Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Steve Reich, Electric Counterpoint, Daniel Lippel, Guitars

Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint for multiple electric guitars is surely one of the landmark modern works of its kind. Pat Metheny did a version in 1987 that came out as part of an album that included "Different Trains." That was a beautiful take on it but now we have another excellent one, multi-tracked by Daniel Lippel (New Focus CD).

The piece as Reich conceived it was in part based on traditional Banda-Linda music of Central Africa. Lippel worked with NYU ethnomusicologist Martin Scherzinger to accentuate the African rootedness of the work. I must say the music sounds wonderfully well, perhaps the best it ever has in Daniel Lippel's hands. It is marvelously resounding and drivingly rhythmic.

I am a huge Reich enthusiast and so it did not take any arm-twisting to hear this version. It is exceedingly beautiful to begin with, and even more so in this extraordinarily well articulated version. Keep in mind that this is an EP with around 15 minutes of music. A better 15 minutes I cannot imagine, unless it were to be on some other planet!

All guitarists should hear this. Everyone else, too, while we are at it. Seminal.

Monday, March 28, 2016

James Burns, Let's Go to Hell, Scattered Memories of the Butthole Surfers

"So you wanna be a rock and roll star?" asks the Byrds in a notable song from the mid-late sixties. Their prescription for success is comically simple, a lyric that pokes fun at the whole enterprise as it extols its own status. Things are far more complicated than that. And perhaps no more complicated than in the heady days of punk-and-after in the music of the '80s-'90s, and perhaps epitomized in the harrowing adventures of an off-center band that became a legend and then was in effect swallowed up by its own success. I speak of the Butthole Surfers, a band that somewhat disqualified themselves for easy fame by virtue of their very name, and in the process of their long rise (and fall) endured and thrived by talent, determination and, yes, a kind of excess, even a depravity.

The new book devoted to that narrative of the band, Let's Go to Hell by James Burns (Cheap Drugs, 495 pages, paper or casebound), gives you an enthralling, detailed look at the band's career.

It is a well-documented piecing together of what the band's anti-marketing-marketing stance made a point of obscuring--the actual ins and outs of the trajectory of a band living for a decade on the very edge of collapse, touring continually in circumstances of dire poverty and deprivation, living solely for the music, yet also in their dire excesses living on the brink of physical and mental collapse.

It is a harrowing yet at times funny story of a band seemingly totally out of control both on stage and off, yet evolving into one of the era's very best post-punk alternative rock outfits. The story begins in the early '80s, as they are an upcoming punk outfit, details how they manage to outlive the punk era to become one of the rock underground's boldest avant rock guitar bands, evolving into a neo-psychedelic extreme-noise juggernaut, a premiere guitar band who mostly resisted the synth-pop era and kept the music evolving and on the edge.

Perhaps the extreme irony of the scene is enacted by the Butthole Surfers as with so many other bands of that era. The rise of Nirvana and grunge gave bands like the Surfers a mainstream popularity that through a major record deal and increased exposure created their presence on the national-international scene yet set the scene for their self-and-outward destruction. Success gave them for a time improved economic prospects yet alienated their original audience and put more and more pressure on them to retain a commercial success that belied what made them so interesting to the underground scene-mavens in the first place.

The book grabs you from the beginning and gives you an inside look of what it was like to be in the band. It will appeal to Butthole fans as a comprehensive chronology of lineups, tours, recordings, style changes and creative circumstances. But even if you are not a huge Surfers devotee it is a fascinating read and an important document about the socio-cultural and economic history of underground rock in perhaps its very peak period. The cultural wars between conservative factions and the underground is an underlying theme of great interest to anyone interested in the period, too.

Highly recommended. But be prepared for the hell of what it was like to be on the fringes then!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Andy Brown Quartet, Direct Call

Andy Brown's new quartet album Direct Call (Delmark 5023) opens with a rousing version of the classic Rabbit/Duke number "The Jeep is Jumping" to clear space for an artful set. Brown shows us a refreshing take on electric guitar artistry that owes something to the swing-bop nexus that Charlie Christian made so irresistible and others that came after like Barney Kessel worked through into a modern jazz guitar style. This music reminds us that the human prehensile grip not only has enabled us to do cool things like fashion spears, paint masterpieces, but also has given us the ability (for some anyway) to play the guitar like a mother, and of course to invent and craft the instrument in the first place.

So this album makes us glad of that, surely. The album does not rest with "Jeep" but continues on for a program of standards and originals that compliments his earlier album Soloist (type that in index box for my review) with a swinging quartet date and makes us further realize just how excellent a guitarist we have here.

He has very sympatico bandmates in pianist Jeremy Kahn (with some greatly swinging and hip solo time and the kind of comping that really drives everything ahead), bassist Joe Policastro and drummer Phil Gratteau. The rhythm gets it all going, setting up the Brown doings in all the right ways.

Andy has had all the schooling and knows what to do with it, that is clear. And while he digs into the stylistic block swing-bop he adroitly manages to avoid the cliches and come up with his own performative niceties.

It is an album all guitarists and all their friends will find hard not to like. It boils over with guitar brilliance. You must hear this! Then you must smile! Well, not must, but I do think you will. I did. I am smiling to myself right now!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Marc Edwards & Slipstream Time Travel, Mystic Mountain: Trouble in the Carina Nebula

Here we have an EP of great electricity, improvisational strength, and the uninhibited free mayhem of the spacey, special sort we have come to expect from drummer-bandleader Marc Edwards and his Slipstream Time Travel band. The album is titled Mystic Mountain: Trouble in the Carina Nebula (JaZt TAPES CD-057). It was the band as it sounded live at The Pine Box in Brooklyn, last October 2015.

There is a mountain of sound to be heard here, perhaps the density of which at times is unprecedented. Marc of course occupies the drum chair and gives us his unparalleled, tempestuous virtuoso barrage of percussive significance. David Tamura adds a welcome and contrastively volcanic tenor sax. But then the threesome of Karl Alfonso Evangelista, Colin Sanderson and Alex Lozupone, the three on very high-crank electric guitars, Alex (who also is leader of the band Eighty-Pound Pug that I have happily covered here) on combo electric guitar and bass.

The three guitar onslaught creates extreme metal densities of a special, invigorating sort. What a sound they get. Marc and David are determined to create counterthrusts of sound and they do so nicely, but the guitars make for a highly psychedelic sort of present-day Ascension that floats and drives the music into a beautiful chaos like no other. This may be their most anarchically exhilarating album yet! And if you let yourself open to its insistence, I think you will find it drives you outward into a space that is infinitely over-the-top.

So, kudos! If you seek something polite, this one is not for you. But if a very electric freedom can motor your listening self, this one is tailor-made for such a trip. It's a great noise indeed!

For more info and to find out how to order this go to

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Paul Carrack, Soul Shadows

I am of the age where the music of Paul Carrack carries lots of connotations, half-memories of an age spent listening to the radio and hearing the classic soul hits we now realize were only there for a time as an active musical entity. Or were they? What is special about Paul's album Soul Shadows (Carrack-UK 026) is that he spins a full album of songs that in their make-up and their arrangements recapture un-selfconsciously that classic era. The songs are new, the arrangements are perfect, Paul sings very well and plays guitar that is more a rhythm than a lead item here, but no matter.

To say it is what it is is to say nothing, and not very precisely at that. But it is. This might have come out on Stax in 1968, say. But it didn't. Jimmy Ruffin? That and more. The songs are the thing and they are good. But then the vocals and arrangements carry it forward to make it real.

And so this music speaks to me, as it will to anybody who appreciates that period of soul-pop that filled the ears of those of us who were there, but also can communicate of course to younger folks who can dig what it is putting down.

This one grew on me, little-by-little. It has an authenticity and commitment to a sound that sounds right, in a beautiful way. Enough said.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Fred Van Hove, Peter Jacquemyn, Damon Smith, Burns Longer, 2008

From the significant holdings of releases by avant bass master Damon Smith comes this single-mindedly focused trio outing from 2008. It consists of European avant free piano icon Fred Van Hove mixing it up in excellent ways with two bass voices of note--namely Damon and Peter Jacquemyn. Burns Longer (Balance Point Acoustics BPA-2) may have an amusing, ironic title that echoes with the tone of the cigarette ads many of us were brainwashed with before they were banned, but it also captures the essence of this date.

For this outing does give us some excellent long burns, "Archiduc 1" and "Archiduc 3" respectively clocking in at 27:39 and 35:38, with number two adding another 10 minutes. But the point is that the length brings us an intensity of focus. We get some thorough fire-spitting piano (and some hip accordion) such as Fred Van Hove has built his reputation upon. Add to that the sprawling matrix of two bass adepts laying down an ever-varied carpet of rumbling, searing, widely colorful bass emanations. And you have something.

This is the sort of uncompromised free attacking that gives you a kind of Zen equilibrium as you experience it start-to-finish. Everybody is in high gear and the distance traveling willy-nilly through rugged terrain brings on a feeling of exhilaration that the best of this sort of thing will do if you let go and go where it leads.

I am reminded very pleasantly of some of the old BYG recordings done in 1969. It does not stand on formalities. It lets loose and you get with it or it will not work.

Needless to say this excels for the two-bass contributions and how they interact with Van Hove's unrelenting inventiveness.

I recommend this one to you for its nervy outness and the success it achieves. This IS what free music is about!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Avataar, Petal

I don't suppose that anyone familiar with the history and trajectory of "Fusion" is unaware of the importance of classical Indo-Pak and African elements in the development of the first seminal outfits that were categorized as such back in the early days. Of course there was John McLaughlin as a clear example of the Indian strain, but the rhythmic structural influence could be heard in some classic Miles of the day among many others, and the melodic element was a pronounced aspect of many sides. As for the African element, I only mention it here--for later discussion.

Avataar updates the Indian-jazz nexus on the recent album Petal (InSound Records IS003). It is the brainchild of saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan. He's put together a very able and flexible group and they give us a new and exciting spin on Indo-jazz-rock doings. Sundar brings us a full CD of nicely crafted and arranged originals that open us up to something different. Key to it all is vocalist Felicity Williams and her oft-times wordless vocal instrument, which especially in the compositional segments plays an important role in the shaping of the ensemble melodies--sometimes in unison with Sundar's soprano or alto, or perhaps the electric guitar of Michael Occhipinti as well--who by the way plays some angelically demonic guitar here in the solo zone.

And there is supreme musicianship to be heard all-around--Justin Gray on bass, Ravi Naimpally on tabla, Giampaolo Scatozza on drums are all huge contributors to the sound.

The compositions stand out as especially fine. All players have a foot in both western and Indian camps, no more so than Sundar, who combines the two in his solo work beautifully well.

It is music that those new to this sort of thing may dig right off, and those who love the Indian-Jazz-Rock nexus will feel like they are in a new home, with all the things they might expect and definite fresh twists, too, for a happy result. Excellent!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, Make the Magic Happen

Critics, of which I suppose I am one, are as is the fashion out of style, if social media is any indication (and of course that is an open question!). In some views they are leeches, wanna bee's, axe-grinding subjectivists. Well bull-dingie to that. Never paid for work (I mean by publishers, of course, one does not take money for reviews from artists unless one is a sleaze), facing foreclosure and eviction, poor to the point where in winter my toes turn black from horrible frostbite because I cannot afford enough heat, facing possible homelessness, I am doing these blogs because the music is all-important to me. Otherwise, I would be plain-crazy!  Leech? What is it I get out of this? And if I make a point of covering everything Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord comes out with, it is because the music they make is simply and OBJECTIVELY wonderful. So far. Got it? Now if I sound like as a friend of mine puts it, I am "pulling a Mingus" by being disagreeable and even angry, so be it.

Seriously though, I have been totally zoned in with Lundbom and company's excursions. Their new project this year is a series of four digital EPs by the band, the first of which is out, Make the Magic Happen (Hot Cup). It is another good one. There are three pieces going down here, Ornette Coleman's "Law Years," in honor of and remembrance of a master taken sadly from us recently. Then there is Lundbom's "Ain't Cha," based on Parker and Gillespie's intro to "All the Things You Are" as put forward on the Bird & Diz platter years ago. And then there is Lundbom's "La Bomb," which is an extension of his earlier number "New Feats of Horsemanship." And yes, there is that humor here if you look for it--subtle, less of the horse-laugh type, but what of it? If we cannot laugh a little, we are doomed to get a POTUS who makes us all cry. And there is nothing funny about that. But I digress and the net bots hate digressions and punish accordingly, so...

This is a band that has great depth in the combination of Lundbom's very original guitar work, a formidable two-horn punch with Jon Irabagon and Balto Exclamationpoint (the artist formerly known as...), Moppa Elliot on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums (with his snare sounding especially fetching), or in other words a great rhythm team.

This EP is a rousing start to things. As important as anything they've put our way and some Lundbom guitar that will get you searching your pockets for a pick to play air guitar with....In short, excellent music!

This whole EP thing is a cool idea. You can of course purchase each one as it comes out. (The next volume is due April 1st). Or you can pre-order all four in advance from Hot Cup and save 15%. Finally, you can wait until they are all out and get the four in a box set. All the proceeds go to the artists! So why worry? Just dig into this music.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Eighty-Pound Pug, Speechless, Alex Lozupone Project

Eighty-pound Pug, guitarist Alex Lozupone's adventuresome foray into free-jazz avant-metal, gives us a sequel to When Flowers Bloomed in Baltimore (which I covered here last January--see index) with more bracing music I believe is from the same sessions, Speechless (Dog and Panda). It is a limited edition release.

Alex is on guitar-bass. Then there are some 14 other musicians, drums, keys and multiple reeds, who hold forth here at various points in various combinations. As with the last album Alex lays down some heavy metal riffing and the others join in for a free-for-all that in this case is all instrumental.

There is a definite style set of free plus metal that makes Eighty-pound Pug something most unusual and invigorating--and may take some getting used to if you have not heard them before. But once you do, there you are. It's tailor-made music for those who can embrace heavy electricity and avant freedom in the same frame.

I am glad to have this sequel. Whether you'll like Baltimore better or this one depends on whether you prefer vocals or instrumentals? I find both go together well. Alex is up to something and if you like adventure set off on the trail here!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Kevin Kastning, Carl Clements, A Far Reflection

Kevin Kastning, as this blog noted earlier in the year for another album, has created a wonderful new sound out of the 36-string double contraguitar and the 30-string contra-alto guitar. The latest, a very uplifting duo recording with reedman Carl Clements, A Far Reflection (greydisc 3529), brings us another dimension in the universe of possibilities.

Carl has an explorative voice of his own on tenor and soprano saxes, alto flute and bansuri flutes. He has a beautiful sound on each instrument. It compliments Kastning's special sonarity in poetic ways. The deftly imaginative Kastning harp-guitar multiple sounding melodic-harmonic emanations have a wind counterpart on these thoroughgoing two-voiced improvisations that fulfill the sonic promises the music contains in potent reserve. You might say that the music comes to full completion through the silences between, before and after the music sounds. The space between the notes are an equal partner in all this. It is in the soundings and the silences working together that we feel palpably the musical space that is so integral to the magic of this duet set.

This is music of great atmosphere but also of intelligence, of creative sonic-decision making. Not only does the music speak in a lush carpet of sound, each strand interrelates finely to the others like a treasured hand-made rug from earlier times. And whether listening in broad terms or subjecting each set of phrases to microscopic scrutiny, the music bears forth with cohesion and depth.

In short, this is music of ravishing improvisational artistry, a seventy-minute adventure of near breathtaking presence. Kastning and Clements come through with a gem worthy of their considerable abilities. Hear this!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Rhythm Future Quartet, Travels

Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club group gave us some of the most original and inspired original jazz of the swing era. Django was a guitarist of gigantic originality and artistry, Grappelli was one of the jazz violin innovators of the era and a beautifully skilled artist, and the ensemble gave us a sound we now call "Gypsy Jazz."

It took a while but in this century Gypsy Jazz has blossomed into a movement that honors that legacy with varying degrees of effectiveness and by now shows signs of becoming a style that continues to evolve and sound fresh. No better an example of how Gypsy Jazz can go into innovative directions than with the Rhythm Future Quartet and their album Travels (Magic Fiddle Music CD).

It has the Hot Club instrumentation, with Jason Anick on violin and Olli Soikkeli on lead guitar, backed nicely by rhythm guitarist Max O'Rourke and bassist Greg Loughman.

Anick and Soikkeli take the legacy of Grappeli and Reinhardt along with prodigious technique and build something new overtop it all. New compositions by all four, and a cover or two break ground on this, their second album.

The band takes Gypsy Jazz into the present with a less strictly Hot Club demeanor at times, though the inspiration is still very present underneath it all. The originals extend it nicely and the Anick-Soikkeli front line gives us some uncanny virtuosity that channels the masters and remakes them into a modern image, all the while showing the dexterity such music demands.

It is a wonderful album!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Joelle Leandre, No Comment, 1994-95

Joelle Leandre is a bassist without peer in avant-free jazz-new music realms. I mean that others may approach her virtuostic sense of extension and mastery on the acoustic bass-contrabass but nobody is quite like her. My "Exhibit A" is the recently issued live solo performances she did at jazz festivals in Ragusa, Italy and Vancouver, Canada in 1994-95. It is available in full sound and impact on the CD No Comment (Fou Records CD 14).

It is her bass and vocals carrying forth with brilliance and discernment in nine segments. If you need to be reminded, her vocalizations intertwine with bass effervescences in beautifully virtuoso ways, like nobody else. And some of those moments here rank with her very best. But of course that is also true of the bass improvising itself, whether with bow or pizzicato, or both at once.

And in the course of this nicely packaged album you get some of Joelle's finest declamations, a real stunner of a set. She is master at utilizing a broad swath of extended and conventional ways of getting the bass to sing and then adds her voice now and again for something that assuredly does NOT sound like Slam Stewart (hello, do readers have any idea who I mean?) but sounds unmistakably like herself.

Anyone who loves the sound of the contrabass in its fullest potential will find this a bracing and even exhilarating listen! Do give it your ears, if you can!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Moppa Elliott, Still, Up in the Air

OK? Am I crazy if I tell you that Moppa Elliott's inaugural solo acoustic bass album is "funny?" I speak of Still, Up in the Air (Hot Cup 152). I do not mean "haha" or "lol" funny. It is in fact a dead serious journey through some exceptional bass zones in seven segments, using bow and pizzicato and yielding some beautifully expressive sounds. No, it is not exactly a joke. Far from it. But Moppa Elliott is, as we have come to know, a mischievous fellow. As head of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, as composer, as who he is, he has given us some quite serious and seriously excellent music in the company of his illustrious cohorts, some of it with a real sense of humor that is all too rare these days. He has caused controversy, but no, I am NOT going into that here. And there is the ability to take himself very seriously but also to laugh.

Let me be more specific. The album is filled with some very excellent, supercharged avant bass playing. His own approach to the bass is on fine display. He often gets a kind of dual sonic panorama playing out, as, for example, bowing on some strings and hammering on others simultaneously.

There is often a manic quality to the improvisations that is attuned to the "energy music" mode that is of course integral to avant jazz. He gets many a froth flowing in his playing plus an wealth of attacks and colors via conventional and unconventional techniques. There are times though where there is something humorous about the sheer over-the-top frenzy he can unleash on us. I know this can be taken the wrong way. Hell, anything one writes can always do that. And I can remember when one of my compositions, written many years ago, was thought "funny" by my composition guru. Now, yes, it WAS funny, but at the time I had forgotten that aspect and I said to myself, somewhat indignantly, "it is not SUPPOSED to be funny." I was wrong. But it's easy to get touchy. So I must say I mean this in the positive sense.

There is a huge energy outpouring in this performative wave of profusion. And at times Moppa takes it far enough that he ends up parodying himself. Does that make sense? The point in the end is that this is superlative solo bass playing that has a consistency with Moppa's musical personality. And that it is original and quite exemplary.

It is over-the-top, fun even, yet seriously good. Get it and dig on those huge dimensional swaths of sound! Basso profundo...

Monday, March 7, 2016

Gary Lucas and Jann Klose, Stereopticon

You never know what's coming next until you get to the future. And even then you wonder about the next future. Sometimes that is a very good thing. Certainly that is true of guitar wizard and conceptualist Gary Lucas and his multiple adventures/projects. It turns out it is true also of singer-songwriter Jann Klose. They have collaborated most rewardingly and the first fruits can be appreciated on their recent album Stereopticon (Cosmic Trigger/The Orchard).

One who knows may think almost automatically of Gary's legendary collaborations with the late Jeff Buckley. Other than the guitar-song intersections being equally creative it is probably best to put that aside for the moment. Gary sticks with his trusty old Gibson and gives us his patented, wonderful picking-claw-hammering-strumming best here. Jann has a modern, youthful sound that is not really Buckleyian, nor should we expect it to be. He sings well and directly and his part in the song collaboration is more in line with the rock-song stylings of the present.

Now that should not put you off in the least, because there are a bunch of great songs (some co-written with co-producer Dan Beck), some great singing and of course lots of Gary in a fine fettle on guitar. I would think that Lucas fans will be well satisfied with this album as I am, and Klose fans should feel the same way. Beyond that Venn diagram of intersections there will be an audience that may not know either artist well or perhaps not at all. The music should get their attention, those who look to furnish their life with great songs, great singing and great guitar playing. That huge mass of potential fans have much to attract them on Stereopticon.

It's the sort of music that gets your attention straight off but then when you go back and listen again and again it continues to grab you and sound fresh.

So my guitar-oriented readers will be happy with this one as I am. And there will, I hope, be many others. It has a joyous sorrow about it. And a kind of universal appeal. So get it!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Samo Salamon Bassless Trio, Unity

Today I am happy to report to you on Unity (Samo Records), the new album by the Samo Salamon Bassless Trio. It is a fine mix of three excellent players doing ten provocative and substantial Salamon compositions.

Samo is a guitarist of weight. He plays through the trio performances with composed and comped signposts that wear well on repeated hearings and solos with depth and musical originality. Julian Arguelles sounds great and advanced on tenor and soprano. John Hollenbeck is a drummer of palpable imagination and drive.

Together they make music that is beyond fusion but related to it. It is driving and has some of fusion's complexities but also has innovative structural ways. The trio covers unconventionally the compositional keystones of each number while opening up the improvisations in a free-wheeling way not entirely fusionesque. It tends to be less cranked than a more rock-saturated fusion group. Yet there is great torque nonetheless.

Every number jumps out at you with musical content and infectious forward motion. The trio can break into, say, tenor and drums in duet for example and/or with any number of group possibilities that can stray far beyond head-solos-head conventions.

Samo is a guitarist to listen to closely. He comes forward with well-conceived parts and beautiful solo work. And his compositions stand out strongly from the routine sorts of fusion formulas that one might hear on a typical date.

It is some outstanding music from an outstanding threesome of musicians. You should hear it!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Julian Lage, Arclight

Julian Lage is a guitarist who has formidable technical tools but also a very musical way about him, a keen ear for what can be done. His latest is out in a few days, March 11th (see below for a pre-order link). It is called Arclight (Mack Avenue). What we have is a lively trio configuration of Julian, plus the ever-potent Scott Coley on double bass and the swinging Kenny Wollesen on drums.

The album has the influence of early-to-mid period Jarrett trios in their treatment of "covers," but that comes through with originality in what Lage and the trio are doing. Lage does some nicely thought-out arrangements of early jazz/pre-bop. There are also some nice originals.

What is striking is the beautiful playing of Lage and the excellent trio interaction. Lage has become his own stylistic self, cleanly exuberant, tastefully musical in his chordal-lining lyricism, filled with some beautiful intersections of the noteful and the chordally interesting. He is one of a kind at this point and he has worked out his versions of the old and the new that has at times a rock electricity and other times a brightly direct tone. There sometimes is an almost Django-meets-surf brilliance...I don't know how else to describe it. But there are indeed a number of dimensions of Lage to be heard on this fine album, all of it a pleasure and, I'll admit, a challenge to all guitarists out there to be original, to press on!

Lage is becoming a major guitar force out there. It's all on the CD, so jump up and grab it if you want something accomplished and original.

A link if you want to preorder: My live link button is on the fritz so you'll have to copy and paste the link into your address window.