Monday, November 30, 2015

Marbin, Aggressive Hippies

Marbin is a group born out of a thousand or more live appearances, a fusion rock outfit that has grown out of intensive interaction with themselves and their audiences. Their new album, Agressive Hippies (Marbin Music) is their fifth. And to me it is their best. Dani Rabin, guitar, Danny Markovitch, saxes, Greg Essig, drums, and John W. Lauler, bass, give us nine Rabin-Markovitch originals in total.

These are fashioned out of small compositional segments and built up, driven strongly by the rhythm section and congealed by significant soloing from Rabin's electric guitar and Markovitch's sax.

It's the band at its hottest, with fire and irresistible momentum.

There is a core foundation in the harder sort of rock these days, but then a coral-island sort of building upon those foundations with personal originality from both Rabin and Markovitch.

Guitar fans will find much excellent work from Dani Rabin, who has evolved into his own sort of player, hard hitting and sound savvy.

But it is ultimately a group effort and excels in the way it hangs together, taking off from a classic fusion intricacy and going distinctly into Marbin territory.

Hear this one! Marbin has definitely arrived!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Patrick Higgins, Bachanalia

Patrick Higgins is an excellent and also I suppose a brave classical guitarist. Brave because he has recorded a worthy selection-arrangement of JS Bach's works for classical guitar and electronic enhancement. Bachanalia (Telegraph Harp 009) is the resultant album.

He is brave because the purists out there will no doubt be poo-pooing this sort of thing. It is essentially some wonderfully alive performances of Bach favorites for guitar which are then variably subject to digital delay and echo, so that you get the essence of the guitar performances and their extension or soundscaping.

I might find it slightly distracting if this music wasn't something so universally familiar (to me anyway) that the extensions did not take away from what you hear as much with internal memory as in real-time. It is Bach in a dream, you might say. And that dream does not subtract from the awakened experience you have and will encounter many times. The musical effect is at times like music you hear in the memory and how the mind can present it to the musical self as a thing extended outward.

If Higgins wasn't so effective and wonderfully bright in his initial renderings I suppose this would also be less interesting to me. But that is not so. He rings out the music with an artistry that is not to be denied.

In the end I find this album a real delight. Even my long-time partner liked it, and she to me is the bellwether of non-professional opinion.

And so I do recommend this to you strongly.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rank Strangers, The Box

Minneapolis-based alt rock band Rank Strangers celebrates its 25th anniversary with a trilogy of albums. I covered volume 2, Ringtones, about a month ago here (see index). I will cover volume 1 in a little bit, but today I cover the final volume 3, The Box (self-released LP). Mike Wisti is the founding member, plays guitar and sings; David Odengaard sings and plays bass; and Shawn Davis is on drums.

This is disarmingly unpretentious DIY alt that keeps up a spontaneous immediacy even after 25 years. It has a raw but memorable quality. The songs have attitude in a whimsical way and musically this is substantial. Every so often Mike lets out with a skronky little gem moment on guitar, but this is primarily band-song-oriented.

The Box continues where Ringtones leaves off. A few songs have more than one version if you take the trilogy as a whole, but they are different enough that they are worthwhile. The lyrics are worth paying attention to for they have a quirky poetic quality.

OK, so this is one alt band that appeals to me and retains that experimental basement inventiveness that made alternative and punk-garage rock interesting in the first place. Yet this has a song orientation not especially simplistic so there is plenty to sink your teeth into.

Recommended without hesitation.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Simon Nabatov, Mark Dresser, Projections

Pianist Simon Nabatov and bassist Mark Dresser have been music companions and running buddies for 30 years. They have shared the stage together on numerous occasions but as a duo the first recorded meeting is at hand. Projections (Clean Feed 327) captures them live in a set at LOFT in Cologne last year.

The two show a togetherness that comes out of long association. It is spontaneous, improved new music of an advanced avantness and a "free jazz" expressivity. Extended and traditional techniques meld together for the sound of adventure. They phrase in sound and note with a great ability to drive thoroughly into a two-in-one zone that does not so much rely on regularity of pulse as clusters of sound, emanations of soul-spirit and cosmic expansion.

Simon is a master of unleashing torrents of harmonically ambiguous phrases at peak moments that Mark counters in kind. But then Dresser excels here too in contrasting attacks, bowed slurs and dynamic flurries that show much musical intelligence and long preparation. And both vary densities with envelopes of sound events that provide contrasts and polarities one listens to with fascination.

Few duos of piano and bass attain the sort of outside heights of Nabatov and Dresser here.

There is an unpredictable openness and stylistic coherence that lays out very well and keeps the listener in a state of anticipation and subsequent fulfillment.

This is avant improvisation on a very high plane. It creates worlds of rarified sound synergies and does it in ways that make for a very satisfying set.

Very recommended!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jaap Blonk & Damon Smith, Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut--und Klanggedichte, 1916

Something a little different today on this page. It is a realization of a cycle of "Six Sound Poems" by the Dada master Hugo Ball, Sechs Laut--und Klanggedichte, 1916 (bpa-4). Jaap Blonk as reciter-vocal artist and Damon Smith as double bassist freely recreate the sound poems in an avant improv mode.

It is uncompromising sound event-music that both pays homage to the iconoclastic Ball and shows us how his inspirational methods still remain prophetic to the avant movement we still recognize as central to modernism today.

Blonk enacts the texts with very inventive vocalizations that utilize all the dramatic and sonic resources of his vocal apparatus. Damon Smith makes of his contrabass an extension of his creative sound-producing imagination, using conventional and extended techniques in an avant bass kind of tour de force.

What that means is that you get a full CDs worth of adventure. This may put off those not used to the avant stylistic universe, though an open mind will get you at least half the way to where you need to be to appreciate such sounds. Those used to progressive avantness might need a few listens to get acclimated, but in the end the bass-vocal interactions will fascinate and give you much to experience.

Recommended listening for the intrepid. And some fabulously inventive bass and vocal performances!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Slivovitz, All You Can Eat

There is more than one way to skin a cat. Yet if this blog was about skinning cats, I would have run out of things to say long ago. Music gives you nearly infinite possibilities to get somewhere, far more than a cat skinning does.

So for example we have the new album by Slivovitz, All You Can Eat (MoonJune 074). It's their fourth, the third for MoonJune. And it is perhaps their best yet. The Naples-based aggregate comes up with a set of fusionoid rock that holds its own and breaks through to a hip originality. This is a band who has huddled together, forged ahead and gone into the studio for the first time in four years. And what comes out is fully formed, compositionally righteous and instrumentally inspiration-soaked.

It's a group effort in the best sense, with a sort of post-Zappa compositional core, a rhythm team strength in Vincenzo Lamaga (bass) and Salvatore Rainone (drums), some great electric and acoustic guitar from Marcello Giannini, ditto from the violin of Riccardo Villari, a nice horn team of Pietro Santangelo on tenor and alto plus Ciro Riccardi on trumpet. And then the harmonica voicings of Derek di Perri, a chromatic virtuoso.

The arrangements are full blown, taking advantage of the widely colorful instrumentation for various groupings, riff versus overarching melody lines, solo spots of note, and full tutti rampages.

This is fusion-prog with all the care and inspiration that you rightfully demand and they righteously deliver. There is so much music here, dense and prolific, that it is not something you'll tire of but instead will get more and more out of the more you listen. All You Can Eat is what it suggests, a super-abundance of musical courses that reward you for as close a listen, as ravenous a "feeding" so to speak, as you care to give.

Pretty astounding band, no doubt, and they are on a rampage in the best ways here!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Taxidermists, Honesty Box

Something new in the advanced alt-rock arena today: Taxidermists and their album Honesty Box (Telegraph Harp 008, all formats). It's a duo of Cooper Handy on vocals and electric guitar and Salvadore McNamara on drums, 21-year-olds who have been playing together since 2007, Western Massachusetts residents appearing here on their fourth album, the first recorded in a studio and the first to get wide distribution.

The music is in song-form. It has an alt edge. But what stands out is the inventive asymmetry of the dynamics, chordal sequence, and guitar presence, not so much virtuoso oriented but with a sort of quirkiness that does not suggest the Beefheart guitar way as it does parallel it, not really Beefheartian, not the early Kinks, not Syd Barrett, but something akin and related, only strongly alt-slacker in orientation.

I have listened and the more I hear the more this music stands out as a definite ART. It's probably too advanced and peculiarly underground to appeal to mainstream rockers, though they would most certainly gain much from repeated hearings.

It's not quite like anything, but so consistently so as to really stand out. Unexpected progressions, guitar parts, alternating quiet lyricism and loud metal powering, drumming that fits the contours of the songs perfectly and dramatically...

This is very, way cool. Do I need to say more?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Pablo Villegas, Americano

Today we have an album by a fabulous classical guitarist. Pablo Villegas is his name. Americano (Harmonia Mundi 907649) is the name of the album. This is music of the Americas, South, Central and North. It is a nice assortment of music played with real artistry by Maestro Villegas. If you don't know of him, you certainly should. And this is a good place to get to know his wonderful playing.

We get Villa-Lobos "Etudes," selections from Bernstein's "West Side Story," something classic from Pedro Elías-Gutiérrez, a samba by Luiz Bonfá, a tango by Antonio Lauro, a John Williams piece in premier, some roots North American music adopted by Earl Scruggs and readopted by Pablo, and more besides.

The program covers much ground and the musicality of Villegas wins the day decisively in the end. He is a superb artist and his playing will win you over without a doubt.

This is one beautiful album! It is a near perfect melding of artistry and a re-presentation of music we either have never heard or have never heard quite like this before. Very recommended.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Ben Monder, Amorphae

Ben Monder and his electric guitar work are new to me--except on an excellent album by Barry Romberg that I reviewed some time ago on these pages (April 1, 2013). For his debut album on ECM, Amorphae (ECM 2421) Monder reveals an artistry that is as evocative as it is impressive.

Monder has an excellent harmonic sense, an orchestral approach to ambient guitar and an excellent sense of sound color and phrasing. The album at hand is spacy, freely improvised (except a reharmonization of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning") and vital.

There are many high points. The two duets with the late Paul Motian (including the version of "Morning" cited above) is one of them. Then there are two unaccompanied solo improvisations, two duets with drummer giant Andrew Cyrille, and two more with Monder and Cyrille joined by Pete Rende on synthesizer.

Ultimately this is a showcase for Monder's special guitar sensibility with his cohorts contributing to the dramatic ambiance.

The high-ceiling, fully wet acoustics of the ECM production sets off what Monder is doing fabulously. His sometimes use of digital delay further heightens the sound for a sometimes orchestral density.

Throughout there is a care to establish the free space as hypnotically cosmic, oceanic, lyrically outside the pale of normalcy, and very much attractively musical in the best ways.

If interplanetary landscaping, soundscaping guitar ruminations sound like your kind of music, or one of them, this is a sterlingly pure and satisfying trip into such terrain that you need to hear. It establishes Monder definitively as an important contributor to the genre. It is also a wonderfully expansive listen!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Badi Assad, Hatched

Last April 23, 2014, I reviewed and recommended an album by Badi Assad, the Brazilian singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist. Today I am back a year-and-a-half later with a new one by her, Hatched (QuatroVentos AA0001000). What changes in life we have experienced in that time disappear when listening to Badi, her songs, her depth, her playing, her voice.

It's Badi and her guitar in a small trio ensemble expanded at times with guests. The music has a post-samba groove to it that her nicely done guitar playing forwards, her voice affirms and the band reinforces. There is saudade to be felt in the music, surely, but a forward-moving hope, too.

Her songs are a major strength that go hand-in-hand with their vocalization and the guitar foundation that is so much a part of her presence.

This is music that makes you unhappy to be glad, glad to be unhappy, and happy to be happy, if I can get my feelings on her music across here. It is some really fine artistry and you should not miss it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Michael Gregory Jackson, After Before

A new Michael Gregory Jackson album always promises to be an event. After Before (self-released) is no exception. His highly original guitar wielding is given an excellent setting with the current members of his Clarity Quartet: Niels Praestholm, bass, Simon Spang-Hanssen, tenor and soprano sax, and Matias Wolf-Andreasen, drums.

There is cohesion and spirited togetherness in this band. They run through some extraordinarily worthwhile original compositions, including a couple of those inimitable songs Michael writes and sings, existing in a lyrical place all their own.

But there is of course a new jazz contemporary thing happening with the band as well, as you expect from Michael.

There is nothing derivative about Michael's playing. He has always been a school of one and he continues to be, though there is never a standing still. There is a funky kind of leverage to his soloing on this one, along with a scatter overall fullness when he feels that.

The band is very simpatico, each in his own way a voice of distinction. Together they make very beautiful music.

Michael Gregory Jackson, if you need to know, occupies a space in the jazz guitar world that is wholly original and extraordinarily schooled in its steady-state singularity. After Before is a new step along the way, deserving to be numbered among his very best albums, in ways that hang together as "new," very much new.

Highest recommendations!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Vahagni, Imagined Frequencies

Vahagni is a guitarist of great technical scope and imagination. He plays the acoustic guitar with a facility that rivals someone like McLaughlin or the flamenco greats. Yet his music is not easily pegged. Listen to Imagined Frequencies (self-released). It is Vahagni and an ensemble of vocalists, bass, drums, percussion, cello, violin, and sonic design.

He is Armenian but his music partakes of a wide expanse of world folk, jazz, fusion, flamenco and classical elements in a bracing mix that centers around Vahagni's very involved picking and line-weaving ways.

It is music that has a very original stamp to it--beyond easy classification, holding its own as vibrant arranged music as well as guitar excellence. And Vahagni is a monster!! Listen! Here is a link to stream the music (Copy url and paste in your browser to access.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Eighty-pound Pug, Alex Lozupone Project, Pug Wife!

Alex Lozupone was kind enough to send me his latest albums and I've listened. What I hear intrests me very much, so naturally I am posting. Eight Pound Pug, aka the Alex Lozupone Project, is a improvisational outfit with a floating membership if I am correct. At any rate their latest, Pug Wife! (self released), which BandCamp classifies as "metal experimental improvisation jazz noise New York," which I suppose pretty much covers it, features Alex Lozupone on guitar/bass, David Tamura on keys and tenor sax (one track), Paul Feitzinger on drums, Chris Bacas on soprano sax, and Jen Kutler on "kegel synth" which is in part bodily activated, apparently.

This is a series of metal riffs set down with gravity by Alex, rocked out by Paul, and elaborated upon and against, avant style, by the other instruments.

It is fascinating music to me, though it is not exactly a guitar showcase at all points, you who read my blog looking for that. It IS guitar-centric, in that Alex's motif spinning centers it all and gives the music its "metal" sheen. And he does some improvisations here too in the band context and he takes it out in the process, so...

Beyond that is freedom and noise. And the premises are pretty clear all the time, so it gets my ear as seriously warped but seriously serious music. Does that make sense?

So maybe it is not going to grab everybody equally, but it is a true expression and a musical art, so what does it matter who will be pleased or possibly annoyed? It is either for you or it isn't! No kidding! Really, though, it caught MY ear anyway. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dwiki Dharmawan, So Far So Close

The progressive fusion realm goes ever forward to grow and develop in the hands of key players. MoonJune Records continues to spearhead the presentation of vibrant new efforts in the realm, today with an Indonesian keyboardist and a top-tier ensemble doing excellent things. I speak of Dwiki Dharmawan and his MoonJune debut album So Far So Close (MoonJune 075).

Dwiki has more than 30 years of performing under his belt and he shows what he can do as a keyboardist, composer and bandleader nicely. The band is something, too. We get Jimmy Haslip on electric bass and Chad Wackerman on drums and both hit the ground as ever they do, running. Then an old friend, Jerry Goodman of Flock and Mahavishnu fame, joins on violin for the first cut and shows us he still has it. The guitar mastery of Dewa Budjana and Tohpati is present for much of the time, with some incredible moments, and I Nyoman Windha plays traditional Indonesian instruments, and adds vocals on one of the numbers.

This is fusion that partakes of the golden age moments of the pre-trad '70s and '80s and updates it. Dwiki plays with assurance and fire and his arrangements-compositions ring nicely true.

An auspicious album, one that any fusionist will embrace and enjoy! Give it lots of spins!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Josh Maxey, Celebration of Soul

Some albums surprise you by being more than one thing. Josh Maxey, good guitarist and bandleader, gives you that on Celebration of Soul (Miles High 8634). It's an album of hip sounds that might suggest the William's Lifetime with Larry Young and John McLaughlin, or more with Ted Dunbar, but it is perhaps a little more grits-and-gravy meets streamlined interplanetary travel, too, than Williams' classic "Ego" was.

Josh plays the electric guitar well. He is joined by the equally lucid and very hip Brian Charette on organ, Chase Baird on saxophones in a very contemporary mode, plus Jeremy Noller on drums in a post-Tony drivenness, and Rodney Jones on second guitar for several cuts. Additional guitarists David and Brett Parnell (the latter on lap steel) and Michael Cioffero thicken the lines on some of the numbers.

The compositions are by Josh and they have a staying kind of constancy. His solo work is quite good, too.

It's music that comes through with excitement and yes, a soulful expressivity. I am sometimes reminded a little of later Charles Earland, too, in very good ways.

I like this one very much, foremost for the musical totality it gives you!