Friday, March 26, 2021

Gary Lucas, The Essential Gary Lucas


A major guitarist and musical artist of the caliber of Gary Lucas is one of those brilliant rareties one misses at one's own peril. He has created a body of recordings no serious student of the instrument should miss. But then of course his art can and does speak to those who do not necessarily play guitar, for those seeking pioneering and exciting sounds as a whole. 

There is so much that's worthwhile to hear in the Lucas discography that those new to it face a daunting task--to sort through the whole of it is very worthwhile but of course it takes some doing. Enter just now a two-CD best of compilation that gives you a succinct overview of where he's been, The Essential Gary Lucas (Rarelum  018-2 2-CD).

The challenge with somebody as diverse and inventive as Gary over the years is what to leave out more than what to include, because there are an awful lot of essential aspects. So there of course is the extraordinary guitar artistry--the original and rather amazing fingerpicking on acoustic or electric, there is the striking slide work, the execution of intricate patterns, the shredding electricity in a band context, or all combined in a solo digital delay sequence. And then one must not forget the rhythmically lively pattern of strums and picking articulations that compliment collaborations with particular vocalists, often enough involving a special niche of the world revisited and rethought. Then there is the song wielding songwriting especially with Gods and Monsters, the pathbreaking collaborations that stretch music boundaries, the beautiful work with Jeff Buckley, the adoption of classical gems to solo guitar, solo guitar music for movies,  the Captain Beefhartian adventures, and countless other features and subtleties one catches on lingering listens.

For those that appreciate the Bockley-Lucas song collaborations, there is the wonderful Dutch symphonic-guitar-vocal version of the Buckley-Lucas song "Story without Words." It's inclusion alone n enough to make the whole set worthwhile, but of course there is so much more, too much really to enumerate minute-by-minute in this space. 

If you are guitar happy and/or a fan of the advanced out there this makes for a valuable  single-source introduction or confirmation to the thoughtful artistry of the master. He has the sort of originality that a mere note or two from him serves to remind you that his sound(s) are one-of-a-kind.

Some of the additional rarities may help you decide to get this--The "Music for the 'Golem'" sequence live from 1989, "All Along the Watchtower" for Gary and vocalist Feifei Yang, the live guitar Beefheart "Flavor Bud Living." All that is great to have but then the whole set stands out after a while. A major living guitarist presents some hand-picked best. What more could you ask for? Get it.

You might well find after hearing this a bunch of times that you will want more Gary Lucas in your ears. That is partly the point, but even so this is one helluva listen! Grab it!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Michael Gregory Jackson, Change, A Suite for Nelson Mandela


If there is a constant in the world today, it is uncertainty. Or that is one constant. And for me it is also the artistry of Michael Gregory Jackson, guitarist, vocalist, composer, bandleader. He one of the musicians I have listened to and appreciated for a long while. The constant is that I am likely to appreciate anything he does. 

So a while ago he released one that actually goes back to 1994 but is worth waiting for. It is Change, A Suite for Nelson Mandela (Golden Records, Bandcamp DL). It is a 20-minute work for Jackson on guitar and vocals, his sextet and three background vocalists. That includes Stephen Haynes on trumpet and Chuck Langford on saxophone.

One thing about Michael is his ready, exceptional combination of drive and lyricism. That is very true of this one--the melodic line is not something you'll forget. It's a wonder of a tribute to Mandela. And it is Fusionoid in nice ways and gives us drivingly tight ensemble, wonderful lead vocals and some excellent guitar. 

It is 20 very necessary minutes. You should check it out!

Monday, February 15, 2021

Susan Alcorn Quintet, Pedernal


Susan Alcorn's pedal steel Avant Jazz excursions have been an important part of the US East Coast scene for a good while now.  Her Susan Alcorn Quintet release Pedernal (Relative Pitch Records) has a lot going for it and should help to bring her the recognition she so deserves.

The outfit is a very special kind of string band with drums. So there is of course Susan on pedal steel, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar, Mark Feldman on violin, Michael Formanek on acoustic bass and Ryan Sawyer on drums. 

They deftly, adroitly, brilliantly make palpable Susan's varied and memorable compositions, all five in their differing moods, some anthemic, some ruminative, all excellent platforms for Susan's subtle and very musicianly style and her co-band members and their discerning co-improvisations.

It is an album that hangs together remarkably well and brings us to different places that we might not have anticipated but are glad to have been, repeatedly as one listens multiple times.

So I happily recommend this one to you. Good music it surely is, so do not hesitate.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Damon Smith, Whatever is Not Stone is Light, Solo Double Bass


The solo double bass album, like the solo drum album is perhaps somewhat esoteric compared with a more standard ensemble offering. There are not all that many either. A Dave Holland solo many years ago was something to appreciate, truly. And then a Michael Bisio one, I believe reviewed here, was a standout. One is better not trying to compare one with another if each says something well--for it is in the saying that we get the substance, not necessarily in fanning out every one ever made like a hand of cards.

So there is a new one, this time by Damon Smith. It has a title that is in itself something to think about, namely Whatever is Not Stone is Light (Balance Point Acoustics BPA-10). There are some 23 solo segments, which are titled based on Lysander Kemp translations of poems by Octavio Paz.

Damon Smith has deservedly garnered a reputation over the years as one of the foremost bass players in the "Free" or "Avant Jazz" camp. His own albums are well worth hearing and I have reviewed some of them on this page and also my Gapplegate Music Review page. He has been a focal point for the New Jazz and now this new solo album extends his voice and makes us happily appreciate his view of the instrument as a solo voice.

There are of course pizzicato passages, all of poetic interest, as are the bowed segments and the extended technique masteries--that all combine together for a very lively and satisfying aesthetic statement. It is music occupying the upper echelons, the highest psychic registers of upper-dom.

It is an album of uncompromising solo bass statements, a poetics of  contrabass utterance, a landmark of directed improvisation, of bass imagination. It is an album your should hear and have. Definitely recommended.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Eric Brochard, Fabrice Favriou, Derviche


What comes next? Musically? The answer is everything that went before and some that didn't? In the world we live in right now, all awaits if we can but stay safe? Well at any rate the possibilities musically are as wide open as they have been, if you have persistence, courage, and you are willing to explore.

All that must serve as a prelude to a new disk this morning which is a sort of reaffirmation of the possibilities--of the sparse electricity of Psychedelic Trance Drone Avant Rock if you will. I speak of an album by Eric Brochard and Fabrice Favriou, on piccolo-bass and drums, respectively. It is entitled Derviche (Ayler Records AYLCD-165), which is appropriate because it does spin, whirl, go around. It is taking the bass and making it a bit more metal-guitar-like and then spawning a trance drone expansion of beat and sustained chord.

The five "Sequences" that make up the album move around as a wash of beat and drone, a bass chord sequence with plenty of bottom but some treble too, an unrelenting rock drum tattoo that has life and variation to it while never flagging. 

"Sequence III" gives out with another droning motif and the electronic enhancement of the bass makes it sound as if there are organ tones in there as well.

The promo sheet that came with my copy of this CD describes the music aptly as "experimental rock, focusing on bareness as a research tool." The motive and repetitions aim to achieve an "ecstatic point," which is the case if you let it all sway you to an aural space it occupies resolutely and poetically. 

The distorted metallics of droning and re-droning reinforces one's immersion in the aural space of the recording. It is the very opposite I suppose of the frenetic sheets-of-sound chordal barrages of late-50s Coltrane, and we can accept that as another way to occupy musical space without taking sides, surely not something worth choosing one over another to my mind, because indeed we need both.  It has its space and it does the drone barrage admirably well.

I recommend this one for its sheer sensual inter-planetificatory vibes. If you meet it half-way it will take you out to the edges of outer space, so to speak. Listen!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Allen Shawn, Michael Bisio, Improvisations


Anyone who has read this blog, the Gapplegate Music Review and my Cadence reviews from some years ago no doubt knows that I very much appreciate Michael Bisio's acoustic bass playing a great deal and consider him as among a handful of the very most accomplished and innovative Jazz-Improv bassists out there today. So I was very happy to be sent his latest CD outing with pianist-composer Allen Shawn. 

Michael has been playing for the past several years in pianist Matthew Shipp's Trio, a state-of-the-art outfit if there ever was one. The current outing changes things up as a duo and with a different chemistry born of a different set of intersecting backgrounds. It all makes for an equally absorbing but essentially varying stylistic amalgam.

The album is aptly and matter-of-factly called Improvisations (self released). It is a wide-ranging series of seemingly mostly spontaneous improvisations of Michael and Allen Shawn, both of whom teach at Bennington, Michael bass and Allen composition. The fact that Allen composes orchestral-chamber-piano New Music is somewhat telling in how at times he structures his improvisations. Yet there is a deep internal referencing of the Jazz tradition to be heard, too, quite happily. The Shawn-Bisio intersection on the faculty at Bennington is musically quite fortunate as  you no doubt will realize when you listen to this first collaboration.

Some improvisations give us a song-like or a generally pre-structured way of going at it. Others have more pronounced improvisational freedom. The first improv makes me think of Mingus in the best ways. The final piece is mesmeric-cyclic and then a very attractive anthemic theme that reminds one of a Charlie Haden-Carla Bley evergreen in its own way.

Bisio sounds especially inspired by Shawn's open-ended presence, both harmonically-intervalically and melodically. And Shawn in turn seems to delight in the response he gets as it spurs him onward to dig ever more deeply for further musical insights.

It is a magical mix of bold ideas and intensive duo considerations. Anyone with an interest in "serious" music, duo interactions, improvised music, bass and piano performance excellence as it continues to thrive undaunted by the upheavals of recent events, this one is most definitely for you. Highly recommended. A marvel!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Adam Caine Quartet, Transmissions


The electric guitar work of Adam Caine is something special. His importance continues. There is a new album out with a two-guitar quartet called Transmissions (No Business NBCD 126) and it is a winner. It is a set of compositional frameworks and solos, as opposed to the pure improvisation albums he has put out previously. What further distinguishes this music is the way they work out the Quartet format of two guitars--Adam and Bob Lanzetti plus Billy Mintz on drums, Adam Lane on acoustic bass--and Nick Lyons added on alto sax for one cut.

All of the numbers are Adam Caine compositions that stand on their own as inspired content at the same time as they provide good blowing vehicles. I run down pertinent aspects of all the pieces below.

"Night Driver" has a lyric two-guitar head melody that sounds vaguely Jerry Garcia-ish-meets-ECM but then in a B section a lovely contrasting chordal motif. Straight after it's off to the short solos including Adam Lane sounding very fresh.

"Cloud Over" has Elvin Jones-ish swing and a two-guitar head melody that meshes wonderfully well in bluesy lyricism. The guitar solos built over a loosely together propulsion sound a little post-Jerry again while they rock jazzishly. With second guitar comping very nicely the Caine guitar solos  to me in a very hip way. It all moves beyond in another sort of post-Dead fullness.

"Alien Flower" has a bit of noir atmospherics, an aesthetic pondering that feels a little black and white to me, in a good way of course.

"The Girl" has some especially nice lyrical guitar work, changes-based and elegant. It's a kind of poetics that has florid jazz-rock underpinnings, aspects that mesh together well.

"Secular Expectations" is another ravishing melodic headline with solo guitar work that surprises and brings big smiles--at least for me. Nick Lyons' guest alto fits right in and expands the solo spread meaningfully.

"The Core" has very electric jazz-rockish solos by the guitars--flat-out burning metal, with the rhythm section giving it lots of torque.  

"Hell Awaits" very free electric with hot Lane bowed bass and Caine on electronics, then blazingly out metal guitar(s). The drums tumble freely. It segues into long sustain psych-guitar moments with bashing drums.

"Heavenly Bodies" has a very memorable two-guitar,  lyrical not-quite-riffing head, then space for an excellent solo moment for Lane on bass. After that we hear some nicely contrapuntal guitar with solo significance, A delicately spinning wonder this one is.

"The Spiral" has a rock-funk underpinning with some nice guitar riffing underneath Adam's very fuzzy and melodic solo, a gem.

This is as fine an electric outing as I've heard this year. It has a thoughtful air about it, and at the same time wails out with feeling when it needs to. A guitar joy, this is! I heartily recommend it.