Thursday, December 31, 2009

Moonbound: British Prog Rock with Melodic Approach

Originally posted on June 30, 2008

Something new? There’s a prog-rock-pop band named Moonbound that has some catchy tunes. It’s the hook oriented, guitar pop, romantic lyrics sort of music that has a vaguely retro flavor.

These tracks were the brainchild of Euro-producer musician Fabio Trentini and there is a well wrought quality to the whole. It has that British sort of sound. Vocals are out front and the level of song quality is high. The album is called Confession and Release (Unsung). In upcoming posts, I’ll be delving into more new rock and some classics and whatever rattles through my music system. Until then. [Happy New Year and thanks for reading my blogs.]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

XTC: "Home Grown" Reconsidered

Originally posted on June 27, 2008

Spin ahead to 2001 and another XTC release, Home Grown (Idea). By now it’s just Partridge and Moulding. This is a collection of demo recordings, one offs, and trial versions of songs. It’s mostly guitars with a little keyboard and drums.

What strikes me hearing this is that you would recognize the strength of their writing even at the most elementary production levels, and you do. It’s not exactly a must have. There are some nice things.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

XTC: "Nonsuch" Reconsidered

Originally posted on June 26, 2008

It is funny how one can look back at personal listening patterns. I find that certain groups and styles enter my life in fits and starts. It’s not always that I reject something or have given up on it. (Although that happens, too.) I often just get distracted. XTC, for example, I came upon a little late, loved them, then got involved in other things and missed what they did after 1990. I am now just getting around to their 1992 Nonsuch (Geffen).

It is perhaps not as haunting as some of the earlier ones; there is a more minimal, bare-bones approach to instruments. The songs are still as quirky as ever, with an art rock vision that juxtaposes pop and more heady styles as a sort of extension of what Brian Wilson has been after at times. Partridge is king of the insightful or deliberately bland lyric and comes up with the musical equivalent of such a contrast in his arrangements. They haven’t always had huge success. I guess some people have trouble figuring out where to “put” them. Nonsuch has an assortment of strong pieces. “The Smartest Monkeys” is a killer. I do miss the more symphonic rock-orchestral richness of the middle period albums like Skylarking, but nonetheless it is great to have more to hear by these folks. Time eventually to catch up on the ones after this.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Matador Records Retrospective Box Set

Originally posted on June 25, 2008

Matador Records has been a presence in this decade for alternative rock, post-post-neo-post, or whatever you want to call the kind of rock that can be raw, chancy, slickly subversive, retro in a post sort of way, metal with a brain, and other things too. Their anthology Matador at Fifteen contains an overview of their releases between 1999-2004.

Of course, it is selective (how could it not be?). There's a CD of greatest hits by folks like Mission of Burma, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, and Mogwai. There’s a CD of unreleased material, remixes and rarities. And there’s a DVD of videos. Now I know I am archaic, but rock videos don’t generally do much for me, and so I watched with less enthusiasm than some people might. The music, however, pulled me in and held me there. This is rock that can get attention and still be on the creative edge. What’s the use of one without the other?

New York Eye and Ear Control, Underground Classic

Originally posted on June 24, 2008

Another mid-‘60s gem resurrected by ESP was recorded as the soundtrack for Michael Snow’s film New York Eye and Ear Control. Released under that same title, the recording gives you a full blown free jam by some of the legendary practitioners of the era—Don Cherry, Albert Ayler, Roswell Rudd, etc. No, no guitars. There weren’t very many guitarists in the free stable then. That would come later. Sonny Sharrock was one of the first, but he’s not on this. What is here is a volcanic mixture of state-of-the-art free madness. Listen with an open mind and you’ll be transported. Listen without that and the destination will be an aural hell!

Paul Bley's "Closer:" Model Free Jazz Piano Trio, 1965

Originally posted on June 23, 2008

In 1965 ESP released pianist Paul Bley’s Closer. It was a rather short but very succinct album that featured Steve Swallow on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. Bley was in the earlier part of his career but had already been influential as a musician that combined the freedom of post-Ornette ensembles with an introspective musical stance.

The album has recently been re-released and it still sounds modern. There are little gems of improvisation throughout. Songs by Carla Bley, Annette Peacock, Ornette and Bley himself give the listener a whirlwind tour through the pianist’s trio conception and the interaction between group members would create a model for what could be done in the free piano trio context for years to come.

Steve Lacy's Classic "Forest & Zoo" Reissued

Originally posted on June 20, 2008

With the resurrection of ESP Records has come the welcome reissue of some early free jazz classics. I will touch upon a few in the next week or so. First of all, ESP for those who don’t know was one of the first underground labels to come out of the ‘60s and the burgeoning New York world of beats, bohemians, the avant-garde jazz community and such.

One of the more important releases was actually recorded in Italy. Steve Lacy made a stir in the ‘50s jazz world as the only important new soprano sax player since Sidney Bechet exploded out of New Orleans in the ‘20s (actually Bechet was even earlier, but not with big recognition until then). John Coltrane took up the soprano with great results by around 1960, but before that, absolutely no one was playing it but Steve.

After some critically acclaimed dates with Cecil Taylor and Roswell Rudd in the fifties and beyond, Lacy became an expatriate in the mid-sixties and recorded The Forest and the Zoo at the beginning of that period. It was his first truly “free” recording and sported a wonderful quartet that included Enrico Rava on trumpet. The album consists of two long interrelated sides of loose but probing improvisations. The whole group gets a sound that uniquely communicates and Lacy is a puckish presence throughout. Having heard this recording for so many years it is hard for me to reconstruct a first-time experience for someone today. I can say that one can listen to the record many times and get more out of it as one goes. That is, if one has an open mind. Any musician or music lover who wants to understand where modern music has come from would benefit from repeated listenings. That’s all for now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Janis Joplin Versus Tracy Nelson

Originally posted on June 19, 2008

Janis Joplin or Tracy Nelson? In my vinyl treasure hunt of the last several years, I’ve reacquired some records by those two principal divas of the late ‘60s rock world. Of course everyone knows Janis Joplin. She had big hits, was hailed as the new Bessie Smith, etc. Her first album with Big Brother and the Holding Company (Mainstream) (1967?) is rather uneven. They were a less than proficient psychedelic band grafted onto Joplin’s enormous voice and in those days she wasn’t featured on all the numbers. Much of the music sounds dated in a charming way. The band was pretty awful. “Women is Losers” is my favorite cut on the LP because Joplin doesn’t try too hard, a problem I think she increasingly fell into.

Tracy Nelson, on the other hand had (and has) a natural gift that she used with deceptively facile ease. She had a big voice like Joplin, but it flowed with musical nuances Joplin didn’t possess. Nelson started out with the rock band Mother Earth and they mixed a rock approach to r & b with country overtones. Their third album Bring Me Home (Reprise) brings her to the forefront consistently and still sounds great.

Her first two solo albums, self titled (Atlantic) (1972) and Sweet Soul Music (MCA) (1973) have been back on my turntable since I dug them up in a vinyl-only shop I usually frequent when and if I have money. (I don’t now). The first Atlantic album has a killer version of her “Down So Low” that gives you an idea of her enormous talent. “Sweet Soul Music” has a gem of a cut in “Going Back to Tennessee.” I believe she is still active but I don’t know how (can’t always keep up). Listen to her at her best and I believe you’ll see she was the queen of the rock divas back then.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bjork's "Medullah," John Butler's "What You Want"

Originally posted on June 16 & 18, 2008

Bjork has made some daring inroads into the rock scene over the past decade. It’s taken a while, but I am just now giving a serious listen to her 2004 Medulla release (Elektra). It is even more vocal-centered than some of her earlier work. Many of the cuts are her overtracked or with other vocalists and that’s it. Plenty don’t have much in the way of “beat.”

But hey, she’s created a unique musical universe that has an edge and what’s wrong with that? I detect some world influences, such as Eskimo Game Songs, throughout, and that’s a good thing. Cross-pollination of styles can change the face of what’s out there, sooner or later, and sometimes it seems we need to extend what we all share one way or another when vibrating the musical air, whether electronically or directly. In short, one can get sick of the same old stuff.

And what about John Butler? Here is somebody who can appeal while keeping musical levels high. He plays a very decent guitar, mostly acoustic, likes to jam a bit, writes nice songs, and sings well. His Jarrah EP What You Want shows all that in mini-abundance.

Totem: Power Trio Playing Experimental Music

Originally posted on June 13, 2008

Noise. Free Jazz. Out electric guitar. Electric guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Andrew Drury give you the update on these musical categories in their newly released recording as Totem, Solar Forge (ESP). This is probably not music of which your grandmother would approve.

It’s a whole CD-load’s worth of experimental collages and explorations in the sounds one can make with this instrumental configuration. For that it is an excellent recording. They’ve clearly worked hard to get a consistent approach to new sounds. If you think it is easy, try it yourself! Not, of course, everybody’s cup of tea.

Holy Modal Rounders Reissued

Originally posted on June 11, 2008

And then there were the fringe lunatic groups in 1967. The Fugs were perhaps the most notorious, starting with several albums on ESP that shocked kids like me back then. The music was crude and the lyrics? I sure was not ready for their brand of Village satire. Nor was my friends' father, who broke my copy of the second album in half (no easy task) when he heard what his son was listening to. Steve Weber and Pete Stamfel were charter members of the group, providing much of the instrumental grounding for the first few albums.

They spun off as The Holy Modal Rounders, releasing Indian War Whoop in ’67 on ESP. It has just been reissued and it sounds as off the wall as it did then. There are traditional string band songs, old risqué blues numbers and some downright bizarre moments. I don’t think anyone would call it a classic. Still, it may amuse you, if you appreciate what was on the edge during that era. Otherwise, best to stay away!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Origins of Progressive Rock, Two Albums by the Collectors

Originally posted on June 10, 2008

The progressive rock scene in 1967 and 1968 was a time when bands either established legendary status in the history of the music or more or less went unheralded and disappeared in short order, even if they contributed to the overall gestalt of the sound of those days. The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, for example, was one of the latter, though they deserved attention. Ultimate Spinach, The Beacon Street Union, The Blue Things, The Id, and Loading Zone were a few others.

Then there was a Canadian band, the Collectors, who produced two albums for Warner Brothers: the self-titled album (1967) and Grass and Wild Strawberries (1968). CD reissues of these two LPs came out a couple of years ago. I am not sure if they are still in print. The group had the progressive guitar, keys, winds, bass, drums lineup and they took some chances. The first album had a long suite called “What Love,” which was ambitious though a little pretentious. The second album had a back to the earth sort of theme. Both were well crafted musically and certainly bear repeated listening—if you like the music of that era.

Music by Dan Kaufman, Poetry by Paul Celan

Originally posted on June 9, 2008

Combinations of poetry and music can be great or just awful. Much has to do with, of course, the appropriateness and listenable qualities of the music vis-à-vis the poetry. Dan Kaufman has compiled a set of post-fusion music that is inspired by, and includes recitations of, the poetry of Paul Celan. (Force of Light) (Tzadik Records).

The CD works on the ideal level: the poetry illuminates the music and vice versa. This is a sober look at the 20th century from a poetic yet tragic Jewish point of view. It is seen as lacking in almost every respect. May we do better in this age beyond. Prepare to be moved.

Jaipong Music from Sunda, West Java

Originally posted on June 4, 2008

The island of Sunda in West Java, Indonesia, was and probably still is the site of a form of music and dance called jaipong. Between 1979 and 1986, female vocalist Idjah Hadidjah and a small group of gamelan instrumentalists went into the studio to record an updated version of this musical genre.

Those recordings have been re-released on Nonesuch Explorer as Sundanese Jaipong and Other Popular Music. The cuts were hits in Indonesia at the time, but to Western ears they don’t sound at all like pop. The musical language follows the basic path of the modes and rhythms of Javanese gamelan, but the forms are shorter and vocalist Hadidjah is at the forefront, as are often the drummers. It’s a graceful sound simultaneously charged with Eros, which fits with the tradition. I found the whole CD very easy on my years, but nonetheless filled with musical substance. And the vocals are stunning.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Some Wonderful Steel Guitar Blues from Black Pentecostal Gospel Groups

Originally posted on May 29, 2008

Some time in the ‘90s, Arhoolie Records began releasing a number of albums devoted to the gospel music of a series of Black Pentecostal churches in Florida. The best of these recordings have been released in an anthology called None but the Righteous: The Masters of Sacred Steel (Ropeadope).

It combines prodigious steel guitar in the most bluesy, electric sense with soulful gospel and it’s incredible music. Who says the blues are on the way out? Not in these churches. This music rules!

David Buchbinder and his Jewish-Cuban Music

Originally posted on May 28, 2008

If successfully crafted, unusual combinations of musics interest you, there is a CD on Tzadik Records that will get your attention. Jewish and Cuban fusion? Yes, on the CD Odessa/Havana by David Buchbinder.

Klezmer and Cuban dance music have much in common anyway, in the sense that they have met at various geographic and cultural crossroads, certainly in US urban centers like New York in the first half (at least) of the 20th century. Each also incorporated jazz elements into the music over the years, as jazz also incorporated aspects of both musics as well. That, of course, is no guarantee that an amalgam produced today would work. Buchbinder’s teaming up with pianist-composer Hilano Duran and a carefully chosen group makes all that possible. This is different!

Yuganaut and "This Musicship"

Originally posted on May 27, 2008

A recently released CD by Yuganaut, This Musicship (ESP), gives a contemporary look at the free jazz scene. It’s a trio of Stephen Rush, mostly Moog, Tom Abbs, bass, tuba, etc., and Geoff Mann, drums, etc.

The recording scores with the variety of sound textures produced and the shifting instrumentation. Abstract musical events, rock with free solos, jazz forays, you name it. Almost anything can seemingly happen with these players and the sense of exploration gives the listener an exciting lift.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

British Sea Power Gives You an Interesting Spin on Your Player

Originally posted on May 24, 2008

In case you missed it, the first album by the English group British Sea Power, The Decline of. . .(Rough Trade), is a worthy listen. It came out in 2003 and there is another one (that I haven’t heard), but it has a kind of pull-out-the-stops eclectic punk-and-everything-else alternative sound that is really rather interesting. The hooks are pretty strong and instrumentally there is much going down on any cut. I don’t know what the lyrics are totally about, but it all seems to work.

Otis Redding in A Deluxe Reissue Edition

Originally posted on May 22, 2008

Speaking of soul from the ‘60s, of course nobody could touch Otis Redding for his warmth and conviction. Atco/Rhino Collector’s Edition has released a deluxe two-CD set based around Otis Redding Sings Soul, one of his strongest albums of the era.

There are full mono and stereo versions of the album, which are different, extra b-sides and such, and good chunks of two live albums—at the Whiskey and in Europe. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “Respect,” “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Satisfaction” sound wonderful no matter what version, and the other cuts kick it too!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Frisell, Ribot, Sparks: Zorn's Masada Guitars

Originally posted on May 20, 2008

Guitarists Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Tim Sparks turn in some stunning acoustic and electric solo performances of the work of John Zorn on Masada Guitars (Tzadik). It is just their guitar and your ears for 21 pieces.

Zorn’s work has had a recognizably Jewish tonality for the most part in the last 10 years or so. He deftly incorporates those roots into an unpredictable matrix of creative musicality. Guitarists and their friends should find this CD captivating. Like what most of what Zorn has been doing, it has a distinctive quality not to be found elsewhere.

Contemporary Soul from Gnarls Barkley

Originally posted on May 19, 2008

If you like the classic soul recordings of the ‘60s and still have a modern bent you will no doubt find Gnarls Barkley’s new album The Odd Couple (Downtown/Atlantic) a genuine pleasure. It’s a beyond-the-roots duo with great vocals and the album is crammed with strong tunes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trank Zappa Grappa in Varese? I Think He Did.

Originally posted on May 16, 2008

Guitarist Michel Delville and drummer Laurent Delchambre are mainstays of the Belgian fusion group The Wrong Object (see below). They have also teamed with bassist Damien Campion and reedman Markus Strauss for a journey into related realms with the side-group Trank Zappa Grappa in Varese?

Their latest, More Light (Fazzul Music), is a free-wheeling set that incorporates progressive elements in a heady mix of metal and melody. It’s one of those that will keep you guessing what’s next. Serious and fun at the same time!

Titus Groan, An Obscure Early Prog Rock Outfit

Originally posted on May 15, 2008

And then there’s another group from the late sixties—an English band—that will probably never make anyone’s top 30 list—Titus Groan. They had one album, released in the states on Janus records. It is a proto-progressive outfit with guitar, bass, keys, drums, and a fellow that plays flute and oboe. They had a particular sound and when the tune was right, they sounded like nobody.

I think the album is available on CD; I still have it on vinyl. When they were good, they were very good. Some cuts are duds though. If they ever had a second album (I don’t think so), it would have been interesting to see if they matured. How many groups only got that one shot then, and now? Here’s to that chance. May musicians make the best of it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Love's Classic "Forever Changes" in a Definitive Edition

Originally posted on May 14, 2008

If someone were to compile a list of the top—say—30 art-rock albums recorded 1965-70, and I am sure someone has, Love’s third album Forever Changes should be on it. The group in its first incarnation had a quirky folk-rock-cum-everything-else feel to it. Mainly due to writer-singer Arthur Lee and, to a lesser extent, Brian MacLean, the band managed to be musical and relevant in very interesting ways. The Forever Changes album was the last with the original lineup and in an important sense was a culmination of much of what they had been working on up to that point. It did not sell well when first released, but became an underground favorite for its widely ranging, unexpected juxtapositions of style elements and penetratingly direct, thoughtful lyrics.

Elektra/Rhino has just come out with a 2-CD Collector’s Edition that gives you the entire LP in its final mix, plus another mix that is subtly different. Some alternate takes and non-album tunes complete the set, and they add to the vibe of the period. There’s a tongue-in-cheek version of “Wooly Bully,” for example, that underscores how far they had driven away from mainstream radio pop. And the whole thing manages to sound fresh today. How many others from that period do?

"Platform One" by the Wrong Object

Originally posted on May 13, 2008

The healthy resurgence of jazz-rock, fusion and progressive rock has been one of the blog themes lately, just because I’ve gotten a number of items for review that seem to testify to this. The Wrong Object is a Belgium-based group in the jazz-rock bag. (See below for a review of another one of their recent CDs.)

They have a new album that’s come across my desk (see below for a review of another one of their recent CDs) and it’s a very good example of what is churning underneath the commercial surface of the music world. Platform One (JazzPrint) adds guest musicians Harry Beckett and Annie Whitehead for an impressive program that includes two Zappa covers. Michel Delville continues to be an important presence on guitar. There are plenty of horns here too and the arrangements keep the ears functioning with lots to ingest and enjoy.

Tally Hall: Whimsical, Campy, Cute, Youthfully Romantic

Originally posted on April 30, 2008

“And now for all you youngsters out there. . . ,” as Ed Sullivan used to announce, we have something different in the pop-rock vein. The group is Tally Hall and the CD is entitled Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum (Atlantic). It has a whiff of early Queen without the overblown vocalizations, and it also hearkens back at times to the whimsical Beatles of Sgt. Pepper’s era and other tongue-in-cheek camp doings such as a few cuts from Moby Grape’s Wow.

There’s a wide-open approach to the album concept and you will find pseudo-old time ukulele tunes, straight ahead rockers, and everything in between. It has that youthful romanticism that doesn’t always find its way to disk these days. I found it interesting. There’s a cuteness (think of the Monkees, with all due respect) that doesn’t completely resonate with my grumpy age bracket. Nevertheless, it has a solid musical bent refreshing to hear.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Baird Hersey's Year of the Ear, Berlin, 1980

Throughout the latter half of the 1970's guitarist-jazz composer Baird Hersey led a big band known as Year of the Ear. It was a group with a sense of adventure and style. The players comprised some of the Boston area's finest and Baird's charts were original excursions into the land of fusion and the avant garde. His was probably the most distinctive big band of the era working within a fusion framework. There were three albums released, two on the Arista family of labels. The Ear played often in and around Boston and later, New York. Baird was a very talented jazz composer and a fusion avant garde guitarist of note and the records give a good cross-section of the range of his music. now has a page devoted to the band at You can get a fuller sense of the history of the band by checking that page. Most importantly though Baird has posted there a previously unreleased video of a one-hour set the band played at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1980. This was towards the end of the band's existence and it fills out the evolution of the group where the records leave off.

To get a fuller picture of the Ear's contribution to fusion and big band music one should also track down the records and give them a listen. There are several cuts posted on the My Space page and that should help. The video posting however provides a very solid slab of the band in action live, and it is highly recommended listening.

By then the personnel had gelled into a tight-knit music machine that functioned on all cylinders and negotiated the many twists and turns of Baird's charts with real style. The set includes a few numbers the band had previously recorded and some new pieces as well. Baird's long flowing, original line writing contrasts with a churning fusion-funk that owed something to Miles Davis and his electric bands. "The Prince," a kind of Miles tribute, shows this especially. There is also much else of interest on this video.

Check out the beautifully articulated horn parts and the complimentary space for free playing and intensely expressive soloists. The trumpet section is quite exciting, with Stanton Davis, Mark Harvey, and the late Danny Mott contrasting well. But trombonist Tim Sessions and saxmen Len Detlor, George Garzone and John Hagen also have shining moments in the course of the set. Then of course there's Baird's guitar, which really sounds out when the arrangement calls for it.

In the end it's Mr. Hersey's exceptional compositional and arranging touches that put this band beyond a mere fusion-free blow out. He learned well from his apprenticeship with Bill Dixon and reflected something of what George Russell's large group writing emphasized: multi-layered contrasts. But this music is all Baird. Listen/watch the video and you'll get the idea. Baird nowadays concentrates on his overtone vocalizations, something quite beautiful in another way, and leads the very interesting choral ensemble Prana (see my postings on that at

This was a band that deserved far more recognition than it received. The records simply must be reissued. It's a crime that they are not readily available. Baird tells me there are other recordings he has stashed away, unheard by the general public. I believe that as we now and in the future reassess the fusion of the '70s era Baird's work will emerge as some of the best and most creative. And no big band could touch the Year of the Ear on a number of levels.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Look at Billie Holliday in a New Box Set

Originally posted on April 29, 2008

Billie Holliday was surely one of the greatest artists jazz has known. In a career spanning the ‘30s to the late ‘50s, she gave the world some exceptional music. I suspect most if not all the readers of this blog know that. ESP records has compiled a 5-CD set of her live recordings, radio and TV appearances and soundtrack spotlights and there’s a whole heck of a bunch of music. I am not always a fan of her very late work. She can be really on top of things, but she can also sound unhealthy and slightly uninspired. This set doesn’t do anything to change my mind there. Some of the cuts do not do her justice—and some transcend that time period to be terrific.

The first three disks or so, however, really show off her abilities. Beginning with the soundtrack to a Duke Ellington short in the thirties, she handles the lyric and musical content of every song with absolute command and stylistic genius. There are a number of versions of some of her most popular songs as the set covers a chronological survey. That can be fascinating from a comparative point of view. It also means that after repeated hearings one may want to pick and choose cuts rather than blast through all five CDs at a shot. I am glad ESP came out with this set. It compliments her studio sessions and gives you a really well rounded look at her career.

The Unknown Masada from John Zorn

Originally posted on April 28, 2008

There is something intriguing about John Zorn. His music combines all kinds of styles at any given time: Jewish, free improv, death metal, downtown, jazz, thrash, world, you name it. As his CDs on Tzadik attest, Zorn collates and reworks all kinds of amalgams in his own special way.

The Masada group concept has been his staple over the last decade and he always peoples it with strong players. To celebrate Masada’s tenth anniversary, Zorn has created a series of special CDs. One of them, The Unknown Masada, looks at some previously unrecorded Zorn pieces and has an ever shifting lineup of styles and densities. It is quite an experience to hear.

Hard Swinging Piano from Sacha Perry

Originally posted on April 21, 2008

Sacha Perry plays a hard swinging piano in the jazz lineage of what follows from Monk and Bud Powell. He’s joined by a powerful trio of Ari Roland on bass and Phil Stewart, drums, for a lively set released as The Third Time Around (Smalls).

Swing is most definitely the thing and they are indefatigable. Perry does not have the cache of some well-known pianists today, but he most certainly deserves greater recognition. Good music.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Black Bonzo's "Sound of the Apocalypse"

Originally posted on April 18, 2008

Black Bonzo is the name of yet another progressive rock group alive and kicking today. The guitar-organ-bass-drums-vocal stylizations classify them as another post-Yes type group, but not in a copycat sense.

The vocals are generally strong, instrumental aspects tight-knit, and the songs are memorable. Sample Sound of the Apocalypse (Laser’s Edge) by the band and you’ll be intrigued, I think. Must be brief today.

The Complete Musician/Listener Needs to Hear Cecil Taylor

Originally posted on April 17, 2008

If you know who Cecil Taylor is, then you are on the game. If you don’t, suffice to say that he is a pianist of distinctive qualities and a pioneer in outside jazz making. Jimmy Carter, after a White House appearance by Taylor, expressed that he’d wished he played piano like him. There’s a CD on Cadence that I think is one of the best of the later issues (All the Notes, recorded in 2000). It’s a live date with Dominic Duval on bass and Jackson Krall on drums. Taylor never sounded more elated and perhaps it was the supporting musicians that inspired him. I don’t know about that, but in any event this is some CD, if you have the ears to hear it.

The complete musician, I firmly believe, should always keep the ears open to whatever is going on out there. I personally cannot extend that to, for example, some of these folks on the Idol show, but I still believe in openness as a way to proceed. Charlie Parker liked country music, for example. That is pretty amazing. Why not though?

The Electric Bass and Stick of Sean Malone

Originally posted on April 16, 2008

Electric bass and stick player Sean Malone is quite a master at what he does. The stick, by the way, is a multi-stringed electric instrument that apparently one taps rather than plucks. Sean has a CD out that shows off his abilities quite well. Cortlandt (Free Electric Sound) puts Malone in the company of various guitarists (such as Trey Gunn) and drummers for a fusion-based program. Sean has the facility, if not quite the sound, of Jaco Pastorious. He’s good!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jet Propelled Power Pop

Originally posted on April 15, 2008

If power pop is something you go for, and you like a little bit of retro mixed with the contemporary, listen to Jet. The album I am spinning right now is several years old—Get Born (Elektra). It has a guitar centered vibe and there are traces of the influences of the Stones and the Who, among others.

RumorHang, Milan's Avant Jamband in a Free Download

Originally posted on April 14, 2008

Guitar, bass, keys/electronics, drums, vocals . . . the Milan group RumurHang have a somewhat conventional lineup. But it’s a kind of avant-jamband sound they produce. Think of the Dead’s space interludes, only this band doesn’t play in any way that suggests they are Dead-influenced.

Under a Creative Commons license, you can download their 2007 eDogm label CD Gerardmer for free. Go to and look for release number 17.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Italian Prog Rock from DFA

Originally posted on April 11, 2008

Progressive rock is surely not dead. Another good example of a band active now is the Italy-based DFA. They’ve been around for some time, but recognition in the USA has only gradually come about. Musically they hearken back to Yes, early Genesis and perhaps King Crimson for complexity and instrumental virtuosity. They have their own spin on things however, and they sound thoroughly of today.

MoonJune Records have a number of releases out of the band (See my Cadence review of last January for more.) The one on my CD player now is a live US concert recorded in 2000. The CD is named Work in Progress and that title fits them, since it seems they are constantly perfecting and reworking their repertoire to more complex and refined levels, from what I can tell. The CD in question has a punchy, cosmically expanded ambiance. It’s fun to hear and gives you plenty of musical content to contemplate.

Eric McPherson Makes Solid Post-Coltrane Music

Originally posted on April 10, 2008

The jazz of today falls into many stylistic categories. The post-Coltrane school is one of them, as it has been since the master’s death in 1967. A good new CD in this vein features drummer Eric McPherson’s band on Continuum (Smalls).

McPherson has a dynamic and creative style and saxman Abraham Burton shows an expressive affinity with the Trane legacy but has a personal well-burnished approach that livens the proceedings considerably. The whole band is top notch. It’s a very good listen indeed and I hope Mr. McPherson comes out with another soon!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Simone Guiducci on Acoustic Guitar

Originally posted on April 9, 2008

Acoustic guitarist Simone Guiducci has a number of CDs to his credit. The one I’ve been listening to is from 2001—Django’s Jungle (Splasc[h]). This is his tribute to the great gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and it shows off Simone’s subtle skills well.

The band at full strength is a 7tet on this disk, and they hold their own. Not every tune is a gem and sometimes the music borders on European café music (but then again you could say the same for Django’s repertoire at certain points). However this is a very pleasant listen and Simone is no slouch on his instrument.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Allan Holdsworth Live in Japan, 2002

Originally posted on April 8, 2008

Guitarist Allan Holdsworth has provided one of the most distinctive electric styles in the past 30 or so years, and continues to excel. He has a wonderful tone, a thoughtful use of sustain, big-time chops and a melodic approach that remains instantly recognizable and incredibly musical.

Favored Nations Records released a while ago a CD of Allan Holdsworth along with Jimmy Johnson on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums for a very nice live set in Japan recorded in 2002. It’s called All Night Wrong but there’s nothing wrong about that night musically. They dig into some earlier repertoire and forge ahead with conviction. It is great stuff.

Jeff Albert and the NOLA Open Ears Music Series

Originally posted on April 8, 2008

Trombonist Jeff Albert has become an important force in post-catastrophe New Orleans, hosting a free-wheeling New Jazz series on Tuesday nights called Open Ears. If you are in NOLA you should check it out. If you can’t get there, he makes available free MP3 downloads of many of the evenings' proceedings on the Open Ears site.

Go to and follow the Open Ears link. The April 2 (2008) session is of special interest to guitarists, you who like those moments when Hendrix let loose a torrent of feedback. Cheers for Jeff to make this music available for free, and to organize these concerts in the first place. If you like what you hear, you might give a listen to the Lucky 7s CD that he is on. [12/3/09 Note: there are two now out, both very worthwhile.] It is a favorite of mine. And there’s also a killer Looneytunes Three Little Pigs cartoon on his Scratch My Brain blog that you will be sure to enjoy, I would think. Well, enough for today.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

King Crimson Live, 1973-74

Originally posted on April 7, 2008

It might have been easy to take the music scene for granted in 1973-74. I think I did. All kinds of groups were touring regularly, the musicianship was solid out there for the most part, groups with edge, power, drive and a sense of risk were more or less popular, and audiences had come to accept the idea that jamming was not unusual for some electric bands.

Bring on King Crimson, who had regrouped more than once but centered around the leader and guitarist extraordinaire Robert Fripp. We are fortunate that the band was captured live in a series of good quality recordings from those days that are available on a CD series called The Great Deceiver. I’m listening to volume two, a two-CD set on DGM Live. There’s Fripp of course, legendary drummer Bill Bruford, John Wetton on bass and vocals, and David Cross on violin and keys.

What’s amazing to me is how freely and heavily they jammed and how the repertoire continually metamorphosed in the live setting. Any fan of Fripp’s should give this one a listen, and anyone who wants to understand the history of jam bands too.

German Prog Rock from Dzyan, 1974

Originally posted on April 4, 2008

In 1974 German progressive rock-fusion trio Dzyan recorded their third album, Electric Silence (Bellaphon). The lineup was Eddy Maron on guitar, Reinhard Karwatky on bass and Peter Giger on drums. And the group also played sitar and mellotron (not sure who on what). The album is a real sleeper, in that perhaps many have passed it by. The program is a heady mix of spacey Mahavishnu-type jams and forays into psychedelia and ambient music.

My friend gave me a blindfold test on this one and I was miffed! It sounded seventies-ish but it also could have been made today. There is an ethnic-Indian component to the rock assault that sounds as interesting today as it must have then. Like a good pair of sneakers you’ve worn until they are soft and reassuring, this music feels comfortable to me. There are three other disks released in the '70s by the group that I would imagine are worth checking out as well, but I do not know!

Trey Gunn and Quodia

Originally posted on April 3, 2008

On an entirely different note, there is the CD/DVD set by Quodia that features The Arrow: A Story in Seven Parts (7D Media). Quodia is headed by Trey Gunn, notable tap guitarist formerly with King Crimson, and Joe Mendelson of Rise Robots Rise. It all centers around a fairy tale sort of story that is just quirky enough to get your attention.

The DVD features the music (in 5.1 Surround), the narrative and some mind-bending special effects that I found fascinating. The CD just has the music and narrative. Quodia brings to the listener a sort of evolved progressive rock that has an electronic component. There are some nice guitar moments and the whole is cohesive and convincing. If it is something different you are after in this mode, you might just as well give this one a go.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Howard Glazer Plays the Blues

Originally posted on April 2, 2008

The blues today manages to hang on without dominating urban neighborhoods and college campuses like it did in its heyday. There are still clubs that feature it and a loyal following which, while not extraordinarily huge, remains solid. You could say the same about all the other musics that are not in the lowest common denominator mainstream, while we’re at it. Perhaps satellite radio will combine with college stations and the rapidly expanding world of downloads to gradually increase listenership for the various genres.

Caucasian bluesman-guitarist Howard Glazer is a survivor of these times. His CD Brown Paper Bag (Random Chance) gives a good sample of what he can do. His voice takes a bit of getting used to. It is not an ideal blues vehicle. Once you get past that you realize that he’s extended the tradition by working within it, inside-out. There are definite moments where influences of the Chicago urban blues greats are evident. Then there are traces of Johnny Winter and a little Hendrix too. He plays a vibrant electric in a blues trio format and the bassist and drummer back him with flair. Then he switches occasionally to a resonator and gets an even older sound. I found myself growing more and more pleased with his playing and concept the more I listened.

Guitarist Grant Green Plays Spirituals

Originally posted on April 1, 2008

Jazz guitarist Grant Green was one of the more important players in the ‘60s and yet he doesn’t get enough credit, then or now. Perhaps part of the reason is that he made so many albums for Blue Note that perhaps his best work is lost in the pile.

One I am listening to right now is OK but might qualify as part of the excess music making. It’s called Feelin’ the Spirit and features Herbie Hancock and Billy Higgins along with Grant. There’s nothing wrong with this disk. Grant puts together a program of rearranged spirituals and the band does its best to inject some soul into the proceedings. Grant’s sound is as usual—it’s what mainstream electric guitarists sounded like in the mid-sixties. If he had somehow shown more of an influence of the Chicago bluesmen, who cranked their amps and bent more notes, it might have worked better. But then he wouldn’t have sounded like Grant Green. It’s nice enough and there’s nothing awful about it. It just isn’t his best.