Monday, January 30, 2017

Samo Salamon, Stefano Battaglia, Winds

I am lucky to get a steady stream of music for consideration. I listen to it all and there are plenty of times when I uncover a gem that I would not otherwise have had a chance to hear. One of those today is up for review. I speak of guitarist Samo Salamon and pianist Stefano Battaglia in the nicely conceived duo date Winds (SAZAS-Klopotec 037).

The music is an appealing mix of spacy soundscapes, jazz-rock-avant improvisations, and progressively oriented adventures in sound sculpture.

It shows both Samo and Stefano as sensitive, powerful players with a clear set of direction, sometimes spurred on with composed elements, always showing a stylistic originality and a confident sense of where to go at any given point.

Samo has an excellent melodic feel and sense of purpose; Stefano's piano presence does a great deal to make of it all something worthy as well.

I like how Samo uses a fair bit of electricity to put the guitar sound into near-rock territory and at the same time constructs lines which extend the sound into further outwardness. Stefano similarly ranges far and wide with a very musical way about him.

For another worthwhile album by Samo, see my March 3, 2006 review on these pages.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Brian Kastan, Roll the Dice on Life

I had no idea about Brian Kastan, composer, guitarist, bandleader. Until now, that is, and his double CD Roll the Dice on Life (Kastan Records 1001). From the moment I put this one on for the first time I heard something I immediately knew was different, unheard of and very accomplished.

There is something Zappaesque, Beefhartian to it all, yet not. It is Kastanian. His guitar work is overarching everything with an exceptional structural sense. There is melodic-harmonic surprise at every turn. And the compositions have a real twist to them.

It is Brian in a quartet setting. Miles Griffith's mostly wordless vocals are a thing apart, articulating the complex melodic lines like nobody else, scatty and musically strong, yet very off the wall in the way he mumbles, grumbles, and musically growls the lines.

Steve Rust on bass and Peter O'Brien on drums are very important to the sound, too. They play some beautiful lines both as composition-realizations and as improvisation-openness.

I must say that there is something astonishing going on here, on the fringes of involved rock but most definitely within the reinvented confines of it all.

Holy cripes! This is DIFFERENT. Get your ears on it, definitely.

Monday, January 23, 2017

ROJI, The Hundred Headed Woman

The duet-plus-guests configuration of ROJI, as we hear on The Hundred Headed Woman (ShhPuma 023) makes for a compelling and joyful noise thanks to the throughly musical avant timbre and tone of electric bassist Goncalo Almeida and the fully aware timbral depth and rolling creativity of drummer Jorg A. Schneider. The addition of Susana Santos Silva on trumpet for around half the album and baritone saxophonist Colin Webster for the other half fleshes out the sound without decreasing the very large presence of Almeida's bass or the rolling thunder of Schneider's drums.

In either case Silva's trumpet or Webster's baritone adds to the remarkable frenetics of ROJI without subtracting the hugeness of the duo in the least. Only one cut features the duo as duo. But we do not, or at least I do not feel anything but the rigor of electric-boosted continuity from first to last.

It sounds like Goncalo is playing a five- or six-string electric much of the time, as there is the deepness of the amped-up bass tones plus sometimes a counterline played in the upper range of the instrument, with or without a slide but in any event more guitar than bass-like. In either case Goncalo gives us a distinct avant fullness that is original as it is bracing.

The entire album rockets forth with great energy, noise, and timbre. It is as much psychedelic-laced rock as it is new thing and new music. And it is not just that they do this consistently but that they also do it so well.

In this extraordinarily fragile and frankly disturbing age we live in ROJI transcends the instability of the present with fearless musical courage.

And to me it signals the need to stop questioning an avant garde whose conviction that what they are doing is worthwhile and right comes at a time when many of these artists have little or nothing to gain from devoting a lifetime to evolving their sound. Fame they do not get. Money perhaps very little. There is sincerity and great talent in the best. You can hear that in ROJI. Celebrate a free world creativity! Get this album and play it!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Joshua Breakstone, The Cello Quartet, 88

Guitar jazz adept Joshua Breakstone returns with his Cello Quartet for a look at some fine composer-pianists within the hard-bop and related jazz idioms of the fifties and early sixties on 88 (Capri 74144-2). Pieces deserving a new look combine with some fine swinging modern jazz soloing from a top-notch group.

Breakstone is a fine chordal colorist and an excellent lining soloist who combines smarts and soul. Mike Richmond adds much to this quartet with nicely thought through pizzicato lines in a post-Pettiford manner. Lisle Atkinson's bass and Andy Watson's drums give the set a groovingly solid foundation at all times.

Breakstone gives a tributory nod to the pianists in his original "88." From there we get a worthy handling of some beautiful and lately somewhat or completely neglected masterpieces: Mabern's "The Chief," Clark's "News for Lulu," Walton's "Black," Waldron's "Soul Eyes," Hope's "Moe is On," Harris' "Lolita," Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," and Tristano's "Lennie's Pennies."

The combination of the pianistic classic repertoire and the Cello Quartet instrumentation gives us a very fresh take and some very nice playing. This is surely one of Breakstone's best and I suspect any jazz loving listener out there will find plenty to like.

Very recommended!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mili Bermejo, Dan Greenspan, arte del duo

In jazz the duo may be one of the most challenging configurations. It does not give you that absolute open form of the unencumbered individual, but neither does it provide an extensive backdrop for the solo. When you have a duo of voice and contrabass there are further challenges. These sorts of thoughts recede to the back of your mind, though, when you listen to vocalist Mili Bermejo and bassist Dan Greenspan carry forth on their recent album arte del duo (Ediciones Pentagrama 707).

These are song form excursions. Many (around half) were written by Mili and they are sparkling, but she also falls into wordless improvising and sometimes, something in between. Her songs are substantial but then she takes on some others (that you might know) and in every instance gives it all a vocal presence that is beautifully original.

Dan Greenspan plays excellent bass here as well. He works within the implied changes of any given tune and delivers an exceptionally mindful set of bass parts/improvs that define the duo as much as Mili does vocally.

There is a South American lilt to it all, not always quite bursting into full rhythmic cadence as much as they allude to what they hear but leave out. Then again, they sometimes let loose with the linear heat they have internalized and so we feel a thrusting forth as well as a hiding and a conscious partial erasure,

This is pure brilliance!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Ian Faquini & Paula Santoro, Metal na Madeira

Anyone who loves Brazilian samba jazz as I do will welcome Metal na Madeira (Ridgeway 005) by Ian Faquini & Paula Santoro. Ian wrote all the music for the album and it is excellent. He plays a well-put-together rhythmically and harmonically vital acoustic guitar in the idiom appropriate for this music. Paula Santoro is in charge of the vocals and she is brilliant in the role.

The minimal of the two together is supplemented on the various songs, respectively, by bass plus drums and percussion, or accordion and pandeiro, or drums, or electric piano, drums, bass, horns and backing vocals, or accordion, or clarinet. Everyone does the right thing to forward the music beautifully.

This is far and above one of the nicest samba jazz outfits I've heard in years. And the originals have everything going for them, as do Paula's vocals and Ian's acoustic.

Wow! Do not miss this one!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Eric St-Laurent, Planet

From Canada we have electric guitarist Eric St-Laurent and his album Planet (Katzenmusik 06). The trio-quartet involved is a nice conflation of St-Laurent's picking and plying axe combined with a woody and solid bass from Jordan O'Connor, nicely gauged percussion from Michel DeQuevido and when he is playing, some interesting piano from Attila Fias.

They do originals and classics like "Donna Lee," and it all sounds bright and contemporary. A big surprise is the theme from Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8, Second Movement. It works.

In the end we hear a guitarist who goes his own way, convincingly, and a band that sounds fresh and can PLAY.

I plan to post much more on here this year. I ran into snags the last half of 2016 which I hope are remedied! Onward.