subtle way but soulful too when he chooses and the music fits it. There's a little boppishness and lots of postbop.

It's a fine album on every count. Mason Razavi is serious! Seriously good. Seriously talented.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Eric Hofbauer Quintet, Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1, The Rite of Spring

Guitarist Eric Hofbauer does things his own way, in ways other people generally don't. I've covered his music on these pages before (type his name in the search box for those). But he steps further beyond the expected these days with a two-volume offering that takes some contemporary 20th century milestone classical compositions and arranges them for a jazz-centered quintet.

The initial volume: Prehistoric Jazz, Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (Creative Nation Music CNM 025) arranges Stravinsky's iconic orchestral work of the same name. We discussed the Bad Plus version of the work a while back (type in search box for the article), but this one is different. Where the Bad Plus took the score and arranged it in A-to-B fashion for a piano trio, Hofbauer zeroes in on critical segments of the score and reworks them for sextet, inserting adaptations and jazz elements and at the same time allowing for a good deal of improvisation in a through-composed way.

The band has their hands full realizing the motifs and getting loose and free improvisationally, or even at times sounding like an early jazz band and/or Duke's Jungle period outfit, too. Much credit goes to the arrangements/arranger, and to the sextet itself also for their creative transformations. Eric is on guitar, Jerry Sabatini on trumpet, Todd Brunel on Bb clarinet and bass clarinet, Junko Fujiwara on cello, and Curt Newton on drums.

This is a jazzification of the Rite all the way, yet there is the essence of Stravinsky's work there as well. It's very successful, very creative and enjoyable to hear. If you don't know the original you should deal with that, too, it goes without saying.

But Eric Hofbauer is up to very much good here. Check it out and you'll get it!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Anthony Pirog, Palo Colorado Dream

Guitarist Anthony Pirog has been breaking it up around Washington DC for a number of years and now finally he has a debut album, Palo Colorado Dream (Cuneiform). It joins Anthony with a heavily talented trio that includes Michael Formanek on acoustic bass and Ches Smith on drums in a program of advanced avant jazz-rock that more than holds its own. In fact each listen confirms and expands one's sense of accomplishment.

It's music high on composed content, with intricate finger work, looping acumen, and some full-out rocking in a controlled, well-paced sequence. You may hear a little Holdsworth there as precedent, but it goes well beyond that into a Pirog zone. There is smart notefulness, a rock-sustain guitar sound when needed and some really excellent trio work from the three together. There's a touch of alternate avant rocking here (some scronk done with a relish) and a complete lack of cliche.

You may know him as part of the two-member Janel & Anthony, whose work is covered here very favorably (type the name in the search box).

This shows us the full artist, guitar wizard, music tunesmith of power and depth. It's a beautiful record. I hope Anthony Pirog can give us lots more in the coming years. He promises as much as he delivers!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Boris Savoldelli, Garrison Fewell, Electric Bat Conspiracy

It isn't easy doing these review articles at the pace I've taken on, more or less 13 reviews a week. There is a point of despair where I feel like I am wasting my time, that the internet world is geared to non-exposure. But then the music and the musicians making it remind me why I do it.

Today's artists are a good example. Vocalist Boris Savoldelli and guitarist Garrison Fewell are artists totally in-the-moment. They are unpredictable in the most creative sense. You can never be sure what either will do. And so their pairing turns out to be virtue of the free-wheeling, anything goes approach they take on and the success of the risk-taking they allow themselves.

Their duo album Electric Bat Conspiracy (Creative Nation 024) puts the two in various zones as they see fit. Yet it does not jar but instead seems inevitable after a few listens. There is a Lou Reed tune and a couple of standards. The rest is open-form, yet contrastingly structured freedom.

You listen and you hear a musicality that comes out of work and inspiration in equal amounts. Garrison is a free player who is informed by his mainstream jazz training. He brings with him all the harmonic and melodic things you learn to become super-proficient on the guitar, and that is much, in the bop and after-context. And he applies that with his own special sensibility to the project at hand. At the same time Boris has finely tuned his vocal instrument over a long period so he isn't "just" winging it, but applying ways of going about things that have to do with training and experience.

The fact that both have travelled far from mainstream concerns makes the standards as they approach them all that more challenged--they defy the melodies, lyrics and harmonies to yield further things than they do in "standard hands" and they get something far different from them.

They also have compositional ideas of their own that they bring out well, such as "Circle Round." Then there is the flat-out outness that has to do with sound color and expression.

The end-product is a vocal-guitar duet set that takes us in very original directions, so much so that your first hearing, like mine, might be a sort of "WTF?!" For me that was my first take. Then I kept listening and it all started coming together for me, bit-by-bit, until now and I get it completely.

It's daring. The vocalizations, the guitar work and the ambiance. Daring. I can't say it fits any mould. Either a mainstream or an avant mould do not fit this music. That is in fact excellent! So listen to this one and get someplace different. It's worth the effort.