Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Plinio Fernandes, Saudade, Master of the Nylon String Guitar


We all need to be grateful for the continued arrival of great musical artists into our lives. One such for me is Brazilian nylon string guitarist Plinio Fernandes, as heard on his debut album Saudade (Decca Gold CD).

Saudade is the special quality in Portuguese and Brazilian music of a tender sadness for things long gone, things impossible, but too the ecstatic possibility that remains even when all else is absent, if I might interpolate here.

It is a brilliant gathering of saudade drenched music from Brazil and related climes, most beautifully played by Plinio. His tone is ever ravishing and singular, his phrasing beautifully flowing and seamless, and his rubato-ed delivery a thing of poetic beauty. Listen for example to his Jobim medley as arranged for solo guitar by Sergio Assai, to the wonderful "Se Todos Fossem Iguais a Voce" as is contained within that! Now that is phrasing.

But that is just a sample. The old standard "Brasil" gets a well burnished beauty and fingered motility that puts you in a wonderful place. But then too there are some of the Villa-Lobos "Etudes" that project you to where the music ever sounds in your mind. It is a nicely planned and executed selection of music that consistently shines in Plinio's hands and with the performances of some well chosen guests here and there. 

Plinio is a musical blessing that will cause you to perk up and smile from ear-to-ear. Or at least that is what this album is doing to me! High praise I give it for it is a treasure.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Gordon Grdina, Mark Helias, Matthew Shipp, Pathways


What is new out there? There is something in the realm of a notable new guitarist (to me) in company with cutting-edge Avant Jazz bassist Mark Helias and masterful pianist Matthew Shipp. That is Gordon Grdna and the new album Pathways (ABG Records ABG-5). It is a sort of monumental, consequential three-way dive into the inventive moment of a new now, Avant but more breeze-filled than "difficult."

The three-way rapport is remarkable, and I am consequently taken with the out-front line spelling we hear in nine spontaneously created mood-riding contrasts, from lyrically Silly-Putty-stretched to quasi-free Latin to bombastic exultation. It is ever what we justly expect from Maestros Shipp and Helias, but then Grdna surprises with his own thing, a well-formed string conquering palette of beautifully wrought note constructions throughout.

These are three masterfully Modern improvisers at the very top of their game. If you especially listen for the guitar or the bass, listen again to the piano, then this as a totality after a focus on that, for Matthew Shipp has an remarkably lithe yet robust presence that helps rocket it all into space. All three listen without mimicking, step forward each with his own rather brilliant contribution. 

It is a object lesson in how a trio like this can transcend the entropy of a heavy silence and replace it with a three-way movement out to the nether regions of invention.


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Michael Gregory Jackson, Electric Git Box, Solo Electric Guitar


Ever since I stumbled on his very first album via JCOA Michael Gregory Jackson has been one of my very favorite guitarists. Some of the reasons why are very much up front on his recent album Electric Git Box (Magicolored Music, Bandcamp). It is a truly seminal flow of the special lyric intensity of Michael in a glowingly expressive mood, like some things on that very first album only evolved, beautifully coming to be as much or more than ever. Like McLaughlin when he was inspired lyrically solo-wise, there is total originality and brilliance with every track, a number of short but terrifically engaging and musically significant melodic-harmonic thrusts.

It touches as it goes along so movingly on how and why a one-person solo electric guitar in the right hands is fully musical art, a deft handling of the beauty of the very electric sound with the best sort of lyric invention that Michael's brilliance makes possible here in the most original and memorable ways.

Go on Bandcamp and listen. It will hit you right away I hope. And it just gets better as you keep rehearing it. 

My highest recommendation for this one. Do not miss it! The special chordal-melodic spelling out should put you in a magical place, if you are like me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Michael Bisio & Matthew Shipp, Flow of Everything


It  has been the case for many years that if Matthew Shipp and/or Michael Bisio are on a recording I am going to want to hear and no doubt review it. Now we have an album with just the two together and needless to say I am glad to have a chance to hear and write about it. It is called Flow of Everything (FSR 01/2022). And of course I have been listening to it.

I am glad to say it is a very good one, an endless fountain of inventive improvisation and a kind of testament to the exceptional togetherness that the two take on when playing as a duo (but applies to their mutual presence in larger ensembles too, with at times a different density and  sometimes a different spatial allocation.)

Most readers will no doubt know that Matthew and Michael have nailed down two thirds of the Matthew Shipp Trio for quite some time now.  The completion in a drumming complement has consisted of in recent years Whit Dickey and now with Newman Taylor Baker.

Note that this duo with Shipp and Bisio actually marks the second such album with this duo configuration, if I am not mistaken that last being in 2016 and the Live in Seattle date. The long association of the two bears fruit in a closeness, a rapport not often experienced to this high degree out there in improv land.

The nine improvised segments flow together well (in keeping with the album title) and explore a sizeable terrain of possibilities, from tumbling ahead either in time with freely exclamatory phrasing at times, sometimes by worrying a phrase in a complementary pair for a time, and with a good deal of full throttle soloing simultaneously between the two, and at times locked into a flat-out swinging territory in free chromatic openness or a touch of modality,  and/or sometimes with endless modulation-melodic transformation.

It affirms that the two are are at the forefront of the modern freedom Jazz exponents on their respective instruments. The nine improvisations defy some glib description--if they were easy to describe, they probably would also not be the models of spontaneous invention that they are. But if you insist there are moments of scatter, swinging outness, cyclical pattern development, expressive reverie and glancing forays into expanded balladry, and other things besides. It is some of the finest examples of free improv today--showing how that art is continually growing and expanding and how Matthew and Michael have over the years gained their own special vocabulary, both as individual artists and as co-performers!

It is an album to embrace aurally, a benchmark of where we are today and how that matters. Very recommended. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Michael Bisio, Inimitable, Contrabass Solos

Michael Bisio is at the very top of the list of active and innovative New Jazz contrabassists out there. How that is involves a lot of things but above all it is his inventive and fresh improvisational grasp no matter who he is with or when he is in the mix. And naturally some of the most demanding and in turn rewarding moments can be when he goes it alone as an unaccompanied soloist.

I wrote about an earlier solo album many years ago on these pages (type his name in the search box above for my review of that.) Just now we have a new one and it could not be more welcome as far as I am concerned. It is aptly called Inimitable (Mung Music). He dedicates the album to everything singular inside us, everything that makes the world as it is when it is a wonder.

It holds together as a very personal expression of contrabass virtuosity and intelligence, indeed something inimitable. There are inspired articulations based on two standards--"I Fall in Love Too Easily" and Coltrane's "Wise One." Then there are some seven improvisations as original poetic statements of note..

What is exceptional is how Michael synthesizes a vibrant set of tone color possibilities with a consistently flowing and edgy contemporary  linear sense. These are deep, some very deep expressions that can only come about when there is a one-to-one expressive relationship of artist to instrument. It is rare when it reaches these heights. And so we are lucky to be witness to such inimitability.

And so there is every reason to hear this one repeatedly. It is a true milestone in contemporary improvisations for the solo bass. I recommend it without hesitation. It is a recording that will no doubt rank as some of the very most seminal of this decade perhaps, once we get past it all and once all is said and done. Hear this one and revel in it, do!


Friday, February 4, 2022

Kim Larsen, Ta' Mig Med, Songs for Classical Guitar, Jesper Sivebaek


Danish Classical label OUR Recordings celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. I've covered happily a number of their records on my blogs and now to celebrate that anniversary I am happy to talk about one especially vital for guitar aficionados and players alike. It is an album of songs for classical guitar as composed by Kim Larsen and nicely performed by Jesper Sivebaek, the latter a very fine artist who is the head of the guitar department at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. The album is entitled Ta' Mig Med (OUR Recordings 8.226915). In English that translates as "Take Me Along." It is from the Larsen song "Joanna" which appears on the album.

There are twelve instrumentally elaborate and lyrical guitar parts involved in making the songs come alive. The written impetus of Larsen has a near ideal performer-interpreter in Sivebaek. The music is songful in its overall feel and discrete parts with song standard sorts of sequences. The music is lyrically tonal with guitar technique nicely put together out of folk and classical fingering-picking patterns. Needless to say there is a knack for putting all that together and at the same time creating inventive sequences that charm and feel right in all their elements.

From a samba feel to country picking there is a kind of great synthesis of acoustic guitar style-technique from our time. So in this we have a thoroughly smart synthesis and yet in the end it is a lyric originality that pleases and stays with you in the happy ways all good music should. I give this one a strong recommendation and hope it will light up many faces with smiles. Bravo!

Monday, January 31, 2022

Dom Minasi, Me Myself and I


Dom Minasi has inside-outside depth, flexibility and a beautiful approach to the improvised guitar possibility. Any regular reader of the page has seen my reviews of his albums. Here we are in the new year and there is another fine one out that is sure to please the guitar loving world. It is called Me Myself and I (Unseen Rain, Bandcamp).

There are nine righteously vibrant originals in the program, featuring Dom on six and twelve string acoustic guitars, overdubbed so that a chordal underpinning sets things up for the fine soloing that recurs throughout. Unlike the majority of Dom's recent releases this one is more rooted in the straight-ahead, changes-based style that marked his first records. And that is fine because he is a unique guitar voice either way.

These new compositions are really well done and the improvs give us pause, pleasure, and much to savor. It is undoubtedly one of the nicest guitar albums I've heard in a while. Take a listen, dive in! Highly recommended.