Friday, January 30, 2015

Hypercolor, with Eyal Maoz

A rather incredible drum sequence kicks off the new fusion album, the inaugural album by the trio Hypercolor (self-titled) (Tzadik 4007) and we are off to the races, so to speak. This is a very well-balanced, daring threesome of Eyal Maoz on electric guitar, James Ilgenfritz on electric bass and Lukas Ligeti on drums. I've covered Eyal and his guitar innovations here before (type name in search box above). Hypercolor is a group that balances the Eyal way of playing with a group orientation and a compositional fluidity.

Eyal uses vibrato, variable attack and an individual sense of sound to get his very characteristic style, which you can hear to great advantage on this trio outing. The music has an avant surf element, psychedelic largess, and a driving hard rock temperament to carve a group sound.

Ligeti is a drummer who has far more than a backbeat orientation here. There are lots of interesting things he does throughout. Ilgenfritz holds down the center and keeps things rock solid while doing worthy things as well.

There are free avant touches in here--it isn't all rhythmically straightforward, but also tumblingly free. And Maoz can take it out at times and does. There is also a touch of semitic tonality reflecting Israeli roots.

But all that may be true of a number of fusion outfits playing today. What sets Hypercolor apart is real originality. Eyal is fast becoming one of my favorite fusion guitarists because he refuses to stay with the given. He is one of a kind and Hypercolor is that, too.

Have I said enough to pique your interest? This is an excellent outing!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Marbin, The Third Set

If new fusion has a name, it is Marbin. Well, one of them anyway. The quartet returns in their latest, The Third Set (MoonJune 065). It is a gaggle of originals recorded live on location, ten songs at ten clubs throughout the midwest. They are on fire.

Dani Rabin plies the electric guitar, Danny Markovitch is on saxophones, Jusryn Lawrence gets on the drums and Jae Genrile plays electric bass. This is actually their fourth album, so I gather, their second on MoonJune. And it is a heater!

The key to it all is some hard-rocking fusion with a push and sixteenth notes flying away along with a centered drive that puts it all in place.

The third set as all club goers can understand is the one you stay for, where the band is loose and relaxed and can play to the house what it is they do well without constraint. That's what this album feels like. Dani Rabin plays some serious guitar here. Letting fly with speed but cranking with well-hit torque-soul, too. Markovitch stays with him with his own front-line indispensability. The rhythm team hits it hard and busy with charging-forward energy.

Rabin and Markovitch's Israeli roots come through now and again in good ways.

Otherwise this is a straightforward romp into metal fusionland that anyone who digs such things will appreciate. Guitarists will want to listen to Rabin especially. He is a stylist! But the music will get you regardless, I predict.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Corey Harris, Fulton Blues

Corey Harris, vocalist, guitarist, bluesman. His Fulton Blues (Blues Boulevard 250360) combines the old country blues and the electric urban blues in ways that have a contemporary ring. He sometimes picks out on an acoustic and reminds you of the early Delta blues, then gets a contemporary ensemble and does something inspired by Chicago greats.

In reality he gives us his own take on both periods of the blues, sings with a fullness and soul, and tells those blues stories that make it all real. He lived in West Africa for a year and brings some of that in, though more in terms of feel than the obvious riffs and such.

He can do much just with his acoustic and his voice, like the old masters but of course not to duplicate, because that is impossible and ill-advised.

But he gets something of his own out of it. And his guitar playing is very good, too!

I found much to like here. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tim Ferguson Inside/Out, Hold That Thought!

The haunting refrains of the late Charlie Haden's composition "Silence" begin the CD of Tim Ferguson's Inside/Out album Hold That Thought! (Planet Arts 301417) and give us as loving a tribute to the fallen giant as any I have heard. And that is just the beginning of the captivating set in store for listeners.

Bassist Tim Ferguson's Inside/Out is a trio with the somewhat unusual instrumentation of Tim on acoustic bass plus Rob Henke on trumpet and alto horn and Diane Moser on piano. It is no exaggeration to state that each player carves out a vital, indispensable space in the trio setting that makes this music special.

With no drummer present they are free to go into some very rubato feels or swing along according to the piece at hand. And they do. Tim can walk very nicely and very audibly given the setting, or become a third horn, so to speak. His inventiveness is key, but no less than Henke and Moser. They all are schooled in contemporary jazz and take on their experience with the vocabulary to whatever realms they choose to occupy. So there is postbop swinging, freedom and expressive balladings on originals and a few jazz standards.

Bass enthusiasts will certainly appreciate what Tim is doing. Rob and Diane have much to say too, and all manage to do it with their own take on what jazz is today.

It's the sort of album that has a classic quality that one never grows tired of. My fifth hearing right now is as fresh sounding to me as the first. And there is just a hint of middle-period Miles in Rob that sounds very good in this sort of trio.

Hear it!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rotem Sivan Trio, For Emotional Use Only

Who is Rotem Sivan? He is an Israel born, New York based electric guitarist who appears before us in a recent album with his fine trio, For Emotional Use Only (Fresh Sound New Talent 451).

It is a solidly contemporary jazz trio album we have here with Sivan originals (except one tune) and a freewheeling three-way interplay. Haggai Cohen Milo plays an excellent bass, walks with intelligence, solos nicely, and adds much to the mix. Mark McLean swings very well on drums throughout.

And Rotem Sivan pulls out all the stops with some very inventive improvisations that have the clarity and space of mid-period John Abercrombie and a harmonic chordal sense that sets him apart.

The three mix it up well but Rotem especially stands out. This is most definitely a guitar showcase date and he shows us what he can do in depth.

Any guitarist or guitar enthusiast will find this one an exemplary disk for the state-of-the-art of guitar improvisation in contemporary jazz. And in so doing it establishes Rotem Sivan as a new guitarist of real stature, someone I suspect we will be hearing from quite a bit in the coming years. Recommended!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Blaise Siwula, Dom Minasi, The Sunshine Don't Mind My Singing

The beautiful call of a bird singing sounds in the background of a worthy on-location set by reedist Blaise Siwula and guitarist Dom Minasi. "The Sunshine Don't Mind My Singing" (Nacht Records download album) is the fully free improv duet of the two making significant sounds together.

Both are in a lucid mode and interact with energy, good ideas and a kind of tumbling forward that embodies their own inimitable channeling of the full history of jazz and freedom.

Blaise on clarinet, soprano sax, tenor, and alto continually invents interesting declamatory lines as Dom responds in kind in ways that color the electricity of his guitar and give out with linear and harmonic totalities that open the tonality to advanced extensions of pitch center fulcrum points. The two together contrast well as a simultaneous double-streaming of multi-solos, as much avant as it is a kind of extension of old jazz multiple-presence soloing, an out sort of post-New-Orleans ramble of two simultaneous voices together yet separate. At times Dom comps out chords or gives out with a walking sort of response; at other times there is a busy duplex outburst that never flags but ever conjures new combinations.

It swings greatly. Not in the conventional toe-tapping sense, but in the way the lines lay down together, the deft phrasings in linear space. It all swings in that subtle way that free music can do when it is right. It is such that if a drummer and bass player suddenly dropped into the mix, if they had the talent they would KNOW where this was moving toward and they would know what to do against it. It has an implied jazz vocabulary; it's all over the music throughout. And it is inspired, beautifully done at that.

So to say all that is to say that it isn't just free, it's free jazz if you will pardon that usage. That's what it is. Dom defines the difference in an article he wrote in All About Jazz, which you can find if you type his name on there in the search box. No, better yet here is the article link By his useful definition, this is free jazz. But it is very good free jazz, most importantly. And for that it is good music.

The listening is more important than what I write about it. So listen! Go to to find out more and to get a download! Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Magma, Zuhn Wohl Unsai, Live 1974

The French avant-prog rock outfit Magma made some phenomenal music in the '70s, yet we in the States did not always hear about it. I missed them then and only caught up later. Just how daring their music was can be heard on the newly issued 2-CD live set originally recorded for broadcast in 1974 by Radio Bremen, Zuhn Wohl Unsai (MIG 01102 2-CDs).

By then they had several albums behind them. The shifting lineups were freeze-framed as they existed in February of that year. Christian Vander continued at the helm on drums, vocals and compositions, Klaus Blasquiz vocalized as well, Jannick Top was on electric bass, there were two keyboard players in Michel Graillier and Gerald Bikialo, and Claude Olmos was the guitarist.

What we hear in good, apparently cleaned-up audio, is the band in full-bloom. There is of course the hardness of the rock element, but then new music avant classical and jazz influences, a pronounced compositional uniqueness that gives prominence to very advanced vocal lines that are harmonized especially interestingly by keys, punched very uniquely in the bass, supported with electric guitar....And rhythmically the music is quite advanced with lots of asymmetries and polyrhythmic polymeters and such.

You can hear some roots perhaps in early Soft Machine and Zappa, but more as close stylistic affiliations than derivations. They are not as much about a jamming, solo sort of music as a long-formed compositional deluge. The vocals and harmonic underpinning are striking.

They were unique to the extent that I can not readily describe further except to say they were so new and different that no doubt some didn't get it in the audience and they still strike me now as ahead of things, in very much their own way.

This live set is essential to get into the core of what Magma was about in 1974. Wow!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Kelley Suttenfield, Tony Romano, Among the Stars

Simple ideas can end up simply gorgeous or just simple-minded, depending on many things, in terms of music on artistry and the spirit of the time the music was made, the chemistry of the moment.

Among the Stars (self-released), the album by Kelley Suttenfield and Tony Romano, starts with a very simple idea. Start with a choice grouping of standards. Take a vocalist and a guitarist. Make music.

Believe me I've heard such simple things go down the rapids because things were not right. That is definitely not the case here. Kelley is the right vocalist for this. She has a beautifully straightforward voice, an unpretentious delivery that nonetheless has an interpretive jazz knack. And then Tony Romano on acoustic or semi-hollow guitar. He gives out with some very beautiful accompaniment, picked and harmonically strong, but also with just the right patterns and note choices. He understates, as does Kelley. But they do so with excellent instincts. And then they come out with something, like "Beautiful Love," that swings and implies as much as it overtly states.

The arrangements have beauty and the playing and singing are completely surrendered to the mood of the song. It's music for reflection, for the quiet times after all the hustle of life. Kelley is a real artist. Tony is a real artist.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Linsey Alexander, Come Back Baby

Linsey Alexander has been breaking things up on the Chicago's North Side blues clubs since the '90s. We caught his first Delmark album Been There, Done That here on November 23, 2012. Now he's back with another strong one, Come Back Baby (Delmark 838). Linsey plays guitar with a hint of a BB King influence, but adapted to his way. He sings with plenty of soul, too. This new album features a full band, often enough with horns, and 11 of 13 cuts have Linsey's original stamp.

His vision of the blues is as real as you can get. Lost your car and your house and you got no place to live? THAT is when you play the blues. So drunk you lost your car and house keys, your false teeth and you gotta call your wife from your girlfriend's house to come and get you? Now that is the blues!

He has a little humor in there and the lyric twists that make the "telling" of it that much stronger. You know the Chicago audience is listening to the story as much as the music. The blues as a living entity is a verbal telling as well as 1000% soul.

And Linsey has that going, big time. This one is very together and lots of joy to listen to!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Matt Ulery, In the Ivory

I've missed the last few Matt Ulery albums. Not out of choice. It just happened. I covered Matt's music for Cadence and liked what I heard very much. His music has been evolving, so that the bassist-composer's recent In the Ivory (Greenleaf Music) confronts me with a distinct development. He has made strides. And in unexpected ways.

This one brings together 13 musicians--it's Ulery on bass with pianist Rob Clearfield, drummer Jon Deitemyer (his trio), with violinist Zack Brock, vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, and the acclaimed chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. Knowing Matt's very lyrical way this automatically sounded interesting to me. The album surpasses anything I might have imagined.

This is music that combines a harmonic and rhythmic jazz sensibility with song form, minimalism and romanticism for a sort of "third stream" effort that succeeds hauntingly.

It is so very lyrical in an earnest, heartfull way that it is bound to appeal to all kinds of listeners. Yet underneath there is real substance to the music. The arrangements are well put-together and work without question.

Is it jazz? Not always and not entirely, but forget the label and you may well find yourself under the sway of the music! In its own way it is brilliant. It's too lyrical to be in the "out" category and it does not swing or rock out much at all. So what?

It is music to haunt you! Excellent.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Southpaw Steel 'n' Twang, Hale's Pleasure Railway

There are albums that aim to give you a particular bead on guitar playing from an artist who well deserves showcasing. That is the case with Southpaw Steel 'n' Twang and their Hale's Pleasure Railway (MBA007).

The group is a country rock power trio from Finland. Ville Leppanen plays lap and pedal steel guitar, electric guitar and a little acoustic; Tero Mikkonen is the drummer, JP Monkkonen plays electric and upright bass.

It is Ville and his skillful plying of the various guitars who stands out. His steel guitar playing is pretty exceptional and a joy to hear. His electric guitar approach has something, too.

The album is good fun to hear in a rock instrumental zone and Ville makes magic on the guitars.

He has something special and his band is right there, too.

There is a sort of retro quality that makes you feel like, yes, this could have been a Chet Atkins album or somebody else luminous back in the day, only it isn't and there is enough of a difference that you are getting old anew, not just old!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra, Live in Ljubljana

There is no doubt in my mind, Adam Lane is not only one of the finest jazz bassists playing new music out there today, he is also a top composer and bandleader. That he continues to thrive is clear on the recent Full Throttle Orchestra release Live in Ljubljana (Clean Feed 307).

It was set down for posterity at the June, 2012 edition of the Ljubljana Jazz Festival in Slovenia, happily. Though this is a rather large group, an octet, playing some of Adam Lane's more ambitious and difficult-to-execute pieces, everything clicks magically. That is a testament to the musicianship of the players as well as their inspiration.

The band is excellent, in a word. Nate Wooley and Susana Santos Silva are on trumpets, Reut Regev on trombone, David Bindman on tenor and soprano, Avram Fefer on alto, Matt Bauder on baritone, Igal Foni on drums and of course Adam on bass. There is a good deal of solo prowess, the looseness that makes it all swing and cohesive ensemble playing, as you might have suspected by such a lineup.

Six intriguing Lane composition-arrangements get fully focused and exuberant treatment, with space for freedom in collective and solo contexts and a lot of heart. The octet handles the multi-part counterpointed music with all the verve and contemporary awareness you would expect, just about ideally so.

If nothing else it is a confirmation of Adam Lane's centrality, but the something else is that is has all the excitement of a live date when everything goes right.

Bravo! Very strongly recommended.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Derek Bailey, Joëlle Léandre, George Lewis, Evan Parker, 28 rue Dunois juillet 1982

If you know about free improvisation and its legacy, you perk up when you get a previously unissued recording of Derek Bailey, Joëlle Léandre, George Lewis, and Evan Parker. That's what you get with 28 rue Dunois juillet 1982 (Fou Records CD06). Fou is Jean-Marc Foussat's label. He himself recorded the foursome during their July appearance at Paris Theatre Dunois.

There are a number of reasons why this is worth hearing and why it is of central importance. The European free music scene was beginning to get global attention by 1982, and in the trajectory of these four masters they were in a period of significant growth. Derek Bailey had rapidly established himself as a prime innovator in free guitar; trombonist George Lewis had come to the attention of the world in a big way with Anthony Braxton but continued to expand his playing in the very free context, contrabassist and vocalist Joëlle Léandre was really grounding herself as a primo free new music innovator but had not gotten a lot of recognition as yet, and of course saxist Evan Parker was quickly getting world recognition as a major innovator but with these three in tandem had not performed, as far as I know.

To hear these four together back in 1982, in great form, playing uncompromising avant open-form music in an extended program is revelatory and exhilarating. These are masters of the art. They show themselves as some of the most thoroughly original of all of them, carving out a language that would become part of the common vocabulary in years to come.

And so we need to study this recording--and of course experience it with joy. Yes!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jonathan Badger, Verse

When something hits you, it hits you. Jonathan Badger, electric guitarist and composer, hits me. At least his album Verse (Rune 394) does. He was a student of Robert Fripp and you can tell by listening to this album for its multiple guitar, "League of Crafty" influence. But then he goes beyond it into his own zone, even though the interlocking guitars are there in a different way.

The lineup is Jonathan Badger on electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, piano, computer, percussion; Ruby Fulton on flugelhorn; Patrick McMinn on trumpet; Tiffany DeFoe on tenor and baritone saxophones; Shodekeh as human beatbox; Alexandra and Victoria (the Sisters Wick), mezzo-sopranos; Michael Gates on violin; and Sasha Keen on cello.

Now all that is well and good, but it is in the music that Badger makes his originality known. This is a kind of symphonic tapestry for guitars, voices, well-produced instruments and alterations.

I wouldn't want to describe it here except to say that it is contemporary avant rock-oriented composition and multiple-guitars are central to it.

I strongly suggest you hear this one. All the words in the world won't begin to describe it and all the labels I could put on it don't quite work either. If you want to go to a new place, just get the recording!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Jean-Philippe Gregoire, Sounds from the Delta

In the realm of modern jazz guitar we have the entrance of Jean-Philippe Gregoire, a player of excellent abilities. His album Sounds from the Delta (Big Round 8935) gives us a telling portrait of his playing, his composing and a very capable band that stays with and matches him for getting it together.

Baptiste Herbin is a swinging hard-charging man on tenor and other saxes; Martin Guimbellot has strong contrabass tone and a rock steady sense of time and harmonic dynamics; Nicolas Charlier plays some nicely swinging, loosely inventive drums.

The title no doubt refers to Jean-Philippe's New Orleans roots? No, he was born and bred in France. This is not Delta blues, though there is a bluesiness to Gregoire's playing. Rather, it is cutting-edge hard- and post-bop contemporary jazz. It doesn't matter what the title means because the music is pretty great.

The tunes are very good, all Gregoire originals except the couple of standards, one by Debussy. And they set the table for the "blowing meal" well.

Gregoire has roots in classic bop guitarists and brings it all up-to-date with his own synthesis. Whether a ballad or an up-tempo stormer, Jean-Philippe has an excellent lining and chording sense that manages to be his own though deeply rooted. He is something to hear! Herbin is right up there with smart and very musical fire and tenderness, so there is never a lag.

Excellent music!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mississippi Heat, Warning Shot

Mississippi Heat gives us the real blues, urban with a little country, Chicago style. The band is headed up by harmonica wizard Pierre Lacocque. They join us in their latest, Warning Shot (Delmark 839), and raise up a fuss.

If the blues have never left it's for a reason. And they have not! You spend any time in Chicago you know why. It is a life. It lives and breathes a life. Like right now I am not in Chicago but we ain't got much heat and it's snowing outside. Still, I know the sun's gonna shine someday--in my back door. That's what it feels like and the blues give you what you need. Mississippi Heat knows all of that. And they come through on this album with it.

Big ole mama Inetta Visor belts out the vocals for much of the numbers here, all but one written by Lacocque. The songs are in the soul-blues tradition and the band has the horns and backup vocals that exemplify the way to do it. But then they can get a slide boogie going too. Michel Dotson and Giles Corey play some fine guitar--along with Carl Weathersby on two cuts. They do the honors like they should. And the whole band rocks it. Lacocque shines on harp.

It's the blues for those that know the blues. It's a modern incarnation for those who know the blues will never leave, long as we got the world going round the way she do.

So dig into this...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Joe Morris Quartet, Balance

Guitarist Joe Morris has over the years virtually single-handedly carved out his own free-form avant jazz idiom on his instrument. By now he is at a classic stage where it all flows together with inventive grace. You can hear him at a high artistic altitude these days virtually in whatever he does. But it is especially true of the recent quartet album he made, Balance (Clean Feed 306).

Part of that has to do with having Mat Maneri on viola in the front line. He too has honed his art so that phrasings fall naturally from his instrument that manage to be both very idiomatic to the open tonality that Joe favors, yet also completely original in note choice and with a genuine feel for getting a darkly burnished tone from his viola. There is never a question of him sounding like a violinist. And this tone blends wonderfully well, especially when Joe emphasizes his middle-range.

With Chris Lightcap on contrabass the quartet has moments where there is a sort of string trio feel born of the three together. Chris can bow and pizz with real artistry and makes for an excellent addition to the sound. Then Gerald Cleaver on drums has that immediacy (especially it seems of late) of an unforced natural freedom that listens to what is going on and creates a fourth voice that is not the obvious but works extremely well in the four-way conversation.

This is a six-segment set that brings in various moods and subtleties with a togetherness that has as much a group dynamic as it does inventive soloing. If for any reason you don't know Joe Morris' work this is a great place to start. And if you already do this one gives you some of his very best. Either way, it is one to hear!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Jack Bruce, The 50th Birthday Concerts, DVD Set

The loss of Jack Bruce this past year was huge. He contributed so importantly in all the genres he touched that his legacy is assured. Jack Bruce the electric bassist, the inimitable vocalist, the songwriter, the style innovator in hard rock/blues rock, in electric jazz, art song, it goes on.

Some if not most of that is nicely captured in the release of the live German broadcasts of The 50th Birthday Concerts (MIG 90610). It is available as a two-DVD box set, a 3-DVD & bonus CD set, or two DVDs and a CD in "digi-format." I watched the two-DVD version.

It covers much ground and was culled from several live Rockpalast concerts that took place in Cologne in November of 1993. Jack was in fine form throughout.

We get a tantalizing bit of his cello playing, some songs with Jack singing and playing piano, joined by Gary Husband on keys and then drums. Then saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith and the legendary Ginger Baker on drums join Jack for some progressive jazz, surely a good thing to hear. From there it goes on to a shifting array of electric musicians and horns for a nice selection of songs Jack did with Cream and later solo efforts. Bernie Worrell, Gary Moore, Baker and many others lend a good deal to the lively music. Drummer Simon Phillips is not to be missed, either!

Another surprise is the two cello and guitar renditions of "As You Said" and "Rope Ladder to the Moon."

But it all is worthwhile, well recorded and a real tribute to Jack and his artistry. His bass playing is beautiful, his vocals wonderful, the songs sound as great as ever and everybody seems stoked. The Cream reunion of 2005 might have stolen some of the thunder from these concerts, but Jack is more completely presented here in all his guises. As a live retrospective in 1993 we cannot do much better! It reminds us all-too-vividly of his absence now.

A real treat for all who love Jack Bruce. RIP.